Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Literally the Best Reviews: Alpha and Omega

Alpha & Omega - Harry Turtledove
Del Ray Publishers
469 Pages

Harry Turtledove is the master of alternative history, which is one of the genres that I really like. It’s not as high as time travel novels, but alternative history is the ultimate “what if.” Those books make you think a little more, and are very interesting. Is that possibility realistic? Can the reader wrap their head around it and accept that outcome. Turtledove is one of the best, and I’ve read a lot of his books. While Alpha & Omega is not an alternative history, it is a Turtledove book. When I saw it on the shelf at the library, I had to bring it home with me.

Alpha & Omega centers on an archaeological dig at the Temple Mount or Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. What seems like a normal dig turns to something more extraordinary after a dirty bomb explodes in Tel Aviv, a red heifer is discovered, and the dig itself discovers something momentous. Is it the End of Times when the long-lost Ark of the Covenant is discovered below the Temple Mount?

This novel draws heavily from the Jewish religion, customs, traditions, and mythology. The characters are secondary to these things. The main focus of this novel is prophecies coming to fruition with the return of the Third Temple to the Temple Mount. The characters are simply a means to achieve that goal.

Eric Katz is considered by the reviews to be the main character of the book. An archaeologist from Los Angeles, he is on a dig in Jerusalem, although not under the Temple Mount initially. Around the same time, a sign is found in America that presages the End of Days and the revival of the Temple. Experts from Israel travel to the Deep South in the United States to investigate this sign, a red heifer. The cow is taken back to Jerusalem for veneration and sacrifice.

As the heifer is heading towards its fate, a dirty bomb strikes Tel Aviv. Israeli leaders take this moment to infiltrate the forbidden areas below the Temple Mount for some archaeological excavations.  While exploring previously unexplored areas, the team comes across a stone wall that beckons them to look beyond. Floating in the darkness, assumed lost for millenia, is the Ark of the Covenant. All the pieces of the prophecy are coming together.

Jerusalem is sacred to three major religions - Judaism. Christianity, and Islam. All three are eager to maintain their hold upon their respective fiefdoms, often to the detriment of the other sects. If one of the prophecies from one religion comes true, what does that mean for the other two? Is their faith any less valid? What of their dogma? 

The most difficult part of this would be to find a way where all three religions are given their moment in the spotlight, and not to overshadow one over any other. As is pointed out in this novel, they all revere the same God. Harry Turtledove weaves together a tale that gives all three religions on the Temple Mount a piece of the End of Days prophecy. No one is left out despite perceived fears among the faithful. Ultimately, this book is about having faith. It’s different from religion, but faith should be strong. 

I loved the historical mystery and religious history woven into one. While I like the Indiana Jones ideal of discovering the Ark of the Covenant, Alpha and Omega lends a more realistic narrative of such an immense discovery. While I think the kumbaya moment of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam coming together in that moment may be a utopian vision, Turtledove gives us a little bit of hope. In a time where we focus on differences and a place where those differences are the strongest, wouldn’t it be refreshing to be able to come to a mutual understanding?

Whatever Harry Turtledove writes, whether its alternative history or speculative future fiction, I will be waiting in anticipation for more. Turtledove has been one of my favorite unsung authors. He will continue to be whenever he writes more books like Alpha and Omega. I may have to re-read The Guns of the South. There’s just something about his writing and cadence that I like.

Craig Bacon would like to visit Jerusalem someday. As a history buff, he’d like to visit all the sites important to any of the three religions represented in the history of the Temple Mount.