Jehovah's First Witness

An interesting insight into the man who stole Christmas, leader of the ‘doomsday cult that controls eight million lives’. Rowland Nelken has written and performed the show, interspersed with songs produced to send up the Jehovah’s Witness doctrine. As well as a narrative of how ‘the cult’ developed, we are taken on a whistle stop tour of some of the major contradictions in their teachings, driven forward by Judge Joseph Frank Rutherford. The rampant racism and misogyny of the sect’s leader is revealed through historically accurate documents, a stark contrast to everything he preached.

An interesting insight into the man who stole Christmas

Educated and trained as a Judge, Rutherford took over presidency of the formerly named ‘Bible Student Movement’. We hear of how he shaped a regime that led to his imprisonment, and some of the major hypocrisies and faux pas of their doctrine. The song about ‘biblical numbers’ is both clever and hilarious, documenting the attempts ‘the cult’ made to predict the end of the world, calculated via a series of bizarre mathematical calculations. All of Rutherford’s ETAs for the destruction of evil and gift of eternal life on a paradise earth for his followers, have long since passed – yet still his followers hold credence with his future predictions and beliefs.

Nelken reveals historical documents detailing letters Russell wrote to Hitler, attempting to endear himself to him with assertions that the aims and objectives of the Third Reich were aligned to those of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. However Hitler’s head was not for turning, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses found themselves a key target of the leader of the nazi party. Deeds to luxurious buildings commissioned by Russell are exposed, which he professes have been built for the ‘rebirth’ of various historical patriarchal leaders – which, in lieu of the resurrection of these leaders, served as batchelor pads for Russell and his pals. Along with Cadillacs and other ‘necessities’.

This is an interesting commentary on a religious group that the majority of people have encountered on the doorstep at one time or another. Nelkin developed this concept following his indoctrination into the group at a young age, which he escaped from following the wake of the social media revolution and a means to access education and enlightenment. Nelkin has also written several books exposing the sect for doctrinal inaccuracy, hypocrisy and cult status.

It’s a really interesting concept for a show, and one which holds our attention for the full 50 minutes. On the day that this reviewer attended, there was a plethora of challenges with the tech. I’m not sure if this is usually an issue, but as I attended on day 14 of the Fringe run, I’d have expected these kind of issues to have been smoothed out by now. Still, it’s very much worth a go and with its mid morning time slot, a grand way to lubricate the brain for the day ahead.

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The Blurb

Jehovah's First Witness tells the story of Joseph Franklin, AKA Judge Rutherford, the effective founder of the doomsday cult that currently controls, worldwide, about 8 million lives. Follow Rutherford from his Southern Baptist childhood in Missouri via his lawyer's office, a prison cell, a great mansion in San Diego, his failed attempt to befriend Adolf Hitler, and finally to his grave.

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