Monthly Archives: August 2017
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 Sonstad’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 out anything about the supposed fraud of this guy. They sat around like everyone else, and Murphy saw the merch 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 two SUVs box Murph’s car in 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!
Later that afternoon, after musing on the horrors of Dean Archer Fallworth and the beauty of the Mysterious Beautiful Blonde, Murphy…meets up with Fallworth and the Mysterious Beautiful Blonde.
He does so at the Student Center, where he has stopped for a strawberry lemonade.
Sometimes it was good to just be alone and relax.
Yeah, it’s these deep insights into human nature that make Phillips the genius that he is. Also, Professor, what have I told you about splitting your infinitives?
Fallworth descends upon Our Hero and derides him for teaching “poppycock.” Ooo, such language, Fallworth!
“‘Poppycock.’ That’s a pretty big word for you, Archer. Do you know how to spell it too?”
That’s our hero, ladies and gentlemen! Reduced to the insults of a fifth-grader after one sentence.
(Also, how does Murphy get away with speaking to the Dean of Arts and Sciences that way? Seriously, man, WTF?)
Fallworth did not acknowledge the comment but went right on talking.
So the villain is more mature than the hero…and we’re in the fourth book of the series now. If you hoped for any character development, folks, sorry to disappoint.
Fallworth accuses Murphy (in the same argument they have in every book) of promoting a Christian viewpoint. Specifically, he references the class on angels, which…well, yeah, Murphy, what does that have to do with biblical archaeology?
Murph immediately responds with Fox News talking points and ups his game to middle-school insults:
“Have you given up on freedom of speech for everyone except you and those who think like you? It’s only your atheistic views that must be accepted and not those of someone who believes in a Creator? Did you hear about the dial-a-prayer for atheists? You dial a number and no one answers. I was going to be an atheist, Archer, but I gave up. They don’t have any holidays.”
Fallworth, of course, takes the word “atheist” as a straight-up insult, rather than as a statement of fact, since he’s written by a Christian author. So he identifies himself as an agnostic. Nothing doing, though, since Murphy characterizes agnosticism as “a life of ignorance and uncertainty” that is “pretty lame.”
Or, one could characterize it as an acceptance of the fact that we don’t know everything. Or point out that uncertainty is more intellectually honest than believing in something absolutely because it makes one feel better.
Anyway, Murphy segues into a rant about how our oldest universities started out as theological schools, and how it sucks that they aren’t anymore. And, despite the fact that Fallworth has never in four books advocated for anything of the kind, Murphy chides him for wanting courses on Greek mythology and “the beauties of being a Wicca witch with white magic.”
I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this before, but Michael Murphy…is a little bit weird. Also, more than a bit paranoid.
Perhaps realizing that he’s starting to sound like a crazy man, Murphy downshifts back to middle school insults.
“Do you know why atheists and agnostics cannot find God? They can’t find him for the same reason a thief cannot find a policeman. They don’t want to.”
Hilariously, as Archer stalks away, Phillips informs us of what really just happened:
He would use pointed humor to throw his opponent off balance, and then support his argument with a more serious line of reasoning.
Ah, so that’s what just happened. And I could have sworn it was a grown man behaving like a petulant, bigoted preteen.
(btw, just so we, the stupid readers, get that Fallworth is a bad guy here are the words used to describe him during this mere three-page exchange: “pallid,” “walking mummy,” “vampire,” and “ashen.” Because, as we all know, pale people are evil.)
That settled, the Mysterious Beautiful Blonde shows up. She introduces herself as Summer Van Doren, new women’s volleyball coach, and thus way sexier than a redhead academic. She’s been randomly dropping in on classes to “get oriented to the campus.” Um, that’s nice?
In a mutual display of professionalism and discretion, Summer asks about the exchange she just saw between Fallworth and Murphy, and Murphy obligingly sneers that Fallworth “doesn’t like anything that has to do with Christianity.” Summer thinks that’s “good to know,” since she’s a Christian. So she’ll know to avoid the Dean of Arts and Sciences when she forces the volleyball players to attend Bible study, I guess.
She’s even attended Preston Community Church a few times, and reveals that she has seen Murphy there.
Murphy finds nothing objectionable about any of this. After all, looks determine morality. Fallworth, the pale skinny guy, is evil, and Summer, the Nordic beauty, is perfect.
(Nor, of course, does Murphy spare even one thought for Isis, the woman he claims to love.)
So, what a guy Murphy is, eh?
Back in class again, Murphy reflects on how much he loves teaching (so much that he avoids it whenever possible).
Word of mouth had made the class size increase every year.
I bet. What was it Dean Archer Fallworth told us the students called the class? “Jesus for Jocks.” Murphy does know he’s teaching the easiest of the Easy A’s, right?
Speaking of Fallworth, Murphy again inwardly sneers at his article.
Anyone who published a paper on “Button Materials of the Eighteenth-Century Georgia Plantations” needed to get a life.
Seriously? Get a life? What are you, one of your very own Jocks for Jesus? A life as a published academic and dean of faculty. What a sucker that Fallworth is!
Btw, pal, when were you last published? Methinks Indiana Murph over here doth protest too much.
Arriving in his lecture hall, Murphy jokes around with some students, who I’m sure laugh uproariously because they know this is a guy who grades entirely on emotion. Speaking of, the mysterious blonde from last time comes to class again. She’s not carrying a notebook or computer or anything, and every male in the class, including Murphy, is so blindsided by this gorgeous being that they can’t concentrate. What was that about professionalism and needing a life, Murph? Also, I thought you were in love with a redhead in Washington. My, doesn’t take too much to turn this Christian’s head.
Murph provides a very basic PowerPoint slide on “Good Angels” in the Bible, with helpful tidbits about the blessed beings:
Angels do not get married to each other
There are a great number of angels
Wow, incredibly fascinating! So much so, in fact, that the “striking blonde” ditches between slides. Thus Murphy feels “the sting of disappointment” even though, not to belabor the point, but he is supposed to be in love with Isis. In fact, as he warns the students about a quiz next week, his thoughts are still on her. The blonde, not Isis.