NEW YORK — If the Rev. Clyde Lott has his way, several hundred cows will be flown to Israel in December. And the Mississippi preacher has some unlikely allies in his quest: Jews living in Israel and the West Bank.
The cows, the first of what Lott hopes will be 50,000 sent to the Jewish state, are part of his plan to fulfill a biblical prophecy that a red heifer be born in Israel to bring about the "Second Coming" of Jesus. The return of Jesus is part of a Christian apocalyptic vision of the end of time, which includes the slaughter of those who don't accept the Christian messiah as their savior.
The approaching millennium is heightening such apocalyptic expectations.
A cattle rancher and ordained minister with the National Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ, Lott believes, like most fundamentalist Christians, that three preconditions mentioned in the Bible are necessary for the coming of the Messiah: The state of Israel must be restored. Jerusalem must be in Jewish hands. And the Temple, last destroyed in 70 C.E., must be rebuilt.
The modern state of Israel, of course, was established in 1948, and since 1967, the Jewish state has controlled all of Jerusalem. That leaves the rebuilding of the Temple, and since a red heifer was part of the sacrificial ritual in the Temple — mentioned several times in the Bible, including in the Book of Numbers, Chapters 19-22 — many believe the birth of a red heifer in Israel will signal the Temple's return.
Many Jews believe that the same preconditions will bring about the coming of the Jewish Messiah.
An apparently red heifer, Melody, was born in Israel in 1996, but it soon grew a white tail.
Lott's quest began 10 years ago, when he heard from a preacher that the apocalypse might be approaching.
"A seed was planted in me, and once there, that seed didn't leave me alone," said Lott, who is 43.
In 1989, Lott drove to Jackson, Mississippi's capital, and asked the state's agriculture minister, Roy Manning, for help. Manning wrote to the American envoy in Greece in charge of Middle East agricultural exports, explaining the biblical connection and adding that the cattle would "adapt quickly to Middle Eastern climate" and be of excellent quality.
The letter eventually made its way — 90 days later and "with a lot of postage stamps on it," said Lott — to the Temple Institute, a private organization in Jerusalem dedicated to rebuilding the Temple. The institute contacted Lott and invited him to come to Israel, which started a relationship that has since brought Lott to Israel and the West Bank more than a dozen times.
After landing at Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport for the first time, Lott went to Jerusalem's Old City.
"All we saw was white-shirted, black-hatted, bearded men all around," he recalls. "I'd never seen anything like it in my whole life."
Indeed, when Lott sat down with rabbis who are officials with the institute. "It was almost like I was sitting down with men in the Old Testament," he said.
Lott and the members of the Temple Institute, which is headed by Rabbi Chaim Richman, didn't talk about their religious differences, preferring to focus on their common desires to help Israel prosper and see a red heifer born in the Jewish state.
Given modern technology and Lott's efforts to export an American breed of red angus cow, hundreds of red heifers could be born in Israel.
The birth of a red heifer would "unquestionably be seen as a sign from God to take further steps in rebuilding the Temple," said Richard Landes, the head of Boston University's Center for Millennial Studies, which is on the Web at www.mille.org
That could have disastrous political implications because rebuilding the Temple on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, which contains several Muslim holy sites, would antagonize the Arab world.
Lott's project is not the only one in which Israelis and Christians are working together to birth red heifers in the Jewish state.
At least two other American Christians are breeding similar cows in the United States in hopes of bringing them to Israel, according to Gershon Solomon, the leader of the Temple Mount Faithful, another group dedicated to rebuilding the Temple.
Still, Lott's project is by far the most ambitious. He estimates it could cost millions of dollars if the 50,000 cows are indeed sent.
The Temple Institute, which is no longer working on the project and declined to say why, helped connect Lott with cattle ranchers both in Israel and the West Bank.
Theological differences don't bother Haim Dayan, president of Ambal, Israel's main cattle organization, who is working with Lott. The types of cows Lott is breeding can flourish in Israel, he said, and "we can make a profit with them."
If Lott and his friends think the cows "will make the Messiah come faster, that's OK with us," Dayan said, noting that two of the three Israeli breeders that Lott is working with are observant Jews.
Lott and the Israelis with whom he works share more than just an interest in bovines.
He and some of his Israeli partners hope the cows will increase economic productivity at agricultural settlements across Israel and throughout the West Bank — and, therefore, persuade Israel not to trade this would-be productive land for peace.
But as the Rev. Guy Garner, an American from Georgia who helped set up the group's Israeli office, puts it, "The main thing is getting the cows and seeing if God sees fit to have one of them be the red heifer."
Meanwhile, Lott has given up his family's livestock business to focus on the red heifer project full time.
"It's become a lifelong goal," he said. "I don't do anything else."