By Amos Wittenberg
It has become increasingly clear to me that neither Scripture nor doctrine is what nurtures the Jesus infection. Rather, it is Jesus himself, or better, the image that his worshippers have of him in their own mind. In other words, Jesus is not a person who lived at some time in the past, or even the Son of G-d who died for the sins of the world. He is a meme which lives in symbiosis with his human host by drawing sustenance from the host’s inborn religiosity or, if you want, desire to be close to G-d, and in turn pays for the hospitality by giving the host deeply satisfying feelings and experiences.
Therefore, confrontation with clear evidence from Tena”ch that this meme, lodged in the mind and its surrounding culture, has nothing to do with either the Living G-d, the G-d of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, or with the messianic expectations of the Torah and the prophets of Israel, this confrontation does not affect the deep belief of the Jesus worshipper. They need to worship Jesus, otherwise the meme cannot survive in their mind and as a consequence they will be robbed from all the benefits that the meme provides them with.
If this is how your belief functions (and my contention is that, almost invariably, this is how it functions) then no amount of biblical evidence is going to change your mind. And you who are a Jesus worshipper, whether you call yourself a Christian (the honest thing to do!) or a Messianic or Netzarim or Hebrew Roots or whatever, you will never become independent from the Jesus meme.
If you are happy with that, so be it. Just move on and do not discuss your belief with biblically oriented people. Discuss it with other who either share the meme – they will confirm what you already knew. Discuss it with liberal Christians or, for that matter, liberal Jews or liberal Muslims – they won’t have a problem with your meme. They themselves have their own meme.
So who are the other people, the people who were once infected with the symbiotic meme but somehow have expelled it? Who are they?
I’ll tell you who they are. They are not “believers”. They do not belong to some other “religion”. They are not people who have had mystical encounters or visions or revelations. No road to Damascus experiences.
What sets these people apart is an unshakeable reliance on the one way in which the Infinite G-d has interacted and still interacts with His creation: His covenant with a people called Israel, the Jews.
It is not the case that He is called the G-d of Israel because the Jewish people have invented monotheism. They have not done that. It is not because the Jewish people has produced the great prophets of the Bible. They have not done that either. Neither is it because G-d loves them above any other nation. He does not do that.
It is because the Jewish people are the creation of G-d Himself. He forged them, nurtured them, preserved them, gave them His instructions, admonished them, made them suffer the consequences of turning away from Him, kept every single promise He ever made to them and continues to do all these things until this very day.
And the people who rid themselves of the Jesus meme find a reliable and trustworthy record of all the above in the Hebrew Scriptures, Torah, Prophets and Writings. They adopt this Tena”ch as their standard, their guide to truth and then proceed to confront the Jesus meme with that standard of truth. Those who combine the adoption of the Tena”ch standard with a rigorous intellectual honesty and enough mental and psychological fortitude to face the isolation that results from living in conflict with received wisdom a.k.a. endemic meme, they will successfully beat the meme.
But… the meme puts up a fight.
Who has not seen the antics of people who from Hebrew Roots via Messianic seem to have ended up in some place where what they believe has barely anything to do with the New Testament except some selected “Jesus sayings” but where Jesus is still alive and kicking as a meme.
Consider what some people jettison as they progress from mainstream Christianity to Evangelical to Hebrew Roots to Netzarim to some new concoction.
Typically we find these successive prunings:
- First, of course, goes “Jesus Christ”. That’s Greek. That’s bad.
- Then goes the orthodox reading of Paul who becomes rabbi Shaul, contrary to all available evidence.
- Then goes explicit replacement theology as too embarrassing. They’ll preserve the mindset but will profess their rejection.
- Then goes the Greek New Testament. It must be actually Aramaic, originally, again contrary to all available evidence. They’ll drag in the Peshitta, the Syriac Christian translation of the Bible, as a proxy for the imaginary Aramaic New Testament which they will never call the “New Testament”, preferring obfuscating terms such as “Apostolic Writings”.
- Then goes very often Jesus as a sacrifice. They will try to construe some interpretation that does not explicitly say “sacrifice” but they still mean “sacrifice”.
- By now the Virgin Birth has disappeared or at least is not mentioned anymore. Never mind that the New Testament, whether you call it Apostolic Writings or Brit Chadasha or Netzarim Testimony, explicitly claims this unverifiable claim for Jesus. The meme is resistant to facts.
- Jesus is also not G-d anymore but some incredibly exalted status for him is of course preserved. What that exactly should be remains shrouded in mystery or enormous amounts of verbiage OFTEN in BOLD letters and offered as SHARING some VERY IMPORTANT messages that no one else has ever contemplated of course.
- And recently we have encountered people who will claim that Jesus was not the Davidic messiah but “Mashiach ben Yosef”. Of course, it comes in handy that Jesus’ earthly father was called Joseph. Never mind that the New Testament explicitly claims Davidic messiahship for its hero. Somehow we’ll roll the two into one.
All these things are “backed up” with extensive quotes from rabbinic literature to show that the Jesus meme is a kosher Jewish affliction rather than a remnant of a pagan infection.
They have to imagine a whole alternative history of their meme, how it survived the Church Fathers, Constantine, the Dark Ages, the Crusades, the Reformation, the Contra-reformation, the nineteenth century, Albert Schweitzer, Vatican II, the entire sordid history of a paganised pseudo-Judaism.
Somehow, in their mind which is controlled by the Jesus meme, it is those who most decidedly rejected all of Christianity, lock, stock and barrel, and stayed away from it as far as possible, namely the Jews and their rabbis, it is those who have the authentic ideas that can rescue the precious meme.
I call that “Rescuing Jesus From The Wreckage Of The Crash”. He has by now become a bionic messiah in that all vital parts have been replaced by artificial organs and limbs.
But the meme has survived.
And that, for those who worship the meme, is the most important.