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Messiah Complex

How and Where it Shows up in Philosophy, Culture and Religion

by Scott Cherry—

"I think the Messianic concept, which is the Jewish offering to mankind, is a great victory. What does it mean? It means that history has a sense, a meaning, a direction; it goes somewhere, and necessarily in a good direction—the Messiah."     

—Elie Wiesel, Conversations

Can there be a "messiah concept" without an actual messiah?  If so, what spawns it?

Elie Wiesel (1928-2016) was a Romanian-born Jew of enormous notoriety and cultural importance in the West. He was a holocaust survivor who became a political activist and author of numerous books and articles. He was a professor of the humanities at Boston University and a sought-after speaker on human rights. In 1986 he won the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as numerous other awards and honorary degrees. Among his 57 books are these two titles that caught my eye: First, Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends; and second, Jewish, Literary, and Moral Perspectives. They seem to be consistent with our subject and the quote above. Take a moment to read it again. As an ethnic Jew representing the Jewish ‘majority opinion’ about Jesus[1], Wiesel did not agree with Muslims and Christians about the identity of the Messiah. But apparently he did believe in the Messiah concept. This is fascinating to me. First, it suggests that, whatever one’s religious beliefs, the very idea of Messiah is important. I agree. Second, it states that Messiah was “the Jewish offering to mankind”[2].  Again, I agree, and there can be little dispute about this. But by that he did not mean Jesus, he meant the Messiah of the Hebrew Scriptures who was as yet unidentified but was nevertheless ‘visible’ prophetically to its scripture community, the Jews. For Adam and me, our primary quest will be to explore these propositions and discover the key passages where he appears, whether obvious or obscure; kind of the way archaeologists search for ‘living artifacts’, and assemble them the way paleontologists try to reassemble bones.

Third, I love this part of the quote: “It means that history has a sense, a meaning, a direction; it goes somewhere, and necessarily in a good direction.”  With this I agree wholeheartedly!  To put it another way, there is a ‘Messiah principle’ operative in the world that ensures its purpose, its meaningfulness, and its progression toward an ultimate happy ending. Yes, just as the beginning of the world was good, so also the final chapter of the world will be good.[3]  For people that tend to believe this there are various reasons, not to mention a preference, to believe it. But not everyone does. Wiesel is pointing to a happy ending based on what he calls the “Messiah concept”.  Could this be true?  We’re ‘banking on it’, as they say. I and millions of others who subscribe to this concept derive great hope therefrom. It’s a huge part of what keeps us going day-by-day and enables us to flourish in life.

However, during the same interview in which Wiesel spoke those optimistic words about the future he went on to say what seems to be the polar opposite:

…At least we would like to think that history is going in that direction. But I think it’s going in the wrong direction. We are heading towards catastrophe. I think the world is going to pieces. I am very pessimistic. Why? Because the world hasn’t been punished yet, and the only punishment that could be adequate is the nuclear destruction of the world.

Personally, I’m not sure how Wiesel reconciles the two halves of his full statement. Depending on his meaning, we may or may not share his view that the world will get worse before it gets better, if it gets better. The Messiah concept does not preclude that, and even assumes it. But let me say very pointedly: This study is primarily of restoration and fulfillment. From our perspective, the Messiah concept is a divine promise that all that is wrong in the world will be set right.


This is an abridgment of Chapter 1 of our book-in-progress entitled The Messiah Complex (two posts down). Scroll down or click on full chapter in the More Links bar below.  

[1] There is a category of ethnic and professing Jews that does believe in Jesus as Messiah who self-identify as Messianic Jews.

[2] See The Gifts of the Jews, by Thomas Cahill

[3] The Bible’s creation story states that as God was creating, five times he “saw that it was good.” (Gen. 1:4,10,12,18, 31)

  • 14 October 2019
  • Author: Scott Cherry
  • Number of views: 1335
  • Comments: 0

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