Explaining the sixth dispensation to a Jewish seven-year-old genius was hard enough for Mercy, but Tina’s innocent goodness, and the positive response it inevitably elicited from her classmates, rubbed Mercy’s nose in her own spiteful bad faith.
“Sixth dispensation,” Mercy began as if she were beginning a boring lecture. “Contemporary affairs. The modern period.”
She moved her tray to clear a shared space on the lunch table for an open Scofield Bible. “It starts with Genesis 12:1-3.
“The Lord had said to Abraham, ‘Leave your country and your people. Leave your father’s family. Go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you. I will make your name great. You will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you. I will put a curse on anyone who calls down a curse on you. All nations on earth will be blessed because of you. ’ ”
Tina followed the sentences above her friend’s finger. Mercy said the passage had inspired the cheerleaders’ tribute to Israel during Monday’s welcoming ceremony for the Einstein sisters.
“We live in the sixth dispensation, the Age of Israel,” she said. “You support Israel, right?” Mercy asked.
“Sure,” said Tina. “I have a special friend in Bethlehem, like I told the class. And I get emails from Jewish kids who belong to ‘Children of the Candles’, an Israeli-Palestinian peace club.”
“And you know,” Mercy continued, “most American Jews are going back.”
“None that I know personally,” Tina replied. “Most of the people in Park Slope and Eternal Memory Beach own their own homes. All their friends live here.” She said that she’d heard of only a few fundamentalist Jews from Brooklyn, and that they had settled in occupied Palestine rather than Israel.
“The men wear beards, ear locks, and yarmulkes,” she reported. “The women shave their heads and wear wigs. Most Jews I know like living in America. They’re just as happy here as the birds and animals were happy before the flood in Genesis. I’m sure the cats didn’t welcome a flood nor did the elephants like being cooped up in Noah’s Ark.”
“Well,” huffed Mercy, “God didn’t give America to Abraham. He gave him Israel.”
Impatiently, she thumbed to Genesis 15:18, while Tina spread animal crackers over her soup.
“On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham. He said, ‘I am giving this land to your children after you. It reaches from the river of Egypt to the great river Euphrates.’ That’s where all the Jews belong,” Mercy emphasized.
“There are a lot of people living between those two rivers already,” Tina said. “Palestinians, Egyptians, Jordanians, and Iraqis.”
“Forget them!” Mercy retorted. “First come, first served. The Jews lived there first. The proof is right under your nose.” She took a swig of soda.
Tina was puzzled. “Most of Israel is as overcrowded as Noah’s Ark. It’s the size of little New Jersey. There’s more open space in Florida. And the Euphrates is in Iraq, three countries away from Israel. What if we don’t want to go?”
“Not you! You’re a Christian now,” Mercy snapped. “You’re complete.”
Tina reached over and nudged Mercy’s finger to the next lines, Genesis 15:19-21 and took her turn reading.
“ ‘It includes the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites and Rephaites. The Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites also live there.’ What about those people?” she asked. “How could God give their land away without asking their permission?”
“Because they didn’t worship Jehovah!” Mercy retorted. “Don’t you remember today’s quiz question about the Garden of Eden?”
Mercy resented Tina’s questioning the assigned material, so she tried to sidetrack her with a personal appeal. “Look!” she said. “Those people hated the Jews. They were anti-Semitic.”
Tina was troubled by Mercy’s reasoning. She’d heard the same thinking from the snotty Brooklyn Jewish kids whose families became messianic Israeli settlers. They had started by quoting Genesis and had wound up calling her Christian Palestinian pen pal Fatima an “Amalekite.” They taunted Tina by describing the horrible ways they planned to kill all the nasty “Amalekites”.
Tina remembered almost every word she’d read in the Bible. “But the Hittites, Canaanites—all the ‘ite’s’—were descendants of Adam and Eve,” she protested. “I don’t remember God creating anyone else out of dirt and ribs.”
Mercy slammed down her spoon. “Forget the pesky little ‘ite’s’! Only two groups of people count then and now. Jews and Christians. All the rest are no better than animals. Worse! They had the power to choose between a loving God or a pagan idol, and they made the wrong choice.”
“What about Palestinians?” Tina asked, dipping her spoon into her soup.
“When we use the word ‘Palestinians’,” Mercy explained with forced patience, “we mean Jews. Palestine is just another word for Israel, the Jewish homeland. Some people squatting over there call themselves Palestinians, but the real Jews call the squatters Amalekites.”
Tina dropped her spoon and twisted in her chair. Suddenly world history was coming alive, but in a grotesque way. Up to now, Christian Zionism’s seven dispensations had been abstract, like algebraic or trigonometric concepts. But the suffering and oppression of the Palestinian people was real.
In a flash, the precocious child realized she had dumbed herself down in exchange for popularity. That was her oldest sister Maxine’s accusation against her second sister, Norma. Like Maxine, Tina had assumed that she could breeze through school based on superior intelligence and prodigious knowledge.
Amalekites! No longer could she continue to compartmentalize her peace-loving Israeli and Palestinian friends from her new Christian classmates. No longer could she suppress her principles to please her peers.
The Einstein family had cheered Maxine’s verbal attack in Jerusalem on land-grabbing Zionists, especially after Prime Minister Netanyahu called the eldest Einstein sister a “self-hating Jew.” While Norma was perfecting her Green Machine motor scooter in the Park Slope garage, Tina had canvassed the neighborhood for odd jobs—to fold clothes, run errands, and baby sit to send schoolbooks to refugee camps overflowing with the grandchildren of Arab families driven out of their ancestral villages in 1948 and 1967.
Her Arab pen pals in the Middle East wanted to live together, in one country, Israel-Palestine, for two peoples and three religions. Her Israeli friends were afraid that Zionism would lead to Jewish fundamentalists ruling Israel. Her Palestinian friends feared a similar development. If Palestine became a separate country, Islamic fundamentalists might take over and make life unbearable not only for Christian Arabs, but moderate Palestinian Muslims as well.
Now Tina found herself studying with Christians who relished her Israeli friends’ nightmare of sectarian strife and condemned her Palestinian friends’ dream for a better future. Suddenly Tina’s combative home school mind-set jumped into gear.
“Here it is,” Mercy declared. “Exodus 17: 14: I will completely erase the memory of the Amalekites from the earth.”
Tina had often raised the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Jesus, who came to visit in her closet. He was unwavering in His support for the Einstein family’s position on Israel. Even Tina’s imaginary friend, Biblical Moses, reluctantly had to agree that God sent His son Jesus to end the bloody tribalism of the Old Testament. She had listened to Jesus convince Moses that nowadays all people deserved their own promised land. All poor people would inherit the entire earth. Now Tina was boiling inside.
Mercy thumbed to another chapter, munching on a celery stalk.
“Deuteronomy 25:19: The Lord your God will give you peace and rest from all of the enemies who are around you. He’ll do it in the land he’s giving you to take over as your very own. Then you will wipe out the memory of the Amalekites from the earth. Don’t forget to do it!”
Mercy shut the Bible. “That’s what the Israeli settlers are doing right now—faithfully following God’s commandment. The Bible says that God gave the Jews Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates, so slaying all the Arab men, women and children is, like, cool.”
“What about the Ten Commandments,” Tina asked.
“Jews can violate the commandments with Gentiles,” she explained. “Jehovah was constantly ordering them to kill, covet, steal, and rape— especially Amalekites.”
“What about my friend Fatima?”
She reminded Mercy that Palestinian Christians were the direct descendants of the followers of Jesus. They speak Aramaic, Jesus’ language. Twenty-percent of the Arabs in Palestine in 1947 were Christians. So were 50,000 of the 800,00 Arabs driven out by armed Zionists in 1948. The Israelis destroyed entire Christian villages and demolished their churches.
“What about the Christian Arabs driven out by Jews?” she asked. Her soup was getting cold and her animal crackers soggy.
Mercy shook her butter knife. “Do you know who Amalek was?”
“He was the son of Esau, Abraham’s grandson,” Tina answered.
“But Isaac cursed his son Esau and blessed his brother Jacob,” Mercy reminded her.
Mercy didn’t realize that the Einstein family sibling rivalry had left Tina with more than an academic interest in the story of the brothers Jacob and Esau.
“But that blessing wasn’t fair!” Tina exclaimed. “Jacob was a dirty little sneak! He used a bowl of stew to con Esau into giving up his inheritance. Then he fooled his old, blind father into thinking he was Esau to get his papa’s blessing. I don’t think it was right for God to reward a conniving little cheat like that.”
Jacob’s story also hit a nerve with the flagrantly opportunistic Mercy. The two girls naturally picked opposite dogs in the old Biblical fight.
“Listen Tina! If God wants to favor sneaky cheats, that’s His business. As long as they obey Him! I do, and so should you!”
Tina’s soup was stone cold. The animals had sunk from view. So she gulped it down between objections.
“Those people were still family,” she protested, wiping her lips. “I just can’t imagine why God started the fighting among the descendents of Adam and Eve by giving away all the ‘ites’ land to the Israelites. Mercy, do you think Jesus believed in settling family quarrels by killing all male cousins, enslaving women cousins, burning their homes, and killing all their pets?”
“Listen, Tina, don’t be weird! God blessed some guys like Abel, Isaac, and Jacob. He cursed other guys like Cain, Ishmael, and Esau. Blessing and cursing was His job! The guys that He cursed, He killed. And He gave their stuff totally to the blessed guys and their seed.”
“You’re wrong!” Tina retorted, raising her voice. “God defended Cain after he killed his brother, vowing ‘sevenfold vengeance’ on anyone who hurt him. The ‘mark of Cain’ was a sign of God’s protection. Mercy, if you don’t do your homework, you’ll lose your number two chair in class, and we won’t be able to sit with each other! Besides, weren’t Ishmael, Esau, and Amalek Abraham’s seed too? Jesus was both Abraham’s seed and God’s son. He said, ‘Love your enemies’ and ‘blessed are the peacemakers.’”
“Forget Jesus!” Mercy growled. “What does He have to do with it? Genesis 18 and Exodus are fourth dispensation. Jesus wasn’t even around. He’s fifth dispensation.”
“But you’re teaching me the sixth dispensation.”
“I am! But it’s based on the first five.”
“So Jesus counts. I just don’t understand your Christianity, Mercy,” Tina complained. “Are you saying that God wants Jews to kill Palestinian Christians, burn their villages, demolish their churches, and drive them into dirty refugee camps where their grandchildren will have to grow up? Palestinian refugees are like the European Jews. They can’t go home because their houses are occupied by people who don’t belong there. The refugee camps are like concentration camps except the Jews don’t run them, and the inmates don’t get gassed. They just can’t leave except by dying or winning the lottery. What would you do if you were one of those Christians? What would Jesus do if he were one of them in 1948 or 1967 when the Jews with guns marched into His village and told him to leave?”
Without batting an eye, Mercy shot back, “If Jesus were a real Christian, He’d have studied the Oxford University Press Scofield Bible and known about the sixth dispensation. When Abraham’s seed knocked on His door, He’d pack up His belongings and hand His house keys to the nearest Israeli settler.”
“Why?” Tina choked on the last soggy elephant.
“Because, stupid, He would know that the Jews had to reclaim all the land between the two rivers and worship Satan so that He could come back, kill all of them, and get His homeland back. Then He could destroy the world.”
Tina finished the last drop of Coca-Cola. “Mercy, your Christianity is crazy!”
“It’s in the Bible. Tina,” Mercy whined, “why don’t you just memorize the verses? Don’t question God’s literal word!”
Miss Bowdler reached into a corner utility closet for an old style round broom. Then she stooped to a lower shelf and set on the counter an exact replica of the Wicked Witch’s hat from the 1939 film. She locked the library door from the inside. Angela watched Miss Bowdler’s wrinkled hands lift the witch’s cap and position it on her head. The old woman squinted her eyes and put her fingers to her lips like the movie witch, and, for the first time caught Angela in her gaze.
“Hello dearie,” she chortled in a familiar raspy voice.
“Being as you’re busy, ma’am,” said Angela apprehensively, “I’ll start putting up the books.”
“Yes, you do that,” Miss Bowdler cackled, as if Angela were engaged in a sinister enterprise. The librarian looked into the gentle-hearted black woman’s big eyes and recognized the fear she could arouse in the students—especially the grade school kids—even without her secret costume. Despite Angela’s best efforts to ignore her supervisor, she couldn’t stop staring, frozen in place.
“I bet you think,” Miss Bowdler said, relishing Angela’s attention, “that I look like the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz.”
Miss Bowdler’s voice carried the angry edge and deceptive inflections of the evil villain in the film.
Angela found herself spellbound by the weird woman. The bus driver felt compelled to watch by the same morbid fascination that kept her, as a child, from covering her eyes when she first saw the horrifying witch on the screen from the Negro balcony in the segregated movie house in Lynchburg, Virginia.
“Well?” the old woman prodded.
“Ma’am,” Angela replied softly, determined to avoid the word “witch.”
“I don’t mean to offend, but you do have a likeness to the actress in the movie.”
“Margaret Hamilton?” Miss Bowdler uttered the name with reverence.
Angela hoped she’d stay behind her counter.
“Let me assure you, Miss Jordan,” the librarian said with a sardonic scowl, “I use this hat as a disciplinary tool only — not for entertainment.”
“How do you use it?” Angela asked, curious despite her repulsion.
“Oh, I never have to wear it. Just the threat from setting it on my counter melts a child into the floor,” she reported with sadistic satisfaction.
“I haven’t tried it on since I started wearing my hair in a bun.” She rotated the black brim. “My monitor functions like a mirror, but how do I look from the side?”
Angela caught the jagged half-moon profile with the sharp chin and hatchet nose. All that was lacking was make-up. That effect was achieved when the librarian patted her cheeks with fluorescent green powder from a jar. She left the counter and stepped in front of the exit door.
Intimidated by Miss Bowdler’s threatening broom, Angela backed toward the wall of shelves. She’d forgotten all about Reverend Hal Lindsey’s new books.
“I look scary, don’t I?” There was a heartless pride in the question.
Lady, you are scary! Angela thought.
She imagined little Tina Einstein in her place, pilloried against the empty shelves, with the library door blocked by scowling, emerald-puss Bowdler wearing a Wicked Witch’s hat and shaking a witch’s broom.
I can see the woman flying around the Halloween school bonfire, while Principal Godley feeds the flames with the library books we’ve just processed.
Angela’s shoulder blades pressed against the empty shelves. She remembered the books on the caddy.
“If you don’t mind ma’am, I’ll shelve these books now.”
Emboldened by the feigned confidence in her voice, Angela took a few steps away from the stacks and grabbed Lindsey’s The Final Battle. Miss Bowdler froze with a menacing gleam in her eyes. Angela looked at the clock over the door.
“Miss Bowdler, don’t forget that Dr. Godley wants the books up right away for the guest. I don’t know what else you have planned today, but I’m supposed to warm up my bus in a few hours. I have an obligation to make sure that Maxine, Norma, and Tina arrive at home safe after their second day of school.”
“Safe? No child is safe — unless they’re born again.”
Oh no! Angela thought. This little act is a trick to try to convert me to her denomination.
“Ma’am, I was properly born again by Reverend Martin Luther King himself in the Ebenezer Baptist Church. Our minister wanted us kids to remember the experience so he bussed us down to Atlanta. Reverend King had just been released from jail in Montgomery. We met Rosa Parks too.”
She wanted to add, Reverend King was a far cry from Reverend Moriah Godley and you, old Wicked Witch!
Angela suddenly realized Miss Bowdler had not cast one anxious glance at the overhead surveillance cameras since Godley’s departure.
“Aren’t you worried about someone watching—jeopardizing your job, ma’am?”
“That’s absurd!” the librarian snapped. “Oh! The cameras? They’re off. Temporary outage. My job is secure. I told you that I edited Dr. Moriah Godley’s book. It’s just you and me, dearie—”
“I didn’t know he was a writer, ma’am. I knew he was a professional wrestler and accidentally killed his own partner in a tag team match,” Angela recounted. “I knew about his conversion and the doctorate of divinity from Dallas Theological Seminary—”
The more Angela talked, the more confidence she felt.
“—that information and the ringside photos are part of the Shepherd’s Vale bus driver’s handbook.”
“Well, speaking as his editor, he is a passionate writer,” the Wicked Witch announced.
Angela asked, “Why didn’t you mention his book on yesterday’s tour? It’s fiction?”
“Fiction!” It was as if the word were a razor nicking the tip of the old woman’s tongue. “It’s not fiction, and it’s just been published, dummy,” she snapped.
With a haughty broom shake, Miss Bowdler lunged for the empty ARMAGEDDON shelf.
Angela jumped over to the BASIC TRUTH shelves.
“Dr. Godley’s book goes here,” Miss Bowdler exclaimed, “Armageddon!”
She shook her finger at Angela. “You just wait and see, dearie. It will outsell Late Great Planet Earth, Left Behind, and the Scofield Bible combined! And you were moaning about working for a sect! Ha!”
“An entire shelf—floor to ceiling–for one book?” Angela challenged, holding her ground. “I can see an airport gift shop, but this is a school library.”
Angela was strengthened by the moral authority of yesterday’s research into Christian Zionism and the effectiveness of Martin Luther King’s name in deflecting what she mistakenly thought was Miss Bowdler’s proselytizing. She was proud that she was able to connect her own life experience with her reading, Miss Bowdler’s theology, and Maxine’s talk in the dressing room yesterday.
“Aren’t Lindsey and Godley both dispensationalists? Aren’t they both disciples of John Nelson Darby and Cyrus Ingersoll Scofield? Don’t they belong to the fellowship of 70 million conscious or unconscious Americans watching the same Christian Zionist televangelists?”
Angela could tell the librarian was surprised she was so well informed. Feeling righteous, she decided to needle a bit, free from the camera’s prying eye.
“Why did you say Principal Godley burned Hal Lindsey’s books last Halloween? Do I detect a tad of professional jealousy?” Angela asked. “How many books did you say Lindsey has published? How many books has our principal written? Maybe he’s relieved that Dr. Lindsey couldn’t come and speak at Friday’s memorial ceremony.”
Miss Bowdler crept a step forward.
“Believe me, woman, this has everything to do with dispensationalism and nothing to do with personalities,” she retorted. “Friday, Dr. Godley was going to expose the faker’s fatal flaw in front of God and the entire Shepherd’s Vale community. He was lusting for the duel!”
Angela waved the dust cloth like a handkerchief and winked, as she addressed the last book on the caddy. “Sorry, Hal, the duel’s been called off. Godley won without a shot fired.”
“Listen!” Miss Bowdler growled, stepping back with her broom. “Stop shaking that infernal dust cloth!”
Following Godley’s Monday briefing, the loyal librarian reiterated Lindsey’s changing predictions to chase the fashion of the times. First, Russia was the Beast that would obliterate Israel. Then the Soviet Union collapsed. Now Beast Saddam Hussein was going to destroy Israel. First the communists were Satan incarnate. Then the Reds were forgotten, and Muslims morphed into the new antichrists. Lindsey was now predicting that the Antichrist was going to arrive in a massive armada of UFOs and fool Christians into believing that there was life on other planets.
Angela quipped, “Let’s hope Saddam Hussein doesn’t pass away until he’s grown horns and a tail and landed in Jerusalem — for Hal Lindsey’s sake, mind you.”
Miss Bowdler was too excited to catch the sarcasm. “Well, that’s hardly the only example! In the sixties student protestors were Satan’s workers. When the love children disappeared, so did that passage in Lindsey’s books. Every edition of Late Great Planet Earth changes history. Humbug! History is fixed. You do believe that, Angela?”
“That’s common sense, Miss Bowdler. You can’t change the past.”
“Exactly,” the witch affirmed. “And the same principle applies to the future!”
“You can’t change the future? I’m lost,” Angela confessed.
“Of course you are! You’ve closed your mind.”
Angela Jordan was a grandmother with a multitude of cantankerous in-laws and out-laws, including an obnoxious but popular local rap star who called himself “Ice Man Cleo.” She considered herself the poster lady of open-mindedness.
“Look,” Miss Bowdler said, with stern but disarming agreeableness. “Take a computer chair and let’s talk about your job in this library and the Book of Revelation.”
An offer! I can prove I’m open-minded for a regular job!
“Ma’am, aren’t you going to sit down too?”
“I’d prefer to stand, but you sit.”
“Ma’am, I feel like I’ve got no choice but to follow orders. I would like to work here between bus runs.”
Reluctantly she laid the dust cloth between the computers. Angela rolled the office chair backwards, towards Juanito’s “No Other God” computer, sat down, and looked up at the librarian.
Miss Bowdler’s spidery fingers ticked off the major End Time events.
“I prep the children for Dr. Godley’s new high school history achievement tests that he’s drafting for Florida’s Ten Commandment pilot schools,” she boasted. “Even a drooling Flying Monkey can understand what the Bible says.”
“So pretend I’m a Flying Monkey,” Angela replied, remembering the identical label Maxine had used in the bus to refer to Republican neo-conservatives.
“You’re not a Flying Monkey,” the witch hissed.
“Okay, I’m not a Flying Monkey,” Angela conceded.
“The Tribulation lasts seven years,” Miss Bowdler began. “God’s chosen dynamite crew in Israel will blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount and rebuild Herod’s Temple, according to strict Biblical architectural specifications. We have a full-scale model here at Shepherd’s Vale.”
“Really?” Angela felt the excitement in Miss Bowdler’s well-rehearsed “future history” lesson. She was happy to take the weight off her feet. If the boss didn’t worry about surveillance, why should she?
A regular job near the Einstein sisters!
“After 3½ years the Beast will seize the Temple from the folks who built it. He’ll build an army against God, then declare he is God.”
“The Beast is Satan?”
“No not Satan,” she corrected with the cold, practiced patience of someone prepping slow-witted students. “Satan is God’s opponent. The Antichrist or Beast is Christ’s opponent.”
“No! Christ is God’s battlefield general. The Antichrist is Satan’s chief of staff. The battle will last for 3½ more years. A quarter of mankind will perish during the seven years of Tribulation.”
Angela gripped the arms of the chair. Was Miss Bowdler serious?
“This school believes that?” she queried.
“Absolutely! That is what a quarter of all Americans believe. It’s what 40 percent of all Republican voters believe. It’s what the party’s standard-bearer, George W. Bush, believes. Al Gore says he is a born-again Christian, but he doesn’t know what he believes.”
“Really?” Angela blew dust off her janitor’s smock.
“Really!” Miss Bowdler mocked, irritated by the break in her narrative. “The entire world will be sucked into the war of Armageddon and most of its inhabitants will die horrible deaths. Survivors of the Tribulation will find their skin covered with cancer. The oceans, rivers, and lakes will turn into blood.”
“You mean when you turn on the faucet or flush the toilet—“ Angela cringed at the bliss in Miss Bowdler’s voice.
“Blood—all blood,” Miss Bowdler exclaimed, with emerald beads of sweat gathering under the brim of her witch’s hat.
“People will thirst, and the sun will scorch the earth. There will be fires everywhere too big to extinguish. The earth will quake so violently that the islands of the sea will disappear.”
She accidentally whacked a fluorescent fixture with her broom, and Angela ducked until the bulbs stopped flickering.
“That horrible stuff is going to happen?” Angela exclaimed, raising her head. “When?”
“Apostate Lindsey can’t figure out the answer to the question, When? But Dr. Godley’s book gives the answer. Armageddon won’t happen until good Christian people make it happen!”
“Whoa,” Angela interrupted. “If folks can make it happen, can’t they stop it from happening? Supposing most of the world’s inhabitants don’t take kindly to roasting, drowning, or drying up?”
Miss Bowdler looked astonished.
“Do you want to make the Bible untrue? That’s apostasy!”
“Ma’am, let me ask you a question—”
Miss Bowdler bent forward wickedly as if ready to fight or flee.
“—in all honesty, is that the kind of world you want to come about? Is that the kind of misery, suffering and pain you look forward to watching on Fox News at Six with your milk and cookies?”
“Oh!” the librarian sniffed, “I won’t be here. Our Rapture is the event that accompanies the beginning of the Tribulation. Born-again dispensationalists don’t need TVs. We’ll have bleacher seats in Heaven.”