NRA: Anywhere I lay my head

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pg. 203

(I’m skipping ahead briefly here to deal with the first two sentences of the next chapter. Those sentences so perfectly encapsulate one aspect of these books that I have to talk about them first, just to clear my head of them before we deal with the rest of the story surrounding them here.)

Buck Williams went to Israel to find his friend, the former rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah, who recently converted to fundamentalist Christianity. Tsion is now in hiding because, in the minds of the authors, any Jew who converts to Christianity will be hunted down and killed by angry Israelis.

For help finding Tsion, Buck turned to this novel’s version of the “Two Witnesses” from the book of Revelation: Moses and Elijah. The two ancient patriarchs apparently helped Tsion go into hiding. “Moishe” and “Eli” want to help Buck find Tsion. Unfortunately, however, they are unable to give him clear directions, as the authors only allow them to speak in quotations from the Bible (apart from yelling at anyone who dares to interrupt them or instructing Buck to answer his phone).

This still shouldn’t have been that difficult. As it turns out, Tsion is hiding along a tributary a few miles east of the Jordan River. Elijah, being Elijah, could have just sent Buck there directly by reciting part of his own story from the Bible: “Go from here and turn eastwards, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.”

But no, that would be too easy. So instead the Two Witnesses just take turns quoting verses that mention Galilee, hoping that Buck will get the impression that he should head in that direction and thus fall into the hands of Michael — the guerrilla fighter they’ve sent to guard Tsion’s hiding place and to kill anyone other than Buck who comes looking for him.

The Bible-code conversation Buck has with the Two Witnesses goes on and on and on, but here’s the relevant bit from back on page 164:

“If I came back here later tonight, might I learn more?”

Moishe backed away from the fence and sat on the pavement, leaning against a wall. Eli gestured and spoke aloud, “Birds of the air have nests,” he said, “but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

“I don’t understand,” Buck said. “Tell me more.”

“He who has ears –”

Buck was frustrated. “I’ll come back at midnight. I’m pleading for your help.”

Eli was now backing away too. “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

That “birds of the air” bit comes from the Gospel of Luke (and Matthew):

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

It’s hard to know what to make of Eli’s appropriation of that passage in his conversation with Buck. For the Gospel writers, “the Son of Man” was a reference to Jesus, but Eli seems to be referring to Tsion. But let’s not pick on him too much for that, since the whole “Son of Man” motif in scripture came along way after Elijah’s time and we should cut him and Moses some slack when dealing with post-exilic passages they’re bound to find confusing.

I assumed back there on page 164 that this cut-and-paste citation of “nowhere to lay his head” was just a reference to the fact that Tsion no longer had a home but was, as Jesus said of those who would follow him, now without a “hole” or a “nest” to call his own.

The mistake there is obvious, but even after all this time immersed in these books, it’s one I keep making. I see these biblical quotations and allusions in Nicolae, and I recall the passages being invoked and what those passages mean. That’s just habit and reflex, but it’s a habit that doesn’t serve one well when reading this series.

Here are the first two sentences of Chapter 11, reporting Buck’s very first impression as he and Michael arrive inside the “underground shelter” serving as Tsion Ben-Judah’s wilderness hideout:

Buck was struck that there were no real bed and no pillows in the hideout. So this is what the witnesses meant when they quoted that verse about having nowhere to lay his head, Buck thought.

This is what Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins regard as a “literal interpretation of the Bible.” It distills their method down to its essence: Disregard context. Disregard the meaning of any figurative language or the meaning of any striking imagery. Focus instead on the words — the actual English words as written there in English. Now imagine some way of applying those English words to some near-future setting so that their “true” meaning applies only as a “prophecy” foretelling future events.

For Tim LaHaye “nowhere to lay his head” would not be true of Tsion just because he’s in hiding, forced to flee his home and to huddle in an underground cave. It can only be true if Tsion is literally deprived of a literal pillow.

Here again are those verse from Luke’s Gospel:

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

And here, again, is what Tim LaHaye believes those verses must mean: “no real bed and no pillows.”

Jesus’ admonition about the cost of discipleship becomes a literal, historic statement about his lack of pillows. And also a prophecy foretelling the lack of pillows for his followers — which doesn’t mean his first-century disciples or the centuries of Christians who came after them, but must mean the only followers of Jesus who matter, the 144,000 “Tribulation Saints” cryptically mentioned in the book of Revelation.

OK, then.

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A quick follow-up on last week’s post, in which we discussed the odd geography of Tsion’s hideout. The shelter, we are told, is inside Israel, even though it is: “… on the east side of the [Jordan] River … about five kilometers inland.”

In our world, that puts the hideout three miles inside of the nation of Jordan. But in the world of Left Behind, the nation of Jordan does not exist.

In our world, three miles to the west of the Jordan River would put you inside the West Bank. But in the world of Left Behind, the West Bank does not exist.

Last week we mainly discussed this in terms of these books’ hilariously strange geography. But what about the people? That’s not so funny. That’s actually kind of frightening.

In the world of Left Behind, Jordanians and Palestinians do not exist. They’re just … gone.

Where did they go? We’re not told. It doesn’t matter. But they’re not there anymore.

Bryce Renninger discusses Spike Jonze’s new movie Her — another story set in the near future. Jonze’s movie takes place in Los Angeles, but this not-so-distant future LA is very different from the city we know in one important aspect: “There don’t seem to be any Latino people in the whole damn film. … Los Angeles’s nearly 50-percent Latino/Hispanic population has disappeared.”

Renninger says this makes Jonze’s movie a kind of “dystopia of gentrification.”

Left Behind isn’t intended to be a dystopia. It’s intended to be prophecy — a depiction of the world as it will be, very soon, because this is how the Bible says it will be.

And the future it prophesies does not include any Jordanians or Palestinians.

Tim LaHaye’s prophecy does not say what happens to those people. Tim LaHaye’s prophecy does not care what happens to those people. All that matters, as far as the prophecy is concerned, is that they are gone — that they have ceased to exist.

And until they cease to exist, Jesus cannot come back. And Tim LaHaye wants Jesus to come back.

That’s not so much a dystopia of gentrification as it is a dystopia of ethnic cleansing.


Sunday WTF?
Left Behind Classic Fridays, No. 26: ‘Go to Hell’
NRA: Papa is still preaching (it gets worse)
Artificial lemons
  • Jenny Islander

    I wonder what they make of the Song of Songs.

  • P J Evans

    I think they avoid that one. (It’s hard to read without ROFL the descriptions that are trying to give it a purely spiritual interpretation. It’s <iexplicitly about love and sexytimes.

  • P J Evans

    I hate it when my HTML goes wonky….

  • baronsabato

    Yeah, Ming Toy doesn’t sound right at all to me for a Chinese name, especially since “Toy” and “Wong” don’t correspond to any words in the pinyin transliteration system (which is the official transliteration system for the People’s Republic of China). If they were Taiwanese or maybe from Hong Kong, that might be different.

  • P J Evans

    Cantonese, maybe?

  • PepperjackCandy

    “Song of Songs” is interpreted figuratively. It is a metaphor comparing the relationship of God (or Christ) to humanity.

  • PepperjackCandy

    I found a Cantonese surname, toi4, that seems to correspond to the Pinyin “tai2.”

    Also, apparently the list of “Left Behind” characters at Wikipedia is only available in two languages — English and Romanian.

  • ReverendRef

    My snarky side would love to be a hotel owner who would remove all the pillows from LaJenkins room should they ever stay at my hotel. When they complained, I could just say, ““Birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

    We all have fantasies.

  • Mordicai

    That is the most polite revenge fantasy I’ve ever heard.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Yep. My old pillow got so squashed flat I started noticing it was making my neck tilt in a way that was really uncomfortable. I got a new pillow the same day that is a lot more comfortable and keeps my head up so it doesn’t make my neck all crooked. :)

  • Baby_Raptor

    Flat pillows are the WORST. Yay for your new one.

  • Baby_Raptor

    That’s some awesome revenge.

  • sidhe

    I read that, and my heart died a little.

  • Lori

    IME it’s what P J Evans said + what PepperjackCandy said. They avoid it was much as possible and when they can’t avoid it they try to turn it into a metaphor, which is pretty much made of FAIL and sends them back to avoidance.

    Plenty of people read it (assuming they’re telling the truth about following those read through the Bible in a year plans), but almost no one ever talks about it. I literally can’t remember the last time I heard anyone quote Song of Songs/Solomon. That’s saying something considering that I’ve heard both Chronicles and Habakkuk quoted recently.

  • Michael Albright

    Pierce’s pillow-monster superweapon has been unleashed on Blanketsburg.

  • reynard61

    When I read it, I read it for what it is: an erotic poem. *Visualizing* what I was reading made it funny! (Some of the descriptions are hilarious when read in a “literalistic” context.)

  • reynard61

    That’s easy: LaHaye thinks he’s The GCPIAT (Greatest Christian Prophecy Interpreter of All Time), and Jenkins thinks he’s The GCWAT. (Greatest Christian Writer of All Time.)

  • We Must Dissent

    There has not been a Secretary of Education in the US named Rhee. Are you thinking of former Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools Michelle “Three years in the classroom with no training” Rhee?

  • arghous

    That’s amazing. ‘Translation’ (i.e. physical relocation) and ‘translation’ (i.e. language/language transformation) are identical. (And this is so obvious and apparently controversial that some modern ‘translatiors’ can’t bring themselves to translate ‘translation’ properly.)

    And since the ‘translation’ is by definition better, my subsequent retranslation of the entire Bible from KJV to “Don’t be a dick to one another.” must be the bestest translation of them all. I expect my royalty checks to start rolling in.

  • arghous

    Since two of the references to pillows in the KJV say they are made of goat’s hair, one wouldn’t be far wrong describing such a hunt as killing people with sheep.

  • Lorehead

    Ronald Reagan, from the “Evil Empire” speech:

    A number of years ago, I heard a young father, a very prominent young man in the entertainment world, addressing a tremendous gathering in California. It was during the time of the cold war, and communism and our own way of life were very much on people’s minds. And he was speaking to that subject. And suddenly, though, I heard him saying, “I love my little girls more than anything—” And I said to myself, “Oh, no, don’t. You can’t—don’t say that.” But I had underestimated him. He went on: “I would rather see my little girls die now, still believing in God, than have them grow up under communism and one day die no longer believing in God.”

    There were thousands of young people in that audience. They came to their feet with shouts of joy. They had instantly recognized the profound truth in what he had said, with regard to the physical and the soul and what was truly important.

    To limit myself to just one of the many, many logical flaws in this speech, he claimed in the same speech to have faith that God would not allow Communism to win and extinguish Christianity. If that were really true, he would choose any amount of tribulation over the deaths of every American, confident that the Soviets would no more succeed with them than the Roman emperors.

  • Jamoche

    Jane Lindskold had a character in Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls who could only speak in quotes that she’d found particularly meaningful. It worked, quite well.

  • arcseconds

    I don’t see the relevance of ‘familiarity breeds comtempt’.

    Tim and Jerry show very little familiarity with church history, Christianity (outside their own little parochial American evangelical subculture), or anyone who doesn’t share their paradigm.

    Or, you know, technology, geography, politics, morality, human behaviour in general…

    unless perhaps the point is that by becoming familiar with Tim and Jerry, we come to contemn them?

  • auroramere

    Maybe this is another wonderful gift of bipedalism, along with slipping of pregnancy-supporting muscles.

  • auroramere

    Just that it’s disrespectful to call Elijah ‘Eli’, the way Dean calls Castiel ‘Cas’. Disrespectfully familiar.

  • Veylon

    No. There where a lot of Charismatic-flavored – which I now recognize as such – Christian novels floating around my dad’s house in the 90′s. I think it was one of those. Left Behind hadn’t really built up steam yet.

  • arcseconds

    Oh, I see :-)

    ‘Moishe’ is close to how modern Hebrew pronounces the name. ‘Eli’ is a name in its own right, and it’s also used as a shortened version of ‘Elijah’, so it’s more like calling a Jonathan ‘Jon’. A little familiar, perhaps, but not a really chummy one like ‘Billy’.

    I always thought the main point here was not familiarity, but rather an attempt at a bit of an erudite mystery, so the readers can feel a bit excited and feel a little inducted into the Tim LaHaye Mystery Cult when they work out who they really are.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    … and said mystery is as sophomorically ridiculous as Rayford making Nicolae take a pratfall in the airplane.

  • arcseconds

    Yes, it’s along the same lines as all the other silly puzzles, like Viv Ivans.

    Calling the figure known in English as ‘Moses’ ‘Moshe’ might have worked if the point was to induct the reader into some understanding of Moshe as a Jewish figure. But of course, Tim and Jerry are in no position to provide the reader with insight into anything, except unwittingly into the mindset of patriarchal, narcissistic, parochial 20th-century, upper middle class white American post-millennial dispensationalists.

    I don’t really love the puzzles in the Potterverse, either, but at least they were aimed at actual children.

  • arcseconds

    Didn’t one of the witches in Madeleine L’Engle’s books do that, too?

  • Lorehead

    And he couldn’t have meant 5km east of the Mediterranean, either, because that would get him nowhere near the Jordan river. It couldn’t even be unfamiliarity with the metric system, since anyplace “inland” of the Jordan river or the Dead Sea would be in modern Jordan.

    Maybe what’s happened is that the Jews and Palestinians have traded places. Israel’s gone back to its Biblical borders, what we today would call the West Bank and the East Bank of the Jordan, and the Arabs now live on the coast. I wonder what they’d call Tel Aviv. Arafat City?

    But then what would sailors be doing in Israeli Jerusalem?

  • arcseconds

    Speaking of which, Jewish culture doesn’t seem to be adverse to things which look a bit like puzzley nicknames.

    The figure I know as Maimonides is called ‘Rambam’, for example, an acronym for ‘Rabbi Mosheh ben Maimon’.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    That’s right, I remember that. Wasn’t it Mrs. Who, the oldest?

  • Invisible Neutrino

    In L&J-land, yes, because L&J are unimaginative as hell about names.

    In reality they’d probably use the original name Jaffa, which was apparently given that name from Thutmose.

  • PJEvans

    I like flat pillows. Bouncy ones are a nuisance.

  • Lorehead

    Now that I look, I can actually find webpages about “the Palestinian city of Jaffa” that are about as connected to reality as anything L&J wrote. It’s like the photographic negative of the fantasy that all the Palestinians would just disappear in some manner that we aren’t going to talk about.

  • arcseconds

    It was the oldest, yes. The names I don’t remember — I’m not any good with names.

  • Lorehead

    Surely you mean, “Oy vey! Here I should shleep, im der keetchin?”

  • dpolicar

    Yup. Rashi, another major source of Biblical commentary, is similarly an acronym for Rabbi Shimon Itzhaki. (It helps here to know that “sh” is one letter in Hebrew, and that vowels aren’t letters at all.)

  • arcseconds

    Am I right in thinking there’s a degree of affection involved in the acronymic names?

    Also, as I was saying: the use of ‘Moishe’ as a (thin) disguise for Moses, the fact that acronyms are often involved in popular novels about religion and the supernatural as well as names for Rabbis, and the famous rabinnical love of puzzles all suggest to me is that someone could employ these kinds of techniques to write something that was informative about Judaism.

    It goes without saying that that person isn’t J.Jenkins.

  • aunursa

    I browsed through a couple of the military books. But the action in the Middle East didn’t interest me, so I just skipped those and read the parts involving the soldier’s wife, a counselor at a military base in Georgia. When the Rapture happens, she is on the roof of a building trying to save a troubled 11 year-old* who is about to fall 50 feet to the ground. As she loses her grip, she watches in horror as he falls toward certain death. Just before he hits the ground, he vanishes, leaving only his clothes in a neat pile.
    An as-it-happens view of the Rapture that Jerry Jenkins never showed his readers.

    * Since everyone ten and under was raptured, presumably God considered the boy not mature enough to be held accountable.

  • aunursa

    they have different surnames

    Wong is her maiden name. Toy is the surname of her dead husband, whose eternal torment in the Lake of Fire she never once ponders.

  • aunursa

    Religious Jews interpret the Song of Songs as symbolic of the relationship between God and Israel. Religious Christians see it as symbolic of the relationship between Jesus and the Church.

    I see the Song of Songs as proof that God has a sense of humor. He allowed an erotic love poem to be included in the Holy Scriptures as a joke. And the religious Jews and Christians all fell for it.

  • dpolicar

    I have no idea if they were affectionate originally or not, but at this point they’re more like titles, no affection involved.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    I just checked. It *was* Mrs. Who, but Mrs. Which is the oldest.

  • Jared James

    That is actually a scene that might bring the reality of the rapturization home. Well played, Mel Doom. Odom. Whichever.

  • Lorehead

    Unless they’re dipthongs, in which case they’re the letter Y, and sometimes a long O or OO is a W (pronounced in modern Hebrew as V). Hence Rashi = RaSHiY.

  • Lorehead

    Let me see if I understand this. The evidence that the King James translation is better than the original manuscripts is that the King James translation sometimes uses the word translate in the obsolete sense of transfer? And because God did it, it must have been good, so the KJV says that “translation” is a good thing, and we can insert this statement, with no context, into a discussion in contemporary English of whether to make the effort of learning Hebrew or Greek and read it as endorsing one English “translation?” Therefore, trust the KJV because the KJV says to trust the KJV, and don’t you trust the KJV?

  • Jamoche

    Given I’ve already referenced the Goon Show, I guess it won’t make me feel any older to say I always think of this Spike Jones instead.

  • Lorehead

    “Presumably” in that the authors never explain what did happen, I take it?