Just what are "Incomplete Jews?"
[ politics - june 06 ]
One of the deepest antipathies ardent Christians have had toward Jews through the ages derives from Jewish denial of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, a denial that has long fueled much of the anti-Semitism among Christian cultures. Most enlightened Christians, especially the non-proselytizing kind, don't obsess over this anymore. It's simply a non-issue. Furthermore, in an active sense, mainline Christian denominations have gone out of their way in the past half-century to rid their cultures of slurs referring to Jews as "deniers" or at its most virulent, as "Christ killers." For most it was the realization that fuel like this embedded in the minds of pre-secular Christian Europeans, helped ignite everything from pogroms in Russia to holocausts in lands under Nazi rule.
There were other aspects anti-Semitism, the more secular class and race based notions (as opposed to the simply religious), that also aided in turning people from everyday bigots and haters to exceptional purveyors of genocide. For many Jews in Europe at the time were hardly religious at all. Being a "denier" wasn't really much of an issue, apart from the total denial of religious life in any way. Being bourgeoisie was an issue, as was, paradoxically, being a Marxist champion of the proletariat. Hitler, with his Germanic version of nationalism, attacked both Jewish bourgeoisie (shopkeepers, bankers, businessmen) and socialist intellectual upstarts alike. Stalin's anti-Semitism feasted more of the flavors of ousting the bourgeoisie and later their minor remnants in the dekulakization campaigns, playing off popular anti-Semitic notions leftover from Czarist days.
What united both ideologies, Nazism and Stalinism, in their anti-Semitism was that Jews played central roles in their dramas. Secondly, was the fact that these ideologies based the Jewish threat to their nations on wild conspiracy theories, namely the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Under these lenses, Jews were seen as the Number One scapegoats, as purveyors of secrecy and conspiracy, as intellectual troublemakers, as anti-national internationalists, as unpatriotic, as outsiders, and as the ultimate "others." Today these same conspiracy theories are widely propagated throughout the Middle East by both Islamic fundamentalists and secular totalitarian regimes to use as propaganda against the state of Israel.
Considering what we know about how past uses of anti-Semitism in popular culture have later supported popular feeling against Jewish peoples, it is somewhat amazing how little has been said about these narratives within American culture. They are no more apparent today than in the hugely popular and successful series of Christian apocalyptic thrillers, the Left Behind novels.
Over the past decade, the Left Behind novels, have sold around 70 million copies and have become the most successful Christian publishing phenomenon ever in the United States outside the Bible. Written by Jerry B Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, a prominent Evangelical minister and political activist, series will culminate with the final and 15th book, The Rapture, appropriately enough, on June 6, 2006 (6/6/06). Three movies have been made based on the books, with the third movie, Left Behind: World at War, released last October 25th on DVD, skipping theatres altogether. It didn't skip churches, however. Over 3,000 churches signed up for a pre-release viewing the weekend before the official release.
For these books, LaHaye provides Jenkins with a detailed outline of prophecy based on the beliefs of dispensational premillennialism, a previously minor Protestant belief system that proposes a "Rapture" of "true believers" to Heaven prior to a seven-year period of tribulation culminating in the return of Jesus Christ and the Battle of Armageddon between the true believers and Satan. These beliefs came into being only 150 years ago when Scottish preacher John Darby formulated the ideas, ideas later disseminated in popular bibles such as the Scofield Reference Bible. They found a home in Protestant fundamentalism in the US and were propagated throughout academic systems, mainly through the Dallas Theological Seminary. The beliefs of dispensational premillennialism are then converted into a fictional narrative set in the present day and hung on the scaffolding of premillennialist prophecy interpretation, mostly based on the interpretation of the Book of Revelations. Besides LaHaye, evangelists such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are among the most well-known believers in these doctrines.
As a belief system, "the Rapture" itself is somewhat benign. All Christians denominations to some extent believe in the end of time when all believers will go to Heaven, be it individually or en masse. What is important about how LaHaye has used it, however, is that "the Rapture" has become a powerful tool for activism due to the fact that the "end of time" is seen to be close at hand. The idea that the return of Christ is imminent not simply for the individual but for a large mass of believers is a powerful ideological force when used by activists such as LaHaye for political ends. Simply chalking the books off as a didactic screed against modern "secular" society as many have done likely misses the most dangerous aspect of the Left Behind books, the revival of anti-Semitism as a strong undercurrent in American society. LaHaye, in these books, has combined both the old anti-Semitic idea of Jews as "deniers" with Jews as being the leaders in anti-Christian "secular" society, nicely wrapped together with hints of former conspiracy theories of Jewish world domination, Elders of Zion style.
In the prophecy watching of dispensational premillennialism, Israel, Israelis and Jews in general play a central role in the "end times" drama. Their roles in this narrative means they must either be converted to premillennialist version of Christianity or be led astray by the Antichrist. There is no choice to remain Jewish. The only other option, for those who remain Jewish in this narrative, is to be destroyed by either the Antichrist, or in the end, by the militant avenger, the victorious Jesus Christ himself. A great part of this comes from the Christian fundamentalist belief in Jews as the "deniers" of Jesus as the Messiah, as was mentioned above as something that has long fueled anti-Semitism among Christians. In the Left Behind books, these "deniers" are seen as "incomplete Jews," a notion that is central to the Left Behind novels, making Jews the pivotal players in this fantastical prophetic drama, much to their dismay. For these are "incomplete Jews" waiting to be turned into "believing Jews," meaning converts to this sect of Christianity, if you follow the narrative of the Left Behind books.
A paradoxical aspect of dispensational premillennialism is an overt support for the "State of Israel" by these believers in real life, often called philo-Semitism, as opposed to anti-Semitism. This support lies in their belief that the current state of Israel must expand and take possession of the land that was the Biblical "Land of Israel" which accounts for their massive support of Jewish expansion of settlements, the return of Jews to Israel, and support of far-right messianic Jewish groups that have similar goals based on their own readings of prophecy. This support is also often called Christian Zionism. Far from being for a love or respect for Judaism in its own regard, the end game for premillennialists is the idea that 144,000 Jews in that Biblical expanded State of Israel will convert to Christianity, becoming "believing Jews" and not the "incomplete Jews" they were before. The rest, sadly, will be eliminated in this ideology.
If we look at the conspiracy narrative side of the cube, the "secular humanist" denial of Jesus as the Messiah is the equal in this antipathy, and for those like LaHaye, non-religious Jews have been the leaders in this secular humanist revolution. Leftward leaning academia, media, and Hollywood, for LaHaye, has been led by these non-religious Jews "infected with atheism."
Despite the explicit and repeated disavowal of anti-Semitism, LaHaye has made odd comments about Jews in the past, saying that "some of the greatest evil in the history of the world was concocted by the Jewish mind" to journalist Jeffrey Goldberg in an article at Slate.com, and that "Sigmund Freud, Marx, these were Jewish minds infected with atheism." Goldberg, unsure of what LaHaye was getting at, asked him to tell more about the Jewish mind. "The Jewish brain also has the capacity for great good. God gave the Jews great intelligence. He didn't give them great size or physical power - you don't see too many Jews in the NFL - but he gave them great minds." 
Through the mix of premillennialist theology and right-wing conspiracy, veiled references to Judaism and secular humanism actually end up fusing the two together to create the "evil" portrayed by the Antichrist. If we go a bit further, LaHaye plays with the ideas that the media, international banking, and entertainment industries "being run by Jews" in the Left Behind novels. For those versed in right-wing conspiracy, the connections are readily available to be made in the Left Behind novels. For those not so versed, it likely passes over their heads, at least on the conscious level.
What has happened during the past half-century with the theology of dispensational premillennialism is not only religious, but cultural and political. What has been introduced to this theology are just some of those same conspiracy theories we mentioned above used by those interested in getting rid of Jews. LaHaye, through his past associations with groups heavily steeped in conspiracy theory such as the John Birch Society, has been one of the leaders in uniting this mix of prophecy and far-right conspiracy theory.
For one example of this melding, after the Rapture occurs in the first Left Behind book, the authors allude to a meeting called by a Jewish Nationalist conference in Manhattan that is behind a "new world order government." This group, we are told, is looking to rebuild the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and that they are reaching out to interfaith groups in order to gain support for their plan. In essence, this Jewish nationalist group, if you follow the narrative of the entire series, is partly responsible for the rise of the Antichrist character and in setting the stages for his eventual world domination. On the next page the authors easily turn to talk of "international monetarists" and their influence on the United Nations. For anyone familiar with conspiracy theories about Jews, this phrasing simply drops "Jewish" out of the frame of reference when talking about "international monetarists." Yet, due to the proximity and prominence the pages before and after devote to the Jewish aid in some shadowy conspiracy to bring the Antichrist to power, the connection can rightly be made.
At one point in the books, the character Buck Williams, an international journalist who later becomes a premillennialist believer and part of the Tribulation Force, happens to comment that "the Israelis hate Jesus." This just kind of pops out of his mouth, uttered, in the context of the book, like something nearly as cliché as a phrase like, "the Lord works in mysterious ways." It's also a very odd thing for an Ivy League graduate and an international journalist of Buck Williams' stature to say. When that type of remark comes out of a cardboard character like Williams, a later hero in the novel, and then on the next page the authors dive into remarks about secret meetings and "international bankers" it tends to take on the larger context of reinforcing these anti-Semitic generalizations.  Following this passage are repeated notions of "one world" conspiracy theories and shadowy references to "the power behind the power," that when built upon some of the veiled Protocols of Zion type references, charges these messages with a distinct anti-Semitic quality.
There are a number of problems with the way Israelis, and Jews in general, are depicted in this best-selling series, particularly the characters of Israeli scientist and secular Jew, Chaim Rosenzweig, and the soon-to-be reformed Rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah, a Jewish character who converts to premillennialist Christianity. For example, Rosenzweig creates a formula which makes Israel's deserts bloom, but, does not allow any other nation in the world have access to this. The authors, whether intentionally or unintentionally, leave his reasoning for this ambiguous. Is it greed behind his hoarding of this secret? Is it his nationalistic and racial pride? The reader also is treated quite often to the caricature of "Jew-speak" with the debating manner from a cartoonish Rosenzweig and later Ben-Judah, complete with boisterous exclamation punctuated sentences and a halting style of ending sentences with a question mark. 
Drawing further on old time conspiracy, the authors bring in the names of Joe Kennedy and the Rockefellers as reminiscent of the "power behind the power" that is embodied by the international banker character Jonathan Stonagal who has the backing of "an international brotherhood of financial wizards," though it is unclear whether he is Jewish or not. Kennedy and Rockefeller are names which have long been intertwined with paranoid conspiracy theories about Catholic and Jewish power cabals.
"It still smells major to me," Buck said. "Rozenzweig was high on this guy, and he's an astute observer. Now Carpathia's coming to speak at the U.N. What next?"
"You forget he was coming to the U.N. before he became president of Romania."
"That's another puzzle. He was a nobody."
"He's a new name in disarmament. He gets his season in the sun, his fifteen minutes of fame. Trust me, you're not going to hear of him again.
"Stonagal had to be behind the U.N. gig, too," Buck said. "You know Diamond John is a personal friend of our ambassador."
"Stonagal is a personal friend of every elected official from the president to the mayors of most medium-sized cities, Buck. So what? He knows how to play the game. He reminds me of old Joe Kennedy or one of the Rockefellers, all right? What's your point?"
"Just that Carpathia is speaking at the U.N. on Stonagal's influence." 
A page after mentioning these names, between references to Orthodox Jews wanting to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and international monetarists setting up one world currency, Buck complains to his boss that he's "being overrun by Jews."
"You are short on sleep, aren't you, Buck? This is why I'm still your boss. Don't you get it? Yes, I want coordination and I want a well-written piece. But think about it. This gives you automatic entrée to all these dignitaries. We're talking Jewish Nationalist leaders interested in one world government -"
"Unlikely and hardly compelling."
"Orthodox Jews from all over the world looking at rebuilding the temple, or some such -"
"I'm being overrun by Jews."
"- international monetarists setting the stage for one world currency -" 
Returning to the premillennialist fascination with the conversion of Jews to their line of Christianity, the figure of Rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah appears in the book Tribulation Force to proclaim to the Jews over worldwide television that after three years of study he has found that the Messiah predicted by the Scriptures is Jesus, that the Rapture has occurred, and that the legitimate study of Bible prophecy could only lead to Jesus. In the meantime, Orthodox Jews left and right throw off thousands of years of study to become converts to Christianity. We later hear from Rosenzweig saying that the "religious zealots" in Israel "hate a person who believes that Jesus is Messiah." Toward the end of the series, Rosenzweig wonders how he had ever been so blind to the faith that now buttresses him, claiming "I was too intellectual" an absurd construction that equates intellectualism with a lack of faith.
Throughout the novels Jews and Christians become one through the miraculous changing of names to "believing Jews," or those Jews who have converted to the premillennialist brand of Christianity. Later in the novels, the Antichrist Nicolae Carpathia orders pogroms and death to any Jew in the world. These pogroms by the Antichrist essentially create a diversion about where the anti-Semitism lies.  It is never fully explained in the series of books how or why Carpathia has become an anti-Semite, it is simply understood that this is the case, all of the sudden, toward the end of the books. There is also an illuminating segment here where Carpathia's forces are rounding up Jews and Chinese Muslims in Zhengzhou, China. The choice for these unfortunates is to either convert to Carpathia's one world religion, or face the guillotine. A group of Christian believers, who had come to convert the remaining Jews before they were massacred, tell them reassuringly: "Resist the temptation to choose the guillotine without choosing Christ the Messiah." 
So, essentially in the grand drama of the novels, the option to choose Jewish no longer remains. Either the Antichrist kills you or the Christians, with their returning Messiah, will. The choice is clear in the books: remain an incomplete Jew and perish, or become a believing Jew and live with your new-found Messiah.
In the book Armageddon, we find out that after the Babylonish physical world is destroyed, Jerusalem will be the world capital with Jesus sitting on the throne, or the premillennialists fetished bride married to the thousand year reign. Of course the rest of the world seems pretty useless now that God and the Antichrist have destroyed it – a nuked world, ravaged by countless earthquakes, rivers and seas full of blood sounds much more Hellish than Heavenly. The authors get by this simply through the way they get by anything – making a miracle happen.
A final earthquake swallows up the hundreds of thousands of bloodied and bloated bodies, rotting like raisins in the sun, thus sanitizing the destruction, erasing the residue of war. Exterminated. Sanitized. Disappeared. Sound familiar? Almost like it never happened.
1 Slate.com, 'The Left Behind books' discussion between Randall Balmer and Michael Maudlin, June 22nd, 2002 [Back]
2Left Behind, p80 [Back]
3Left Behind, p68 [Back]
4Left Behind, p139 [Back]
5Left Behind, p140 [Back]
7The Remnant, pp 289, 294 [Back]