L.B.: Muggletonians

L.B.: Muggletonians July 6, 2007

Left Behind, pp. 301-302

As Chapter 17 begins, LaHaye and Jenkins seem suddenly to realize that they’ve scarcely made any headway through the End Times Checklist. Rapture? Check. Antichrist? Check. Woes, seals, trumpets, scrolls, angels, horsemen, witnesses, martyrs, dragons, talking eagles? Nothing yet and we’re already 300+ pages in.

So here’s where they start making up for lost time, plowing through the Book of Revelation with stretches of pure, unadulterated exposition.

It is still the Longest Day and Rayford still can’t sleep, so he turns on his new TV and puts on CNN. Instead of the usual Larry King reruns the not-really-24-hour network shows in the wee hours, he sees a report from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem:

“No one knows the two men,” said the CNN reporter on the scene, “who refer to each other as Eli and Moishe. They have stood here before the Wailing Wall since just before dawn, preaching in a style frankly reminiscent of the old American evangelists. Of course the Orthodox Jews here are in an uproar, charging the two with desecrating this holy place by proclaiming that Jesus Christ of the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Torah’s prophecy of a messiah.

“Thus far there has been no violence, though tempers are flaring, and authorities keep a watchful eye. Israeli police and military personnel have always been loath to enter this area, leaving religious zealots here to handle their own problems. This is the most explosive situation in the Holy Land since the destruction of the Russian air force, and this newly prosperous nation has been concerned almost primarily with outside threats.

“For CNN, this is Dan Bennett in Jerusalem.”

Bennett’s reference to “the old American evangelists” is puzzling. It’s possible he means old as in old-fashioned, or old-style — as though these two men were preaching like Billy Sunday. But it seems here more like he’s saying “old” in recognition of the fact that all of the American evangelists have disappeared. If that’s the case, Bennett is the first person — apart from those who have watched the ICR video — to have realized that the disappeared are all either children or born-again RTCs. It’s hard to know which is meant here because, of course, neither Bennett nor L&J allows CNN’s camera to show us the two men so we don’t get to hear them speak firsthand. The rushed exposition of Bennett’s report doesn’t really require him to be “on the scene” at all (which is, sadly, not an inaccurate portrayal of much of CNN’s reporting).

L&J have tried to make Dan Bennett talk like a reporter, and that’s how he comes across — as someone who’s trying to talk like a reporter. What we end up with is a mix of reporter-ish phrases (“authorities keep a watchful eye”), slightly altered prophecy-conference jargon (“fulfillment of the Torah’s prophecy of a messiah”) and gibberish (“almost primarily”). The details of Bennett’s report don’t ring true either, such as his use of the term “Wailing Wall” instead of Western Wall, and his apparent assumption that everyone knows what that refers to and why it is regarded as holy. His suggestion that military personnel are “loath to enter” the area of the Western Wall is only true if by that he means that most are too busy monitoring the checkpoints they have encircling the site, checkpoints through which every visitor to the wall must pass under the close scrutiny of heavily armed military personnel.

The authors also don’t seem to be aware of Jerusalem Syndrome, a form of psychotic religious delusion that afflicts about 100 visitors to that city each year. In this fascinating Journeyman Pictures video on Jerusalem Syndrome, the head of the city’s Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center describes some of the many sufferers he has encountered and treated over the years — dozens of people claiming to be Jesus or the Virgin Mary, and even one Canadian tourist who claimed to be Samson and who tore out the bars of a window to escape his hospital ward. (Note: When treating mental patients who think they’re Samson, cut their hair before putting them in the locked ward. And keep them away from stone pillars.*)

The situation Bennett reports on here — two guys claiming to be Moses and Elijah creating a public spectacle as street preachers — is actually a fairly routine occurrence in Jerusalem. This would be nothing the Israeli police hadn’t seen before, and nothing they wouldn’t know how to deal with. Once Eli and Moishe began to incite any kind of disturbance, they would be whisked off to Kfar Shaul. (“Where should I put Moses and Elijah?” “Moseses go in Ward 3 with the Abrahams. You’ll have to put Elijah in with the Jesuses, the Prophet Ward is getting crowded.”) Eventually they’d be sent back home to Texas or Indiana, where they could get the help and treatment they need.

The last thing that Israeli authorities would do in a situation like this, as tempers and tensions rise, would be to leave the situation to “religious zealots” to deal with. Most people suffering from Jerusalem Syndrome are harmless but some, like Australian tourist Michael Rohan, are not. In 1969, driven by the voices in his head which he believed were divine, Rohan set fire to the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, sparking international rioting and chaos. Since then, Israeli officials have been vigilant to ensure that JS-sufferers are not exploited by the many varieties of religious zealots who want to see a repeat of such chaos because they think it would hasten their longed-for End of the World scenarios.

In Left Behind, however, the Israeli police have also read the back of the book jacket, and therefore recognize that they’re not dealing with your run-of-the-mill Jerusalem Syndrome cases here, but with the actual Moses and Elijah, which is to say with L&J’s version of the “two witnesses” described in Revelation 11.

Even by the standards of Revelation, this is a perplexing passage. Here’s the key part:

I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die. These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.

Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.

But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on.

At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.

L&J claim to read this passage “literally.” Good luck with that. Their “literal” interpretation causes them to regard things like CNN as fulfillments of biblical prophecy. Follow that? The passage says that people from every corner of the earth will see the dead bodies of the two witnesses. Clearly, John is describing satellite television. What else could it possibly mean?

I don’t have any idea what to make of Revelation 11. Set aside the opaque symbolism and numerology, I can’t even make sense of its verb tenses. I’m OK with that. I’m pretty sure that one can live a full life and be a faithful Christian without knowing what to make of passages like this.

The InterVarsity Press Commentary suggests that the two witnesses represent an aspect of John’s own testimony in his apocalypse. Could be, I guess, OK. The commentary also offers a bit of a cautionary tale regarding those, like L&J, who view such passages as transparent and obvious in their meaning:

Who are John’s “two witnesses”? Identifications have been varied and sometimes eccentric, ranging from the apostles Peter and Paul martyred in Rome (Munck 1950) to two 17th-century London tailors named John Reeve and Lodowick Muggleton! The latter interpretation created a sect known as the Muggletonians, which lasted for three hundred years.

The Wikipedia entry on the Muggletonians** underscores the commentary’s warning, ending with this weirdly poignant sentence:

The last Muggletonian, Mr. Phillip Noakes of Matfield, Kent, died in 1979.

Lest we find ourselves doomed to repeat the sad, lonely fate of poor Mr. Noakes, let’s avoid delving much further into the esoteric symbolism of this passage. I should note, however, that L&J’s placement of the two witnesses here, in the earliest days of the Tribulation, is regarded by some of their fellow Darbytonians as controversial. We needn’t get into the details of this intramural dispute — that would be too much like walking into a room full of conspiracy theorists arguing over who Jack Ruby was really working for — but it’s worth keeping in mind that such disputes helped to shape the authors’ imagined audience for this book. It’s not only about reassuring their followers and condemning the pagans and False Christians. It’s also about condemning the mid-Trib Rapturists and all the other PMD factions whose tribulation timelines vary from L&J’s preferred version.

Want more details on these variations and the ins and outs of these disputes? OK, but be careful — remember Phillip Noakes. Some of the more splendid timelines I’ve found online can be viewed here, here, here, here, here and here. The first is the prettiest, but the last one is probably my favorite since it’s tied in to specific dates in 2009. L&J have their own version, but it’s not online because they want you to buy it. Some of LaHaye’s earlier versions can be found here. If you really want to spelunk further into these intramural disputes, try googling “secret rapture,” a contentious term used by L&J’s opponents (or, perhaps, by their allies, it can be hard to tell).

Finally, you may be wondering why the authors identify these two witnesses as Moses and Elijah when, as we have seen, Rev. 11 never mentions them. In part it’s because Moses and Elijah are said not to have died, per se, but to have been taken up to heaven by God. (That reasoning strikes me as unfair to Enoch.) It’s also because Moses and Elijah are mentioned by name in the Synoptic Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ “transfiguration.” How does that story, which is not included in John’s Gospel, fit in with this seemingly unrelated story from John’s apocalypse? Well, when LaHaye shoved his Scofield Bible into his 86hp, hydraulic-feed Darby-matic wood chipper, a fragment of a page from Rev. 11 landed next to a fragment of a page from Matt. 17, so, clearly, these passages are related.

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* [woody]”We needed the eggs.”[/woody] Speaking of chickens and eggs, there’s some dispute over whether Jerusalem Syndrome is really something that happens to otherwise healthy people visiting the city, or whether it’s more a matter of the Holy City’s particular attraction to those who already are afflicted by religious delusions. See also, Graceland.

** The Muggletonians were obsessed with, among other things, denouncing Newtonian cosmology as antibiblical. The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco has a collection of Isaac Frost’s Muggletonian astronomical charts which are, in their own way, oddly beautiful (see also here). Compare the craft and care of these lovely prints with the wanton ugliness of contemporary geocentrist Marshall Hall’s Web site — or with what passes for art among PMDs (as in this painting). The modern world is witnessing a lamentable decline in the craft and aesthetics of its religious quack fringe groups. The Shakers produced beautiful furniture. The PMDs produced the World’s Worst Books. But at least we still have Howard Finster.

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