The Imperial Lamb: America, Israel, and Ritual Substitution

“And for you, here are these ritual substitutes…And may they die, but I will not die.”- Keilschrifturkunden aus Boghazköi XXIV 5 I 15-16

The relationship between the United States Imperial Government (USIG) and the state of Israel is what the kids call “wtf!?”

The dean of the Realist School of foreign policy, John Mearsheimer, put it this way:

“We have a special relationship with Israel that bears no resemblance to any relationship between any two countries in the history of the world.”

Until now the deep structural reality of this relationship has not been fully grasped. Israel is America’s preeminent ritual substitute.

The American classicist Gregory Nagy said, “Ritual is doing things and saying things in a way that is considered sacred. Myth is saying things in a way that is also considered sacred. So, ritual frames myth.”

The USIG myth of benevolent, global hegemony to secure the established defense structure and underwrite the liberal, rules-based, international order is framed by the USIG’s most beloved ritual: war. We Americans are always killing Nazis in our stories and we are always killing “Nazis” in our wars.

War is the most primal justification for the state. The state has an existential interest in ritually waging war and in mythologizing its war making with the most compelling narrative techniques. One such technique is the ritual substitute. According to Nagy:

“…‘ritual substitute,’ must be understood in the context of an Anatolian ritual of purification that expels pollution from the person to be purified and transfers it into a person or an animal or an object that serves as a ritual substitute; the act of transferring pollution into the victim serving as ritual substitute may be accomplished either by destroying or by banishing the victim, who or which is identified as another self, un autre soi-même.”

The concept of “another self” has an intimate and potentially even erotic underpinning. But it is only half of the narrative technique:

“The intimate closeness is matched by an alienating distance, marked by pollution, separating the king from his substitute…this ritual substitute is anointed with royal oil, crowned with a diadem, and dressed in the regalia of the king; then this [substitute] is expelled from the king’s territory and sent back home to his own territory, so that he takes home with him the pollution that had been intimately associated with the king.” [emphasis added]

Prominent ritual substitutions include the Babylonian New Year ritual of killing a sacrificial goat, the Neo-Assyrian Empire’s killing of substitute kings and the Jewish Day of Atonement, when a substitute goat (the escape-goat or scapegoat) was expelled into the wasteland.

The most sublime and powerful ritual substitution in the West is that of Jesus Christ (the Lamb of God), but the most relevant depiction of ritual substitution for us comes from the Greek “classical, action, heroic poemThe Iliad. This poem deploys ritual substitution within the ritual of war. The hero of The Iliad, Achilles, has a ritual substitute, Patroklos, who dies for him in battle:

“As the other self who is ready to die for the self that is Achilles, Patroklos achieves an unsurpassed level of intimacy with the greatest hero of the Homeric Iliad. This intimacy is sacral, thus transcending even sexual intimacy… As we saw in the case of the Hittite prisoner, about to be expelled into an alien realm, he must wear the clothing of the king, thus becoming ritually intimate with the body of the king. So too Patroklos wears the armor of Achilles when he dies…” [emphasis added]

Which brings us back to Israel, by way of Ukraine. It should now be apparent that Ukraine has served the USIG as a ritual substitute. It took the USIG’s place in war, wearing the armor of the empire and wielding its weapons. And it has met the tragic fate of Patroklos.

Of course, this is real life. Unlike Achilles and Patroklos, states are incapable of love and intimacy. The USIG has absolutely zero concern for Ukraine. But it does have an interest in using Ukraine as a sacrificial proxy goat.

According to ret. U.S. Army Colonel Douglas MacGregor, “The Ukrainian People are destroyed. The state is withered and vanishing.”

And still the USIG is not satiated, with Congress recently voting to continue funding the slaughter. The USIG won’t stop until the Ukrainian goat is completely dismembered, drained of all its blood and burnt on the pyre of imperial glory.

Independent journalist Aaron Mate put it nicely:

“There’s something so especially sadistic about waving the flag of a country that you’re actively destroying.”

And then there is Israel, the most perfectly perfect ritual substitute a state has ever had in the recorded history of our species. The propaganda emphasizes that Israel is America’s “ultimate ally,” “best friend,” “lover,” and even “wife.” It is the “only democracy in the Middle East,” the “last bulwark of Western Civilization,” a U.S. “aircraft carrier,” and a “little America.”

Professor Amy Kaplan of the University of Pennsylvania wrote:

“Parallel histories of settler colonialism expressed in biblical narratives of exceptionalism have formed the basis of American identification with Israel. Both nations have generated powerful myths of providential origins, drawing on the Old Testament notion of a chosen people destined by God to take possession of the Promised Land and blessed with a special mission to the world.”

And of course, Israel has become “ritually intimate” with the body of the USIG through imperial military gear. Yet, as the logic of Zionism mandates, Israel is always an alienated other. Sometimes Israeli elites lash out at America. No doubt such childish outbursts are prompted by their fragile, genocidal psyches brushing up against the true horror.

Israel is not a scapegoat because there is no escape. It is a sacrificial goat. It is the imperial lamb. It is a proxy vessel fitted for destruction in the fire of war. And if the USIG stays true to form, that destruction is surely coming.

This is reprinted from The Libertarian Institute with the author’s permission.

John Weeks focuses on the application of “Corporate Agent Theory” to the State. He argues that, despite their lack of phenomenal consciousness, states have their own beliefs, desires and intentions. Above all, states desire war.