In early 2012, bestselling novelist Joel Rosenberg came to Capitol Hill for a meeting with an unidentified member of Congress to discuss the end of the world. "I thought the topic was going to be the possible coming war between Israel and Iran," Rosenberg explained on his website. "Instead, the official asked, 'What are your thoughts on Isaiah 17?'"
For the better part of an hour, Rosenberg says, the writer and the congressman went back forth on something called the "burden of Damascus," an Old Testament prophecy that posits that a war in the Middle East will leave Syria's capital city in ruins—and bring the world one step closer to Armageddon. As Rosenberg put it, "The innocent blood shed by the Assad regime is reprehensible, and heart-breaking and is setting the stage for a terrible judgment."
But Rosenberg and his anonymous congressman aren't alone in viewing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's actions through a Biblical lens. With Congress set to vote next week on the authorization to use military force in Syria, the Damascus prophecy has taken on a new significance among the nation's End Times industry—writers and pastors who believe the world is hurtling toward the return of Christ as forecasted in the Book of Revelation—and its adherents in the pews and in public life. On Saturday, Rosenberg will travel to Topeka, Kansas, at the invitation of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, to discuss the situation in the Middle East.
The idea behind the prophecy is a fairly straightforward one. In Isaiah 17, the prophet explains that, in the run-up to Armageddon, "Damascus is about to be removed from being a city, and will become a fallen ruin." The implication is that it will be leveled by God on behalf of Israel as part of the last great struggle for mankind.
How exactly that will happen is a bit less clear. "The honest answer is that the Bible does not say," Rosenberg wrote on his blog last June. But in Rosenberg's Twelfth Imam series, he postulates that the emergence of the Mahdi, the Muslim messiah, leads to the rise of a new Islamic caliphate in the Middle East that prepares to decapitate Israel by launching nuclear warheads from Damascus. As the top-rated Amazon review for the final book in the series, Damascus Countdown puts it, "This is a great read for anyone interested not only in the prophetical future of Israel but for Iran and Syria as well…[It] makes one want to keep his or her eyes wide open on current day Middle East events, and see if they line up to eschatological Old Testament passages."