Hi and welcome back! A while ago, I ran into this bizarre newish warping of Christianity that epitomizes the more hardcore than thou mindset. Called Hebrew Roots, this movement takes evangelicals’ obsession with Judaism and cranks it up to eleven. Today, let me show you these guys — and then we’ll look at what attracts so many people to such weird, obviously-wackadoodle groups.
Everyone, Meet Hebrew Roots.
Hebrew Roots is a Christian movement that makes its members adhere to all sorts of Jewish laws and customs. Its members also study Hebrew, Jewish history (especially ancient), and to a lesser extent the Talmud. Many keep kosher, observe several Jewish holidays and feasts, and reject some important mainstream Christian doctrines like the Trinity. They also refuse to celebrate “pagan” holidays like Christmas and Easter.
They also use their own version of the Bible, called Restoration Scriptures: True Name Edition. This copy adds another subtitle: “The Set-Apart Scriptures of The Nation of Yisrael In Restoration With True Names in Paleo Hebrew.” Actual Jews don’t use Proto-Hebrew, so this stuff must sound OOH SO HARDCORE to Hebrew Roots members. It was written by a guy who claims, according to his Amazon bio, to have totally led “entire Jewish families to saving faith in HaAdon Yahushua.”
Oh yes. Almost forgot. Hebrew Roots people have an extremely quirky way of addressing and describing their god and associated figures in the pantheon. Jesus typically gets “Yahushua” or “Yahushua Messiah.” See, “Yeshua” is just way too mainstream for these hipsters.
Now, I know next to nothing about Hebrew, much less Proto-Hebrew. But a big part of me suspects that Hebrew Roots members’ use of either language sounds pants-on-head wackadoodle to someone who does know the languages. They seem to rely a lot on concordances — as do a lot of other Christians focused on Original Christianity, I’ve noticed.
A competing subgroup, Christian Hebrew Roots, isn’t quite as extreme. They consider themselves nondenominational and apparently welcome members from other religions. La Wiki considers them a “bridge” between regular Protestantism and Hebrew Roots.
Where Did These Nutbars Even Come From?
Like a lot of the weirdest ideas in Christianity, Hebrew Roots sprang from the forehead of Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG). He blended his own (mis)understanding of Judaism with fundamentalism to end up with a worldview that’d later influence the founders of Hebrew Roots. After Armstrong died, his followers rejiggered his ideas to make them easier for Protestants to accept.
(Oh, and Armstrong also tossed in a lot of false prophecies about the end of the world. Obviously, Jesus did not return in 1975, but strangely this Judaism-obsessed group didn’t handle Armstrong the way the Old Testament says to handle false prophets.)
So Armstrong himself did not completely invent Hebrew Roots — he only influenced it very powerfully with his obsession with Judaism and blending of Jewish rules and customs into his denomination. All through the 1960s to 1980s, various people refined Armstrong’s ideas further as they decided which Jewish feast days and rules and whatnot Jesus really wanted Christians to observe.
In 1994, Dean and Susan Wheelock went whole-hog on this thang. They trademarked the name Hebrew Roots, began putting out a magazine in 1998, and started a website (it still exists, but they seem to have changed its title to Salt Shakers).
Seriously, it’s this whole subbacultcha.
The Inter-Denominational Bickering Begins (Again).
Christians outside of Hebrew Roots don’t like them. A number have written online refuting their claims and beliefs. The more evangelical the Christian leaders/writers/etc are, the less they like Hebrew Roots.
Got Questions, which normally refrains from getting too visibly annoyed or sarcastic, openly refers to them as “haters” seeking to “put Christians under the bondage of the Old Covenant law.” Their writer says:
The advocates of the Hebrew Roots Movement can be very aggressive in their arguments, hence their inclusion on our list of GotQuestions.org haters. Their arguments can sound very biblical, and sadly, they are increasingly successful in their proselytization. [. . .] Should any of their arguments concern you, read the Book of Galatians and email us in the morning.
Yep, that’s always the cure to any questions about the Bible: reading the Bible! Just ask your Captain how well that works in reality.
Answers in Genesis, the pseudoscience Creationist site Ken Ham started, doesn’t like them either. Their writer refers to them repeatedly as “dangers” and “dangerous.” Like the Got Questions writer, he sounds very nervous about just how popular the movement is and how alluring its ideas are to his own target audience. And he also suggests those who like the idea of Hebrew Roots need to go read Galatians.
Also don’t miss this site and its absolutely frantic-sounding exhortations to Hebrew Roots members to rethink their lives, or this other site which is simply indescribably weird. Or this one, which is sort of like a Meetup site for these guys except they’re all trying to outdo each other in hardcoreness so I doubt they’re finding friends.
A Sample Hebrew Roots Rant.
I ran into a member of this movement, Marshall Castersen, while researching this post — he showed up on that Fellowship meetup site and his garbled, marble-mouthed “YaHUaH Reigns” profile caught my eye. He’s quite a winner. And he got featured on the snark site Kiwi Farms, which captured a video of him. The video was incredible — though not for the reasons this guy hoped! I simply had to transcribe it for y’all.
In the following transcription, however, I will not be capitalizing YaHUaH the way this nutbar does. He’s already extra enough without that.
(I hope that embedded correctly.)
Here’s the curse, delivered in a dead-sounding zombie monotone I guess is meant to make this guy sound like a BAMF:
I curse you, and all your followers, and all you people over there that have spoke against my wife and I. I curse all of you in the name of Yahuah. [removes glasses to reveal bleary, sunken eyes that are as dead as a shark’s] That you die and that Yahuah takes your life. And that your insides rot with pestilence. May you die for coming against Yahuah’s righteous. [presumably he means himself] [. . .]
And I have complete confidence in Yahuah, that he will hear my call and get me justice. [fiddles with something offscreen while he drones] For [mouth smack] he loves his righteous and he hears their call and he protects their sheep. [??? clearly he doesn’t understand that metaphor] [fiddles again with that thing offscreen and suddenly I realize he’s probably driving while he films] And I’m battle-hardened. I’ve been through a lot of battles in my lifetime. [fiddles AGAIN] And Yahuah gives me strength. To crush all my enemies. They will all my enemies fall. And I destroy ’em. [fiddles yet again]
Anyways, [mouth smack, direct dead-eyed stare at camera] I hope you all die.
In the name of Yahuah, so be it. [omg those white spots on his lips – piercings? or dried spit? this guy is so disgustingly filthy I can all but smell him through the monitor]
Wow. Can you even? And this guy seems to be perfectly representative of this movement — not a bad apple. If I thought he was just a bad apple, I wouldn’t have shown him to you. But seriously, he sounds like par for the course. They all seem to talk like this when they get mad.
Why Hebrew Roots Exists.
Christians really have no idea how to interpret the Bible. Nor do they have any idea how to make Christianity — a Frankenstein’s monster cobbled together with incompatible bits from all the religions popular at the time — work as a religion.
So even in the best-case scenario, meaning a Christian who sincerely really truly totally wants to Jesus correctly, it’s impossible for that person to know which Jesus-ing is the best Jesus-ing.
But the worst of them are very certain that they understand exactly how to do it. They’re even more certain that every other Christian is Jesus-ing incorrectly. Hebrew Roots, with its wacky use of ancient languages, reliance on ancient customs, and its more-hardcore-than-thou take on Christianity, was designed from the ground up for those sorts of Christians.
So a lot of the folks involved with Hebrew Roots ain’t there for best-case Jesus-ing.
Instead, they’re complete authoritarians looking for the easiest and fastest way to pull rank on their fellow Christians. When they fling curses around, they get off on thinking of this cosmic bully doing their bidding and striking down their many enemies.
Recognizing the Truth…
I got really interested in learning about the Christians who’d dabbled in Hebrew Roots. Not long ago, one of our community members posted a link to a Jew-fetishizing evangelical blogger. I noticed in that blogger’s other comments a note by a guy who said he’d been involved with it. I realized then that a lot of Christians probably have, especially in the evangelical end of the pool where correct Jesus-ing becomes so very, very important.
Well, I couldn’t get in touch with that guy. But I did find some other Christians who wised up eventually. On the basic r/Christian subreddit, I found someone talking about it:
For a few years I followed along but then I read the Holy Scriptures and I was stunned that we are not under the Law and we are saved by faith. So I read the early fathers of the church and they said they didn’t follow the Law and it’s useless to follow it.
Overall, the comments there repeat the criticisms that evangelical leaders have made of Hebrew Roots. But this time, they come from personal testimony from people who’ve actually tangled with the group.
…And Yet Not Recognizing Quite Enough of the Truth.
Another person leaving the group just wanted some way to answer their previous tribemates’ objections. Here, we see the main difficulty Christians have in working out what exactly they should believe and do to be good Christians.
And that Reddit post makes a very good capstone to this post.
All the other Christians could do in response there was offer that person a bunch of Bible verses and Christianese. However, Hebrew Roots people also wield Bible verses and Christianese. As we saw earlier, evangelical leaders have no real way to respond to a competing Christian ideology whose followers can manage that trick. And neither do their followers.
When it comes down to it, there’s no reason for Christians to think that Hebrew Roots is any more or less valid an expression of Christianity than their own chosen flavor is. Some flavors are wayyyyy more toxic than others, of course. However, overall they all struggle with the exact same problem:
They all lack a tether to reality.
Without that tether, one false belief begets many others — and no one belief can push itself ahead of the rest. They’re all lacking in evidence. So ultimately, which flavor any Christian fancies most all comes down to what works best for that individual person. They have no objective way whatsoever to assess anything they encounter.
I can’t imagine any truth that could frighten and enrage really authoritarian Christians more than that one. But more and more people are coming to it — whether their leaders like it or not.
NEXT UP: Is it time for a Biff story? I think it is. See you tomorrow!
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(Final note: For those interested, here is an archived copy of the Kiwi Farms vs. Marshall Castersen saga. This nutjob and his wife tried to sue the leader of the Farms, Joshua Moon (aka Null), all the way up to SCOTUS (they declined to hear the case). As someone there put it, Null might well be the only person in the country who’s ever been sued that far up the judicial chain without actually responding to a single thing the plaintiff did — or even knowing about the bulk of it until well after the judge had ruled. This guy’s a special kind of nut.)