Norwegian photographer Jonas Bendiksen has travelled the world tracking down men who claim to be the Messiah. His photographic project, The Last Testament, took Bendiksen on a journey from England, Brazil, Russia, South Africa, Zambia, Japan and the Philippines to document seven men who all believe they are the Chosen One, and have come to save the world.
Bendiksen's photos of seven Messiahs and their disciples, together with interviews and their details of their scriptures, are compiled in a book The Last Testament, co-published by Aperture / GOST. He will be giving a talk at the Barbican in London on 26 September 2017, followed by a book signing.
Imagined as a sequel to the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, The Last Testament features visual accounts and stories of the seven men who each claim to be the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Building on biblical form and structure, chapters dedicated to each Jesus include excerpts of their scriptural testaments, laying out their theology and demands on mankind in their own words.
Of the seven men Bendiksen found, some are powerful and have thousands of followers, and others are true underdogs, with only a handful of disciples. Bendiksen takes at face value that each one is the true Messiah returned to Earth, to forge an account that is a work of apocalyptic journalism and compelling artistic imagination.
Vissarion of Siberia lost his job as traffic cop in the Siberian town of Minusinck in 1988. He had his first revelations that he was Jesus Christ as the USSR collapsed around him. His community currently numbers some five thousand followers who have built their own schools and churches, formed a priesthood and their own social structure.
INRI Cristo had his first awakening in 1979 during a fast in Santiago de Chile. After spending many years as a wandering preacher he settled in what he calls New Jerusalem outside of Brasilia, Brazil, where he lives in twelve disciples and disseminates his teachings through YouTube, music videos and live broadcasts of his sermons.
A former MI5 agent who blew the whistle in 1996 on alleged corruption in the secret service, David Shayler / Dolores Kane resides in Middlesbrough, UK. He says he was anointed Messiah on 2 July 2007, in line with ancient prophecies and claims to have divine powers that allow him to predict football scores, prevent terrorist attacks and change the weather. Alongside his alter ego Dolores Kane, he has ever since been on a mission to teach humanity, unconditional love and the supremacy of God's law over man's legislation.
Moses Hlongwane was working as a small-time jewellery salesman when God came to him in a dream with the word that he is the Messiah. He currently has 40 or so disciples in South Africa and he lives with the closest of these in his native village of Eshowe outside Durban
Jesus Matayoshi founded Japan's World Economic Community Party in 1997, which bases its policies on his identity as Jesus Christ reborn. According to his campaign literature, he will first become prime minister of Japan and reform Japanese society, before being offered the post of secretary general of the United Nations.
Jesus of Kitwe received a revelation from God when he was aged 24 that he was the second coming of Jesus. Today he is 43, married with five children and operates two unlicensed taxis in Kitwe, Zambia.
The other Messiah featured in the book is Apollo Quiboloy, leader of the Philippines-based organisation, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name, Inc,. His megachurch empire is expanding both in the Philippines and abroad, and Quiboloy claims he has a following of some six million people worldwide.
Bendisken says he hopes this project will encourage reflection and discussion through the telling of a unique and entertaining story: "While my story is about these Messiah claimants, my overriding theme is the mechanics of religion itself. My aim is to use this project to open a debate about faith. Is there anything stranger to dedicating your life to following a Siberian real-life Messiah than following the missives of an infallible pope? Or might Jesus of Kitwe, Zambia be just as likely a persona as a resurrected Christ?"
The Last Testament by Jonas Bendiksen, published by Aperture / GOST September 2017, £40 | 464 pages | 165 x 240mm portrait
Jonas Bendiksen (b. Norway, 1977) began his career at the age of 19 as an intern at Magnum's London office, before leaving for Russia to pursue his own work as a photojournalist. Bendiksen has received numerous awards, including the 2003 Infinity Award from the International Centre of Photography, New York, and second place in the Daily Life Stories for World Press Photo, as well as first prize in the Pictures of the Year International Awards. His documentary of life in a Nairobi slum, Kibera, published in the Paris Review, won a National Magazine Award in 2007.