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Ever since Chicken Little started the trend, it hasn't taken much to set people going with cries of “The sky is falling!” The deciding factor seems to be more the psychological state of the doom-criers than the apparent proximity of doom. For whatever reason, fundamentalist prophets have been getting quite a hearing in the last decade, if the sales of their books are any indication. For instance, Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth has racked up printing after printing (literally millions of copies so far), and has' spawned sequels like The Terminal Generation. Tim LaHaye (of the Moral Majority) has released a new edition of his The Beginning of the End. And new titles like Apocalypse Next (get it?) keep rolling off the presses. These books try to match up Bible prophecies and current events (both usually twisted out of context) to show that our current troubles are setting the stage for Armageddon. The reader had better get converted quick so as to escape God’s wrath.

Popular fascination with Armageddon and Antichrist turned out to be a gold mine for science-fiction writers as well. Seeing the success of The Omen trilogy of films and books, other authors tried their hands at paperback apocalypses and gave us books like Robert McCammmon’s Baal and James Patterson's Virgin. Interestingly, fundamentalists had already beat them to the punch. For years, there had been a steady trickle of end-of-the-world novels from fundamentalists, appropriat­ing the genre of futurist fiction for evangelistic propaganda. It might be interesting to compare the two groups (religious and secular) of novels, center­ing on their treatment of the Antichrist, who seems to be the central figure in most of them. First, however, we'll take a brief look at the development of the Antichrist legend. Then we should be in a good position to see just how creatively each group of writers has dealt with it.


The Legend of Antichrist

An ancient Christian text called "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles" predicts the coming of the Antichrist in fairly typical terms: “Then shall appear the deceiver of the world [posing] as the Son of God. And he shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be given into his hands, and he shall do evil such as has not been done through the ages."

"Antichrist" implies both "false Christ" and "opponent of Christ." The title is used by only one of the writers of the Bible (the Elder John in 1 John 2:18; 4:3). It is a Christian term, but the basic idea seems to be much older. This nefarious figure was originally called "Belial" (2 Corinthians 6:l5a), which means "man of sin" (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Originally he seems to have been a personification of Satan pictured as the Chaos Dragon, borrowed from Babylonian mythology. The Dragon would make one final assault on heaven in the Last Days. He would appear in Israel in human form as a false messiah, leading the people astray and claiming divine honors for himself. After persecuting the faithful, he is finally destroyed by the archangel Michael, paving the way for the birth of the true Messiah.

Around the time of Jesus (give or take a century), the Antichrist or Belial legend became politicized. The oppression suffered at the hands of foreign conquerors led Jews and, later, Christians to identify particular political figures with "the Beast." Candidates included Antiochus Epiphanes, Caligula, Nero, and Domitian. Now instead of a false messiah corning from within Israel, the Antichrist came to be pictured as a ruthless pagan tyrant, trying to destroy the true faith from outside. He also tries to enslave the whole world, taking advantage of a dreadful famine to do this. He decrees that only those who take his mark (like the Stamp Act in colonial times) can buy scarce and precious grain. "No one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the Beast or the number of his name” (Revelation 13:17b). The "number of his name" is 666. It refers to the ancient practice of coding names by their letters used as numbers. Wall graffiti at Pompeii preserves someone's puppy love: “I love her whose number is 545.” The author of the Book of Revelation probably meant 666 to refer to the name "Nero," though he actually thought the "Beast" was the current ruler Domitian. He had woven together with the Antichrist legend a contemporary legend that Nero had either escaped assassination or actually risen from the dead, and would return to retake his throne. The author of Revelation thought he had, in the person of Domitian, and would soon be vanquished by Jesus Christ, returning from heaven.

It is fairly obvious that his hope was premature. The second coming failed to materialize on schedule. And this left interpreters of Revelation with quite a problem on their hands. As time went by, Rome fell without being destroyed by Christ. The Jews were dispersed from Palestine. Every­body forgot about Nero. So it was gradually concluded that whenever Christ did return, Israel and the Roman Empire would have to have been restored so both would be there waiting for him. And whoever the Antichrist turned out to be, his name would have to count up to 666. Early church fathers recorded several options. Some thought the future Antichrist would be somebody named “Evanthas," or "Latinus,” or “Teitan” (Titan), or “Diclux," since all these resulted in the proper computation.

As time went on, Antichrist’s legend grew in the telling. Medieval Catholics added a character called The Emperor of the Last Days, a great Christian king who would unify Europe and convert the Muslims just before the coming of Antichrist. Muslims had it the other way around. In their version, Antichrist (whom they expected to be named “Dejjal” or "Dejjat”) would be vanquished by the return of Jesus together with the Mahdi, a messi­anic descendant of Muhammad. Jews associated Antichrist with the Chris­tianized Roman power, and called him "Armillus” (= Romulus). Finally, the Protestant Reformers Luther and Calvin claimed that the Papacy (not any particular pope) was Antichrist. More radical sectarian Protestants never bought this, however. They continue to suggest candidates for the position including Mussolini, Hitler, FDR, Henry Kissinger, and King Juan Carlos of Spain! And that brings us back up to Lindsey, LaHaye, and company.


Fundamentalist Fiction

As the Moral Majority shows, the blue-nosed ethics of fundamentalism are often simply the backwater survival of the cultural values of yesteryear. A fundamentalist leader of the last century once wrote "A novel is nothing but a well-told lie.” This sounds shocking to us, but it used to be a common prejudice. Plato thought that fiction writers were liars, as did the authorities in Shakespeare's day. That's why he had to title several of his plays "The True History of...'" even when they weren't. This kind of distaste for imagination hung on longer among fundamentalists than anywhere else. The result was that their breakthrough into fiction has been slow and hesitant.  Usually, fiction has had to justify itself as moral catechism or evangelistic propaganda. And the Antichrist novels we are considering fall squarely into this category.

First of all, what books are we talking about? We will be taking our examples from six novels, though there are several others. The earliest seems to be Sidney Watson's The Mark of the Beast (1918). Next comes Rapture by TV faith healer Ernest Angley (Robin Williams's "Reverend Earnest Angry”). Incidentally, the title refers to the fundamentalist belief in the "Rapture" (or "catching up"), i.e., the bodily ascension of believers to join Christ at the second coming, similar to the idea of UFO-believers being caught up into waiting space-ships. Angley's book came out in 1950, and is still in print, but the work that opened the floodgate seems to have been Salem Kirban's 666, published in 1970. His name may ring a bell if you've read Stephen King's The Dead Zone. There the hero, recently recovered from a coma, is pictured reading through a stack of tracts given him by his mother who is something of a fanatic. “One of them, by a man named Salem Kirban, struck him as nearly pagan in its loving contemplation of a bloody apocalypse and the yawn­ing barbecue pits of hell.” (p. 124). This isn't too far from the truth, as we will see below. One of Kirban's associates, Gary Cohen, tried his hand at an apocalyptic novel Civilization’s Last Hurrah. It appeared in 1974 and was recently reissued as The Horsemen are Coming. In 1978, Frank Allnutt wrote The Peacemaker, wherein a thinly-veiled Henry Kissinger turns out to be Antichrist. Finally, Carol Balizet’s The Seven Last Years was published in 1979 and issued as a mass market paperback by Bantam Books the following year.

Without exception, these novels are admittedly aimed at scaring readers into being ready for the Rapture. Invariably, the protagonists have been warned by “saved” loved ones to repent before it's too late. But you guessed it, it’s too late. The loved ones disappear into the sky, and the protagonist gets converted just in time to suffer the terrors of the End-Time. The warn­ing is clear: “Men, don't let this happen to you!” King's remark about Kirban's relishing the torments of the damned has some basis. For these writers, there is nothing to be afraid of, since they are sure they will be among the elect. Thus the horrors of the apocalypse can be dangled before the reader in an “I-told-you-so” fashion. .For instance, Cohen’s novel shows the starving masses being reduced to eating processed human flesh. A cover­ blurb promises the reader “a couple of very delightful evenings with the book.”

One suspects that these books have another, hidden, purpose. They bolster fundamentalist readers' belief in the second coming of Christ by putting it in narrative past-tense form. According to their faith, all this should be happening soon. Yet time passes, generations pass, and still it does not happen. The disappointment is not acknowledged. Instead it is tacitly cushioned by reading books which show it happening in the reader's own day. Believers would like to see real narrative accounts of the Rapture and the Antichrist, say, in Time magazine. Lacking this, they must content themselves with make-believe, provided by these novels with their depictions of news reporters covering the apocalypse.

Speaking of "covering the apocalypse," let's see how the fundamentalist authors depict the Antichrist. Who is he? How does he rise to power? Watson’s Antichrist is Lucien Apleon (from “Apollyon," The Destroyer in Revelation 9:11), a charismatic figure who having established a wide social and artistic reputation, is said simply to have been "made" the head of the "Revived Roman Empire." Angley's Antichrist is referred to in the story, even by his own followers, only as "the Beast," and appears but once. All­nut’s pseudo-Kissinger (Alfred K. Kiefer) is the U. S. Secretary of State who rises to the presidency by plotting the deaths of everyone above him. Cohen's Beast is Baruch Mindor (= "Blessed Nimrod, " as in the builder of the Tower of Babel), the premier of a united eurocommunist Western Europe, who also becomes head of the United Nations and solidifies it into a world government. Mindor remains a two-dimensional cut-out of a bureaucrat throughout the book.

Both Balizet and Kirban do a better job with their villain. Balizet’s is Bishop Uriah Leonard, who (like The Final Conflict's Damien Thorn) heads a relief organization. When the U. S. Government collapses in the wake of a superdestructive earthquake, his is the only force left capable of bringing any order to the chaos. Soon he is elected Pope Sixtus the Sixth (hint, hint) and becomes de facto ruler over Western Europe. Balizet is the only one of the religious writers who gives an intriguing peek into the Antichrist's own percep­tion of things. On the eve of Armageddon, he is asked by his lieutenant, "Do you feel any fear? Any doubts?” The Anti-Pope replies, “I have spent too many years, too many centuries of effort to be stricken now with doubts. I must do what it is my nature to do." (p. 338).

Kirban's Antichrist is probably the best of the bunch. He is "Brother Bartholomew,” a holy man from Iraq who makes an international name for himself as a peacemaker and negotiator. He is eventually drafted by the acclamation of both parties to become President of the United States, then of a Federated States of Europe. After a cryogenic recovery from an attempt on his life, Brother Bartholomew goes mad, bringing the world, literally, to the brink of destruction. Despite severe stylistic flaws, Kirban is reasonably effective in painting Bartholomew as a seductive pseudo-Christ futilely trying to secure his grasp on a world rapidly collapsing upon itself.

So much for how they treat the Antichrist. How are these books as literature? Remember, they are really attempts to translate theology into fictional idiom. The transition is none too easy. Watson has his char­acters launch into long sermons. He hesitates on the border of doctrinal exposition, often failing to pass over into real narrative description. Angley is even worse on this score. He cannot figure out how to make the symbolic prophecies of Revelation come alive. Hal Lindsey rather mundanely makes the monstrous locusts from the bottomless pit into helicopter gunships, but Angley's imagination will not carry him even this far. Instead, e.g., the four horsemen of the apocalypse are just plunked down unassimilated. The hero merely looks out the window of his house in a small midwestern town and sees them riding down the street!

Most of the books have trouble with fairly basic elements of writing. The characters remain two-dimensional, and the passage of large amounts of time is simply stated, without giving the reader a "feel" for it happening. Far more embarrassing are juvenile gaffes such as Kirban’s switching from first to third person narration in mid-paragraph! Angley actually has one of Antichrist's interrogators say "We have ways of making smart guys like you talk." (p. 197). But just as serious a flaw is the tendency for the story to be narrated from the viewpoint of a fanatic. The style is preachy, and too much is taken for granted. It is impossible for any non-fundamentalist to suspend disbelief long enough to take it all seriously, even as fiction. He or she will be constantly put off by the in-crowd, smug tone. It is too reminis­cent of the puzzling fundamentalist bumper sticker "Warning: In case of Rapture, Driver will Disappear.”

A happy exception to this multitude of. sins is Balizet’s The Seven Last Years. Her characters are good, and she treats them with sensitivity. There is even a reasonably sympathetic treatment of a gay character, surpris­ing coming from this quarter. Balizet is not afraid to make the book long enough (345 pages) to allow for detailed description and narrative texture. When she writes up an apocalyptic earthquake, she describes the social aftermath well and knows how to integrate it into the succeeding action. She has taken the trouble to think out what would happen if everyone had to take the mark of Antichrist. There are month-long extensions of the deadline because of the difficulty in enforcing such a measure. Quickwitted landowners set up black­ market farm colonies for those individuals unwilling to take the mark.

Perhaps most important, Balizet realizes that her readers may not share her convictions, so she depicts her beliefs from the outsider’s standpoint. For instance the character Francis’s gay lover Douglas has just renounced Antichrist and been martyred for his faith. Francis is troubled and blurts out, "What if we’re wrong and Douglas was right and he's in heaven now playing a harp or something?" (p. 264). Balizet knows how all this must sound to the reader, and writes accordingly. It is no coincidence that hers is the only one of these novels to have been taken on by a mass-market publisher.


Damien and Company

Those Antichrist novels which originated in secular publishing take a very different approach from those just considered. Nevertheless, there is a sur­prising link between the two groups of books. The Omen, the first of the secular novels, originated in an idea of born-again Christian Robert L. Munger. He wanted the film to serve as a warning to the public about the coming Antichrist, a la the propaganda fiction we have reviewed. Hal Lindsey (The Late Great Planet Earth) was even taken on as a consultant, but he dropped out when he saw the film version going off in what he thought were “unscriptural" directions.

Yet it is the creative and flexible way in which the secular fiction handles the biblical Antichrist lore that is one of its greatest strengths. It is only too obvious that the fundamentalist writers felt obliged to squeeze in every jot and tittle of their inherited doctrines. And there is quite a number of jots and tittles! The result is often a stiff and contrived clutter of catastrophes and monsters, leaving little room for plot or characterization. By contrast, the secular writers have no religious axe to grind. They can pick and choose those elements from the tradition which seem most valuable for a good story. And, needless to say, we are finally dealing with profes­sional novelists. Their aim is to spin a yarn, and hopefully a chilling one. Whereas the first group of writers aimed at scaring you out of hell, the second wants to scare the hell out of you. The nasty products of their imagination include David Seltzer's The Omen (1976), Joseph Howard's Damien (1978) and Gordon McGill's The Final Conflict (1980). These three books, of course, form the Omen trilogy. Unrelated to this series are Robert R. McCammon's Baal (1978) and James Patterson's Virgin (1980). It might be well to note that, creative adaptation aside, there are a few instances of factual fudging in the books. The Omen mixes up Bible quotations, attributing passages from Daniel to the Book of Revelation, and texts from Revelation to the Psalms! Father Tassone (Brennan in the film) recites a bad poem:

When the Jews return to Zion,
And a comet fills [film: "rips"] the sky,
And the Holy Roman Empire rises,
Then you and I must die.
From the eternal sea he rises,
Creating armies on either shore,
Turning man against his brother,
Till man exists no more

This is said to be from the Book of Revelation, but it isn’t. In The Final Conflict, Damien Thorn quotes another phony prophecy and that from a phony book! There is no “Book of Hebron," not even in the Apocrypha, where Damien pre­tends to find it.

But enough quibbling; on to the really interesting stuff. First, let’s look at The Omen. Damien is born of a jackal, a sort of blasphemous mockery of the virgin birth of Christ. The Bible says nothing on this subject, but one recurring note in medieval speculation was that Antichrist would be born of a whore through the power of Satan. The jackal was an innovative touch. As or the interpretation of the mark of the Beast as the Antichrist’s own birth­ mark, this has only a dim precedent, where one early medieval source says he has "on his face an inscription, ‘Antichrist.’” The reason for the change must have been to salvage the classic "mark of the Beast" theme without intro­ducing the mass-starvation scenario, which was beyond the scope of The Omen. Instead it is cleverly adapted along the lines of the mark of the devil which supposedly identifies witches. Only it is the Beast himself, together with his immediate cronies, who has it. The legend supports the book in having the young Antichrist being both intelligent and malevolent beyond his years, and in having him educated by a clique of witches and sorcerers (Mrs. Baylock and Sergeant Neff).

Regarding the apocalyptic predictions in the poem quoted above, which set the stage for Damien’s appearance, we have already seen that the Antichrist legend does predict the reestablishment of Israel and the Roman Empire. Ala Hal Lindsey, The Omen takes the revived Roman Empire to be the Common Market. The mention of a comet might refer to the falling to earth of the "star" Wormwood to pollute the water (Revelation 8:10-11). Or it may have something to do with the "great light" mentioned in the Fatima prophecies. In The Omen, its primary purpose is to signal Damien's birth. As for the other books, Damien sets the stage for the Antichrist to manipulate famine conditions so as to lock up control of the starving nations. This is fully in accord with the traditional legend.

Baal repeats the Satanic conception and wunderkind themes, and as in The Final Conflict, the Antichrist is pictured as a perverse nihilist, a la the Marquis de Sade. Baal says to a Catholic priest, "Your god is one of white­ steepled churches. That's all; beyond the church doors He has no strength. Mine is the god of the alleys, the whorehouse, the world. Mine is the true king.” (p. 60) . The novel element in Baal is that the Antichrist is set in an Islamic context. Instead of posing as the returned Christ, Baal pretends to be "the Living Muhammad" (i.e., the Mahdi, or messianic savior from Muhammad's line).

Virgin also departs from the standard fundamentalist framework by taking its departure from the Catholic cult of Our Lady of Fatima, wherein the Virgin Mary is expected to defeat Satan at the end of time. In this clever book, the Pope finally reveals the famous secret portions of the Fatima mes­sage. It turns out that in the last days, now upon us, there are to be two virgin births, of Christ and Antichrist. The problem is to determine which is which. One twist follows another till the very end of the book, when we discover that there are three virgin births. There are two Antichrists, and Christ is born female! Fascinating.

This all brings us to one of the most interesting aspects of the whole matter. The Omen trilogy, Baal, and Virgin all make clever use of various features of the legend. Their main purpose in so doing is to tell a good tale. But it is striking how they manage to accentuate certain theological points better than the admittedly religious novels do. If one looks carefully, each of the novels has a distinctive theological structure.

The Omen portrays the coming of Antichrist as an inexorable doom, the scourge of humanity. Unlike the current fundamentalist cheer-leading for Armageddon, much historic Christian belief has dreaded the coming of the End, even calling it "Doomsday.” It was seen as a sword of Damocles, suspended above a sinful world ripe for judgment. Christ, of course, was to be the judge. In The Omen, there is actually no place for a second coming of Christ. Anti­christ takes his place as the executioner of humanity, an avenging angel “turning man against his brother, till man exists no more.” The only hope of avert­ing this doom is to slay the infant Antichrist before it is too late. And it is too late. A sense of fatalistic foreboding builds as the story progresses, as attempt after attempt to stop the child fails. As in the apocalyptic writings, the countdown is underway and no one can avert it.

We can pass over Damien, which essentially re-does the story of The Omen a few years later and less effectively, just marking time until The Final Conflict. This book is an ingenious reversal of the premise of The Omen. Now a new star signals not Damien’s birth, but the rebirth of Christ. This time, it is Damien who must frantically try to destroy the child before it is too late. For if he fails, the world will be "forced to endure a second ordeal of Jesus Christ," the dawn of the Millennium. Despite the large number of New Testa­ment texts which explicitly predict the return of Christ as an adult descending directly from heaven, there actually is a biblical precedent for The Final Con­flict’s version. In the Book of Revelation, we find a pas sage (Revelation 12:1­6) which seems to have been incorporated from a pre-Christian Jewish docu­ment. It shows Satan (symbolized as the Dragon)  chasing a pregnant woman into the desert, where he seeks to devour her new-born Son who is clearly supposed to be the Messiah. The Child is rescued, snatched away to safety. The important point is that the Christ is shown being born in the Last Days as an infant, not appearing full-grown. And this is exactly the way it happens in The Final Conflict, at least in the book. The movie jerks the rug out from under its own feet by having Christ return as an adult after all, contradicting the whole of the preceding story.

Baal highlights still another neglected element of the apocalyptic tradi­tion. This is the doctrine of the two ages. How do we explain the presence of suffering and evil in a world supposedly ruled by God? Apocalyptic thinkers believed that God was allowing Satan to rule in the present age, but would soon put a stop to it. Then he would bring in a new golden age, the Millennium. The Messiah would destroy the Antichrist to bring this about. Now all this is just a step away from admitting that God is not really in control, but is only one of two equal forces (the other being Satan) fighting over the world. Evil abounds when Satan has the upper hand, and vice versa.

This is known as "dualism" and became the chief doctrine of one of early Christianity's fiercest competitors, Manichaeism. Baal puts the Antichrist legend into an out-and-out dualistic framework. In this book, the danger posed by the Antichrist Baal is that he will forever upset and destroy the eternal balance between the co-equal powers Jehovah and Satan. Actually, this is closer to Michael Moorcock's Elric novels, where the hero tries to prevent either Law or Chaos from upsetting the balance, than it is to traditional Christianity. But one wonders if something like this isn't implied in a belief in Satan.

Finally, Virgin is by and large an imaginative reworking of many themes found in The Omen and The Final Conflict. Both Christ and Antichrist are born, and agents of each try to kill the other. The distinctive thing here is that the rebirth of Christ is neither a mission of judgment nor one of millennial salvation. Rather, it seems to be a "second chance" offered to humanity. Christ will appear as a humble teacher and healer, giving the message of peace and repentance all over again. This time maybe we will listen. Surprisingly, this notion has no support at all in the apocalyptic tradition. This may be a sur­prise, since if you mentioned a "second coming of Christ" to most people, this is probably what would come to mind. Nor is it hard to guess why. Come to think of it, it does seem a bit incongruous to implicate Jesus, the compassionate savior of Christians, in all that cosmic bloodshed. Can we really imagine Jesus Christ stoking Kirban's "yawning barbecue pits of hell"?



If this article has illustrated anything at all, it would have to be that one finds both fiction and theology in the strangest places! Taking off from the current end-of-the-world craze, we surveyed the legend of the Antichrist. Then we saw how fundamentalists tried, with limited success, to appropriate the medium of fiction for propaganda purposes. The result was routine scare-tactics, with the bright exception of Carol Balizet's engaging novel The Seven Last Years. Finally, we found that several avowedly fictional books on the Antichrist reworked the legend in entertaining ways. Not only that, but in the process, they came up with some thought-provoking religious insights. On the whole, it is tempting to conclude that the novelists did a better job writing theology than the theologians did writing fiction. If this is true, it is probably because both good fiction and good theology grow from a soil of free- soaring imagination, unfettered by orthodox conformism.



Bousset, William. The Antichrist Legend. London: n. p., 1 8960

Culleton, R. Gerald (ed.). The Reign of Antichrist. Rockford, Ill.: TAN Books and Publishers, 1974.

Huchede, P. History of Antichrist. Rockford, Ill.: TAN Books and Publishers, 1971.

Pink, Arthur W. The Antichrist. Minneapolis: Klock & Klock Christian Publishers, 1979.

Puhalo, Lev, Apostasy and Antichrist. Trans. Vasili Novakshonoff. Jordanville, N. Y.: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1978.


 By Robert M. Price


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