If you doubt that the Jewish people would ever attempt something so audacious as replacing the Dome with the Temple, you need to know that some Jewish people are already planning for it.
John Hagee – Gorenberg, pg. 177
The purpose of an introductory essay is, primarily, to establish context for the work that follows. To a lesser degree, it is, if candidly written, a means of obtaining insight into the mind of the writer, specifically why he undertook the story in the first place, and what personal characteristics inform his research and writing. That said, let’s dispatch the latter objective first, as it is the easier of the two.
My gut reaction is to state here, for the record, that I am atheist. It’s what the Sam Harris’s and Christopher Hitchens’s of the world would regard as the only truly honest and forthright approach. Still, there is a definitional problem with all of this that gives me a bit of pause. At worst, I would regard myself as agnostic and absolutely non-religious (despite having been raised in a Baptist household). At the risk of arguing semantics or splitting hairs, and at the risk of oversimplifying what is, to some, a complex philosophical discussion, the difficulty I have with these two popular labels is that there is an inherent arrogance in the word atheist, in that the word suggests certain knowledge as to the absence of any higher power. That could, one day, turn out to be a fraught position to have adopted, regardless of one’s level of scientific comfort. Agnosticism, on the other hand, conveys the idea that one neither knows nor particularly gives a damn about the existence, or lack thereof, of a god. It’s a bit of a weasel word for those who aren’t sufficiently compelled by their own belief system to simply refuse outright to believe. It’s a hedge, when you get right down to it. For an interesting thought experiment, try sometime imagining what you would say if you are, in fact, a non-believer yet one day in a distant future you, nevertheless, find yourself standing before God explaining what exactly you did or didn’t choose to believe while you were alive on earth.
Because I am a nonbeliever (he said, dodging completely the conundrum raised above), I am equally dismissive of all faiths, in the sense that I find them all terribly arbitrary and spectacularly unfounded as regards the things they require adherents to believe. Be it virgin births, horses riding into heaven, translation stones in the bottom of hats, or what have you, believers are asked to suspend disbelief and embrace the one (and only one, so far as I can tell) fundamental characteristic on which all faiths agree, i.e.,the need for faith.
My interest in things religious is, therefore, a dispassionate and strictly intellectual one. In particular, I am fascinated by the impact that religion has on the daily lives of the billions who profess to practice one. And, most fascinating of all, I am continually intrigued by the capacity for the religious to resort to violence toward their fellow man in order to protect and perpetuate their faith above all others. I said earlier that faith was the only thing that unites the religions of the world. That isn’t quite accurate, upon reflection. One other important characteristic shared by all the world’s religions is a fervent belief that your group is the only one to have gotten it right, and that all other religions (including, of course, the nonreligious) are nothing more than heretics to be a) ignored, b) converted, c) persecuted, or d) in extreme cases, killed.
Indeed, many millions throughout history have been killed, tortured, persecuted, and disowned of their possessions (sometimes all four) in the name of religion, either because of the one they practice, or because they choose to profess none. A very significant portion of this mayhem has taken place in and around the Middle East, and has occurred because of the generally fraught interactions of Christians, Jews, and Muslims. And if there is a “ground zero” for this conflict, it must surely be the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which at thirty-seven acres, is easily the most conflict-ridden piece of real estate in the world. It is a place of special religious significance to all three groups, each monotheistic, and each adhering to a belief set that enfolds the Mount in some integral way.
A fundamental tenet of Judaism is that the end of time, from which this book’s title comes, cannot take place without first there occurring an elaborate series of events in and around the Mount, not least of which is the destruction of current structures and the erection of a Third Temple . There exist organizations whose sole purpose is the consummation of these events, the notion being that mankind can, if he undertakes the right actions, directly bring about—or at least accelerate—the end times so fervently desired by so many. Some of these organizations limit their activities to benign activities like fund raising or construction of elaborate temple models. Others have taken things a bit further and actually designed and created the garments specifically required for the ceremonies prophesied to follow construction of the temple. And still others have undertaken the breeding of perfect red heifers that are, as well, an integral part of these ceremonies. Finally, there exist less well publicized groups whose activities center around actively attempting to cause the destruction of the existing structures on the Temple Mount. Indeed, such destruction has come extremely close on numerous occasions through history, not only due to the assorted bombings that have been attempted, but by the much lauded Moshe Dayan himself immediately following the 1967 war, during which, for a short time before his rational side got the better of him, there sat bulldozers on the mount ready to begin razing the Dome. Indeed, for much of Dayan’s remaining life, he was chastised for missing what many regarded as the Jews’ best opportunity ever.
Days End is the story of three families, living very different lives in different parts of the world, but ultimately thrust together in ways that none fully understand and with consequences none can escape. All the forces described above converge, as the families converge, at a tragic crossroads. The story is, of course, fiction, but it is based on an entirely plausible sequence of motivations and actions. As events in the Levant continue their turbid journey, it will, in all likelihood, continue to be the Temple Mount that infuses the greatest passions, and results in the greatest tragedies.
Brian Kenneth Swain