JACK PARSONS & THE CURIOUS ORIGINS OF THE AMERICAN SPACE PROGRAM
Part 13: Sacred Tunnels
I am getting too old for this sort of thing, Larry Meier thought to himself, as he stooped to make it through the narrow passageway.
The concealed tunnel began innocently enough as just another branch of the archeological dig being carried out at the South Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the dig that had made Benyamin Mazar world famous.
Mazar looks for shards, the past, Meier reflected, while I make the future.
Since the age of 17 or so, Meier had always viewed himself as a maker of history, one who sees its forward progress and nudges it this way and that, while remaining himself unseen.
The tunnel sloped upward, and curved to the right. "Where are we now?" he asked the figure in front, which was much overdressed for the summer heat.
"Almost directly beneath Al Aqsa."
Al Aqsa. The Moslem mosque at the South end of the Mount. Meier recalled that in the late 60s, during the early days of the South Wall excavations, there had been an incident with some Australian. Up above, on the surface of the Mount itself. Denis Michael Rohan. The name came back to him.
Rohan had been reading Christian literature that referred to the Moslem structures on the Mount as the prophetic "abomination of desolation". One day Rohan had thrown kerosene-soaked rags into the Al Aqsa mosque, setting it on fire. It had taken fire fighters four hours to put out the flames. Later, at his trial, Rohan made it evident he saw himself as the fulfillment of a prophecy in Zechariah. He would, like Israel, become a fire to the surrounding nations. And he would personally remove the offending Moslem abominations, Rohan had believed. Instead, Rohan had almost started a war, but had done no lasting damage.
Denis the Pyrotechnic Menace, Meier had called him at the time. Those sorts of wild-eyed fanatics were too erratic, too loony, to be really useful, except occasionally as assassins or as patsies. While not reliable on the job, they could be counted on to self- destruct afterward. No. The really useful types were those who were strongly religious, but not mystical. The ones that you just had to figure out how to convince that God wanted them to do what you wanted them to do. Then they would do your bidding without very much supervision. People like the Oral Jerry Swaggers of the world, who could be counted on to give money to your cause year after year because of their beliefs about prophecy. Or the Temple Mount Zealots, who would do the arduous work of digging tunnels, and making temple preparations, and, yes--when the time came--even smuggle in explosives past Israeli military intelligence and the Waqf, the Moslem authority that administered the Temple Mount. For the Zealots, it was sufficient they thought they were searching for an ancient urn of red heifer ashes, which would allow them to be ritually cleansed. Then they could enter the surface area of the Temple Mount, and begin construction of the Third Temple. Meier would explain to them the need for blasting materials at the right time. They trusted him: he delivered the money that made the project possible.
But without the red heifer ashes, all talk of destroying the Moslem structures and reclaiming the area for the Third Temple was just so much idle chit- chat. What was the point of getting the Arab abominations off the Mount, if many religious Jews still wouldn't come on? Moreover, when the tunnel blasts brought down the Arabic structures on the Mount, it would still not be certain that all-out war would erupt, especially if no sufficient sector of the Israeli population saw the hand of God in the sabotage.
That's where the miracle would come in. The explosion itself would be the mechanism that uncovered an urn of red heifer ashes. The ashes would enable believers to be ritually purified. The illusion would have to be perfect. Meier had several scholars working on it-- finding the right vase. The red heifer ashes would have to be properly burned and aged. And they would have to be exposed in just the right way and at the right time. Once religious Jews believed they now had the right to storm and occupy the Temple Mount surface, there would be no turning back.
Of course, luck might have it that the tunnels would accidentally turn up an urn of red heifer ashes before then. Such luck would simplify matters. No one Meier knew would hesitate to use explosives in that case. But Meier didn't believe in luck. The only hand of God that Meier had ever seen was the one attached to the end of his own right arm. And that right arm was going to make sure all the necessary ingredients were available.
The figure in front of him pointed to a hole in the side of the tunnel, and held his flashlight. Meier stuck his head through, and saw a small crevice that dropped downward in the dark.
The figure shrugged. "It's at least 100 meters deep. We've started using it for dirt disposal."
Meier paid careful attention to the religious expectations of the Zealots. Success was largely a matter of meeting those expectations in a consistent manner. So he noted doctrinal and historical points carefully, on matters to which he was personally indifferent.
Matters as simple as that of the temple location. There was scholarly disagreement over the exact location of the First and Second Jewish Temples on the Temple Mount area, because of the extensive changes and modifications that had been wrought by Romans, Moslems, and Crusaders after the destruction of the Second Temple by a Roman army under Titus in 70 A.D. The traditional view put the temple in the location of the present-day Dome of the Rock. But making this fit the historical record had some problems, and there were arguments for at least three other locations. One would place the temple north of the Dome of the Rock, where the present Dome of the Spirits (or Dome of the Tablets) is currently located. Another theory would locate the temple due east of the Western Wall, in the area of the Al Kas fountain, roughly midway between the current Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque. A fourth location some argued for was the current site of the Al Aqsa mosque itself.
Tunneling plans were simplified, however, in that none of the Zealots gave credence to the conjectured northern location, so the main focus was in the areas of the El Kas Fountain and the Dome of the Rock.
One thing seemed apparent to Meier, as he listened to the debates. The current organization of the Temple Mount area followed a model designed for the Temple of Jupiter that had been built on the site by the Romans after the Bar Kochba rebellion in 132 A.D. The Roman Emperor Hadrian, one of the world's great builders, had cleared off all remains of the Jewish Temple, and placed the Temple of Jupiter on the Mount as a sort of Jew-repellent. He renamed the city Aelia Capitolina. Hadrian also constructed a Jupiter Temple in Baalbek, in Lebanon, using an identical layout.
In the Baalbek model, there was the Temple of Jupiter itself (a rectangular structure), along with a polygonal (in this case hexagonal) forecourt and propylaea. Just as on the Temple Mount there is the present-day rectangular Al Aqsa mosque and a polygonal (in this case octagonal) Dome of the Rock. In Baalbek, in between the rectangular temple and the polygonal structure which served as an entrance building, was a court area and a sacrificial altar. Similarly, on the Temple Mount, we find an equivalently proportioned court area between the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. One record mentioned that an equestrian statue of Hadrian had been erected right over the spot where the former Holy of Holies of the Jewish Temple had been. If so, this would put the Holy of Holies approximately beneath the present Al Kas ablution fountain.
Hadrian had also constructed a Temple of Aphrodite, west of the Temple Mount, located at the site of the present-day Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
The Temple of Jupiter was subsequently razed by Christian invaders, and the Temple Mount surface area was left barren. Then the Arabs arrived, cleaned up the Mount, and built the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque. But it seemed clear, to some of those Meier listened to, that the Arabs had constructed the Al Aqsa mosque on top of the old rectangular Temple of Jupiter (which they erroneously believed to be the ruins of Solomon's Temple), while the Dome of the Rock replicated an octagonal structure that was part of the same original Jupiter Temple complex. The Arabs had simply built on the ruins of the old Roman Aelia Capitolina. Meanwhile, the location of the original Jewish temples remained a mystery, as the Romans intended it should.
Meier didn't care, one way or another. As long as the tunnels went to the right spots where he needed to deliver his explosives, and as long as he could properly weave his red-heifer magic out of what was believed, then all would be well.
The current engineering problem was one of connecting up various tunnels that permeated the Temple Mount area, as well as creating new ones in locations of interest, such as the sub-surface area around the Al Kas fountain. This had not proven difficult, as the area bound by lines running north from the Double and Triple Gates at the South Wall was already peppered with underground halls. But to reach the Dome of the Rock itself, it would have made more sense, from the point of view of tunneling, to come from the north, or from the Warren's Gate area to the west. Doing so, however, would attract too much attention. So the Zealot diggers were heading north from around the Al Kas fountain, in an attempt to tie into the well-known cave beneath the Dome of the Rock. Once there, they would have to create an entry point without alerting the Waqf.
Digging progress was slow, to be sure. The Zealots, with their archeological picks, didn't want to damage any holy artifacts they might come across. Meier nevertheless took advantage of each visit to urge them on to ever speedier work.
"How much further?" Meier asked his overdressed guide.
* * * * *
Dean looked up from the shadows. Through the branches of a tree, he could see the evening star, Venus. There was no question that it was her star. He moved forward for a better view.
The pain shot through his shin, and he abruptly sat down on the earth amidst the leaves and other forest detritus. He had walked into a broken branch lying concealed in the darkness. Ouch. He felt like a fool. Because I am a fool, he thought.
He wondered if they would make love. Or whether they would ever again make love. That time . . . She had seemed to be rewarding herself for a task well done, that one time. Their love-making had been non-personal, but not impersonal. It had been non-personal, because there were no identities involved. No individuality was present, but rather only the fierce current of desire and its hungry satisfaction.
He was a fool, alright. That had been the most erotic experience of his life, and he would keep coming back, like a heroin junky, hoping to someday again feel like Jesus' son. When I put a spike into my vein. And I'm rushing on my run. I tell you things are just not the same. I feel like Jesus' son.
The fingers ran through the back of his hair. Thus she appeared, ofttimes, seemingly out of nowhere.
"Not really. I bumped my shin in the darkness."
She settled on the ground, beside him. Only the silhouette of her hair was visible.
"What do you have for me?" she asked.
"I know what Meier is doing. He's using this red heifer thing to raise money and get tunnels dug under the Mount. Then he's planning to blow up the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque. Apparently he's bent on starting a war, for some reason or another. A war that the main government faction doesn't want."
"And Oral Jerry Swagger? How do you see his role?"
"I think he's just providing money for the bombs. Or the shovels. Take your pick."
Dean smiled in the darkness. He could not see, but felt, the return smile. They sat for a while in silence.
Finally Dean asked, "What about Lodge? Is he going to stop this? Stop the war?"
"He says he is. Maybe he will. Maybe he won't."
"I thought you were working with Lodge. Aren't you?"
"We have mutual interests."
"That's what I've never figured out. What mutual interests? What's your interest in the Temple Mount?"
Trisha didn't answer. Dean thought for a while, and tried a different tack.
"What's your interest in Jack Parsons?"
She laughed. "You don't know?" There was a hint of incredulity in her voice. Dean knew from experience that it was impossible to tell if the incredulity was real or feigned. Nevertheless, it made him feel stupid.
"No. Not really."
"Jack Parsons was my father."
Pieces of the jumbled mosaic seemed to settle into partial coherence. A chill went through Dean, and his heart began pounding. Except. Except for one thing.
"You're too young for Jack Parsons to have been your father."
"Oh, how old am I?"
Dean knew better than to try to answer.
After a while she said: "I am a moonchild. Jack Parsons' moonchild. Sometimes there are time skips in the effects of the ritual."
Some primal instinct forced Dean to look for her hands. His eyes were beginning to adjust to the darkness, but he still could not see her hands. He was looking for the dagger, he realized. Maybe she was telling him all this, because she was planning to kill him afterward.
And she was beginning to sound as crazy as Zak. But still, this could be his one chance to find out what was happening.
"So what's going on? What's all the deal with Jack Parsons? I mean, right now, with Jack Parsons?"
She understood his question. "It's all part of Lodge's psychological ops," she replied. "Meier, Parsons, and OJ all knew each other back in the 40s. Lodge is using Parsons to fuck with OJ's head. He hired this investigator from Philadelphia to look into Parsons' death. A guy named Hermes. My roommate works for him. Lodge will now make sure that OJ knows about the investigation. He expects OJ to spook. Then Lodge will weave his magic--whatever he is planning to do."
Dean thought about the answer. "OJ had something to do with Parsons' death?"
"Maybe. Lodge has this ex-disciple of OJ whom he uses as an information source. He--this disciple--says that someone was once blackmailing OJ with respect to something involving Parsons."
"How did they all come to know each other? I mean Jack Parsons, Larry Meier, and Oral Jerry Swagger?"
"It seems that Meier was involved in arms for Israel, back then, while still a teenager almost. Parsons helped out in that, supplying Meier's group with explosives. As for OJ? I don't know any details. He was briefly a member of Parsons' Agape Lodge before he went off and turned himself into a Christian evangelist."
"And you think one of them killed your father?"
Trisha was silent. Then: "Yes, I think one of them was responsible for the death of my father."
Dean's eyes again looked down, searching for the dagger. He took a deep breath. This is ridiculous, he thought. He looked up again at the sky, at Venus, shining like a jewel on a dagger handle.
After a time, Trisha spoke again, questioning.
"I think Zak's just a cut-out. He's obviously Mossad's tool. But he keeps telling me this bullshit story about The Nine, who are cosmic overlords of a sort."
"The Nine?" Dean heard a slight change in her voice. A tightening of the vocal cords.
"Well, they are supposed to be in charge," Dean said. "Actually Zak talks to a spaceship, he claims, operated by intelligences who have downloaded themselves into the ship's computers."
"What's Zak's role? In the operation?"
"Just to pick up cash from OJ, and to take it to a Chinatown location, where it will be deposited into various accounts, and then wired to Bank Hapoalim, to an account Meier set up."
"Why does Zak want you to film the operation?"
"Blackmail, I think."
"OJ or Meier?"
"Maybe it's just insurance. Maybe Zak just wants proof he picked up and delivered the money," Trisha said.
"Yeah. But why would he need proof? For whom? If Meier or OJ say they were crossed, who is he going to show the fucking film to?"
Trisha was silent, thinking.
Then: "Tell me about Zak's Nine. Who are they supposed to be, again?"