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I was reminded of this when I saw the title of SciFi / fantasy book from 80s about Jesus, present-day New York, time travel and the Dead Sea scrolls, but somewhere in the early 2000s, while I was working as a bank teller in Ashland, KY, one of my co-workers gave me a book they read, thinking I'd enjoy it as a religious programmer. It was in English and probably about 200 pages, paperback binding, but bigger than the usual paperback which fits in a cargo shorts pocket. It being almost two decades ago, my recall of it is slightly muddled, but the main character is, I think, a journalist.

Weirdly enough, I don't remember why he actually got involved in the plot, but I remember the main villain, who was clearly supposed to be a No Celebrities Were Harmed (TV Tropes term) version of Bill Gates, but with all of the names changed to avoid suggestions of libel. Said villain ran an OS company in Washington or Oregon that ran much of the world's computers. Publicly, his image was good, but there were a lot of odd stories of him randomly firing people, or employees dying mysteriously, and fragments of story from his perspective show that he's haunted by the death of a parent, I think his mother, and that some of the fired/disappeared employees had caught him in the midst of some sort of psychotic break, apologizing to no one about what he had done to his mother, or maybe had text files full of him typing that over and over again.

His plot involved a software patch that would let him take over much of the world's computers, maybe ushering in an apocalypse of some sort through either making the world's support systems crash or launching missiles. It's all a bit vague in my head, but I believe the villain was trying to destroy the world in expiation of his guilt.

The climax of the story winds up in Israel, Jerusalem specifically, I think. I remember there was a character who'd shown up a few times, a rabbi in Jerusalem who stood roadside on Saturdays at a main thoroughfare with a sign proclaiming that there was to be no driving on Shabbat (I want to say he was based off of a real-life case) who gets mowed down by the villain in his van when he enters Jerusalem. Somehow, the solution to this computer plot is tied into the Dead Sea Scrolls, with the protagonists locating a heretofore missing scroll and that somehow foiling the plan.

The only other fragments I remember:

  • The villain carried a mobile phone with the capabilities of what we consider normal in a smartphone, including a situation where he demonstrated a "fun feature" where he took a statement from a security guard and had his phone play back a different message in the guard's voice by rearranging the voice pattern.
  • The cover was a dark color, I think dark blue or black, with a golden floppy diskette on my copy.
  • The journalist was accompanied by a female who was with him during the trip to Israel.
  • One of the fired employees was a housekeeper or janitor who I think had been with the software company since it's start, which made the firing and subsequent suicide all the more strange.
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    This all seems very mundane. Are you sure it wasn't a true story? – Valorum Jun 17 '20 at 15:17
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    Heh, at the very least, the computing technology being used was decades ahead of its time, effectively doing a real-time audio deepfake on a phone (or with a phone hooked into cloud computing, which was not a thing at the time), and the Dead Sea Scrolls having the solution seems a bit on the side of "prophecy". – FuzzyBoots Jun 17 '20 at 16:08
  • This is confusing and pulp enough that it might a Dan Brown production. – David Tonhofer Jun 19 '20 at 11:32
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Ah, I found it! format C: by Edwin Black. I started reading the Wikipedia article for the Dead Sea Scrolls, hoping they had a "references in popular culture" section that might mention this, and the mention of the Copper Scroll sounded about right, and the book is referenced there. From the Goodreads blurb:

Front cover of format C:

The richest man on earth, Ben Hinnom, owns the world's largest computer company, based in Seattle, which sells the Windgazer 99 operating system. Hinnom uses global fears of the Y2K problem to launch the ultimate domination of mankind. The only ones standing in his way are brash, yet guilt-ridden, Chicago investigative reporter Dan Levin, his computer-savvy girlfriend, Park, and her profoundly inward teenage son, Sal, a computer genius who becomes the nexus in the fight to save humanity.

Format C takes readers from the cutthroat competition of the computer world and big media in Chicago and Washington D.C., to Jerusalem's Old City where terrorists strike, to the caves of Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls and the mysterious Copper Scroll advance the intrigue, to the back alleyways of ancient Tsfat where Kabbalistic mysteries are unraveled, to the Valley of Death, the actual location of Biblical Hell in a cavern-filled valley outside Jerusalem's Old City known in ancient times for child immolation. It all culminates in the prophesied cataclysmic final battle between good and evil at midnight on December 31, 1999 at Har Megiddo in Israel, the site known as Armageddon.

I was wrong about the cover, which looks to be blueish grey with a computer monitor, and it's longer than I remember, over 400 pages. I found a copy on OpenLibrary, so I will reread it to figure out if this is a match other than the unusually advanced computer technology. And boy... I'd forgotten how worried people were about the Y2K bug.

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  • Alternate cover, maybe? – Valorum Jun 19 '20 at 12:55
  • Possibly. Or it might just be faulty memory over the years. I skipped to the end (heresy!) and it looks like there are aspects of Anakim (biblical giants like Goliath) and an actual apocalypse involving freak weather events, volcanoes erupting, etc, so I think this remains a good match for the site. – FuzzyBoots Jun 19 '20 at 13:11
  • "her profoundly inward teenage son, Sal, a computer genius" - code for "has enough insanity and patience to try variations on exploiting a webserver for several days on end from a dark room while living off raw fat and sugar and coffeine" not "writes papers that amaze Donald Knuth / Scott Aaronson / whoever". – David Tonhofer Apr 26 at 18:15
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This reminds me a lot of Quantum Lens by Douglas E. Richards. The cover was blue with gold lettering (though the image I can find on Amazon Kindle is a lightning-rimmed circle, representing the titular lens).

The general plot involves a man, a software billionaire, who finds a way to tap into the latent energy of the universe with his mind, giving him (over some time to practice and gain proficiency) the ability to fly, project energy (whether beams like lasers, or telekinetic force), reflexively protect himself from any form of force, and possibly other things I've forgotten.

There is a female in the story, a psychologist who is an expert on the placebo and nocebo effects, who is forced to aid another man, an enemy of the protagonist, into gaining the same powers.

Much of the action takes place in the Middle East, as that's where the antagonist has set up his base of operations.

Much of what's attributed to the bad guy above fits here, and a significant plot line was the psychologist trying to figure out whether helping the protagonist was key to the resolution, or simply handing him the world on a platter.

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    There is no mention of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Quantum Lens, nor of a guy with a "No driving on Shabbat" sign. Also the publication date is 2014 and that doesn't match "early 2000s". – John Rennie Jun 18 '20 at 9:05
  • That does not look familiar, although it does look interesting. – FuzzyBoots Jun 19 '20 at 12:18

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