This is part of a multi-part series. Here is Part 1
Jehovah’s Witnesses fend off critics on two fronts. JWs are the prime targets of the fundamentalist church religious world. “I have been unable to discover any words of sympathy for them in any of the orthodox religious journals,” wrote Ray H Abrams in the first edition (1933) of ‘Preachers Present Arms.’
They are also the prime targets of the secular irreligious front as represented by ‘anti-cultists.’ “Russia’s religious persecution focuses almost exclusively on Jehovah’s Witnesses,” Human Rights Watch said in 2021.
If ‘Preachers Present Arms’ and Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t, why would they be the prime target of the irrelgious world that also says it wants peace? And in an age when religionists seek to force their views upon others through legislation and sometimes violence, but Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t—the standards they have they apply only to themselves—again, you would not think they would be prime target of the irreligious world. Why not go after someone who does do these meddling things? There are plenty of groups to choose from.
The answer is offered by Massimo Introvigne—he the scholar of new religions. When the fledgling irreligious anti-cult movement first started ‘flexing their muscles,’ they simply latched on to what already was the prime target of the religious would, Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Witnesses are the prime target of the fundamentalist church world—trust me on this—primarily because they reject the trinity doctrine. For that reason, they’re usually denied Christian status altogether by these ones. “No thanks, I’m Christian,” sniggered one fellow I encountered at the door, with the clear implication that I wasn’t. I answered in perplexity that only a Christian would do the work I was doing, and “frankly, I’m a little surprised that you’re doing it yourself.” Fade smug smile. Of course, I would never do this for an honest misunderstanding, but believe me—this was no honest misunderstanding.
It’s a denial of status that the fundamentalists can’t quite make stick—it sticks only among themselves. “The Witnesses come right up my driveway to talk about Jesus as God’s chosen king,” non-fundamentalists will say, who may not be thrilled to see them do that but they obviously recognize them as Christian, and in fact, pretty serious Christians to be putting biblical direction to preach into practice.
If the trinity truly was the central reality of the faith, you’d expect it to be on nearly every page of the Bible. Instead, references to it are few and far between, and almost always, if seen in any other context, would be instantly dismissed as figure of speech. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” Jesus says as he is being put to death. Who’s he talking to—himself? Again, it’s odd that anti-cultists would makes Witnesses their central target, who make sense on this doctrine, as opposed to a horde of groups that do not—but Introvigne has explained why.
When you respond to a critic, it’s well to know where that one is coming from. Is he/she from the secular anti-cult front, or the religionist front? What answers one will not answer another. The critic who savaged the masterpiece TrueTom vs the Apostates, taking exception to a point of chronology that is nowhere discussed in the book, is from the church religious world. This is the world in which if you have ever said something that turned out not so, you are a “false prophet.” The irreligious world would never speak that way.
With regard to the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, Witnesses don’t have the date favored by the majority of scholars. Accept it and move on. After all, we don’t have the majority view on the origin of mankind either. Maybe someday scholars will change on this point. Maybe they will not. Have scholars never been wrong? All the time they are reversing themselves.
On the other hand, what would be the consequences if they were right and we were wrong? A matter of timing is all. It would affect the ‘when’ of the faith, but not the ‘who’ ‘what’ ‘why’ ‘where’ and ‘how’. Awkward? Yes. A deal-breaker? No. Opponents who would not know who was president before their birth have studied up on a tiny sliver of Persian history in order to undermine their former associates. Should I study up on it too? I’m sure I could get the Cliff Notes version in short order, but it would take a lot more than that to weigh with any authority. I do monitor someone who, at great length, argues of flaws with the consensus view. It goes over my head. I let it do that because either outcome is irrelevant to the big picture. At most, it adds to uncertainty as to where we are in the stream of time, but you’d still be crazy to get out of the stream.
History is often scholars angling for position, egos and reputations at stake, and after they take control of the playing field they tilt it so anyone of competing view slides off. So I won’t lose my cookies when our view is not the majority one. Every factoid of Bible history must be argued with critics intent on gutting them, and when they reluctantly concede to one, they do not extend that concession to any others—you have to beat them down one rung at a time. “The great patriarchal tales in the book of Genesis are prehistoric, no more historically true than the tales of . . . King Arthur,” wrote clergyman Stopford Brooke in his book The Old Testament and Modern Life. “It is impossible,” another theologian added, “to place implicit confidence in any of these records.” I remember giving a talk on how these guys all had to turn around on Genesis 14 in the face of accumulating archeological finds.
…Okay, here’s the unsavory review. Imagine! Anyone criticizing TrueTom vs the Apostates! Who would do that other than . . . Ah, “taste and see Jehovah is good,” says the Psalm. They have tasted and seen he is bad. Think they’re going to like the book? But there is such a thing as making lemonade from lemons:
“This guy is part of a cult, and it shows. His great "debates" if you can even call them that, seem to consist of him running in circles trying to distract from the fact that he has no actual evidence for his false doctrine.
I actually emailed him regarding the JW belief that Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 BCE, long story short he resorted to name calling and insults and then stopped replying. The "truth" indeed...”
To use the lingo of critical thinkers, what the nasty reviewer is doing is called setting up a straw man argument. Bernard Strawman himself, my return visit character from ‘Tom Irregardless and Me,’ (who is progressing very well, thank you) would spot it in an instant. It’s not at all true, as the reviewer implies, that the Witness organization desperately tries to hide their miscues lest they lose some aura of infallibility. Instead, they’re very open about expectations that did not work out. In public broadcast, Anthony Morris recently stated he comes from a line of Witnesses, each one of whom thought the end was at hand. If they did it in the first century, they’ll do it in the present as well. And they did do it in the first century:
“[Jesus] spoke in addition an illustration, because he was near Jerusalem and [his disciples] were imagining that the kingdom of God was going to display itself instantly. (Luke 19:11)
“When, now, [the disciples] had assembled, they went asking him: “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” (Acts 1:6)
You think it’s easy looking into the future? The watchman peers into the mist and makes a few false calls. He gets everyone scrambling for nothing! But it’s all in keeping with the continual NT language to “keep on the watch,” be ever “vigilant,” for the Lord’s day “is coming unexpectedly,” like a “thief in the night,” and happy is the one not caught napping. What good is a watchman who sounds the alarm only when the bow of approaching ship pinches his toes, having just smashed through the gunwales?
I suppose this reviewer’s second statement also is ‘raising a straw man argument:’ “His great "debates" if you can even call them that . . . “ I never did call them that. Like 607 BCE, this claim doesn’t appear from my pen. The only one who wanted to debate, inviting me repeatedly for that purpose, was Nemo of Chapter 3, a real and rabid opposer (though name is changed) who later blew his credibility (and, alas, his family) by cavorting with the lithe young prostitutes of Thailand, fulfilling exactly the biblical description of apostates “promising freedom” while they themselves exist as “slaves of corruption.”
So with that in mind, here is the email thread the reviewer referred to. I’ve kept it, pending further reply that I may or may not have gotten around to. Note how he gets the last word. You have to acquiesce to this if you engage with any of his type, because no way will they give up! They come out of nowhere, ram you as those big dumb animals with horns in the nature shows, thereafter take for granted that all your time is theirs, and the moment you cease correspondence declare glorious victory!!!
He’s not stupid. He makes some valid points. It certainly would be better not to make any mistakes, a dilemma that is often solved by not doing anything. You might even end up agreeing with him. But I don’t:
Dave: Hello Mr Harley: Just wondering if you could explain to me why your religion's publications repeatedly tells it's members that Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 bce when all available evidence points to 587/586 bce. I know it's tied up in doctrine, and I believe it's dishonest to misrepresent history like this.
Tom: For the same reason our religion’s publications repeatedly tell members that Adam and Eve are our first human parents when “all available evidence” points to them being imaginary. I believe the publishers defer to the Bible’s own chronology over that of academia.
Dave: It seems to me that rather then "deferring" to the Bible's chronology your leaders are rather "making up" a chronology that suits their needs. Strange how the Babylonian records are employed to establish the return of the Jews, but suddenly become untrustworthy when it comes to the destruction of Jerusalem. Many Christian scholars have demonstrated workable timetables that preserve the 70 years and agree with the cuneiform tablets.
Tom: Whatever was done it was done long ago and it permitted the Witnesses to point well ahead of time to 1914, since deemed by historians a ‘turning point year.’ It seemed to correlate well with Matthew 24:7 as the first time that the entire world was at war at once. I wrote of it here: [see link] Is it wrong? I don’t really think so, though I am aware that ours is the minority view. Sometimes the minority view turns out to be the correct one. But if not, it simply becomes an issue of delayed timing, a little like misreading the bus schedule. It doesn’t mean the bus is not coming.
Dave: The Bible students pointed to many dates for the end, which all failed, and I'd hardly call 1914 a slam dunk either. If you'd examine world history you'd see that 1914 was in fact not the first time that the whole world was at war. Plus Jesus told his disciples not to be alarmed by warring nations because the end was not yet, they were just the "beginning pangs" to use your translation.
It's not really a minority view though is it? It's a view for which there's no evidence, and you have a lot riding on it. Could you explain to me how your "faithful and discreet slave" doctrine works without 1914? Seems like without this discredited chronology you're really just obeying men rather then Jesus.
Tom: Probably the people of God are destined to be chumps, always prematurely expecting the end which does not occur until it does. It’s not too different from first century disciples wanting to know if Christ was bringing the end “at this time,” and who imagined “the kingdom of God was going to display itself instantly.” It’s a regrettable downside of “keeping on the watch,” but still beats “sleeping on as the rest do.”
And World War I certainly was the first time the whole world was concurrently at war, either as direct participants or as colonies of direct participants, their resources exploited to that end. That’s why it is called ‘World War I’—it had never happened before. Rather than a dismissive directive to “examine world history,” give me an example of a greater conflict if you think there was one. I doubt very much your knowledge of history exceeds mine, barring only a cherry-picked area or two which you seize upon only because you think you can undermine Jehovah’s Witnesses with it.
Dave: I would agree with you that keeping on the watch is important, it's what our Lord told us to do. However keeping on the watch does not mean run around prophesying that the end is coming on <insert date here>. Jesus told us to not do exactly that at Matt 24: 24-27, instead said his coming would be obvious like lightning, no one would have to point it out.
Funny, you seem to missed these wars: The Napoleonic wars, The war of American independence, the seven years war, and the war of Spanish succession. All these wars are classed as "world wars". The Napoleonic wars were fought on all continents whereas the world war of 1914 was largely limited to Europe.
The generally accepted combined figure of soldier and civilian deaths for world war I is 10-12 million. This figure shows that rather then being the most devastating conflict in history up to that time as watchtower has claimed, it's well within normal margins. Next to the Taiping rebellion of 1850-1864 that resulted in 40 million deaths it pales in comparison, and is closer to the 10 million deaths of The Thirty Years' War of 1618-1648.
You still haven't provided a good reason as to why JW's reject 587/586 bce, there are literally thousands of tablets that give us a very detailed chronology of the period of Jewish exile. I do however appreciate your willingness to even discuss this with me, I've been brushed off by many other witnesses.
Tom: If the wars you mentioned were ‘world wars,’ that little spat in 1914 would be known as ‘World War V.’ It isn’t. It is World War I. Yours is a ridiculous take that I have never heard before.
What is it with you? Do you live to argue? Sometimes people disagree. I can live with that.
Dave: According to the historians Richard F. Hamilton and Holger H. Herwig there have been eight world wars, beginning with the nine years' war in 1688, followed by the War of the Spanish succession, The war of the Austrian succession, the Seven years war, the French revolutionary wars, the Napoleonic wars, world war I, and world war II.
Source: Richard F. Hamilton; Holger H. Herwig, eds. (24 February 2003). The Origins of World War I. Cambridge University Press. pp. 4–9. ISBN 978-1-107-39386-8
Here's two mainstream historians who refer to world war I as world war VII. Hardly ridiculous, but not as well known as it should be. [it’s because they’re ridiculous] Oh and I never called it a little spat, it was among the deadliest wars in history, but it wasn't a war that made all preceding conflicts look small in comparison.
Well I wouldn't say I live to argue per se, but I love truth and God. Since your religion calls itself "the truth" I thought maybe you would be able to defend their doctrines.
I get the sense we've reached an impasse, since you haven't provided any evidence or arguments to support your organisation's chronology besides insisting that world war I proves it. I do want you to know that I admire you for maintaining an internet presence when so many JW's avoid religious discussions online. I hope you come to Christ someday brother. God bless
Tom: The fact that after two exchanges you say we’ve “reached an impasse” is evidence enough for me of your penchant for arguing. After conceding that we hold the minority view, there is hardly any point of you blustering on about your majority view, yet you do anyway. If I have not addressed all your concerns, neither have you addressed your inconsistency on complete reliance on academia when it comes to chronology, yet complete rejection of it when it comes to Adam and Eve. It is the same thing when it comes to world war. Here the consensus of academia means nothing to you. Instead you champion the view of a lone wolf whose work I have never heard of. If you think Jehovah’s Witnesses cherry-pick you do it no less.
Look to the scriptures on the imperfections of humans (I’ve given you two examples regarding disciples ‘jumping the gun’ in the first century) and you’ll better forgive if the same has happened in the present. JWs are very open about it. Anthony Morris recently stated in public address that going several generations back, Witnesses he knew of often thought the end would occur within their lifetimes.
Humoring you for a moment, if it turns out your view of 607 is correct, the Witness organization will adjust, as they have many times before. The prime source of their headship is that they do the work of spreading the gospel. There are tens of thousands of different organizations today. Always, they are led by people who organize and do the work.
And I have no sense of not coming to Christ. On the contrary, in my view Jehovah’s Witnesses best champion his overarching role in God’s purpose.
Dave: Last I checked you were the one "blustering" on about minority and majority views, I'm just looking at evidence, something you should try out sometime. That's why I said we'd reached an impasse, your view is in fact refuted by all available historical evidence.
Adam and Eve is a bit different from the exile. The Babylonian exile is described in clearly historical terms whereas Adam and Eve and the creation account in Gen 1 are classic examples of mythic history, their story is a clear polemic against Egyptian and mesopotamian myths, and is it just a coincidence that Adams story mimics Israel's? I doubt it. That doesn't mean that I don't believe they never existed but I do believe these accounts are more concerned with theology then history, and clinging to a rigid interpretation of these stories does more harm than good.
The "consensus view" is that while we don't call these previous conflicts world wars, they do fit the criteria. Even world war I wasn't officially called that until much later. It's just a matter of nomenclature why these earlier conflicts weren't called world wars.
I suppose those faithful JW's thought the end would come because "this generation will not pass away". Well that didn't age quite so well...
Let me share a scripture with you, Matt 24: 23: "Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it."
It seems to me that saying has returned and has been reigning invisibly for over 100 years fits that category nicely. Being eager for the kingdom is good, but it's no excuse for becoming a false prophet.
To be continued: here.
****** The bookstore