by C.J. Darlington
Joel C. Rosenberg Interview
an important point to make that I don't call Miss Cleo in the middle
of the night to get my plot ideas. I'm not Nostradamus. I'm writing
about things that God has already said in His Scriptures about what
--Joel C. Rosenberg
Joel C. Rosenberg is
the New York Times best-selling author of The Last Jihad, The
Last Days, The
Ezekiel Option, The Copper Scroll, Dead Heat,
and Epicenter, with more than one million copies in print. A communications
strategist based in Washington, D.C., for over 15 years, he has worked
with some of the world's most influential and provocative leaders, including
Steve Forbes, Rush Limbaugh, former Israeli deputy prime minister Natan
Sharansky, and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Once a
political columnist for World magazine, he now writes commentaries for
National Review as well as a weekly e-mail update known as "Flash
Traffic" for business and political leaders. A front-page Sunday New
York Times profile called him a "force in the capital." He has
also been profiled by the Washington Times and the Jerusalem Post and has
been interviewed on ABC's Nightline, CNN's Headline News, Fox News Channel,
The History Channel, MSNBC, The Rush Limbaugh Show, and The Sean Hannity
Show. Visit www.joelrosenberg.com.
After such a successful career in politics, why did you decide to write fiction?
You're making me laugh - I did NOT have a successful career in politics. I helped every candidate I ever worked with lose. (laughs) Seriously, I helped Steve Forbes lose two presidential elections and about 75 million dollars of his daughter's inheritance. I was on Prime Minister Netanyahu's comeback campaign team in 2000. Failure has a way of clarifying your options. (laughs)
The political life gave me a good education in the geopolitical events that were shaping the world in Israel and the Middle East. My family on my father's side escaped out of Russia, so I've got a real interest in Russia and the former Soviet Union. That was the backdrop for me. Since I was 8 or 9 years old I wanted to write novels and screenplays. When I got out of college I decided to get married rather than try to be a starving artist, and that's what brought me to Washington where I went with my second love---politics and policy. So after ten years of helping people lose I thought, maybe I should go back to my first love - not spiritually speaking, of course, but in terms of what I have always really wanted to do. That's what got me into writing novels. I had never taken a class on writing novels. I barely had time in Washington to read novels, so I didn't have a lot of experience or prospects for doing this. But the first novel was uncannily successful, and it opened up a door for me to do more.
Did you read a lot as a kid?
Yes, but I can't say that there were a lot of styles that I was particularly drawn to. Clancy, Grisham, that was what I read. But mostly my life experience has been reading non-fiction history and politics, and of course the Bible. It was my political life and career for ten years, but I also had my own personal walk with God, my own study of Scripture, and a fascination with Bible prophecy. It's really the convergence of those two things, Bible prophecy and geopolitics that made me say, “I think I'm going to write a novel about how some of these prophecies could come true.” It was an area that I kept thinking about so much. People say you're supposed to write what you know. But I don't really know if that's true, because I don't know what it's like to be fabulously wealthy or incredibly brave or to be in the CIA. I can guess, and living in this city gives you a chance to meet people like that. I heard someone say once, “Write where you live in your head.” And that single sentence became useful for me. I thought, “Where do I live in my head?” I live in the what-if scenario. What if the prophecies of Ezekiel 38 and 39 were to come true in my lifetime? What would that look like? How would we get there, and how would it unfold? What would happen next? Who knew that would become a five book series. It was odd how some of them correlated so well with current events that I didn't know were going to happen.
So you were a speech writer, correct? You definitely had some experience then in writing nonfiction.
I wrote speeches people didn't listen to. I wrote op-eds people didn't read. (Laughs) It was frustrating!
Do you think it came easier or harder to write fiction than you expected?
I didn't really have an expectation. I literally wrote the first three chapters of The Last Jihad and stopped. I thought, “I don't have time to write a whole novel if people don't think this is any good.” So I sent it to a New York Times best selling author I knew, Peggy Noonan, former Reagan and Bush speech writer. And she loved it. She said, “I've already emailed it to my agent.” Her agent was a woman who edited The Godfather series, and she'd been high up at Random House, I think. She said, “This is really good, but I only represent women in literary fiction, Peggy Noonan and Ann Coulter. What you need is Tom Clancy's agent. I've already emailed it to Tom Clancy's agent.” Then I got a call from one of the assistants to his agent, and they said, “This is great. Send us the rest.” I said, “The rest? There is no rest. I'm just speculating here.” They said, “Get this thing done as fast as possible. If it holds up like what you've written in the first three chapters, we will represent you.” So that became a motivation. That's very rare to write three chapters and suddenly have an agent and enthusiasm from other people. It's not easy for me to write fiction, but I don't really know how to do anything else.
After such a successful run of thrillers, where did the idea for “Twelfth Imam” come from?
I'm not sure that most people realize that it's not just followers of Jesus Christ who have an eschatology. Very few people know what Muslim eschatology is, much less Shia Muslims, or Iranian Shia Muslims. It has fascinated me. One day a few years ago I started thinking, you know, I write and speak about how this eschatology is motivating people like Iranian president Ahmadinejad to pursue the annihilation of Israel and the United States. What I haven't been considering is that somebody who the Muslims believe is their messiah might actually come to earth.
As I was studying Matthew Chapter 24 I realized that Jesus warns his disciples three times in one chapter that false messiahs will come in the last days. The third time He said to expect false messiahs to come, and they will be able to do great signs and wonders so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. So I'm thinking, “While we don't know that this Islamic messiah is coming, Jesus did warn us to be ready for people like that, and that some people will come who will be able to do what seem to be miracles and will draw a lot of people, even people who say they are followers of Jesus Christ.” That's scary. Once those thoughts converged, Shia eschatology and the New Testament teachings of false messiahs coming, I had a new what-if proposition. To me a good political thriller starts with a plausible what-if scenario. Danger, high stakes, yes. But it has to be plausible. You have to write it in a way that makes people think, “That could happen.” That's what I'm trying to do.
Do you think if this twelfth imam does come, that he will possibly be the antichrist?
There are a couple answers to that question. He will certainly be an antichrist, per se, by being a false messiah trying to lead people away from following the true Messiah, Jesus Christ. So he would have the spirit of Antichrist in him and thus be a satanic figure. I do not believe he would be The Antichrist. The reason is that Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 talk about the judgment of Israel's neighbors, all who are described as territories that we now know as Muslim. So there is coming a judgment in the last days, and it has to happen before the Tribulation really gets into full swing. So how do you have a muslim antichrist who's team has lost before the Tribulation really gets underway? There's no way that the day after the Ezekiel 38 and 39 prophecies come to pass that a Muslim is going to be able to stand up and say, “Hey, follow me,” much less get the whole world to follow him, because he has just been wiped out. Not entirely, but decisively. There is a book out called The Islamic Antichrist. There are a number of books and people speaking about how they are convinced that The Antichrist, the one described in the Bible, will be Muslim. I do not believe that to be true, but as I say, I can totally picture a Muslim leader emerging and being one of the antichrists that John describes in the Bible.
Back in 2009 you said in an interview with Glenn Beck that you believed a train wreck is coming between the U.S. and Israel about how to handle Iran. Is that something you still believe?
Up until a couple months ago we have been watching a train wreck in motion. It hadn't crashed yet, but they were bearing down on one another and neither side seemed willing to blink. The President recently blinked, and that’s a positive thing. A lot of people have been praying for God to change the President's heart. Now it's too early to say how deep a change it is, or if it's just cosmetic. But at the moment, the two leaders basically just had a kiss-and-make-up session. A lot of my readers on my web log are very cynical about how sincere this is. But when we pray for God to change a heart, we should not be immediately cynical and just assume He didn't really do it. Right now, it's good. If this had been their first meeting, it would have been fabulous. It's what should have happened sixteen months ago. It didn't, but if you think about relationships in your life, sometimes they don't get off on the right foot, but things can change. You could say to yourself, “You know what? I really shouldn't be so hard on this person. Maybe I ought to shift gears here.” So I think the train wreck has been averted thus far. But cosmetics are not enough. They are important and symbolic, but in the end, the question is: Is the policy of this United States administration hostile towards Israel? Hostile may be too strong, but thus far, it has been. It's not been friendly; it's been antagonistic. It's against America's best interests. I'm an American citizen, so that matters to me. Time will tell.
All of your novels are based on biblical prophecy. How do you balance the prophetic with fiction? How do you create a compelling story that is still Biblically sound?
I'll give you an example: In Ezekiel 38 it describes a list of nations that are going to form an alliance against Israel in the last days. It takes some historical detective work to figure out what nations it refers to, and that's what I describe in the book Epicenter. It's Russia, Iran, Libya, Algeria, Turkey, and so forth. Clearly missing from the list are two countries: Egypt and Iraq. Iraq is never mentioned in the Bible under that name, but obviously Babylon, Babel, Babylonia, Mesopotamia, Shinar, all are names the Bible uses for Iraq. None of them are mentioned in either Ezekiel 38 or 39. So when I was sitting down to write my first novel I had a dilemma. I had to make some choices. I had to decide what countries were going to attack Israel. I felt that obviously Saddam Hussein and Iraq would be part of that. If I'm making a contemporary political thriller, how do I deal with the possibility that Iraq wouldn't participate with Saddam Hussein in charge? It was inconceivable. I had to make a choice. Am I purely a fiction writer? If I am, I should make it up. If I'm trying to be true to my understanding of the Biblical text I don't have that much freedom. I have to figure out why Iraq is not there. Because Iraq is clearly a major end times player. It'll be the home of the Antichrist by the end of the story. So Iraq physically exists as a country in the last days, but why is it not participating in the Ezekiel 38 and 39 prophecies? I struggled with that. I concluded that somehow there would be an overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime. I doubted that would be by a coupe, and I don't think he'll just get old because he was fairly young at the time. The only two countries that could bring about regime change in Iraq were Russia, who was a supplier of arms, and the United States.
I had to ask myself, “Why would the United State invade Iraq, attack Iraq, and overthrow Saddam's regime?” That's what set into motion my question, what if radical Muslim terrorists were to hijack a plane, fly it into an American city, and that set into motion a global war between the United States and radical Islam? We'd have to knock off Saddam Hussein because he's an abetter and supporter of radical Islamic terrorists. That's what eventually led to my writing The Last Jihad. I try to look at what the Bible says will happen and then try to figure out plausible ways it could come true. I don't feel the freedom to totally make everything up.
When 9-11 happened it was hard to explain to the world at the time, because I wasn't really telling the Ezekiel 38 and 39 story yet. The story I really started to write was The Ezekiel Option, but because Iraq wasn't in it, I felt I had to back up the story and deal with Saddam Hussein first. The next novel was The Last Days where I thought, how does Israel still feel secure with Yassir Arafat still alive and sending suicide bombers into Israeli cafes everyday? So I wrote a book about the death of Yassir Arafat and what might ensue in The West Bank and Gaza after that. Those were the two prerequisite books I had to write in order to be consistent with prophecy.
I like how bold you are about sharing your faith in your interviews with secular media. Have you ever been tempted to play down your faith during an interview?
I don't think so. I remember the first time I got invited to go on CNN Headline News. I told my assistant, a young guy I was discipling, as we were going up in the elevator, “Pray for me, because this might be my only chance to ever been on CNN and I want to talk about Jesus.” I tried somewhat get my faith in, and I was able to. It was a personal test. I don't want it to seem strange, but what I'm finding is that the topics I'm dealing with lend themselves to sharing my faith. The more I do, the more people ask me about my faith. They often say, “Your name is Rosenberg, right? That's Jewish, right? But you're talking about Jesus, right? What's the deal? How can you be Jewish and believe in Jesus?” I usually say, “That's an interesting story, and I'm sure you don't have time for me to give you the whole story.” And they say, “No, no. We've never had a fiction writer with advanced information about what's going to happen before. Tell us why you believe this.” It's been pretty amazing. I'm very grateful to the Lord. He is doing more than we could have hoped for or ever imagined.
Based on what you're seeing in the world and what you're seeing today, what do you predict will be the next major event that we should be looking for?
It's an important point to make that I don't call Miss Cleo in the middle of the night to get my plot ideas. I'm not Nostradamus. I'm writing about things that God has already said in His Scriptures about what will happen. I do not have some extra capacity that I'm aware of to tell the future. I'm just looking at events and matching them against things in the Bible and saying, “Hmmm.” That being said, we're watching Turkey change from a friend of Israel and the United States, a NATO ally, to a nation that is joining the axis of evil. It's actively building an alliance right now with Russia and Iran. It's startling. Does that mean that the Ezekiel 38 and 39 war of Gog and Magog will come true soon? Not necessarily. It's certainly not conclusive at this point. But I would say it's curious.
We can't rule out the possibility that those major end times prophecies could come true in our lifetime or even soon, because events are moving so swiftly and consistently with the Ezekiel prophecies that it does make people wonder. We've got a group of rabbis in Israel right now that are saying publicly that they are starting to wonder if we are getting close to the War of Gog and Magog. That's an extraordinary moment. I am not one who is going to be out there guessing if that is true or not. I caution people not to jump to conclusions. There's no up side for me personally or for the church generally to speculate. We can observe, wonder, and ask people if they are ready for these events to unfold. Do they know the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior? Do you have forgiveness and security that you are definitely going to heaven? Are you living your life for the Lord, and are you ready to see Him face to face? Those are important questions. I don't know what's going to happen next. Could be the Rapture. Could be the War of Gog and Magog. Some people are saying that the events of Psalm 83, a different war with Israel and her neighbors, that happens first. We don't know.
What about the destruction of Damascus in Isaiah 17? Jeremiah 49? There are a number of things that can happen, that will happen. I don't know in what order. I hope people will get interested in all these different topics and come to the conclusion to talk about it in a cautious and careful way.
Watch the trailer for The Twelfth Imam:
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.