Here we go, guys. This is gonna be good:
Murphy had mixed emotions as he walked up the meandering pathway to the Memorial Lecture Hall. His topic for the day was evil angels, and while it was good for the students to understand the influence of evil in the world, he hated to give Satan and his demons any credit and thereby add to their notoriety.
Hey, here’s an idea, Murphy. Talk about archeology instead of angels and demons, and then you won’t add to any imaginary being’s notoriety.
Also, this is what just kills me about RTCs: it’s not like they think that other belief systems aren’t true in the sense that they don’t believe the gods and other supernatural entities exist—it’s that they do think they exist, just that they’re not the right one. Demons and magic are real,
It’s just hilarious to me that big, tough Michael Murphy, who climbs mountains and goes dungeon-crawling himself, is so nervous of the mystic powers and things that go bump in the night. And all this when Christians aren’t supposed to be afraid.
But despite his crippling fears of demons, Murphy soldiers on, because he is thinking selflessly of his students, and “forewarned is forearmed.”
What a valiant knight you are, Murph.
In the classroom, Shari is setting up the PowerPoint, because apparently that is beyond Murphy’s capabilities.
No one could ask for a better assistant…a little kooky at times, but very supportive.
Okay, first of all, I was a research assistant when I was in college, and my professor never made me set up his classroom presentations. Probably because he was a competent adult.
Secondly, I can think of some words to describe Shari (“sanctimonious,” “superior,” and “cruel” leap trippingly to mind), but “kooky” isn’t one of them. How is she kooky, Murph? Shari is about the simplistic, white-bread character I can think of. She has her bizarrely parental-romantic relationship with you (which is icky, but not kooky), and she’s obsessed with her church and do-gooding so she can look good for that church. So, why kooky? Because she wears her hair in pigtails? One mildly unusual style choice is nowhere near enough to qualify someone as “kooky,” Murph.
Oh, and sexy blonde Summer Van Doren shows up for class, again, because apparently she has nothing better to do with her time. Murphy again finds her “distracting,” and boy, he sure is a professional, isn’t he?
After the obligatory joke by Clayton Anderson, a young man so committed to trolling that he has apparently repeated this class for three years at least, Murphy gets into his PowerPoint slides on scarrrrrry angels:
EVIL OR FALLEN ANGELS
Angels kept in prison
Angels that are free
Satan—leader of the evil or fallen angels
Huh. Angels that are in prison and angels that are free. I guess that would kinda cover all of them.
The next slide has the terms for demonic creatures from all over the world. Included are such beings as banshees
So, basically, a comprehensive list of entertainment of which good Christians should never, ever partake.
Murphy even brings up horror movies, including “a number of films that deal with the exorcism of evil spirits. Scary stuff.”
The class actually has a chuckle at this, “which was okay with Murphy,” which surprises me because you’d think not taking hobgoblins seriously would be a BIG no-no for him, what with adding to notoriety and all.
It also strikes me that this is an incredibly glib and shallow way to talk about evil forces in the world. Sure, this is an archaeology class, and I’m not sure why this is a subject of a lecture in the first place, but Murphy is just proving himself (again, natch) to be a terrible professor. Why isn’t he controlling the discussion and the class atmosphere? Why not purposely lead off with humor, then segue into a discussion of psychology—how horror movies and feeling safely scared could mask true diabolical things?
Sure, this isn’t a psychology course, either, but it’s no more off-topic than anything else Murphy discusses. Hell, it might even make the students think about something, instead of giggling about how easy this A is really going to be.
But no. Murphy goes on about supernatural beings who can be “portrayed as being kind or helpful in some way,” including brownies
fairy godmothers (no, really)
(OMG so sexy)
Hell, Murphy even invokes Disney movies, such as “the Aladdin films” (don’t feel too bad, LaPhillips: hardly anybody paid attention to the sequels), as well as Christmas movies with “little elves that help Santa Claus,” AND Saturday morning cartoons, to make his point that “children are indoctrinated at an early age into the world of ghosts, demons, wizards, witches, mediums, and the occult.”
Okay, first of all, I was a kid in the 80s, and I do not remember any mediums or demons in my Saturday morning cartoons.
And second, I cannot imagine why Dean Fallworth has a problem with this kind of bloviating in a class that is supposed to be about archaeology.
I mean, basically, this class is just a list of the Stuff that Creeps Out Michael Murphy. So memorize these lists, students, and regurgitate them on the final! Because that is way more important than knowing how to map a dig site, interpret artifacts, or record findings.
And Murphy is just building up a head of steam here. Class ain’t even started yet, kiddies!
More next time.
An utterly pointless chapter that goes absolutely nowhere? Nah, cannot possibly be!
We are introduced to Fasial Shadid and Nassar Abdoo. Don’t get attached. They are professor and assistant at the American University in Cairo, and for reasons that are never explained, have come across one of the pieces of the bronze serpent. They pull an all-nighter to study it, and then Talon shows up.
Yeah, exactly none of this is explained. Not how these guys got their hands on the bronze serpent piece, and not how Talon found out they had it, and so quickly.
“I have been informed that you have a section of what might be the famous Bronze Serpent of Moses. Is this true?” [says Talon]
Nassar and Fasial exchanged frowns. They had informed no one of what they were doing.
“How would you know that?” asked Nassar.
The man shrugged. “Amazing how stories get around.”
Yeah, amazing how the author will just transport a character to where he needs to be, when he can’t think of a reason for him to go, or know that he needs to be there in the first place!
Talon shows the guys the tail end of the serpent that he has, and then, of course, he kills them and takes the middle part.
“Problem solved,” said Talon.
Which is exactly what Phillips said when he wrote a quick chapter about two people who die, just to inexplicably get the bronze serpent part into the bad guy’s hands.
Not just Hello, Hello because Paul is once again trying to make a go of it with Shari, but because, well…hello, hello, all.
It’s been awhile, eh? Major Life Event, a zillion things happening at once. But it was (and is) all awesome.
Given that today is Thanksgiving, I’m going to forgo my usual Black Friday Christmas Romance extravaganza. Next year. I might do a Christmas movie or short story, but I’m more anxious to get back to Michael Murphy and The Edge of Darkness.
So, on with the show!
Yanno, one of these days, I’m going to go through these books with a fine tooth comb and construct a timeline. Because I was pretty well convinced at the end of The Europa Conspiracy that Paul and Shari were seniors and mere weeks from graduation. But now I’m starting to think this is some weird soap opera town where everyone stays locked as “high school student” or “college student” for years on end. Or The Simpsons. Or The Babysitters Club.
Anyway, our own atheist Paul Wallach decides to creep on Shari. He slips into the lab while she’s working, and she doesn’t hear him because she is rocking out to the generic “latest CD from her new favorite band.” (I am very surprised that LaPhillips doesn’t specify that this is a Christian band.)
Paul muses about how much he likes her, and notices “the two ponytails coming out of the sides of her head.” (That is a BIZARRE way to describe a hairstyle.)
Paragraphs are wasted as the book quotes directly from The Europa Conspiracy, filling the reader in on Paul and Shane Barrington’s last interaction. (Why anyone would read Book 4 in this series without reading the other three first is beyond me.)
And Paul thinks again about how Shane just wanted him to be a spy all along. Paul still feels “angry, cheap, and used.” Though not so angry, cheap, and used that he goes to the dean of students about how he was unwittingly hired to spy on one of the college’s biggest cash cows and publicity-getters.
Shari finally notices Paul, and we get more copy pasta from the past, as she remembers their last conversation (though she remembers significantly less of the way she heartlessly lambasted him for the crime of wanting to find a job and earn some money.
Paul asks her to go for a walk. He bizarrely tells her that he has “reenrolled at Preston and will start next semester. I’m looking for a part-time job until then.”
Really, Paul? You’re not graduated? And how is “looking for a part-time job” going to support you for months until you reenroll in college? And then what? You think a part-time job is going to cover your tuition and expenses?
Paul explains that he’s “had a severe wake-up call” and he realizes there is more to life than money and that he’s hoping they can date again.
Paul, you deluded fool. When Shari broke up with you, she made it very clear what kind of person she is. (Hint: not a nice one.) She also made it clear that she’s finally willing to admit to herself that she must date someone who is an active member of her church, no exceptions. I am frankly astonished that a straight American college boy wouldn’t just cut his losses at this point and try dating any one of the hundreds or thousands of other girls at Preston.
But then I must remember that LaPhillips aren’t done playing Humiliate the Atheist yet.
And never fear—Shari isn’t about to let Paul enjoy one moment of hope or peace!
“…if you’re trying to adopt a belief in God to win me back, it won’t last. Your decision to come to the Lord needs to be yours alone…”
Instead of saying, “WHOA, who said anything about adopting a belief in God?? Not me!”, Paul simply states that he’s been lonely and “a little mad” at God “for letting all this happen to me.”
(Because remember, boys and girls, there is no such thing as a real atheist, as someone who legitimately and truly believes there are no gods. There are only people who lie to themselves because they are just angry at the One True God of the Bible.)
Shari then transitions from sanctimonious snootiness to outright delusions of grandeur:
“Maybe God was using me to warn you of the coming danger. Maybe I became His voice to you.”
Yep, not only was Shari Right All Along, but she was Right All Along because she was speaking for God Himself.
Oh, yeah, this is a relationship of equals. And I’m sure whenever Paul and Shari disagree in the future, Shari will never throw this in Paul’s face, or indeed, claim that she is yet again being God’s voice to Paul and are you going to disobey GOD, Paul???
Shari then spends a page and a half in yet another sanctimonious lecture, this time on letting go of anger and learning to forgive. Check out how much dismissiveness, condescension, and snootiness she can pack into just one short exchange:
“…forgiving [Shane]? I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive him.”
“Didn’t you ask me to forgive you a few minutes ago for hurting me?”
“No buts. What if I had responded to you the way you’re responding to Barrington? Would you like that?”
“Of course not.”
Yeah, Shari, I think in the Hurting Each Other category, you’ve been just as guilty, probably moreso, than Paul.
WHY does Paul want a relationship with this sanctimonious creep??? But he does, and asks if she might be “open to talking again.”
“We’ll see, Paul. That’s all I can say for now.”
That means “no,” Paul. That I can say for sure.
Back in the lab, turns out Murphy has been spying on the star-crossed “lovers.” He is utterly unconcerned to learn that Barrington used and discarded Paul, but then, Michael Murphy has never been big on concern for others. His friends can be grievously injured in another country, or disappeared altogether, and it doesn’t even rate a passing thought from our loving Christian hero.
Murphy praises Shari for wanting to take it slow (though it’s hard to imagine Paul and Shari moving slower than they previously had), even though it was Paul, in fact, who introduced the idea of simply being “open to talking again.” Then again, Shari failed to mention this little tidbit, presumably because it puts Paul in a better light.
Stay classy, Shari.
So okay, I know I’m going through this book at the speed of mud, but in all fairness, the book is going even slower than that. Plus, these from-the-Bible chapters are the slowest and most pointless yet.
Picking up where we left off, in the book of Samuel, this chapter covers only I Samuel 4-11. Some guys go on a fetch quest to get the Ark and two priests to the battlefield. This fetch quest turns out to have a complete no-prize, since the Israelites lose anyway, and the two priests are killed. But I guess this is because the Israelites aren’t faithful enough, not because the Ark is, yanno, just a box that doesn’t magically grant armies the ability to automatically win all battles.
But don’t worry, college drama is coming right up—the reuniting of Shari and her horrible (atheist, but I repeat myself) ex-boyfriend, Paul!
Murphy flies from Raleigh to D.C. to see Isis. Due to his terribly hectic schedule, he only has enough time to fly up in the morning, and back down that night. Yeah, Murph, that ONE CLASS you teach no doubt takes it out of you.
Seriously, how is this remotely plausible? Both Murphy and Isis have jobs with very regular hours and, no doubt, a fair amount of vacation. But he can only spend “part of the day with Isis” over the course of, what, a month at least? Nobody’s schedule is that hectic when the live that close. (It takes only an hour to fly, about four hours to drive between the two cities. At the very least, you would think that Meeting Halfway and having dinner would be a regular occurrence for this couple.)
(Another parenthetical: my parents were in a long-distance relationship before they married. And the distance between their two cities was just about exactly four hours, too. (And they definitely couldn’t afford to fly.) My father would frequently drive to my mom, spur of the moment, overnight or for a weekend. Love finds a way, Murph. That’s all I’m saying.)
(Last parenthetical: Yeah, I know this is just Phillips’ way of ensuring that our two 30-something singletons don’t ever have a chance to spend the night together and have terribly unChristian sexy times.)
Actually, speaking of love, Murphy…doesn’t. Despite professing (at least to himself) his love for Isis several times in the last book, love doesn’t rate a mention in this chapter. Instead, he backpedals to “begin[ning] to care for another person” and “thinking about her constantly.”
Well, constantly except for when hot Christian blonde volleyball coaches fling themselves at you, Murph. Isis didn’t seem to be on your mind then.
On the flight, Murphy does take off his wedding ring, though. And then he characterizes himself as “in a transition period.” Which is a funny way to think of yourself the you’re in love with someone.
At dinner, Murphy muses over Isis’s beauty, “her petite, well-toned body,” and her perfect hairdo and perfect black dress. Nothing but the best in models for Our Hero!
Oddly, of all the ways Phillips could go equal opportunity in these books, it is here, with Isis pulling a classic Michael Murphy Memorized Wikipedia. They jabber on and on about Meth’s latest clue. Murphy decides that Isis doesn’t need to know about Meth’s real identity, which is odd, because she’s accompanied him on so many Meth-inspired globe trottings. He also rather disingenuously proclaims that he will “use any excuse I can find to see you,” which…four hours…perfectly normal schedules.
They talk about King Yamani, and seriously, this discussion lasts SEVEN PAGES. It info-dumps us with a bunch of facts I am pretty sure we won’t need going forward, and backtracks not only Murphy, but Isis too, so we can have a better love triangle.
Isis and Murphy engage in an incredibly convoluted and annoying discussion about Yamani, touching on Greece, Egypt, Isaiah the prophet, Ethiopia, and finally back to the Ark of the Covenant and the Rod of Aaron and the Golden Jar of Manna. Look, I read history for fun and have no problem with dense, fact-filled narratives. But all these details mean nothing outside of context and only are being used to prove that LaHaye and Phillips skimmed Wikipedia.
Murphy deduces that the whole King Yamani thing leads to Ashdod, a port city in Israel, the Wikipedia page of which Isis has memorized. Murphy also reveals why LaHaye and Phillips chose this city to set the story: there was a suicide bombing there in 2004 (this book came out in 2006). Isis also knows that they won’t be in Ashdod proper, but in the original location of the city, which is a couple of miles away.
From there, Murphy segues into how he keeps confirming the truth of the Bible again and again, and Isis backpedals so she can spout genera-why-I’m-not-a-Christian platitudes that RTCs think nonbelievers think:
“I sort of believe there is a God. Everything we see couldn’t just pop into being without a Creator.”
“All that faith stuff seems to work for you but not for me. Jesus appears to be a nice person, a great teacher, and a wonderful example. But to believe he is God is a big leap of faith.”
Quite a leap, speaking of, from the Isis of the first book, the one who grew up steeped in the religious traditions of hundreds of other cultures, who found beauty and comfort in the myths and legends of all peoples. But nope, let’s just turn her into Strawman NonChristian.
Not to mention that this is coming from a woman who has literally walked on Noah’s Ark and seen the Writing on the Wall. And now she’s noncommittally talking about Jesus being a nice guy? I mean, it makes sense for me to be a nonbeliever—I’ve never seen any of this stuff. But Phillips is acting like the world he has spent so much effort (her) crafting in the last two books doesn’t even exist.
And instead of citing the actual physical evidence that Isis has seen and touched, all Murphy does is quote the Gospel of John at her, and say that since she is such an “avid reader” (he makes it sound like Isis is a middle-schooler who reads the Twilight novels, not a multiple-Ph.D.-holding researcher), she can “enjoy searching this out for yourself.”
Look, Murph, I’ve read the Bible. So, I’m sure, has Isis. We just don’t believe that every book of mythology we read is 100% factual, just because it says it is.
All is forgiven and forgotten, though, when Isis drops Murphy at the airport for his ridiculous, same-day flight, and they kiss. So I guess yoking oneself with unbelievers is only a bad thing if you get to second base.
Which Murphy does not.
Presumably the next day (but who knows?), Murphy gets a call from Levi Abrams. Levi invites him out for lunch, Levi’s treat, and the following groan-inducing conversation takes place:
“How about [I treat you to lunch at] the Shaw Towers Dining Room? I’m working on some security issues with the owners there and part of our deal is free lunches for me and any guests.”
“Aha, now I understand your generous offer to treat.”
“You know I was born in Israel,” said Abrams, and they both laughed.
HAHAHAHA, cheap Jews, amirite??? It’s okay, Phillips—you might be a Christian, but you’re putting your antisemitic joke into the mouth of your only Jewish character, so it’s totes okay!
Actually, it’s not. Sarah Silverman, you ain’t.
Levi has invited Murphy to Jewish Free Lunch so he can reveal the exciting information of Methuselah’s true identity. So during his class, instead of focusing on his students, Murph goes over in his mind everything he knows about Meth. It’s just the stuff we already know about the cackling laugh, which every person who has ever met Meth has mentioned in that exact way, but now Phillips throws in that Meth has a tongue-clicking habit, which I don’t remember reading about until just now.
Before even revealing the guy’s name, Levi gives Murphy Meth’s backstory: he has American, Israeli, and Taiwanese citizenships, and survived a plane bombing in 1980 that killed his wife and three kids. Levi know a bizarre number of details about the crash, and even Murphy remembers hearing about it, which also seems a tad odd. It doesn’t seem to terribly much matter anyway, since Meth and his family were innocent passengers, not the intended targets of the terrorism.
Anyway, FINALLY we learn that Meth is one Markus Methuselah Zasso.
Yep, that’s right: Methuselah’s name IS ACTUALLY METHUSELAH.
That is pathetic. I mean, first of all, why would Meth use his own name, even his middle name, when he taunts the professor he likes to taunt and give clues to artifacts to? And why would this not be the first line of research that Murphy/the FBI/Levi Abrams followed? There can’t be too many men in the U.S. who have the kind of resources needed for this who ALSO HAPPEN TO BE NAMED METHUSELAH.
(It’s also bizarre, and I wonder what LaHaye and Phillips will make of this, that Zasso is an Italian name. Murphy underlines this point, in fact. And since the only other Italian I can think of in the LaHaye oeuvre is my poor woobie Leon Fortunato, I can’t help but feel that A LOT more will be made of this. After all, we’ve had “cheap Jew” jokes, so we might as well throw some Italian stereotypes into the mix.)
Murphy actually wonders about Meth being named…well, Meth. And Phillips can’t come up with a very good reason, either. (Again, why even BOTHER making this his real name? It’s just a biblical alias he chose!) The best Phillips can do is that Meth’s grandfather was a missionary to China and Meth’s father was born in China and so…Meth is named Meth.
Instead of, yanno, David or Paul or Aaron or Adam or Michael or Jacob or Peter or Seth or ANY OF THE OTHER PERFECTLY REASONABLE BOY NAMES FROM THE BIBLE, Daddy decided to saddle an innocent baby with the name Methuselah.
No wonder Meth is a bit screwy in the head. Allegedly.
Levi has also discovered that one of Meth’s many homes is in Myrtle Beach, which I actually visited a few times as a kid, so when Murphy inevitably confronts Meth there, at least he can brush up on his mad mini golf skillz.
Meth is surrounded by at least six armed guards at all times, even when he’s relaxing on the beach, but Levi hilariously opines that Murphy can still “get real close to him” because he has “the element of surprise.” Because the element of surprise always works when an unarmed civilian wants to “get real close” to a heavily-guarded, insanely wealthy man. I mean, it’s not like Murphy is planning an infiltration and kidnapping or anything—he just wants to talk to the guy. How does “the element of surprise” even enter into this? I just doubt that all of the SIX armed guards will be surprised that Some Guy wants to chat with their boss. They probably deal with that every day.
Murphy wusses out of any immediate confrontation with Meth, since he has “a few things to do first.” But he inexplicably looks forward to meeting Meth, so he can “put an end to the life-threatening bouts.”
Hey, Murph? Here’s an idea: if you want to put an end to the life-threatening bouts, JUST STOP GOING TO THEM. Meth has always INVITED you to them, and you have ALWAYS gone. If you’re so concerned, JUST STOP GOING. There has never been the slightest hint that Meth has or would ever force the issue.
I mean, geez, Phillips, at least keep your own character motivation straight!
So Murphy and Wagoner head out to one of the tent revivals. J.B. Solstad’s Faith in God Crusade. They get directed to park in a field like it’s the Ren Fest or something, and wander with hundreds of others into the tent.
Interestingly, though Wagoner was most concerned initially about the faith healing aspect of this, the signs leading to the tent inform us that J.B. also deals in Blab It and Grab It theology, as well as the psychobabble Christianese self-help of the kind generally preached by Rick Warren.
Murphy and Wagoner chat a bit about these various claims, in a bizarrely stilted manner that makes it sound like they know they’re being recorded:
“I don’t think that Solstad’s message is completely legitimate.”
“He seems to have the ability to draw large crowds.”
The revival starts off with some singing, which lasts a HALF-HOUR. Jesus. Sounds exhausting. Then Sonstad appears with a flourish of music and smoke machine smoke. He preaches for another half-hour, and I guess we’ll have to take Phillips’ word for it that the sermon “was similar to almost any minister with a radio program or a pastor in a local church,” since we don’t get to read a word of it.
Then we finally get to the faith healing. With mentions of Blab It and Grab It and “special angels that will minister to your needs” in the same paragraph.
So at least now we know why Murphy preached on angels in his biblical archaeology class—so we readers would know that Sonstad is “distorting the truth.”
Said Sonstad warms up the crowd by telling an admittedly-ridiculous tale of a man in the previous town he visited, who had a bunch of cavities, which were miraculous healed by being filled with gold “from the heavenly city—where the streets are paved with gold.”
Apparently, everyone in the crowd but Murphy and Wagoner buy this:
“Why didn’t God just put the enamel back in his teeth?”
At this stupid story, a bunch of people start running around, then running out of the tent. This is as bizarre to Murphy as it is to me, so he goes to investigate. Outside the tent he sees that merchandise tables have been set up for after the meeting. BLASPHEMY! For when has any preacher sold books or other merchandise???
So, having discovered absolutely nothing, Murphy heads back to his seat, and watches as a man named Clyde with kidney problems is called to the stage by word from the LORD (via Sonstad), and then is HEAL-AHHD in the usual manner of being shoved backwards in a trust fall, into the waiting arms of the healer’s minions.
Wagoner recognizes the guy, because ole Clyde just started attending his church. So I guess we’ll learn more about Clyde’s kidney problems (or lack thereof) soon enough.
Then an offering is taken. This is presented as a bad thing, because real churches and legit preachers would NEVER ask for money from hardworking common folk, right?
More trust falls, more HEEEE-AH-LING, and that’s the end of that.
Yanno, for two men as Strong in the Faith as Murphy and Wagoner, they have utterly failed to do anything or even find our anything about the supposed fraud of this guy. They sat around like everyone else, and Murphy saw the march tables (which, of course, are hardly a secret). Did they do ANY research before coming here? Like look into this guy’s background, and maybe do some reading on fraudulent healing techniques and how to spot them? Nope, they’ve just decided to rely on vague feelings and intuition:
“I’d like to see a doctor verify that healing.”
“I think there’s more here than meets the eye. Something’s not quite right.”
“…my gut tells me this whole program is not on the level.”
“Yeah, jeepers, if only we’d thought to investigate this more than not even a little bit.”
Probably too little, too late, but the Christian Scoobies decide to follow Sonstad’s limo after the show. I have no idea what they expect to accomplish by doing this…and apparently, neither do our heroes. They try, though, and manage to follow the limo for ten whole seconds before being two SUVs box Murph’s car and force him to stop. A bunch of angry dudes get out and start rocking Murphy’s car. Yeah, they don’t take no guff from anyone who would dare look at their merchandise tables before the show is over!
Silly intimidation over with, the Scoobies decide to come back to the next show. After all, they accomplished so much the first time!
And, after that trip to boredom, Ruby has a much better source of fictional faith healers: Leap of Faith, with Steve Martin. Recommended!