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Literature / Alpha and Omega

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Not to be confused with the other Alpha and Omega

Alpha and Omega is a 2019 novel by Harry Turtledove in which ultra-Orthodox Jews try to bring about the rebuilding of the Temple and the return of the Messiah in modern-day Jerusalem. They succeed...but it turns out the Christian and Shiite Muslim versions of the End Times also are mostly true.

Like most Turtledove novels, this story features multiple points of view from a diverse cast of characters.

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  • Eric Katz, an archeologist from Los Angeles who is on an excavation in Israel, where he has met his girlfriend and eventual wife, Israeli archeologist Orly Binur.
  • Yitzhak Avigad, an Israeli dedicated to the building of the Temple of Jerusalem, who procures a red heifer for this purpose.
  • Chaim Avigad, Yitzhak's teenage nephew, raised since birth on a kibbutz to be ritually pure in expectation that he will serve at the rebuilt Temple.
  • Gabriela Sandoval, a journalist disgraced for exaggerating stories when she was going through a personal crisis. Starts off in the story as the co-host of a trashy talk show, goes to Israel in search of a story, and ends up with a far bigger story than she bargained for.
  • Brandon Nesbitt, Gabriela's co-host. Implied to have been disgraced in a Me Too-type scandal, he is ambitious and unscrupulous in his pursuit of glory.
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  • Reverend Lester Stark, a televangelist. A straight arrow without a trace of scandal about him, he is involved in projects to rebuild the Temple, and gets drawn into the unfolding drama in the Middle East.
  • Haji Ibrahim ibn Abd al-Rahman, the head of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, he seeks to preserve the integrity of the Dome on the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, but is overtaken by the unfolding drama in the Middle East.
  • Haji Jamal Ashrawi, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, he attempts to prevent the construction of the Temple.


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Alpha and Omega contains examples of:

  • An Aesop: If Religion Is Right, then that means God is ultimately in charge, not you, even if you are a prominent clergyman, and His truth may not align perfectly with your beliefs. Just ask Reverend Stark, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and Rabbi Kupferman.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Being a book about End Times prophecies coming true, the novel naturally includes quotations from The Bible as well as The Qur'an, which are generally quoted by Lester, Rabbi Kupferman, Chaim and Yitzhak, and the Grand Mufti.
  • Asshole Victim: Brandon. During his first POV narrative, it is implied that he was involved in a Me Too-related scandal. Over the next few chapters, to establish himself as a racist, his internal narration refers to Gabriela as a "Mexican bitch". Later, he goads Gabriela into arranging to open the Ark of the Covenant. Then, to take her place, he slips her a roofie. With her unconscious, he is tempted to rape her, with his internal narration referring to her as "a cunt that needs fucking", but desists only because he would get caught. When he tries to open the Ark and is struck dead, he clearly had it coming.
  • Benevolent Boss:
    • Yoram Louvish, the head of Eric's archeological dig, looks out for his team and will not tolerate bigotry or infighting.
    • Saul Buchbinder, the producer of Gabriela and Brandon's show. When Gabriela wakes up from her roofie-induced sleep, she has no problem convincing Saul of what happened.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: Jamal suspects his head bodyguard of aiding several ISIS members in ambushing and beating him as a warning not to obstruct them.
  • Broken Pedestal: Chaim loses respect for the ultra-Orthodox authorities with the sacrifice of Rosie the cow.
  • Caught Up in the Rapture: This happens to Chaim and the Mahdi when Jesus comes back.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Brandon is seen using roofies as sleeping pills. He later slips Gabriela one to put her out of action.
  • Creator Thumbprint: As is typical in Turtledove's works, Eric is a Jew from Los Angeles.
  • Deadline News: Gabriela and Brandon go to Israel to do a story on the group that is trying to rebuild the Temple. Gabriela is injured in the dirty bomb attack in Tel Aviv. Brandon touches the rediscovered Ark of the Covenant and dies instantly.
  • Deconstruction: Of the whole End Times Prophecies Coming True literature. See Reality Ensues below for more detail.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Eric and Gabriela in particular reflects that animal sacrifice won't go over too well with the modern world. After Tel Aviv, the new coalition that governs Israel doesn't care.
  • Disappeared Dad: Chaim's father deserted his wife and son about ten years prior to the story.
  • First Love: Shoshannah, whom Chaim meets at a falafel stand after becoming the Jewish Messiah.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Once you get to the part about the Ark floating, you know that the Temple will be rebuilt, that the plan to touch the Ark will end in death, and that the implied nuclear attack from Iran will fail. Played with in that Turtledove still is able to throw in a few curveballs, including who dies and most significantly, that all three Abrahamic faiths end up validated by God.
  • The Fundamentalist: In Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
    • Subverted with Lester Stark. Despite being a fundamentalist Christian in the literal sense of the word, he is actually rather decent (if sometimes condescending) to people who disagree with him, is cautious about making judgments, and is willing to admit that he may be wrong.
    • Played straight with some of his supporters, whom even he finds cringeworthy.
    • Rabbi Shlomo Kupferman, the head of the Reconstruction Alliance dedicated to rebuilding the Temple. He is somewhat resistant to the demands of Chaim, the Jewish Messiah, which violate traditional Jewish law.
    • Downplayed with Yitzhak Avigad, who is a literal Jewish fundamentalist, seeking to rebuild the Temple; however, he is not overtly hostile to people who don't share his beliefs, and he comes to regret his piety when it leads to his nephew being raptured.
    • Played straight with the unnamed Grand Ayatollah of Iran, who orders a failed attack, implied to be nuclear, against Israel.
    • Played straight with the unnamed head of ISIS, who may have been involved in the dirty bomb attack on Tel Aviv.
    • Initially played straight with Jamal Ashrawi, who is dedicated to disrupting the rebuilding of the Temple.
  • Good Shepherd: Lester Stark shows shades of this. The pastor of a church as well as a televangelist, he is a paragon of traditional Christian virtue. He married his high school sweetheart, to whom he has been faithful ever since; he is honest about how he spends his money, and he is even embarrassed about fundraising.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: This story is implied to take place during Donald Trump's second term. Additionally, there is no mention of COVID-19, seeing as the pandemic began about half a year after publication.
  • Happily Married: Lester to Rhonda, his high school sweetheart, to whom he has been faithful ever since.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Starting with the dirty bomb in Tel Aviv, every act of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism in the story serves to further the Jewish cause of rebuilding the Temple.
  • Humans Are Bastards: During one of Lester's radio shows, he is shaken by the final caller wondering if the reason there hasn't been a rapture yet is that no one on Earth is spiritually pure enough to be worthy. Stark tells the caller that it's an interesting theory, but one he hopes is wrong.
  • I Warned You: After Brandon dies trying to open the ark, Rabbi Kupferman shakes his head and mouths to himself that he'd tried to tell Brandon that would happen.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Enforced with Chaim, who is raised to be completely pure all his life according to the tenets of his faith.
  • Insistent Terminology: During Lester Stark's call-in radio show, one of the callers uses the outmoded term "Moslem" in describing followers of Islam, while everyone else, even Stark, uses the term "Muslim."
  • Just Before the End: The novel takes place during the months before the fulfillment of the Abrahamic End Times prophecies, with mounting tensions everywhere. At the end of the book God's existence has been confirmed, but it remains unclear if the end of the world is in fact around the corner.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Having seen the attempts to stop the Temple from being rebuilt backfire, the Grand Mufti calls off further attempts, reasoning that, for whatever reason, Allah intends for the project to go forward.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Two, maybe three examples:
    • With Gabriela being scheduled to open up the Ark, Brandon slips her a roofie to put her out of action and take her place. He is killed instantly on touching the Ark.
    • In reprisal for the tearing down of the Dome on the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, Iran launches missiles, implied to be nuclear, against Israel. Not only do the missiles disappear, but the President of Iran and the Grand Ayatollah are struck dead.
    • The head of ISIS is implied to have met a similar fate.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: The U.S. Vice-President, the head of ISIS, and the president and Grand Ayatollah of Iran are unnamed. The Israeli Prime Minister is known only by his first name, Benjamin.
  • The Messiah: two examples, not counting Jesus:
    • Chaim Avigad becomes the Jewish Messiah during the dedication of the rebuilt Temple.
    • Muhammad al-Muntazar emerges in Iran as the Mahdi.
  • Minnesota Nice: One of the few callers on Stark's show to get a sympathetic portrayal is a woman named Jane from Duluth Minnesota, who expresses curiosity rather than hostility about the unfolding developments, particularly the appearance of the Islamic Messiah.
  • No Endor Holocaust: Especially considering the situation between Israel and Iran, it's a damn good thing that the Rapture of the Mahdi happened on live international television.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: So you've raised your nephew or son to be a devout believer, completely pure according to the tenets of your faith. Congratulations, God is so impressed by how the boy turned out that He takes the kid from you while still a young teenager.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted, as Chaim's internal narration alludes to being surrounded by the ghosts even when using the bathroom.
  • Noodle Incident: We don't know just what Brandon did that got him disgraced, but it's implied to have to do with Me Too.
  • Not So Different: Eric compares Kupferman to the people who run Iran and ISIS.
  • Nothing Is the Same Anymore: The Israelis start saying this after Tel Aviv, but everyone starts saying it once God makes His Presence known in the world, with the Ark of the Covenant, the Messiah, the Mahdi, and the return of Jesus
  • Pet the Dog: Kupferman helps Eric and Orly cut through the red tape necessary to have a Jewish wedding in Israel.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Lester Stark shows shades of this. He isn't malicious, and does not condone violence or persecution, but he goes to Israel and tells Jews to their faces that their beliefs are wrong. In fairness, he is willing to admit that he may be wrong. In the end, he loses this trait after seeing Jesus rapture both the Jewish Messiah and the Islamic Mahdi.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Brandon. He shows himself to be a racist and a misogynist in referring to Gabriela as a "Mexican bitch" and regarding himself as entitled to top billing solely because he is White and male. He slips Gabriela a roofie to take her out of action so he can scoop her on a story, and even toys with the idea of raping her as she lies unconscious before him.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Having slipped Gabriela a roofie to take her out of action and scoop her on a story, Brandon considers raping her, but desists because the DNA evidence would crucify him.
  • Prophecy Twist: Once the Ark is discovered, and we are made aware of what kind of story we are reading, the question is whether it's the Jewish or Christian End Times prophecies coming true. Then, when the Mahdi emerges, the question arises as to how Islam plays into things. The twist: all three Abrahamic religions are validated in the end.
  • Real After All: Once the Ark of the Covenant is discovered, it becomes clear that God and the End Times prophecies are true.
  • Reality Ensues: As can be expected in a Deconstruction of End Times fiction.
    • Among real people, religious devotion isn't all or nothing, with some people being completely secular and others being pious fundamentalists. Orly, despite being a secular Israeli Jew, is shocked that Eric eats pork. Yoram Louvish, Eric's boss, is not a fundamentalist like the Avigads, and certainly nothing like Rabbi Kupferman, but is somewhat more pious than Eric and Orly. Munir al-Nuwayhi, an Arab Israeli, is a secularized Muslim but still is opposed to the clearing of the Temple Mount.
    • So Chaim is The Messiah. Turns out he's scared shitless by all the ghosts chasing himnote  and is embarrassed by having them watch his every private moment. Moreover, Rabbi Kupferman, who has been eying the High Priest spot, is none too pleased about taking orders from a teenager, especially orders that contradict his views of Orthodox Judaism. (He probably only does so because he is up against both Muslims and Christians who suspect Chaim of being The Anti-Christ.)
    • Even the most devout will be devastated to find that their loved ones were Caught Up in the Rapture. Just ask Chaim's family, who now wish they hadn't raised him to be so pious.
    • The logical consequence of Religion Is Right is that God is ultimately in charge, not the various religious leaders who have their own ideas of how the End Times will go. This leads Reverend Stark and the Grand Mufti to admit their errors. (Although Rabbi Kupferman receives a similar demonstration, but since he's not a viewpoint character, it's not clear whether he learns his lesson.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Lester Stark turns out to be this. He is hesitant to rush to judgment about the End Times prophecies, and is fully willing to admit that he could be wrong. In the end, seeing Jesus rapture both the Jewish Messiah and the Islamic Mahdi, he recognizes that Christianity doesn't have a monopoly on truth.
    • Jamal Ashrawi turns out to be this. When he sees the attempts to stop the Temple restoration backfiring, he concludes that Allah, for whatever reason, wants the project to go forth. When he sees Jesus rapture both the Jewish Messiah and the Shiite Mahdi, he is forced to come to the same realization as Lester, above.
    • All three Messiahs. Chaim is able to rein in Kupferman to an extent, and the collective message of himself, the Mahdi, and Jesus are that, although there is evil, the three Abrahamic religions are valid in God's eyes and need to coexist.
  • Religion Is Right: Unlike most examples of this trope, in this book, this ends up being true of all three Abrahamic religions, as is evidenced by Jesus rapturing the Jewish Messiah and the Mahdi.
  • Second Love:
    • Orly for Eric, who got divorced a few years prior to the story.
    • The ending suggests this may be the case for the widowed Yitzhak and the divorced Rivka.
  • Shown Their Work: Turtledove accurately describes such facts of life in Israel as Jerusalem Syndrome, the strict marriage laws, Israelis going to Cyprus to get married and evade those laws, and the tunnels under the Temple Mount.
  • Stop Being Stereotypical: Judging by the way he boots various callers off his radio show, Lester no doubt finds them just as cringeworthy as the reader.
  • Sympathetic P.O.V.: The author uses this to avoid strawmen or hypocrites in this story. With the exception of Brandon, all of the characters are portrayed sympathetically, even the initially anti-Semitic Grand Mufti. Lester Stark, despite not only being a fundamentalist Christian but a televangelist into the bargain, is given perhaps one of the most sympathetic portrayals of such a figure outside of Christian fiction.
  • Taking the Kids: In Gabriela's backstory, her now ex-husband divorced her and took their three-year-old daughter, Heather, having been awarded custody because he worked out of his home and she was a globetrotting journalist.
  • They Do: Having realized that God being real means that they are living in sin, Eric and Orly get married.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Chaim and the Mahdi, both of whom are raptured by Jesus. Yitzhak regrets helping raise Chaim to be ritually pure, as well as the fact that Shoshannah didn't seduce him before he could be raptured.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Although no date is given, this story is implied to take place in the early 2020s.
  • The Unfettered: Israel after the Tel Aviv bombing has officially run out of fucks to give about what the Arabs think of them. They clear off the Temple Mount to rebuild the Temple, and are prepared to back their actions with nukes if necessary.
  • Vice President Who?: The unnamed Vice-President is a terrible public speaker who quickly loses the interest of his audience even though the speech itself is an intelligent one.
  • Wham Episode: A few:
    • So Gabriela goes to the bus station to grab a bite to eat and gets caught up when the station is bombed. Par for the course for Israel, right? Well, this bomb turns out to be a dirty bomb, which changes the Israeli political landscape significantly.
    • During the dedication of the Temple, Chaim, upset at the sacrifice of Rosie the cow, runs off to rid himself of his lifelong ritual purity. Turns out that at that moment, he has come into his power as The Messiah.
    • As Messiah, Chaim is summoned to the Temple to bless a menorah. When he gets there, Jesus returns, and Chaim and the Mahdi are both raptured.
  • Wham Line: When excavating under the Temple Mount, Eric's archeological team uncovers the Ark of the Covenant. This would be a Wham Line in itself in most stories, but here, it sets up the real one, letting the reader know that this isn't just a Middle East political thriller they are reading:
    "The Ark floated two or three inches above the floor of the chamber."
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Barb Taylor, an American volunteer for Eric's dig, is excited and optimistic about their work's religious impact while remaining unworried about the ensuring conflict.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: No matter what, that Temple is going up. Played with in that prophecies from all three Abrahamic faiths end up coming true.
  • You Have to Have Jews: Very much justified as this is a Judeo-Christian End Times story set in Israel. Of the eight viewpoint characters, Eric, Yitzhak, and Chaim are all Jewish, with the latter two being ultra-Orthodox and Eric being a secularized American Jew.
  • You Need to Get Laid: Orly says this not to, but about Chaim, who is dealing with the burdens of being The Messiah.
  • Your Mom: The Israelis are fond of combining this trope with Country Matters when they curse people out.

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