TF: That rabbi thing

TF: That rabbi thing May 17, 2011

Tribulation Force, pp. 386-388

“Want to take over?” Rayford asked his first officer. “I wouldn’t mind catching this special CNN report.”

“Roger. That rabbi thing?”


So no sooner do I make a point of complaining about Jerry Jenkins’ lack of storytelling economy than he demonstrates he’s capable of it, transporting us to Air Force/Global Community One, already in the air and headed for Baghdad and New Babylon.

We seem to have reached a point here toward the end of Tribulation Force where Jenkins realizes he doesn’t need any more padding to get to 400 pages in Book 2, so the pace is picking up a bit.

Rayford heads back into the cabin to find that Nicolae Carpathia and “other dignitaries and press were gathering around another TV.”

Someone turned on the set and tuned it to ICNN. “You know,” Carpathia announced to all within earshot, “our captain believes Jesus was the Messiah.”

Chaim Rosenzweig said, “Frankly, as a nonreligious Jew, I think Nicolae fulfills more of the prophecies than Jesus did.”

Rayford recoiled. What blasphemy! He knew Buck liked and respected Rosenzweig, but what a statement!

Rayford has spent the previous month studying the Bible prophecies of Tim LaHaye and the Rev. Billings. That prophecy scheme revolves around the rise of an Antichrist — a false Messiah — who will deceive the whole world into following him. And Rayford has already concluded beyond all doubt that Nicolae Carpathia is this Antichrist, this false Messiah who will deceive the whole world.

And yet every time Rayford sees this deception happening he seems surprised and bewildered.

That bewilderment is particularly strange on this particular afternoon. Nicolae, after all, has just come from signing a treaty establishing the peace and security of the nation of Israel. So as far as this particular day is concerned, the score stands at Nicolae 1, Jesus 0 in terms of fulfilling messianic prophecies.

Rayford settles in to watch that rabbi thing with Chaim and Nicolae and the rest.

Carpathia obviously considered this a good hour’s diversion, Rayford thought.

But it ought to be much more than a diversion for Nicolae. As the Antichrist, the impostor messiah, he ought to have a serious professional interest in Tsion Ben-Judah’s research project and broadcast. And he’s got to be kicking himself for dropping the ball on this one.

Think of it, here he is midway through his ascendancy as global messiah and now he’s got to contend with some rabbi going on TV and, in all likelihood, telling everyone that someone else is that messiah. He should have been out in front of this, steering the outcome and turning this broadcast into an asset rather than a bit of damage control he’s going to have to deal with later. Nicolae is probably also realizing that he should have started his people working on a similar research project years ago, reshaping both the popular understanding of messianic expectations and his own elastic biography to better support his messianic claims.

It’s simply inexcusable that Nicolae and his people allowed this angle to be overlooked. Someone ought to get fired over this screw-up — except, of course, that Nicolae hasn’t actually hired anyone yet. What’s he going to do, fire Steve Plank? That would leave him with only Hattie, Chaim and Rayford on staff, and running a global dictatorship with only three minions seems unmanageable.

The broadcast begins and:

Rayford found Dr. Ben-Judah a most engaging communicator. He looked directly into the camera, and though his accent was thick, he spoke slowly and distinctly enough to be easily understood.

The thick accent is due to Ben-Judah being an Israeli and a native speaker of Hebrew. He is reporting the findings of a research project commissioned by the government of Israel on behalf of the people of Israel. So why is he speaking in heavily accented English rather than in Hebrew?

This is partly for narrative convenience, the in-story rationale for which is the idea of a worldwide TV broadcast for ICNN’s mostly non-Hebrew-speaking audience. But as we’ll see later in this chapter, Ben-Judah has to be speaking English because many of his conclusions wouldn’t make sense in Hebrew. Key points of his argument depend on idiosyncratic English translations from the Hebrew. If his English speech is thickly accented with Hebrew, his Hebrew scholarship is far more thickly accented in King James English.

Ben-Judah … began with a promise. “I have come to the conclusion that we may know beyond all shadow of doubt the identity of our Messiah. Our Bible has given clear prophecies, prerequisites, and predictions that only one person in the human race could ever fulfill. Follow along with me and see if you come to the same conclusion I have, and we shall see whether Messiah is a real person, whether he has already come, or whether he is yet to come.”

This is what Tsion Ben-Judah was commissioned to do, so before we get further into the content of his message, we should ask why. We should step back and consider whether such a commissioning of such a project would be advisable or likely or something that could ever actually happen in the real world.

I don’t think it is.

Jenkins has done his best to portray Ben-Judah as a universally respected figure who is trusted by every political and religious faction in Israel. Even if we grant for argument’s sake that such universal trust and respect is possible in the fractious real world, that would only qualify Ben-Judah to serve, at best, as one of the co-chairmen of a committee trusted with this task.

And it would have to be a committee — a diverse collection of scholars from diverse constituencies. In the real world, that is the only way a project like this one would ever be funded or even permitted. To be supported or recognized as legitimate by the numerous factions with a stake in the outcome of this project, those factions would need to feel represented on that committee. They would need to feel like they or at least their people were participating in the study. Without such representation and participation, they would be suspicious and distrustful of the project. It would be viewed, from the outset, as “controversial” rather than as authoritative and objective.

To put one man unaccountably in charge would make that man controversial and suspect. Whatever trust and respect Ben-Judah enjoyed before the project began would be eroded long before his conclusions were announced. He would cease to be thought of as a respected, disinterested scholar, but instead as that quack who thinks he’s going to tell everyone else what to believe.

I don’t know enough about the particulars of Israeli Judaism or Israeli politics to provide specific details on who the various factions with competing stakes in this project might be or what their particular points of contention are. But we don’t need to know such specifics to appreciate that it’s foolish to expect these groups of people not to behave the way that all groups of people everywhere behave. If there was uniformity of opinion before the project began, then the project would not be necessary. If there was not uniformity of opinion before the project began, then it would need to be conducted by a representative committee, and the lobbying and politicking involving who did and didn’t serve on that committee would be fierce. This is how we humans operate.

Even with participation in the project by proxies of all the different concerned groups, there still would be no guarantee that the committee’s findings would be broadly accepted as legitimate. But without such participation — with nothing more than, “Let’s all trust Tsion, he’s a nice guy” — it’s guaranteed that his findings would be rejected long before anyone even heard what they were.

And then there’s this business of a live broadcast in which lone-wolf Ben-Judah’s findings will be revealed as a big surprise on international television. There’s no way the Israeli government would allow that to happen. And there’s no way they should. It would be irresponsible — putting lives and public safety unnecessarily at risk.

The government that commissioned this study certainly wasn’t expecting the result that Tsion Ben-Judah is about to announce, but they also could not have expected any result that would please all, or even most, of those who would be watching this broadcast. Some people are bound to disagree with him. A good many of his viewers are bound to be upset no matter what conclusions he announces. And this being Jerusalem — the holy city that has been the focus of centuries of unholy interreligious and intrareligious violence — it’s utterly predictable that some of those who will be most upset will be those who tend to get violently upset.

There’s a good chance, in other words, that some members of whatever groups are pleased by Ben-Judah’s conclusions will wind up getting shot by some members of some groups displeased by them. The broadcast of his secret conclusions is an invitation to violence and rioting. It constitutes an incitement. By airing the broadcast in this way, the government has basically hired Ben-Judah to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, or to yell “ready, aim, fire” in a crowded marketplace.

Scheduling such an obvious provocation at all would be madness. Scheduling it for the very same day as the treaty signing would seem like a deliberate effort to sabotage whatever sense of celebration and national unity that even might have produced.

This just isn’t something that could or would ever happen in the real world.

So yet again the reader is confronted with an impossibility. The authors are again telling us their prediction for the future — a prediction, they insist, is bound to happen, fated, prophesied and foreordained. And again we find that it cannot be believed.

It is yet another prophecy that we can know is false, yet another piece of evidence confirming that the Left Behind series is a collection of false prophecy.

Speaking of false prophecies, if Family Radio’s Harold Camping is correct, then this will be the final post in this series before the Rapture and the pouring out of divine wrath. (Camping’s End Times timeline is very different from Tim LaHaye’s, with only five months between the Rapture and the bitter, bitter end.)

According to Camping and his followers, Saturday, May 21, is Judgment Day. “The Bible guarantees it!” Camping says:

On May 21, 2011 two events will occur. These events could not be more opposite in nature, the one more wonderful than can be imagined; the other more horrific than can be imagined.

A great earthquake will occur the Bible describes it as “such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.” This earthquake will be so powerful it will throw open all graves. The remains of the all the believers who have ever lived will be instantly transformed into glorified spiritual bodies to be forever with God.

On the other hand the bodies of all unsaved people will be thrown out upon the ground to be shamed.

The inhabitants who survive this terrible earthquake will exist in a world of horror and chaos beyond description. Each day people will die until October 21, 2011 when God will completely destroy this earth and its surviving inhabitants.

Almost every bit of that is nonsense (apart from “each day people will die,” which will continue to be true up through Oct. 21 and long after that day as well).

Such ridiculousness is ripe for appropriate ridicule. I’m sorry I won’t be able to make it to Biloxi, Miss., on Sunday for “The Gulf Coast Atheist and Freethinking Association Post-Rapture Breakfast,” for example. And yes, I also have the obvious REM video cued up and pre-scheduled to post here 6:01 p.m. Saturday to coincide with Camping’s great disappointment. (The End will come at 6 p.m. sharp, Camping insists — local time, unrolling around the globe in hourly intervals. I’m not clear on whether or not it takes daylight savings time into account, so maybe I should reschedule that post for 7:01.)

But I also share Matthew Paul Turner’s take on this, that it’s important to be sure that we direct that ridicule at the appropriate targets — the ridiculous ideas and those who have profited from them, rather than from their victims. As Turner writes:

My jokes won’t be personal attacks on the May 21st believers. … Because there’s nothing funny about being misled, misguided, naive, and sheltered.

Because there’s nothing funny about kids believing and anticipating THE END. And while I know that the kids who believe in May 21st have what they consider to be “great faith in Jesus,” – trust me, they are scared. They’re nervous. Some of them aren’t sleeping. They’re asking lots of questions. They’re hoping that it isn’t true. But they believe it is.

And on May 22 … the May 21st kids will be facing their “day of reckoning,” waking up to realize that their parents, pastors, and theologies were wrong. Many of those kids will lose something that day. The questions that many of them will ask will get answered with lies and excuses and bad biblical reasoning. Some of them will be angry with God for not bringing about Judgment Day. Some of them will lose their faith and yet be unable to escape it. And some of them will go on like nothing happened and probably end up setting and believing in another “date”.

And there’s nothing funny about that…

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