[ by Charles Cameron — first in a series of three posts about celestial & terrestrial geographies ]
Joel Rosenberg, again. This time it’s Damascus he’s on about, and he’s been discussing it with “a prominent Member of Congress”:
… the official asked, “What are your thoughts on Isaiah 17?” For much of the next hour, therefore, we discussed the coming judgment of Damascus according to Bible prophecy, and how this scenario could possibly unfold in the coming years in relation to other Bible prophecies and current geopolitical trends in the Middle East.
Should we file that under Foreign Policy background, Syria?
Rosenberg clearly thinks Damascus is Damascus — and it’s easy to see why, it’s almost a tautology, one might think:
These prophecies have not yet been fulfilled. Damascus is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth. It has been attacked, besieged, and conquered. But Damascus has never been completely destroyed and left uninhabited. Yet that is exactly what the Bible says will happen. The context of Isaiah 17 and Jeremiah 49 are a series of End Times prophecies dealing with God’s judgments on Israel’s neighbors and enemies leading up to — and through — the Tribulation.
How exactly will Damascus be destroyed? When will exactly it be destroyed? What will that look like, and what will be the implications for the rest of Syria, for Israel and for the region? The honest answer is that the Bible does not say. I’m currently writing a novel entitled, The Damascus Countdown, that envisions how these prophecies could come to pass.
But wait — the idea that Damascus (the word) means Damascus (the place) may not be so obvious at all. Consider the possibility that the names of peoples and places are, well, somtimes a bit mixed up.
Read this, for instance, from Rafil Kroll-Zaidi, Byzantium: Their ears were uncircumcised, in Harper’s, May 2102:
The Byzantines called themselves Greeks (because they were) and also Romans (because they had been). To the Muslims, who had been the Arabs (who had coveted Constantinople even before they were Muslims) but were later the Turks, the Byzantines were usually the Romans (Rum) and sometimes, though these Romans spoke Greek, the Latins (which to the Byzantines meant the barbarians of Western Europe), and sometimes the Children of the Yellow One, who was Esau. The Arabs called the Byzantine emperor (who signed his letters in purple ink EMPEROR AND AUTOCRAT OF THE ROMANS) the Dog of the Byzantines, and by the fifteenth century the sultan of the Ottoman Turks (whom the Muslims farther east called Romans and whom the Byzantines called Trojans) called himself sultan i-Rum in expectation that he soon would be and in recognition that he already, for most purposes, was.
You can see why GEN Boykin might think Dearborn is Damascus:
Dearborn, in fact, I’ve been there a couple of times recently, and if you walk down the streets, you would think you were in Beirut or Damascus.
Just kidding — Boykin sees a cultural similarity between them, that’s all.
But Rum — that means Rome, remember? — figures prominently in Islamic apocalyptic, so we “need to know” what it actually refers to. Here’s Harun Yahya on the topic:
Another astonishing piece of revelation that the Quran gives about the future is to be found in the first verses of Surah Rum, which refers to the Byzantine Empire, the eastern part of the later Roman Empire. In these verses, it is stated that the Byzantine Empire had met with a great defeat, but that it would soon gain victory.
“Alif, Lam, Mim. The Romans have been defeated in the lowest land, but after their defeat they will themselves be victorious in a few years’ time. The affair is God’s from beginning to end.”(The Quran, 30:1-4)
Okay, Rome is Byzantium, got it. Constantinople. Istanbul.
Ibn Kathir, in The Signs Before Day of Judgement, offers this hadith from the collection Sahih Muslim:
Nafi’ ibn ‘Utbah said, “The Prophet said, ‘You will attack Arabia, and Allah will enable you to conquer it. Then you will attack Persia, and Allah will enable you to conquer it. Then you will attack Rome, and Allah will enable you to conquer it. Then you will attack the Dajjal, and Allah will enable you to conquer him.'”
Let’s get into a little more detail. Stephen Ulph quotes a writer in Al-Jama’a, a “periodical magazine on Algerian jihad affairs” in a 2004 piece in CTC’s Terrorism Monitor:
From Afghanistan comes the kernel of the Nation; it was the beginning…proud Iraq was not the end…for those infidels and the apostate agents in our lands there are not enough graves…it is high time that Rome had its Cross uprooted and the city decked out for the arrival of the new conquerors, passing through Al-Andalus and the Pavement of the Martyrs, and Vienna and Constantinople, to which we are yet drawn by a longing that grows in our breasts day by day. For our Prophet (who does not lie when he speaks, being the most truthful of speakers) did promise: “God hath set aside for me the world, and I beheld its east and western lands, and the dominion of my Nation shall reach unto that which was set aside for me.”
So Afghanistan is Afghanistan, Al-Andalus is Andalusia, Vienna is Vienna — and Rome is Rome along with the Vatican, eh?
Or is Al-Andalus Spain — or Afghanistan Khorasan for that matter?
I was reminded by another sentence in Rafil Kroll-Zaidi’s piece in Harper’s —
Halfway between Heaven and earth were tollbooths where demons taxed the sins of the Byzantines.
— of the beautiful opening sentences of Charles Williams‘ lyrical “short history of the Holy Spirit in the Church”, The Descent of the Dove:
The beginning of Christendom, is, strictly, at a point out of time. A metphysical trigonometry finds it among the spiritual Secrets, at the meeting of two heavenward lines, one drawn from Bethany along the Ascent of the Messias, the other from Jerusalem against the Descent of the Paraclete. That measurement, the measurement of eternity in operation, of the bright cloud and the rushing wind, is, in effect, theology.
And the title essay of Guy Davenport‘s book The Geography of the Imagination should give us a clue that confusion as to what exactly is where is not solely the province of prophets and their interpreters. In a memorable sentence about the American artist Grant Wood, he writes:
If Van Gogh could ask, “Where is my Japan?” and be told by Toulouse-Lautrec that it was Provence, Wood asked himself the whereabouts of his Holland, and found it in Iowa.
Damascus: Roberta F under CC BY-SA 3.0
Vatican: Sébastien Bertrand under CC BY 2.0
Istanbul: Preference-events & elsewhere
Vienna: Canaletto, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien via Wikipedia
Cordoba: Timor Espallargas under CC BY-SA 2.5
So. Where is Zion / Jerusalem?