The authors of the popular "Left Behind" series of end-times thrillers believe the Sept. 11 attacks were not predicted in biblical prophecy.

But Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins said the events of that day provided an image of what could happen in the period of tribulation they believe will occur after the Rapture, a future time when they think Christians will suddenly ascend to heaven. "We believe the tribulation period actually follows the Rapture ... when Christ returns to rapture the church so that what happened here is a picture of how bad it can be, but it wouldn't actually be that period yet," Jenkins said in a Tuesday teleconference with reporters from across the country.

"It would be wrong for anyone to try to put this into the tribulation period," added LaHaye. "That period will not come until after Christ has raptured what probably could be close to a billion people."

The authors discussed their views at a time when their publisher released a study that showed split opinions among Americans about the Rapture. The study, conducted by Barna Research Group and commissioned by Tyndale House Publishers, found that 44 percent of U.S. adults believe in the Rapture, 43 percent do not believe in it and 13 percent do not know what they believe about it.

The study defined the Rapture as "a time when all of those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior will be supernaturally taken to heaven, leaving only people who do not believe in Christ on Earth."

Those attending nonmainline Protestant congregations were almost twice as likely as mainline attenders to believe that the Rapture will occur (71 percent to 38 percent respectively). Thirty-three percent of Catholics believe it will happen. The study, researched in June and involving 1,003 adults, found that 64 percent of U.S. adults had heard the phrase "the Rapture." Thirty-eight percent both recognized the term and gave an explanation of what it meant.

"Desecration," the ninth of the planned 14 books in the "Left Behind" series, will be released Oct. 30. Orders of the series have been on the rise since the Sept. 11 attacks. The trade paperback version of "Left Behind," the first of the best-selling series, saw a doubling in orders in the second half of September, the publisher said. Sales of other titles in the series also increased significantly.

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