Skip to comments.Red-Heifer Days: Religion takes the lead.
Posted on 04/11/2002 7:07:10 AM PDT by xsysmgr
Could this little calf born last month in Israel bring about Armageddon? The concept would have struck many people as absurd the last time such a calf was born, in 1997, and probably makes most readers laugh today. Big mistake: Never underestimate the power of religious faith to shape events, especially in the Holy Land. Especially right now.
Our eschatological heifer story begins on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where tens of millions of Jews, Muslims, and Christians believe the central events of each tradition's Last Days will play out. The site, the Biblical Mount Moriah, was the site of the Hebrews' First Temple, destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC, and the Second Temple, which the Romans leveled in 70 AD. Muslims, believing the site to be the place from which the Prophet Mohammed ascended into Heaven
atop a steed, began in 685 to build the Noble Sanctuary, a 35-acre site in Jerusalem's walled Old City, containing the Dome of the Rock shrine and the al Aqsa mosque.
To Jews who adhere to ancient tradition, whose number include religious Israeli nationalists, the long-awaited Messiah will return to become the king of Israel and high priest of a rebuilt Temple, which can only be on Temple Mount. For Christian fundamentalists, Jesus Christ's return at the height of the battle of Armageddon, in which forces of the Antichrist clash in Israel with a 200 million-man army from the East, will require a Third Temple from which the Lord will begin a millennial reign. And for Muslims, an Antichrist figure called the Dajal will be a Jew who will lead an all-encompassing war against Islam, which will culminate in the return of Jesus (as a Muslim prophet), the Kaaba, or Sacred Rock in Mecca, transporting itself to Jerusalem, and final judgment in the valley just below the Noble Sanctuary.
"What happens at that one spot, more than anywhere else, quickens expectations of the End in three religions. And at that spot, the danger of provoking catastrophe is greatest," writes Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg in The End of Days, his 2000 book about the apocalyptic struggle over the Temple Mount.
So how does the calf recently born in Israel figure into things? As Gorenberg explains, the ashes of a flawless red heifer an extremely rare creature were required by the ancient Hebrews to purify worshipers who went into the Temple to pray. In modern times, rabbinical law forbids Jews from setting foot on the Temple Mount, thus violating the site where the Holy of Holies dwelled, until and unless they are ritually purified. Without a perfect red heifer to sacrifice, the Third Temple cannot be built, and Moshiach the Messiah will not come. Writes Gorenberg, "[Israeli] government officials and military leaders could only regard the requirement for the missing heifer as a stroke of sheer good fortune preventing conflict over the Mount."
In 1996, thanks in part to a cattle-breeding program set up in Israel with the help of Texas ranchers who are fundamentalist Christians, a red heifer was born. There was immense excitement among messianists of the Israeli religious Right, and their American Christian counterparts. The world media covered it as a joke, but it wasn't funny to David Landau, columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz. He called the red heifer "a four-legged bomb" that could "set the entire region on fire." Muslim leaders worried about the red heifer too, as they would see an attempt by Jews to take over the Temple Mount as a sign of the Islamic apocalypse.
As it turned out, during the three years of waiting for the heifer to reach the ritually mandated age of sacrifice, white hairs popped out on the tip of her tail. This bovine was, alas, not divine. But now there's a successor, and rabbis who have examined her have declared her ritually acceptable (though she will not be ready for sacrifice for three years). She arrives at a time when Israel is fighting a war for survival with the Palestinians, who are almost entirely Muslim, and a time in which Islam and the West appear to be girding for battle with each other, as Islamic tradition predicts will be the state of the world before the Final Judgment.
"These kinds of circumstances are exactly what people are waiting for," says Richard Landes, a Boston University history professor and director of its Center for Millenial Studies. "We could be starting a war. If this is a real red heifer, and strict Orthodox rabbis have declared her worthy of sacrifice, then a lot of Jews in Israel will take that as a sign that a new phase of history is about to begin. The Muslims are ready for jihad anyway, so if you have Jews up there doing sacrifices, talk about a red flag in front of a charging bull."
Landes says there is immense anger among Israelis, both religious and secular, at the ingratitude of Muslims, whom the conquering Israeli army allowed to occupy and control the Temple Mount in 1967. Add to this the fury of a nation under attack by Islamic suicide bombers, and, says Landes, "it's entirely conceivable that this [red heifer] could trigger a new round of attempts to blow up the Dome of the Rock."
This is something the Israeli security forces have long been vigilant against. But with their attentions drawn elsewhere by the war with the Palestinians, it's possible that a radical group could slip the net. And it's possible that religious extremists elements within the Israeli army could help them.
"This idea is nothing to laugh at," says novelist Robert Stone, whose novel Damascus Gate centers around a similar conspiracy. "There have been at least four actual plots to clear the space where the Temple had stood. Some of them went surprisingly high into the army and police."
Timothy Weber, dean of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Ill., has written extensively about the worldview of apocalypse-minded American Protestants. He tells NRO that "Bible teachers are foaming at the mouth over what's happening now in Israel."
"It really does play into the longstanding scenario that dispensationalists have believed would happen in the End: a growing disdain for Israel, Israel's isolation from the rest of the world, and mounting pressure on the Jewish state," Weber says. "This all leads up to the emergence of an Antichrist, who will step up and bring peace to the situation, and Israel and the world will welcome him as a solution to an apparently unsolvable problem."
The unshakable belief in particular prophetic visions Jewish, Christian, or Islamic makes the art of political compromise impossible when it comes to Jerusalem. Says Weber: "There's no way to negotiate these ideas. If you believe that this is in the prophetic cards, that this is history before it happens, that this is how God is going to manipulate events to bring about the final phase of human history, then you cannot negotiate land for peace, or anything else."
Put another way: You don't have to believe that a rust-colored calf could bring about the end of the world or that 72 black-eyed virgins await the pious Islamic suicide bomber in paradise but there are many people who do, and are prepared to act on that belief. This is a stubborn reality that eludes many of us in the modern, secular West, particularly those who work in the media, and who are therefore responsible for reporting and explaining the world to the masses.
"Sometimes you look at religion events and you want to laugh out loud, because they're so bizarre," says Terry Mattingly, a syndicated religion columnist and scholar of media and religion at Palm Beach Atlantic College. "If your worldview is essentially materialist, then to be 'real' something has to present itself in a form that makes sense in a laboratory, or on Wall Street, or in the New Hampshire primary, and anything that can't be explained within those templates doesn't count. Thus we can't seem to understand why people behave in ways that don't serve their self-interest."
Boston University's Landes agrees, saying that the American cultural elite tend to disdain religion, when in fact it is a major factor in modern history. "When 9/11 happened, one of the questions people asked were, 'Is it religious, or is it political?' People are more comfortable explaining it as politics. The very fact that people asked that question shows how little they understand," he says.
"Since September 11, we have all been brought to the point of recognizing the pervasive power of religions to shape all kinds of events," Weber adds. "We are dealing with ancient religious convictions and memories, and they are driving forces in the modern world. The secular press just doesn't get it, but it seems to me there's no other way to understand this."
It wouldn't surprise me if Arafat blew the dome of the rock up himself, and then blame it on the Jews. Personally I would rather see Israel take that piece of tin out for themselves.
Well, if all these conditions aren't sufficient and if now or the immediate future aren't the time; then when? Or perhaps never?
Frankly, I don't believe the Second Coming will occur prior to 2020, but do realize there's a lot of lead time incidents that could already be occuring. Of course our society as a whole, especially the media, schools and so-called intellectuals have dismissed biblical prophecy as nonsensical, it remains to be seen if what we're witnessing is the beginning of the end.
I hope not. I intend to be around for a very long time.
Just for the sake of discussion, who are the AntiChrist candidates in this scenario?
"Just for the sake of discussion, who are the AntiChrist candidates in this scenario?"It depends on whether you mean the Christian or the Muslin AntiChrist.
The important thing about this article is:
"You don't have to believe . . . but there are many people who do, and are prepared to act on that belief. This is a stubborn reality that eludes many of us . . .