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Introduction: Left Behind as Nation-Maker

It is like we are living in the New Testament…

Nicolae, page 258

In a little over a decade, a massive literary and cultural phenomenon has changed the way

millions of Americans think about their relationship to God, scripture, and current affairs.

Though largely ignored by academia, with over 70 million copies in print and several number

one spots on the New York Times bestseller list to boast, the Left Behind series is more than a

moneymaking piece of pop fiction; taken in total, the books themselves, and the industry

surrounding them, are a seminal event in American cultural history. These fourteen novels depict

the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy in Revelations, beginning with the Rapture of “God’s

Church,” leading readers on a long journey through the seven years of Tribulation and sadistic

world rule by the Antichrist, and ending with the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ, who returns

to earth to restore his kingdom and peace. The books exist in a strange universe where

action/adventure and science fiction writing meets dispensationalist evangelical ideology. With

their comic book-like characters, simple prose and overt social and political messages, these

books have spawned an entire cultural universe that revolves around the novels and its main

characters, but branches out into websites, study guides, fan fiction, spin off series, movies,

television, series for children and teens, even video games. Left Behind is being seriously read

and studied by tens of millions of people in this country, and for that reason it demands our

serious attention.

My goal in this thesis is to examine the precise way in which narratives like the Bible and

Left Behind, provide structure and meaning to the lives of individuals in every society.

Specifically, I will demonstrate how these novels function as much more than entertainment.

Using the theory set forth by Benedict Anderson in his influential book Imagined Communities, I
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will discuss how these novels create a reality that becomes the reality for those willing to accept

its ideology. I will also observe the ways in which the novels constitute a roman á thése, an

ideological novel as described by Professor Susan Rubin Suleiman in her book Authoritarian

Fictions. This analysis will become a basis for a wider exploration of how these novels create

and reinforce specific conservative ideologies about politics, culture, and American society.

Specifically, I will investigate the way Jews and the State of Israel are represented in the novels.

In the Manichean world of Left Behind, where you are either on the side of Christ or Antichrist,

good or evil, the Jewish people play an ambivalent role that creates one of the only grey areas in

the novels’ worldview. Furthermore, the State of Israel plays a critical role in the fulfillment of

Biblical prophecy, creating a strange congruity between evangelical dispensationalist Protestants

and Zionistic Jews. These specific representations of Jews and Israel have clear applications in

the real world. Once the positions of these entities within the world of the novels are well

understood, it will be easy to see how the attitudes towards them have direct effects in the actual

social and political realms.

There are three basic questions we can ask about these novels: who are their audience?

Why are they read, and what does that reading accomplish for their readers? Amy Frykholm

attempts to answer these questions in Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America, a

book detailing the results of a “qualitative study of thirty five in-depth personal interviews”

conducted to answer the question of “who the readers are, how they understand the significance

of the books, and how they formulate religious beliefs in light of or in contradiction to their

fictional reading” (Frykholm 4). The important thing to note about this study is that, within the

multiplicity of experience the novels provoke within the evangelical community, one common

thread remains: they are books of that community, written to give meaning and structure to those
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who chose to live by its precepts. As Frykholm states, “these fictions have become a part of the

world readers inhabit and they world they construct for themselves; they have become imbedded

in what anthropologist Clifford Geetz calls the ‘webs of significance’ of people’s lives. To

understand why this is so and how it happens is part of understanding the work that pleasure

reading does, how it aids people in the project of meaning making” (Frykholm 9).

The “project of meaning making,” as Frykholm puts it, is not limited to the literary

world. In fact, it is in this area of study where a variety of disciplines- English and cultural

studies, history, politics, anthropology, sociology- converge in fascinating way. Imagined

Communities, a book by Benedict Anderson, Professor of International Studies at Cornell,

exemplifies this confluence of disciplines in an attempt to give a more precise account of the way

literature works to create the “webs of significance” that instill feelings of a shared community

which give rise to nationalism. Nationality, “or, as one might prefer to put it in view of that

word’s multiple significations, nation-ness, as well as nationalism,” are, by Anderson’s logic,

“cultural artefacts of a particular kind” (Anderson 4). The nation is “imagined, because the

members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them

or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.” It is

“limited, because even the largest of them encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings,

has finite, if elastic, boundaries, beyond which lie other nations.” And it is “imagined as a

community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in

each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship” (Anderson 7). Using

these criteria, one can deduce that Left Behind presents a conception of the world after the

Rapture as having been divided into two antithetical nations; the first, the Global Community,

the evil nation, controlled by the Antichrist, which promulgates war and iniquity in the guise of
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pacifism and secular humanism, and the second, the Tribulation Force, composed of the

“tribulation saints” who realize God’s role in the rapture, accept Christ, and proselytize others

lest they die unsaved. This community of tribulation saints is imagined, as no one can possibly

know all the millions of believers. It is limited, although elastic, as it exists in contradiction to

the unsaved, who can nevertheless gain membership if they make the right choice. And it is

imagined as a community, with members from different countries, races, gender, prior religious

backgrounds, and socioeconomic background coming together in a “fraternity that makes it

possible . . . for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such

limited imaginings” (Anderson 7). These individuals know they are a special subset of humanity,

and their communal identity allows them to find peace and meaning amidst a world in chaos.

When speaking of the Left Behind series, there are two distinct “national” communities I

wish to speak of. The first is the community of readers, mostly evangelical Protestants, who

consume the novels, and whose involvement with the narrative confirms their ideology. The

second is the community of believers within the novels- the tribulation saints. For this “nation,”

coming to an acceptance of Biblical prophecy requires one crucial element: the acquisition of the

scripture that spells it out, as well as a valid interpretation that elucidates the precise way in

which actions are tied to “the Word.” It is important to recognize that this new nation of

believers is created in real time in the novels; out of the entirety of the population left behind

following the rapture, it is only these tribulation saints, who must change their identity if they are

to be saved, that constitute the imagined community.

The way in which this community comes to be conforms perfectly to Anderson’s

argument. He writes that at the dawn of the modern era, when nationalism first began taking

form as a powerful force in world affairs, it was the advent of “print-capitalism which made it
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possible for rapidly growing numbers of people to think about themselves, and to relate

themselves to others, in profoundly new ways” (Anderson 36). For the majority of people alive

after the rapture, God’s message is delivered not by Christian leaders, most of whom are now

gone, but through mass media: an article by internationally known journalist Buck Williams in

the Global Weekly summarizing the evangelical position; a widely respected Israeli Jew’s

worldwide revelation of Jesus’ authenticity as the Messiah, broadcast live across the world on

CNN; later on, that same Rabbi’s internet blog, where hundreds of thousands of believers come

to learn of God’s will, and what is next in store for his believers. These massive media events

provide the impression of “a sociological organism moving calendrically through homogenous,

empty time” that is “a precise analogue of the idea of the nation, which also is conceived as a

solid community moving steadily down (or up) history” (Anderson 26). Their existence in time

creates simultaneity of experience among believers across the globe, who are united in faith and

purpose through what is essentially a living text.

For the contemporary community that reads the Left Behind series, these books function

much like the “old fashioned novel,” with what once literary critic calls “distinctive structure of

address and omniscient point of view, [that] becomes in this schema a ‘device’ for generating a

sociologically complex world” (Parker 40). The novels become a definite textual link across all

other boundaries, helping to forge a distinctly nation-like evangelical identity. Frykholm

elaborated further on the networks of readers this novel creates. Reading Left Behind is not an

isolated act in a faceless mass consumer culture. Rather, it is “an act of social connection. . .

Readers are tied up in reading networks of family, friends, and church members, and reading is

an important part of establishing oneself as part of a community” (Frykholm 40). This again

raises the obvious question: who are these readers? A recent article in Newsweek tells us that “71
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percent of the readers are from the South and Midwest, and just 6 percent from the Northeast. . .

The "core buyer" is a 44-year-old born-again Christian woman, married with kids, living in the

South. This isn't the "Sex and the City" crowd” (Gates). According to the article, 1 in 8

Americans have read the series; it is also said to be a favorite amongst soldiers battling in Iraq. A

definite message is being imparted to these individuals, one that is fortifying their sense of

community and values.

Part Two: Jews and the Prophecy Fulfilled

. . . I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”

A primary way in which the Left Behind novels impart their ideological message is

through their comic-book like representation of characters, from the primary protagonists and

antagonists, all the way down to the most minor characters in the novels. They serve as “types”

whose loose characterizations become templates we can the use to bind entire groups of people

into narrow, easily judged categories. With so much of the novel reliant on events and

personalities from the state of Israel, an examination of the important Jewish characters provides

us with a set of characters that support this contention. The Jewish people play a fascinating role

in the Left Behind series. The rebuilding of the Holy Temple on the site of the Dome of the Rock,

as well as the conversion of 144,000 Jews to Christ following the rapture are two of the key

fulfillments of Biblical prophecy, and Jewish characters play important roles in the Tribulation

Force, the group formed by Buck Williams, Bruce Barnes, and Rayford and Chloe Steele in the

second novel. On a global level, Jews play an ambivalent role; they are close to the one true God,

but unsaved because of their failure to accept Christ, despite being so close to him for so long.
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The best way to understand how Jews are characterized in the novels is to analyze the major

Jewish characters within them. In the first four novels of the series, these characters are Dr.

Chaim Rosensweig and Dr. Tsion Ben-Judah. Taken together, these characters reflect much of

what is good- and problematic- about “God’s Chosen People.” Furthermore, their position in the

series provides a critical window through which we can observe how the novels use

representation to advance specific ideological claims.

Chaim Rosensweig is one of the first characters we meet in the first novel; in fact, we

learn the story of his connection to Buck Williams, one of the series’ central protagonists, before

the rapture that occurs fifteen pages into the first novel. The authors are letting us know up front:

this guy’s important. It is Rosensweig’s discovery of a formula that allows vegetation to grow

virtually anywhere, in all weather conditions, that makes Israel “the richest nation on earth, far

more profitable than its oil-laden neighbors” (Left Behind 8). Israel selfishly guards the formula

from the world, refusing the share it with any other nation, due to the fact that Israel’s new

comparative advantage “ensured the power and independence of the State of Israel,” and allows

her to make “peace with her neighbors” in an apparent fulfillment of Biblical prophecy (Left

Behind 8). As a result of Rosensweig’s revolutionary discovery, The Global Weekly decides to

make Chaim their Newsmaker of the Year, and Buck Williams, an intrepid young reporter of

international fame, is assigned to cover the story.

While in Israel with Chaim, the country is attacked by the Russian air forces, who desire

the formula for themselves. Still ailing from a transition out of Communism, the Russians are

“determined to dominate and occupy the Holy Land. . . The Russians sent intercontinental

ballistic missiles and nuclear-equipped MiG fighter-bombers into the region. The number of

aircraft and warheads made it clear their mission was annihilation” (Left Behind 10). To
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highlight the intensity of Buck’s terror at the moment of attack, the narrator describes it as “the

holocaust,” a loaded term to describe an attack on the Jewish people that is certainly making a

historic parallel to the Nazi’s Final Solution (Left Behind 12). It is at the moment of greatest

despair, with Buck believing the end is inevitable, that a miracle occurs, and “a firestorm, along

with rain and hail and an earthquake, consumed the entire offensive effort” (Left Behind 14).

Even more incredibly, not a single Israeli is killed in the assault. This episode brings Chaim and

Buck together, renewing their mutual faith in God, though neither fully accepting Christ; neither

is “prepared to go that far” (Left Behind 15). The link of friendship they forge in Israel becomes

critical to the entire plot of the novel, as it is through Chaim that the Tribulation Force is able to

penetrate the inner circle of Nicolae Carpathia, the leader of the a worldwide government –the

United Nations turned Global Community-created by the Antichrist to ensure peace and unity

after the Rapture.

Left Behind is an ideological novel, and it has a message to teach. According to Susan

Rubin Suleiman, such a book is “essentially teleological---it is determined by a specific end,

which exists ‘before’ and ‘above’ the story. The story calls for an unambiguous interpretation,

which in turn implies a rule of action applicable (at least virtually) to the real life of the reader”

(Suleiman 54). This novel clearly meets this criterion: one of its first lessons is that events in the

world strictly fulfill Biblical prophecy, from both the New and the Old Testaments. After the

miraculous defeat of the Russians, several specific details are related: Russia’s secret alliance

with “Middle Eastern nations, primarily Ethiopia and Libya”; the value of the ruins of the

Russian air force, where “the Israelis found combustible material that would serve as fuel and

preserve their natural resources for more than six years”; the gruesome heap of Russian dead so

large that “special task forces competed with buzzards and vultures for the flesh of the enemy
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dead, trying to bury them before their bones were picked clean and disease threatened the nation”

(Left Behind 14). Immediately thereafter, we receive the explanation for including these details.

Passages from the Bible, pointed out by Jewish scholars, talk “about God destroying Israel’s

enemies with a firestorm, earthquake, hail and rain” (Left Behind 14). Buck is “stunned” when

he reads Ezekiel 38 and 39, a text describing “a great enemy from the north invading Israel with

the help of Persia, Libya, and Ethiopia. More stark was that the Scriptures foretold of weapons of

war used as fuel fire and enemy soldiers eaten by birds or buried in a common grave” (Left

Behind 15). The authors of the novel set up a neat, almost Socratic method for teaching how one

can apply Biblical prophecy directly to actual world events. It is a skill those left behind after the

rapture will have to use skillfully if they are able to come to Christ before dying unsaved, or

worse, at the glorious appearing, and it is a skill the authors hope their readers will begin to

integrate into their own worldview. Rayford Steele actually puts this lesson into words; after

hearing Bruce Barnes’ sermon linking Biblical prophecy to recent events, the narrator uses free

indirect discourse to get into Rayford’s head:

In one way, this was all new to Rayford, and he knew it was to Chloe as well. But they
had been so immersed in this teaching with Bruce since they had to come to faith in
Christ that Rayford anticipated every detail. It seemed he was becoming an instant expert,
and he could not recall ever having picked up on a subject so quickly. He had always
been a good student, especially in science and math. He had been a quick study in
aviation. But this was cosmic. This was life. This was the real world. It explained what
had happened to his wife and son, what he and his daughter would endure, and what
would happen tomorrow and for the next several years (Tribulation Force 71).

Rationality is well and good, but science must bow to God. Only those who assimilate pre-

millenialist dispensationalist doctrine into “the real world” will be spared the tribulation and be

guaranteed salvation.

Rosensweig’s connection to Carpathia, in a more subtle way, is another illustration of the

way in which we see God working His will into the world, not through nature, but through the
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resources and networks he has allowed humankind to develop. It is here, in the paradox of

progress in human affairs, that constitutes one of the most basic philosophic outlooks of the

movement. To understand it, we must examine the essential teachings of the evangelical

Protestant movement, as characterized by the series. In the Left Behind world, there is only one

way to God: through Christ. Doing good deeds is “nice” (a favorite word of the authors’), but not

sufficient; in the words of Tribulation Force founder Bruce Barnes, we’re to be good “not so we

can earn our salvation” but “in response to our salvation” (Left Behind 201). Being good is nice,

but it won’t save your soul and keep you out of hell. It isn’t enough because, as Barnes explains,

“the Bible says all have sinned, that there is none righteous, no not one” (Left Behind 200). Only

by making the “supernatural transaction,” by telling Christ “that we acknowledge ourselves as

sinners and lost, and receive his gift of salvation,” can you be “saved,” guaranteeing your soul’s

place in heaven.

Receiving Christ means limiting yourself to an understanding of Truth only as written in

the Bible. Science, progress, ease of suffering, all the rational Enlightenment principles

popularized through democracy and credited with easing man’s discomfort, are the pleasant side

effects of following God’s will, but they are not an end in themselves. According to this

ideology, that end sought after by so many of Western civilization’s greatest philosophers, a

utopian society, a world at peace, “heaven on earth,” can only be achieved when Christ returns to

Earth, and for those who accept Christ, in the world to come. The paradox of this worldview is

that all events, including many “evil” ones, are ultimately good, because they are necessary links

in the chain of causality, laid out in the Bible, that lead, to borrow from Hegel, to history’s final

synthesis: Christ establishing his Kingdom on Earth, the reign of the Messiah.
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It is with these two ideas in mind- that God works through man, that bad actions may

have unintended positive consequences- that we look again to Chaim Rosensweig, and his

position in the text. With his enormous intellect, he invents a formula that could feed the entire

world. He has the ability to end world hunger, but in order to protect the security of the Jewish

people and the State of Israel, he hoards the secret, with the Israeli government’s encouragement

and protection. It is only when Carpathia needs the formula in order to assume leadership of the

United Nations that Rosensweig relents, leasing the rights to distribute to the formula to the U.N.

in exchange for a seven year peace treaty between Israel and the world.

In the flurry of attention that Chaim receives after winning the Nobel Prize for Chemistry

and becoming Time’s Man of The Year for his invention of a formula that literally “makes the

deserts bloom,” leaders from across the globe court Rosensweig, currying his favor for a chance

at acquiring this incredibly powerful tool. Amidst this chorus of brownnosing, one man truly

impresses him; surprisingly, he is a mere lower house representative from an Eastern European

country: Nicolae Carpathia. It is this notable connection- the Jewish connection- that gives

Carpathia the ability to meet the world’s most important leaders and financiers, putting him on

the path to ultimate power. In an extraordinary turn of events which are never clearly explained,

Carpathia ascends from congressman to President of Romania following the resignation of the

current president, who appoints Carpathia, in a decision acclaimed by a vote of the Romanian

people. Once on the world stage, it is through the financial support of Todd-Cothran and

Stonagal, shadowy figures who are thought to control world financial market and possess vast

financial reserves, and the influence and goodwill generated by Rosensweig, that Carpathia is

able to garner international attention in a stirring speech before the United Nations shortly after

the rapture. Using Rosensweig’s formula as a bartering chip, Carpathia is able to get then-
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secretary general Ngumbo of Botswana to step down in exchange for a seven year lease on the

formula, who in turn nominates Carpathia, the Antichrist, to take his position. This series of

events sets the stage for Carpathia to begin his one world government, the Global Community, as

well as a one world religion, The Enigma Babylon One World Faith. In Nicolae, the narration

spells out exactly the importance of Rosensweig to Carpathia’s rise to power. “It had taken more

than Carpathia’s charismatic personality to effect all this. He had a trump card. He had gotten to

Rosensweig. . . the power of the formula allowed Carpathia to wield made it possible for him to

bring the rest of the world willingly to its knees. . . Before anyone realized what had happened,

Nicolae Carpathia, now called the grand potentate of the Global Community, had quietly become

the most militarily powerful pacifist in the history of the globe” (Nicolae 142-3). This is one of

several instances where the Israeli Jew Chaim Rosensweig acts as a link between different

realms of existence. It is because of his friendship that the Antichrist quickly ascends the ranks

of power.

In addition to using his formula to elevate Nicolae into power, Rosensweig also comes up

with the scientific theory Nicolae uses in order to explain away the Rapture. Halfway through

Left Behind, we learn that Carpathia has appointed Rosensweig to head up a committee

dedicated to understanding the Rapture, “to try to make sense of this great tragedy and allow us

to take steps towards preventing anything similar from ever happening again” (Left Behind 253).

Rosensweig’s idea is that “some confluence of electromagnetism in the atmosphere, combined

with as yet unknown or unexplained atomic ionization from the nuclear power and weaponry

throughout the world, could have been ignited or triggered- perhaps by a natural cause like

lightning, or even by an intelligent life-form that discovered this possibility before we did- and

caused this instant action throughout the world” (Left Behind 254). In this instance, Rosensweig
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uses his smarts and position within the world as Nobel Prize winner and statesman to come up

with an account that explains away God. In this capacity, he represents the Jew as the

scientist/humanist (think Freud, Marx, etc.) who distances himself from God with supposedly

rational science- a point of view the authors of the series deliberately critique.

Rosensweig, the Jewish humanist, is a critical tool the Antichrist needs in order to take

power and spread doubt of God’s role in the rapture. From this perspective, one might deduce

that as one of the two most important Jewish characters in the novel, he represents everything

that is wrong about the Jewish people, a group vilified by the Catholic and later Protestant

Churches for their refusal to accept Christ despite his origins within their community.1 However,

upon further inspection, a more ambiguous picture of Rosensweig emerges, one that combines

elements of righteousness and blasphemy, black and white blending. His position is therefore

one of intransigence, paradox, the site where stark distinctions of good and evil break down in a

rare display of nuance and grey. As an Israeli and Jew, Rosensweig has earned the distinction of

bringing peace and prosperity to one of the most troubled regions in the world. He is a

remarkably sympathetic and likable character. However, he is not a believer in Christ, and it is

his inability to see in stark terms of good and evil that allows him to be used by the Antichrist for

evil purposes. Yet the ascent of the Antichrist is not necessarily an inherently bad deed. This may

seem counterintuitive, but in the framework of a narrative that strictly adheres to Biblical

prophecy and desires the end- namely, the glorious reappearance of Christ- the Antichrist’s rise

The long history of Christian anti-Semitism is still being acknowledged by Christians today. A recent article in
Christianity Today, entitled “The Longest Hatred,” admits that “Unfortunately the church also has a deplorable
history of anti-Semitism. Despite the Jewish roots of Christianity, the painful fact is that many Christians through
the centuries have twisted biblical texts as allowing--even encouraging--the sin of anti-Semitism. To justify their
actions, Christians called Jews "Christ-killers" and said the Jews deserved their sufferings because they had rejected
Jesus. Martin Luther turned on Jews with a vengeance once he realized they were no more receptive to Reformation
doctrines than they had been to Rome's. In more recent times, while some Christians heroically tried to protect
Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust, too many willingly participated in the Nazi campaign of extermination--or
simply looked the other way” (Christianity Today).
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to power is essential if the prophecies are to be fulfilled and the ultimate goal reached. In that

sense, Rosensweig is as much a tool of the Antichrist as he is an instrument of God, for it is

through Rosensweig’s earthly actions that God is able to bring the promise of his word into


Rosensweig’s position becomes even greyer when examined in connection to the

members of the Tribulation Force. As we saw earlier, it is Buck William’s connection to

Rosensweig that eventually connects him to Carpathia, and earns him a prominent position with

the Global Community, as editor of Global Community Weekly. Early in Tribulation Force,

Rosensweig advises Buck to accept the soon-to-be-offered position, saying “‘…so far he has

trusted my judgment. That’s why you’re here.’ Buck lifted an eyebrow. ‘I thought it was because

Carpathia thinks I am the best journalist in the world.’ Dr. Rosensweig leaned forward

conspiratorially, ‘And why do you think he believes that?’” (Tribulation Force 108). This

distinction proves incredibly useful, even life-saving, as Buck is able to use his GC credentials to

enter restricted areas and escape scrutiny while doing God’s work. He is also able to use the

significant financial resources the job affords him to purchase state of the art communication and

transportation equipment that assists the Tribulation Force members in working together to bring

more people to Christ.

Rosensweig also connects Nicolae to Rayford Steele, using his influence to assure him a

job as the Antichrist’s personal pilot. Nicolae states this outright at his first meeting with

Rayford, musing “it is interesting to me how small the world is. Perhaps that is why I believe so

strongly that we are becoming truly a global community. Would you believe I met you through

an Israeli botanist named Chaim Rosensweig?” (Tribulation Force 296). Rayford accepts the

position on the grounds that it will allow him to monitor Nicolae’s actions, gaining secret
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knowledge that could be used to save believers and protect the faithful. Also, as an outspoken

believer, his proximity to Carpathia actually provides him with much needed security in an

incredibly dangerous time. Indeed, time and again Rayford gains special knowledge or security

from his position insider Carpathia’s inner circle. This crucial protection is indubitably

Rosensweig’s doing.

As a linkage between members of the Tribulation Force and the Antichrist, Rosensweig

acts as an intermediary between good and evil. It is as if God is exercising His will through

Rosensweig, the Jew. This is no accident. Throughout these novels, a running thread is the idea

that the Jewish people still have an important role to play in fulfilling the prophecies in the Bible;

they are a catalyst for Revelation, a necessary piece of the eschatological puzzle. They fulfill

complementary roles, as both the elevators of iniquity, as well as the harbingers of faith. For

further proof of this unique dichotomy, let us look to another prominent Jew in the Left Behind

series: Tsion Ben-Judah.

We are first introduced to Tsion Ben-Judah in Tribulation Force, by none other than

Chaim Rosensweig. In a long conversation Chaim has with Buck, he tells him about a three year

study, commissioned by the Israeli government, Ben Judah has written “about the prophecies

relating to Messiah so we Jews will recognize him when he comes” (Tribulation Force 106).

Chaim described Tsion as “a student of mine twenty-five years ago. He was always an

unabashed religious Jew, Orthodox but short of fundamentalist. Of course he became a rabbi, but

certainly not because of anything I taught him” (Tribulation Force 107). Chaim Rosensweig,

ever the link between realms, is the man who introduces Tsion Ben-Judah to the Antichrist, in a

conversation with Buck.

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Tribulation Force, the second novel in the series, is structured around two prophecy

fulfilling events, which occur parallel to one another. The first is the imminent signing of a treaty

between Israel and the Global Community, guaranteeing Israel’s security for the next seven

years. The other is the worldwide broadcast of Tsion Ben Judah’s synopsis of his three year

study determining how Jews can “spot the Messiah” (Tribulation Force 253). Both of these

events occur on the same day, and are critical for our understanding the position and function of

Jews within the Left Behind narrative scheme.

First of all, each one fulfills a key End Times prophecy. Early in Tribulation Force, in a

sermon entitled “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” Bruce Barnes lays out the basic

prophetic chronology for what is to happen in the seven years of Tribulation before the Glorious

Appearing of Christ. According the literal interpretation of Revelations offered by the authors of

the series, the Rapture is a sign that the end is near; however, it is not until the first of seven “seal

judgments” are broken that the period of Tribulation has officially begun and the countdown to

Armageddon begins. With the breaking of this seal comes the arrival of the first of four

horsemen- the “rider of the white horse,” who “represents the Antichrist and his kingdom”

(Tribulation Force 71). The Antichrist is a satanic figure who uses his powers of persuasion to

assume rule over the world; “he will triumph through diplomacy. He will usher in a false peace,

promising world unity” (Tribulation Force 71). Key to this prophecy is a passage from the book

of Daniel, which Bruce Barnes interprets as a prophecy that suggests the Antichrist’s true

accession will be finalized by his signing of a treaty with Israel. Once this occurs, there is a year

and a half of peace in which many will be deluded into believing that the Antichrist is actually

the Messiah himself. Eventually these delusions will be defeated by the beginning of God’s

judgments, apocalyptic wars and natural disasters that will decimate the world’s population. The
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signing of this treaty, which occurs at the end of Tribulation Force, is essential to the fulfillment

of Biblical prophecy, literally marking the exact point at which the tribulation period begins.

The other event, Tsion Ben-Judah’s worldwide speech regarding identifying the Messiah,

fulfills a second crucial end-times prophecy. That is the conversion of 144,000 Jews, twelve

thousand from each of the 12 tribes, who will form a core of believers that will evangelize the

rest of the world and bring millions to Christ and redemption. Tsion’s message, which is seen by

millions of people and most Jews across the world, identifies Jesus Christ as the Messiah. He

concludes his speech saying “Jesus Christ is the Messiah!. . . There can be no other option. I had

come to this answer but was afraid to act on it, and I was almost too late. Jesus came to rapture

his church, to take them with him to heaven as he said he would. I was not among them, because

I wavered. But I have since received him as my Savior. He is coming back in seven years! Be

ready!. . . Yeshua ben Yosef, Jesus son of Joseph, is Yeshua Hamashiac!. . . Jesus is the

Messiah!” (Tribulation Force 397).

The coincidence of these two events- Carpathia’s signing of a seven year treaty with

Israel and Ben-Judah’s revelation of the results of his three year study- is no accident. Both serve

to teach and reinforce the central ideological mission of the novels, which is to convert souls to a

literal understanding of Biblical prophecy. Interestingly, the novels accomplish this on two

levels: one which occurs within the bounded world of the text, and the second on the level of the

actual human community that is reading and learning about Christ through the text. For both the

imagined and real communities addressed in these novels, the culmination of Tribulation Force

with these two events reveals the precise way in which Biblical prophecy can find direct

applications in current world events. It is Tsion’s hope that non-believers in the Left Behind

World will hear his message, connect with teachers like himself that can supply additional
Schwartzbaum 18

information (one of his final acts on camera is to distribute a phone number individuals can call

for more information), and join the faith. It is the authors’ hope that the readers of this text will

see how Biblical prophecy can be applied to a fictional world historic event, and then begin to

draw their own associations and connections between the Biblical text, valid interpretations of it,

and actual current affairs. This has real life implications for the politics of the evangelical

movement, and their relationship with international Jewry, and most specifically, the State of

Israel. We will explore these implications shortly.

Another thing the culmination of Tribulation Force also reveals is the fact that in Left

Behind worldview, there is a strong belief in the power of The Word to give meaning and

direction in an otherwise chaotic and perplexing world. Clearly, the Bible is the ultimate word to

which believers must look, but in a world of competing messages from a wide array of cultural,

social and political outlets, it is difficult for “God’s message” to get through, especially when the

message is difficult to understand without expert knowledge. The Bible’s prophetic passages

regarding the End Times are such a message: easy to find, but difficult to apply without a

hermeneutic exposition. Within the world of the novels, the true narrative that explains the

disappearance of millions in a moment is the Rapture of God’s church by Jesus Christ, but

without access to a preacher like Bruce Barnes or the two witnesses preaching before the

Western Wall, it is difficult for all people, and Jews in particular, to integrate Biblical meaning-

making into their lives. Tsion Ben-Judah’s speech acts as a hermeneutic lifeline to these lost

souls, offering them a narrative context through which individuals can reformulate their

understanding of their faith and its interplay with events occurring in reality.

Through the dissemination of “The Word,” Ben-Judah jump starts the conversion of

144,000 Jews to the cause of Christ. Later on in the series, “fundamentalists” murder Tsion’s
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family, and in a daring escape, Buck rescues him from Israel, and brings him to America, where

he is stored in an underground bunker built beneath the Tribulation Force’s church. From there,

Tsion continues to send out regular messages on the internet, interpreting recent events and using

Biblical interpretation to inform readers of what is to come. In one passage in Soul Harvest,

Rayford logs online to read Tsion’s latest message, and is stunned by “a meter on his screen

showed the number of responses as they were added to the central bulletin board. He believed

the meter was malfunctioning. It raced so fast he could not even see the individual numerals”

(Soul Harvest 245). We are again reminded of Anderson’s imagined community, whose cultural-

literary sense of nationhood is affirmed by a widely practiced phenomenon like reading the

newspaper (or a site on the internet) that give a sense of “a sociological organism moving

calendrically through homogenous, empty time” (Anderson 26). It is not surprise that Soul

Harvest, a book with the subtitle “the world takes sides,” depicts this exact process.

Interestingly, it is a Jew who reaches out to other Jews- and non-Jews- to bring them to Christ.

Left Behind’s authors intentionally represent Jews as coming to Christ not through the

missionary work of evangelical Christians, but rather as a self-initiated realization that comes

from within the most educated corner of the Jewish community- though not the most


All of this exposition can tend to read as a confirmation of one oft-stated criticism of the

representation of Jews in these novels: that “while ‘Left Behind’ shows the common evangelical

sympathy for Jews, they exist to be converted and to fulfill Christian prophecy” (Gates).

Certainly Tsion fits this mold early in the novels, and even Rosensweig eventually comes

around, killing Carpathia (who is resurrected by Satan) and leading the “million-plus Jewish

remnant at Petra,” a gathering essential to the coming of Christ (Glorious Appearing x). Both of
Schwartzbaum 20

these men fulfill instrumental roles in assuring the fulfillment of God’s plan. This representation

of Jews in the novels portrays them as “an errant but not evil people, and as righteous and

constructive beings when they finally discover the truth and recognize their savior,” with whom

a new generation of evangelical Christian Americans can sympathize (Ariel 132). The

assumption being made by these authors is that devout Jews like Ben Judah, as well as rationalist

humanists like Rosensweig, are both capable of conversion in a post-rapture world. Only

“fundamentalist” Jews, those who stubbornly refuse to accept any other faith other than their

own, are the ones who end up on the side of the Antichrist, disrupting the preachers at the

western wall, murdering prominent Christian voices within Israel, and narrowly focusing on their

ritualistic sacrifices in the Holy Temple in a vain attempt to connect with their God. According

to Left Behind, these actions will earn these fundamentalist Jews only one fate: eternal hellfire. In

a continuation of their Manichean worldview, even Judaism itself can be bifurcated, into the

convertible and the inconvertible.

With all this in mind, we can abstract further, away from individual Jews, to the role of

Israel in the novels. It is obvious that it, too, has an important role to play in the fulfillment of

prophecy. More interestingly, it is the position of Israel within the international community- its

sovereignty, its Jewish character, its relationship with its neighbors- that gives critical readers

clear insight into the principles of the evangelical political ideology that underlies these texts.

Part Three: The Holy Remnant: Israel’s Place in Left Behind’s Dispensationalist Ideology

I will live to see the reconstruction of the temple, and it will be even more spectacular
than in the days of Solomon!
Rabbi Marc Feinberg, Tribulation Force, page 295

The State of Israel is absolutely central to the Left Behind novels. As we’ve seen, the

beginning of the tribulation is impossible without Israel’s signing of a treaty with the Antichrist.
Schwartzbaum 21

Israel also has other important functions. The rebuilding of the Jewish Holy Temple on the site

of the Dome of the Rock by the Jews- with the full endorsement and support of the Antichrist- is

another key End Times prophecy that the novels fulfill. Beginning in Left Behind, the Western

Wall is also the site where two mysterious old men in sackcloth named Eli and Moshe begin

preaching the gospel of Christ shortly after the rapture; their presence there infuriates the

Orthodox Jews, but also begins to win a large audience that becomes the foundation of the

144,000 Jewish converts that will evangelize millions during the tribulation- “twelve thousand

from each of the twelve tribes making a pilgrimage here for the purpose of preparation” (Soul

Harvest 377). At the end of Soul Harvest, these witnesses, protected by God, begin to gather in

Israel, where they will have a giant conference that is the beginning of the world’s taking sides.

Israel is protected from all supernatural harm during the trials of the tribulation, and

Armageddon occurs in Israel; it is there that Jesus reappears to his flock. The list of important

events that happen in or are connected to Israel goes on and on; after America, it is the second

most common setting in the novels.

The centrality of Israel in these novels is no accident; in fact, it is a furtherance of a well

established strain of Christian Zionism going back nearly 150 years. Dispensationalism, the

foundation of the entire worldview expressed in Left Behind, has a hermeneutic approach to the

Old Testament that “stresses a literal fulfillment of Old Testament promises to Israel”; it is of the

“belief that the unconditional, eternal covenants made with national Israel (Abrahamic, Davidic,

and New) must be fulfilled literally with national Israel,” and envisions “a distinct future for

national Israel” (Vlach). The dispensationalist messianic faith which forms the basis of the

novels plot “has inspired interest in the prospect of the Jewish conversion to Christianity as well

as in the possibility of Jewish national restoration in Palestine” (Ariel 135). This Zionistic strain
Schwartzbaum 22

within the evangelical movement has a history nearly as old as the evangelical movement itself,

which began in Victorian England in the early nineteenth century, and spread to America

towards the middle of that century. Professor of Religious Studies Yaakov Ariel writes that “by

the late nineteenth century, American evangelists come out with proto-Zionist initiatives and

created extensive networks” and “evangelical writers promoted the idea that a Jewish

commonwealth in the Holy Land is a crucial development toward the advancement of messianic

times” (Ariel 126). He cites prominent evangelical politicians in Britain and preachers in

Germany who used their clout and influence to put pressure on government officials to promote

the budding international Zionist movement.

The first major evangelical text to advance the Christian Zionist mission was William

Blackstone’s Jesus is Coming, published at the turn of the twentieth century. This early

dispensationalist text “sold millions of copies and was translated into dozens of languages,”

much like the Left Behind novels, published at the turn of the twenty-first century (Ariel 136).

Blackstone heralded the arrival of thousands of Jewish immigrants in then-Palestine as a sign

that the end time prophecies were coming true; “he viewed the agricultural settlements and the

new neighborhoods in Jerusalem as ‘signs of the time,’ indicating that an era was ending and the

great events of the apocalypse were soon to occur” (Ariel 136). A petition organized by

Blackstone in 1891 was signed by “more than four hundred prominent Americans. . .

congressmen, governors, mayors, publishers of major newspapers, leading business people, and

prominent clergymen,” urging the American government to take steps towards creating a

commonwealth for the Jewish people in Palestine (Ariel 135). The theory developed by

Blackstone- that the ingathering of the Jewish people in Israel signaled a crucial step toward the
Schwartzbaum 23

fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and the beginning of the end times- became “a cornerstone of

American evangelical attitudes toward Zionism and Israel” (Ariel 135).

These individuals believed that America could be a moral instrument, “chosen by God”

to become “a vehicle toward the realization of the kingdom of God on earth;” with this

philosophy, evangelical Americans could “combine their messianic belief and understands of the

course of human history with their sense of American patriotism” (Ariel 137). This potent

mixture of faith and politics is alive and well today, with over 40% of Americans declaring

themselves as evangelicals, and the majority supporting groups like the Christian Coalition and

the Moral Majority: groups that actively promote the idea of using American government to

advance faith-based policies: a right wing, anti-gay, anti-abortion, pro-family, proactive infusion

of religious values and precepts into public life.

Throughout the twentieth century, these evangelicals groups closely monitored “signs of

the times” in Palestine, issuing periodic reports on development of Jewish enterprises there, and

remained sympathetic to the Zionist cause. Their reception to the creation of the State of Israel in

1948, however, could be described as cautiously optimistic; while it seemed to fit into the

eschatological puzzle, many were concerned with the secular character of the Israeli government,

and contrary to popular belief, there actually existed substantial evangelical sympathy for the

position of Palestinian Arabs displaced because of the state’s foundation. Attitudes noticeably

shifted following the 1967 Six-Day War, which resulted in a hardening of pro-Zionist attitudes

amongst evangelical Christians. Ariel speculates that

probably no political-military event has provided so much fuel for the engine of prophecy
as the short war between Israel and its neighbors in June 1967. . . the dramatic and
unexpected Israeli victory, and the territorial gains it brought with it, strengthened the
premillenialists’ conviction that the State of Israel was created for an important mission
in history and that the Jewish commonwealth was to play an important role in the process
that would precede the arrival of the Messiah (Ariel 140).
Schwartzbaum 24

Following this war, American foreign policy and evangelical came into a seemingly prophetic

alignment. President after president propped up Israel economically and militarily as a bulwark

against Soviet Communism, a nation viewed by many evangelicals as the Manichean dark to

America’s light, while evangelicals formed unprecedented partnerships with Jewish Zionist

leaders, establishing organizations like the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ)

and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ). These organizations provide a

wide range of social services for Jews in Israel, raise funds, and work to bring diaspora Jews

from across the world to Israel. Other more explicitly political organizations, like the Christians’

Israel Public Action Campaign, serve as an evangelical lobby in Washington, working to create

political support for the State of Israel.

No text better exemplifies this rapidly growing Christian Zionist movement better than

Hal Lindsey’s book The Late Great Planet Earth, published in 1970, which went on to become

the best selling book of that decade, selling over thirty million copies (Thigpen). Left Behind

draws heavily from its basic premises: the restoration of Israel as a state was interpreted as the

literal restoration of Israel prophesied in the Bible. Its ideas about the end times- that it will be

preceded by the rapture of the saved, that it will be followed by a seven-year tribulation replete

with plagues, wars, famines, and other natural disasters, and that it will climax with the return of

Christ and the establishment of his kingdom on earth- are mirrored by plot developments in Left

Behind. Its central thesis is that the Soviet Union is Gog, the invader from the North mentioned

in Ezekiel (corresponding exactly to the opening scenes of Left Behind), and the Cold War is

another signal of the coming tribulation. The book also “anticipates the rebuilding of the Temple

as a central event of the end times and the fulfillment of biblical prophecies,” again

corresponding exactly to the plot of Left Behind (Ariel 151).

Schwartzbaum 25

What the authors of Left Behind have done is tap into a deep preexisting pool of attitudes

and beliefs about the end times and revamp them for our moment. Amongst the evangelical

masses, the leaders of the movement have worked diligently forge a new relationship, centered

on support for Israel. To downplay the traditional anti-Semitism associated with the end times,

the authors’ have made the Antichrist a Romanian from a presumably Catholic lineage, rather

than a Jew, as the figure has been historically cast. They also place the headquarters of the

Global Community in Iraq, now a central front in the war of civilizations promoted by political

scientists like Samuel Huntington and perpetuated by evangelicals who imagine this new battle

as the struggle which will result in the apocalypse and Christ’s return. Finally, they envision

Israel as a great technological wunderkind, able to make the deserts bloom with fantastic

scientific formulas that ensure their material welfare, yet cannot assure them their security. This

image of an Israeli state internally strong yet externally vulnerable is essential to the fulfillment

of the Biblical prophecy. It positions the Israeli state as a wholly Jewish entity, eager to get a

guarantee of security from the Antichrist so that it can rebuild the holy temple – as stated, two

critical actions initiating the tribulation.

One particularly revealing effect of this simplistic rendering of Israeli national affairs is

to completely erase the Palestinian people from the reality of conflict in the region. All of

Israel’s problems are with foreign elements threatening her annihilation. The idea that there is

some internal strife that could threaten the integrity of the state is simply ignored. This

disappearing act has not gone unnoticed in the critical literature surrounding the novels. In an

insightful article published in Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of Popular Culture, Melani

McAlister argues

that the mapping of the character’s identities is also a mapping of the space of Palestine-
Israel precisely because the very notion of “Palestinian” is made invisible, impossible.
Schwartzbaum 26

There are Muslims and there are Arabs in Left Behind, but there are no Arab Christians
and there are no Palestinians. In the logic of the series, Palestinians cannot convert like
Abdullah Smith or Albie, and they cannot resist like the righteous Chinese Muslims,
because they are simply outside the representational possibilities of the Left Behind
world. Dick Armey’s suggestion that Palestinians should be removed from the West
Bank and Gaze and Pat Robertson’s insistence that Israel should never compromise one
bit of land are enacted in the novels as wish fulfillment: there is no Palestinian problem
on the evangelical map (McAlister 306).

McAlister’s reference to evangelical ideas about American foreign policy in respect to

Israel is spot on. LaHaye, who provides the theological material that forms the basis of these

novels, is no stranger to politics. He is the former co-chairman of Jack Kemp's presidential

campaign, a member of the original board of directors of the Moral Majority and an organizer of

the Council for National Policy, which has called "the most powerful

conservative organization in America you've never heard of" and whose membership has

included John Ashcroft, Tommy Thompson and Oliver North (Goldberg). The right wing foreign

policy establishment these individuals represent is fully at home with the theological positions

staked out in Left Behind. In theory, Israel must be maximally sovereign, yet directly threatened

by external forces. In practice, this means that the evangelical position is one that supports

Israel’s expansion of settlements into the West Bank as part of God’s plan, yet rejects any peace

plan that would guarantee Israel’s citizens’ true security.

The position Israel should be in, according to this worldview, is one espoused by Chaim

Rosensweig in Tribulation Force. He explains to Buck that “history has shown our God to be

capricious when it comes to our welfare. From the children of Israel wandering in the desert to

the Six-Day War to the Russian invasion to now, we do not understand him. He lends us his

favor when it suits his eternal plan, which we cannot comprehend. We pray, we seek him, we try

to curry his favor. But in the meantime we believe God helps those who help themselves”

(Tribulation Force 101). Israel, here represented by Rosensweig, has not yet accepted his “eternal
Schwartzbaum 27

plans,” those laid out by dispensationalist doctrine. If she would, she’d understand that Christ is

Lord, that it is fruitless to try to help herself because the world is headed for doom and what she

should do is not repair the world but accept Christ. Since she won’t, the next best thing she can

do is serve her function within the evangelical worldview: conquer as much of historic Israel as

possible, continue her existential struggle, and smolder until Jesus comes to put out the flames.

As McAlister claims, the best evidence of this ideology translated into policy comes from the

words of the movement’s leaders. In one speech to evangelical pilgrims to Jerusalem in fall

2004, Reverend Pat Robertson declared "I see the rise of Islam to destroy Israel and take the land

from the Jews and give East Jerusalem to Yasser Arafat. I see that as Satan's plan to prevent the

return of Jesus Christ the Lord. God says, 'I'm going to judge those who carve up the West Bank

and Gaza Strip'" (Schrag) For obvious reasons, this apocalyptic view of Jewish-Christian

relations doesn’t sit will with majority of Jews who desire a negotiated settlement with the

Palestinians, calling for the relinquishment of Gaza and the West Bank.

In spite of this radical conception of Israeli affairs, leaders of many major Jewish

institutions, from presidents of international non-profits like the Anti-Defamation League to

Israeli prime ministers like Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu, have embraced evangelical

support of the state of Israel because of the tangible financial and political benefits the

relationship engenders. In an oft-cited editorial published by Abraham Foxman, national director

of the ADL, he offers a rebuttal to those who “say that Evangelicals are behind Israel for the

wrong reasons: they see Israel's existence as a necessary precursor for Armageddon and the

second coming of Christ, visions which do not include a place for Jews.” Foxman has an answer

to these misgivings; he argues that “these religious beliefs, however, speak to an unknown future

(indeed one that Jews do not envision). Meanwhile, the very real present is one in which
Schwartzbaum 28

Evangelical leaders are educating their publics about the importance of Israel's existence,

security and well-being, that no amount of public relations and advertising budgets could buy”

(Foxman). Ever pragmatic, international Jewish leadership has made peace with the fact that

their evangelical allies expect them to either eventually convert or go to hell. As long as these

ideological claims remain theological and not practicable, Jews can take comfort that the old

anti-Semitism “has been superceded by the new special role of the Jews in the modern State of

Israel” (Foxman).

It is at this critical juncture where the fault lines in evangelical dispensationalist ideology

become most glaring. Because of the “new special role” of Israel in their conception of history,

there has been a strong push within the movement to extinguish anti-Semitism and support the

Jewish state. Yet in the end, the simple fact is that this ideology is about judgment. The most

defining aspect of evangelical ideology is that it strictly divides humanity according to who will

and who will not be saved. The inevitability of death and the certitude of Christian theological

claims result in a worldview designed for Manichean binaries, and in the end, all must take a

side. Jews and Israel may have a special role to play in bringing about the end times, and are

therefore necessary instruments to achieving prophetic ends. But when it comes down to the

level of the individual Jew, those who don’t accept Christ as their personal savior are doomed to

an eternal afterlife in the lake of fire. Left Behind certainly paints Israel in shades of grey; the

authors’ make a deliberate effort to construct Jewish characters who earn our sympathy, and who

prove that conversion is possible. Yet the bottom line is that without Christ, the Jews are going to

Schwartzbaum 29

Conclusion: Do Not Fear the Evangelical Nation

Evangelicals need to take a good look at what their issues are. Are they really being
faithful to Jesus? Are they being faithful to the Bible? Are they adhering to the kinds of
teachings that Christ made clear?
-Tony Campolo, progressive evangelical Baptist minister

In the beginning of this essay, I delineated two spiritual “nations” of importance to an

understanding of this text: the first, a nation of new believers within the bounded world of Left

Behind which arises organically after the rapture, and the nation of readers who associate these

novels with signification in their real world communities. In the former, we observed the process

by which this nation takes form after the rapture, and how Jewish characters are central to both

evangelizing the unbelievers and elevating the Antichrist to power. In the latter, we examined the

way the positioning of Israel within the novels’ eschatological framework results in certain social

and political phenomenon, including a deliberate attempt by evangelical leadership to extinguish

anti-Semitism and promote a robust right-wing Zionist agenda as a direct result

After the rapture, the people of the world are faced with a relatively simple equation.

Millions of people across the globe have vanished. Extraordinary international events are

propelling an unknown Romanian to power that offers peace but brings upon nuclear war.

Meanwhile, in major newspapers, magazines, and on the internet, there exist exegeses, based on

the Bible, which contextualize the chaos in a way that fits neatly into an ancient narrative, and

make accurate predictions about cabalistic future events, all which come true. For anyone with a

rational mind, accepting the dispensationalist explanation for world events is simple; these

people become the nation of tribulation saints. Only those determined to live sinful lives at all

costs cannot accept Christ, and it is easy to see why, in the world of the novels, such characters

are almost impossible to sympathize with. Stark lines are drawn. The community of believers is

so distinctly apart from nonbelievers that they even carry a miraculous mark of the cross on their
Schwartzbaum 30

foreheads which can only be seen by other believers. They are totally united in their faith, and in

their opposition to the Antichrist and the Global Community. The boundaries are neat and clean.

In the real world, however, the boundaries are not so easily delineated. Surely there are

some who argue that separation and distinction are “key to understanding how conservative

religious groups develop a sense of identity and continue to thrive in a modern, pluralistic

environment” (Frykholm 26). In Rapture Culture, Frykholm relates a study done by Christian

sociologist Christian Smith, which argues that the reason evangelicalism is so successful in a

modern setting is because it “retains a distinction between itself and the outside world,” which is

followed by “a sense of threat” (Frykholm 26). Yet “despite this sense of threat, evangelicalism

does not close its boundaries entirely. Instead it participates in what Smith calls ‘engaged

orthodoxy,’ a participation in the world that allows it an active and meaningful role in American

culture” (Frykholm 27). Yet Frykholm goes on to prove that even among Christians who call

themselves evangelical, there is no single set of principles that can completely capture their

world view. The boundaries Smith sees ignore the “broader sociocultural and institutional

settings in which evangelicals are situated. It posits the ‘facts’ of evangelicalism using the

discourse and tools of empirical science without querying the ‘discursive horizon they construct,

as well as what vanishes beyond the horizon’” (Frykholm 27).

Rapture Culture forcefully reminds us that there is no single answer to the question of

how these books factor into evangelical society, because its impacts are felt differently by

different people depending on their own communities, their families and churches, as well as

their gender, age, race, class and lifestyle. While Left Behind is a stirring narrative, it is not the

Bible. Individuals continue to have agency, and can pick and chose which parts of the books suit

their attitudes and beliefs. An evangelical person deeply concerned about the plight of refugees
Schwartzbaum 31

may view with suspicion the erasure of Palestinians from the Israeli landscape, particularly

Christian Palestinians; others might balk at the strong anti-Catholic strain throughout the novels,

or their demonization of the media or international institutions.

It is true that the complex and variegated movement known as evangelical Christianity

seems to have embraced these novels. Their tremendous commercial success guarantees that they

are and will remain a potent cultural artifact of our times. Textual analysis of the novels has and

will continue to reveal the fascinating, sometimes disturbing truths about this growing religious

movement. In this short essay alone, we have seen how evangelical attitudes towards Israel’s role

in God’s divine plan influences the way in which the author’s depict Jews in the novels and how

they expect their communities to respond to the state of Israel as it exists today. These

conclusions are substantial and important, as evangelicals continue to exert a powerful influence

on the American body politic. Learning the basic tenets of dispensationalism and evangelical

ideas about the apocalypse opens up an entire new set of questions about how powerful

evangelical Christians like President Bush view their role in the larger eschatological framework,

questions that are beyond the scope of this essay. Yet they must be read, not as the last word on

evangelical ideology, but rather as one particular conception with its own set of biases and

judgments which individuals can chose to accept or discard. For the majority of Americans who

are non-evangelicals, it is important to realize that those who hold these views are a powerful

and growing part of our society, which must be actively engaged. Evangelicals may believe non-

believers are going to hell, but it doesn’t mean they can’t work with them; the example of the

unique relationship between the evangelical movement and the state of Israel is a case in point.

Americans should learn from this example. The entire nation need not accept Christ as their

savior in order to work alongside the evangelical community; rather, they must find points of
Schwartzbaum 32

commonality where partnerships can be made. Tackling global poverty, strengthening the social

safety net, ending genocide, even fighting global warming: on all of these fronts, Christian

values and liberal values can align. It is up to the next generation of American leaders to find

these points of commonality and engage them fully for the benefit of mankind.
Schwartzbaum 33

Works Cited

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. New York: Verso, 1991.

Ariel, Yaakov. “How Are Jews and Israeli Portrayed in the Left Behind Series?” Rapture,

Revelation and the End Times: Exploring the Left Behind Series. Bruce David Forbes

and Jeanne Halgren Kilden, Ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Foxman, Abraham. “Why Evangelical Support for Israel is a Good Thing.” Anti-Defamation

League. 16 July 2002. 9 Dec. 2006. <>.

Frykholm, Amy Johnson. Rapture Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Gates, David. “The Pop Prophets.” Newsweek. 24 May 2006. 9 Dec 2006.


Goldberg, Michelle. “Fundamentally Unsound.” Salon. 29 July 2002. 9 Dec. 2006


Lahaye, Time and Jerry B. Jenkins. Left Behind. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 1995.

---. Tribulation Force. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 1996.

--- Nicolae. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 1997.

---. Soul Harvest. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1998.

---. Glorious Appearing. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004.

McAlister, Melani. “Prophecy, Politics and the Popular: The Left Behind Series and Christians

Evangelicalism’s New World Order.” Palestine, Israel and the Politics of Popular

Culture. Rebecca L. Stein and Ted Swedenburg, Ed. Durham & London: Duke

University Press, 2005.

Parker, Andrew. “Bogeyman: Benedict Anderson’s ‘Derivative’ Discourse.” Diacritics. Vol. 29.

Issue 4 (Winter 1999): pp 40-57.

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Schrag, Carl. “American Jews and Evangelical Christians: Anatomy of a Changing

Relationship.” Jewish Political Studies Review. Vol. 17 (Spring 2005). pp. 1-2.

Suleiman, Susan Rubin. Authoritarian Fictions. New York: Coumbia University Press, 1983.

“The Longest Hatred.” Christianity Today. Apr 2004: pp. 30-31. Academic Search Premier.

EBSCOhost. Brandeis University Lib., MA. 9 Dec. 2004 <>

Thigpen, Paul. “Rapture Fever May Be Injurious to Your Spiritual Health.” Apologetics and

Evangelization. 2004. Star of the Sea. 9 Dec. 2006.


Vlach, Michael J. “What is Dispensationalism?” Theological Studies. 9 Dec 2006.