Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 195-199
Buck Williams is in the Middle East. He has to get out of the Middle East, taking with him ex-Rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah, who is wanted by the Middle Eastern authorities. That’s the plot of the next several chapters of Nicolae.
Once Jordan riverboat captain Michael realizes that Buck is working for Team Tsion, he is finally able to tell him where they’re really headed:
“You know, we’re not going all the way to Lake Tiberius.”
“We’re not?” Buck said, moving back toward Michael.
“You’re doing what you’re supposed to do by heading toward Galilee,” Michael said. “About halfway between Jericho and Lake Tiberius we will put ashore on the east side of the river. We will hike about five kilometers inland to where my compatriots and I have hidden Dr. Ben-Judah.”
Here in the real world — in our world, where the lake is named Tiberias and the Jordan River is not navigable — the east bank of the Jordan River is in the country of Jordan, a country with an area and a population both roughly about that of the state of Indiana. Here in the world of Left Behind, however, the nation of Jordan does not exist.
We were told back in the first book, in a flashback-within-a-flashback, that Chaim Rosenzweig’s miracle formula had made the nation of Israel so fabulously wealthy that it made peace with all its neighbors and then peacefully annexed them, expanding its borders to absorb, apparently, all of Jordan and Lebanon as well as parts of Syria and Iraq. It’s not clear exactly what happened to all the people who lived in those countries. In these books, the residents of these lands all seem to be Hebrew-speaking Jews, but I’m not sure whether we’re supposed to assume that all the former Jordanians and former Lebanese enthusiastically converted and learned a new language, or if more than 10 million people were simply amicably displaced, cheerfully resettling in some unspecified elsewhere after vacating their homes and abandoning all former national loyalties.
Neither of those seems plausible, but you have to remember that in these books no one has any kind of national or ethnic loyalty. This is a world in which the majority of the population of the entire planet voluntarily surrenders all national sovereignty, identity, culture, religion, economy and language to embrace Nicolae Carpathia’s “Global Community” one-world government. That is the premise of “The Rise of Antichrist” and, indeed, the premise of Tim LaHaye’s entire scheme of “Bible prophecy.”* We have to accept that global rewriting of basic human nature to accept everything that happens after the Rapture in this story, and if we’re going to accept that then I suppose we can’t quibble too much over how strange it is for everyone in Jordan and Lebanon to suddenly agree to no longer think of themselves as Jordanian or Lebanese, to happily accept the dissolution of their homelands, and to pack up and resettle elsewhere.
This redrawing of the map of the Middle East creates a bit of a problem for readers in these chapters. Buck is going to have to smuggle Tsion across the border, but we have no idea where the border actually is. “He must leave the country,” Michael says of Tsion Ben-Judah. In our world, this would be mission accomplished, since Tsion is already three miles past the border. But in the world of these novels, I’m not sure what that means.
“He must leave the country. His life is worthless here. His enemies far outnumber us. He will not be safe anywhere, but at least outside Israel he has a chance.”
“And where will you and your friends take him?”
“Me and my friends?”
“You, my friend!”
“Me?” Buck said.
“God spoke through the two witnesses. He assured us a deliverer would come. He would know the rabbi. He would know the witnesses. He would know the messianic prophecies. And most of all, he would know the Lord’s Christ. That, my friend, is you.”
Michael goes on to note that Buck also was the seventh son of a seventh son, that the Force is strong in him, and that he has a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead.
Buck nearly buckled. He had felt God’s protection. He had felt the excitement of trying to serve him. But he had never felt so directly and specifically a servant of his. He was humbled to the point of shame. He felt suddenly unworthy, undisciplined, inconsistent. He had been so blessed, and what had he done with his newfound faith? He had tried to be obedient, and he had tried to tell others. But surely he was unworthy to be used in such a way.
It’s tempting simply to agree with Buck’s momentary recognition of his own unworthiness, but I’m struck here by the sadness of this situation. Buck is genuinely surprised to be given something to do. That isn’t something he had ever associated with “his newfound faith.” American evangelicalism — and the End-Times obsessed “Bible prophecy” strains of it especially — tends to present itself as a ticket to Heaven and an escape from Hell. It’s about the afterlife, not this life, which it can make seem like just a bit of time to kill before the main event.
That paragraph provides all sorts of fodder for criticizing Buck (and Jerry Jenkins, who writes Buck as his surrogate character), but I can’t help but pity both of them here for the sad paltriness of this: “He had tried to be obedient, and he had tried to tell others.” Being “obedient” there doesn’t involve doing something, but rather not doing a whole bunch of somethings. This has been Buck’s idea of “faith” — trying not to sin, telling others that they could join him in trying not to sin. That’s not exactly a pearl of great price, is it? It’s basically the same old rat race, with a bit of additional fear of punishment thrown in. Ugh.
Buck accepts his divine mission as the deliverer who will rescue Tsion from Zion and immediately starts sketching out a plan:
“Is there an airport anywhere near that can handle a Learjet?”
“There is a strip west of Jericho near Al Birah”
“That’s back downriver, right?”
“Yes, which is an easier trip, of course. But you know that is the airport that serves Jerusalem. Most flights in and out of Israel start or end at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, but there is also a lot of air traffic near Jerusalem.”
Most of the time, Jerry Jenkins seems to have neglected even the most basic research in writing these books. Sometimes, however, it’s clear he did at least some homework. Here he seems to have asked someone — a tour guide, perhaps — something like, “If a character were trying to fly out of Israel, how would he go?” The tour guide replied, “Most flights in and out of Israel start or end at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, but there is also a lot of air traffic near Jerusalem.” Jenkins wrote that down and then inserted it, verbatim, as dialogue.
“The rabbi has to be one of the most recognizable people in Israel,” Buck said. “How in the world will I get him through customs?”
Michael smiled in the darkness. “How else? Supernaturally?”
Ah, yes, customs. (For those too young to remember pre-9/11 travel, customs inspections to prevent smuggling used to be the primary security hurdle for international travelers.) In trying to escape from Israel back into the one-world government of the Global Community, Buck will have to cross the only still-existing national borders in the world, and thus will have to pass through the last existing customs checkpoints.
This raises an interesting wrinkle in the whole concept of the Antichrist’s one-world government. With the whole world (except for Israel) now united as a single nation, all flights would become domestic flights. There shouldn’t be any “customs” for travelers anywhere except for flights in and out of Israel. But would this new OWG and its abolition of all national borders really mean there was no longer any such thing as smuggling? Contraband, of one form or another, would still exist, even if there were no longer any borders across which it needed to be smuggled. And soon, of course, Nicolae Carpathia will be requiring everyone to accept the “Mark of the Beast,” without which no one will be permitted to buy or sell anything. That virtually guarantees the existence of a huge, thriving black market — something a OWG would be less well-equipped to counter simply due to its prior abolition of all borders and boundaries. Hmm.
Buck sketches out more of his “plan” for Michael:
“I may have been warned in a dream to leave through Egypt rather than Israel.”
This makes little sense. Buck isn’t trying to leave “through” Israel, he’s just trying to leave Israel. So he may escape to Egypt, but not through Egypt. Once he gets to Egypt, he should be home free.
Except, as we’ll read in the chapters to come, that’s not really how this escape narrative works. Buck is in the Middle East and the book doesn’t consider his escape complete until he gets out of the Middle East. The sketchy national borders of Left-Behind-world don’t seem to matter much in this escape adventure. That’s why, as I said above, to go along with Buck’s run-for-the-border adventure, we have to accept that it’s not so much about getting across the border as about getting out of the region.
Buck Williams is in the Middle East. He has to get out of the Middle East. Egypt is out of Israel, but it’s still the Middle East — to finish his escape Buck will have to get Tsion to America or to Northern Europe, or to some other place where, um, where people mostly look like Northern Europeans, I guess.
I suppose there’s some logic to that. In these books, the non-Israeli Middle Easterners have already handed over whole countries to Israel, so they could hardly be trusted not to hand over one former rabbi too.
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* Let’s just stick with Jordan. Or better yet, narrow our focus further to just the capital city of Amman and the roughly 3 million people who live there. How do you suppose they would respond if they were asked to abandon that city? Do you think they’d agree to do so? Can you imagine any circumstance in which such a request would result in their happy acquiescence?
Tim LaHaye says this is what will happen. It is prophesied, he says, and therefore it must happen. So then, if you agree that it’s plausible or possible for this to happen, you won’t have any difficulty accepting LaHaye’s “prophecy.”
But if you think this is impossible — if everything you know about humans and about cities and about humans who live in cities screams that no such thing has ever occurred and that no such thing will ever occur — then you have only two choices: Either Tim LaHaye is reading “Bible prophecy” correctly, and the Bible is a book of lies, or else Tim LaHaye is not reading the Bible correctly, and his “prophecy” teachings are nonsense.
It would be interesting to see “Bible prophecy scholars” conducting interviews with residents of Amman to get their perspective on this particular prophecy. I, for one, would be fascinated to hear them respond to the question: “How prosperous would Israeli agriculture need to be for you to leave behind your home, your culture and the very existence of your nation?”