Bring on the End Times

Is clonejesus.com for real?

Christmas is over, and the pressure is on for a group of Christians committed to killing everything and restoring the kingdom of God on earth beginning in December 2001.

According to some interpretations of the Book of Revelation, the End Times will come only when Jesus returns for the second time. The folks behind www.clonejesus.com—who call themselves the Second Coming Project—say, "Bring it on."

"[S]hould we wait around passively for some miracle to happen?" the site's authors ask. "Didn't God give us brains to use as best we can? . . . Yes, the Second Coming will happen, because we will MAKE IT HAPPEN."

The group says it will "clone Jesus, utilizing techniques pioneered at the Roslin Institute in Scotland." To do that, the group hopes to identify "an incorrupt cell from one of the many Holy Relics of Jesus' blood and body that are preserved throughout the world, [extract] its DNA, and [insert it] into an unfertilized human egg (oocyte), through the now-proven process called nuclear transfer. The fertilized egg, now the zygote of Jesus Christ, will be implanted into the womb of a young, virginal woman (who has volunteered of her own accord) who will then bring the baby Jesus to term in a second Virgin Birth."

According to the website, the only problems facing the project are time and access to the relics containing DNA material.

"Time is short! We must have a fertilized Jesus zygote no later than April 2001 if Baby Jesus is to come to term on the predicted date." That would put Jesus' due date at about Christmas 2001, marking the beginning of Anno Domini Novi 1—New Year of Our Lord 1.

There are other problems. First, it is illegal to clone humans in the United States, although a shrewd legal mind might argue that—according to widely accepted reports—Jesus is human only on his mother's side.

That brings up another difficulty: unlike nuclear DNA, which is a combination inherited from both parents, mitochondrial DNA is passed exclusively from mother to child. If that doesn't strike you as a problem, it's because the mainstream press uses people who slept through biology class to cover the science beat. But here it is: the Roslin method manages to transfer only nuclear DNA. This is why Dolly the Scottish Wonder Sheep has been giving rise lately to "clones" that have wool as black as hers is white.

The Second Coming Project seems aware of the limitations of the nuclear-transfer method and is willing to accept them. In an interview with The Westchester County Weekly (www.newmassmedia. com), Roland B., a shadowy spokesman for the project, says, "We have no objection if the implanted embryo, the zygote, becomes a female."

Yes, things are going to be different this time. "We don't want the child to be raised in poverty," Roland told Westchester County Weekly. He said the group has created a fund to cover the divine clone's living expenses. He claims they've already raised about $250,000 to cover the cost of cloning and subsequent expenses. Among those expenses: "Probably private school."

But the best-laid plans will mean nothing if the group can't locate a sample of Jesus' DNA. Not a problem, says the Second Coming Project. "Throughout the Christian world are churches that contain Holy Relics of Jesus' body: his blood, his hair, his foreskin," the website asserts.

But what about authenticity? Relics were a major industry in the Middle Ages. And a good relic salesman could overcome practically any logical objection to the authenticity of his wares. A church in Northern Germany acquired the head of John the Baptist, though another Northern German church already had the head of John the Baptist. Since this second head was somewhat smaller than the first, it was explained that this was the head of John the Baptist as a boy; the other, larger one was marketed as the head of John as an adult. It's no wonder that at least seven churches and abbeys throughout Europe during this period bought what they believed was the foreskin removed at Jesus' circumcision (Luke 2:21).

The various foreskins were venerated as any other relic until 1900, when the Vatican officially discouraged worship of this particular item. It seems a certain fondness remained for the penile relic in Italy, however, where one church continued to display it until it was stolen in 1983. Police believed the thieves were interested in the jewel-studded case containing the foreskin. But perhaps not. Perhaps there is a foreskin available on the black market.

The foreskin and other relics of Jesus are certainly medieval fakes. And cloning is something of a modern fake itself—Roslin's method of cloning doesn't produce an exact replica of the original subject. If the best scientific efforts cannot reliably reproduce a common sheep, there's certainly little chance of reproducing the Lamb of God.

That's two fakes, but what about a third? Is the Second Coming Project itself a fake?

When dealing with matters of religious faith, it's hard to know where to draw the line between absurd-but-sincere belief and deliberate hoax. The first thing that suggests the Second Coming Project is a fake is its URL—a not-for-profit should have ".org" as its suffix, not ".com". Following up on this, a check of records at the office of the California Secretary of State for the Second Coming Project—the group offers a Berkeley post office box as its mailing address—turned up nothing.

Greg Hartmann, who writes on Christian humor for about.com, discovered that the domain name clonejesus is owned by Feral House Publishing and concludes that the site is just a promotional tool for their new book, Apocalypse Culture II (the Second Coming site even contains a link to the publisher). Feral House is an LA publishing house specializing in what most people call fringe subcultures. Apocalypse Culture II includes documents from the Second Coming Project. Feral House founder Adam Parfrey, who edited Apocalypse Culture II, says he learned about the group from a flier on a lamppost in Berkeley. He told Salon.com in a Sept. 20 interview that the clonejesus chapter of the book has produced many death threats. "I don't know why, but this pushes [angry Christians'] buttons in a bad way," he told Salon, perhaps a little disingenuously.

In the end, it doesn't really matter if the Second Coming Project is a fake. It can't work. In which case it's still a nice way to shock your more religious family members on the ramp up to Easter. But if it's genuine—well, then all they have is $250,000 and a willing virgin. To those of us with a more secular cast of mind, that is the recipe for, if not a Merry Christmas, then certainly a great New Year.

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