NRA: Escape to Antichrist, an anti-Semitic adventure story

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 195-201

We’re about to set off on a rollicking little adventure as Buck Williams becomes a man on the run.

This is that story where the hero has to sneak across the border without getting caught. I love that story. Most people love that story. Ben Affleck’s movie Argo told that story and won a bunch of Oscars for it last year.

This story always works because it’s so simple. The hero is at Point A and has to get to Point B while the villains — all the king’s horses and all the king’s men — are trying to stop him.

Why does the hero have to get to Point B? That doesn’t really matter. “The audience don’t care,” Alfred Hitchcock said. All we need to enjoy this story is what he called the “MacGuffin“:

The main thing I’ve learned over the years is that the MacGuffin is nothing. I’m convinced of this, but I find it very difficult to prove it to others. My best MacGuffin, and by that I mean the emptiest, the most nonexistent, and the most absurd, is the one we used in North by Northwest. The picture is about espionage, and the only question that’s raised in the story is to find out what the spies are after. Well, during the scene at the Chicago airport, the Central Intelligence man explains the whole situation to Cary Grant, and Grant, referring to the James Mason character, asks, “What does he do?”  The counterintelligence man replies, “Let’s just say that he’s an importer and exporter.” “But what does he sell?” “Oh, just government secrets!” is the answer. Here, you see, the MacGuffin has been boiled down to its purest expression: nothing at all!

My guess is that the adventure sequence that begins here and continues for the next several chapters is a favorite section for fans of these books. I think that’s because those readers have learned — from hundreds of Hollywood movies — to enjoy the ride just as Hitchcock says. Don’t sweat the MacGuffin, that will only distract you from the fun of the chase and from seeing how our hero is able to overcome all the obstacles the story throws in his path.

These chapters of Nicolae aren’t written any better than the rest of the book, but the simplicity of the formula here gives Jerry Jenkins a clarity of purpose and a narrative momentum that the rest of the book is lacking. If we just accept the validity of the MacGuffin, we can go along for the ride. And even though Jenkins’ prose throws as many obstacles in the reader’s path as his story sets before Buck Williams, that simplicity and clarity will get us to ask the vital question “What happens next?”

Iranians were upset with “Argo,” because its escape-driven plot made Iran look evil. The escape-driven plot in “Nicolae” is set in Israel.

Reviews of the Left Behind books within the evangelical subculture frequently refer to these books as “page-turners” — a description that, most of the time, is utterly wrong. But here it’s somewhat appropriate. If we read this section the way we’ve been trained to by Hitchcock and a thousand other skilled storytellers, we’re propelled through this adventure. Once we accept the premise implied by the MacGuffin — that it is very important that Buck Williams gets to Point B — we become just as determined as he is to get him there, and all the false starts, wrong turns, tangents, distractions, banalities and dull patches that Jenkins lays across our path aren’t going to stop us from seeing this thing through all the way to Point B.

Unfortunately, though, this is not North by Northwest. I don’t just mean that Buck Williams is no Cary Grant or that Jerry Jenkins is no Alfred Hitchcock — although both of those are certainly true. I mean that this story isn’t presented in a way that allows us to enjoy it the way we can enjoy North by Northwest. We’re not just being told a thrilling story for the sake of entertainment — we’re being taught a theological lesson. Jenkins’ “co-author” here is Tim LaHaye, a “Bible prophecy scholar” who chose to produce these novels in order to teach us what he believes the Bible teaches about the End Times — about real events that will really happen very soon here in the real world.

This story won’t allow us to accept a MacGuffin boiled down to its purest form of nothing at all. In Left Behind, the MacGuffin always matters. We can’t ever just relax and go along for the ride: Point A to Point B because MacGuffin. We’re supposed to be learning about Point A, and about Point B, and about whatever the reason it is that our hero has to get from one to the other.

So let’s just briefly take a look at some of those elements before we set off with Buck Williams on the race to Point B.

The MacGuffin here is a person: the former Rabbi turned fundamentalist Christian evangelist Tsion Ben-Judah. Point A is Israel. Point B is Not Israel. The plot, in other words, is that Buck has to help his friend Tsion escape from Israel.

That’s odd, considering what we already know about the world of this story. In this world, Israel is the only remaining sovereign nation on Earth — the only place in the entire world not controlled and policed by the Antichrist’s one-world government. And the authors have assured us that the geographically expanded Israel of these books is a prosperous, peaceful nation on the best of terms with all neighboring people — a country without all the security barriers and checkpoints and walls that now line the Palestinian territories.

That means our story now involves our hero fleeing from the one peaceful country on Earth into the hands of the apotheosis of evil. Buck and Tsion are trying to escape to the Antichrist. Buck and Tsion are desperately racing to get into a tyrannical dictatorship led by the Beast himself, a madman who just a few days ago started arbitrarily killing millions of people by nuking New York, Washington, London, Cairo, Chicago, San Francisco, etc.

So already the basic formula of Point A to Point B is weirdly broken. It’s like we’re reading about Andy Dufresne trying to break into Shawshank prison.

That wouldn’t be an insurmountable problem if we were given some easily ingested explanation for why Tsion has to flee Israel. The usual MacGuffin-ish way of accounting for such a need to flee a free country involves the hero being falsely accused of some crime. Jenkins nods in that direction, briefly, with a muddled bit about the death squads who killed Tsion’s family claiming to have been hired by him, but no one — including the author and the readers — seems to find this convincing. The death squads are after Tsion now not because of some half-hearted frame job, but because he converted to fundamentalist Christianity.

Tsion is forced to flee Israel, in other words, because he is a Christian. Jenkins tells us this repeatedly in these pages and in the chapters that follow, always in a way that suggests its obvious and well-known that any rabbi who converted to Christianity would be hunted down and killed by the Israeli government. Jenkins just assumes that readers know this to be the case: You know how those Jews are, they kill Christians.

As much as I’d like to stick with the standard practice of not sweating the details of the MacGuffin, that’s difficult to do in this case because the MacGuffin is blithely, but viciously, anti-Semitic. Take away the anti-Semitic assumptions and nothing in these chapters makes any sense. It’s not an incidental, background slander here — anti-Semitism is the engine that drives the narrative.

And we’re not talking about some slightly offensive ethnic stereotyping, either. This is hard-core, blood-libel stuff: Israeli death squads killed Tsion’s family, which is to say Jews kill Christian babies. This MacGuffin isn’t just a set of “secret plans” we can accept and ignore thereafter. This MacGuffin is an old and deadly lie at the root of centuries of slaughter.

Why would anyone want to flee into a tyrannical dictatorship led by Satan’s own hand-picked evil mastermind? To get away from the Christ-hating, Christian-children-murdering Jews.

Throughout the pot-boilerplate, paint-by-numbers adventure in the chapters to come, we can’t avoid that. Even when Jenkins semi-capably creates a bit of familiar tension with familiar plot devices — the traffic stops and check-points from a thousand superior escape thrillers — we’re aware that the tension and suspense we’re meant to feel is based on a presumption about some intrinsic malice and danger attributed to all Jews. The authors assume we share that presumption.

That gives this whole adventure sequence over the following chapters a Birth-of-a-Nation feel to it. Unlike Jerry Jenkins, D.W. Griffith was a masterful artist, but while The Birth of a Nation is a work of art, it’s also a repugnant film. Griffith directed his whole genius to getting his viewers caught up in a thrilling adventure story, but the only way to get caught up in that story is to accept the racism and racist mythology that drives his plot. Griffiths’ racist enthusiasm isn’t something overlaid on top of his story, it is the premise of that story. Without it, the story cannot happen.

Am I suggesting that Tim LaHaye, Jerry Jenkins, and the millions of Very Nice Christians who enjoyed Nicolae as a “page-turner” are all, therefore, vicious anti-Semites?

Well … let’s not jump to conclusions. Let’s work our way through the adventure of Buck and Tsion and their thrilling escape from Israel back into the safety of the Antichrist’s one-world government. Let’s consider the story as it unfolds and all that Buck and Tsion and other characters have to say in the chapters to come. And then, after our heroes arrive at Point B, we can consider that question again.

 

 

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Remember, to draw in the Timkins crowd, they must be very sincere robes!

  • SirThinkALot

    I’m surprised you discussed the macguffin without mentioning the ultimate one: the mysterious briefcase from Pulp Fiction. What’s in it? Nobody knows, and it doesn’t matter. It’s just an excuse for Vincent and Jules to do what they do in the film.

  • arcseconds

    I saw a stage version of Enron, and I was rather disturbed by the fact that you (well, I, but others seemed to experience the same thing) end up rooting for the Enron fellas a bit, share in their celebration of Bush’s election, etc, before going “hang on a bit!…”

    At least the bomber crew in Dr. Strangelove seem like likeable people risking their own lives to do something that’s not too difficult to see as the correct thing to do, given the information they have.

  • Kenneth Raymond

    Well, a briefcase can still be grabbed and passed around, it’s a physical object. A government secret? You don’t even need a prop for that, which is hard to top as an example of a thing that’s nothing at all.

  • SirThinkALot

    I was thinking in terms of understanding its importance to the characters and story. With a government secret you at least have some understanding(even if its not 100% clear) of its importance and why it matters to the characters.

    But, in Pulp Fiction, you really have no idea why Marsellus Wallis wants the case, nor does it matter. All thats needed to be understood is that he does, and the film can go on without it even mattering.

  • SkyknightXi

    I think the point is that the Mashiakh traits usually assigned to Jesus were actually meant to refer to Kurash. Although I have to wonder if Isaiah/Jeremiah/whoever intended an insuperable, capital-M Mashiakh (leave aside for now the fact that the Hebrew alphabet doesn’t seem to have capitalization…at least, I don’t think it does), or some kind of honorary mashiakh title, sort of like with Nebraskan Admirals?

  • dpolicar

    Hebrew has a bunch of orthographic conventions that play a role that overlaps what capitals do for the Roman alphabet, kinda, but really aren’t the same thing. There’s no equivalent of “capital-M-Moshiach”.

  • http://algol.wordpress.com/ SororAyin

    Yes, that’s probably true. There seems to be a lot of projection going one. I think that may be true of the Left Behind characters too. Fans are too busy projecting their own hopes and dreams onto Buck and Rayford to notice how truly appalling both men really are. At least, that’s a charitably interpretation of LB fandom.

  • Ymfon

    Actually, if Rosenzweig’s miracle is still canon, the jungle could make a sort of sense. (I’d like to nominate And just because the cabal that had emerged from the shadows to run the
    world publicly happened not to be Jewish, it by no means meant that
    there wasn’t a secret conspiracy operating behind the facade of the
    public conspiracy.
    instread.)

    But yes, I agree about Daniel’s ruthless persecution of us poor readers.

  • Panda Rosa

    the Jordan… with boatman Michael… my stars and garters, why is this not set in Chicago! The Jungle of the Jordan (wonderful name!) must be teeming with bulls! (ducks to avoid tomatoes)

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Are the ducks riding on the bulls’ heads? Because that would be awesome.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    That’s another excellent line. And you’re right about Rosenzweig’s magic fertilizer – heck, just think what that stuff could do to the Atacama Desert in Chile, where it rains once a generation or so!

  • Daniel

    I’m imagining bulls with snorkels hidden in duck decoys swimming stealthily alongside Michael’s mighty vessel, the only giveaway to the false ducks being the horns sticking out either side. They’re some sort of elite bovine diving unit, “water buffaloes” with a harsh drill sergeant:
    “Only two types of cattle come from Jerusalem- Steers and Queers, and you don’t look like no… wait”

    Basketball references pass me by.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    I would pay semi-good money to see that! And from now on, water buffaloes are an elite bovine diving unit.

    I have to admit that Panda Rosa’s basketball reference passed me by too – I’m too short to pay attention to basketball.

  • Daniel

    Yep, I’m basically a beardless gnome, and English, so basket ball tends to happen miles away and miles above me. Incidentally, Water Buffaloes, being ungulates, have a hard time stripping down and reassembling their firearms, often putting them back together wrong. It’s easy to identify an undercover WB- they’ll be carrying gnus.

  • mhelbert

    Ok, Fred…I need a glass of Bushmill’s now. But, wait…Bushmill’s is Irish. Isn’t MacGuffin Scotch?

  • Guy

    Hey, since we have you here…

    Look, I don’t wanna be an ass. But can you, maybe, speed up the whole taking over the planet thing? That would be really nice. Our leaders here are kinda jackhole douche-nozzles, and i think we need a change in things. I mean, if it helps, i can print up some flyers or something. You know, start a blog. Anything to speed this along.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    (Collapses in helpless laughter.)

  • arcseconds

    I generally find James Mason just plain annoying, but he’s great as the overbearing Vandamm (still annoying, but it works).

    I rather loved Martin Landau, though…

  • Lori

    Martin Landau is pretty much always a pleasure to watch.

    Of course when it comes to villains I have a personal soft spot for Claude Rains. (So many dastardly roles, but IRL he was by all accounts a really good person. When I lived in LA I was acquainted with his daughter and she’s terrific too.)

  • arcseconds

    I have a friend who works in the game industry as a designer.

    The combination of a volatile industry, frequently with problematic working conditions, plus being on the H1B ‘indentured servitude’ visa (and the accompanying fun of dealing with US immigration every time you change jobs) doesn’t exactly make for a secure and stress-free existence.

    I’ve always felt this kind of thing to be an obvious failing of capitalism. Things people actually want to do, in many cases because they’re intrinsically worthwhile, frequently end up being low pay, long hours and high stress jobs, often under resourced, too.

    Free market people would say “well, it’s a fair deal, the satisfaction is part of the pay! If you’re prepared to work at that under those conditions, then that’s the best deal you can get, and who can complain about that?”

    Well, I would, that’s who. Society should be about people doing what they find worthwhile under the best possible conditions to as great an extent as possible, not about using people’s talents and enthusiasm against them to allow for the most dismal conditions you can get away with.

    (and don’t tell me people need to get rewarded to do the dirty work. People certainly get rewarded for dirty work for some sense of ‘dirty’, like coming up with economy-destroying financial instruments, but we really ought not to reward that. Dirty but necessary work seldom gets a decent pay rate.)

  • arcseconds
  • aunursa

    Did he even mention the Talmud once?

    No. He mentions that he studied various religious texts, but he only quotes the New Testament and a Christian version of the “Old Testament.” Since Hebrew was his primary language and he was a native Israeli Orthodox rabbi, one might think that he would quote the Hebrew Bible in … ya know … Hebrew. But then one would remember the authors.

  • ohiolibrarian

    Best bit. The bidding scene.

  • ugluk2

    It’s been years since I wasted time skimming these books, but I think Fred overdoes the criticism. The books are bad, stupid, horrible, boring, banal, poorly written, bigoted, and so forth–but Fred tends to makes them seem even worse than they are.

    It’s a post-Rapture world. Everyone who is “left behind” is either a non-Christian who has converted to Christianity or soon about to convert, or he (or she) is a hell bound sinner and either a collaborator with Satan or at very best, a dupe who deserves to be tortured for all eternity for not being a born again Christian. Why shouldn’t Jews try to kill Christians? Everyone else does, in this alternative universe. The real conundrum for the authors would be the existence of decent human beings who risk their lives to save Christians without being Christians themselves. Such people would have to be on the verge of conversion–otherwise they would really complicate the theology. The point of view of the books is anti-everyone who isn’t a Christian, not anti-semitic in particular. Though obviously the writers will show their utter idiocy when they write about Judaism as they will about every other subject. Jews, are, if anything, ever so slightly less bad than other non-Christians, though again, we’re not talking about real people, but Jews as the writers imagine them to be. But they are “chosen”, so they get a certain benefit from this in the Left Behind universe, though it doesn’t do them any good in the end if they don’t become Christian.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Why shouldn’t Jews try to kill Christians? Everyone else does, in this alternative universe.

    But there has to be SOME kind of reason, and absent a compelling reason to do so one has to conclude the entire world has become so deranged as to be an active danger to Christians.

    Yet L&J show no signs of portraying that kind of derangement except as a narrative convenience. Rayford still puts his house up for sale and goes grocery shopping just like he did before the Rapture. Buck happily slaps down his Global Credit Card for a circa $70,000 truck barely half an hour before a nuclear bomb’s about to go off, and even haggles to get the rental car he and Rayford just beat all to shit driving off-road driven back to the airport by some flunky.

    So Fred is doing a service, I think, by microscoping this analysis not just chapter by chapter but page by page as well.

  • mattepntr

    Yeah, that last scene with Grace Kelly in “Rear Window”, where she picks up the fashion magazine (or whatever it was) once she realizes Stewart is asleep was….disappointing to say the least.

  • ralphie44

    .

  • Alix

    A bit late, but – congratulations!

  • FearlessSon

    A friend of mine who works as an industry animator (on Halo and The Elder Scrolls Online among other things) is always going on about wanting game developers to unionize.

    But then he is Canadian and, as my girlfriend snarkily puts it, “had the misfortune of living in a socialist country that works.”

  • Rhubarbarian82

    I had a friend who worked at a Canadian Flash studio for TV animation, and their conditions and pay were genuinely awful. Since most shops in LA are union, we… still have really crappy hours. But we get good pay and benefits, at least. From those I’ve talked to, most people in FX and games animation are too terrified of outsourcing to want to unionize for higher wages, unfortunately.

  • FearlessSon

    LA has always been pretty goof for unions, but that has a lot to do with how Hollywood’s business works. Movies need variable amounts of highly qualified people at various times, so it does not work for constant employment. But unions form the bridge between different professional disciplines that allows people starting a project to hire lots of qualified people quickly for short-term employment.

    But yeah, the games industry can be outsourced. So can the general software industry. One thing my roommate worries about is that, as qualified as he is, he could be replaced by three Indian college grads who would be willing to take a third of the pay each so long as their visas are handled. Granted, he has some pretty specific and unusual skills so that is unlikely assuming he gets a job that requires them, but it is still a worry.

  • chrisalgoo

    Hell yes, congratulations!

  • http://oldmaid.jallman.net/ TheOldMaid

    Why shouldn’t Jews try to kill Christians?
    Besides everything? How about this: No one else is doing it. Even Nicky himself is nuking cities because were pestholes of secular gun huggers led by Prez-Fitz. The only Christian Nicolae confesses to whacking (well, Hattie confesses that Nicky confessed it) is Bruce Barnes. After Nicholae’s indwelling by Satan that does change, but for the most part Christians mostly just get called a few names. Middle-school kids endure worse bullying.
    The real conundrum for the authors would be the existence of decent human beings who risk their lives to save Christians without being Christians themselves. Such people would have to be on the verge of conversion–otherwise they would really complicate the theology.
    *cough* Every first responder (firefighter, ambulance, ER) in the series *cough* … but special bonus points for “Krystall” in #11 (“Armageddon” … review in bloglink), a character who fights to save Chloe’s life and protects her Christian uncle Gregory despite her own Mark of the Beast which guarantees her eternal doom. She says she does it because Nicky’s a big meanie boss who makes her cry, so she helps God’s people because Because.

    By the way, welcome ugluk2. Please don’t kill us with sheep. *tribal greeting*

  • Trixie_Belden

    That’s great news! I hope it turns out to be a job you really love.

  • Lunch Meat

    River?

  • hf

    >River?

    Actually, that makes some sense. Buck and Ray work for the villain (duh) and River drugged them into hallucinating this whole story, while the Doctor investigates the disappearances.


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