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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Russell's "Pyramid Chronology" & Rutherford's "Beth-Sarim"


Russell's "Pyramid Chronology" & Rutherford's "Beth-Sarim"

It appears that some anti-Witness writers (especially the apostate ones) like to use such information as "proof" that the Watch Tower Organization is a "false prophet." Most often they concentrate on dates such as 1914 and 1975 which haven't had the fulfillment that was originally expected for them. Then they find one of the extremely rare instances where the Watch Tower Society apparently calls itself a "prophet" in some sense (such as one particular 1972 WT article) and then conclude that the Organization claims to be a Prophet, but its predictions fail to come true. Therefore, they reason, the WT Organization must be a False Prophet as defined in the Bible and must be strongly resisted by honest-hearted Christians. (See the PROPHET study paper)

At no time did Russell, Rutherford, or the WT organization claim to be an inspired prophet with the gift of inspired prediction like some of those mentioned in the Bible. In fact, Russell himself taught that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit (which include inspired prediction) ceased long before the beginning of the 3rd century! - WT, Sept. 15, 1911.

Russell himself taught this understanding of prophets: "There were a number of prophets (public orators) and teachers in the [early] church."

He continues,

"We see a distinction drawn in our lesson between prophets and teachers. The Greek word rendered `prophet' signifies a `forth-teller.' It might be understood to mean one who tells in advance, or foretells, or prophesies coming events; but in its general use in the New Testament the word seems to indicate one who tells forth, in the sense of proclaiming, giving public utterence to, or standing up before the people in declaration of the Lord's Message. The distinction between prophets and teachers, as here used, seems to be that the former were persons of natural talent and ability for teaching the truth in a public manner, in orderly discourse, etc., while the teachers would be those possessing talent as instructors, but not necessarily in a public, or oratorical manner; comparatively few have the qualifications for public speaking [prophets] .... some others, who have not ability as public discoursers, have talent for presenting the truth in a less public manner, as in Bible studies, etc. [teachers]." - p. 3005, May 1, 1902 WT.

Again, in the June 15, 1909 WT, Russell writes:

"We are not to despise prophecies, but to respect them and to heed them. But this is not what the Apostle refers to [1 Thess. 5:20]. By the word `prophesying' he meant teaching, public utterance. Do not despise what anyone may publicly utter as a child of God in the church of Christ....

"Nevertheless prove all things and hold fast to that which is good - that which stands the test. Because a brother is sincere, in earnest, does not prove that he is right in his Scriptural expositions .... Even if you cannot accept his proposition, the study of the subject, the searching of the Scriptures in the proving may be of lasting benefit to yourself, establishing you more than ever in the truth. But let us be sure that we hold fast to the good." - p. 4419.

So, by understanding what Russell (and Rutherford, et. al.) meant by the term "prophet" and that they certainly never considered themselves as inspired predicters of the future but merely imperfect, fallible men, we can see how their detractors twist their statements to make them appear to be "false prophets" in the Old Testament sense.

Russell wrote on pp. 5367, 5368 of the 15 Dec. 1913 WT (republished from an October 1, 1907 article):

"A dear Brother inquires, Can we feel absolutely sure that the Chronology set forth in the Dawn-Studies is correct? - That the harvest began in 1874 and will end in A.D. 1914....?"

"We answer," Russell continues, "as we have frequently done before in the Dawns and Towers and orally and by letter, that we have never claimed that they were knowledge, nor based upon indisputable evidence, facts, knowledge; our claim has always been that they are based on faith. We have set forth the evidence as plainly as possible and stated the conclusions of faith we draw from them....

"Many have examined these evidences and have accepted them; others equally bright do not endorse them....

"We neither urge nor insist upon our views as infallible, nor do we smite or abuse those who disagree; but regard as `brethren' all sanctified believers in the precious blood.

"On the contrary, it is those who differ who smite us and speak evil of us .... They are our critics who always claim the infallibility. We go humbly onward following the Apostle's example and words, `We believe and therefore speak,' whether others hear or forbear to hear. Is not this in accord with the Spirit of Christ? ....

"But some of those who come to a trifling point on which they disagree seem to imagine that the entire harvest work must be overthrown, or at least stopped, until they get their little jot or tittle satisfactorily adjusted." - p. 5367.

"But let us suppose a case far from our expectations: Suppose that A.D. 1915 should pass with the world's affairs all serene and with evidence that the `very elect' had not all been `changed' .... What then? Would that not prove our chronology wrong? Yes, surely! .... one of the strings of our `harp' would be quite broken!

"However, dear friends, our harp would still have all the other strings in tune and that is what no other aggregation of God's people on earth could boast. ....

"If, therefore, dearly beloved, it should turn that our chronology is all wrong, we may conclude that with it we have had much advantage everyway. If the attainment of our glorious hopes and present joys in the Lord should cost us such disappointment as our friends fear, we should rejoice and count it cheap!" - p. 5368.

And in the Jan. 1 1911 WT, Russell wrote:

"Suppose that our chronological calculations (never set forth as infallible) should prove to be fallible and in error. Our conclusion would merely be that the error could not be very great ....

"If, then, it should prove eventually that the crisis of earthly government will not be reached by the end of 1914, should we not be very faithful anyway, and remember that had it not been for that alarm clock which helped awaken us from the worldly stupor, we might not have been sufficiently awake to appreciate and enjoy the wonderful spiritual blessings which daily crown our lives?" - p. 4743.

And in the Oct. 15, 1913 WT, Russell wrote:

"We wish still, however, to reiterate what we have said from the first respecting the date of the close of the Times of the Gentiles; namely, that the calculations as we presented them in Vol. II, Studies in the Scriptures, are the truth to the best of our knowledge and belief. Nevertheless, there is enough uncertainty about the matter of chronology to make it a matter of faith rather than of positive knowledge. We remind our readers that our consecration to the Lord is not to October, 1914, nor to any other time except that mentioned by the Savior - `Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.' - Rev. 2:10." - p. 5336.

Attempting to determine dates of future scriptural events in order to encourage fellow Christians was important to Russell (and Rutherford). If they did it honestly and publicly (which they did), it was a part of prophesying (in the sense of speaking out publicly), but it was obviously never considered as (nor promoted as) infallible inspired prediction! Nor was it considered to be an essential element of the essential work of a modern Christian "prophet." When it comes to proclaiming the truth of essential Bible doctrines, "where else is there to go?"


The 1975 Year Book tells us that

"Brother Rutherford had a severe case of pneumonia after his release from unjust imprisonment during 1918-1919 because of his faithfulness to Jehovah. Thereafter he had only one good lung. It was virtually impossible for him to remain in Brooklyn, New York, during the winter and still carry out his duties as the Society's president. In the 1920's he went to San Diego under a doctor's treatment. The climate there was exceptionally good and the doctor urged him to spend as much time as possible in San Diego. That is what Rutherford did ultimately.

"In time, a direct contribution was made for the purpose of constructing a house in San Diego for Brother Rutherford's use. It was not built at the expense of the Watch Tower Society. Concerning this property, the 1939 book Salvation stated: `At San Diego, California, there is a small piece of land, on which, in the year 1929, there was built a house, which is called and known as Beth-Sarim.'" - p. 194.

By November of 1941 Brother Rutherford's condition compelled him to return to Beth-Sarim for his final illness. He died there January 8, 1942.

However, the Salvation book (written by Brother Rutherford) quoted above goes on to say:

"The Hebrew words `Beth Sarim' mean `House of the Princes'; and the purpose of acquiring that property and building the house was that there might be some tangible proof that there are those on earth today who fully believe God and Christ Jesus and in His kingdom, and who believe that the faithful men of old will soon be resurrected by the Lord, be back on earth, and take charge of the visible affairs of earth. The title to Beth-Sarim is vested in the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in trust, to be used by the president of the Society and his assistants for the present, and thereafter to be for ever at the disposal of the aforementioned princes on the earth. .... and if and when the princes do return and some of them occupy the property, such will be a confirmation of the faith and hope that induced the building of Beth-Sarim." - p.311.

Apparently Brother Rutherford had earlier written that he expected the return of these princes in the year 1925. I don't have a copy of that, but I see no reason to doubt it. Note, however, that Beth-Sarim wasn't built until 1929.

Money had been contributed for the specific purpose of "constructing a house in San Diego for Brother Rutherford's use" during his illnesses. The money, of course, could not be legally (or morally) used for any other purpose.

It's not surprising that in his book Brother Rutherford didn't care to detail these conditions which would have necessarily put his physical illnesses on public display. His decision to also dedicate this ground and building to those princes whom he truly expected to soon return is certainly understandable.

The fact that the princes did not return as soon as he expected was obvious even before Beth-Sarim was even built and certainly doesn't make Brother Rutherford a False Prophet.

Pyramid Chronology

In 1859 an "eminently respectable Nottinghamshire Victorian" (Moffett quote) and respected London publisher, John Taylor, published his book, The Great Pyramid: Why Was It Built? And Who Built It?.

Taylor was also an earnest student of mathematics who had spent many long hours examining and analyzing the most accurate and detailed measurements then available for the Great Pyramid: Howard Vyse's survey in 3 volumes - Operations Carried On At The Pyramids Of Giza.

Taylor's eight-volume work claimed the Great Pyramid had been built through the inspiration of the God of the Bible. The various measurements of that pyramid were, he said, God-inspired messages to His people.

Then Dr. Charles Piazzi Smyth took over. He was

"a fellow of the Royal Society, Britain's august high command of the sciences, [and] his father, Admiral William Henry Smyth, had been one before him. At the time the younger Smyth encountered Taylor's theories, he was both professor of astronomy at Edinburgh University and Astronomer Royal of Scotland." - Moffett.

Inspired by Taylor's studies, Smyth launched into a fresh analysis of Howard Vyse's figures. His calculations and conclusions startled the world: not only was Taylor correct, he declared, but there were many new revelations to be found!

From 1864 until 1890 (at least) Piazzi Smyth was the greatest authority on the revelations of the Great Pyramid measurements. This respected scientist sincerely believed and taught, among other things, that the various measurements in and on the Pyramid were put there through inspiration from God by its Hebrew builders to encourage and inform God's modern people.

Many later studies by others came up with slightly different measurements and different interpretations, but Piazzi Smyth's were certainly the most impressive from the standpoint of scholastic authority, scientific sincerity, and world-wide endorsements. "As late as 1932," Moffett tells us, "there were still those ready to take up the cudgel for the Astronomer Royal."

Others, however, also became popular in this field.

"The heyday of pyramidology was to dawn in 1924, with the publication of The Great Pyramid: Its Divine Message. This was primarily the work of an English structural engineer named David Davidson." - Moffett.

Many intelligent, knowledgeable people around the world were convinced that the Great Pyramid had been divinely constructed to reveal Biblical truths. True, there was some argument as to which of the many different measurements being reported were the proper measurements. And there were various interpretations as to what each measurement actually represented. And there were a number of stuffy "curmudgeons" who still wouldn't be convinced by what seemed to be overwhelming statistical proof. But "Pyramid Fever" ran high, nevertheless.

And in 1890 the respected Dr. Piazzi Smyth was the Pyramid Chronology expert!

So, when C. T. Russell began examining Dr. Smyth's work and comparing it to his own attempts at chronology based on the Bible alone, it is no wonder he became very excited at what appeared to be an exact proportional match between the lengths of various consecutive measurements in the Pyramid and the lengths of consecutive time periods in his own Bible chronology.

As a result, in 1890, Russell's "Pyramid" calculations and their interpretation by him were forwarded to Piazzi Smyth in England. Smyth heartily endorsed them in his Dec. 21, 1890 letter which was reproduced in Studies in the Scriptures when Russell published his Great Pyramid testimony. - see pp. 311-312, Thy Kingdom Come.

As Russell tells us in that very same work which Piazzi Smyth had reviewed and praised:

"The first work of importance on the subject, proving that the Great Pyramid possessed scientific features, was by Mr. John Taylor, of England, A.D. 1859, since which time the attention of many able minds has been given to the further study of the testimony of this wonderful `Witness;' especially since Prof. Piazzi Smyth, Astronomer Royal for Scotland ... gave to the world the remarkable facts of its construction and measurements, and his conclusions therefrom. To his scholarly and scientific work, `Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid,' we are mainly indebted for the data made use of in this chapter....

"A few years after Prof. Smyth's return, came the suggestion that the Great Pyramid is Jehovah's `Witness,' and that it is as important a witness to divine truth as to natural science .... The suggestion came from a young Scotsman, Robert Menzies, who, when studying the scientific teachings of the Great Pyramid, discovered that prophetic and chronological teachings co-exist in it.

"Soon it became apparent that the object of its construction was to provide in it a record of the divine plan of salvation, no less than the record of divine wisdom relating to astronomical, chronological, geometrical, and other important truths." - pp. 319-320, Thy Kingdom Come, Studies in the Scriptures.

Later confirmation for Russell's "pyramid chronology" came from Dr. John Edgar, M.A., B.So., M.B., C.M., F.F.P.S.G., of Glasgow, Scotland, who, with his brother Morton, visited the Great Pyramid in 1909 to critically test Russell's interpretations.

"Their verdict, after a most elaborate investigation, was a thorough endorsement of Pastor Russell's interpretation" - p. 4953 [bound volume], Jan. 1, 1912 WT.

However, it must be noted that it was extremely difficult to determine exactly where to start (or end) many of the measurements in the Great Pyramid, and more and more differing measurements began to be made and promoted as Smyth's theories became more and more popular. It is even claimed that Smyth himself had used two different measurements for one of the passages - WT, p. 3451, Nov. 1, 1904, letters from readers.

Also, as Moffett, in his book debunking the various pyramidology theories, points out:

"if you took enough measurements and chose selectively, it would be possible to prove virtually anything." - p. 38, Secrets of the Pyramids Revealed.

I have no doubt that Taylor, Prof. Piazzi Smyth, and C. T. Russell (and thousands of others) were sincere, religious men who truly believed their interpretations of the Pyramid measurements. They were victims of statistical coincidences and multiple variables: it all honestly appeared to be mathematically precise proof - inescapably certain!

Although convinced of the accuracy of his pyramid chronology interpretations, Russell, nevertheless, considered it as merely corroborating the testimony of the Bible. It was "for a sign and a witness unto the Lord of Hosts." He wrote: "IF this, indeed, prove to be a Bible in stone; IF it be a record of the secret plans of the Great Architect of the universe, displaying his foreknowledge and wisdom; it should and will be in full accord with his written word." - pp. 317, 326, 341, Thy Kingdom Come.

Nevertheless, we must finally conclude, as with some other date interpretations, that Russell (and Rutherford) were incorrect. This does not make them False Prophets. They were no more (or less) than what they continually proclaimed themselves to be: mere imperfect men striving (with the aid of God's Spirit) for the truth. That their imperfect flesh did not always allow them perfect accord with the Holy Spirit should come as no surprise. Otherwise we would be treating them as Inspired Prophets and regarding their every word as "Scripture" (which, as we know, they strongly opposed). Instead, they are merely brothers, fellow servants.