A Premature Apocalypse
Can a novel be a good way to learn about what Jewish tradition teaches about the End of Days and the Final Redemption?
Dan Sofer is a novelist living in Tel Aviv. He has written three suspenseful novels, set in modern day Israel. His trilogy, An Unexpected Afterlife, An Accidental Messiah, and A Premature Apocalypse, the final novel in the trilogy, are all about the End of Days.
Sofer mixes in references familiar to anyone living in Israel, like the Rami Levi supermarket chain, the Malcha Technology Park and Zion Square, with Torah teachings about the events that are destined to transpire at the End of Days.
Like the other two books in the trilogy, A Premature Apocalypse is a page-turner. Short chapters keep the action moving and Sofer write a lot of cliffhanger chapter endings. There are good guys and very evil ones along with plenty of plot twists. I’m generally not a fan of the suspense and mystery genre. What kept me reading all three books are the many references to Torah teachings about Redemption.
When reading fiction like Sofer’s, it can be hard to separate out which parts of the story are based on sources and which parts of the story are products of the author’s imagination.
Here are some of the ideas in the book are clearly fictional.
In Sofer’s imaginative scenario, the US invites Israel to become the 51st state. Russia has the same desire.“The President [of Russia] would like to strengthen the ties between our great nations and invite the State of Israel to join the Russian Federation.”
One of the more politically-charged ideas Sofer dreamed up is the theme of identifying “Palestinian Arabs as the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.” And the Messiah’s identity, without giving away any details, comes straight out of Sofer’s imagination.
At the same time, there is much here that is actually sourced in Jewish thought. For example, he weaves the concept of “resurrection tunnels” into the story line by having one character explain to another that, “During the Resurrection, righteous people buried abroad will roll through the tunnels to get back to the Holy Land.” That is an authentic Jewish idea, though it may well prove to be metaphorical.
His intricate story line includes the support of contemporary evangelical Christians who recognize that many Biblical prophecies are coming true in modern day Israel. Sofer’s character Eli turns out to be the presumptive Eliyahu haNavi (Elijah the Prophet) who will be the one to anoint the Messiah.
Also on the true side, Sofer writes about the “[t]wo messiahs [that] appear in our ancient writings.The Messiah of David, the rightful King of Israel. But a second messiah will stand at his right hand.” This other messianic figure is known in Judaism as Moshiach ben Yosef – Messiah, son of Joseph.
Sofer’s plot also touches on the rebuilding of the Third Temple, the reinstating of the priestly sacrifices, the War of Gog and Magog, the Islamic messianic figure known as Mahdi and more. He casts the resurrected 12th century Jewish scholar Maimonides as a minor character who is astonished by “the wisdom of humanity [that] had accumulated over the past thousand years.”
But perhaps the most true passage, the one the shows Sofer did his Torah homework, is this lengthy explanation of the different ways Jewish tradition has viewed the End of Days. In this passage, a scholarly rabbinic character explains, “The teachings of the Final Redemption fall into three categories... Restorative traditions predict a return to times of yore: The scion of David will rule again, reinstate the Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem, and ingather the Lost Tribes.
“Utopian traditions take this a step further: The Messianic Era will raise society to unprecedented levels. Food will be aplenty. Precious stones will cover the streets of Jerusalem. The Third Temple of Fire will descend from the Heavens. The nations of the world will grasp the tassels of our clothes in their thirst to learn our Torah, and the righteous will feast. In the end, we shall defeat even Death.
“…But there is a third set of traditions... – the Apocalyptic. These traditions are the reason that the sages, even though they yearned for the Redemption, prayed that the birth pangs of the Messiah would not appear in their lifetime. A terrible war will rage, and the mighty armies of Gog and Magog will amass in Jerusalem. Natural disasters will rend the Holy City asunder. The monstrous Leviathan will roam the ocean depths, and the evil Armilus will attack the Messiah. Many will die; many more will wish the were dead. And the Lord Almighty will judge them all.”
A Premature Apocalypse and its trilogy partners will appeal to readers interested in Israel and in End of Days scenarios. If you enjoy lightly suspenseful Jewish novels, A Premature Apocalypse is a great summer read.
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