Thursday, May 08, 2008

Topography and Proximity

While I don't necessarily recommend reading Rapture Ready, which is a sort of Gambling Times for the pro-apocalypse set, it can sometimes be very informative. This week, it address the "Oil in Israel Myth," which apparently stems from the assumption that if oil is a blessing from the Lord — which it must be, 'cause it makes people rich — then the blessed state of Israel must have lots of it, somewhere or other.

There are some who suggest that God didn't leave the Israelis out of the oil bonanza. The oil prize is there, waiting for someone to discover it.

Some Christians have said that prophecy suggests that oil wealth will come to the Jews. They point to a desire to steal Israel's oil wealth as what will trigger the Gog invasion. The prophecies in Ezekiel make no reference to oil being the reason for the attack.

In the past decade, several oil companies have been founded with the goal of finding biblical oil in Israel. None of them has had any success.
The author finds all of this silly for two reasons, and they're both very good ones.

First, "ancient Israel would have no need for oil." You can't really argue with this...unless you're the sort of pedant who'd point out that neither the Persian Empire, nor Texas circa 500 BC, had any obvious need for oil either. Or the sort of heretic who suspects that RR is basically accusing God of an inability to plan ahead.

Second, "if Israel were to suddenly hit the mother lode in oil, the material wealth would largely void the supernatural work that God has accomplished in this nation." The supernatural work, that is, of blessing Israel with material wealth. In other words, if the Jews became wealthy because God blessed them with oil, it would prevent us from understanding that "Israel's affluence can only be explained by God's grace." That's clear enough, isn't it?

It's a little unsettling how neatly this belief in the supernatural nature of Jewish wealth complements the bone-deep anti-Semitism of the Darbyist apocalypse. But in a spirit of charity, we'll put these speculations aside. RR goes on to describe how Christians have sometimes been inspired to finance the search for "Biblical oil" in order to fulfill a prophecy that was never made, but clearly should've been, given oil's great significance to man, and therefore to God:
Ness Energy International is one example. In the late 1990s, a Texas oilman by the name "Hayseed" Stevens was promoting the idea that a vast reservoir of oil was under that Dead Sea region.

Mr. Stevens based his conclusions on ideas that would make any respected geologist pull his hair out. He told people at a series of prophecy meetings that the earth contains a layer of hydrocarbons and that the southern part of the Dead Sea is the fountainhead of this oil reservoir. Stevens also said there is a plumbing system that would eventually drain the Arabian oil fields. Yes, all this time the Arabs have been stealing Israel's oil.

The undoing of Stevens’ eccentric theories came when he began drilling. After punching through a salt plug that was said to be capping the oil, nothing was found. I remember him sending out one update to reassure investors, saying that the drillers had found oil; but it wasn't the right kind oil they were looking for.
All of this is news to me, but both the theory and Rapture Ready's rebuttal strike me as the perfect illustration of American fundamentalism's bedrock economism. (You can read more on Stevens here; it's a fascinating story.)

As we've seen, God's conscientious withholding of oil from teh Jews reveals Israel's wealth as something that "can only be explained by God's grace." If that's true, at least one mechanism of His grace is not entirely a secret. Christian tourism is an important source of Israel's income; hundreds of thousands of Christians visit each year in order to walk along some arbitrary Via Dolorosa, and to visit monuments known to have been built near the probable site of temples that tradition says are very near to a place where buildings Jesus may have visited are reputed to have stood.

Many of these sites were made holy in order to meet the popular demand for holy sites (the criminal always returns to the scene of the crime). It's charming that Stanley Spencer depicted Jesus carrying the cross down Cookham High Street, but as Mr. Gradgrind observed, "You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them." The official Via Dolorosa may not be strictly accurate, but at least it's in Jerusalem.

And just imagine if you arrived in, say, Bethlehem, and no X marked the spot where Jesus was born. It'd be like drilling for the Lord's light sweet crude precisely where it ought to be, and coming up dry. God must be spared this embarrassment, if at all possible.

A site called Bible Walks exemplifies this selfless concern for God's good name with its page on Tell Hadar, which is thought to be the site of the miracle of loaves and fishes:
The topography of the site and the proximity to the major Roman road makes this tradition sound reasonable....A heavy rock has been placed in the parking lot to mark the site of the miracle.
A heavy rock, mind you; nothing less could assure us that this world is not our home.

(Illustration: Satellite image of the parting of the Red Sea, via BLDGBLOG.)


roger said...

"Satellite image of the parting of the Red Sea,"

which satellite would that be?

ok. i did go read the description. but still, that was a jarring sort of caption.

Phila said...

but still, that was a jarring sort of caption.

Glad to hear it!