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Jones on Jesus

International Journal of Cultic Studies, Vol. 6, 2015, 34-47.

Jones on Jesus: Who Is the Messiah?

Kristian D. Klippenstein

University of Alberta


Abstract

This article examines the effect of Jim Jones’s understanding of Jesus as a messiah figure, both on Peoples Temple and on his own self-understanding as the Temple’s leader. Using audio recordings created by the Temple, I draw attention to some major themes in Jones’s interpretation of Jesus during Temple sermons. After sketching a brief history of the Peoples Temple movement, I begin by explaining Jones’s distinction between God—whom Jones strongly criticized—and Jesus. I show that Jones legitimized his own authority by showing continuities between Jesus’s ministry and his own. Additionally, I show how Jones’s conception of the messiah recast the Temple community as a persecuted and powerful minority. The article concludes by examining the role that two passages Jones often quoted from the Gospel of John played in his message. Used by Jones, these verses clarified that the power of Jesus—and Jones—came from socialism.

Keywords: Jim Jones, Jesus, messiah, Peoples Temple, Jonestown, socialism

The Peoples Temple, led by Jim Jones (1931–1978), espoused a unique mix of Christian doctrine, biblical exegesis, and socialist teachings during its 25-year existence in the United States and Guyana. Although socialism eventually eclipsed Christian doctrine in Jones’s teachings, his interaction with biblical themes had a significant impact on the character, self-understanding, and trajectory of Peoples Temple. Of particular importance in Jones’s exegesis and teaching was the figure of Jesus. This article posits that the doctrine presented in Peoples Temple was a product of Jones’s unique theological vision, which he grounded and defended biblically in his distinctive and apocalyptic interpretation of Jesus as a messiah figure. Such an interpretation allowed Jones to reimagine himself as a powerful embodiment of socialism, and cast the Temple and its members as a persecuted minority whose hope for salvation lay in divine socialist principle.[1] With Jones’s guidance, devout followers believed that they could obtain this salvation self-sufficiently in the face of hostile rulers and traditional religion. Jones’s interpretive maneuvers caused his followers to understand criticism of the Temple’s legitimacy in a dualistic light and also provided legitimization for Jones’s claims of divinity and supernatural abilities. These outcomes of Jones’s unique interpretation of the messiah, founded biblically, fostered paranoia and dedication amidst Temple members and laid the groundwork both for the group’s final form in Jonestown and the mass murder/suicides that eventually took place.

This article also illustrates the scholarly opportunities afforded to researchers by the large body of audio recordings left behind by Peoples Temple. Scholarship concerning Jonestown continues to appear in academic journals and other publications.[2] Although sources such as survivor accounts and textual records have appeared throughout the Jonestown scholarly canon,[3] the audiotapes are comparatively underutilized. Likewise, although many Peoples Temple scholars have consulted the tapes to describe or explain Peoples Temple, few have engaged in close analysis of Jones’s rhetoric in the tapes. This type of close analysis, when it has happened, has mostly been confined to examinations of Q 042,[4] the tape recorded during the mass murder/suicide in November 1978.[5] To defend these claims about Jones’s understanding of the messiah, I examined recordings of Jones’s preaching in the United States dating primarily from the 1970s. Although it is important to take into consideration the fact that Temple personnel edited many of these recordings, the material they contain comprises the doctrines of Peoples Temple, either as Jones first presented them to members or as Temple representatives wanted the world to hear them. At the very least, the audiotapes are faithful embodiments of Jones’s doctrines because they do not contain interpretations by secondary sources and because their very presence shows at least some interest in preserving “true” Temple teaching.

It should be noted that the cohesion with which the speech excerpts used in this article fit together should not be taken as evidence of a systematic theology in Jones’s work. On one hand, the sheer volume of audio material generated by Peoples Temple resists the possibility of creating a systematic or holistic theology spoken by Jones.[6] On a second—and more important—hand, Jones’s message evolved as the Temple moved from Indiana to California and Guyana.[7] Initially a sort of Social Gospel ideology couched in black-worship styling and civil-rights concerns,[8] Jones’s message diverged from mainline Protestant Christianity as the Temple became ever more secretive about its practices, taking on apocalyptic overtones and incorporating Jones’s interpretation of socialist rhetoric. By the time Jones took up permanent residence in Guyana, his preaching was all but devoid of Christian content and focused almost entirely on socialism and international politics. Moreover, Jones’s preaching—like that of many extemporaneous speakers—could be highly tangential and contradictory depending on his topic and context. All of this is to say that Jones did not found Peoples Temple on a fully developed ideology that remained unchanged from the group’s beginnings in the 1950s to its end in the late 1970s. It is nonetheless possible to identify key areas of concern that Jones continually returned to. In this article, rather than to defend fine doctrinal points, my use of excerpts is intended to reveal two such areas of concern: the measurement of virtuous conduct by its social outcome, and the equation of socialism with some form of divinity. Although my article addresses these concerns in the context of Jones’s interactions with Christian theology in the late 1960s and 1970s, these two themes find their origins in Jones’s earlier teachings concerning social outreach and harmony, and his later expositions on the superiority of socialism and the dangers of capitalism.

James (Jim) Warren Jones founded Peoples Temple in the mid-1950s in Indianapolis, Indiana (Reiterman & Jacobs, 2008 [1982], p. 47). The Temple emphasized racial equality and social outreach as practical outcomes of the Christian New Testament and, along with Revivalist-style healings, these practices attracted both black and white Christians, along with those on the peripherals of society (Reiterman & Jacobs, 2008 [1982], pp. 54–55). In 1965, the congregation moved across the country to Redwood Valley, California and in the early 1970s moved its headquarters to San Francisco and held regular services in Los Angeles, as well (Moore, 2009, pp. 23, 26, 28). With each move, the Temple grew in size, expanding its rhetoric to include a socialist mindset. Cathartic practices and anti-American sentiments led the Temple to shrink back from the public eye. In 1977, pressure by former members and the media to investigate the increasingly unorthodox habits of the Temple forced Jones and a contingent of his followers to relocate to Guyana, where the Temple had begun an agricultural commune named Jonestown several years earlier.[9] Despite the relocation, the Temple remained fearful that certain Americans were working to destroy the movement.

In November 1978 Congressman Leo Ryan, along with members of the media and some individuals who were worried about family members living in Guyana, visited Jonestown to assess living conditions and assist any individuals who wished to leave (Moore, 2009, pp. 88–94).[10] As this delegation and a handful of defectors were leaving, Temple gunmen attacked them. Five individuals were killed, including the congressman.[11] Back at the commune, Jones informed the community that American authorities would retaliate by invading the compound and harshly penalizing its inhabitants (Q 042). Rather than submit to such an attack, the residents instead participated in what Jones termed revolutionary suicide: dying in order to “protes[t] the conditions of an inhumane world” (Q 042). Although Temple congregants in Guyana requested by shortwave radio that their counterparts in the United States do the same, no Peoples Temple members in the United States committed suicide that day.[12] Peoples Temple, however, quickly ceased to exist, liquidating its assets to pay the huge legal fees incurred by the murder-suicides (Nugent, 1979, pp. 232, 256).

Jones’s leadership and teachings throughout the Temple’s history linked intrinsically to his understanding of Jesus. In this article, I divide Jones’s interpretation of Jesus into two sections—a more literal reading of Jesus’s life, message, and death in relation to socialism, and a more abstract reading of Jesus as a signifier of the power of socialism. Each section comprises three interrelated sets of observations: a description of Jones’s most frequent observations on Jesus, an analysis of Jones’s evaluation of Jesus as a messiah figure, and some comments on the effect of this unique interpretation of Jesus on Jones’s own self-identity in his preaching and the nature of Peoples Temple. Although this article focuses on Jones’s unique understanding of Jesus as an example of a messiah, a more standard and succinct definition of the term messiah may be helpful for comparison. In popular thought, a messiah is a savior figure who claims divine sanction, brings restoration or salvation, and has followers who accept the figure’s claim about having divine inspiration and/or powers.

Worth noting at the outset is that Jones’s thoughts concerning Jesus were not synonymous with his thoughts regarding the other members of the Christian Trinity, particularly God.[13] Jones’s view of the Christian God, or Skygod, as Jones termed it, as a creating and omniscient deity was quite low.[14] The God that Christians prayed to as an all-powerful being, Jones maintained, was in fact incapable of being felt or seen in the world, and perhaps did not care at all about the plight of human beings. In a 1972 San Francisco sermon, for example, Jones used the language of 1 Kings 18 to challenge Christians to prove that their God could help them:

Let the God that’s God answer…. If the Skygod is indeed your God, let him feed you… Let him house you. When you get in trouble in the courts, let him go to court for you…. I’ve been trying to get him recruited, [but] I haven’t been able to find him. (Q 1035)

This distanced God was something that Jones could not abide —“don’t you compare me to no unknown god” (Q 1035). By way of contrast, Jones talked about his congregation: “let’s look at my house [church] tonight. Nobody hungry in my house…. I look after my own. Not one of mine that’s hungry tonight…. Not one of mine that doesn’t have a place to rest tonight” (Q 1035). The implications of this contrast—that Jones took physical, tangible, and immediate care of his followers while the unknown Skygod hindered or ignored its creation—highlight Jones’s prime complaint against the Skygod: a lack of action or concern for the marginalized (Q 1035; also Q 953, Q 1019). This lack of action or concern was evidenced by the intangibility of the Skygod and was mirrored in institutional Christianity.

Jones’s preaching often contained incensed remarks against the Skygod’s inscrutable behavior. In the same 1972 San Francisco sermon, Jones asked the audience why—if the Skygod was so loving—the Skygod would create them and place them “in the messes that [they]’ve been in” (Q 1035). In another instance, Jones spoke out against those in his audience who still clung to their old Skygod rather than Jones’s new divine principle of socialism, saying, “let them go out [of Peoples Temple] and believe in a Skygod that’ll never come…. But don’t let them be in here holding us back by looking back to other gods” (Q 1057, part 4). Jones went on to warn that this Skygod was one and the same with the God who allowed the Jews—supposedly God’s chosen people—to be killed in gas chambers by Nazis (Q 1057, part 4). Jones’s derision of the Skygod helped to isolate the Temple from other Christian denominations and created a need—which Jones promptly filled—to interpret Christian texts in a new way.

Despite his Trinitarian affiliations, Jesus did not suffer such harsh criticism in Jones’s preaching. As mentioned, Jones’s understanding of Jesus as a messiah figure divided into two categories: a more literal understanding based on Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life, and a more abstract understanding wherein Jesus functioned as a signifier of the power of divine socialism. I begin with the more literal interpretation.

In terms of origins, Jones aligned Jesus with the lower class. Jesus was “born without a father, as far as the world knew anything about it” (Q 1035). Without an earthly father to provide prestige or a noble genealogy, Jesus “was born on the wrong side of the tracks” (Q 1035). In terms of socioeconomic status, Jones—and the Gospel writers before him—presented Jesus unattractively as a servant or a slave (Q 1057, part 5). Often Jones lauded both this lowly beginning and the numerous interactions between Jesus and the needy or oppressed found in the gospels. In another 1972 sermon, Jones listed the forms that some of these interactions took: “he loved without respect of race or creed, he fed the hungry and clothed the naked, he took in the stranger, and he went into the prison when someone was standing up for their rights” (Q 1054, part 3). In addition to those who were poor or hungry, Jones understood Jesus as seeking out those who were otherwise untouchable or politically incorrect. According to Jones, Jesus was “out with the drunks, out with the harlots, out in the red light district in the back alleys,” locales that caused his opponents to label him with demeaning titles, such as a drunkard (Q 1058, part 2). In another recording, Jones set the drunks and harlots against established government, claiming he would rather “be an outright harlot and drunk” than be part of a government that tried to substitute itself for the socialistic message surrounding Jesus and the principle of socialism (Q 1058, part 4). With this interpretation, Jones drew or implied parallels between Jesus’s origins and key demographics and his own life. Jones often portrayed his father as a negative or absent figure in his childhood, and the fringe of society was in large part the target audience of Jones’s message.[15]

Jones understood these forays by Jesus onto the “wrong side of the tracks” as building the Kingdom of God on earth. The Kingdom was not something to be realized fully after death or in some future scenario, but rather something that could be present within everybody and embodied upon the earth in the present. This placement of the Kingdom—on earth, in this life —is crucial to understanding much of Jones’s other teachings on Jesus and his apparent conception of the Temple’s purpose.[16] Jones once stated that Christians told people, “you’ve gotta go to heaven to be perfect…. And that’s the biggest cop-out in the world” (Q 932). Jesus himself chastised those who looked to another world or life for the Kingdom: “[Jesus said,] ‘I’ve had enough of your praying.’ He said, ‘I’ve had enough of looking up.’ He said, ‘Look within.’ The Kingdom of revolution, the Kingdom of your hope is within” (Q 1057, part 5). Temple members could realize the perfection of the Kingdom of God fully in the present, and Jesus’s acts pointed to this immanence. To prove this point, Jones quoted the Lord’s Prayer, explaining that Jesus prayed, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done [o]n earth” (Q 932; also Q 1057, part 5). In another sermon, Jones asked his congregation, “When are we gonna wake up and get our mind off of… heavenly slippers or the pearly white city—when are we gonna get our mind off that stuff and start building our heaven down here?” (Q 1057, part 4). A sharp dichotomy between true believers (Temple members who worked hard to build heaven on earth) and capitalists, Christians, defectors, or racists (who hampered the Temple’s efforts or saw divine intervention as the only catalyst to cause change) sprang up with this notion of the Kingdom of God. Eventually these defectors and other opponents would threaten the existence of Jonestown itself, signaling that not even in the present—much less in life after death—could Temple members find respite from racism and political oppression. Jones had long before abandoned the Christian concept of a Kingdom of God; however, in Jonestown, he nonetheless painted the impending dismantling of the compound in biblical terms by quoting from Matthew 11: “the Kingdom suffereth violence and the violent shall take it by force” (Q 042).

According to Jones’s interpretation, Jesus’s ministry built the Kingdom of God in a countercultural, revolutionary manner that went against the political order of the first-century world. Such opposition was not sneaky or implicit, but overt. To say that Jesus overcame the sources of marginalization or suffering was to say that Jesus literally stood up against those sources (Q 1054, part 3). Jones saw Jesus as revealing to the sinful their sins and boldly calling out for change, not only to anyone who would listen, but also to “the kings of [his] day” (Q 1054, part 3). The urgent and noticeable manner of Kingdom-building work that Jesus did was especially underscored in Jones’s understanding of Jesus as a savior to be called upon: “When you know Jesus, you won’t have much time to get on your knees [to pray]— you’ll have to pray on the run” (Q 1054, part 3). In fact, Jones interpreted the action of revolutionary Kingdom-building as being bound up in Jesus’s title and identity, explaining, “Christ in the Hebrew means revolution,” and on another occasion, “Jesus is a revolution” (Q 965; Q 1057, part 5). In both these statements, Jones emphasized action and immanence. Truly understanding the Kingdom-building process in this model led to zeal and dedication amongst members. Because the Temple was touted as the only group interested in or capable of creating heaven out of America’s hell, members were in essence forced to throw their resources and support behind Jones’s antagonistic stance toward capitalist society or abandon hope for social change. Even during the Temple’s final murder-suicide ritual, Jones retained the language of revolution: “This is a revolutionary suicide” (Q 042).

According to Jones, this mission of radically altering the political and economic order of the day made Jesus’s preaching unattractive and unpopular. The termination of Jesus’s mission by crucifixion did nothing to improve the status of his message. By dying in this manner, Jesus “seemed to be a loser,” for he was killed by the very system that he opposed (Q 1059, part 1). Moreover, Jesus got in trouble with audiences and authorities because his message brought moral accountability down upon people. Jones taught that

when somebody becomes God in the earth, then they have a moral effect on people…. They can tell people right and wrong…. Everybody likes to keep God out there in the unknown and then everybody can interpret him…. You got a different story when God takes himself a body, when principle becomes flesh (Q 1035)

Jesus did not intend his message—which many perceived as that of a loser, drunkard, and self-styled slave—to comfort an audience or to endear him to authorities, but to challenge customs and norms. Similarly, in Jones’s message, the work of Peoples Temple destabilized long-held racial or religious beliefs in American society and caused society to respond in harmful or persecuting ways.

Jones understood Jesus’s message to be one of socialism, and he frequently made Jesus and Jesus’s message synonymous with socialism itself. Several times in one recording, Jones made such a connection explicit, relating socialism to the death and resurrection of Jesus and the birth of the early church. Talking about himself, Jones said, “The life that I now live I live through this great principle, the Christ, the socialistic principle that was on the day of Pentecost when it said God is love, and love means they have everything in common” (Q 1059, part 1). In the same discussion, Jones linked Jesus and the socialist revolution together in Jesus’s death: “I’m crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. I’ve been crucified with the revolution” (Q 1059, part 1). Continuing to play on the death and resurrection language of the Gospels, Jones stated, “You can’t keep the Christ idea, the revolutionary idea of socialism, you can’t keep it in a tomb” (Q 1059, part 1). These three statements suggest that Jones understood believing in and practicing Jesus’s message of a new order as somehow synonymous with taking part in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This interpretation intimately linked the believer to socialism. Jesus completely embodied and was identical to his message of revolutionary socialism. In one sermon, Jones referred to the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of socialism as one and the same, thereby calling both these kingdom messages “this that turned the world upside-down” (Q 1059, part 2).

Although these observations do not exhaust Jones’s speaking on the topic of his more literal understanding of Jesus, they represent some of his most frequent and consistent comments. Through these presentations of Jesus’s life and ministry, one can sketch some of the contours of Jones’s understanding of Jesus as a messiah in an apocalyptic setting. Jesus was predominantly concerned with the poor and untouchable people in society, and through his actions he visibly sided with those who were caught in injustice and oppression. Without fear of retribution, he criticized brazenly those who perpetuated such injustice—the rulers of society. For these reasons, Jesus was unpopular with some portions of his contemporary audience and made other portions uncomfortable. And as previously noted, Jones understood Jesus’s process of Kingdom-building, through his radical countercultural message and actions, as promoting the concept of socialism; thus Jones discussed in socialistic terms elements of Jesus’s story (such as his death and resurrection).

Jones’s evaluation of Jesus as a messiah in these more literal observations was not entirely positive. On one occasion, Jones criticized Jesus for his potentially selective saving deeds. While Jones had the power and the will to save his followers from prison or hell, Jesus

supposedly went down to hell, according to the epistles, and preached to who? The spirit[s] of the disobedient ones in the days of Noah…. He took them outta hell! Well, if he took some bunch of disobedient folk outta hell [but] wouldn’t take you out then he’s a dirty rascal. (Q 1059, part 1)

Moreover, Jones did not always see the biblical Jesus as strong. In fact, he took the success of Peoples Temple—which worshipped divine socialism, not the Skygod of the Bible—to indicate Jesus’s weakness. Jones sometimes set himself up as the Antichrist because he preached against Christians (Q 1057, part 5). In one sermon, he argued, “when the Antichrist can be better than the followers of Christ, you’ve got a weak Jesus” (Q 1016). On the one hand, the “followers of Christ” were the traditional Christians whose religion—according to Jones—had no effect on alleviating negative social conditions. Jones and Peoples Temple, on the other hand, received the label of Antichrist because he and its members accomplished greater things even though they did not belong to the traditional Christian church. Thus, “when the anti-Jesus people are more loving and sharing and kind and good than the Jesus people, you better look at your Jesus! He is indeed weak” (Q 1016). Since the Jesus of the Bible and his followers worshipped the Skygod, their religious convictions were flawed and therefore weak.

Often, however, Jones reversed this criticism and approved of Jesus’s strength and forceful message. Regarding this forcefulness, Jones once said, “if you don’t like hard sayings, then you didn’t even like Jesus…. He said a lot of hard things. He cussed out the money changers, whipped their ass, [threw] them out, threw… the tables upside down” (Q 1059, part 4). Jesus’s message was strong and even harsh, and Jones commended it. Attributing opposite characteristics to Jesus’s character—here, simultaneous weakness and strength—will emerge again later when we consider Jones’s Christology. Moreover, Jones seemed to gauge the effectiveness or correctness of Jesus’s message by persecution. Because Jesus’s annunciation of the Kingdom of God was a threat to the wealthy and powerful, and a critique of society, it followed that persecution was evidence of Jesus preaching the “right” message in an apocalyptic context. In a sermon already quoted, Jones’s ridicule of the biblical text had one affirmation in it: “the scriptures tells [sic] you… if you try to live godly in Christ Jesus, you’re gonna get persecution” (Q 1035). The theme of persecution for one’s beliefs permeated Jones’s American preaching and followed the Temple to Guyana. There Jones claimed that enemies of the Temple—particularly the CIA—waited in the jungle to attack the commune and cast the visit of Congressman Ryan in terms of animosity and persecution.[17]

Jones’s interpretations of Jesus in a messianic and apocalyptic context were based largely on stories of Jesus in the Gospels. Such stories would have been familiar to at least a portion of Jones’s audience. In this way, Jones used his interpretation of Jesus as a messiah to connect with those people in Peoples Temple who joined the movement as Christians. By interpreting Jesus through his own socialistic goals, and by backing his socialist agenda with biblical preaching, Jones sought to acclimate his audience. Jones referred to certain events facing the Temple, such as newspaper smear campaigns, in the context of Jesus’s own suffering for his annunciation of the Kingdom of God.[18] Thus, Jones said, “the next time newspapers [reporters] come, I’m going to make such a stir—I’ll be selling newspapers for three months…. Naturally, naturally they’re gonna try to get us” (Q 1035). Here he connected the stir his own message caused with the stir that Jesus’s Kingdom-building message caused. The persecuting newspaper reporters were “naturally” attacking the Temple because Jones’s message was really the message that Jesus had preached in the New Testament. Just like in the New Testament, persecution followed revolutionary socialist teachings. This interpretation cast the world in a dualistic light and called for determination—even to the point of causing anguish or suffering harm—to follow the Temple’s socialist principle.

Jones also understood Jesus in a much more abstract way. In this abstract interpretation of Jesus as a messiah, Jones described Jesus to be either a representation of divine socialism or the divine principle itself that people in the present could attain. To understand how Jones interpreted the Jesus of the New Testament, it is necessary to look at how Jesus pointed to or embodied divine socialism, and divine socialism as a source of messianic power. In particular, Jones repeatedly cited two verses from the Gospel of John that served to highlight the fact that Jesus’s power was not necessarily due to any of his own innate characteristics or qualities. Specifically, Jones cited John 14:12, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father”; and John 10:34, “Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, I said, ‘Ye are gods?’”

Jones understood Jesus’s words in John 14:12 to be a promise that those who believed in Jesus’s message would be able to do the same revolutionary sort of miracles that the New Testament portrayed Jesus as enacting. Immediately noticeable is the fact that this passage attributed miraculous power to the Skygod—in John 14:12 the Father—that Jones derided. In some sermons, however, where Jones dealt with this passage he seems to have conveniently avoided the final “because I go unto my Father” clause. With an interest in the divine principle of socialism and a dislike for the Skygod, Jones worked to reinterpret the source of Jesus’s works and explain his own miraculous claims.

In Jones’s exposition of John 14:12, Jesus the messiah functioned more as a paradigm than a supreme being. In a way, Jesus represented the beginning rather than the ultimate end of pursuing the knowledge and practice of divine socialism. In this sense, Jesus’s words and actions pointed toward the principle of socialism that would enable its followers to do greater things than Jesus did in the New Testament. Jones explained that those who believed in Jesus’s message of divine socialism were promised “not only the same things shall you do, but the same things and greater” (Q 987). Such goals were attainable because socialist principle revealed itself not on some lofty plane beyond human comprehension, but in human history. Jones preached that

principle speaks on a lower plane…. Jesus said, “these things shall you do and greater” … so we’re living in a greater time of compassion, a greater time of love, a greater time of miracles—and there are no such things as miracles, only supernormal, supernatural, [only] above what we consider to be natural events. (Q 1023)

Thus the mighty deeds done by Jesus were not supernatural in the sense that human beings could not replicate them. Rather, anyone could achieve them who believed in the principle that Jesus’s words and deeds pointed to. This idea that belief and acceptance fostered ability led to a justification of Jones’s own (alleged) miracle-working abilities.[19] One recording begins with Temple members giving testimonies of how Jones had worked miraculous deeds in their lives. The first speaker stated the connection between Jesus’s power and Jones’s abilities:

That same Christ that’s working through pastor Jim Jones have [sic] saved me of many heart attacks, many, many strokes, saved my daughter from being raped, and I am very grateful for the Christ that’s working through pastor Jim Jones. (Q 987)

Such an understanding does not necessarily resonate with Jones’s interpretation of John 14:12. Although the above statement does affirm that Jones’s followers linked his alleged abilities as a healer to the Jesus of the Bible, it holds up Jesus as a source of power rather than one who, like Jones, tapped into divine socialism as a source of power. In the same sermon, Jones explained that

if people will get their mind and their hearts, their love and their devotion, in the right place, then the same power—I don’t mean some power, but the same power—that was in the early church can be in our church, but in a greater day, in a greater degree! (Q 987)

Jesus was not physically present as a human being in the early church or in Peoples Temple, but the power his message pointed to persisted. Jones offered examples of this power present in his own life by asking the congregation to remember miracles they had witnessed: “I have walked right across the waves when we went to Mexico…. We’ve stopped the rain all across the [cross-country] trip—we would just lift our hand—we’ve stopped the snow when we were snowbound in Chicago” (Q 987). Moreover, Jones asked,

How many, through the anointing, have I raised from the dead in this room? How many have been healed of blindness? … How many have I healed of rheumatoid or arthritic crippling conditions? How many have I healed of cancer, the incurable disease? (Q 987)

These amazing feats and wondrous signs, Jones stated, were possible because of the Christ principle of socialism that was found within him. The power that allowed such miracles to occur, however, was conditional. In electrical terms, Jones explained,

If you want the power to work through you, you’d better get the right kind of circuit…. We’ve got flimsy little toy switches…. But if you want the power, you’d better get the dynamo, and the dynamo is God, is love, and love is socialism and that will give you power. (Q 987)

In this explanation of miraculous power, Jones moves quickly from God through love to socialism. As mentioned previously, John 14:12 indicates Jesus’s Father as the source of miraculous power. Here, Jones clarifies to some extent his rightful claim to power despite his ridicule of the Skygod. For Jones, God the Father was not the ultimate truth of Jesus’s message. Rather, the God being spoken of here is not the Father from John 14:12, but a symbolization of love and socialism. Thus in the sermon just quoted, Jones held out the opportunity to participate in miraculous power to his audience, provided they embrace his socialistic goals. Embracing such goals was necessary because it was the understanding and practice of divine socialism—not chasing after Jesus’s father the Skygod—that (Jones claimed) allowed his miracles to take place. During a different exposition in which Jones drew from John 14:12, Jones asked, “Why are you so superstitious that you worship an unknown God? Jesus said, ‘Worship what you see.’” (Q 1053, part 1). In this sermon, Jones went to great lengths to differentiate his character as God from the Christians’ Skygod, explaining that “the most conscious love, that is God. God means good” (Q 1053, part 1). In this sermon, Jones symbolized the concrete and visible acts of love and socialism using the biblical language of God and did not confuse them with the Skygod of the Bible whose presence in the world was unseen or unwanted.

The second passage from the gospel of John that Jones interpreted as proving that Jesus pointed to the divine principle of socialism that empowered him was John 10:34. Specifically, Jones focused on Jesus’s response to his Jewish interlocutors upon being accused of blasphemy: “Is it not written in your law, I said, ‘Ye are gods?’” When used in Jones’s preaching, this verse has an emphasis on vocation or ability. In his interpretation, this statement by Jesus was not just a reference to Psalm 82:6 from the Hebrew Bible; rather, it was an invitation for people to partake in the same power and role that Jesus embodied in the New Testament.

In this verse, Jones interpreted Jesus as equating other human beings with himself. Just as Jesus was God, so too were his everyday audiences and adversaries, at least potentially. In the context of Peoples Temple, this interpretation meant that everyone who came to this realization had the opportunity to become a god—that is, one who practiced love and socialism. Thus, in his preaching, Jones equated Jesus, in all his (presumed) miraculous and radical power, with the Temple’s members. The goal of Jones’s interpretation of John 10:34, however, was not solely to tell his followers that they were conceivably equivalent to Jesus. In fact, such an understanding was largely useless without the knowledge of what gave Jesus his power.

As already mentioned, in Jones’s preaching, Jesus’s power derived from his embracing divine socialism. Therefore, Jones was able to use this verse, like he did John 14:12, to defend his own godly claims. Jesus’s words in John 10:34 enabled Jones to say, “…you can call me an egomaniac, megalomania, or whatever you wish, with a messianic complex. I don’t have any complex, honey, I happen to know I’m the messiah” (Q 1059, part 1). Such a claim was valid because Jones, as the being with the greatest attunement to the divine socialist principle, was the embodiment of divine socialism. Just as Jesus showed the way to attaining such power, so too did Jones (Q 953). In one sermon, he explained that his embodiment of socialist principle functioned according to necessity, like Jesus’s:

I’m a god and you’re a god. And I’m a god and I’m going to stay a god until you recognize that you’re God and when you recognize you’re God I shall go back into principle and will not appear as a personality. (Q 1035)

Thus, both Jesus and Jones’s alleged miraculous abilities and radical messages were meant to empower their hearers and reveal to them their true potential, which could be achieved through embracing divine socialism. Through his preaching, Jones promised his audience that “I’m going to cause you to know that you are what Jesus was” (Q 1035). Two implications of this goal worth considering in the context of Jones’s evaluation and appropriation of Jesus’s words in John 10 relate to responsibility and Christology.

First, the power that one attained as a god—a loving, socialistic being—had to be responsibly managed and appropriately channeled. On this point, Jones frequently derided the Skygod. In some circumstances the Skygod abused its power, seen in the creation of the world for selfish motives. In one sermon, Jones explained that the Skygod created the world and humanity, with all its death and suffering, to forestall loneliness in its otherwise empty universe (Q 1054, part 3). This was an obvious abuse of power—wherever that power came from—because the Skygod achieved happiness at the expense of all created life that would be subjugated or oppressed throughout the centuries. In other circumstances, the Skygod ignored its power, thus allowing violence and injustice to be perpetuated—even violence and injustice to God’s own chosen people, the Jews (Q 1054, part 3). Jones deemed his use of power as more fitting of a loving being—most of his apparent miracles were displays of healing. Through these critiques, Jones instructed his audience that godly power—the power derived from divine socialism evident in Jesus—had to be managed and channeled appropriately.

Moreover, Jones’s followers had to understand that the power derived from divine socialism was necessary to save oneself. The Christians who worshipped Jesus as a supernatural savior, Jones explained, prayed that Jesus would save them through his power, regardless of their own actions (Q 1023). Such a presumption, however, broke down in light of Jones’s understanding. If every Peoples Temple member had both the capacity to be a god and to do miracles greater than Jesus had done, then every Temple member was as adept at saving him- or herself as Jesus was. Thus, Jones taught that “Jesus said, ‘If any man would come after me, take up your own cross.’ He didn’t say anything about taking his cross … You can’t take Jesus’[s] cross, and Jesus can’t work out your own salvation” (Q 1023). Jesus’s ability to be a savior or messiah figure was connected to his power, and that power was available to all humans. Those who heard Jones’s message and embraced divine socialism had the responsibility of using this power to work out their own salvation.

Second, it is possible to offer some comments on Jones’s Christology—that is, his interpretation of Jesus’s nature as the messiah. On the one hand, one could argue that Jones had a rather “high” Christology because his interpretation of John 14:12 and 10:34 deemphasized the decidedly human aspects of Jesus in favor of Jesus’s embodiment of divine socialism. The human Jesus, that is, was essentially a vessel or signpost that was filled with or pointed to the divine principle of socialism. On the other hand, the fact that Jones, a physical human being who interacted in concrete ways with his congregation, likened himself to Jesus suggests a “low” Christology. By emphasizing his physical presence—among the poor and racially marginalized, no less—in the physical world, Jones showed a preference for a human understanding of Jesus.

This low Christology is also evident in Jones’s statements explaining that the entire Temple congregation had the potential to perform miracles and be gods. Although Jones referred to himself in divine terms as “not a mortal… [but] the very spirit and the actual conscious presence of a living god,” he also highlighted the similarities between himself and his audience: “Shit, I’m no different than you. Everybody’s a god. So Jesus is God. I am God! You are God!” (Q 987; Q 953). Although Jones preached that he had mastered divine socialism to the point at which he could raise people from the dead while his audience merely occupied the role of the healed or revived, a powerful similarity nevertheless existed between the Temple members and their leader. Such a similarity bolsters the suggestion that Jones had a low Christology, since frequently he berated his listeners for not understanding his message.[20] In one sermon, Jones lamented, “I don’t know how some of you people get in this door anyway; you act like you must be lost” (Q 1059, part 2). To interpret Jesus’s words as suggesting that such lost and uncomprehending people could be gods as Jesus was a god necessarily emphasized Jesus’s lowly and human characteristics.

This vacillation between high and low Christology suggests either that Jones struggled with the divine-yet-human portrayal of Jesus in the Gospels, or that Jones was an inconsistent preacher. Likely both of these interpretations are true. Regardless, it is apparent that Jones understood Jesus’s words in these two verses as affirming that divine socialism, rather than any innate characteristics or otherworldly origin, allowed Jesus to perform his wondrous signs and spurred him on to preach his revolutionary message. Thus Jesus pointed beyond himself, refocusing worship not on Jesus the messiah whose supernatural origins saved people, but on Jesus the messiah who would help people become saved and raised up through their own understanding of divine socialism.

This collection and analysis of excerpts from Jones’s sermons indicate how Jones interpreted Jesus, what commendation or condemnation of Jesus came from such an interpretation, and how such interpretation and evaluation affected Jones’s preaching. Jones’s interpretations followed two main veins, one literal and one more abstract. In the more literal analysis, Jones understood Jesus the messiah to be a fellow revolutionary. This revolutionary Jesus was apocalyptic insofar as his message and presence predicted and incited a radical change in society as it was known at the time. Jesus was a savior figure in the sense that his ministry showed concern and preference for the untouchable and oppressed individuals in society, and sought to better their situation. Jones often focused on Jesus’s willingness to suffer and even die for his cause, implying that suffering was a way of measuring the success of Jesus’s countercultural message. Jones used this understanding and evaluation of Jesus to justify his own reputed messianic powers and self-appointed role, sometimes to the extent that he called himself a reincarnation of Jesus. More importantly, in his message of socialism Jones incorporated his understanding of Jesus the messiah into his preaching by using language, actions, and concepts associated with Jesus. Thus Jones was able to put a Christian frame around his political and economic teachings. Finally, Jones incorporated Jesus’s suffering into his teachings concerning opposition to Peoples Temple. That is, rather than bemoaning being persecuted in the media or by defectors, Jones could explain that such persecution was a mark of solidarity with Jesus and therefore a testament to the correctness of Jones’s message.

Jones’s preaching also contained a more abstract understanding of Jesus; namely, the understanding that Jesus pointed to or embodied divine socialism. This interpretation focused more on the source of Jesus’s power than on Jesus himself. In this understanding of Jesus the messiah, Jesus saved people by showing them that they could in fact participate in his miraculous power by embracing and understanding the divine socialism he pointed to. Two passages that Jones used to bolster this abstract understanding of Jesus were John 14:12 and John 10:34, both of which he used to explain the potential for all people to perform the miracles Jesus did, since all people could embody God—that is, love and divine socialism. Jones embraced this abstract understanding and used it, like his more literal interpretation, to explain his own alleged healing and miracle-working abilities. Moreover, the interpretation that Jesus the messiah pointed beyond himself to true knowledge and true power—the divine principle of socialism—gave purpose to Jones’s message. This goal of attaining complete understanding of divine socialism had economic, political, and religious consequences in Temple members’ lives.

It is important to note that Jones’s understanding, evaluation, and use of Jesus as a messiah in his preaching was an appropriation rather than a wholesale acceptance. Sometimes Jones’s teachings about the Bible were contradictory, and what I described here represents just a fraction of Jones’s overall rhetoric. Jones did not accept many elements of the Bible. Both his teachings that the Bible perpetuated slavery and classism, and his observation that textual inaccuracies and incompatibilities rendered the Bible unreliable are the most obvious examples of Jones’s refusal to accept the entire Bible.[21] The Bible was useful as a tool to point toward the truth of Jones’s message rather than a document that contained truth: “I [Jones] only use the Bible to substantiate truth. I don’t need the Bible” (Q 953).[22] Jones’s feelings toward the Bible are perhaps best summed up by a statement he made during a Los Angeles sermon concerning his claim to be the reincarnation of various Judeo-Christian or political figures. Jones said,

Yes, I’ll become Jesus Christ. Yes, I’ll become Moses. Yes, I’ll become Vladimir [Lenin]…. But I don’t have to be those that I mentioned. I’ve done enough in the name of Jim Jones to write the best Bible you’ve ever seen. (Q 1057, part 5)

Although Jones perceived himself to be capable of being—and doing the work of—Jesus, his ultimate accomplishments lay outside the narrative of the Bible and outside the name and reputation of Jesus.

The fact that Jones appropriated the biblical witness of Jesus more so than he accepted it entirely need not, and does not, render as a useless endeavor one’s understanding his interpretation of Jesus as a messiah. On the contrary, by observing how Jones interpreted Jesus as an apocalyptic messiah and evaluated him based on this interpretation, one is better able to understand Jones’s own preaching and vocation as the messianic leader of Peoples Temple. The ramifications of this preaching are evident in the later history of Peoples Temple and the community of Jonestown. Jones encouraged members to work out their salvation through participating in Jones’s directives and apart from established religion. Persecution became a rubric by which Jones and members of the Temple measured their commitment to and embodiment of divine socialism, which led them to adopt a dualistic understanding of the world. Jones bred members’ dedication to the Temple’s cause and paranoia through his understanding of Jesus as a messiah, thus contributing to the Temple’s tragic end. This article does not claim that Jones had any robust systematic theology; but it shows—through analysis of the Temple’s audio recordings—that Jones’s biblical interpretations fostered a worldview characterized by fear, hope, loyalty, and suspicion.

Bibliography

Index of FBI tape summaries. 1979. Audiotapes retrieved from Jonestown by Federal Bureau of Investigation: Q 042; Q 134; Q 175; Q 932; Q 953; Q 955; Q 965; Q 974; Q 987; Q 1016; Q 1019; Q 1023; Q 1035; Q 1053, part 1; Q 1054, part 3; Q 1057, part 2; Q 1057, part 4; Q 1057, part 5; Q 1058, part 2; Q 1058, part 4; Q 1059, part 1; Q 1059, part 2; Q 1059. part 4. Available online through the SDSU website at http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/
?page_id=29041

Secondary Resources

Chidester, David. 2003 (1988). Salvation and suicide: Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple, and Jonestown. (Rev. ed.). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Fondakowski, Leigh. 2013. Stories from Jonestown. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Griffin, Horace L. 2013. Dishonor: Race, sex and power in Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple, Journal of Pastoral Theology, 23(2), 3.1–3.15.

Hall, John R. 2001. Gone from the promised land: Jonestown in American cultural history. (2nd ed.; originally published in 1987.) New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Kent, Stephen. 2010. House of Judah, the Northeast Kingdom Community, and “the Jonestown problem”: Downplaying child physical abuse and ignoring serious evidence, International Journal of Cultic Studies, 1(1), 27–48.

Kilduff, Marshall, & Tracy, Phil. 1977 (August 1). Inside Peoples Temple. New West, pp. 30–38.

Maaga, Mary McCormick. 1998. Hearing the voices of Jonestown. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Migliore, Daniel L. 2004 (1991). Faith seeking understanding: An introduction to Christian theology (2nd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Mills, Jeannie. 1979. Six years with God: Life inside Rev. Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple. New York, NY: A&W Publishers.

Moore, Rebecca. 2009. Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Moore, Rebecca. 2011. Narratives of persecution, suffering, and martyrdom: Violence in Peoples Temple and Jonestown. In James R. Lewis (Ed.), Violence and new religious movements (pp. 95–112). Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press.

Nugent, John Peer. 1979. White night: The untold story of what happened before—and beyond—Jonestown. New York, NY: Rawson Wade Publishers.

Reiterman, Tim, & Jacobs, John. 2008 (1982). Raven: The untold story of the Rev. Jim Jones and his people. (Reprint.). New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin.

Smith, J. Alfred. 2004. Breaking the silence: Reflections of a black pastor. In Rebecca Moore, Anthony B. Pinn, and Mary R. Sawyer (Eds.), Peoples Temple and black religion in America (pp. 139–157). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Taylor, James Lance. 2013. Black churches, Peoples Temple, and civil rights politics in San Francisco. In R. Drew Smith (Ed.), From every mountainside: Black churches and the broad terrain of civil rights (pp. 85–110). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Twemlow, Stuart W., & Hough, George. 2008 (Winter). The cult leader as agent of a psychotic fantasy of masochistic group death: The revolutionary suicide in Jonestown, Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, 24(2), 222–239.

Willey, Robin. 2013. Religion, revisionists, and revolutionary suicide: A Marxist framework for the rise and fall of communal religious groups, International Journal of Cultic Studies, 4, 44–59.

Acknowledgment

Thanks to Dr. Stephen A. Kent for editorial comments, and for facilitating access to some secondary sources through the Stephen A. Kent Collection on Alternative Religions, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

About the Author

Kristian Klippenstein is a PhD student in the University of Alberta’s Interdisciplinary Program of Religious Studies, supervised by Dr. Stephen A. Kent. Aside from Jonestown, his research interests include Anabaptist communities, and his dissertation will analyze the impact of leaders’ deaths on high-demand religions. He can be reached at kdklippe@ualberta.ca

International Journal of Cultic Studies ■ Vol. 6, 2015

[1] Divine socialism, or what Jones sometimes termed divine principle, refers to the religion-framed form of socialism that Jones advocated. Many of Jones’s sermon recordings contain variations on these phrases, although he did not officially or exclusively use this phrase to define his message. Jones’s use of the term was in no way connected to the doctrine of Divine Principle found in Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.

[2] Four recent publications can serve as examples of contemporary Temple scholarship. Taylor (2013) explores the Temple’s place in the civil-rights movement and as an expression of black religiosity. Kent (2010) and Griffin (2013) deal with physical abuse in relation to Peoples Temple as a religious organization. Willey (2013) examines Peoples Temple using a Marxist framework, connecting Jonestown to a lineage of apocalyptic communities.

[3] Some of the earliest survivor or eyewitness accounts suffer from sensationalist leanings. Although firsthand accounts, such as Fondakowski’s (2013) compilation of recollections and ruminations by survivors, family members, and scholars, continue to be published, the function of firsthand testimony has shifted. In recent years, a trend toward paying attention to those who died, former members, eyewitnesses, and survivors has occurred in an attempt to reclaim Peoples Temple and Jonestown as a multifaceted community rather than allowing Jones to stand as its lone figurehead.

[4] For ease of reference, I refer to tape recordings according to the letter-number designations given them by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Information pertaining to the location and date of each recording is retrievable from the Index of Tape Transcripts and Summaries found on the Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple website (Fielding McGehee III, research director, http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/). All locating information—date and place—has been extrapolated from the recordings by individuals who have transcribed the tapes for the website, and thus should be viewed as provisional. All transcriptions in this article are my own.

[5] See Twemlow and Hough (2008, pp. 226–230) as one example. David Chidester’s Salvation and Suicide (2003 [1988]) stands as perhaps the best example of a published scholarly monograph that explicitly relies on the audiotapes to reconstruct the worldview of the Temple. Moore (2011) provides a recent example of scholarship that interweaves excerpts from the tapes with an examination of violence in Peoples Temple.

[6] Hall (2001 [1987]) noted a similar methodological problem in his analysis of the Temple: “I do not claim … that there is only one correct history [that is, the history Hall presents]… The available information is so voluminous that some practices of selection must be involved in the construction of the narrative” (p. 313). In this article, my “practices of selection” involved identifying those biblical, political, or theological themes that Jones most often returned to and that varied least during his American preaching period.

[7] Maaga (1998) describes the changing nature of the Temple and its concerns throughout its existence in Indiana, California, and Guyana. Her argument that Peoples Temple was essentially three groups in one—a Protestant sect, a new religious movement, and a black church—helps contextualize Jones’s message and the Temple’s activities in light of mid-twentieth century American religious trends (Maaga, 1998, pp. 74–86). It is appropriate to add a fourth category—Peoples Temple as a socialist group—to Maaga’s schema since her model does not situate the Temple particularly well within its Cold War political climate.

[8] Both Taylor (2013) and Smith (2004) attribute the growth of the Temple in California to the Temple’s Social Gospel-style outreach. As I show in this article, Jones himself was well aware of the relative lack of social assistance offered by Christian churches in late-1960s and early-1970s San Francisco.

[9] The article “Inside Peoples Temple” by Marshall Kilduff and Phil Tracy appeared in the August 1, 1977, issue of New West magazine. The article ended with a list of reasons explaining “why Jim Jones should be investigated” and highlighting the sending of youths to Guyana, tithing requirements in the Temple, and the use of physical punishment as causes of concern (Kilduff and Tracy, 1977, p. 38). For an explanation of Guyana’s suitable linguistic and political climate for the Temple’s communal project, see Nugent (1979, pp. 71–82).

[10] For a longer personal account of Congressman Ryan’s trip to Jonestown, see Reiterman and Jacobs (2008 [1982], pp. 457–466, 476–521).

[11] For a firsthand account of the shootings at the Port Kaituma airstrip and its immediate aftermath, see Reiterman and Jacobs (2008 [1982], pp. 526–538).

[12] The relay of news of the murder-suicide event to the Temple’s Georgetown, Guyana house and on to the United States is mentioned in Reiterman and Jacobs (2008 [1982], p. 542). Although one adult in Georgetown killed herself—along with three children—no coinciding murder-suicides at the Temple’s San Francisco headquarters are mentioned.

[13] The Christian doctrine of the Trinity claims that, although there is only one God, there are “three distinct personal expressions” of that one God present in the world—traditionally God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. See Migliore (2004 [1991], 68–70) for a standard Christian explanation of Trinitarian belief.

[14] The term Skygod was a derisive synonym for God that Jones used. The name highlighted the distance or irrelevance of such a deity. Many sermon recordings contain the term.

[15] Moore (2009, p. 10) gives a succinct and standard definition of Jones’s father. Descriptions of James Thurman Jones usually touch on his disability as the result of being wounded in World War I, his inability to hold down a job, and his emotional distance from his wife and son. Jones referred to his father as “a Ku Klux Klan bandit” in Q 1057, part 2, and describes the illness and cynicism of his father in Q 134.

[16] Note that Willey (2013) attributes the Jonestown mass murder/suicides partially to the Temple’s “religious belief in the afterlife” (p. 56). As I go on to show, Jones was far more interested in criticizing the myth of a heaven or an afterlife than in promising his followers otherworldly rewards or respite from persecution. A good summary of Jones’s dismissal of an otherworldly solution to the problems of humans occurs in Q 953. After asking a series of rhetorical questions about heaven (“You been there lately? ... Anybody seen heaven? ... Anybody seen Gabriel? ... Anybody seen mother Mary?”), he explains that “heaven is within you,” and later states that “heaven is on earth. That’s the only heaven you’ll find.” During the mass murder/suicides, Jones does refer to another, or a next “plane” of existence beyond the present one; but these references occur in the context of his trying to placate hysterical members (Q 042). Rather than an exposition of doctrine, Jones invokes the concept of planes to show the Temple members that “death is not a fearful thing” and “there’s nothing to death” (Q 042). The most interesting comment by Jones regarding life after death during the mass murder/suicides is a comment he makes about reincarnation—answering Christine Miller with “maybe the next time [in a subsequent life] you’ll get to go to Russia. The next time ‘round” (Q 042). Jones touched on the topic of reincarnation with some frequency in his preaching; although space prohibits dealing with it in this article, a discussion of reincarnation would be important to further attempts to piece together Jones’s (religiously oriented) teachings.

[17] Q 175, for instance, casts Ryan’s visit as an “invasion” and labels the Ryan delegation as the “enemy.” On one occasion, Jones placed the entire community on alert for 6 days to defend against an impending invasion. One description of this “six-day siege” can be found in Reiterman and Jacobs, (2008 [1982], pp. 360–372).

[18] In 1972, editors at the San Francisco Examiner assigned reporter Lester Kinsolving to investigate Peoples Temple for the newspaper’s religion section. The 8-part series he wrote represents the first major media attempt to explore—and expose—the inner workings of the Temple. Kinsolving’s articles (some of which were originally unpublished) are available on the Jonestown Apologists Alert blog at http://jonestownapologistsarticlearchive. blogspot.ca/2007/11/dont-miss-all-eight-of-les-kinsolvings.html

[19] Jones’s best-known “miracles” were staged faith healings (involving clandestine observation and sleight of hand), modeled after Pentecostal and African-American worship patterns. See Reiterman and Jacobs (2008 [1982], pp. 44–46) for an account of Jones’s first forays into faith healing. See Mills (1979, pp. 123–124) for a participant’s description of one of Jones’s healings. See Chidester (2003 [1988], pp. 72–78) for a reflection on “healing theatre” in Peoples Temple.

[20] For example, in Q 955 Jones lamented the fact that he could not empower his congregation and send them out to proclaim the good news of divine socialism because they did not understand his message. Likewise, Jones spent much of Q 965 chastising his audience for their lack of appropriate action based on his message.

[21] Pertaining to slavery, Jones frequently referred to the “good ship Jesus” as the vehicle that was both literally and metaphorically responsible for initiating the slave trade (see, for example, Q 1035, Q 1057, part 5, or Q 1059, part 2). Regarding biblical errors, Jones believed that the King James Bible reflected the desires and served the purposes of King James more than it contained truth (see, for example, Q 974, Q 1019, Q 1059, part 2, and especially Q 955).

[22] Jones follows this quote shortly by explaining that he could use “the western magazine to … produce the truth. I can see between the lines in the Los Angeles Times and show you what is the truth. I use the Bible because people are addicted on the Bible” (Q 953).