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The multi-Jesus world: are any of them genuine?

A comparison of three presentations of Jesus: Orthodox, Early and Gnostic.

Becoming The Orthodox Jesus

Christianity essentially comes from the New Testament that is garnished with symbolic mythology and dramatic legend. As a realist, let me dive straight in by saying that the gospels were anonymous until the second century, we don't know who wrote them! The gospel of John is attribute to an unnamed witness and dates for its origin are set around 80-100 CE. Mark is believed to be the oldest at 65-75 CE with Matthew and Luke respectively compiled around 80-110 CE. These documents were not novel-like historical memoirs as we might expect. E. P Sanders explained that first century preachers of the Jesus movement had numerous snippets or pericopes of scripture which increased in number over time. He writes that post crucifixion, the apostles went underground and did not produce a fine body of literature at all. If they did, he is saying that the world would have an in-depth Jesus themed biography; numerous scholars believe insufficient literacy prevented such publications. Academic weight does not make an idea correct, does it? We can see differing facts within the New Testament inspired new and diverse denominations: Calvanist's, for example, believe that followers are chosen for savour in a predetermined divine plan. Catholics on the other hand, believe that people need faith and baptism to be saved, and Unitarians do not all recognise Jesus as the actual son of God. Our various representations of Christ manifest in historical, cultural and political forms too; the British imperial Jesus emerged, as well as the Anglo Saxon and Nordic warrior Jesus popped up, and there's evan a radical white American Bible belt Jesus, not forgetting black Jesus, and so on. The Jesus verse is a huge topic but it shows the differences in interpretation and story telling over time. 

Did interpretation of Ante-Nicene Christian scripture shape religious practice and belief across the world? 

Admittedly, pseudo-biographical scripture is a personal bone of contention; it shouldn't be, and I know I am wrong for seeing all of it as deliberate deception—some of it sort of was though. You might understand, for example; Isiah is believed to have been written by at least three authors, it's called the Trito Isiah by scholars. I've asked myself how is multi-authorship not dishonest? It's not necessarily a dodgy practice as we modern folk might see it. The book of Daniel was compiled hundreds of years later than it reads, because in ancient Israel, the act of recording the (perceived) truth prioritised the actual detailed facts and chronology. Even the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar doesn't escape political spin either; the authentic contextual propaganda still has its value for historians. Caesar dictated and his personal scribe scribed; this is pretty much primary evidence, even though the scribe may have suggested words to decorate Caesars accolades. Let's compare this to Paul of Tarsus. I watched a video by Dr. John Dominic Crossan and he explained that certain Paulian pseudobiograchical letters contradict the ones confirmed as authentic. I can appreciate how a scribe of a 
powerful leader is constrained by expectations whereas the Church, on the other hand, has been editing scripture for centuries. Paul himself had his own limitations with what he could say or write. Historically, the man never met the earthly Jesus and in light of Judaism being a strict monotheist religion, honouring the idea that only God can be worshipped; the recently crucified Nazarene was not a prime candidate for God-status. However, he learned that to revere a pious being solely reliant on, and subservient to God was more acceptable. On top of this, Paul was a rival of Jesus's brother, James, and his circle of friends who held the monopoly on the Early Christian church in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, for Paul, many of them claimed Jesus was not divine, but a man who was somehow touched by God. Isn't it baffling how Pauline scripture eventually won? Why would he shape the New Testament? For me, Paul's understanding of Jesus Christ came from his interpretation of the spoken word of those who new Jesus. Oral tradition was strong in the early centuries and the community played a vital part in making sure the stories were not incorrect. To bare false witness was a sin. Over the last several decades it seems more scholarly weight rests on the idea that pericopes, sayings gospels and other Christian writings were tools to aid the performances of lore tradition. Apostles walked far and wide to tell the stories. The Jerusalem Church would have done the same. 

Was the oral tradition strong due to lack of literacy among Early Christians? In the mid nineteenth century scholars uncovered over one hundred and forty biblical contradictions. This means for every contradiction, one is either an erroneous or not. This isn't looking good for taking the bible literally; there's also the hundreds of textual variants made over the years of copying, translation and editing the women out!

The Bible on Seeing God:

"...I have seen God face to face, and, my life is preserved." Genesis 32:30

"No man hath seen God at any time..." John 1:18

This may well be why there is a synoptic problem showings the gospels to be historically inaccurate. We cannot determine who was influencing who! John's gospel has somewhat antisemitic tones despite the apostles and their Lord likely having Jewish ancestry. If these writings were originally written by Jewish Christians to help with their oral renditions of their revered leader, they become less important as their recitements. Like scripts or notes later found and then embellished, shaping a very different kind of Christianity. With beliefs in Christian scribeocracies the emergence of the mysterious Q source (which I don't like). This theoretical pre-existing gospel combined with Mark is thought to have possibly made up portions of the remaining gospels. I don't know if this is trying to force the wrong pieces into the puzzle or if it's not seeing the forest for the trees. 

Another biblical reservation I used to have is the scientific errors: when day and night existed before we even had a sun! These ancient writers were not modern physicists. Undeniable evidence argues it as fact that humans evolved over millions of years, but, the certain denominations say seven days is the correct time span of creation because it is ancient and completely unaware of science. If we could time travel, we may well be regarded as angels or god's by ancient civilisations. In defence of ancient Christian scripture, Samuel Noah Kramer's work on Sumerian-Babylonian civilisation also shows Jewish-Babylonian culture. Babylonian mythologies played a part in Jewish identity and we can see the common ground in both of their versions of Genesis, The Flood and The Tower Of Babel. This does not mean either cultures are wrong. 

That being said, Trey the Explainer the YouTuber did a very well revised video about how the Bible changed over time. He explained that Jesus's prayer about forgiving his enemies during his crucifixion in Luke 23:24 is missing in older versions. That is to say, Papyrus 75, written in 200 AD did not feature this dialogue. In fact, It appears in a 300 AD work called the Codex Sinaiticus. At the same time, we should never forget other scientific and copying errors, the contradictions and the alterations. In Papyrus 66 or 75 circa 200 AD, the "Cast the First Stone" narrative concerning the adulterous woman is not found, Jesus, Paul of Tarsus, James the Just, Cephas and the apostles died years before it was even written. The story doesn't appear in Codices Vaticanus or Sanaiticus but it manifests in the Codex Bezae compiled 400 AD (we don't know how original oral lore differed to later scripture). The ending of Mark could also have been added centuries after Jesus's crucifixion. The ending in the earliest dated Mark only has dialogue between three women in Christs tomb and a white robed man who seems to be a messenger. The popular conclusion of Mark 9:20 also textually emerged in 400 AD.

During antiquity civilisation was predominantly superstitious and, in Israel, talk of the resurrected dead and faith healing was common. Consider how medieval minds well over a thousand years later spoke of goblins and fairies! Europe is still harbouring superstitious beliefs today! Mental illness was not understood either, did that help shape superstition or fears? The British Time For Change mental health campaign 20072021 stated that 1 in 4 Brits will experience mental illness. This statistic refereed to a well developed successful peace-time country with profoundly better life chances and life expectancy than first century Palestine. The oppressed first century people lacked free mental and physical health care and policing. Going on the Bible, the happiness index rating wouldn't have been fantastic, leading me to suppose that per capita, Israel had more mental illness than today's U.K. I don't know how many New Testament characters of interest were symptomatic of an actual mental condition, how could we tell? Bipolar highs can be a very spiritual and subjective experience, it's easy to picture the magical thinking of a schizotypal personality and the ritual behaviours of a highly religious OCD sufferer in that period. Julius Caesar's epileptic seizures were taken with a pinch of divinity. If we took a team of psychiatrists back through time would they diagnose Jesus with a mental condition? In Mark 3:31-5 (if this is accurate) Jesus disowned his mother and brothers calling his religious followers his family instead; was Jesus merely cultivating what scholars have portrayed as his religio-political community of non-violent resistance to Rome and Herod Antipas? None of this is straight forward, but it should be. What happened? 

What warrants our ongoing daily Christendom? These dominant world religious orders are based on unsound scripture, and for me, there is human hypocrisy, considering historical Christian persecution of others. Recall Jesus's teaching about giving everything to the poor: a National Post article in 2013 claimed the Catholic Church was incalculably wealthya camel finally got through the eye of someone's needle!

This doesn't help me build any faith in the main religious organisations. The daily news informs us of new crimes and great threats scarier than what any apostle ever saw. From my perspective, evaluating the very literal view of the New Testament Jesus, we might be looking at a failed messiah. Matthew 15:21-28 shows that Christs personal mission was specifically for the "lost sheep of Israel". The twelve apostles were supposedly symbolic representations of the lost tribes of Israel, but, it seems, the names of the apostles aren't consistent in the New Testament. Out of Jesus' flock of sympathisers, followers, patrons and supporters, rigidly sticking to the rule of a symbolic dozen seems like a questionable endeavour. His crucifixion as an act of martyrdom became legendary and sadly, most of Israels people still suffered tragedy regardless. Christ's Kingdom of God spanned across his loved holy land, the poor and disenfranchised had messianic expectations of him which many felt were not met, there was no Davidic kingdom. The Romans remained and Emperor Vespasian slaughtered countless zealots (some of whom may have have been Christian) in the first Jewish-Roman war decades after the crucifixion. This is why I feel this type of biblical mission from Jesus failed. It's unfair to blame a nation for "not being saved," realistically; there's immorality to be had if any nations faith faces persecution for abstaining from religious conversion. The pre-orthodox church Jesus gave his life, a diaspora followed. Jewish Christianity became increasingly gentile and anti-Semitic.

The pursuit for the historical Jesus

When the supernatural and religious aspects of Christ are put aside and people stare through the lens of academia we see a blurry, out of focus figure emerge. Greatly silhouetted and inaudibly speaking to his congregation of followers who sit huddled in the darkvery little is agreed upon. Though, on a positive note, Scholars and experts from various backgrounds do continue to strive.

Historical Jesus seminars often agree that:

1) Jesus was a real man

2) Jesus was baptised

3) Jesus preached

4) Jesus was crucified

After the crucifixion, Jesus's brother, James the just became head of the Church of Jerusalemthe Ebionites adored him. The earliest Ebionites were a sect of Christians centred in Jerusalem and originally part of Jesus' wide circle. This was before the written Bible or the Christian Church. In the second century, educated hellenised writers, known as Church or Founding Fathers branded the Ebionites as heretics. This was mostly because their belief in Christ as a human being, as well as their adoptionist Christology centred around Jesus's legendary baptism given by John the Baptist. J. D Crossan and E. P Sanders have both said that titles such as "Son of God" were not necessarily blasphemous within context. You see, Israel and Rome had their own title son of God. Augustus Caesar was known as such because Julius Caesar (the man he saw as a father) was seen as a god. However, any resistance leader called the "Son of God" showed defiance to Roman authority, just as use of the name the "King of the Jews" challenged Herod Antipas. This shows rebellion in Jesus. It is hard to know if any of these reconstructed Historical Jesus's are successful enough to be Christ, given the poor scholarly agreement!

The Gnostic Jesus

The significance of ancient baptism is insightful. There seems to be more going on than what, laymen like me, might fully understand. For starters, John the Baptist belonged to a Gnostic religion called Mandaeism which differed slightly to the common Judaism of the time, many internet sources claim it has roots in old Mesopotamia! Like later sects deemed Gnostic, it has a dualist theology (a spirit world and an inferior physical domain). Those who teach use parable and metaphor (which Jesus famously did). Mandaeism holds that the creation of our cosmos was undertaken by an archetype spiritual man, which I find reminiscent of a heavenly father, sky god worship existed in older Middle Eastern belief system across Mesopotamia, along with older stories about Adam and Eve and the great flood/deluge. 
In fact, the Aramaic meaning of "Manda" is knowledge, but also, the same meaning sits with the Greek word "Gnosis". Mandaeism is classed as an official Gnostic religion. The priestly class are called Nasoraeans, also expressing another meaning for knowledge. Nasoraean is a crossover word with Nazarene, Notzri and Notzrim; anglicised Hebrew words for Christians. These correlations seem to hold some promise. Today Mandaeism still exists but it's dwindling and it certainly doesn't revere Jesus. John the Baptist, Adam, Seth and Noah are central figures. In the first century on grounds of persecution, they left Jerusalem according to Encyclopedia Iranica (2022)
other sources blame Christians. Accounts of Jesus giving his secret teachings to his chosen handful brings to mind the same practices of Nasoraeans within Mandaean gatherings, not to mention the same practices in Nag Hammadi Gnostic gospels. I imagine Jesus and many of his peers were involved in Mandaean life at some point, but now I'm starting to sound like a "heretic" myself! E. P Sanders wrote that Jesus possibly modified his Johannian eschatological approach after John was beheaded around 30 AD.

Mandaeans don't convert outsiders to their faith; this strongly indicates family connection to the faith. After Johns death some of his followers joined Jesus and moved on. Third and fourth century gentile Christians had a different religious outlook to those communities who saw life as having some form of cosmological dualism, sadly, this validated their persecution by the developing hellenistic church, it was mostly gentile or meaning non-Jewish. All the same, "Gnosticism" is a modern term and Early Christians of this kind didn't use it to describe themselves. It's a scholarly word which marked theologies if they met the criteria. 

What are basic Gnostic beliefs?

Generally ancient Christians enjoyed the canonical scripture including various themes identified as Gnostic today. They were considered Christian. Typically we find ideas of an inferior material world, crafted by an imperfect Aeon (appears like God to humans). The creator Aeon emerged from an older Aeon (Sophia) who was one of countless other emanations of the God head. She fell from grace because she caused this artisan to form the lower material realms such as the earth or the cosmos. However, after repenting she was forgiven and stayed within the lower realms watching and comforting as the Holy Spirit or Wisdom. The creator-like Aeon that emanated from her was known as Saklas, Yaldabaoth or Samael, or Abraxas, it depended on the sect! He shaped this world like an artisan would. Unaware and ignorant of the origin of his materials as well as the heavenly pleroma/nirvana, and the source of all things. It sounds quite panentheist in nature but, the cosmology has a lot in common with Platonism, philosophically speaking. Agreed, these are alternative views, diversity in theological ideas existed in Early Christianity. Later however, the direction changed. Many wealthy gentiles took up Christianity over the years, it was mostly the educated, who ironically banned and burnt books they thought to be heretical. Be that as it is, cosmology within Nag Hammadi was at odds with the new standard model and it describes humanity as descending from an impossibly long spiritual ancestry to the very beginning. We are (according to most Gnostic sources) imprisoned in our material world by the demiurge, later held synonymous with the Biblical God Yahweh. Of course, Gnostic Christ is different. He is the son of the most high who bonded within the soul of a human, Jesus. Adoptionist, (who weren't only Gnostics) say this happened during Jesus's annointment with John the Baptiser: numerous theologial perspectives circulated that era! A majority of Early Christians, especially Ebionites, favoured adoptionism. Christs teachings were said to free people of bondage, showing them the inner spark of the true God within themselves. 

My Church is better than your Church! 

Churches that also utilised scriptures deemed to be 'Gnostic' were just as Christian as those who only used none Gnostic material because, in all fairness, all of them practiced similar rituals, worshipped Jesus and shared psalms and prayers etcetera. Even today, people will accuse Nag Hammadi writings as being forgeries! Respectively, mainstream Christianity doesn't correct everyone on how their New Testament gospels were not actually written by any Apostle! Similar to the roots of popular Christianity, 
Gnostic books were also part of oral tradition. Stories were most likely told and then re-told, and then corrected by families and community members over time. Of course, testimonies of like these weren't written with the same precision wording as a high court legal account or a biography—these documents aided the stories they told, preservation of living memory. As a person you have many faces because many eyes see you. Likewise, various words describe you because many minds that have judged you. 

The developing church was not perfect, and it has been questioned whether all church fathers could fully distinguish between a Gnostic, Elcesaite or an Ebionite belief system, which they still smeared nonetheless—anything they considered ugly had to be cut off but who were they to choose? The four gospels are passionately decorated as canon and prioritised over the Nag Hammadi Scriptures because they are older. However, we know St. Gildas's writings are less trusted than those of the Venerable Bede but, in this case they are older. An objects age doesn't guarantee its reliability. It's strange how the Church Fathers Origen and Turtullian both held very similar Platonic-like perspectives to those found within his contemporary Jewish and Gnostic Christian sects. 

This isn't all one way is it? 

In the third century came persecution, and given our human nature, the antisemitism would have been present all along while our mainstream Christianity was in its infancy. You know the saying, "we get the governments we deserve," but, I say, we can also apply this to religion. This new church showed no spiritual grace or enlightenment towards those early Jewish Christians. This doesn't mean, however, that Gnosticism failed. We know Gnosticism wasn't just a few teachings that constituted a heretical clandestine organisation. In fairness, it does make sense that the Baptisers Mandaean community shared their Gnostic theology with Jesus. Neither should anyone dismiss the valued content that once graced the original spoken tradition—it lingered within communities before it was written down and published. There's little reason to assume that The Nag Hammadi Scriptures originated differently. When comparing these 'heretical' writings to the Gospel of Matthew, for instance; ask yourself, are any of these primary sources of evidence? No. There are scriptural parallels: Jesus in the Nag Hammadi and the Bible alike, still shared secret knowledge with selected apostles, for example. In isn't unheard of to think scriptural parallels further suggest an under-pinning oral tradition. On this note,  was Gnosticism ever really lost? You wouldn't be unreasonable in imagining that it was preserved within lore and unwittingly, in the first Christian Bible. Again, certain Gnostic ideas would have been preached far and wide, often integrated too, way before we discovered Nag Hammadi Scriptures in 1945. Over the years various saints were called holy; the pious and the Eastern Orthodox mystics were said to have experienced spiritual gifts or Theosis which are not dissimilar to Gnosis. Such spiritual awakenings can touch the lives of both theist and atheist people, given how God is believed to reveal such things to anyone! As the pre-orthodox church evolved into power (regardless of its own historical morally dubious undertakings) it still spread the message that Jesus and his apostles might have wanted and, as you might see, the Bible still has teachings seen in The Nag Hammadi: countless mainstream Christians have read these ideas
Which Jesus? 

All the tellings and retellings led to a problem. As a result, today, your Jesus will always be the proverbial elephant in someones elses room and so on and so forth. It's understandable how these portrayals can direct us into adopting new beliefs, for example: The Gospel of Thomas, Acts of Thomas and the Book of Thomas the Contender all help paint another picture—Jesus having a twin, Judas Didymos Thomas. The Ebionites excluded the nativity and genealogies from their only gospel, Matthew. For arguments sake, was the nativity story axed from their Matthew because they knew it was untrue? Then again, was the Nativity a later addition, given how Matthew strongly borrowed from Mark, which never had a such genealogies or nativity? It gets silly. Today, everything is in doubt, for example, going back to the secret twin conspiracy: The New Testament features two disciples called Judas and also one Thomas. Both Thomas and Didymos mean "twin" in Greek and Aramaica double translation. The Gospel of Thomas begins by saying: These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down. Non-canonical gospels, especially Nag Hammadi collection describes Thomas as being called Jesus's Twin. In real life, this man could also have been a stunning look-a-like who acquired the nickname. A natural doppelganger could explain Paul's risen Christ. The theologian Crossan, disagreed that there was a blinding mystical light in the Damascus experience. Regardless, hundreds of witnesses could have seen the "twin" mistaking him for the risen Jesus (I Cor. 15:6). Indeed, we could disregard this twin idea of being a deliberate lie, but likewise, in true fairness, you should equally be ready to do the same with Biblical text! Beliefs are easily reinforced by our passions. 

The "problem of evil argument" states that if a good God allows evil, then that God is not good. As previously mentioned, this problem is resolved with certain Gnostic cosmology involving demiurgal beliefs; the lesser God/Aeon is flawed but still responsible for failings in his lordship and creation. To further support the narrative of Gnosticism, I will always refer to the rich anecdotal evidence of Dr. Penny Sartori and Dr. Peter Fenwick with regards to Near Death Experiences. I continue to be pulled in by the field, because volumes of cases have attracted scientific involvement. Dr. Sartori was studying Near Death Experiences in hospital as part of her Phd and through our correspondence she told me about her findings and thoughts. One in five of those who were resuscitated after death on her ward experienced leaving their bodies. Bain in 1999 wrote a paper showing the significant parallels between Gnosticism and Near Death Experiences. This corralates with Elizabeth and Peter Fenwicks book; the art of dying including all other findings of this phenomenon. In fact, Near Death Experiences are a global cross cultural gem in which science is taking more of an interest. Countles Near Death Experience researchers similarly to Bain have elicited first hand experiences from those who briefly died. There are resembles to phenomena found across religions, including Gnostic Christianity: the divine loving light, their persons spirit leaving their body and joining loved ones, the presence of an all knowing sentience. The other world commonly described as 'more real' than this world. The Tibetan book of the dead for instance or the Upanishads, Buddhism and Spiritualism have much in common.

In general, the over-all consensus of Nag Hammadi scriptures describe Jesus with only two mission. One was to spend his time enjoying his people in order to awaken them to the truth. The other was more of an endurance than a mission. He makes references to having to be judged by the world. His parables about the Kingdom of God teachings are abundant in Gnostic writings and The New Testament. It seems this generalised Gnostic representation of Jesus succeeded in his mission, despite his horrific demise! Christianity is the worlds largest religion.

It is uncertain how quickly Jesus acquired the Mandaean title of Nasorean. Given that he is always described as highly intelligent, divine or angelic, perhaps he flourished in this community? The word 'Messiah' literally means anointed one—baptised, christened, anointed refer to the same thing. After eating communal bread next to the Jordan River, (Jesus) Yeshua ben Yosef was most likely first anointed on his forehead with sesame seed oil by John the Baptist before the famous baptism in the river, Yamauchi, Edwin M (2004).
The absent Primae Testimonium realistically, is a dark age for Christendom. Conflicting accounts of the modern Bible can only point you toward what might have been said or what might have been done. Again, perhaps the core of Yeshua's teachings are phrased differently in other spiritual disciplines worldwide. Truth is truth, it doesn't usually require scientific or mathematical deciphering.

Finally, if I could award orthodoxy to any historical church, I would nominate the descendants and the communities of those people who actually knew the Mandaean John the Baptiser; these people made up the very communities with whom Christ himself was acquainted, they continued the oral tradition. These Early Christians may well have been accused of being adoptionist, Gnostic or Cerinthian, but the cultural and historical authenticity of these people are primarily legitimate and routed to source. The outsiders, the hijackers and interlopers were book burners who prescribed heresy to anyone failing to share their religious views. Where one group tried to preserve knowledge, the other destroyed it. As a result, we are in the dark regarding  the content of those destroyed scriptures; we will never hear the performed testimonies of Jesus or the Apostles. We only have a version of what allegedly occurred according to what was allowed into the Bible. 


Freke, T. (2008) The Hermetica:The Lost Wisdom of the Pharaohs

Kramer, S N, (1971) The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character. Phoenix Books

John Dominic Crossan, (1992) The Historical Jesus. HarperSanFrancisco

Fenwick, E, & Fenwick, E (2008) The Art of Dying. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. 

Bain, B, (1999) Near Death Experiences and Gnostic Christianity: Parallels in Antiquity: Journal of near death studies. 

Theissen, G & Merz, A. (1999) The Historical Jesus. SCM Press

E. P Sanders. (1996) The Historical Figure of Jesus. Penguin Putman.

Meyer, M, W. (2009) The Nag Hammadi Scriptures. Harper Collins

Yamauchi, Edwin M. (2004)Gnostic Ethics and Mandaean Origins. Georgia Press

Morrison, K. (2013) Wealth of Roman Catholic Church impossible to calculate. The National Post.


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