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What's God Got to Do With It?

In the news, two apparently unrelated stories:

The first is that Baywatch "babe" Donna D'Errico got badly bruised climbing Mount Ararat looking for Noah's Ark. The second is a leaked document of Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu's first-strike plan for Iran.

Many people have a hard time seeing the connection between a Hollywood TV bunny looking for proof of God on a hilltop in Turkey and Israeli national security state calmly planning to trigger World War 3.

Look again.

After a month visiting Biblical sites in the Middle East, the connection between God and conflict in the Middle East becomes inescapable. Israel is filled with sites holy to all three major religions, and religious Jews regard the entire nation as a sacred site. It's not just a country with a flag, and a bureaucracy, and a budget, it's actually God's country. It's the spiritual made real.

This belief illuminates and inspires all manner of odd behavior, from settlers periodically trying to take back the Dome of the Rock from the Muslims in Old Jerusalem, to thousands of amateur archaeologists sifting through rubble cast off from the Temple Mount/Al Aqsa mosque plaza, hoping to find some bits of proof that Solomon's Temple lies beneath that, bits that could be used to take it and all of Jerusalem back for modern-day Israel -- as the Bible commands.

Israel religious-nationalist politicians' sense of entitlement, inherent in plans for unilateral pre-emptive bombing, always provokes an "end of days" resignation among Americans. That passivity is just one end of a spectrum related to belief in the "history" contained in the Bible.

On the other end of the spectrum, one finds people like World of Bible Ministries "archaeologist" Randall Price taking money from donors to search for Noah's Ark, and it's not cheap. One also finds documentary filmmakers and writers cashing in handsomely. One of them was backed by no less a Hollywood patriarch than James Cameron. The producers have claimed to find things like Christ's DNA in a Jerusalem cave, or the actual nails that nailed the Messiah top the cross, or John the Baptist's Cave. They "find" them and then as reliably as the Little Drummer Boy tooting through every Rite Aid on the day after Thanksgiving, they get their "new evidence" in front of millions of Americans around Easter-time on Discovery Channel or National Geographic TV.

For the same reason that James Cameron would back such a documentary -- gulled and moneyed blind American faith in Biblical truth -- our government will tacitly go along with many of Israel's craziest, maddest schemes.

Many of the Bible stories and characters in them -- Adam and Eve, Abraham, Noah, Moses, Solomon -- have no historical basis. The more archaeologists dig and the more historians search, the less certain they are of almost every aspect of the Bible, from Exodus to the conquest of the Promised Land to the existence of a grand ancient Israeli empire.

Certainly the real reasons behind Israel's preemptive strike plans have more to do with modern geopolitics than with the Bible. And the production of pseudo-science to sell believers on the historicity of the Bible, what one archaeologist had called "archaeo-porn" -- has more to do with money than faith.

But many among us -- from Christians in America to religious nationalists in Israel -- persist in reading the Bible, a document written in the 7th century BCE by a small group of priests in the desert, as a blueprint for God's plan for the Middle East, giving politicians like Netanyahu cover, and enriching charlatans who hawk proof of the Bible on TV and in print.

On many trips to Israel over the years, I have visited Megiddo, the site of the Biblical Armageddon -- the war to end all wars that will usher in the return of the Messiah. Busloads of Holy Land tourists -- many of them American Christians -- are driven onto this site every day, led by preachers waving the Bible, some pointing in the direction of Iran and quoting scripture about the forces of darkness and the end times, some even calculating the billions of cubic feet in the Biblical reference to rivers of blood filling the plains below at the end of days.

The site is actually one of the most fruitful and important archaeological excavations in the region, with 30 cities dating millennia on top of each other, yielding a wealth of actual information to modernity about the waves of poly-ethnic settlement in the area before and during the Biblical years, as well as the battles between the global powers of antiquity -- Egypt, Babylon, Assyria -- waged on this strategic spot.

The archaeologists who dig at the site every summer sometimes overhear the Holy Land guides spinning their Bible yarns, and they laugh at them, but no one bothers to correct them. Archaeologists and historians unfortunately don't engage much with misguided popular notions. Those who have challenged the very commercially lucrative Biblical versions of history are promptly sued or otherwise cowed into silence.

So a Baywatch beauty climbs the big hill looking for Noah's Ark and falls flat on her pretty face. And Bibi plans a Biblical-style wreaking of vengeance on the ancient force of darkness over God's mountains to the east.

I haven't been to Iran, but we already know the mullahs there are finding their own prophet-stamped encouragement for bellicosity.

Meanwhile, the godless rest of us can only stand and wait.

Or maybe we are supposed to ask God to help us.