John Brown gets asked the question a lot. What happens if he doesn't find oil in Israel? If his biblically inspired quest to restore the Holy Land to Israel comes to naught?
Always, he gives the same response.
"Well, I can't really deal with that," Brown explains in a promotional video for his company, Dallas-based Zion Oil & Gas. "Because for me to say that's not going to happen would almost be saying God's telling a lie."
To Brown, and to his 30,000 investors, the Old Testament is clear on that point. It never specifically mentions petroleum, of course, which was still several few millennia from becoming the world's dominant fuel source, but the evidence is there nonetheless, as demonstrated by the bevy of scriptures referenced on Zion's website.
In an interview with NPR this morning, Brown points specifically to Deuteronomy 33:13-16, which reads: "And for the precious things of the earth and the fulness thereof, and for the good will of him that dwelt in the bush; let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph, and upon the top of the head of him that was separated from his brethren."
"He talks specifically about the land of Joseph, the blessing of the deep that lies beneath," Brown explains to reporter John Burnett. "It doesn't say specifically oil, but there's a huge possibility it could be."
A map on Zion's website shows Israel divided into the 12 tribes, with arrows pointing to the spots where the passage predicts oil will be found.
Brown traces his conviction back 32 years to when, as a newly born-again Christian, his church was visited by evangelical pastor Jim Spillman, who preached that biblical prophecy reveals that Israel is perched atop 1.7 billion barrels of oil and 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
It might seem strange that God would encourage the exploitation of a resource that a mountain of scientific evidence suggests is ruining His creation, but it's not about the oil itself so much as its ability to enrich Israel and bring about a new golden age.
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Brown was convinced, anyway, and in 2000, he sold his tool business in Michigan and moved to Dallas to launch Zion. He had no experience in the oil and gas business.
So far, the company has come up empty. Four wells drilled, four dry holes. NPR reports it has gone through $130 million since its founding and that its stock has dropped by 90 percent. But Brown remains undaunted.
"Faith is not just believing that we'll find oil," he says. "True biblical faith is knowing that we'll find oil, and that's the kind of faith I have. I know we'll find oil."
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.