Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ghosts of End Times Past: Saddam + 666

From the July 2010 E-Block.


We now revisit out Ghosts of End Times Past series with another one of those entries that looked far better at the time it was offered than it does in hindsight – which doesn’t say much. Joseph Chambers, author of A Palace for the Antichrist: Saddam’ Hussein’s Drive to Rebuild Babylon and It’s Place in Biblical Prophecy (New Leaf, 1996), is not a major name prophecy writer, and it isn’t hard to see why: Chambers has even fewer qualifications than is usual for this field (where credentials are sparse enough as is), though if breathless prose were a qualification for writing about eschatology, he’d be the best-rated hands down. 

PFA is also typical of the end times genre in the respect that it selects some theme – here, Saddam Hussein’s restoration of Babylon – and make it a hinge point for once again reiterating all the standard dispensational claims for only the 250,000th time. Despite the extended title and subtitle, only slightly less than the first third of the book is even about Saddam Hussein and Babylon, and a third of even that is about Chambers’ personal tour of Iraq just before the Gulf War.

We’ll divide this brief review into two parts. The first will discuss PFA’s unique claims about the revamped Babylon and its relevance to prophecy. The second will note some of PFA’s claims and techniques which are standard for the end times instructional genre – where indeed there’s nothing new to be had. Our review here can be short, precisely because there’s little unique to report. One could adequately tape on the name of Grant Jeffrey or Hal Lindsey and get the same basic claims; only writing style might distinguish them from one another.

Babylon Zero

The unique aspect of PFA that distinguishes it from all other end times books is its focus on the rebuilt Babylon of Saddam Hussein. The good news is that PFA doesn’t think that Saddam himself was the Antichrist, just that in rebuilding Babylon, he was preparing the way for the Antichrist to have a place to hang his hat and do his business. Bad enough as is, but not as bad as it could be: Chambers declines to make many specific predictions about Saddam’s future role, but his expressed sentiments indicate that he thought Saddam would be around for a while [77, 82]. There was certainly no anticipation by Chambers that Saddam would end up disgraced on the business end of a hangman’s noose.

But as to the rebuilding of Babylon, this is PFA’s showcase, and I’ve noted that other folks have picked up on this view as well since then: Search “Babylon rebuilt” online and there will be a host of observers breathlessly pointing to it as a sign of prophecy fulfilled.

The question is – why?

By all accounts, the rebuilt Babylon was, and still is, intended to be a glorified tourist trap. Thinking that it is a sign of prophecy fulfilled would be like arguing that such could also be found in the Holy Land Experience theme park, which rests not 10 miles from where I now sit. Is the model of the Jewish Temple at the Holy Land Experience a signal of soon to come sacrifices, and of eschatological fulfillment?

One might also point to a variety of other factors. There’s apparently been a lot of guff over the US military being careless with the site (see a story from the mainstream media here). The fact that people are very much concerned about damage to artifacts more than they are about plans to make this into a world political capital (meaning, they are not concerned at all) does not bode well for predictions of this as a future Antichrist HQ.

Of course, the dispensationalist will inevitably encourage us to wait and see; just like the European Union will eventually have exactly 10 members – some way or another – so someday this tourist-trap Babylon (which even Chambers admits has been described as a "megalomaniacal Disneyland") will host the Beast. You just wait and see. But don’t hold your breath while you wait.

In any event, does PFA give us any reason to suppose this will happen, aside from, “There it is!”? No, not really, apart from a couple of unique exegetical legends, which we’ll see a sample of below.

Standard Dispensational Fare

So for part 2 of our summation; here we’ll look at a few things PFA has in common with other popular end times works.

Poor Political Prognostication. Hoping to see fulfillments at hand, PFA made a handful of predictions as to what to expect in coming years. A set of five of these on page 26 is typical, but three are too vague to be of much use (eg, “Iraq will continue to be in the world news.” – most countries are, though they may not offer sensational or fresh enough news to make Page One.) The only truly specific prediction was an abject failure: “Watch for a peace initiative between Iraqi leaders and Israeli moderates. This will eventually lead to a covenant of peace.” Needless to say there was no prediction made that was fulfilled with the most recent war in Iraq.

Highly Insistent Literalism. Chambers has much ado about the necessity of interpreting texts like Rev. 18 that speak of Babylon absolutely literally, and would no doubt recoil in horror from the preterist view that “Babylon” in Revelation means Jerusalem. But it is worth quoting his rationale: “To create symbolism by interpretive fiat is a horrible method of scriptural exegesis. It leaves the Holy Bible open to many intrusions that weaken its message.” [29]

Yes indeed: The old “camel’s nose” threat. Mind you: It’s not “interpretive fiat” that drives the preterist exegesis, as shown in the link. But apparently, literalism by interpretive fiat is perfectly acceptable.

Who’s the Anti-Guy? One unique claim of PFA, at least the first time I have seen this, is that the Antichrist will be an Assyrian. What’s this based on? Chambers’ primary proof-text is Micah 5:5-6: When the Assyrian invades our land and marches through our fortresses, we will raise against him seven shepherds, even eight leaders of men. They will rule the land of Assyria with the sword, the land of Nimrod with drawn sword. He will deliver us from the Assyrian when he invades our land and marches into our borders.

Somehow Chambers get the idea that “the Assyrian” must be the Antichrist because he is connected with the “land of Nimrod,” which he says, is Babylon. [38] Unfortunately, Chambers doesn’t account for the statement of Nimrod’s origins in Gen. 10:8-12: Although he is said to rule an area inclusive of what would become Babylon, he is further designated as founder of Nineveh – the Assyrian capital. There’s hardly any reason to divorce Micah’s words from the context of his day and the real Assyrian threat he would have known; and only question-begging speculation would suggest some sort of “dual fulfillment” in modern times. Similarly forced and creative exegesis can be found throughout PFA.

Questionable Sources. Like many in this genre, Chambers is too willing to take some claims at face value. Like Grant Jeffrey, he makes use of the uncertain authority of Don McAlvany [124-7]. He is also too willing to give credence to New Age authors, whose prognostication record is quite as bad as that of dispensationalists (eg, between 1997-2002, “The care of the planet will be entrusted to Shamanic exercises.” – 224). However, overall Chambers makes very little use of sources; most claims are simply undocumented, or are exceedingly trivial.

Our survey of PFA has been short, but there’s really not much to say – for so far, it seems, if you’ve seen one sensational end times book, you’ve seen them all.

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