Beth Sarim

Rutherford’s Bones and the Generation That Would By No Means Pass Away—But Did


Transcript of OnionUnlimited podcast episode 005

HELLO AND WELCOME TO EPISODE 5 OF ONIONUNLIMITED—THE PODCAST. I’m your host, Daniel Torridon. Last time we looked at Watch Tower’s most ridiculous prediction ever—Rutherford’s prophecy that the Old Testament characters such as Abraham, Moses and others would return from the dead in 1925. A bold statement that never proved true. Rutherford was left with egg on his face and his critics calling him a false prophet.

At a convention the following year, Rutherford admitted his error—I guess he had no choice really—but in doing so he downplayed things by claiming 1925 was “merely an expressed opinion”—not entirely true. The Watchtower May 15, 1922 had stated that “The Lord has placed the stamp of his seal upon 1914… beyond any possibility of erasure…” and that “there can be no more question about 1925 than there was about 1914.”

The book The Way to Paradise written by W E Van Amburgh, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society in 1924 stated “We should… expect shortly after 1925 to see the awakening of Abel, Enoch, Noah” and others. Whether it was Rutherford or other prominent members of the Society, Watch Tower was very clear that 1925 was to be taken more than “merely an expressed opinion”. This was, “the truth”. Except it wasn’t. It failed.

Yet Rutherford didn’t abandon his prediction that the resurrection would occur at any moment. As late as 1932 he was still delivering talks to Jehovah’s witnesses about the nearness of the kingdom, declaring that their preaching work was “coming to a conclusion”, that Armageddon was “only a short time away” and that the end was “much less than the length of a generation”.

Despite the 1925 prediction failing miserably, the Bible Students continued to believe Rutherford’s rhetoric and in 1929, four years after the no-show of the “faithful worthies”, a ten-room mansion was built in San Diego for the returning princes to live in. It was named Beth Sarim by Rutherford, meaning “House of the Princes”, and Rutherford used it as his winter home until his death in 1942.

A letter written by W E Van Amburgh stated: “Not one cent of the funds of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society went into the construction of the home in San Diego where Judge Rutherford does his winter work.” He went on to say: “It was the gift of friends” claiming the same about the two Cadillacs that Rutherford drove around in. They were a “direct contribution” it was claimed from “the brethren”. To me, that just sounds like the money that was used to acquire the lavish property and cars came directly from the contributors rather than it first going through the Watch Tower’s book. Either way, Beth Sarim appears to have been built by Watch Tower—either by the organisation or more likely by individuals within the organisation. It makes little difference—and the interesting thing is that it was given, transferred, sold to Rutherford for the nominal fee of $10—the current equivalent of $160. This was a ten-bedroom Spanish-style mansion worth, in today’s money, something like $400,000 and Rutherford picked it up for ten dollars!

In the late 1930s, Rutherford was still saying that Beth Sarim should accommodate at least some of the returning “princes” and that it should stand as a monument to the organization’s firm expectation that these ancient Bible characters were soon to be resurrected, although no new date was ever assigned to the expected return.

The deed for Beth Sarim, written by Rutherford, said that the property was to be held “perpetually in trust” for the Old Testament princes and was to be surrendered to them once they arrived. In the meantime, the property was landscaped with olive, date, and palm trees so that Abraham and his mates “would “feel at home”. I wonder how “at home” the “adjacent two-car garage for Rutherford’s Cadillacs would have made Abe feel!

Newspapers of the time reported on Rutherford’s lavish lifestyle. The residence was cited by Olin Moyle, a former legal counsel for Jehovah’s Witnesses, in a letter to Rutherford in 1939, as an example of “the difference between the accommodations furnished to you, and your personal attendants, compared with those furnished to some of your brethren”. Clearly, Rutherford was living in style, while his brothers apparently were not.

Rutherford died at Beth Sarim in 1942, at the age of 72, never getting to see the “faithful worthies”. He’d spent much of his life promulgating what turned out to be not “the truth”, but a falsehood. Sincere? Maybe. I don’t know. But just like Russell before him, he prophesied falsely—so he was a false prophet, and, I believe somewhat of an idol to his followers.

Even after his death, Rutherford’s bones were causing contention. He wanted to be buried at Beth Sarim, but San Diego County officials refused to grant a burial permit. Consolation magazine—the forerunner of Awake!—wrote: “It was not the fate of the bones which they decided, but their own destiny. Nor is their blood on anyone else’s head, because they were told three times that to fight against God, or to tamper with His servant’s bones even, would bring upon them the condemnation of the Lord… So their responsibility is fixed, and they followed the course of Satan.” Eventually, Rutherford’s bones were shipped to New York where he was buried on April 25, 1942. After Rutherford’s death at Beth Sarim, the mansion was kept on by Watch Tower but quietly sold off in 1948 to a private owner.

Now, you’d have thought after that fiasco that the Bible Students, known since 1931 as Jehovah’s witnesses, would have learned their lesson as to the futility of trying to guess “God’s timetable”, but no. 

Throughout the 1940s unmarried Witnesses were urged to remain single, and Witness couples childless, because it was “immediately before Armageddon” while young ones were counselled: “It is better and wiser for those of the Lord’s ‘other sheep’ who hope to survive Armageddon and be given the divine mandate to fill the earth with a righteous offspring to defer matters until after the tribulation and destruction of Armageddon is past.”

The Watch Tower organisation was now under the charge of Nathan H Knorr who served as the president from 1942 to 1977. To be fair, he did move away from postulating the plethora of dates that had marred Russell and Rutherford’s tenure. There was now less focus on dates and more attention given to organisational changes. However, there was one date Knorr couldn’t get rid of because it was woven into the very fabric of the organisation—and that was, you’ve guessed it, 1914.

In time, it came to be taught that the generation who saw the events of 1914 would still be alive to see Armageddon. This fixed in place a very specific time “window” for the end to come. This was the expectation my parents grew up on and which I was trained to preach from door to door as a child and later as a pioneer. I still remember having debates with householders who refused to believe that the end of the world was coming in their lifetime. They were right of course.

The “generation” teaching, along with a revised calculation that six thousand years of human history was to end in 1975 rather than 1875, caused renewed expectations among Jehovah’s Witnesses in the late 60s and early 70s. Satan’s system was going to end very soon! By the time I was born in 1969, Armageddon was said to be “just around the corner”. My parents never expected me to start school. 

The book Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God noted that “…six thousand years… will end in 1975… and the seventh period… will begin in the fall of 1975…” It then raised expectations further by stating “It would not be by mere chance… for the [millennial] reign of Jesus Christ… to run parallel with… the seventh millennium…”

An Awake! article published in the year of my birth escalated hopes further by saying: “If you are a young person, you… need to face the fact that you will never grow old in this present system of things. Why not? Because all the evidence in fulfillment of Bible prophecy indicates that this corrupt system is due to end in a few years.” Then it went on to state: “Of the generation that observed the beginning of the ‘last days’ in 1914, Jesus foretold: ‘This generation will by no means pass away…’ If you are in highschool… it means at least four, perhaps even six or eight years to graduate in[to] a specialized career. But where will this system of things be by that time? It will be well on the way towards its finish, if not actually gone!”

A Watchtower article of the same year—1969—stated: “Now we stand at the very threshold of the new system of things.”

Nevertheless, I did start school, and left school, and married, had kids, and reached the ripe old age of 50-something. Meanwhile, everyone who was alive in 1914 died while the Watch Tower Society down-played their role in the unfulfilled expectations for 1975, even blaming individual Witnesses for speculating. But the publications in the years leading up to 1975 expose very clearly where the fault lay. 

Once again, those leading the Watch Tower organisation had prophesied falsely. Yet even after the failure of 1975, they continued to predict that Armageddon would come “within our 20th century”, that is, before the end of 1999. I, therefore, grew up with the understanding that I would never grow old, and that the new world would definitely happen before I was 30. It never did.

At this point it should be noted just how many failed end-of-the-world predictions the Watch Tower organisation has been responsible for:

1878 was supposed to be the “end of the Gospel harvest” and the time that living anointed ones would be raptured to heaven to join Jesus in destroying Satan’s system. That prediction failed.

1881 was given as a revised “end of harvest”. Again, it failed.

1914 was looked to as the date for Armageddon. Never happened.

1915 was spent hoping Armageddon was running a little late.

1918 was then given as an absolute terminus date for the rapture. That was embarrassing.

1925 was given as a sure date for the return from the dead of the “faithful worthies”, accompanied by Jesus’ thousand-year reign over the earth. Again, nothing.

1975 had been hyped up by the Watch Tower Society as being hugely significant, and many Witnesses expected the start of the millennial reign to occur that year. Just as the Millerites had done in 1844, many Jehovah’s Witnesses had sold their houses and belongings, and were commended for doing so in the Watch Tower publications. I even knew a sister who refused to buy a new hat, because the end was coming in 1975!

The 1974 issue of the Our Kingdom Ministry newsletter had commended Witnesses who’d sold their homes and property to engage in full-time preaching, by saying: “Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world’s end”, but 1975 came and went uneventfully and 46 years later here we are still.

In the space of just over 100 years, from 1874 up to 1975, “Jehovah’s prophet” had predicted the end of Satan’s system on at least seven different occasions and had been wrong every single time—a 100% failure rate—and yet despite this, they continued to claim to speak for God and predict that Armageddon would come “within our twentieth century”. 

As of now, we are 21 years into the 21st century, and Watch Tower is still predicting that the end will be “soon”, with no evidence to support their claim. I recently researched how many times the Watch Tower has stated that we are on the “threshold” of the new world and it’s at least 45 times between 1950 and 2021 the latest iteration being Patrick LaFranca on JW Broadcasting saying with a very straight face: “Now we stand at the very threshold of the new world.” I suggest most likely we do not.

Then we have Stephen Lett of the governing body claiming the “final part of the last of the last of the last last days” and David Splane with his big stick and slightly confused face trying to convince us of a new, convoluted “overlapping generations” doctrine which, if you “do the math”—as he likes to say—inconspicuously sets a time limit of somewhere between 2034 and 2074 for Armageddon. My guess is that won’t happen either.

One thing the Watch Tower organisation continues to forget is Jesus’ words to his disciples when they asked when God’s kingdom would be established. Jesus replied: “It does not belong to you to get knowledge of the times or seasons which the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction.” Whether you’re a Bible believer or not, the point is Jehovah’s Witnesses are, supposedly, yet they’ve disregarded Jesus’ words time and time and time again with their many failed date predictions.

Then there are the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2: “Concerning the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you not to be quickly shaken from your reason… by an inspired statement or by a spoken message… to the effect that the day of Jehovah is here.”

Thank you for listening. Join me next time as I tell you about my first disfellowshipping in 2006 when I was charged with apostasy.