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Religion

The Last Testament

Jonas Bendiksen photographs the Second Coming of Jesus Christ

Jonas Bendiksen

Jonas Bendiksen Inri Cristo at the end of a prayer session in the compound chapel. INRI (born Alvaro Theiss) takes his first name from the initials of the inscription the Romans placed on the cross to spite him 2, (...)

In his latest book, The Last Testament, Magnum photographer Jonas Bendiksen chronicles seven men who all publicly claim to be the biblical Messiah returned. Some have thousands of followers; others only a handful of disciples. All are united in the faith that they themselves are the Chosen One and have come to save the world. In his own words, the Magnum photographer explains what the project means to him.

Signed copies of The Last Testament are available on the Magnum Shop, here.

Jonas Bendiksen Inri Cristo. INRI (born Alvaro Theiss) takes his first name from the initials of the inscription the Romans placed on the cross to spite him 2,000 years ago: Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum, or Jesus (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Inri Cristo by his residential bungalow. INRI (born Alvaro Theiss) takes his first name from the initials of the inscription the Romans placed on the cross to spite him 2,000 years ago: Iesus Nazar (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Inri Cristo’s disciples rolling him around on the compound grounds on his rolling pedestal. INRI (born Alvaro Theiss) takes his first name from the initials of the inscription the Romans placed on (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Inri Cristo leading a liturgy from the top of the guardhouse, which they sometimes use as a pulpit. INRI (born Alvaro Theiss) takes his first name from the initials of the inscription the Romans pl (...)
Jonas Bendiksen While Inri seldom leaves the compound grounds anymore, he often rides around on the premises on his electrical bike, known as “the modern donkey”. INRI (born Alvaro Theiss) takes his first name fro (...)

I started photographing The Last Testament exactly three years ago. But my urge to somehow use photography to explore faith has been growing in me for much longer than that.

I’ve always been interested in reading the Bible and other religious texts. Faith has always been a bit of a mystery to me, one that I’ve always found fascinating to explore. And one needs only open any newspaper on any given day to see the power and influence of faith in our society.

People who believe in a God that takes a personal interest in humans’ lives seem to look upon the universe from a different perspective than non-believers. In a similar way, I wanted to touch and feel what a world where Christ has returned would be like.

Jonas Bendiksen Bupete Chibwe Chishimba, known as Jesus of Kitwe. Jesus of Nazareth was a carpenter by trade. On his return two thousand years later he operates two unlicensed taxis in Kitwe, Zambia. Born as Bupet (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Jesus of Kitwe changing the tires on his Toyota Corolla, as his two closest disciples, Chibwe and Nkumbusko, wait in the background. Jesus of Nazareth was a carpenter by trade. On his return two th (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Jesus of Kitwe proselytizing in a marketplace in Ndola. Jesus of Nazareth was a carpenter by trade. On his return two thousand years later he operates two unlicensed taxis in Kitwe, Zambia. Born as (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Nkumbusko, one of Jesus of Kitwe's disciples proselytizes in a markeplace. Jesus of Nazareth was a carpenter by trade. On his return two thousand years later he operates two unlicensed taxis in Kit (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Jesus of Kitwe eats lunch with his disciples before preaching the Messiah’s return in local marketplaces. Jesus of Nazareth was a carpenter by trade. On his return two thousand years later he opera (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Jesus of Kitwe’s two most trusted disciples, Nkumbusko (l) and Chibwe (r). Jesus of Nazareth was a carpenter by trade. On his return two thousand years later he operates two unlicensed taxis in Kit (...)

After lots of research to identify the right people, I reached out personally to six men purporting to be the Messiah, and explained that I was fascinated by their story and wanted to tell it. Then I immersed myself deeply into their theology and their view of the world while still trying to just be myself, to be open and curious to what they had to show me.

I didn’t go into this in a normal journalistic way, confronting the Messiahs with critical questions, or seeking to test their claims. I was much more interested in taking everything I was told and shown at face value, to see what the world looked like from their vantage point.

Everything interested me. Everything from what makes someone make these claims and what does it take to make others believe it, to what their favorite meal is. These men are all very different, and so are their communities. In some cases we became very close. In Moses of South Africa’s case, we shared the same bed for a week. In other cases, they were more distant, more like an oracle one could only visit by appointment.

Jonas Bendiksen David Shayler watching a solar eclipse from the top of Roseberry Topping, the same mountain from which delivered his own Sermon on the Mount. David Shayler the Christ was born December 24th, 1965 (...)
Jonas Bendiksen David Shayler at home. David Shayler the Christ was born December 24th, 1965 in Middlesbrough, an industrial town in North East England. A former MI5 agent, he blew the whistle on the secret servic (...)
Jonas Bendiksen David Shayler’s laptop keyboard. David spreads his message primarily via the Internet, using Twitter. His scripture The Third and Final Testament is published on his own website. David Shayler the (...)

Maybe to my own surprise, I ended up having strong emotional experiences around several of them. I didn’t anticipate this when I started. Take Vissarion’s community in Siberia for instance. There, they have created a society that lives in harmony with nature, grows its own food, and worships in the most stunning natural settings. When I was there I felt that I actually could have gone to live there and had a happy, meaningful life. Whether Vissarion is the true Messiah or not, the community that has sprung up around him was very seductive for me.

People sometimes ask me about the humorous bits in the book. This was a knife’s edge that I tried to balance on. Of course there are some funny bits, and things that make people (including me) chuckle. But I’ve tried to not bring too much of my own humour into it, that the funny things come straight from the Messiah’s or communities themselves. Yes, when INRI Cristo rides around on his electric bike, or when his disciples rerecord Britney Spears music videos to celebrate their Messiah, I have to laugh. But so do they: in INRI’s disciples’ own view, humor is an important communication strategy to reach new people with their message, and if people get exposed to INRI’s teachings through laughter, that is just as good as an ordinary sermon.

 

Jonas Bendiksen David Shayler the Christ was born December 24th, 1965 in Middlesbrough, an industrial town in North East England. A former MI5 agent, he blew the whistle on the secret services in 1996 to uncover c (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Dolores (David Shaylers transvestite femme persona) in a church. Paul the apostle writes “nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. Today’s Messiah has an alter ego named (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Dolores (David Shaylers transvestite femme persona) speaking to the flock. Paul the apostle writes “nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. Today’s Messiah has an alter (...)

The Scriptures produced by these Messiahs are, in each case, meant to be the third and final chapter of the Bible, a Last Testament to sort out the fragmented confusion of the New and Old Testaments, hence the title of the book. Each makes clarifications that help them explain their identity as the Second Coming.

I’m the lifelong sceptic here: I believe I have a radar for extreme manipulation which would have been triggered if these Messiahs were exploiting their people. But I have to say that I simply didn’t get that feeling. These men have had a ‘revelation’ – whatever that is, wherever it comes from – and are simply acting upon that mission, for what they think is best for humanity.

 

Jonas Bendiksen Jesus Matayoshi holds his election sermons from the top of his campaign vehicle. Jesus Matayoshi was born in Okinawa, Japan in 1944. In 1997 he founded the World economic Community Party, which bas (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Jesus Matayoshi was born in Okinawa, Japan in 1944. In 1997 he founded the World economic Community Party, which bases its policies on Matayoshi’s identity as Jesus Christ reborn. Matayoshi, also k (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Jesus Matayoshi holds his election sermons from the top of his campaign vehicle. Jesus Matayoshi was born in Okinawa, Japan in 1944. In 1997 he founded the World economic Community Party, which bas (...)

People want to believe, and there is something universal about people longing for a Savior to come help us out of the mess we’ve created around us. One sees this both in religion, but also in politics of course. Often I had to ask myself: Where exactly does faith separate from delusions? Who has the power of definition to say that one belief is madness, but the other belief is ordinary and gets a place in society?

Jonas Bendiksen Moses, the Messiah of South Africa. Moses Hlongwane is known to his thirty or so disciples in South Africa as The King of Kings, The Lord of Lords, or simply: Jesus. God first told Moses he was the (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Moses in his bedroom. Moses Hlongwane is known to his thirty or so disciples in South Africa as The King of Kings, The Lord of Lords, or simply: Jesus. God first told Moses he was the Messiah in a (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Disciple of Moses, the Messiah of South Africa. Moses Hlongwane is known to his thirty or so disciples in South Africa as The King of Kings, The Lord of Lords, or simply: Jesus. God first told Mose (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Moses’ cap. Moses Hlongwane is known to his thirty or so disciples in South Africa as The King of Kings, The Lord of Lords, or simply: Jesus. God first told Moses he was the Messiah in a dream in 1 (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Moses’ driver did not have a valid license, so Moses, the King of Kings, issued his own. Moses Hlongwane is known to his thirty or so disciples in South Africa as The King of Kings, The Lord of Lor (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Moses being served dinner in bed by Angel, the Prophetess. Moses Hlongwane is known to his thirty or so disciples in South Africa as The King of Kings, The Lord of Lords, or simply: Jesus. God firs (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Disciples of Moses talking in bed. Moses Hlongwane is known to his thirty or so disciples in South Africa as The King of Kings, The Lord of Lords, or simply: Jesus. God first told Moses he was the (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Moses preaches to his flock during the wedding. Moses Hlongwane is known to his thirty or so disciples in South Africa as The King of Kings, The Lord of Lords, or simply: Jesus. God first told Mose (...)

All the people I photographed were obviously far from the mainstream. But does that make their claims by default less plausible than all the other things people of faith believe? Is it more rational to believe that Jesus performed miracles, healed people, resurrected after death? Or to believe in our ability to talk to God in prayer, or that God takes a personal interest in our lives? Is it more plausible to believe that the Son of God will return at the End Times than to believe he is already here?

I felt it was important to not really make a photo book per se, but something that brought the Messiahs’ own scripture to people, in their own words. And to make a book that somehow translated the truly magical worlds of these congregations. They see cosmic meaning in everything around them; signs from God and a key role in the endgame of the human narrative.

Jonas Bendiksen Vissarion, the Christ of Siberia. In 1988 the man born as Sergei Torop lost his job as a traffic policeman in the Siberian town of Minusinsk. Shortly afterwards, just as the Soviet Union unraveled (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Followers of Vissarion gather water from a frozen stream in Obitel Rassveta, the Abode of Dawn. In 1988 the man born as Sergei Torop lost his job as a traffic policeman in the Siberian town of Min (...)
Jonas Bendiksen The followers of Vissarion grow their own vegetarian food. In 1988 the man born as Sergei Torop lost his job as a traffic policeman in the Siberian town of Minusinsk. Shortly afterwards, just as th (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Disciples of Vissarion at a communal lunch during a Christmas pilgrimage. Christmas for them is January 14th, Vissarion’s birthday. In 1988 the man born as Sergei Torop lost his job as a traffic po (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Choir hymns on January 14th, the birthday of Vissarion, and what is counted as Christmas in the Vissarionite community. In 1988 the man born as Sergei Torop lost his job as a traffic policeman in t (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Followers of Vissarion during the Christmas pilgrimages. In the winter, temperatures fall down to minus 40 degree Celcius. In 1988 the man born as Sergei Torop lost his job as a traffic policeman i (...)
Jonas Bendiksen At the culmination of the Christmas pilgrimage, Vissarion comes out to greet his flock. The priests and choir stand on the ledge above the lay people, while Vissarion himself sits on his wooden thr (...)