In Paris: Jonas Bendiksen's Last Testament

Reading Time: 6 minutes

In the latest book from Jonas Bendiksen, the Norwegian photographer takes us on a global journey of spiritual exploration, seen through the worldview of seven fascinating individuals who literally believe themselves to be the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
It’s an expansive and sumptuously designed book of more than 140 photographs and several thousand words of accompanying textual scriptures, co-published by GOST and Aperture. In it, Bendiksen portrays himself as a photographic apostle, asking why the Bible story of a returning Messiah has remained so potent.
“My approach here was to ask, who is this person and who are their followers,” he explains. “By immersing myself in their revelations and spending time with their disciples, I’ve tried to produce images that illustrate the human longing for faith, meaning, and salvation.
“My method when I am in with these guys is to take everything they tell me at face value. I’m there as a photographic apostle,” adds Bendiksen. “When I was with them I wanted to live 100 percent in their world with their disciples, and ask, ‘What does it look like if that actually is the Messiah?’ If this is the Messiah, then they are here to bring about the end-times and the judgement of man and brings God’s kingdom down to earth as promised.
“They are not gurus, prophets or religious leaders – there are thousands of those in the world – they are not here to start a new spiritual movement, they are finishing off unfinished business, calculating the tab of humanity. You know, this could be the biggest journalistic scoop ever…”

ZAMBIA. Kitwe. 2016. 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 thousand years later he operates two unlicensed taxis in Kitwe, Zambia. Born as Bupete Chibwe Chishimba, he had his life turned upside down at the age of 24 when he received the revelation from God that he was Jesus’ second coming. Today he is 43, married and has five children. From the book The Last Testament © Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos
GB. Runnymede. 2015. 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 ego named Dolores Kane, who embodies the feminine aspects of divinity. Like Jesus of Nazareth, David and Dolores move in circles far outside of society’s establishment. 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 corruption and incompetence. He has been fighting the Goliaths of the Earthly Judiciary and Establishment ever since. His revelation that he was Jesus Christ came in 2007. Since then he has been on a mission to teach humanity Christ consciousness, unconditional love and the supremacy of God’s law over Man’s legislation. From the book The Last Testament © Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos
The only Messiah in the book who seems to waver when it comes to their divine status is an Englishman, David Shayler, who was once a spy for MI5 and who fell foul of the British government when he leaked top secret information to the press.
As Shayler now lives in a shack in the woods and has a female alter ego, Dolores Kane, Bendiksen was prompted to ask if he ever wondered whether he was just mentally ill, to which Shaler replied: “Yes. Day two after my anointment I woke up and thought, ‘Fucking hell, I thought I was Jesus Christ yesterday. I’ve gone completely bonkers!’ And then I started reading the Scriptures. That’s why those ancient documents are there really, to say there’s something here that predates my existence.”
Occasionally I suspect that Bendiksen is playing a trickster’s game on us, asking us to enter into his mindset of open-mindedness towards contemplating the possibility that these people are anything other than deluded souls who are part huckster, part demagogue.
With regards to Moses, who is the Messiah living in Zambia, there is undeniable humour in being told that, “Jesus of Nazareth was a carpenter by trade. Upon his return 2000 years later, he operates two unlicensed taxis in Kitwe, Zambia.”
SOUTH AFRICA. KwaZulu Natal. 2016. 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 Moses he was the Messiah in a dream in 1992, at which time he was working as a small-time jewelry salesman. Since then he has preached to the multitudes in the KwaZulu-Natal province; he later expanded his mission to Johannesburg and other large cities. Now Moses lives with his closest disciples in his native village of Eshowe outside Durban. According to Moses’ teachings, Judgment Day is approaching fast. The buildup to this moment has been long and dramatic, with Moses singlehandedly fighting the Devil for many years. The resulting End of Days is in part triggered by the conclusion of Moses’s successful search for a wife. From the book The Last Testament © Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos
Russia. 2015. Krasnoyarski Krai.Communal feast during an all day pilgrimage march for Vissarion’s birthday on January 14th. This date is known as the true Christmas to his followers. From the book The Last Testament © Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos
However, in his enthusiasm to be considered a would-be apostle, Bendiksen goes to great lengths to ingratiate himself with his subjects. “In the short time that has elapsed since I met Moses, I’ve tried to follow a whirlwind verbal tour of his awakening as the Messiah and the impending Final Judgment and End of Days,” he says.
“Moses does seem like a really nice guy. It’s just a bit intimidating to share a bed with someone who just told you that he’s immortal. “
Without the benefit of audio recordings of these men their charisma and biblical magnetism doesn’t come across in the pictures as it might. Perhaps as Bendiksen says, when in a room with a silent Jesus that you have to feel their gaze and the warmth of their skin to appreciate the pull that they exert over those-who-are-called.
Nonetheless, The Last Testament remains a compelling visual depiction of some of the most self-possessed religious men on the planet.
Jonas Bendiksen is signing copies of The Last Testament at 2pm on 11 November at the Aperture stand at Paris Photo The Last Testament is co-published by Aperture and GOST.
Brazil. 2014 Brasilia. In the compound chapel, disciples shut the curtains in front of INRI Cristo after he has delivered the sermon of the day. From the book The Last Testament © Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos
Russia. 2015. Krasnoyarski Krai. Vissaron addresses his disciples on his birthday, January 14th, otherwise known as Christmas to his followers. Vissarion, the Christ of Siberia. Formerly a traffic policeman in the 1980s, he got his first revelation that he was Jesus Christ at the same time as the breakup of the Soviet Union. Since then he has gathered a following of 5-10 000 disciples in the woods. There they live in separate villages with their own infrastructure and social systems. From the book The Last Testament © Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos