I’ve been meaning for a while to do a few book reviews on this blog, but work on “The Curse of the Law” series–which has actually required me to back up and write prequels to the original blog post–has joined forces with my newborn baby girl and very typically two-year-old son to keep me from spending as much time reading as I’d like. If it weren’t for my Nook and having a bit of time to kill when rocking one of my kids to sleep, I’d get almost nothing done. However, there’s been one book recently that I just couldn’t put down, which in fact had me go back for a second read and had me scribbling notes in the margins. I figure such a book deserves to be my first ever review on this blog.
Peter Goodgame’s The Second Coming of the Antichrist (SCA, for short) is the sort of book which would be easy to dismiss at first glance as just so much apocalyptic pablum–at least for those who aren’t immediately drawn to the genre. However, while the book does indeed speculate heavily on the origins of the Antichrist, its take is unique to itself, and in the process of presenting his case, Goodgame has created a detailed study of history and mythology that even those with no interest in eschatology will find fascinating. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have it’s flaws, but I think the flaws are eclipsed by its vision.
The vast majority of SCA is a study on pre-history and comparative mythology, focused on a very Biblical mystery: Who exactly was Nimrod, the son of Cush? Though only appearing in Genesis 10 and a couple of relatively obscure prophetic references, the figure of Nimrod has been the subject of speculation by both Christian expositors and Jewish rabbis for millennia. The general consensus has been that he was the first world dictator, and instrumental in building the Tower of Babel (despite the fact that he isn’t mentioned in Genesis 11 at all). Goodgame carefully compares the ancient histories of Egypt and Mesopotamia together and sets forth a very good case that Nimrod was known to the Egyptians as Narmer and later as the god Osirus, to the Assyrians as Asshur, the founder of their culture, and to the Sumerians as Enmerkar. He further shows how the ancient mythologies of these peoples were essentially political and religious propaganda covering the true events that the Bible relates the truth of only in brief.
Central to Goodgame’s model of the Antichrist is the very Biblical belief that he will be a dark reflection or copy of the true Messiah, a point that Peter drives home throughout his book. He believes that the false messiah will copy the True not only in having some manner of “resurrection,” but also in having two “comings” separated by thousands of years.
Many will be critical of that final claim, arguing that Satan could have no power to truly resurrect a man. They may be right. They should read Goodgame’s book anyway. Even if one rejects his thesis about the ultimate nature of the Antichrist, the historical work he has done makes it a must-have for the shelf of any serious Bible student.
It should be noted that Goodgame has his own model of the timeline of the End Times that is pretrib in nature, but parts with classical pretrib on several key points. He develops this model in his other book Red Moon Rising to a far greater extent. I myself have some critiques of what I’ll call RMR pretribulationism, and I had the chance to query him on some of those points on the Iron Show a while back. While I am critical of some aspects of this model, I like the fact that Goodgame raises some very good points that highlight some areas of the prewrath model that I am not completely satisfied yet. I mention this because in SCA, he briefly explains his model and shows how his views here are consistent with it, but without developing a dependency between the two that would make SCA itself unpalatable for either classical pretribbers, or prewrathers like myself. My only objection is that instead of placing his model in a chapter in the middle of SCA, it would have been better placed as an appendix, so that those reading the book could go back and refer to it instead of having to wait until the middle of the book to find out what Goodgame believes in that regard.
I said before that SCA has its flaws, and it does. Goodgame makes a few errors in translating or connecting certain ancient Semitic and Hebrew terms. These are, fortunately, always tangential to his main point, but they are there. He also depends a great deal on the Septuagint (LXX) translation of the Tanakh (OT), which is to my mind risky. The LXX translators were good scholars, but the quality of their translation varies greatly from book-to-book (the introductory notes in the New English Translation of the Septuagint are very helpful in this regard). The also did their translation work in the “silent years” between Malachi and John the Immerser, when there was no prophet in Israel (see 1Macc. 4:46, 9:27, 14:41, cf. Amos 8:11), which means that the LXX is no more inspired than the King James Version. While I often refer to the LXX myself, I am suspicious of instances where it departs seriously from the Hebrew text, such as in ascribing longer lifespans to many of the men in the genealogies in Genesis. This results in problems such as having Methuselah surviving the Flood.
Goodgame is less critical of the LXX than I would be, and uses it to definitively place Nimrod at the time period of c. 3200 BCE. The biggest problem I can see with this is that the same archaeological techniques that allow us to date the Middle-eastern ruins also indicate that man had spread at least as far as China by the same time period, and there is a good bit of evidence that puts men in the Americas long before that. I agree that dating such ancient and pre-historical events is tricky at best, with a large margin for error, but there are some potential snarls in the timeline as Goodgame presented it which might bring one to conclude that
- Mankind had indeed spread out from Mesopotamia after the Flood, and the Nimrod/Tower story concerns the building of a one-world empire in the Middle-east that was nipped in the bud before the cancer could spread.
- The Nimrod narrative comes from a period long before Enmerkar/Narmor, and this individual was trying to replicate an event the memory of which is all but lost to the fog of history now.
- Secular historical dating is wrong about events anywhere except in the Middle-east.
These are of course not problems unique to SCA. They plague all attempts to firmly reconcile the Biblical accounts with secular historical dating. My own belief is that the Flood and the Tower took place much earlier than Goodgame puts it, and that the genealogies of Genesis are not meant to give an unbroken chronology. At the same time, Goodgame’s dating for the life of Narmer (possibly the Biblical Nimrod) is substantiated by secular historical work, so his arguments have quite a bit of merit, and my quibbles here should not be taken as an attack on his position, just a dissatisfaction that we have enough of the pieces to put the puzzle together yet.
Finally, I do think that Goodgame’s view of the relationship between our current social-political context and the End Times–that is, that he sees little relationship between the Antichrist and any current political entity, though he does note the obsession the Freemasons and related groups have with Osirus–is a bit naive. I realize why he has a desire to avoid tying the Antichrist to any current national groups or movements, and applaud his concern that, for example, Muslims not be singled out as an enemy to be destroyed. As he aptly puts it, “The problem comes in when Christians believe that they must react to every new scheme of the devil by being worried or offended and by responding in fear or by force” (pp. 4f). Exactly! He and I have very different views as to what the final religion of the Beast will look like, but we agree on how we must approach those caught up in falsehood. We must regard them as victims to love and rescue, not as enemies to cut down on the field of battle! Nevertheless, we do have very different views on the current players on the field.
I sent Peter a multi-page commentary on his work that I won’t share here now, but which both of us hope will be the basis for a second podcast interview on the subject. Instead, I will end with this observation: Goodgame has a wonderful writing style that somehow combines a genuine love and humility with incisive logic. I would that more of us in this field focuses on presenting positive cases for our own views instead of attacking those who disagree with us. I also admire that he was willing to put the book down for several years when he realized that he had neglected his relationship with the Lord.
In short, Peter Goodgame is a true Christian. Though he and I would take his work in different directions in some cases, reading his book has had a profound impact on my own comparative studies. I hope that you will give it the opportunity to do the same for yours.