I'm Jewish. I'm male. I'm alive. By Jerry Falwell's standards, that puts me on the short-list of candidates.
Early one shiny autumn morning, I got in my car and drove to Lynchburg, Va., in order to find out whether or not I am the Antichrist. You know: the Beast, the Worthless Shepherd, the Little Horn, the Abomination, the linchpin of the Diabolical Trinity. That Antichrist.
I had my suspicions. Nowhere on my body could I find the mark of the Beast--666--but I do have a freckle that's shaped like Bermuda. And though I have never been seized by a desire to lead the armies of Satan in a final, bloody confrontation with the forces of God on the plain of Armageddon, I do suffer from aggravated dyspepsia, as well as chronic malaise, conditions that I'm sure afflict the Antichrist.
The surest suspicion I had about my pivotal role in Christian eschatology grew from the fact that I am Jewish, male, and alive. These are the qualifications for the job of Antichrist as specified by Lynchburg's most famous preacher, Jerry Falwell, in a speech he made earlier this year.
I was actually going to see the Rev. Falwell on a different matter, the future of Jerusalem, but I thought I might just slip this question--the one about me maybe being the Antichrist--into the stream of the interview. Falwell, I guessed, wouldn't be happy to discuss his views on the identity of the Antichrist--he had apologized for the remark but took quite a load of grief for it anyway.
As it turned out, though, Falwell was eager to talk about the Antichrist. And, as it also turned out, he didn't really feel bad for saying what he said. In fact, he was more convinced than ever that the Antichrist is a Jew who walks among us.
Let me pause for a moment to give three concise reasons why I'm so curious about the identity of the Antichrist:
1) I think I speak for all the approximately 4.5 million adult male Jews in the world when I say that we get a little antsy when Christians start looking at us like we're the devil. This is on account of Christian behavior over the past 2,000 years, by which I mean blood libels and pogroms and inquisitions, those sorts of things.
2) I've always been possessed by the delusional notion that I am to play a major role in world history, so why not a role in the End of Days? And I don't mean the Schwarzenegger movie.
3) Now that we stand on the lip of the millennium, much of the evangelical Christian world is in the grip of Armageddon fever, and, according to the evangelical interpretation of the books of Daniel and Revelation, the Antichrist will make his appearance before Christ makes his, and his is looking kinda imminent. The Antichrist, in this reading, will be a world leader who strikes a peace deal with Israel, only to betray the Jewish state and make war on it, until Jesus comes to the rescue. The thankful Jews, those who are still alive, will then become Christians and live happily ever after. These beliefs, held by tens of millions of Christians are, journalistically speaking, worthy of note.
The day before my visit with the Rev. Falwell, I had just finished reading a novelistic treatment of these events, Assassins, which is subtitled Assignment: Jerusalem, Target: Antichrist. Assassins is the sixth book in the "Left Behind" series, "left behind" referring to those unfortunate nonevangelical Christians who are not taken up to heaven in the Rapture--the opening act in God's end days plan--and are forced to contend with the Antichrist's evil reign on Earth. The "Left Behind" series, co-written by Tim LaHaye, the prominent right-wing screwball and husband of Beverly LaHaye, the even more prominent right-wing screwball, and Jerry B. Jenkins, who, his biography states, is the author of 130 books, which is a lot of books for one guy to write, is a phenomenon. Ten million copies of the series have sold already--hundreds in my local PriceClub alone. "Left Behind" is the Harry Potter of the Armageddon set.
Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for the Atlantic and the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror.