TF: Dees ist Tsion

TF: Dees ist Tsion January 10, 2011

Tribulation Force, pp. 312-317

Buck's next phone call is with Chaim Rosenzweig.

"I need your help." Buck told Rosenzweig he needed to get closer to the Wailing Wall. "I tried," he said, "but I probably didn't get within a hundred yards. The two men were preaching, and the crowds were much bigger than I ever saw on CNN."

He goes on for a bit, explaining to his friend how determined he is to get his interview:

"I know every journalist in the world would love to have an exclusive with the two preachers, but I am the only one who will not give up until I get it or die trying."

So he went to the wall, determined to get his interview or to die trying. But there was a really big crowd of people, so he went back to his hotel room and "napped for about an hour and a half." Once again we are inadvertently shown the huge disconnect between Buck's self-image and his reality. Out of "every journalist in the world" he tells himself — and others — he is "the only one" determined enough to get this story. Yet when it comes down to it, he isn't determined enough even to work his way through a crowd.

Working your way through a crowd to get to the action is a very basic skill for reporters to acquire. News often draws a crowd. Any reporter who regards that crowd as an insurmountable obstacle is going to get in big trouble with his or her boss. "Got the story?" "No, there were all these people, so I couldn't get close enough to the speech/rally/press briefing/crime scene/fire/crash/celebrity/ballgame/parade/talking monkey to see what was going on." That's not gonna fly.

The gap here between Buck's self-regard and his actual performance kind of parallels what we were discussing last week about these books' thin notion of Christian discipleship. Buck considers himself heroic, a dashing figure better than the rest, fearlessly willing to put his life on the line. Yet in the event, in reality, he doesn't seem to have a handle on even the most basic skills. But for both the character and the authors, what Buck does is not important, it's what he thinks and says about himself that defines who he is.

"I don't know what I can do for you, Cameron. I would take you myself if I thought I could get in. But you will not be able to get in anyway."

"But you must know someone with access."

"Of course I do! I know many Orthodox Jews, many rabbis."

It's hard to say what Buck means here by "access." It's not as though the Two Witnesses are hosting a private party with a guest list. Getting to the Western Wall normally involves navigating two separate layers of access control — both the security checkpoint run by the Israeli Defense Force and then the rules governing access from the religious authorities in charge of the area. But both of those are set up in such a way to allow relatively easy and orderly access from the many American and European tourists who come to the area, so neither of those are something Buck would need some elite insider's help navigating to gain "access" to where the Two Witnesses are preaching. The huge crowds of onlookers and tourists Jenkins describes here would indicate that this is still the case in the Jerusalem of Tribulation Force.

That just leaves the crowd itself — the only obstacle that prevented Buck's earlier attempt to gain "access" to the preachers. It's not clear to me why Rosenzweig or any Orthodox rabbi would be better able to shoulder their way through that crowd than Buck was earlier on his own. Even if Chaim had linked Buck up with Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch himself, the actual Rabbi of the Western Wall here in the real world, I don't see how it would help Buck to get past that throng of people any more easily.

Here's where a semi-competent hack like Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, would be preferable to wholly incompetent hacks like Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

Our hero needs to gain access to the Western Wall, but his way is blocked by the huge crowds. Brown would do a tiny bit of research and learn that the area around, behind and below the wall is riddled with ancient tunnels and passageways, and rumors of even more secret tunnels and hidden passageways. As a semi-competent hack, as opposed to a wholly incompetent one, Brown knows that secret ancient tunnels and hidden passageways are inherently cool. If Brown were writing this chapter, Buck would soon find himself beneath El Omariya school racing to keep up with his guide through the maze-like catacombs of the ancient Antonia Fortress, winding his way on a torch-lit journey beneath the city, following a passage known only to a handful of secretive scholars — a passage that emerges …

But that's not Jenkins' style. Secret passages and hidden tunnels aren't what Jenkins thinks of as cool. His idea of cool is a different kind of access — the kind that comes from knowing powerful people who can make a few phone calls. He seems to think a deferential bouncer lifting a velvet rope is every bit as thrilling as anything in an Indiana Jones movie. Who needs a bullwhip when you've got a rolodex?

Buck asks Chaim if Rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah could get him the "access" he's after. He's already tried and failed with Rabbi Marc Feinberg, remember, and in the Left Behind universe, there seem to be only two rabbis in all of Israel.

Chaim protests that the rabbi is probably too busy so close to his upcoming internationally telecast reading of his scriptural research paper, but Buck persists:

"Maybe he has done so much research that he could talk about this for an hour without notes. Maybe he's ready now and is looking for something to occupy him so he doesn't overprepare or stress out waiting for his big moment."

There was silence on the other end, and Buck prayed Rosenzweig would yield. "I don't know Cameron …"

But another half-page of Buck's wheedling convinces him to at least ask. And so, having awakened from his nap to answer Chaim's phone call, and having passed the buck to Chaim for the time being, the one journalist in all the world who is too determined to ever give up on this story goes back to sleep. He awakens to his favorite sound:

Buck was dead to the world and had no idea how long his phone had been ringing. …


"Ees dis Chamerown Weeleeums?" came the thick Hebrew accent.

"Yes, sir."

"Dees ist Dochtor Tsion Ben-Judah."

Oy, dees ist goinck to be unbee-aree-bol.

As a general rule for writing accents, if you feel the need to inform your readers that what you are writing is meant to be read as a "thick Hebrew accent," that probably means you're not doing a very good job of actually writing said accent.

Buck jumped to his feet as if the respected scholar were in the room. "Yes, Dr. Ben-Judah. A privilege to hear from you, sir!"

"Thank you," the doctor managed. "I am calling you from out front of your hotel."

And just like that, dee ach-zent ist gone. My gratitude for that is more than enough for me to overlook the jarring strangeness of those first two mangled lines and eagerly go along with Jenkins' implicit request that from here on we just take Ben-Judah's "thick Hebrew accent" as a given.

"I have a car and driver."

"A car and driver, yes sir."

"Are you ready to go?"

"To go?"

"To the Wall."

"Oh, yes, sir — I mean, no, sir. I'm going to need 10 minutes. Can you wait 10 minutes?"

"I should have called before arriving. I was under the impression from our mutual friend that this was a matter of some urgency to you."

Buck ran the strange-sounding English through his mind again. "A matter of urgency, yes! Just give me 10 minutes! Thank you, sir!"

So instead of a heart-pounding race through ancient tunnels and hidden passages, we get a heart-pounding race through Buck Williams' daily hygiene regimen.

Buck tore off his clothes and jumped in the shower. He didn't give the water time to heat. He lathered up and rinsed off, then dragged his razor across his face.

He didn't have time to find the electrical adapter for his hair dryer but just yanked a towel off the rack and attacked his long hair, feeling as if he were pulling half of it out of his scalp.

He jerked the comb through his hair and brushed his teeth. What did one wear to the Wailing Wall? He knew he wouldn't be getting inside, but would he offend his host if he was not wearing a coat and tie? He hadn't brought one. He hadn't planned on dressing up even for the treaty signing the next morning.

Buck chose his usual denim shirt, dressy jeans, ankle-high boots, and leather jacket. …

More than halfway through Book 2 in this series, this is the most-detailed description we've yet been given of Buck's appearance. It still doesn't give us much to go on, but this is the first we've learned of his long, blow-dried hair. Learning that Buck — whom the authors earlier made a point of saying travels as light as possible, with only the absolute necessities in his one, small bag — carries his own hair dryer wherever he goes is another of those details that seems accidentally spot on. As is his denim-and-denim combo outfit.

Buck's question about what to wear to the Western Wall isn't all that complicated. It's both a sacred site and a tourist-friendly site, so try to dress more respectfully than some of the tourist-ier tourists do. (And if you insist on wearing a big old cross necklace, tuck it inside your shirt.)

Buck races down the stairs and out the front door of the hotel, where he scans the street for the waiting Ben-Judah.

He had no idea what the rabbi looked like. Would he look like Rosenzweig, or Feinberg, or neither?

Could it be that Ben-Judah would appear as some hitherto unimagined third form of Jew?

Neither, it turned out. Tsion Ben-Judah, in a black suit and black felt hat, stepped out from the front passenger seat of an idling white Mercedes and waved shyly. Buck hurried to him. "Dr. Ben-Judah?" he said, shaking his hand. The man was middle-aged, trim and youthful with strong, angular features and only a hint of gray in his dark brown hair.

The "trim and youthful" bit, the strong features and the hint of gray in his dark hair are all almost verbatim from the occasional vague descriptions we've been given of Rayford Steele. The only difference is the addition of that word "angular." It's possible that's a reference to Ben-Judah's strong cheekbones, but, sadly, I think it's probably meant as a euphemism for "hook-nosed."

In his labored English, the rabbi said, "In your dialect, my first name sounds like the city, Zion. You may call me that."

… To Buck, Zion didn't sound too much different from Tsion in Dr. Ben-Judah's accent. "Please call me Buck."

"Buck?" The rabbi held open the front door as Buck slid in next to the driver.

"It's a nickname."

The rabbi is unfamiliar the connotations of this nickname. He has no way of realizing that this request from his new friend reflects a desperate need to be perceived by others as a virile, rebellious maverick. But he may guess as much based on Buck's outfit.

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