Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 340-350
The Tsion Ben-Judah subplot is like a bad movie pitch: “It’s like The Fugitive meets Mad Max.” Just like Richard Kimble, the rabbi is on the run after being falsely accused of murdering his wife. He’s the subject of a massive, global manhunt and his face is everywhere as Public Enemy No. 1.
Except this story isn’t set in 20th-century Chicago. Chicago’s gone — nothing but smoldering ruins. This version of The Fugitive is set in a post-nuclear apocalypse — or, really, in a mid-nuclear apocalypse, since the bombs are still falling. It’s a godless, lawless world — a hellscape of murderous anarchy and criminality run amok.
The authors don’t seemed to have noticed — let alone attempted to address — the problem with that. Why would a single accused murderer become such a top-priority, top-profile fugitive in a world like this? Why should everyone be obsessed with the capture of this murderous rabbi when no one seems even slightly interested in identifying or punishing the murderers who just killed everyone in Chicago, and New York, and London, and Cairo?
Even if we follow the authors’ example and completely ignore the ongoing global thermonuclear war,* there’s still the whole business about the godless chaos of the post-Rapture world. The authors continually tell us — but never show us — that violent crime in an ever-present reality in these Last Days. In such a world, murder is supposed to be viewed as par-for-the-course, not as a shocking outrage that would spark worldwide headlines and force the highest levels of government to spring into action to catch this exceptional threat to order and tranquility.
The explanation within the story seems to be that no one really believes the Israeli government’s clumsy attempts to frame Tsion for the murder of his wife. Everyone seems to realize that he’s an outlaw and a fugitive not because of this transparently bogus frame-job, but because he dared to proclaim his belief that Jesus is the Messiah. That’s why, unlike Dr. Kimble, he isn’t trying to hunt down the one-armed man — or to do anything to prove or proclaim his innocence of the murder charge. Everyone knows that the global potentate wants Tsion dead because Tsion is pro-Christ and the Antichrist is anti-Christ. And the authors assume that everyone also knows that the Israelis want Tsion dead because, having already killed Christ, Jews next priority would be to kill Christians.
But that still doesn’t explain why Tsion Ben-Judah has been singled out above everyone else as the Most Wanted Man in the World. It can’t simply be because he was a convert from Judaism. Sure, he was a prominent rabbi, but it’s not like he was Moses or Elijah — and Moses and Elijah are, literally, at this very moment in the story, standing in public chanting “Jesus is the Messiah.” On live television. Those characters, “Moishe” and “Eli” — Tim LaHaye’s version of the Two Witnesses from the book of Revelation — have also killed several people, also on live television. They’ve done everything Tsion has done or been accused of doing, and they’ve done it on a larger scale, on live TV. But for some reason neither the murderous Israeli government or the almost-as-evil Antichrist is pursuing those guys with anything like they zeal they’ve devoted to catching Tsion Ben-Judah.
Anyway, since he’s being hunted down for the crime of preaching about Jesus, Tsion decides to go into hiding — at a church that very publicly preaches about Jesus. That seems like a bad idea. It’s like hiding in a Snausages factory because you’re being chased by dogs. It’s almost as poorly conceived as the idea of hiding in an underground shelter when you’re expecting the worst earthquake in the history of the world to strike any day now.
The authors assure us that being sealed in a subterranean bomb-shelter won’t interfere with Tsion Ben-Judah’s calling to proclaim the gospel all over the world because Donny Moore’s magic laptop computers and super-undetectable mini-satellite will allow the ex-rabbi to become the world’s foremost cyber-evangelist. The fact that the outstanding murder charges against him don’t inhibit this evangelism again shows us that no one in this story took those charges seriously. (“Hey, remember that guy who killed his wife? He’s got a website now and he’s, like, a preacher or something.”)
So here is where we have arrived in the story: Tsion is hiding in the shelter preparing to launch his web-based evangelistic crusade. Meanwhile, Verna Zee recognized him at Bruce Barnes’ memorial service and she’s threatening to report him to the authorities if Buck Williams doesn’t agree to arrange an exclusive interview for her.
Nothing that follows from that set-up makes even the slightest bit of sense.
Buck wants to protect Tsion’s secrecy. Fine. That’s why he has to take Verna’s threat seriously. But there’s no reason he shouldn’t also agree to her demand here, because her interview with Tsion would seem to be just exactly what Buck also wants to have happen. Consider what Buck himself says he wants and needs to happen next.
1. He needs a big platform to announce and introduce Tsion’s evangelistic website.
2. He needs to persuade Verna of the truth of his prophecy-gospel — both to ensure that she doesn’t later betray him and also, as a secondary afterthought, to save her from eternal damnation.
3. He just decided that he wants his magazine, Global Weekly, to give a loud warning about the coming earthquake — both to allow readers to prepare and to prove to the world that his prophecy-gospel is true.
Arranging an interview between Verna and Tsion could achieve all of those goals. What better launch for Tsion’s web-evangelism than a prominent feature interview in a big-time newsmagazine? What better way to convince Verna of the truth of the prophecy-gospel than to have her talk directly with the World’s Greatest Evangelist? And what better way to introduce his readers to the prophecy of the earthquake and its irresistibly catchy Wrath of the Lamb “catchphrase”?
This interview is everything Buck wants and needs to happen. And more — because this interview could have also given Buck Williams and Jerry Jenkins something they’ve hardly even dared to dream of, the apotheosis of all their passions and fantasies come true. The interview could have been conducted via conference call.
Think about it. It wouldn’t be safe — for either Tsion or Verna — for her to know of Tsion’s secret location. But thanks to Donny Moore’s magical tech skills, Tsion’s hidey-hole is equipped with untraceable phone connections to the outside world. The interview would have to be done over the phone — with Buck Williams, as Tsion’s friend and Verna’s boss, sitting in. A conference call!
How did Jenkins miss that? I’m almost sad for him.
Alas for Jenkins, and for Buck, this conference call is not to be. Buck (and Chloe) spend the next ten pages lying to Verna, insulting her, and sabotaging any chance that she might help publicize Tsion’s evangelistic efforts, or spread the word about the coming earthquake, or become any more receptive, herself, to the truth of the prophecy-gospel. This is stupid and self-defeating and, as we shall see next week when we dive into the details of this conversation, even worse than that.
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* The largest American cities have all been nuked in this book, but there seem to be no repercussions from that — no fallout, literally or figuratively — in the nearby suburbs. In Mount Prospect, Illinois, life continues just as it was before the destruction of Chicago. Grocery stores and gas stations remain open and fully stocked, and the only apparent inconvenience for suburbanites in the former-Chicago area seems to be that they have to drive to Milwaukee to catch a plane.
So here in Nicolae, all the bombs that created the world of Mad Max have fallen, but without any of the ill-effects those bombs produced in that story — or in any less-extreme post-nuclear-event story. (I’m thinking of stories like Jericho — now streaming on Netflix.) For LaHaye and Jenkins, the post-nuclear dystopia is confined to major urban centers. Downtown Chicago is Mad Max. The suburbs are still Leave It to Beaver.
This is, of course, another example Very Bad Writing. It’s also, I think, really, really racist. This epic failure of world-building isn’t just a product of Jenkins’ lack of imagination, but a projection of the same instinct that causes him to hit the door lock button when he drives through, you know, those neighborhoods.