Obama isn't just Kenyan, he's also the Antichrist?

Today in Crazy: A new video uses linguistic jumps to argue that Jesus thought Satan was Barack Obama

Published July 31, 2009 6:32PM (EDT)

WASHINGTON -- Move over, Birthers. It turns out President Obama is actually part of a far, far more sinister plot, one that will make you long for the days when you only worried that someone had ginned up a phony birth certificate for him.

As a breathless new report on the loony World Net Daily makes clear, Obama isn't just Kenyan -- he's also the Antichrist. And Jesus himself knew it.

A YouTube clip published earlier this week reveals the evil truth, by delving into some Aramaic words that come together to sound like the president's name. The key to the theory is a line from the New Testament, specifically Luke 10:18, in which Jesus says, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven." Whoever put the video together -- someone named "ppsimmons," who World Net Daily couldn't persuade to go on the record -- reveals that the ancient Aramaic, and modern Hebrew, word for "lightning" is "barak." And then, using the word "bamah," or "the heights," which appears in Isaiah 14:14, ppsimmons argues that in the original Aramaic, Jesus would have said, essentially, "I saw Satan as Barack Obama." (When combining "barak" and "bamah," the narrator says, you'd have to add a "u" or "o" sound in between.)

Throughout the clip, the narrator keeps referring to how "a modern Jewish rabbi" would pronounce the Luke phrase. (At one point, the video helpfully provides a photo of one such rabbi, looking authentically Semitic -- if a bit stereotypical -- with a beard, a tallis and a Torah in front of him.) "If spoken by a Jewish rabbi today, influenced by the poetry of Isaiah, [Jesus] would say these words in Hebrew: 'I saw Satan as Baraq Ubamah,'" the video says.

Actually, as Woody Allen's Alvy Singer character in "Annie Hall" might say, Salon happens to have a "modern Jewish rabbi" right here. "They want to say it would be pronounced 'Ubamah,'" says Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, in Wyncote, Pa. "No -- it would be 'Uvamah.'" The YouTube video's narrator is correct that the Hebrew letter vav would have to become a "u" or "o" sound, but the letter that the word "bamah" starts with would also have to shift, to a "v" sound. "It doesn't hold up even within its own silly logic," Ehrenkrantz says. (I had also tried to reach a Salon editor's nephew, who has been studying Hebrew for his upcoming bar mitzvah, but he was in math camp and unavailable for comment.)

In essence, the whole video seems to be the political conspiracy theory equivalent of taking a phrase and running it back and forth among different languages in Babelfish until it becomes gibberish. The line in Luke 10:18 wouldn't typically be translated as "I saw Satan fall as lightning from the high place," as the YouTube clip does it, but rather, as "I saw Satan fall as lightning from heaven," or "from the sky." That phrase, "lightning from heaven" is rendered in Hebrew as "barak min ha-shamayim," not "barak uvamah." (Even the basic instruction I had years ago in Hebrew school was enough to figure that much out.)

The video's producer does make a fig leaf attempt to step back from the conclusions he's drawn. "I'm not proclaiming he is the Antichrist, or that I'm some kind of a Hebrew expert, but the word associations are indisputable," the producer told WND. "The Hebrew word for lightning is 'Baraq' and the word for heights or high places is 'Bamah.'" The video also includes a disclaimer saying it's not proof of Obama's true identity; the whole thing could just be a fluke.

But the linguistic twists needed to produce the whole theory give away the game. Once you start playing around with language and deliberate mistranslations, of course, it's not too hard to come up with something that fits whatever preconceived notions you may have already had. "It would take us about a half an hour to come up with a crackpot theory, and we can make just about anybody into either the Messiah or the Antichrist" by picking and choosing words from the Bible, Ehrenkrantz says. The idea that Obama is the Antichrist has been around long enough that Snopes.com posted a thorough debunking of it in April 2008 -- about 14 months before this latest YouTube clip popped up.

And while it may be easy to mock the video -- for its spooky music, its insane conclusions and, oh, yes, also the fact that it misspells "heights" as "heigths" -- there's no doubt some people on the right's lunatic fringe will take it as, well, gospel. After all, it's been more than a year since Obama's campaign posted a copy of his Hawaii birth certificate. By this time next year, will Lou Dobbs be asking why Obama hasn't put the Antichrist rumors behind him yet?

You can watch the video here:

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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