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“To Sacrifice One’s Intellect Is More Demonic than Divine”: American Literature and Politics in Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth’s Last Days

Peter Swirski

Abstract

The article focuses on the cultural and political implication of the recent publishing sensation from two fundamentalist Christian ministers-turned-writers: Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Their sixteen-book Left Behind Series (1995-2007) has by now sold close to eighty million copies, crossing over from the evangelical margins to the bookseller’s mainstream. Focusing by and large on the first novel in the series, the article analyzes its narrative and political logic in the context of the rise of apocalyptic imagery in American culture and public life.

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Introduction

1In 1995 two born-again evangelists sat down to pen what would turn out to be a phenomenally lucrative franchise. On paper, they were an odd couple behind a multi-platinum bestseller that from 1999 on would top The New York Times charts with each new instalment. One of them would never write a word of it. The other would ultimately dash off more than six thousand pages of earnest prose. Together they would become avatars of not trying to be taken seriously by literary critics, but being taken very seriously by the bankers.

2 Jerry B. Jenkins, the actual writer but only the second name on the cover, is the author of more than a hundred and fifty books, including several bestselling sports biographies and the n