Joel Rosenberg talked about his latest novel, The Copper Scroll, with Christian Book Previews' Stacy Oliver at ICRS 2006.
CBP: Would you mind sharing your testimony with us?
Joel: Which version? The Campus Crusade #5 version? The short version? My father was raised Orthodox Jewish in Brooklyn. His family escaped as Orthodox Jews out of Russia around 1907, when the Czar was wiping out thousands and thousands of Jews. By God's grace, they got out of Czarist and Fascist Russia. They escaped in a hay wagon. Once out, they didn't decide to settle in Poland or Germany or Austria. When they got to the United States, Ellis Island, like any good Jewish family they set up shop in Brooklyn, which is where my father was raised.
He was an agnostic after college, and met my mother who was an agnostic Methodist, Daughters of the American Revolution, WASP. They were sort of an "Annie Hall" marriage, got married in 1965. I was born in 1967. But they were really seekers. They were convinced that there was a God, and were convinced that there must be a way to find Him. It wasn't just their religious backgrounds, because they both had troubled childhoods, they just didn't see any threads that they could hold on to from back then. But they read the Koran, the Bagvagita, the Bible, and they started visiting some churches. One day in 1973, they visited a church where for the first time in their memory, someone clearly laid out how to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. My mom knew instantly that it was true, and there was an invitation to go forward and she went, assuming that my father was right behind her. He wasn't. He thought, I know we're still looking, I'm not sure what the way is, but I know from childhood is that Jesus isn't the way.
But to his credit, he began going to a small group Bible study with my mom, young couples going through the gospel according to Luke. The further they went into the book, the more troubled my father was getting, because he was realizing that Jesus was clearly saying He was the Messiah. So either He was, and that had revolutionary implications for him, or He wasn't, in which case He was a lunatic or a liar. The problem for my father was He didn't look like a lunatic or a liar. Which left him in an uncomfortable position of having to make a decision: is Jesus really the Lord of the universe? One day he came home and said, "Yes, I believe Jesus is the Messiah." It wasn't long afterwards that my parents helped lead me into the kingdom.
I got involved with Campus Crusade for Christ in college, and went as a missionary for a summer project into the Soviet Union (then), 1986. Smuggled Bibles, shared the gospel, got arrested by the KGB twice. It was awesome. I think in a funny sort of way, God was laying the groundwork for the life of writing novels and political thrillers in particular. I met my wife in Campus Crusade at Syracuse. The Lord has given us a passion for filling the Great Commission, particularly in the Middle East, with Jews and Muslims, and obviously Russians because that's my background.
After a long political career of helping candidates lose their elections, I thought, I need to do something else. And I began to pray about the possibility of doing what I wanted to do as a kid, which is write novels and speak.
CBP: How does this fit into your ministry?
Joel: I was in politics for about 11 years, worked for a number of U.S. and Israeli leaders: Steve Forbes, Rush Limbaugh, former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Really all I knew was political communications, how to drive a political message. So I thought, I'd like to write political thrillers that would at least be drawing upon something I have some experience with. But I really wanted to weave through my novels a spiritual journey, and raise the spiritual temperature as the book gets going, to the point where three quarters of the way into the novel--where somebody couldn't put the book down if I was doing my job as the thriller writer--one of the characters would begin to share his or her faith with another, but integral to the story.
The problem with that theory, this is January 2001, was I had never written fiction. Well, my liberal friends said when I was ghostwriting for Rush Limbaugh that I wrote fiction. That was different. But second, I didn't have a story. So except for those two things, no problem. I said to my wife and kids, "Every night before we go to bed, let's pray Jeremiah 33:3, 'Call to Me, and I will hear you and answer you and show you great and mighty things you do not know.' That's the perfect verse for Daddy! He doesn't know how to write a novel, and he doesn't have a story. But if God really wants us to do this, then we'll see."
And the story that came out in January of 2001 was The Last Jihad. The first page puts you into the cockpit of a hijacked jet coming in on a kamikaze attack mission into an American city. It happens to be Denver, not New York or Washington. But it was written nine months before September 11th. As the story unfolds, the FBI traces the trail of terror back to Bagdad, and suddenly my fictional American president is in a war with Saddam Hussain over terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. I was finishing that book on the morning of September 11th, in Washington, D.C., fifteen minutes away from the Washington Dulles Airport, where at that moment Flight 77 was being hijacked, turned around, flown over our house, and into the Pentagon.
I never thought that book would ever be published. It was the last book that was ever going to be published after 9/11. But when President Bush gave his State of the Union address in January of 2002 saying that the next great threat we may face is Iraq over terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, my agent called me and said, "Do you work for the CIA?" I said, "No." He said, "Sure, that's what you'd have to say if you did work for the CIA and you just couldn't tell me."
A whole set of events began to unfold, where by November The Last Jihad was published. No one had ever heard of me. No one had ever heard of the book. Suddenly it was number one on Amazon, and I was interviewed on over 160 radio and television shows. It was eleven weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list. Nine printings in sixty days.
What was interesting, in most of those interviews, at one point after they said, "How could you know this? What do you think is going to happen next?" they'd say, "You're name's Rosenberg? That's Jewish, right?" I'd say, "Right." They'd say, "You've got these characters talking about Jesus at the end of the book. How can you be Jewish and believe in Jesus?" I would say, "That is an interesting story, but you probably don't have time for me to talk about this." They'd say, "Oh no, it's one thing to have an author on who can predict the future. But a Jew who believes in Jesus? Never heard of that. Yes, I'd like to keep you on and tell your story." I had the chance to talk about my faith with 20 million people in sixty days because of The Last Jihad.
CBP: So, you were praying for God to do something, and then this happens. Is that a coincidence?
Joel: No! The boys were specifically praying all the way through that the Lord would use the novel to capture attention of people who are more likely to spend their Sunday mornings at a Barnes and Noble, sipping a caramel macchiato, than at the local church. And that's exactly what happened. And because of this turn of events, people read that book and not only got the gospel, but the concept that you weren't sure you were going to make it to tomorrow, was a very real feeling. It was fascinating to see how God used that, and has just continued opening up doors. Each of these books, so far, had a very uncanny way of seeming to come true.
CBP: You're not very subtle about your Christian message in the books, you're very up front.
Joel: I try to be. I would say that in each book the spiritual temperature goes up throughout the book, and each book it is higher than the book before. The Copper Scroll is the most up front, but that's because it did evolve. It's clear there are characters who don't agree, there are characters who aren't sure, there are characters who have just come to faith, there are characters who have been believers a long time. I've tried to make that all organic to the story. What I didn't want to do is create a situation where all these characters go off to the Billy Graham Crusade as a total separate side show to their life. In watching in my world, very few people go to the Billy Graham Crusade, or to the Christian bookstore.
But switching from a secular publisher to Tyndale has been fascinating and wonderful, because it has opened up the opportunity to operate in both universes simultaneously, and thus far, God willing, successfully.
CBP: In The Copper Scroll, which parts are fact and which are fiction with respect to the copper scroll?
Joel: Okay. I think The Copper Scroll was the most fun in the series to write. Ezekiel Option is the centerpiece of the whole Bible prophecy: Russia and Iran forming a nuclear alliance to wipe out Israel. In fact, on page 358 of Ezekiel Option hardcover, one of the characters says, "We're going to wipe Israel off the face of the map." Five months after the book came out, the president of Iran said the exact same thing. That was the book I was really passionate about in terms of wanting to explain what would lead up to it. But The Copper Scroll was my kids saying, "Couldn't you write a book that was kind of your book, Dad, and also Raiders of the Lost Ark?"
The fun part is in Ezekiel 38 and 39, the war of Gog and Magog, is followed by chapters 40 through 48, which is the rebuilt temple. So, I thought it would be fascinating to write a story about how we could get from where we are today to an actual temple. Many people think it won't theologically happen. Many people who theologically think it will happen, can't think how.
I heard the story of the copper scroll, which is an actual Dead Sea scroll, discovered in 1952, but engraved on copper instead of parchment or animal skin. For four years, archeologists couldn't figure out how to get it open. It was oxidized, and if they did anything to it, it would disintegrate. They thought, what message could be in there that was so valuable that the Isaiah scroll is on parchment, and whatever this message is is engraved on metal. In 1956 they finally got this thing open, and on June 1, 1956 the New York Times broke the story to the world, front page, top of the fold: Treasure Map Discovered in the Middle East. In fact, we used a clip of that headline--it's totally true.
What was fascinating was once they got this thing open, they were bewildered. It wasn't a book of the Bible, it wasn't a description of ancient Jewish life in the first century, it was a treasure map. It would say something like: Line 1 - Go to the CBP Convention in Denver, go to the Press Room, dig under the podium twenty feet, and you'll find two hundred bars of gold. The problem was, 2000 years from now, there won't be a convention center, there won't be a podium, so how do you find the treasure? So almost all of the landmarks that are mentioned in sixty-four lines of this treasure map are too vague or don't exist. When you add up all of the treasure that's specifically designated, it comes out to about two hundred tons of gold and silver and religious artifacts.
A lot of religious scholars thought at the beginning -- this is all true -- who would have two hundred tons of treasure in 67 or 68 A.D.? That was the dating of the scroll. The only people who had two hundred tons of treasure were the priests in the temple. The Jewish temple had that treasure. The theory began that is was possible that the priests, sensing that the Romans were going to wipe everything out, began to secret out batches of the treasure and hide them in underground caverns in Jerusalem and the countryside of what we now call the West Bank. And then they engraved the stuff and hid the scroll, because they believed that the Romans would get destroyed by God. They thought, when the smoke clears, we'll go get the treasure and rebuild the temple.
I went to Jordan because this is in the Jordanian Archeological Museum in Iman. It was found by Jordanian archeologists, which was another disincentive from finding the treasure, because by finding it you would prove that there was a Jewish temple, and that the Jews controlled that territory. Armed with all that fact, I thought, what if a hunt for those treasures set into motion the building of the temple? The most interesting part of this scroll is that the sixty-fourth line says that there is another scroll that basically decodes the copper scroll. That scroll's never been found.
If that scroll were ever found, and if you could decode in a more detailed way where this stuff is, and if the treasure was found, the worldwide fascination with this and the Jewish momentum to say, "It's time to build the temple," would potentially be unstoppable. With that, could come a whole new cataclysm, because the Temple Mount is the most dangerous square mile on the planet. A billion Muslims would go to war to stop this from happening. Sounds like the basis for a political thriller. This was really a very, very fun one to write.
CBP: In terms of the research you did on the temple, what surprised you the most?
Joel: The thing that surprised me the most was how consistent Jewish prophets and New Testament apostles all say there's going to be a last days temple. This is actually a bedrock view of both Jewish and Christian theology. But given the fact that there are two Muslim shrines, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third most holy sites in all of Islam sitting there right now, it raises all kinds of questions about how Bible prophecy could come true.
I'm not going to answer. My theory that has come out of both Ezekiel 38 and 39, some of the clues come from the end of that book, and then get picked up and continued in The Copper Scroll. That was intriguing to me, that it's not just Evangelical, Dispensationalist pastors and preachers saying this was going to happen. Jewish people believe it themselves. And, by the way, the leaders of the rebuild-the-temple movement in Israel believe that not only will the copper scroll treasures be found, but also they believe that the Ark of the Covenant will be found. They believe they know where it is, and they believe it's hidden in underground chambers under the Dome of the Rock, that Muslims have never allowed access to and have no interest in opening.
CBP: Do you think they're discovering it themselves?
Joel: Well, there's all kinds of controversy building this summer. A number of Jewish groups are accusing the Islamic authorities of destroying archeological artifacts on and under the Temple Mount. Whether they've ever found the Ark, that's a whole issue unto itself. The Bible doesn't actually tell us if the Ark will be rediscovered. There are some tantalizing hints which I weave through The Copper Scroll. But what's also interesting is that the Ark of the Covenant just flat out disappears off the pages of Scripture. It doesn't say, "God took it home." It's just gone. One of the times it disappears, it re-emerges under the time of Josiah, and he tells them that the priests can bring it in from carrying it around on their shoulders, implying that it had disappeared but God knew where it was. When it was time, it resurfaced. Was that a precedence? We don't know. I'm trying to be careful here.
In my non-fiction book that comes out in October, Epicenter, I do a whole chapter about the Jews rebuilding the temple, because that we know for sure. In that chapter I talk about different theories: Will the copper scroll treasure be found? Will the Ark be found? The truth is, I say flat out we don't know. But it would be consistent with God drawing attention back to the epicenter, back to Israel, back to Jerusalem, and it would create a tremendous, worldwide fascination in the Bible.
God doesn't need to do it that way, but it would certainly be fun if He did. So Epicenter is the back story, of which I gave the short version to you, how I came about to write novels that keep coming true, and what the next ten things I think we should be watching for. In writing that book, I took my wife and kids to the Middle East for three months. We lived in Israel, Turkey, Morocco, and Egypt, as I did interviews with top Arab and Israeli officials as well as the National Security Advisor to the Palestinian chairman, the former Prime Minister of Jordan, two former Prime Ministers of Israel, the Iraqi Finance Minister, and past Arab and Iranian pastors and Evangelical leaders from Iran, Iraq, Sudan. Those interviews were on the record, but on the condition of anonymity.
This is the story of not just Bible prophecy, but woven with exclusive interviews with the leading players in the region. We also did an exclusive nationwide survey of the American attitudes toward Bible prophecy. It really is quite fascinating to see. We can tell you what self-identified liberal, Northeast Democrats believe about whether we are living in the last days, if the rebirth of Israel is Bible prophecy fulfilled. The numbers are astounding.
CBP: So now that you've gotten to dabble in the non-fiction, which do you enjoy better?
Joel: I definitely enjoy writing fiction, because it's just fun to make stuff up! But writing Epicenter was amazing because there are so many people that have shown interest in this book. Not only are there over one million copies in print, but I've been invited to the CIA to brief people on this Ezekiel 38 and 39 prophecy, I've been invited to the White House to speak on this, and to members of Congress on Capital Hill just a few weeks ago. a top Arab-Islamic leader of the Middle East actually flew to the United States, someone had given him a copy of the Ezekiel Option, and had dinner with me to say, "Walk me through again, what's the biblical view of the end of the world?" I include some of these stories in the book Epicenter.
That's what's fascinating to me. Not just the bestseller lists, that's exciting, but how these books are burrowing into the upper echelon of not just our government but of foreign governments. That's been exciting.