Archive for the ‘Harbinger’ Category
I hope that you will take a few minutes to read this special edition of the “ABI Blog.”
We have received letters threatening legal action related to the publication of my book The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? These letters were from a lawyer with a firm which “serves as litigation counsel for Charisma Media, publisher of The Harbinger by Rabbi Jonathan Cahn and published by Charisma Media.”
Therefore, we are asking that concerned believers everywhere make this a matter of prayer—that the Lord would graciously give us wisdom and that He would protect us in the midst of this challenge. We also believe it is important to bring this matter to the attention of the Body of Christ and would encourage you to share this article with others given the millions of people who have now been influenced by The Harbinger and its author.
IS THIS MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING?
Some may be wondering if the controversy surrounding The Harbinger really is a big deal. I want to assure you that it definitely is – and it show no signs of slowing down. Last spring I suggested that The Harbinger could well end up being one of the most significant theological issues of 2012. As it turns out, this could extend well into this year. It was recently announced that The Harbinger passed one million copies sold (in just twelve months), and also achieved the distinction of being the longest running Christian book presently on The New York Times bestseller list.
And, the influence that Jonathan Cahn and his teachings are having through his book, the many interviews and his numerous messages continues to grow unabated. He was even the keynote speaker at one of the main annual (though not official) inaugural prayer breakfasts in Washington D.C. on January 21.
The author has said that he has been approached numerous times concerning turning The Harbinger into a movie and I would not be at all surprised if the production of a movie will be announced sometime this year. If that happens, the influence of The Harbinger will receive another significant boost and reach people who otherwise might not even be aware of it. Given the inevitable artistic license taken in most book-to-movie adaptations, with all the problems already in The Harbinger, what might we expect in a movie version?
THE THREAT OF LEGAL ACTION
The following is an excerpt from the lead article by T.A. McMahon in the February edition of The Berean Call monthly newsletter.
Although for decades we at TBC have been exhorting and encouraging believers to be Bereans (i.e., to check out everything they are being taught by searching the Scriptures-Acts 17:10-11), we too have experienced the increased intensity of the spiritual battle and witnessed its exponential growth. The latest issue, which we submit to you for prayer support, is a threatened lawsuit over the book we published by David James (The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction?). The complaint is that the author used too many quotes from the New York Times best-selling book, The Harbinger, without permission from author “rabbi” Jonathan Cahn and publisher Charisma Media Publications (CMP). The complaint further states that our use of the quotes has inhibited the sales of The Harbinger and has thus financially damaged Cahn and CMP in an amount yet to be determined. In effect, we are being told that we must limit our documentation in warning the body of Christ of the biblical errors in The Harbinger. In other words, we cannot be Bereans or like the watchman of Ezekiel 3:17-19 without Cahn’s permission.
This is the first time in my 35 years of working with Dave Hunt and our addressing nearly every major religion, religious cult, aberrational Christian sect, unbiblical trend, religious publication, book, media production, etc., that any organization or individual has even hinted at suing us. Now, however, we are being threatened with legal action by those claiming to be in the church. More critical than the unbiblical action of a brother threatening to take another brother to court (1 Corinthians 6) is the issue of preventing the biblical evaluation of a work that is influencing hundreds of thousands of professing and confessing Christians, as well as those who don’t profess to know Christ. We have hired a copyright attorney to address the legal issues and have responded to the attorney for Cahn and CMP. Even so, we covet your prayers that the Lord will be glorified throughout the process.
In October we received the first letter from Charisma’s lawyer concerning my use of quotes from The Harbinger. This threat of litigation was followed by two additional letters about a month apart making various demands for specific information concerning sales of my book and actions that we must take, including specific deadlines for compliance. So, although this is the first time we have made this issue public in writing, we have had these threats hanging over our heads for several months.
Furthermore, the October letter was actually the second threat of legal action. The first threat came less than two weeks after my book became available in early August and concerned the original cover design of The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? In that first letter the attorney made the following charges:
Our client learned that you, along with author David James, are using a strikingly similar book cover design of The Harbinger in commerce in connection with your book The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction. The book cover of The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction infringes Charisma’s intellectual property rights in the trade dress of its book The Harbinger. No doubt exists that the cover for your book The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction is designed to confuse consumers into thinking that either (1) this book is actually The Harbinger and/or (2) that the book is sponsored, affiliated with or approved by Charisma.
The basis for the threat of legal action involves two primary points: 1) that we intended to confuse consumers and 2) that consumers would actually be confused. Regarding the first charge, it is pure speculation with no supporting evidence whatsoever. But more importantly, it is both judgmental and factually wrong. There was never any intention by anyone to deceive, mislead of confuse. A comparison of the two covers (shown below) makes this obvious.
Regarding the second charge, once again, even a cursory glance makes it clear that my book is a direct negative response to The Harbinger, and therefore, obviously neither produced by nor endorsed by Charisma Media. Of course, we wanted people to understand that my book is about The Harbinger, but almost every design element of my cover was intentionally different to avoid any question of copyright infringement.
However, as a demonstration of good faith we changed the cover without a fuss. Of course, because of our belief that it is vitally important for my book to be available as a response to The Harbinger, and given the threat, we were also concerned that the Charisma lawyers might try to tie things up in the courts and thus keep my book off the market.
Now, in an unexpected and inexplicable turn of events, the Charisma attorney claims in the most recent letter (of January 22) that the fact that we changed the cover is itself an admission of guilt on my part that we had indeed infringed copyright.
Mr. James eventually recognized that he had violated Charisma’s trade dress and changed the cover on his critique. That Mr. James infringed Charisma’s rights in its intellectual property with respect to the cover is without dispute. Yet, Mr. James’ admitted infringement is curiously absent from his recent diatribe against my client and its author.
Once again, this is not only pure speculation, but the allegation is factually wrong because neither I nor The Berean Call have ever believed that we ever violated Charisma’s trade dress. We did not intend to violate copyright. We intentionally
sought to avoid violating copyright. And we continue to believe that we were completely successful in not violating copyright. So, the charge that we admitted guilt in this matter is difficult to comprehend – even baffling.
Another odd aspect of this recent letter is that the Charisma lawyer attributed to me the article which was written by T.A. McMahon (referenced above), and called it a “diatribe against Charisma and Jonathan Cahn.” Earlier the letter also states that the article was published on my website—which is also wrong because the article is actually on The Berean Call website. Besides being a bit strange, these are unnecessary “unforced errors” that could have been easily avoided with even the least bit of research.
Returning to the second threat of legal action, the following are excerpts from the first letter concerning that threat.
Dear Mr. James,
Our firm serves as litigation counsel for Charisma Media, publisher of The Harbinger by Rabbi Jonathan Cahn and published by Charisma Media. I write concerning your critique of The Harbinger, The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction (“Fact or Fiction”) and your use of significant portions of The Harbinger’s original copyrighted work in your book. In short, we believe your use of The Harbinger‘s text, which comprises over 10% of your book, constitutes infringement of Charisma Media’s exclusive copyright in the text of your book. We further believe your considerable use of The Harbinger‘s text is not defensible under the fair use doctrine.
Although we have always been confident that my book is well within the boundaries of the fair use doctrine, unfortunately these threats of litigation made it necessary to seek the services of an experienced copyright lawyer. His well-informed opinion is that there is no basis for bringing a lawsuit against us and he sent his findings and conclusions to the Charisma Media attorney in the middle of December. Last week we received the fourth letter as a response to our legal counsel’s letter in which the Charisma lawyer completely rejected the argument in our defense.
Later in the letter, Charisma’s attorney goes on to make further allegations.
Specifically, Fact or Fiction was written with the specific purpose of deriving a financial benefit from Charisma Media’s copyrighted materials as evidenced by the original infringing cover for Fact or Fiction; you are profiting from the use of the text, but have not obtained consent or paid a license fee for its use. Although Fact or Fiction purports to be a critique of The Harbinger, your use of The Harbinger’s original and protectible expression, including extensive use of the dialogue created by Rabbi Cahn to analyze Isaiah 9:10, is usurping demand for Rabbi Cahn’s work and will continue to do so as long as Fact or Fiction remains in circulation.
Several things can be noted about the above allegations.
First, building on the unsubstantiated claim in the first threat concerning the cover of my book, they once again argue that I wrote the book for the specific purpose of deriving financial benefit from Rabbi Cahn’s work. And once again, this is pure speculation from a legal perspective, clearly judgmental from a moral perspective, and from a factual perspective it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Second, the phrase “purports to be a critique” clearly suggests that I intentionally employed a ruse in order to deceive the public by making my book only appear to be a critique, but with the real alleged purpose being to profit financially from Rabbi Cahn’s work. One has to wonder if someone could scan my book in even the most cursory way and then suggest that The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction is anything but a very serious and well-researched critique of The Harbinger.
Third, the Charisma lawyer contends that because of quoting The Harbinger to the degree that I did, demand for my book has undermined demand for their book. Through this they argue that I have been accumulating sales for myself while denying what would have been sales for Jonathan Cahn. Once again, it is difficult to express how far removed from reality this charge really is. When my book was released in early August, I believe the sales of The Harbinger were somewhere in the neighborhood of 700,000 copies sold. Then in January (as previously noted) it was reported that Jonathan Cahn had achieved two important milestones during the 2012 calendar year. The first was that his book had surpassed one million copies sold (meaning that nearly one third of his sales have happened since the appearance of Fact or Fiction). The second milestone was that at the end of 2012 it was the longest running Christian book currently on The New York Times bestsellers list.
Unfortunately, the most recent letter from Charisma’s legal counsel further expands the range of allegations and accusations against us to include a charge of defamation of character:
Second, I write to put you on notice that Mr. James’ recent fund raising efforts at the expense of both Charisma and Rabbi Cahn are defamatory in nature and intentionally designed to impugn both Charisma and Rabbi Cahn’s character for the benefit of Mr. James.
Once again, in this new threat, the Charisma lawyer gets so many factual things wrong that it should be almost embarrasing. He accuses me personally of 1) trying to raise funds with the article, 2) by defaming Charisma and Rabbi Cahn; 3) then claims that it was intentional, 4) and further alleges that it was designed to impugn their character, 5) and finally argues that I did it with the intent to accrue personal financial benefit to me.
Where do I begin?
1. I didn’t write the article and was only aware of it shortly before it was published on The Berean Call (not my) website. As previously noted, Tom McMahon wrote the article and it was approved by The Berean Call Board of Directors. (The full article can be found here: http://www.thebereancall.org/content/demise-biblical-discernment)
2. There is nothing in the article that makes any reference to money whatsoever. There is no appeal for funds and it was never intended to be a fund-rasing effort. The only thing that McMahon requests anywhere in the article is that believers make this a matter of prayer.
3. There was no intention to defame Charisma or Jonathan Cahn. There is a well-documented pattern of repeated attempts by Jonathan Cahn to contain and respond to any and all criticism of The Harbinger. This has happened time and again – and a video on YouTube is available where Cahn specifically (and quite cynically and sarcastically) responds to the critics of The Harbinger (with many swipes at things I have written and said)—and yet he offers no specifics whatsoever.
4. It seems to me that the accusation that I intentionally impugned Charisma and Jonathan Cahn’s character for the purpose of financial gain, while using demonstrably false information, is the very definition of defamation itself. Who has defamed whom? And since this is in the context of claiming that my book is damaging sales of The Harbinger this obviously raises the question of exactly who is pursuing this for financial gain. The reader can decide.
Returning to the accusation that I exceeded fair use of The Harbinger in my book and thus have violated copyright law, the following salient points are provided from the Citizen Media Law Project website.
The Four Fair Use Factors
1. Purpose and Character of Your Use
If you use another’s copyrighted work for the purpose of criticism, news reporting, or commentary, this use will weigh in favor of fair use. See Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, 510 U.S. 569, 578 (1994). Purposes such as these are often considered “in the public interest” and are favored by the courts over uses that merely seek to profit from another’s work. Online Policy Group v. Diebold, Inc., 337 F. Supp. 2d 1195, 1203 (N.D. Cal. 2004). When you put copyrighted material to new use, this furthers the goal of copyright to “promote the progress of science and useful arts.”
In evaluating the purpose and character of your use, a court will look to whether the new work you’ve created is “transformative” and adds a new meaning or message. To be transformative, a use must add to the original “with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message.” Campbell, 510 U.S. at 579. Although transformative use is not absolutely necessary, the more transformative your use is, the less you will have to show on the remaining three factors.
Clearly, my book, The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? meets this criteria. I am not seeking to merely profit from Cahn’s work as has been alleged. Rather my work is both completely transformative and is “in the public interest,” while putting the material in The Harbinger to a completely new use. There is no copyright violation.
2. Nature of the Copyrighted Work
In examining this factor, a court will look to whether the material you have used is factual or creative, and whether it is published or unpublished. Although non-fiction works such as biographies and news articles are protected by copyright law, their factual nature means that one may rely more heavily on these items and still enjoy the protections of fair use. Unlike factual works, fictional works are typically given greater protection in a fair use analysis. So, for example, taking newsworthy quotes from a research report is more likely to be protected by fair use than quoting from a novel. However, this question is not determinative, and courts have found fair use of fictional works in some of the pivotal cases on the subject. See, e.g., Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 464 U.S. 417, 456 (1984).
Once again, my book meets this criteria because as the author states in his note at the beginning of The Harbinger, “What you are about to read is presented in the form of a story, but what is contained within the story is real.” Furthermore, Jonathan Cahn has stated publicly in a radio interview with Brannon Howse that his book is only 10% fiction and 90% factual. Again, there is no copyright violation.
3. Amount and Substantiality of the Portion Used
Unfortunately, there is no single guide that definitively states how much of a copyrighted work you can use without copyright liability. Instead, courts look to how such excerpts were used and what their relation was to the whole work. If the excerpt in question diminishes the value of the original or embodies a substantial part of the efforts of the author, even an excerpt may constitute an infringing use.
If you limit your use of copyrighted text, video, or other materials to only the portion that is necessary to accomplish your purpose or convey your message, it will increase the likelihood that a court will find your use is a fair use.
Of course, if you are reviewing a book or movie, you may need to reprint portions of the copyrighted work in the course of reviewing it in order to make you points. Even substantial quotations may qualify as fair use in “a review of a published work or a news account of a speech that had been delivered to the public or disseminated to the press.” Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enters., 471 U.S. 539, 564 (1985). However, substantial quotations from non-public sources or unpublished works do not enjoy the same protections.
There are two relevant and important issues in meeting the third criteria for fair use that can be observed. The first is that the “over 10%” of The Harbinger that I quoted (referred to by the Charisma attorney) is irrelevant when the other criteria are considered. The 10% is an arbitrary number with no legal significance. Far less than 10% can violate fair use if the other criteria are not met, while far more than 10% can be used if they are. Quotes from The Harbinger do comprise over 10% of my book, but they are also under 13%.
Similarly, I only quoted a little more than 10% of The Harbinger, which in the context of such an indepth and detailed critique is a very small amount. I could have easily quoted much more to further bolster my argument, but was careful to use no more than necessary to keep from being accused of taking things of out context.
However, more importantly, relevant to the second major point, my use of The Harbinger clearly qualifies as fair use because it is “a review of a published work…”
4. The Effect of Your Use Upon the Potential Market for the Copyrighted Work
In examining the fourth factor, which courts tend to view as the most important factor, a court will look to see how much the market value of the copyrighted work is affected by the use in question. This factor will weigh in favor of the copyright holder if “unrestricted and widespread” use similar to the one in question would have a “substantially adverse impact” on the potential market for the work…
Assessing the impact on a copyrighted work’s market value often overlaps with the third factor because the amount and importance of the portion used will often determine how much value the original loses. For instance, the publication of five lines from a 100 page epic poem will not hurt the market for the original in the same way as the publication of the entirety of a five-line poem.
This fourth factor is concerned only with economic harm caused by substitution for the original, not by criticism. That your use harms the copyright holder through negative publicity or by convincing people of your critical point of view is not part of the analysis. As the Supreme Court has stated:
[W]hen a lethal parody, like a scathing theater review, kills demand for the original, it does not produce a harm cognizable under the Copyright Act. Because “parody may quite legitimately aim at garroting the original, destroying it commercially as well as artistically,” the role of the courts is to distinguish between ‘[b]iting criticism [that merely] suppresses demand [and] copyright infringement[, which] usurps it.’”
The significance of this point cannot be overstated because the Charisma attorney contends that my book is usurping demand (his words) for his client’s book. However, it can be easily argued that the controversy surrounding the entire issue has only served to increase demand for The Harbinger as evidenced by the 300,000+ copies that have been sold since the release of my book.
In summary, although courts will balance all four factors when assessing fair use, the fair use defense is most likely to apply when the infringing use involves criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. In addition, some general rules of thumb can be helpful in analyzing fair use:
- A use that transforms the original work in some way is more likely to be a fair use;
- A non-profit use is more likely to be considered a fair use than a for-profit use;
- A shorter excerpt is more likely to be a fair use than a long one; and
- A use that cannot act as a replacement for the original work is more likely to be a fair use than one that can serve as a replacement.
One has to wonder why such an influential media empire like Charisma Media would threaten a lawsuit against an essentially unknown individual, particularly when my book falls so far within the boundaries of the fair use doctrine. But more importantly, why would a Christian organization (Charisma Media), with a Christian founder and CEO (Steve Strang), along with a local church pastor (Jonathan Cahn) threaten to sue another believer in this way, particularly in light of what the apostle Paul says about such lawsuits in 1 Corinthians 6?
None of this makes any sense from a biblical, ethical, legal or financial perspective. One has to wonder exactly what is the motivation behind this. Why is it so necessary to try make it so difficult to keep my book, The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? on the market. Why all this effort to get it off the market?
One thing we do know is that my book is presently the only one that has been written and published which exposes the many significant problems in The Harbinger. And as the influence of The Harbinger in America continues to increase, the need for people to also read The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? is greater than ever. We hope you will take time to read it if you haven’t – and if you do, please take time to leave a brief review on Amazon.com because these are extremely important in the process of getting the message into the hands of more and more people.
Once again, we covet your prayers, not only in relation to the threatened legal action against us, but also concerning getting the important information in my book into the hands of believers who have been influenced, confused and misled by The Harbinger, the accompanying DVD and the dozens of interviews and messages by Jonathan Cahn.
If you want to stand with us in the midst of this challenge, please take a moment to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Paperback version available soon through Amazon.com)
The last three months have been quite incredible. Since Tom McMahon (executive director of The Berean Call) first contacted me on April 29 about my ABI article critiquing The Harbinger, we have been on a speeding train just trying to hang on.
I am extremely grateful to the entire staff of The Berean Call who have been with me every step of the way since my book was little more than just the article. Everyone involved has put in a monumental effort to make everything come together in a such a short time frame. Roy Zuck (who has been in publishing for decades) recently described this as being “almost unheard of in publishing circles.”
This is even more amazing given the extensive scrutiny the book has undergone to make sure we get this right. The book has gone through multiple rounds of editing by three different editors and as well as three critical readers who carefully examined it for accuracy, theology, logical arguments and overall tone. And finally, it has been read by an additional six theologians and ministry leaders, who along with two of the critical readers, have provided a total of eight initial endorsements. Besides these things, they have designed the covers and formatted the book in about one-fourth of the time usually allotted.
The level of controversy surrounding The Harbinger and concerned reviews has been virtually unprecedented in that so much of it has been generated within conservative evangelicalism. Although other recent books have caused a stir within the broader evangelical community, some have said they have never witnessed anything quite like this in their decades of ministry life.
Everyone agrees that America is in deep spiritual trouble and that the country is now or soon could be under God’s judgment. Everyone also agrees with Jonathan Cahn’s overall message, which is a broad call for national repentance. However, the serious disagreements center on whether the author has genuinely received this message from God and whether he has indeed discovered an ancient mystery in Isaiah 9:10 that correlates precisely with events over the last decade in the United States, beginning with the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Those of us with deep concerns about the book are persuaded that he has not either case.
This is not simply an academic issue nor does it only involve inconsequential minutiae. The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? demonstrates that Cahn’s book is ultimately an illusion which gives the impression that God’s direct intervention is the only possible explanation for what is said to be the replay in America of events prophesied to Israel in Isaiah 9:10. As with any well-executed illusion, the audience is astounded by what they think they are seeing – but what they think they see does not actually correspond to reality. The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? pulls back the curtain and gives another “camera angle” so that the mechanics of the illusion become obvious.
This “reveal” shows that maintaining the illusion depends the mishandling of Scripture, faulty theology, misleading statements, the selective use of historical facts and unsupported speculation. Consequently, The Harbinger falls far short of the biblical requirements necessary to conclude that such a message is truly from God. The broad implications of this are significant and far-reaching.
I have written my book so that anyone can accurately, clearly and fairly understand what is in The Harbinger whether or not they have read that book. It should be helpful for those who wonder what all the commotion is about or who have been encouraged to read it by someone else. We also hope it will be helpful for those who have had reservations and concerns and for those who are not yet sure what to make of it. We are also hopeful that those who have embraced The Harbinger will take some time to read The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction and perhaps reconsider their views once they see there is another side to the whole issue.
It will also be available in Kindle format in about a week. In addition, I have finished recording the audio version of the book, which will probably be available shortly after The Berean Call annual conference next weekend. There has also been some discussion of possibly doing a Spanish version, including audio, but this has not yet been decided as far as I know.
I am looking forward to discussing the book with Jimmy DeYoung on his Saturday radio program (info at the Prophecy Today website). Brannon Howse has also invited Tom McMahon and me to join him for two full hours on his radio program on Monday and Tuesday beginning at 2:00 PM EST (1:00 CST) (www.worldviewweekend.com).
Next week I will be heading out to The Berean Call conference in Bend, Oregon. Tom McMahon has invited me to take one of his two sessions to discuss biblical discernment based on my book, using The Harbinger as a case study. We believe this is an important issue which needs to be addressed in a fair way. We also see it as a significant opportunity to help many believers as they think through how to consistently apply a biblical hermeneutic and carefully evaluate anything they might read or hear that purports to be a biblical message.
I want to sincerely thank all who have prayed for me and the entire process. We would also appreciate your ongoing prayers as we are unsure of what the overall reaction might be given the immense popularity and influence that has been enjoyed by The Harbinger and its author.
Note: The first chapter, foreword, preface and endorsements are also available for download in pdf format from the order page. (near the bottom)
President & Founder, Prophecy Today
“David James has done an excellent job in this book, a review of the book, The Harbinger, being very careful not to bring personality into focus but instead to take a critical look at the biblical aspects of the book. Having read the book a number of times, David studied the hermeneutic used in the book to examine the use of a single passage of scripture taken out of context to understand what the author had done to develop a fictional book while the same time telling the reader that everything in the book was real.
“I believe that David did the research required to give a fair look at Jonathan Cahn’s work and, at the same time, apply the age-old truths of Bible interpretation to help any potential reader of The Harbinger to be aware of the problems in this work. I know that David spent much time in prayer and consultation before he approached the writing of his review, and his only desire is to hold up the truth that we don’t get doctrine, or our understanding of Bible prophecy, from a fictional novel but from the Word of God, the Bible.”
President & Founder, Worldview Weekend
“All across America hundreds of thousands of people have purchased Jonathan Cahn’s book, The Harbinger. By far, the majority have given it rave reviews as well as promoted it, defended it, and recommended it to everyone they know. Unfortunately, this represents a pervasive lack of biblical knowledge and discernment in the church and is why many of us have written and broadcast our deep concerns about the book. I believe David James has used true discernment, extensive research, and biblical hermeneutics to reveal the dangerous message of The Harbinger. James’s research also defends the authority of Scripture against the increasing trend of experience, extra-biblical revelation and mysticism.”
Teaching Pastor, Faith Bible Church
Vineland, New Jersey
“Whether or not you’ve read The Harbinger, you must read David James thorough and thoughtful response in The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? The popularity of Cahn’s book has many Christians wondering if the Bible contains a secret message for America enveloped in the details of the 9/11terrorist attacks. I recognized a dangerous hermeneutic at work in Jonathan Cahn’s fast-paced novel but was daunted by the challenge of providing a response for my congregation. David James provides such a response. This book gives the reader a detailed, point-by-point analysis challenging Cahn’s barrage of data and “connect the dot” attempts. David James does this with clear biblical methodology while avoiding personal attacks against Cahn. This book is an example of the way that Christian dialogue should be conducted.”
ROY B. ZUCK
Senior Professor Emeritus of Bible Exposition
Editor, Bibliotheca Sacra
Dallas Theological Seminary
“Jonathan Cahn’s book The Harbinger has been a bestseller for many months. A messianic Jew, Cahn is the senior pastor of the Jerusalem/Beth Israel Worship Center in Wayne, New Jersey. The Harbinger presents the view that Isaiah 9:10-11 refers to the United States, and in particular to the catastrophe of 9/11 and the States’ subsequent economic problems. James masterfully demolishes Cahn’s efforts to relate this passage to the States, pointing up numerous hermeneutical and interpretive fallacies in Cahn’s approach. Anyone interested in The Harbinger needs to note the numerous errors in Cahn’s thinking, as presented in James’s excellent analysis.”
GARY E. GILLEY
Senior Pastor, Southern View Chapel, Springfield, Illinois
Director, Think on These Things Ministries
“Jonathan Cahn’s, The Harbinger, is a warning to America that God’s judgment is imminent unless the country repents and turns to the Lord, and that very soon. If the book is read merely as a novel warning our country to wake up spiritually, it has value, but the author makes immediately clear that “what is contained within the story is real” (p. 7). In other words, Cahn believes that God pronounced exacting judgment on America, and that judgment is found in Scripture, specifically Isaiah 9:10-11.
“Cahn determines that this text in Isaiah contains a mysterious prophecy directed not to ancient Israel but to modern America. At this point the author massages Scripture, American history, and current events in an attempt to prove that God’s judgment on the United States has been hiding in these verses but have now been unlocked by the careful investigation of Cahn. Once someone decides they can cherry-pick verses at will, change the meaning of these texts to fit his theories, and use random hermeneutical methods, anything can be “proven.” However, very few people will recognize what Cahn has done, and fewer still will do the hard work of investigating his interpretations.
“Here is where David James has greatly benefited the body of Christ. He has carefully, graciously and thoroughly analyzed the claims found in The Harbinger and found many of them lacking biblical support and historical accuracy. James has written this book not merely to expose error but to keep God’s people from being led astray by false teachings and improper hermeneutical approaches to Scripture. I believe he has accomplished these goals in The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction?”
Executive Director, Pre-Trib Research Center
Pastor/Teacher and Church Planter, Community Bible Church, Omaha, Nebraska
“Just because something is popular within today’s evangelical community does not mean that it is biblical. The Harbinger is a popular book for many within evangelicalism that claims to provide a message from God, but it is not built upon a true biblical foundation. Dave James provides a fair biblical analysis for anyone wanting scrutiny of The Harbinger. I commend James’s book, The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction?, for those seeking the truth rather than popularity.”
Guarding His Flock Ministries
“In a fair and balanced way, Dave James exposes the eccentric biblical interpretations upon which The Harbinger is premised. He demonstrates biblical and theological inaccuracies contained in the story created by Jonathan Cahn, one which the author claims to be partially real. James connects the dots between multiple biblical, historical, and factual problems, which gives the reader the sense that The Harbinger has undertones of Anglo-Israelism and Christian Dominionism. Though perhaps not intended by the author, these concepts form an underlying philosophical framework upon which the theoretical “secret” of America’s future appears to be based. For readers possessing a heart to discern truth from error, The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? frames fundamental issues related to an accurate understanding of Bible prophecy in our modern world. Highly recommended.”
LARRY J. WATERS
Associate Professor of Bible Exposition
Dallas Theological Seminary
“One of the most asked questions in biblical prophecy today is, “Where does the United States fit into eschatology?” Jonathan Cahn’s The Harbinger tries to answer that question—however, he attempts to do so with many unfounded hermeneutical “jumps” that cannot be sustained. Dave James goes to great lengths to debunk Cahn’s theories and offers a balanced look at end-time prophecy and the USA. Where Scripture is silent, it is best not to impose one’s own presumptions on the text. For those interested in this subject, James offers extensive objections to Cahn’s presumptions.”
Does Isaiah 9:10 really contain an ancient mystery that holds the secret of America’s future?
Note: This review is an abridged version of a book of the same title.
A discussion between Dave James and Jonathan Cahn, moderated by Jimmy DeYoung can be found at this link.
The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18:17, NKJV)
The Harbinger, by Jonathan Cahn,1 is about a series of signs or omens which he believes have manifested in America beginning with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The author believes he has discovered an ancient mystery in Isaiah 9:10-11 that “explains everything from 9/11 to the collapse of the global economy.”2 Although he uses a fictional narrative as a framework, the book is based on what he believes are undeniable facts from the biblical text, the corresponding history of 8th century B.C. Israel and current events of the last decade in America. As Cahn states at the beginning of the book, “What you are about to read is presented in the form of a story, but what is contained within the story is real.”3
The overall purpose of The Harbinger is to call America to repent for turning her back on God and moving away from the foundations upon which the country was built. It is also to warn of the danger of God’s judgment that this represents. Not only is this a valid message, but one that needs to be proclaimed. Jonathan Cahn is to be commended for his passion and commitment to sharing this message with as wide an audience as possible.
However, because of serious flaws throughout the book, the potential dangers may well outweigh the benefits. Many of the author’s views and ideas as presented in The Harbinger are misguided, having both significant exegetical and theological problems. Additionally, the book could well leave its readers with serious misunderstandings about how to appropriately interpret and apply the Word of God. Beyond this, it is also problematic because in trying to support his conclusions, Cahn appears to variously overstate his case, see prophetic fulfillment where arguably none exists and presses details to draw parallels between historical events beyond what the facts reasonably support.
Not only does The Harbinger fail to reveal a mystery in Isaiah 9:10, but in spite of the much-needed call to repentance, the book presents a danger to believers and unbelievers alike.
A Runaway Success
Released on January 3, 2012, The Harbinger has already established its place as one of the best selling books of 2012. According to “CharismaNews,” on January 22, the The Harbinger debuted at No. 10 on the NY Times best-seller list in the “print paperback” category and at No. 28 in the “combined print hardcover and paperback “ category. In just 10 days, it had gone to reprint four times. (Charisma House is the publisher of the book.)4
As of April 26, on Amazon.com, it was ranked at #1 in the “Christian Books and Bibles – Fiction” category, at #1 in the broader “Religion and Spirituality” category, #2 in “Christian Books and Bibles – Theology” category and at #50 for all books. There were also 346 reader reviews of the book on Amazon.com – with 282 giving it a 5-star rating.5
The founder of “World Net Daily,” Joseph Farah, has produced a two-hour documentary featuring Jonathan Cahn: “The Isaiah 9:10 Judgment.” On March 13, in an email alert, WND noted: “The Isaiah 9:10 Judgment DVD tops faith chart at Amazon.com…It is also the No. 8 most popular documentary of any kind and the 247th most popular video for sale.”
On the day of the book’s release, Jonathan Cahn was interviewed by Pat Robertson on The 700 Club, who said of the book, “This is one great book…This is the read you need to make…It is a prophetic word.” The author has also been interviewed on a number of other programs as well, giving the book very broad exposure.
Departure from a Biblical Hermeneutic
The heart of a biblical hermeneutic is the commitment to understanding the literary context of a passage. This is where Cahn’s thesis first runs into trouble. Nothing in the context gives any indication that either Isaiah or the Lord intended for Isaiah 9:10 to be understood as having to do with anything other than the Northern Kingdom in the 8th century B.C. Although the author has insisted in a moderated discussion with this reviewer that he does not believe Isaiah 9:10 is to, for or about America,6 the book paints a very different picture.
Although Cahn has tried to explain that the passage is only functioning as a “sign” to America, this is not a meaningful distinction. Biblical signs are revelatory and therefore prophetic, in that they signify that something is happening or is going to happen. And, this is exactly the way Cahn handles these “harbingers” in the book—meaning that in at least some way he actually does see a direct connection with Isaiah 9:10.
Also, if Isaiah 9:10-11 functions to demonstrate a pattern of God’s judgment, as Cahn believes, why is it not identified as such, either here or elsewhere in Scripture? If it is a predictable pattern as he suggests, why is there neither a precedent nor repetition of the pattern in the Bible? Yet, it is the author’s contention that the nine harbingers he believes he has found in Isaiah coincide precisely with recent historical events, beginning with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Furthermore, there is no mention of the first seven verses in the chapter. Yet, these form a critical part of the immediate context of Isaiah 9:10 and represent one of the most important messianic kingdom passages in the entire Old Testament. This is a significant omission when dealing with the subject of Israel’s judgment because it includes the unconditional promise that even in the face of the coming destruction Israel’s future is still sure. The kingdom will still be established and Messiah will rule from the throne of David forever.
A Prophetic Message?
Although Cahn says he does not claim to be a prophet, he does affirm that his message is prophetic. But, what else besides “prophet” would be an appropriate title for someone who believes he has discovered the hidden meaning of a biblical mystery and then proclaims this prophetic message as factual? He is doing more than simply relaying a message given by someone else. He is the originator of the message.
In the brief biography introducing the author, the back cover of The Harbinger has the following: “His teachings are seen on television and radio throughout the nation and are known for their prophetic significance and their revealing of deep mysteries of God’s Word.”
Others have also identified Cahn’s message as prophetic and him as a prophet. For example, in September, It’s Supernatural aired shows that were produced around interviews with Jonathan Cahn. Of these host Sid Roth said, “This may be—no, this is the most important prophetic show you will ever see.”7
On Amazon.com, the book description includes the following:
Hidden in an ancient biblical prophecy from Isaiah, the mysteries revealed in The Harbinger are so precise that they foretold recent American events down to the exact days. The revelations are so specific that even the most hardened skeptics will find it hard to dismiss or put down. It sounds like the plot of a Hollywood thriller with one exception… IT’S REAL.8
Fact or Fiction?
Even though categorized as “fiction,” the story is prefaced by: “What you are about to read is presented in the form of a story, but what is contained within the story is real.”9 In other words, the book conveys what Cahn considers to be biblically accurate and historically factual. However, the lines between what is fact and what is fiction is not at all clear.
For example, the story centers around a set of small clay discs that are said to date from 8th century B.C. and connected with Isaiah’s prophecy. The purpose of the nine seals is to reveal the ancient mystery and to authenticate that their message comes from God. But do these seals really exist as an archeological find or are they simply part of the fictional storyline? The answer is not clear in the story and it seems very likely that many readers will think these seals do exist, although they do not.
In addition, rather than simply adding an element of authenticity to the story, the nine harbinger seals only make things more confusing for the reader. The obvious question is, “Does this mean that the author is using them as a literary device to suggest that his views are authentically from God (though perhaps confirmed in some other way)? “Are they inherently fact or fiction?
In the The Harbinger, the nine seals are given over a period of time, to journalist Nouriel Kaplan by a mysterious figure identified only as “The Prophet.”10 Kaplan and The Prophet are the primary characters in the book, along with a third lesser character, Ana Goren, a Manhattan publishing executive, to whom Kaplan tells the story of his encounters with The Prophet. Are The Prophet and Kaplan purely fictional characters or do they in some way represent real people? Do they represent two different people, a compilation of multiple people or are they rather just two aspects of the same person? Given the central role of The Prophet, is there really someone who is believed to be a prophet who gave the author his message? Or is the answer actually somewhere between the two? Based on the way the story develops and then concludes in the last chapter, one has to wonder if The Prophet and Nouriel Kaplan, when taken together, actually represent Jonathan Cahn. Are they fictional characters or are they real?
In the second half of the book, Kaplan has a dream about the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem which includes the biblical king Solomon. However, when Solomon turns around, he has unexpectedly transformed into George Washington on the Temple Mount. Is this dream just a literary device in the story or did the author actually have a similar dream? Although he has stated that he did not have a dream as described in the book, it is clear that the idea for the dream sequence did not develop in a vacuum. Could it simply represent Cahn’s contemplation and thought process as he sought to arrive at a meaningful interpretation of some of the events in America over the past decade? Once again, the crucial question is: “Fact or fiction?”
Another major issue is the interpretation of events in America since 9/11. Can the author’s interpretation of the events rightly be considered to be facts as he apparently does? For example, Cahn believes that God removed His “hedge of protection” from the United States which allowed the successful attacks on the World Trade Center. He also believes that these attacks marked the beginning of God’s judgment upon the nation.
However, to claim to know these things with the absolute certainty claimed by the author is to claim insight into the very mind of God, including His specific purposes and plans for America in this generation. Although one might speculate and form opinions, these things cannot be known for sure unless God were to personally reveal them. So, does the author believe he has received this necessary revelation? And if so, is he right? Is God using him as a prophet? Has God given him special insight into an ancient mystery? Has God truly shown him that his confidence in the veracity of his conclusions and interpretation is justified? Or does his message amount to nothing more than speculation? Fact or fiction?
The Mystery of Isaiah 9:10: A Direct Link between Israel and America?
The author denies that he is arguing for a direct connection between Israel and America and maintains that the passage only demonstrates a pattern of God’s judgment. Likewise, he concludes that recent events in America, beginning with 9/11, are only parallels to that specific pattern. Yet, in multiple places the book gives the very clear impression that these are more than simply parallels and that a direct connection does exist. Based on what is clearly stated in the book, it is difficult to conclude that this is not precisely what Cahn intended to convey at the time. The following are just a few of the numerous examples.
[Ana Goren] “How could an ancient mystery have anything to do with September 11?”
[Nouriel Kaplan] “An ancient mystery behind everything from 9/11 to the economy . . . to the housing boom . . . to the war in Iraq . . . to the collapse of Wall Street. Everything in precise detail.”11
[The Prophet] “The Assyrians are the fathers of terrorism, and those who mercilessly plotted out the calamity on 9/11 were their spiritual children, another link in the mystery joining America to ancient Israel.”12
[Kaplan] “So if the ancient mystery is joined to America, then somehow 9/11 has to be linked to the words ‘We will rebuild.’” 13
[The Prophet] “Well done, Nouriel. So what would we expect to find in Washington DC?”
[Kaplan] “Some link between this city and the ancient vow,” I said. “Somehow Isaiah 9:10 has to be connected to Washington DC.”14
[The Prophet] “And all referring to America’s campaign to defy the calamity of 9/11, as he links it all to the judgment of ancient Israel. 15
[The Prophet] “Solomon was the king of Israel. Washington was the first president of the United States. There was something in the linking of ancient Israel and America, as with all the other mysteries.”16
Cahn’s belief in a direct prophetic link between Isaiah 9:10 and the United States could not be more clear. As such, the author’s theory about this direct connection unambiguously forms the “factual” basis for the entire story.
The Mystery of Isaiah 9:10: A Driving Force?
Not only does Cahn seem to believe that there is a connection, but he also presents Isaiah’s words as functioning as a driving force in specific events in America over the last decade, set into motion by the attacks of 9/11. According to The Prophet, because of the link between Isaiah 9:10 and Israel, once the pattern is set into motion, each step of the progression must inevitably take place.17
The cause/effect relationship is also confirmed in his The 700 Club interview on January 3, 2012:
[The mystery] even has determined the actions and the actual words of American leaders. A mystery that goes back two and a half thousand years and is a warning of judgment and a call of God—a prophetic call of God.18
This comes perilously close to being a mystical view of the prophetic Scriptures because biblical prophecies do not function this way. Any prophecy as specific as Isaiah 9:10 also has a unique, specific future referent in view which sets parameters and limits on what constitutes literal fulfillment. That what is being suggested about Isaiah 9:10 sounds more like a sort of mystical incantation than a prophecy is reinforced when the author introduces the idea of “The Isaiah 9:10 Effect” later in chapter 15.
Undoubtedly, Jonathan Cahn did not intend to give this impression. But he would not be the first person to unintentionally confuse genuinely spiritual approaches with unbiblical and dangerous mystical ones.
America: A New Israel?
In the April 4 discussion, as well as in email correspondence, the author has stated that he does not believe that America is the “New Israel” or has replaced Israel in God’s program. However, a number of exchanges between The Prophet and Nouriel Kaplan could easily leave The Harbinger’s readers with a different impression. The Prophet builds the case for the connection by referencing the thinking and intentions of America’s founders:
[The Prophet] But there was one other—a civilization also conceived and dedicated to the will of God from its conception . . . America. In fact, those who laid its foundations . . .”
[Kaplan] “The Founding Fathers.”
[The Prophet] “No, long before the Founding Fathers. Those who laid America’s foundations saw it as the new Israel, an Israel of the New World. And as it was with ancient Israel, they saw it as in covenant with God.”19
Although the author denies this, the argument of the book seems to specifically depend on the idea that America’s founders and early leaders had indeed established the nation to be in a covenant relationship with God similar to that of ancient Israel. If it were not for this belief there would be no book. However, God established a covenant relationship with only one nation through His covenant with Abraham. Abraham entered into the covenant by faith, forever establishing Israel as a unique nation in a unique relationship with God that would be enjoyed by no other nation.
While The Harbinger does not state that God has completely rejected national Israel, there is no reference to either modern-day or future Israel at all. This is a significant omission because the sense one gets from the book is that Israel had failed to heed the warnings of the prophet and was subsequently permanently annihilated. This impression is compounded by the fact that there is no mention of Isaiah 9:1-7 (as noted earlier).
Granted, it is beyond the scope of The Harbinger to present a fully-developed eschatology. However, all we know from the story is that ancient Israel did not repent and was therefore destroyed. The story then jumps to the vision the founders had for America to be the New Israel. Again, this gives the impression that Israel met its final end, which is precisely the warning the author is communicating to America if there is no repentance.
The Ancient Mystery: The Nine Harbingers
As previously noted, the fictional part of the story centers around a “mystery” connected with nine small, engraved clay discs.[20.Page 9.] The original purpose of the nine seals was to warn the Northern Kingdom of Israel of progressive stages in God’s judgment as prophesied in Isaiah 9:10.
“The bricks have fallen down,
But we will rebuild with hewn stones;
The sycamores have been cut down,
But we will replace them with cedars.” 20
The nine seals were “harbingers” of impending events in the passage that would take place if Israel did not heed them as warnings— events which would ultimately lead to a catastrophic final judgment resulting in Israel’s total destruction and collapse. And although the nine seals are only part of the fictional narrative, they do represent nine actual “harbingers” or signs which the author believes he has identified in the Isaiah passage. He also believes that he has discovered an ancient mystery—a pattern of judgment represented by these signs, that is being manifested once again in the United States of America. This is what the author means when he writes, “…what is contained within the story is real.”
NOTE: A thorough treatment of all nine harbingers is being included in a book-length response to The Harbinger by this author. Each of the nine harbingers has problems comparable to those discussed in this review.
The First Harbinger: The Breach
Concerning Israel: God’s removal of his “hedge of protection” which allowed the Assyrians to attack
Concerning America: God’s removal of his hedge of protection which directly led to the breach of America’s security, providing an opening for the terrorists to attack on 9/11
While God protects whomever, whenever and however He chooses, a “hedge of protection” is a very specific type of protection. Such protection is mentioned only twice in the Old Testament: once in Satan’s accusation against God concerning Job (Job 1:10) and once concerning the nation of Israel (Isaiah 5:5). In the New Testament, it appears in only one parable which is also about Israel (Matthew 21:33; Mark 12:1). There is no indication anywhere in Scripture that any other nation ever has or ever will be protected in this particular way.
In the absence of any scriptural support, how can it be claimed with any certainty that 9/11 marked the removal of God’s hedge of protection? Furthermore, even if God ever has provided such a hedge of protection around America, is it not possible to also argue that it is still in place? There has not been another terrorist attack since 9/11—even though the motivation, intent and plotting to launch more attacks has continued to the present.
Also, if America enjoyed God’s hedge of protection, then what about Pearl Harbor? Hawaii was an American territory and therefore the attack was against America and on American soil. The next year, the Japanese captured and occupied two Aleutian islands of the Alaska territory. In the War of 1812, Detroit was captured by the British and Washington D.C. was captured and burned. Mexico invaded Texas in the Mexican-American War. In 1993, the World Trade Center was bombed by foreign nationals with the intent of taking down both towers. Was God’s hedge of protection not in place when these breaches occurred? If not, when was it put into place or put back into place?
Third Harbinger: The Fallen Bricks
Concerning Israel: The bricks which were originally used to build the city walls
Concerning America: Bricks that fell from buildings when the World Trade Centers collapsed.
Fallen bricks meant the Northern Kingdom lay in ruins. However, as tragic as they were, the 9/11 attacks involved only a few buildings, not an entire city, let alone the entire nation. And although there had been an airport security breach, this was not a breach of America’s military defenses, even when the attack on the Pentagon is considered.
The pattern of forcing current events into the Isaiah 9:10 prophecy continues with the author’s discussion of the bricks themselves. The fallen bricks in ancient Israel were the ruins of a destroyed city, while fallen bricks were only incidental in the World Trade Center attacks. In fact, it has been suggested that it was the lack of masonry construction that allowed the collapse of the towers.21
Fourth Harbinger: The Tower
Concerning Israel: A spirit of defiance against God when Israel would declare that the destroyed city would be rebuilt
Concerning America: The declaration by America’s leaders that the destroyed towers would be rebuilt
On the fourth clay seal is the image of a tower which is described as looking like the Tower of Babel. With nothing in the text about a tower (more on this later), how does this fit in? In the story, it is connected with a “spirit of defiance” which prompts the declaration by ancient Israel to rebuild the leveled city with hewn stone—and in the case of the WTCs, to rebuild a tower at Ground Zero.
Israel knew that the Assyrian attacks were a judgment they had brought upon themselves. When they declared that they would rebuild, they were shaking their fists in defiance of both their enemies and their God.
This is not what happened in the wake of 9/11. Yet, in both the book and the documentary by World Net Daily, the author attempts to build the case that America’s leaders were proudly and arrogantly acting in defiance against God when they spoke of rebuilding (even though they didn’t realize it).22 This is very misleading because although standing in defiance of America’s enemies, they were demonstrably not standing in defiance of God.
The explanation of the ninth harbinger seems even more misleading. In the book, Cahn gives the impression that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle concluded a speech on 9/12/2001 by quoting Isaiah 9:10.23 But, that was not the end of the speech. In the documentary by World Net Daily, Cahn specifically states that Daschle closes the speech with, “That is what we will do and we will rebuild, and we will recover.”24 However, this is not how the speech ended. There were two more sentences not shown in the documentary:
The people of America will stand together because the people of America have always stood together, and those of us who are privileged to serve this great nation will stand with you. God bless the people of America.25
By invoking God and thinking he was comforting Americans by using the Bible (albeit wrongly), his intent was clearly not defiance against God—it was exactly the opposite. To fail to include or mention his last two sentences is very misleading.
On September 11, 2004, then vice-presidential candidate John Edwards was speaking at the Congressional Black Caucus Prayer Breakfast. Cahn attempts to frame his speech as another unwitting act of defiance against God. However, an honest reading of the speech26 shows that defiance of God was the furthest thing from his mind.
However, he explains that both Daschle and Edwards were defying God without realizing it. In spite of their intentions, Cahn postulates that God was inspiring them to unknowingly pronounce judgment upon America.27
But how does he know that God is inspiring America’s leaders to prophecy? Unfortunately, he presents his speculation as fact. This is undoubtedly not part of the fictional storyline.
The author attempts to defend his theory by referencing Caiaphas, who unwittingly prophesied concerning the death of Christ (John 11:49-52) Cahn concludes that Daschle and Edwards intended to say one thing, but their words carried a far different meaning. However, that is not what happened with Caiaphas. His words were inspired to mean exactly what he intended. He just didn’t know how right he actually was. Once again, the author’s exposition of the biblical text does not stand up to scrutiny and the supposed parallel is simply not there.
Finally, Cahn appeals to the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) to bring the idea of a tower into Isaiah 9:10. The Septuagint has “let us build for ourselves a tower.”28 However, this phrase is not in the Hebrew text.
Furthermore, he doesn’t inform his readers that in contrast to the Hebrew text, the Septuagint indicates that it is Israel that cuts down the sycamores. And rather than planting cedars, they, too, are cut down—apparently for the purpose of building the tower. So, the Septuagint eliminates the sixth and seventh harbingers. It is extremely misleading and ethically questionable to pick one phrase out of a translation in order to prove a point when the passage as a whole has a very different meaning.
The Isaiah 9:10 Effect
The Harbinger is roughly divided into two major parts. Chapters 1-13 lay a foundation for the author’s arguments as he attempts to correlate the nine harbingers of Isaiah 9:10 with events of the last decade in America as evidence for the first wave of God’s judgment. In the second part of the book, chapters 14-22, Cahn presents a second wave of God’s judgment, a “second shaking,” as a final warning of impending severe judgment if America persists on its present path and refuses to repent. The “Isaiah 9:10 Effect” is introduced in chapter 15 and is used to explain the second shaking, which is the collapse of the entire American economy. The Prophet explains the Isaiah 9:10 Effect as follows:
“The attempt of a nation to defy the course of its judgment, apart from repentance, will, instead, set in motion a chain of events to bring about the very calamity it sought to avert.”29
Thus, the Isaiah 9:10 Effect is presented as having prophetic force, going far beyond a simple parallel or pattern. Cahn believes that the Isaiah 9:10 Effect is what has driven the course of events since the 9/11 terrorist attacks:
[Kaplan] “And they connect 9/11 to the economic collapse?”
[The Prophet] “Not only do they connect them . . . they determined them . . . down to the time each would take place.”
[Kaplan] “An ancient mystery?”
[The Prophet] “Yes, an ancient mystery upon which the global economy and every transaction within it was determined, a mystery that begins more than three thousand years ago in the sands of a Middle Eastern desert.”
Thus, the Isaiah 9:10 Effect is presented as an inviolable principle that once set in motion, the corresponding prescribed outcome is inevitable. Furthermore, it is discussed as if it were completely biblical, yet nothing even remotely similar to this theoretical principle is mentioned or implied anywhere in the Word of God.
The theory of the Isaiah 9:10 effect also raises an obvious, but very important question: Are there any other prophetic passages in the Old Testament that also function in a similar way? How many other prophecies directed to Israel can be correlated to historical events in the United States? Is there also a “Genesis 12:1-3 Effect?”—or a “Joshua 1:6 Effect?” Are such principles to be found throughout the Old Testament or is Isaiah 9:10 the only such passage (which would seem unlikely if the Isaiah 9:10 Effect were true)?
The bottom line is this: If a theological idea cannot be supported by the Bible, then someone simply made it up. Unfortunately, this is precisely the nature of the Isaiah 9:10 Effect—it is made up.
The Shemitah as a Mystery
In the Law God commanded that every seventh year Israel must allow the land to completely rest with no harvesting, reaping or any other work in the fields. In addition, all who owed money to creditors were to be released from their debts (Deut. 15:1-2). This was the Shemitah (or “release” in Hebrew).
Humanly speaking, the Shemitah should be crippling for any nation that attempted to practice it. However, Israel was not just any nation. It was the one special nation God had raised up to be His chosen people. God would demonstrate His love and faithfulness to Israel by providing enough in the sixth year to meet the nation’s needs the following year. Conversely, Israelites would demonstrate their faith in God as individuals and as a nation by obeying the command to keep the Shemitah and trusting Him for the results.
The author correctly has The Prophet stating that the Shemitah was never given to nor binding upon any nation other than Israel.30 However, in an apparent contradiction, he also believes that hidden in the Shemitah is a mystery that is now affecting the United States31—a mystery that extends to even the precise timing of events to the day.32 He argues that God has imposed a Shemitah upon the United States as He did when Israel had turned from Him and failed to voluntarily observe the Shemitah for centuries. In what seems to be an attempt to mitigate this contradiction, he presents the Shemitah as a principle as he did the Isaiah 9:10 Effect. Yet, as is true of the Isaiah 9:10 Effect, Scripture nowhere presents the Shemitah as either a mystery or a pattern or a universal principle connected with God’s judgment.
The Shemitah as a Principle
In order to lay a foundation for the argument that the Shemitah is a principle, the author makes the following assertion through the words of Nouriel Kaplan: “Seven years—the biblical period of time that concerns a nation’s financial and economic realms.”33 While Israel was on a seven-year cycle as required by God, this statement further suggests that the Bible indicates that seven years represent a natural economic cycle in general. However, once again, there are no biblical passages to support this idea.
Furthermore, extensive internet research does not reveal any uniform conventional wisdom or consensus among economists or financial experts that seven years is a natural economic or financial cycle (although apparently it has been suggested a couple of times). Things are said about various cycles that range from three to ten years, but cycles of specifically and exactly seven years apparently do not exist. And, yet, the Shemitah was precise to the exact day.
Cahn’s theory that the Shemitah is a principle thus appears to be yet another example of speculation raised to the level of fact, which is once again misleading. Yet, the second half of the book is built on this theory.
The Shemitah as a Sign
According to Cahn, the Shemitah is not only a principle, but is also a sign which is “given to a nation that has driven God out of its life and replaced Him with idols and the pursuit of gain. The issue is the Shemitah as a sign of judgment, the sign that specifically touches a nation’s financial and economic realms.”34
However, if the Shemitah is genuinely a sign from God, then it is a predictor of things to come because a biblical sign is revelatory. Therefore, if God warns that judgment will come through a particular set of events, when those events begin to happen they signify that the prophesied judgment is underway. On the other hand, in the absence of such a prophetic warning, even if identical events happen, it cannot be known with any certainty that God is executing judgment. For example, even though God judged Egypt through a locust plague, that another region of the world also experiences a swarm of locusts does not necessarily mean that those people are under judgment.
Because the Word of God does not give the required prophetic warning concerning America and the Shemitah, there is no Scriptural basis to interpret recent events as a sign that God is imposing a Shemitah as judgment upon the nation.
The Shemitah and America
What, then, could bring someone to suggest any sort of connection between the Shemitah and America? The only potential explanation would seem to be that the author, in some sense, believes the founders were right about America being in covenant with God, even if not as a new Israel per se, at least patterned after Israel’s covenantal relationship with Him. This is not to suggest that Cahn believes that national Israel has been replaced and has no future in God’s program. Unfortunately, there seems to be a significant disconnect between what the author says he believes about this and the ideas he presents in the book.
The Case for the Shemitah
The examples Cahn uses to demonstrate that America is going through an imposed Shemitah feel contrived. In contrast, the Shemitah in ancient Israel was simple. The Israelites were not to work the land and the wealthy lenders were required to forgive the debts owed to them by average people. When God imposed the Shemitah on Israel, He forced them to stop working the land completely by taking the nation into captivity. And, as captives, the wealthy were brought down to the level of their debtors and the financial system completely collapsed. The imposed Shemitah was not simply a sign, it was the judgment itself. It meant utter devastation. Almost everyone lost almost everything.
Since the situation with America has been significantly different, the author must go to great lengths in an attempt to support his interpretation of both the Bible and history. He has clearly done extensive research and has assembled an impressive array of facts and figures. Because he writes and speaks with conviction and authority, he makes a case that initially seems compelling—and one that has persuaded a lot of people that he is right.
However, upon closer examination, little of what is presented concerning America remotely resembles the Shemitah imposed by God upon ancient Israel. The first major component of the imposed Shemitah, forcing the land to lay completely fallow, has no contemporary parallel, even if possible economic modern-day equivalents are considered. Nothing in this regard indicates that an imposed Shemitah might be underway.
An analysis of the other major component, concerning credit and debt, reveals that the parallels proposed by the author are not much closer. He draws his support almost exclusively from the failure of a few large financial institutions and the response of the federal government. He cites four corporations.: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, and AIG.
However, this doesn’t follow “the ancient pattern.” Ancient Israel was overrun by a foreign army with everything of value either destroyed or taken. In sharp contrast, even though the U.S. and global economy has gone through a serious contraction and certainly many have been hurt, it has not been even close to the scale, relatively speaking, of the utter devastation that occurred in Israel.
As the author rightly notes, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were rescued by the federal government when the Federal Financial Housing Authority placed them under conservatorship. They did not collapse.35
When Lehman Brothers filed the largest bankruptcy in history after being denied a federal bailout, the U.S. and world markets were rattled for weeks. However, the analysis in the book includes overstatements and what feels like spin in the effort to find support. Although The Prophet states that the fall of Lehman Brothers triggered the implosion of the American and global economies,36 the fact is that they did not implode. They were seriously shocked, even damaged, but they did not collapse.
Unfortunately, because the failure was staggering in terms of dollars ($639 billion in assets and $619 billion in debt),37 the reader’s initial reaction might be that the author has made his case on this point—but he has not. If both the assets and debt of Lehman Brothers, at $1.25 trillion are added together, this represents only an extremely small percentage of the world economy. Even when compared to just the American economy, which has an estimated value of $188 trillion in assets,38 it comes out to only about 0.6%—a far cry from what happened when God judged Israel and imposed a Shemitah.
The author continues to try to build his case by citing the September 29, 2008 stock market crash as the “greatest single-day stock market crash in Wall Street history.”39 However, in only one place does the author note that it was the biggest drop in terms of points not in terms of percentage. At the same time, he repeats over and over that it was the “biggest crash in Wall Street history.” The fact is that at just 7%, the drop in the Dow Jones industrial average did not even rank in the top ten.40
To be fair, the Dow did drop a total of about 25% in the two weeks following the defeat of the bailout bill in the U.S. Congress on September 29. Once again, however, this does not rank in the same league as the market collapse in 1929 when it fell 48% in just over two months. By the time the crash had run its course, stocks had lost 90% of their value.41 Was God imposing a Shemitah in 1929? What about the other major market crashes that are in the top ten?
Even the above examples do not exhaust the numerous overstatements in this section, but they do give a sense of just how statistics can be used to prove almost anything.
King Solomon and George Washington
Confirmation of the Israel-America link
As previously noted, Kaplan, the journalist, has a dream about the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem under king Solomon (chapter 19). Although the author has said that this dream is simply part of the fictional storyline, it seems unlikely that there is not a specific reason behind connecting Solomon and George Washington given what is in the previous eighteen chapters. Why does Solomon transform into George Washington on the Temple Mount? This suggests that Cahn does, in fact, believe that there is much more than some superficial parallelism between the establishment of ancient Israel and the establishment of the United States as an independent nation.
Although preceded by kings Saul and David, it was Solomon who built and dedicated the temple. This finalized the establishment of Israel as a nation because it was then that God came to dwell among His people once again—not in a temporary tent, but in a permanent structure. So, too, the inauguration of George Washington finalized the establishment of the United States as a nation. The factual message that Cahn believes he is communicating through this fictional literary device is unmistakable (and not too surprising).
At this point, it would seem difficult for the author to continue to deny that he has clearly connected ancient Israel and America together. In fact, that he believes they are linked is stated explicitly in the book:
[Kaplan] “Solomon was the king of Israel. Washington was the first president of the United States. There was something in the linking of ancient Israel and America, as with all the other mysteries.”42
Mosaic or Abrahamic Covenant?
Also, despite denials to the contrary, Cahn seems to affirm, once again, that America is in a covenant relationship with God. As part of his explanation of the dream, The Prophet says, “The nation’s ground of consecration will become its ground of judgment.”43 A few pages later, Kaplan has traced the consecration of the United States to God’s purposes to the first capital, New York City—and more specifically to St. Paul’s Chapel, “The place where America was dedicated to God”44—which is located at Ground Zero.
In other words, a harbinger had been manifested in America, just as it had been in Israel. The place of Israel’s consecration, the temple, was destroyed, while the place of America’s dedication, Ground Zero, was also destroyed. Immediately following the above quote, The Prophet continues: “The Temple Mount represented the nation’s covenant with God. So its destruction was the ultimate sign that the covenant was broken.” In other words, the destruction of the place of consecration was a sign that the nation’s covenant with God had been broken—both Israel’s covenant and America’s covenant.
By insisting on pressing every detail as he has, Cahn has either tipped his hand as to what he really believes or has made a serious mistake that needs to be corrected because no one could come to any other conclusion but that he is saying Israel and the United States are both God’s chosen covenant nations. When combined with the fact that he only refers to Israel’s destruction, but never its restoration as modern-day Israel or its future hope as the center of the Messianic Kingdom, he gives the unmistakable impression that America actually does constitute a new Israel.
Another serious question is that of precisely which covenant was broken? Was it the Mosaic Covenant or the Abrahamic Covenant? The foundation of America has been in view throughout the book, but it was upon the foundation of the Abrahamic Covenant that the nation of Israel was established. If Cahn is somehow proposing that Israel managed to break the Abrahamic Covenant, then that means God is finished with national Israel. If that is not what he is suggesting, then The Harbinger needs to undergo some serious revisions to clear up the theological confusion caused by this ambiguity.
Confirmation of prophecy to America
In chapter 20, the author once again demonstrates that there is a discrepancy between what he now says he meant in the book and what he actually wrote. He emphatically denies that Isaiah’s prophecy is to America. However, he explicitly states that there is a prophetic word from Solomon to America:
[The Prophet] “So the message is twofold. There’s another part to it, another prophetic word, and this time from King Solomon.”
[Kaplan] “From King Solomon to America?”
[The Prophet] “For that nation that has turned from God, for that nation from which the smiles of heaven have been withdrawn.”
[Kaplan] “And this word came during the dedication of the Temple?” I asked.
[The Prophet] “It came when the dedication was finished”45
Preparing for Eternity
As stated in the beginning of this review, the author is to be commended for his desire to proclaim a message of repentance to America. His target audience is believers and unbelievers alike, which is one reason he chose to use the fictional format. He also rightly notes that national repentance can only take place at a personal level, when people individually turn to God. Because of this, chapter 21, “Eternity,” is arguably the most important one in the book. The challenge to be spiritually prepared for the day of judgment is quite clear as The Prophet states: “And no one is exempt. Each must stand before Him.46
Unfortunately, there are some issues which diminish the impact this chapter could have. A believer, or even an unbeliever who already understands the gospel would understand what the author is talking about. However, there are a few things which are either not stated, are unclear or require the reader to “connect-the-dots”—a difficult task without some prior exposure to Christianity.
Although the author does present the idea that Jesus is God in one place in the dialogue,47 it could be easily missed by an unbeliever. Neither is Jesus identified as “the Son of God.”
The book does talk about God putting himself in our place, “In our life, in our death, in our judgment . . . the sacrifice”48 which is a very good statement. However, while the Cross at Ground Zero is mentioned, the connection with Jesus and what He did is not. What is not clearly stated is that Jesus died on the cross, shedding His blood for our sins.
It was Jesus’ death that secured the forgiveness of sin and it is His resurrection that provides the sure hope of eternal life. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 15:1-6 that Jesus’ resurrection is an essential component of the gospel and in Romans 10:9 that one must believe in His resurrection to be saved. However, there is no mention of the resurrection in The Harbinger.
As previously noted, Isaiah 9:10 is in the context of one of the most important messianic passages in the Bible. Yet, the problem of not mentioning Jesus’ resurrection is compounded by the fact that His return is not mentioned either. Although Cahn repeatedly emphasizes the danger of coming judgment, nowhere does he tie it to the Second Coming of Christ. Neither does he mention the hope of the peace that will come to the earth during Christ’s rule over the promised millennial kingdom.
Cahn describes what someone must do to be saved:
[The Prophet] “By receiving . . . by letting go . . . by letting the old life end and a new one begin. By choosing . . . by opening your heart to receive that which is beyond containing—the presence . . . the mercy . . . the forgiveness . . . the cleansing . . . the unending love of God.”49
However, it is never explained that it is by simple faith that one “receives, lets go, chooses or opens one’s heart.” Neither faith in Christ, nor believing in Christ, nor trusting in Christ for one’s salvation are ever discussed. Someone with no biblical background would not understand what The Prophet means when he speaks of partaking in the infinite sacrifice.50 Unfortunately, the gospel is almost obscured in the midst of the many words, while things which could have made it much more clear are missing.
The Tenth Seal
In addition to the nine harbinger seals, there is a tenth, which is Kaplan’s personal seal. In the last chapter of the book, which deals with the tenth seal, the author seems to reveal the connection between himself and Nouriel Kaplan. It actually seems likely that Kaplan is Jonathan Cahn himself.
Kaplan is Jewish, as is the author. Kaplan is from the priestly line of Levi, as is the author. Kaplan becomes a messianic believer in Christ, as is the author. Kaplan has been given a prophetic message by God, as the author apparently believes is true of himself. Kaplan is commissioned and anointed to become a prophet himself, just as many are saying of the author. Kaplan is to be a “watchman on the wall” to warn of impending judgment, just as the author sees himself. And finally, Kaplan is encouraged to get out the message by writing a fictional novel, as has the author.
Jonathan Cahn wrote The Harbinger to call America to repent and turn to God, as well as to warn the nation that it is in danger of coming under the judgment of God if it fails to do so. This is a legitimate and very important message. He also rightly recognizes that the danger faced by the nation is ultimately a personal spiritual matter for each American.
This message could have been communicated in any number of ways, including through a fictional novel. That is not the main problem. The real problem arises from the way he has inappropriately handled the Word of God, from the many instances of speculation concerning the interpretation of historical events, and from the many overstatements and misleading statements he has made in order to make his case for an ancient mystery hidden in Isaiah 9:10.
Unfortunately, The Harbinger is a distraction from properly understanding the Word of God, particularly prophecy and so can legitimately be characterized as dangerous. It conveys what the author believes is a prophetic message, but the book clearly does not meet the tests for a prophetic Word from God. The Harbinger is misleading and therefore does not legitimately achieve what it sets out to do. Believers run the risk of embracing a misguided view of Scripture and a distorted view of history, while unbelievers will likely end up either skeptical or confused or both.
Cahn apparently anticipated that the book would encounter opposition, launching a “preemptive strike” against his critics:
[Kaplan] “They’ll do everything they can to attack and discredit it.”
[The Prophet] “Of course they will,” he said. “Otherwise they’d have to accept it.”
[Kaplan] “But not only the message.”
[The Prophet] “No, the messenger as well.”
[Kaplan] “They’ll do everything they can to attack and discredit the one who bears the message.”
[The Prophet] “Yes,” said the prophet. “The messenger will be opposed, vilified and hated, mocked and slandered. It has to be that way, just as it was for Jeremiah and Baruch.”51
To be clear, this reviewer is not an enemy of the Word of God or of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I accept the Bible as literally true and that all biblical prophecy will be fulfilled. I agree that America is truly on a dangerous path and could well find itself under God’s judgment, if that has not already begun. Americans do need to repent.
- Jonathan Cahn is the senior pastor of Jerusalem / Beth Israel Worship Center in Wayne, New Jersey. On the church’s website, it is suggested that Beth Israel is perhaps the largest Messianic congregation in the United States. He is generally referred to as “Rabbi.” ↩
- The Harbinger, from the back cover. ↩
- The Harbinger, p. v. ↩
- http://charismanews.com/us/32649-warning-book-to-america-debuts-on-two-new-york-times-best-seller-lists ↩
- As of April 23, 2012. http://www.amazon.com/The-Harbinger-ancient-mystery-Americas/dp/161638610X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid =1332454190&sr=8-1 ↩
- On April 4, 2012, Dr. Jimmy DeYoung moderated a discussion between Jonathan Cahn and this author which is available on the Prophecy Today website (www.prophecytoday.com) ↩
- http://www.sidroth.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=10457&news_iv_ctrl=0&abbr=tv_ (at the 8:21 mark) ↩
- http://www.amazon.com/The-Harbinger-ancient-mystery-Americas/dp/161638610X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1332907071&sr=8-1 ↩
- Page v. ↩
- In the book, “The Prophet” is not capitalized, but it is capitalized here and elsewhere for clarity. ↩
- Page 3. ↩
- Page 38. ↩
- Page 61. ↩
- Page 104. ↩
- Page 109. ↩
- Page 195. ↩
- Page 141. ↩
- Beginning at the 2:15 minute mark: http://www.cbn.com/media/player/index.aspx?s=/mp4/SUB109_JonathanCahn_010312_WS ↩
- Pages 18-19. ↩
- Isaiah 9:10, NKJV ↩
- http://www.cement.org/masonry/pp_fire_towers.asp ↩
- At the 21:10 mark, DVD #1. ↩
- Page 117. ↩
- At the 44:38 mark, DVD #1. ↩
- http://wfile.ait.org.tw/wf-archive/2001/010913/epf407.htm ↩
- http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=84922#axzz1M02bgo9D ↩
- Page 117. ↩
- Page 66. ↩
- Page 136. ↩
- Page 159. ↩
- Page 159. ↩
- Page 161. ↩
- Page 161. ↩
- Page 159. ↩
- http://problembanklist.com/fhfa-conservators-report-why-fannie-mae-and-freddie-mac-failed-0183/ ↩
- Page 161. ↩
- http://www.investopedia.com/articles/economics/09/lehman-brothers-collapse.asp#axzz1sMPT0MMA ↩
- http://rutledgecapital.com/2009/05/24/total-assets-of-the-us-economy-188-trillion-134xgdp/ ↩
- Page 164. ↩
- http://money.cnn.com/2008/09/29/markets/markets_newyork/index.htm ↩
- http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/bierman.crash ↩
- Page 195. ↩
- Page 198. ↩
- Page 206. ↩
- Pages 221-222. ↩
- Page 227. ↩
- Page 232. ↩
- Page 232. ↩
- Page 233. ↩
- Page 232. ↩
- Page 251. ↩