The Twelfth Imam – Joel Rosenberg

The Twelfth Imam Joel Rosenberg
The Twelfth Imam by Joel Rosenberg
Series: The Twelfth Imam #1
Published by Tyndale on October 19, 2010
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Thriller
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five-stars

As the apocalyptic leaders of Iran call for the annihilation of Israel and the U.S., CIA operative David Shirazi is sent into Tehran with one objective: use all means necessary to disrupt Iran’s nuclear weapons program—without leaving American fingerprints, and without triggering a regional war. At extreme personal risk, Shirazi undertakes his assignment.

A native Farsi speaker whose family escaped from Iran in 1979, he couldn’t be better prepared for the mission. But none of his training has prepared Shirazi for what will happen next. An obscure religious cleric is suddenly hailed throughout the region as the Islamic messiah known as the Mahdi or the Twelfth Imam. News of his miracles, healings, signs, and wonders, spread like wildfire, as do rumors of a new and horrific war.

With the prophecy of the Twelfth Imam seemingly fulfilled, Iran’s leaders prepare to strike Israel and bring about the End of Days. Shirazi must take action, but the clock is ticking.

Joel Rosenberg first caught my attention some years ago when I read his debut novel The Last Jihad, which begins by putting readers in the cockpit of a hijacked airplane hurtling ever closer to an American city on a kamikaze mission. This was about 2006, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were in full force and everybody in the world knew what the term jihad meant, so I didn’t find Rosenberg’s plot too incredibly intuitive. Then I discovered that The Last Jihad was actually written nine months prior to 9/11/01. His following novels, also centered on apocalyptic events in the Middle East, also had aspects that came true—from the death of Yasser Arafat to an alliance between the Russians and Iranians. Now Rosenberg has returned to fiction with a new series, more apocalyptic and explosive than anything else he’s written.

The Twelfth Imam asks a very simple question: What if the Islamic Messiah came to earth? To really understand this novel, you have to have some sense of the cultural and historical background. In Shiite and Sunni eschatology, the Madhi—or twelfth imam—is the prophesied redeemer of Islam whose worldwide rule will precede the Day of Judgment.

In the near future, tensions are high in the Middle East. Iran has vowed to annihilate Israel and the US, and intelligence warns both countries that Iran will soon have nuclear strike capabilities to make their threats a reality. Enter CIA operative David Shirazi. He’s been training for this mission his entire life, but that doesn’t make things any easier. One just doesn’t waltz into Tehran and destroy a country’s nuclear program without leaving some evidence. Even worse, the CIA’s initial plan goes horribly awry, leaving Shirazi to improvise his way through the mission. But at the same time Shirazi is working his way into the Iranian’s good graces, he’s discovering that a mysterious figure called the Madhi is upsetting Islamic politics and disrupting even more of the plan.

While the main focus is on Shirazi, Rosenberg also develops the story from the perspective of Najjar Malik, an Iranian physicist who discovers that the head of Iran’s nuclear program—who happens to be his boss and father-in-law—isn’t interested in developing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. The Mahdi and his exploits are also featured, depicting his performance of miracles and unveiling to the Islamic leaders. The result is a fast-paced, thought-provoking, and page-turning introduction to what is sure to be an explosive series. Rosenberg’s work seems ripped from the headlines—next year’s, that is—and as the novel leads to its climax, the reader knows the story is only just begun.

Despite the title, The Twelfth Imam is more a character-driven novel that focuses on David Shirazi and his unique background. This seems to slow the story at first, but later on it serves as the foundation for some very big payoffs down the line. Rosenberg also spends some amount of time developing the reader’s knowledge of Islamic eschatology, as understanding that is foundational to the whole of the series.

The Twelfth Imam raises questions of every stripe. Politically, what if Iran goes nuclear? Religiously, what if the Islamic Messiah came to earth, or, at least Islamic leadership believe he has? Diplomatically, how do we handle Islamic leaders with apocalyptic beliefs? Evangelistically, what is Christ doing in Muslim countries? Personally, how should I relate to my Muslim neighbors? Entertaining, enthralling, and engaging even long after the pages are shut, The Twelfth Imam is an excellent introduction to what should be an exciting series. Rosenberg again proves that he is the king of Christian conservative political thrillers.

five-stars

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