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Thursday, March 9, 2017

What I’m Reading; Babylon Rising


I had it with me the other day as I sat in the doctor’s office for an appointment, reading as I waited for my turn to see the physician. He knocked on the door, and then entered the room and, seeing the book, he asked, “What’s on the reading list today?”  I always have a book with me as I wait, and he usually asks.

“It’s a junk novel,” I told him.

“Junk?”

“I read junk novels now and again to remind myself what bad writing looks like.”  He chuckled and then proceeded with the doctor stuff.

The junk novel in question was Babylon Rising the first book of Tim LaHaye’s “Babylon Rising” series (written with Greg Dinallo), a sort of prequel series to his expansive series of Left Behind novels – also junk novels.

The “Babylon Rising” series never garnered the reputation or fan base of the Left Behind novels.  I couldn’t say why. They’re written in the same style, with same flat characterization, the same incredible plot lines filled with the same stupefying and ridiculous plot failures. It’s fast paced and filled with cliff hangers, but not at all believable.

The series follows one Dr. Michael Murphy – who is one part Indiana Jones and one part evangelical minister; he is a “Biblical Archaeologist” who chases around the world looking for archaeological artifacts and lecturing a class of college students to prove the truth of the Bible. “It’s not just digging up artifacts and finding out where they came from. That’s what regular archaeologists do. It’s about proving the truth of the Bible” (LaHaye 161).

But what happens in this series of junk novels is not archaeology, is not academics, and is barely Christian. To summarize:

An allegedly ancient scroll, without provenance is given to Dr. Murphy by an anonymous and suspicious ‘benefactor.’ Murphy assumes, without testing, - based only on the word of this ‘benefactor’ that the scroll was written during the time of King Nebuchadnezzar – the Chaldean king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. The scroll describes a bronze serpent, and we’re off and running. “We’re definitely dealing with the Biblical Brazen Serpent” (98).

Apparently the bronze serpent fashioned by Moses, and broken by King Hezekiah, was preserved and eventually stolen away to Babylon by the Nebuchadnezzar’s army. The three pieces were then scattered and hidden in various parts of the Babylonian Empire. And it’s up to Murphy to find them.

First he’s off to a place described as the “Horns of the Ox” which was a “prominent landmark reasonably close to the old Babylon” (98). But LaHaye tells us that this landmark is in “Samaria.”

Samaria, in Biblical times, was the central region of Israel bounded by the Jezreel Valley, the Carmel Ridge, the Sharon Plain, and the Jerusalem mountains. In recent years the term “Samaria” has been used by Israeli officials to refer to the northern portion of the West Bank, but that term is not recognized by the Palestinian Authority or the international community. But neither of these "Samaria"s is reasonably close to the old Babylon. No other place names or cities are given to identify this place.

Murphy uses his connections with a shady, semi-retired Mossad agent to sneak into “Samaria”with “no hassles with officials or customs”(109). He wants to get in and out with ancient treasures without interference from the government.

While in “Samaria” looking for the “Horns of the Ox” he literally falls into a room full of hundreds of  amphoras, one of which happens to contain the tail section of the Brazen Serpent. “Moses made this,” he says, without any examination, dating, or testing. “Moses actually held this in his hands” (137).  Murphy takes it home with him to show it off to his students.

Meanwhile, the immensely wealthy CEO Shane Barrington, acting as a stooge for a mysterious cabal of international figures known as “the Seven” tasks one of the reporters working for a news agency he owns to investigating and making an exposé of a dangerous, fanatical, terrorist group – Evangelical Christians. (151)

Other agents of “the Seven” paint the phrase “J 3 16”  across eight floors of the exterior of the United Nations building – in broad daylight – in blood! (and no one notices this until the floodlights are turned on that evening) and to plant explosives in the North Carolina church where Murphy and his wife are members.

Murphy, along with his colleague, Dr. Isis McDonald, a philologist whose basement laboratory Murphy compares to the Maze of Forgetting in “Annacherib’s Pyramid,” (293) (Uh…. Perhaps Dr. Murphy meant Sennacherib, they Assyrian king?), use the first piece of the Brazen Serpent to lead them to the second – hidden in Saudi Arabia.

They travel (without having to get visas or permission or anything) to the (fictional) city of Tar-Qasir, famous for its medieval underground sewers. There, in the medieval sewers they discover a cult chanting in “a dialect of Terammasic,”(a (fictional) language that has been dead for over 1,000 years, but in which Dr. McDonald is conversant) (334) preparing a human sacrifice. Murphy and McDonald chase off the cultists and take the second piece of the serpent.

Which in turn leads them to the third and final piece hidden away in a pyramid in Egypt. They race to Egypt to retrieve it. (Meanwhile the first piece, the tail, is stolen from Dr. McDonald’s lab by an agent of “the Seven.”) Murphy and McDonald find the final piece of the bronze serpent, but before they can do more than take a few photos of it, it is stolen from them by the agent of “the Seven.”

But using those photos they are led to Iraq, to the temple of Marduk where, with help from a U.S. Marine Colonel and a troop of American grunts, uncover an ancient door, and behind that door – the Golden Head of Nebuchadnezzar’s giant golden statue.

Murphy and McDonald bring the golden head back to the United States. (389) THE END.

Nothing more is said of the bronze serpent. And nothing in the following novels is said of the golden head. No tests, no study, no examination. No ramifications, no meaning.

As I said: this is not archaeology. This is not academics. And it’s barely Christian.


LaHaye, Tim and Greg Dinallo. Babylon Rising. New York, NY: Bantam Books. 2003. Print. 


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