NRA: Roll, Jordan, roll

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 189-190

We mentioned earlier that there are two things here in Chapter 10 that grab the reader and hurl them forcibly out of the story. These aren’t just the sort of thing that makes readers demand their money back, they’re the sort of thing that makes readers want their money back, plus extra compensation for pain and suffering and punitive damages. Here is the second such thing in Chapter 10.

Buck Williams is in a cab below the Temple Mount in Jerusalem:

“Can a fella get a boat ride up the Jordan River into Lake Tiberius at this time of night?” he asked the driver.

“Well, sir, to tell you the truth, it’s a lot easier coming the other way. But, yes, there are motorized boats heading north. And some do run in the night. Of course, your touring boats are daytime affairs, but there’s always someone who will take you where you want to go for the right price, any time of the day or night.”

“I figured that,” Buck said. Not long later he was dickering with a boatman named Michael, who refused to give a last name. “In the daytime I can carry 20 tourists on this rig, and four strong young men and I pilot it by arm power, if you know what I mean.”


“Yes, sir, just like in the Bible. Boat’s made of wood. We cover the twin outboards with wood and burlap, and no one’s the wiser. Makes for a pretty long, tiring day. But when we have to go back upriver, we can’t do that with the oars.”

It was only Michael, the twin outboards, and Buck heading north after midnight, but Buck felt as if he had paid for 20 tourists and four oarsmen as well.

Buck began the trip standing in the bow and letting the crisp air race through his hair. He soon had to zip his leather jacket to the neck and thrust his hands deep into his pockets. Before long he was back next to Michael, who piloted the long, rustic, wood boat from just ahead of the outboard motors. Few other crafts were on the Jordan that night.

I’m sub-contracting the response to this passage to Israeli journalist and writer Gershom Gorenberg. This is from Gorenberg’s terrific book, The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount. Goremberg describes his attempt to read Nicolae while on vacation:

My son and I are stretched out in a hammock between two trees in the backyard of the country house where we like to vacation. It’s in the hills of the Galilee, away from the noise and exhaust of Jerusalem; from the yard we can see the town of Tiberias and all of Lake Kinneret — the Sea of Galilee — shimmering blue and the Golan Heights rising dark and green behind it. My 10-year-old son is reading The Phantom Tollbooth yet again and giggles occasionally. I’m reading Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. And suddenly I start laughing harder than my son, which I’m not supposed to do in the middle of a thriller about the end of the world, complete with nuclear war and famine and plague, and he wants to know what’s funny, so I read him the paragraph where world-renowned journalist Buck Williams, in Jerusalem on a secret mission, learns that “he would find who he was looking for in Galilee, which didn’t really exist anymore,” a geographical point he repeats for emphasis two pages later.

“Dad, if the Galilee doesn’t exist, where are we?” my son asks.

“Maybe we don’t exist either.”

A couple minutes later I’m giggling again: Now Buck has decided to make the three-hour journey to “Tiberius” (sic) by boat — one of the many touring boats that, in the book, ply the Jordan River. Which would be fine if the Jordan were really “deep and wide,” as the song goes, but in reality it’s a narrow trickle not fit for navigating.

The experience is jarring, like meeting someone who calls you by your name, insists he knows you, remembers you from a high school you didn’t attend, a job you never had. I’m reading a book set largely in the country where I live — but not really, because the authors’ Israel is a landscape of their imagination, and the characters called “Jews” might as well be named hobbits or warlocks. Israel and Jews are central to Nicolae and the other books of the hugely successful Left Behind series — but the country belongs to the map of a Christian myth; the people speak lines from a script foreign to flesh-and-blood Jews.

We could say more about this extravagantly awful scene in Nicolae. We could talk about how the whole business about “oars … just like in the Bible” seems to be a long way to go for a belabored “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” pun, and how the Bible really doesn’t say much of anything about “oars” anyway. We could goggle at the botched cliché of Buck standing in the bow, the wind whipping his hair like he was Leo and/or Kate in Titanic. But all of that pales in comparison to the overriding, overwhelming wrongness Gorenberg mocks in this passage and to what he says it reveals about the jarringly untrue and unreal “landscape of their imagination” the authors present here and throughout these books.

That landscape is Bible-ish — rowing boats on the Jordan River is something that someone who has never read the Bible might think is in there. (It’s not.) But it’s as foreign to and incompatible with the Bible as it is with the actual landscape of Israel and the actual reality of “flesh-and-blood Jews.”

This sort of thing is especially incredible since Tim LaHaye has been to Israel and has seen the Jordan River with his own two eyes. Like most preachers in the “Bible prophecy scholar” racket, LaHaye has conducted “Holy Land tours,” taking groups of his American, RTC followers over to Israel and the West Bank to “walk where Jesus walked” and — more importantly for these “prophecy” tours — to gaze at the valley of Megiddo and to snarl disapprovingly at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

The itinerary for one of LaHaye’s “Pray for Israel” tours in 2010 (“Only $3999 all inclusive“) includes a stop at Yardenit, a pilgrimage site for millions seeking to be baptized in the Jordan. Yardenit — a place scholars wish tour guides would stop lying about being “the actual site where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist” — is, like much of the Holy Land, part sacred pilgrimage site and part money-grubbing tourist trap. The site is just below the dam separating Lake Kinneret from the river — a dam that would make Buck’s journey impossible even apart from the laughable idea of navigating the shallow trickle of the Jordan.

I don’t know if Jerry Jenkins ever visited Israel before writing Nicolae, so for him the “landscape of the imagination” it presents may just be the product of ignorance and laziness. But for LaHaye, who’d been to the Jordan River and seen it with his own eyes, something more than ignorance had to be at work in his “co-writing” of this fantastic, unreal landscape. He has walked in this world without ever seeing it, preferring instead to see the world of his own ideology, of his own imagining, of his own preference.

The scary thing there isn’t that this one man has retreated into a delusional fantasy. The scary thing is that millions of people are eagerly following him there.

For those who live in this landscape of the imagination, the real world doesn’t really exist anymore.

And if the real world doesn’t exist, what about the rest of us who still live here? Where are we? “Maybe we don’t exist either.”


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  • Daniel

    I imagine his editor for the first book was a promising new employee, young, attractive (though she downplayed it to avoid the leering attention the older male employees liked to pay her) and very bright. She wore shoes with flat soles rather than heels because they are more comfortable and she felt they were more appropriate to the role than heels. She told Timkins exactly what was wrong with their work, and La Haye explained that he didn’t care, Jenkins a la Buck rolled his eyes and told her “whatever! You’ve got all the words there, it doesn’t matter where they go, just make sure my name’s still on it when you’ve done.” then went to complain to her boss.
    Her name was Wanda Newland. She, and her footwear, would regret her audacity when the second book got published.

  • My personal take is that LaHaye didn’t bother vetting the books more than cursorily after he realized he practically had a licence to print money.

  • Daniel

    I heard rumours there were a few up in Manchester too. I’ve never seen any here myself, and the rumours stopped about a week before Alan’s Fried Chicken on Oxford Road was shut down. The two things are almost certainly unconnected.

  • Jared James

    But those tourists, like the Children’s Crusade and most of the Paupers’ Crusade, didn’t even make it to the Holy Land, unless you count the entirety of the Ottoman Empire as holy.

  • Daniel

    “he practically had a licence to print money.”

    Isn’t that one of the signs of the Antichrist?

  • Kenneth Raymond

    This must be the first time I’ve seen that word seriously used since an old, old video game where you played as a pirate and merchants in port had a “dicker” command instead of “haggle” or the like.

    I think this is it:

  • while it’s easy to imagine LaHaye giving approximatly zero fucks, I’d think he’d at least read through them to make sure Jenkins hadn’t accidentally inserted something that made the characters seem like actual human beings or God seem like something other that a complete monster

  • Daniel

    “Even though the outboards are covered in a sack, their raw power is not restrained.”
    Two powerful, though small, motors covered in a wrinkly sack, drove the strong, long, powerful vessel forward through the water. Buck had always associated strength with steele, but he was now learning respect for Michael’s wood. The limber cox steered his tiller with an expert hand, causing little flurries of liquid to splash over the pintle, expertly fitted into a gudgeon made for it. Buck lent over and stroked Michael’s rough sack, damp and course but also welcoming and warm. Buck felt he could stay like this all night.

  • I did say “cursorily”. ;)

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Ah, yes. The Curse of the Sensible Shoes.

  • Jenny Islander

    Ah, yes, Anchorage subdivisions, built with such slapdash haste that the sound of spring on some streets is the musical chug of every single homeowner pumping out the basement. How to water table?

    And Anchorage beyond the heart of downtown looks like a patchwork of big box shopping districts, suburbs with no commons, and muskeg. I read somewhere that the only American city with more sprawl is Phoenix.

  • Panda Rosa

    Oooooh boy, it’s a matter of time before that wannabe tragedy shows up on CNN.

  • Panda Rosa

    Still, I often confuse the Irish and Italian flags as they look just close enough alike if you’re not paying attention. It must have be very tempting to cheat sometimes.

  • Ken

    Don’t forget the Bolton Strid. Sure, it’s probably no more than sixty or eighty feet deep, but no one knows.

  • But for LaHaye, who’d been to the Jordan River and seen it with his own eyes, something more than ignorance had to be at work in his “co-writing” of this fantastic, unreal landscape. He has walked in this world without ever seeing it, preferring instead to see the world of his own ideology, of his own imagining, of his own preference.

    Stuff like this is why I have trouble with people who claim that travel automatically makes someone worldly and cultured. Because there are people who travel and read but somehow never leave their own heads.

    Or, to use a phrase from Ghost in the Shell: Innocence: “No matter how far a jackass travels, it doesn’t become a horse.”

  • The only movie I can think of that was filmed in Ottawa is Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter.

    But that’s okay, because JCVH is hilarious.

  • Daniel

    Particularly if it’s always wearing blinders.

  • bekabot

    These are all scenes which would fit (with a little pulling here and a little tugging there) into Ishtar, if it weren’t already so poison long.

  • Daniel

    That’s unfair. Just because they can’t be proved “objectively” or “by observation” it doesn’t make them any less true. You can’t spell “colossal fantasist” without “fantasti-c” and that’s near enough “fantastic” if you remove the punctuation. Which Buck does. And is.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Unfair? Why, I specified that Buck knows many things the rest of us don’t. Isn’t that the same thing as saying that he’s better informed and more perceptive than we are, just as the Greatest and Most Secretive Reporter In The World ought to be?

  • Daniel

    See how we all run in to problems by not having Buck’s command of the language? I misread you, then I misled you by implying my opinion was serious. I should have taken a leaf from the GIRAT’s sub-notebook and added “If you know what I mean”.

    One day I’ll write as well as Buck, as surely as the Great Wall of China is cold.

    Dammit! I meant “long”!

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Oh, I understood that your comment showed the greatest respect anyone could possibly feel for Buck.

    Why – why – if anyone failed to admire him, it might mean the world was about to end!

  • Daniel

    And given any hint of disrespect he’d be entirely justified in refusing to save it for us. The price of hubris.

    It still baffles me how he’s a Marty Stu though, given that he’s so totally incompetent and ineffective, snide, sneering and self satisfied. Why would anyone want to be that character?

  • aunursa

    Thank you! This is the first time I’ve ever liked a comment before reading beyond the title.

  • aunursa

    Completely pointless geographic trivia of the week:
    Reno is west of LA.

    In fact Reno is slightly west of Santa Barbara.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    This time, I’ll answer seriously – I think Bucky Stu only makes sense if we assume that Timkins honestly thinks the chief rule of good writing is “tell, don’t show, and ignore anything that is shown”. Everything Buck does is lazy or silly or despicable; but they keep telling us that he’s amazingly competent and highly sophisticated and universally admired.

    I’m afraid Timkins believe(s) their own PR.

  • Daniel

    Which raises the question is this how they behave in real life?

    I am very close to ranting incomprehensibly about how horrible it is to read writing this bad given how much I actually care about literature, and how bad it is that a man who writes for a living can so clearly not even care about how it’s done properly… so I’m going to step away from the keyboard. And breathe.
    Deep cleansing breaths.

  • aunursa

    FYI: Jerry’s favorite scene involves “tell, don’t show.” Rather than Jerry revealing the action to the readers as it happens, one character tells another character what had just happened to him while the readers were with the second character in a less interesting situation nearby.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Can anyone get away with behaving this badly in real life? Sometime, somewhere, they’re going to run into a doctor or a bureaucrat or a teenager who feels no need to grovel to them. But I can easily believe this is how they think they should act.

    Gah. Take a few deep breaths for me, if you would. I struggle with writing, partly, yes, because I’d like to get published someday, but also because I want to be able to take pride in whatever I might publish. And then people like Timkins or Stephenie Meyer or Dan Brown or any number of others become rich’n’famous with careless slop.

  • Daniel

    It dawned on me recently that try as I might I will never write what I want to write. I will never know my characters as well as Graham Greene knew his. I will never have the lyrical skill of Nabokov. I will never turn out prose as captivating as Angela Carter. I will never be as pithy as Iain Banks. They are greats. Not being that good is no shame, it’s something to aspire to. But knowing that even using a burnt match on a dog-chewed frisby while drunk and wearing oven gloves I could still write something better than Jenkins bothers me- because unlike Jenkins I’d never submit that for publication.

    Maybe I’m just a godless sinner and I should accept pride in my work is sinful. That seems to be Jenkins’ approach.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    That does seem to be the usual technique in this mess, doesn’t it?

    Granted, it’s a lot of work to think out a scenario and showing it to the reader as things happen. You need to make sure that you stay consistent with the world you’ve created. You must keep your people in character, or else help the reader understand why they’re doing something strange. And at the same time, you have to startle or worry or thrill the reader so they’re eager to find out what happens next.

    “Tell don’t show” is much easier. But, anything else aside, having Character #1 tell Character #2 what recently happened to him destroys every scrap of suspense about whether Character #1 will get out of the crisis in one piece.

    Gah. So. Damn. Lazy.

  • mattepntr

    I worked on “Adventures in Babysitting”, the visual effects scenes involving that building. Aside from the geography issues, you forgot to mention the extra 15-20 stories added to it so it would stick out in the Chicago skyline. ;)

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Oh, heck, I’ll never write anything that’s as good as the initial dream of it promised to be, let alone be any kind of rival to the greats. And there’s probably a lot to the cliche that everybody has a hundred thousand words of bad prose inside – the trick is to get them written and outside you, so you can go on to produce something decent.

    It galls me SO MUCH that Jenkins et al. vomited out their bad hundred thousand words and got paid for it. And worse yet, they carefully avoided learning anything; they seem to have an infinite supply of awful prose to sell.

    (Edit – and it’s past time I got some sleep. I’ll be back tomorrow – that would be September 15, in my time zone.)

  • Alix

    My best friend and I used to come up with the most horrid plots, with the most stilted, cliched characters imaginable, and write stories using them, egging each other on to go over-the-top and spinning wild dreams of publishing this dreck and raking in the millions.

    Then one or the other of us would go, “Nah, this is shit, no one’d be stupid enough to enjoy this.” And then a few weeks later, one of us’d turn up with a bad published novel (usually romance, but other stuff too), and we’d realize that even our attempts at writing something terrible and designed to exploit the masses were better than some of the shit that gets earnestly published.

    …I have remarked, upon seeing stuff on ebay that I know is way cheaper than it’s being sold for, that if I were a shade less moral I’d be easily able to con folks out of millions. I feel the same when I see the dreck folks like Jenkins put out.

  • Hawker40

    My geology professor way back in the 1980’s had what he called “Before and After” photos: “Before” photos where places that (in his opinion) were going to become destroyed due to geological reasons (mudslides, landslides, earthquakes, ocean undercutting, etc.). “After” photos were taken from the same location (if possible) to show the prediction coming true. He had quite an album of photos, mostly in Southern California, showing mostly A: House with ocean view becoming B: House on Pacific Coast Highway blocking traffic. Luckily, most of these disasters took several hours to transpire, so only rarely were thier injuries.
    He would have a field day with houses built in arroyos. A: House in Arroyo. B: House scattered across alluvial fan.

  • There’s a small section of the community where my parents live where one of the requisites for living there is a vehicle with off-road capabilities, since the road leading to has been falling into the bay since 1985, and all the sides surrounding it are either the chesapeake bay, or protected wetlands.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    I believe he hit the helicopter *after* it had landed. Still possible, I suppose, with a *really* unlucky shot…

  • I have to admit I’ve never counted the number of stories on the building, either in real life or the movie.

    Now I have a plan for what to do tomorrow night. Dig out my DVD of AiB.

  • This fellow right here

    Fun fact: Mark Twain worked on a riverboat before he became a journalist/novelist/lovable wiseass. Makes sense he’d baulk at Cooper’s ignorance.

  • Veylon

    You are missing the point of the series – at least with the target audience. Like the Bible and Mein Kampf, the World’s Worst Series is meant to look big and authoritative and visible on a bookshelf.

    If someone comes to your house, they can see that you have L&J’s magnum opus. They can make some positive reference to it, to which you can agree. At this point, you have established that you are both members in good standing of the local Christian Tribe and the series has served it’s purpose.

    Actually taking them down and reading them – beyond the necessary amount to take part in the ritual above – is to put one in the dangerous intellectual class.

  • aunursa

    Many fans have read the entire series several times. They’re so obsessed with the most minute details about the characters and the plot that they often express disappointment whenever there’s an indication that the film might differ from the book on even a minor point. For example, on the announcement that Lea Thompson would play Irene Steele…

    Andi ****** Hmm. I’m pretty sure she didn’t have red hair in the books.

    Nathanael ********* What’s with everybody wanting everything to be exactly like the books? This is a film ADAPTATION of the story in the books. Good grief people, if you’re not happy then just don’t go see the movie! I myself made a comment once about Bruce not being Caucasian like in the book, and you know what? WHO CARES!!! I’m sure the cast is being chosen based on talent and what they can bring to the film. We need to stop criticizing before the film is even out! Can’t wait to see this!!!!

  • aunursa

    Holy smokes! While trying to ascertain Irene’s hair color, I came across this scene from Prequel #1. College students Ray Steele and Irene* have been discussing whether or not Ray should marry Kitty Wyley.

    Irene asked Ray if he wanted a cookie. Somehow it seemed like the best idea he’d heard in a long time. Irene moved to the snack table and returned with not only his favorite — chocolate chip with a big chocolate kiss baked in — but also a Styrofoam cup with coffee just the way he liked it.

    What is it with Jerry Jenkins and his early courtship chocolate chip cookie fetish?

    * It appears that Irene doesn’t earn a last name until she marries Ray.

  • aunursa

    According to Prequel #1, Irene was a brunette in college.

  • Jamoche

    If they were any good at worldbuilding, those sites would still be tourist attractions – this is a world full of people who turned their back on God (by in-universe rules), so there’d be people who’d go to those places to mock them.

  • Guest

    “Many” being the hundreds/thousands of people you’ve seen talking about the series online. Keep in mind that’s still a fairly small portion of the overall audience of the books as represented by their sales in the millions.

  • Daniel

    “It galls me SO MUCH that Jenkins et al. vomited out their bad hundred thousand words and got paid for it”

    And they went unto the publisher, and said unto him, here is our enormous book. And they said unto him, Take it, and puke it up; and it shall make others’ bellies bitter, but it shall be in thy bank account as sweet as honey.

    There I go, citing scripture for my purpose again.

  • aunursa

    True. But would they not be representative of the
    target audience?

  • Mrs Grimble

    <a href=" are also palm trees growing on the west coast of Scotland.

  • Mrs Grimble

    Ooops, don’t know what happened there. I think I must have somehow deleted the contents of my previous post. I’ll try again:

    <a href=" are also palm trees growing on the west coast of Scotland.

  • Wednesday

    Speaking of gospel songs, I can’t decide if the choice of name for the boatman is a sarcastic choice of alias on his part, or a bad joke by Ellenjay. (“Michael, row the boat ashore…”)