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Birth of an Age

birth-of-an-ageBirth of an Age by James BeauSeigneur
Warner Books, 2003
Price I paid: It’s complicated

The discovery of live, incorruptible human cells embedded in the Shroud of Turin has led to an incredible genetics experiment, even as biblical prophecy is coming to pass. Combining the visionary thrills of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins with the scientific accuracy of Michael Crichton, James BeauSeigneur continues the powerful, epic mystery of U.N. diplomat Christopher Goodman—the clone of Jesus Christ

His coming prophesied by more than a dozen major religions, Christopher Goodman was born into the most turbulent time in human history. Already two nuclear holocausts have shaken the planet, killing hundreds of millions.

Now, in Jerusalem, 144,000 messianic Jews develop supernatural powers and pledge their service to a man claiming to be John the Apostle. Fated to live from biblical times to Christ’s return, the apostle awaits fulfillment of the End Time visions he described in Revelation.  But John and his cohort, apostate Hasidic rabbi Saul Cohen, don’t plan to merely witness the Apocalypse—they intend to cause it.

Harnessing their spiritual powers, the two menacing prophets threaten the human race with a terror just beyond the earth’s horizon. Thrown from their orbits, three asteroids are hurtling toward the planet, as John and Saul Cohen plan to subject humanity’s survivors to global destruction, demon possession, and homicidal madness.

Yet Christopher Goodman must wait and allow it to happen, for he has discovered that scattered throughout the Bible and other religious texts are clues pointing to an incredible hidden truth—a secret of devastating, universal importance that will reveal the astonishing future of Man…and the true nature of God.

It is far more than life and death that hang in the balance. It is the fulfillment of galactic destiny—humankind’s final evolutionary step that will propel man as far beyond his current state as humans are now above the insects. It is the Birth of an Age!

Oh, my golly.

You might remember that I tackled the first book in this series, In His Image, a few months ago. Christian fiction is somewhat outside my wheelhouse, and Christian science fiction more so (whose wheelhouse is it, though?), but it was an enjoyable read, both because the writing was pretty good and the story led to some places I didn’t expect. I remember thinking that I’d enjoy digging up the further two adventures in the Christ Clone Trilogy, and so I decided to finally do that, figuring that lining up a post about Jesus science fiction with Christmas would be a fun idea.

I checked out a copy from the library and prepared myself to take it with me to my mom’s house so I could read it and write a review. I even remembered to scan the cover before I left, a bit of forward thinking that would surprise the people who know me well.

And then I get to my mom’s house, settle in, and go to dig the book out of my bag to start reading.

You know those moments when you get a very, very clear image of exactly where you screwed up? I had one of those. A nearly tactile mental visual of the book sitting in the scanner where I’d left it.

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I almost gave up and decided to skip a week, figuring nobody would be that upset since it’s Christmas. But―and here’s a glimpse into the way my mind works―I felt guilty about that. So I found a Kindle copy, bought it, downloaded it, and read it. The version on the Kindle is apparently updated and expanded, but I suspect the majority of that has more to do with the tremendous number of endnotes this book has.

Seriously, I hit the 50% mark of this eBook when it ended. The rest was notes. Meticulous notes, though most of them were line-by-line rundowns of the Revelation of John, calling out the fact that this book’s narrative is basically a retelling of the prophecies of that book. Normally that would bother me, but it turns out that the author also threw in a lot of interesting interpretations to that scripture, leading to a book that genuinely surprised me on multiple occasions.

Christopher Goodman is the literal clone of Jesus Christ. Decker Hawthorne, his friend, is just a regular guy (until it’s revealed that he isn’t). Christopher represents Europe in the United Nations, and he’s done a few miracles at this point, but currently he doesn’t understand what he’s for or the full extent of his powers.

Over in Israel, a rabbi and a man who is literally the apostle John are leading a movement called the KDP, prophesying that these are the end times. A series of disasters begin to happen across the Earth, each of which is predicted by Rabbi Cohen and John just before it happens.

The result is that a very large part of this book does not feature any of the main characters, and instead is a disaster porn that would give Roland Emmerich the boner of his life. One of the advantages of using the Kindle version of this book was that I was able to see that there was a section of only disasters that lasted at least ten percent of the book. Wait, strike that, something just occurred to me. If only half of this eBook was the story, then the ten percent of the book that I’m thinking of is actually closer to twenty percent. Maybe a full quarter.

It starts off with nuclear exchanges. Russia got nuked in the previous book. This one kicks off with India and Pakistan exchanging nukes. China gets involved. Once the radioactive dust settles, three asteroids are spotted in the sky heading for Earth. The discoverer, in a fit of whimsy, names them Calvin, Hobbes, and Wormwood.

I laughed.

A handy endnote tells us that there’s a star named Wormwood in Revelation, which then led to a character named that in C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, which in turn led to Bill Watterson using it as Calvin’s teacher’s name. I think this is the deepest cut we ever see in any of these notes, and it’s a fair one.

Two of the asteroids are supposed to miss Earth by a hair’s breadth, but the third one, Wormwood, is headed straight for us. The UN launches some nukes to make sure it doesn’t strike, but it takes time for them to get to the asteroid and put a stop to it. Meanwhile, the other two are supposed to provide an interesting astronomical showcase.

Except they randomly divert course and head straight for us. The first one doesn’t even strike the ground. The author obviously did a lot of homework making this situation work the way it did, and even though the result is that it dragged on a long time with a lot of detail, I have to give him a lot of credit. The asteroid flies through the atmosphere at an incredible speed. It comes within a few miles of the ground but the important part is that heat and sonic booms level everything within miles of the path, which itself stretches from Alaska to South America. Millions die.

And then the other asteroid also changes course and lands smack into the ocean, creating tidal waves, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and immeasurable destruction across the world. Millions more die.

The nuclear strike against the third asteroid goes very well. The space rock comes apart almost too easily, causing scientists to speculate that there was something else to it beyond iron and nickel. Everybody celebrates, thinking that perhaps the worst is over. Meteor showers provide fireworks for the celebrations.

It turns out that the other thing the asteroid was made of was arsenic, which is now raining down all over the Earth into the drinking water. Millions more die.

And then there’s a plague of giant locusts that sting people until they die. Millions die. This one is probably the most notable because it gives Christopher a chance to start using his healing powers.

We cut to some long exposition among Decker, Christopher, and a guy named Milner, who is also literally the prophet Elijah. Loooots of exposition.

Honestly, this book shouldn’t have been as enjoyable as it turned out to be. Most of it is people sitting around talking between massive destruction events. I guess it says something about me that I was interested enough in seeing how this turned out that I didn’t mind.

Decker’s friend Tom Donaphin shows up, which is surprising because Tom is supposed to be dead. We saw his resurrection at the hands of Rabbi Cohen in the previous book, but Decker doesn’t know anything about it. Also, it’s been twenty years.

This book also has long swaths of time pass between chapters. By the start of the next book, I fully expect it to be Star Trek times.

Christopher is nominated as Secretary-General of the United Nations and has nearly universal support. There’s one person who doesn’t like the idea, though, a French delegate. He was the assistant to a previous French delegate, a major villain of the previous book that led to the massive Sino-Indian-Pakistani nuclear exchange. This new guy wants revenge since Christopher caused the bad guy to confess himself to death. New guy is also gay in a meaningless way, and that caused me some consternation. I get that sometimes people are homosexual, regardless of everything else, but if you’re writing a narrative that includes somebody who plots to kill the clone of the Nazarene, why mention it? It made no difference.

Guy takes a gun to Christopher’s speech, but in a dramatic turn, he doesn’t have time to do the assassination. Decker’s friend Tom does it, shooting Christopher in the head. French guy, in turn, kills Tom.

At Christopher’s funeral, he is resurrected. The whole world sees it.

So what we get afterward is a lot more exposition. Christopher tells us a lot of things. This is where the book took a turn for the shocking.

So, one of the things about buying this book on the Kindle is that I couldn’t help but take a look at the reviews. Most of them were positive in a generic way, which led some of the one-star reviews to accuse them of being fake. One person suggested that our author’s experience working with the government is evidence of this, which is just adorable. The main thrust of the one-star reviews, though, consisted of words like NOT SAFE FOR CHRISTIANS.

Of course, that meant I got really curious.

The last quarter or so of this book is just more talking heads, but man, did things get weird. We learn that God is not the protagonist. God’s a dick. This is something I knew already, but I didn’t expect the book to go that way. Further interestingness, though, is that Jesus is still his son, which means that Christopher is also.

Yahweh is an alien from a planet called Theata. That makes him a Theatan, which makes me think of Thetans even though I don’t actually know what those are supposed to be. The Theatans managed to ascend past their corporate bodies, but Yahweh ascended even further. He demanded worship and decided to come to Earth to find more worshippers. The resident Theatan, a good guy named Lucifer, has been working on humanity’s behalf to help break free of Yahweh’s influence.

What’s really great is that this is basically Gnosticism with a sci-fi twist.

At some point Lucifer was able to convince Jesus that his dad isn’t exactly a good guy. Before Jesus could do anything about it, Yahweh moved circumstances to make him die. The apostle John was his chief instrument in this. It also turns out that Judas was a good guy, and Decker is actually his reincarnation.

This talk goes on and on and on until Jesus shows up at the Third Temple, casts out the bad guys, kills Rabbi Cohen and the apostle John, and makes a great announcement from the top of the Temple, saying that he is the prophesied Messiah for all the religions. He’s not just the Messiah, he’s also the Mahdi, Matreya, Krishna, and a bunch of other ones I don’t remember at the moment, with the exception of a casual mention of Eckankar, a reference that made me squeal a bit even if East of Danger was an incomprehensible mess of a book. A bunch of angels shows up, Christopher jumps off the temple, and the book ends.

What did I just read? Who was it meant for? Those were questions I had when I finished the first book, and they remain unanswered. The author points out in both books to suspend judgment and don’t assume you know how things will end until the third book is over when everything will make sense.

Since it turns out that our author has been pretty good at making circumstances twist and turn, often with some big surprises, I have some thoughts on how I think book three will turn out.

See, at one point Christopher openly admits that he’s what the Bible would consider the Antichrist, but points out that of course the Bible would cast the Antichrist in a bad light because all it is is propaganda for an evil regime in the first place. That’s what makes me suspect that we’re going to find out that Christopher isn’t all wonderfulness and light after all. This is just speculation, though. I guess I’ll have to wait until I get to book three, something I’m planning on doing right around next Easter.

I have to say, I enjoyed this book. It’s got some obvious flaws of style that normally would bother the heck out of me, but in terms of substance there’s some good stuff in there. Narratively, there’s a lot going on in this book and while it’s not what I’d call economically told, it’s still some good story.

Characterization is another thing I’d point out. Often enough the characters felt like cardboard cutouts, even the ones that are literally Jesus. Part of this is because the main characters very rarely do anything. They observe and they talk for pages and pages on end.

The author still seems to think we’re not exactly literate, explaining things that most people would have the good sense to know about already. It’s not just Bible verses, either. He feels the need to point out what pop culture he’s referencing at any given time, and even uses one endnote to explain the title of a chapter in case we a) couldn’t figure it out, and b) cared.

If I had to sum up this book in a single description, I’d call it Christian Ready Player One with footnotes, but actually pretty good. One might also be tempted to compare the book to Left Behind, which it honestly blows out of the water after walking on it.

Most of my enjoyment of this book probably stems from my own interest in studying the Bible, even though most of you will have, by this point, realized I’m not exactly the target demographic. I can imagine that there are two core groups that will not like this book as much as I do:

  • People who take the Bible more seriously than I do
  • People who don’t give two flips about the Bible

But I guess if you’re like me and you find the Bible and its interpretation a fascinating exercise even though you’re not a believer, I think you’ll like this book.

I’ll also plug one of my new favorite podcasts, Sunday School Dropouts, wherein the hosts, a former Christian and a “non-believing sort of Jew” explore the Bible book-by-book, episode-by-episode. They’re a hoot, and an educational hoot to boot.

Merry Christmas, and all the other holidays too, where applicable! Thanks for giving me something to do to make 2016 a bit more tolerable.

I have the best readers.

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3 Comments

  1. sydlogsdon says:

    This is such a odd book that I took a week to think before commenting.
    !: Honestly, this book shouldn’t have been as enjoyable as it turned out to be. Most of it is people sitting around talking—-Your comment could be a critique of any Heinlein work from the last half of his career.
    2. If you are a Christian, how would you dare to read or write this? If you are an athiest, why would you bother to read or write this? That’s a comment on subject, not quality.
    3. If you spend that much time on backstory, why not go all the way L. Ron and call it reality instead of fiction?
    4. This book sounds so weird I would probably like it.
    Syd Logsdon

    Like

    1. Haha, yes, totally true. And for some reason I keep finding myself reading those Heinlein books, something I don’t understand about myself. I’m beginning to wonder if I just secretly like being exposited to by formless heads.

    2. I’ve wondered both of these questions so much. The reviews on Amazon make it clear that a lot of Christians did not enjoy the book. I personally believe that the third in the series will tie some things together and make it more palatable for them, but it’ll be a while before I know that. I wish I knew whom the author had in mind as an audience when he wrote this. Maybe it was just himself? I’m okay with that.

    3. I have such a soft spot for books that go “This is what REALLY happened and THEY didn’t tell you!” I wish this book were one, but I guess there were a lot of things happening that we, the audience, would have noticed.

    4. I’d love to hear what you think if you get around to reading it.

    Like

  2. Guy says:

    Hi

    I quite enjoyed your post ( and your blog ). I am not religious but I developed a strong interest in Dante’s Comedy some years ago which has led to an interest Christian symbolism and imagery. We recently went on a trip to Venice which strengthened this interest even more once I began looking at all the church art and architecture so I found you discussion of this trilogy strangely compelling. I think it is a tribute to your post that despite looking like a book I would dismiss out of hand if I saw it in the store I may give it a try, sadly my library does not seem to have it.

    Happy Reading
    Guy

    Liked by 1 person

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