The primary point of divergence in Silverberg's alternate universe was 3500 years ago at the time of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt. Instead of crossing the Red Sea, the Israelites were driven into it by Pharaoh, drowning 10,000 of them and dooming the remnant to remain in Egypt. Of course, in reality, there probably never would have been a Roman Empire if the Israelites had not conquered Canaan. The kingdoms of Israel and Judah were much more powerful than most of the individual Canaanite kingdoms they replaced. They served as a stablizing influence in the region and very likely set in motion a series of migrations that sparked the development of both the Greek and Roman peoples into true nations. Their religion and scriptures were also major influences on other Mediterranean cultures.
Despite that historical problem, Silverberg’s characters still tell a few significant truths:
Democracy in Iraq?
While discussing the possibility of bringing Arabia into the Empire, Nicomedes says, “…these Saracens are free men, free within themselves, which is a kind of freedom that you and I are simply not equipped to comprehend. They can’t be conquered because they can’t be governed. Trying to conquer them is like trying to conquer lions or tigers. You can whip a lion or even kill it, yes, but you can’t possibly impose your will on it even if you keep it in a cage for twenty years. These are a race of lions here. Government as we understand it is a concept that can never exist here.”
Nicomedes was wrong about the freedom of the Saracens, but he was right about the possibility of governing them. God said they would always be at war with their neighbors, and so that’s the way it will be. Attempting to bring democracy to Ishmael’s descendants is worse than a fool’s errand. It’s rebellion against God. Do we really think we can bring peace where God said there can be no peace?
Gen 16:11- And the angel of the LORD said unto [Haggar], Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction.The Lowest Common Denominator
Gen 16:12- And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him…
Later, a Roman in exile became a friend of the fictional version of Muhammad in the days before he Islam. He said to Muhammad, “We Romans are accustomed to regarding all creeds with tolerance, and if you ever visit our capital you will find temples of a hundred faiths standing side by side. But I do see the beauty of your teachings.”
Muhammad replied, “Beauty? I asked about truth. When you say you accept all faiths as equally true, what you are really saying is that you see no truth in any of them…” And he was absolutely correct. It borders on insanity to say that Hinduism and Voodoo contain as much truth as Christianity or Judaism. Most of the great religions are totally incompatible with each other. Either you believe Yeshua’s words or you believe Muhammad’s. If you say you believe them both, what you are actually saying is that you believe neither, and you make yourself look like a complete ignoramus.