Sunday, August 31, 2014


So ... Roberto sent me a brief review of our book. It's nice. But who ever wrote it thinks I'm getting on in years. Becuase I'm vain or something, let me state for the record that 36 is not getting along in years quite yet. We can revisit this issue when I turn 40.


Friday, August 29, 2014

J. C. Sunderlin

We appreciate your help ...

And your interest. I reluctantly deleted a recent comment with a link. I'm familiar with the website in question. It is controversial and the posts there almost never contain historically accurate comments.

So while I appreciate your desire to help, I don't want to link to a web site that is full of inaccurate comments and thoughts. Our goal here is to be as accurate as possible. A comment linking to a web site that is more often filled with unfounded comments defeats our purpose.

Thanks for the suggestion though.

R. M. de Vienne

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


An enquiry came in through Bruce about how to make direct contact with information or questions. Rachael’s email address is often featured on this blog, and most queries would be better addressed to her as co-partner with Bruce for the project. And her personal blog is easily found which often gives more snippets of information – or tantalisingly, half-information. However, if anyone wishes to contact me with a comment or query or even a brickbat on anything I have written here or on Blog 2 over the years, I can be reached at:
john_h_paton (at)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Letter and Answer

The Letter:

Greetings Rachael and Bruce,
I received and read carefully the Barbour book. Again, I found it very interesting and well researched. You both have worked hard at unearthing valuable information about Barbour and the origins of his ideas and his efforts on behalf of them. I think it is good how you show that there were others around him who supported his conclusions, as well as those who disagreed with some of them, but still held to his general thrust. Combined with some additional thoughts you bring out in Separate Identity, the reader gains a good picture of who he was and what he believed. His connections with Russell are clearly researched and made plain.
There is one area that needs more development, if you would allow me to enquire. Toward the end of the book you state that Barbour gave up on the invisible presence idea (p 130). And, if I recall, in one of your statements you may have said that he also forsook the 1873/74 chronology.
Either one of these teachings, and especially both together, are central to who Barbour was and what he stood for and did that radically affected Russell and millions of people in their wake through JW efforts to our day today.
Therefore, you leave the reader hanging with the minimalist comment that Barbour gave up on invisible presence. What! How could he give up such a creative radical idea that Jesus was “walking” on earth? This was an idea that he and others in his circle believed and defended from the core of their being in the face of great opposition! Did he toss also his 1873/74 conclusions?
Since he did as you state, then please narrate how such a “switcheroo” happened. That must have been an existential crisis for him. What triggered it? And how did he prove himself “wrong”? What were the flaws he found in his own interpretation? Did it leave him denying his premise of a two stage advent; or what?
This also makes me ask what in the world did Russell think when he heard that the father of these beliefs had “proved” them “wrong.” How did Russell avoid falling down when this rug was pulled out from under him? Did he for a moment wish he have never read that first article that Barbour mailed to him?

Well, you can see, that your narrative caught me up in this drama of clashing ideas! What happened to Barbour that he was a Judas to his and Russell’s faith?
Thank you for your help in resolving the final chapter of this dramatic story.
The Answer:
Thanks for your kind comments. It’s always pleasing to know one’s work is apreciated. Before I answer your questions let me note that Nelson Barbour and Separate Identity (vol 1) are the first two volumes of a larger work. When complete it will be three books for a total of five volumes. So the story as you’ve read it is just beginning. Your questions are answered in Separate Identity volume 2. If our outline doesn’t radically change we address them in chapters three and four.
            I’ll omit all the details and tell you the basics. When 1878 failed to bring translation to heaven, they extended their system of prophetic time parallels to 1881. While all of them looked forward to 1881, there were a variety of expectations. Barbour and A. D. Jones believed that translation would occur that year. Russell believed the year was prophetic, but lacked an exact expectation for it. He was comfortable publishing a lurid article from Jones’ pen and Jones’ Fall of Babylon tract. But he personally had no firmly fixed expectation.
            Watch Tower theology evolved apart from Barbour. A key development was the belief that an initially invisible presence followed by Christ’s visible manifestation was wrong. Hints of a new understanding appear in various Watch Tower articles, and it is clearly stated in the fall of 1881. By September 1881 the official position of Zion’s Watch Tower was that Christ, a spirit creature since his resurrection, would remain such and as such would continue invisible. His parousia was an unseen heavenly event.
            These parallel events created a crisis for Barbour. He reacted strongly to the idea of a totally invisible parousia. He called it spiritism and published a pamphlet to refute the idea. The pamphlet has been lost. In short order he published a longer booklet against the idea.
            Barbour made firm statements about the nature of 1881, and what few followers he had expected to see heaven that year. This disappointment coupled with the previous failures killed his group. Fewer than 1000 remained, probably only a few hundred. (Based on a later article in a resuscitated Herald, I would guess about 200 faithful followers remained.) Barbour retained his newly found Age to Come stance, but adopted Adventist speculation about 1885-6. He was desperate enough to borrow from Thurman, another failed prophet. Principals in the Christian and Missionary Alliance also looked to that date. He returned to his previous belief that Christ would come in glory, abandoning (for practical purposes) invisible presence doctrine. Barbour saw each failed prophetic scheme as a step further into light. Miller had adopted a similar strategy.  
            Russell was more flexible than Barbour. Barbour saw himself as God’s unique last-days voice. Russell, in this era, didn’t see himself in this exact light. He knew that nothing in Barbour’s scheme was truly his. Russell’s approach to parousia came not from Barbour but from Seiss. The idea of a totally invisible presence developed in conversations between Watch Tower adherents. It was a scripturally based discussion. This is important. Even if one believes their exegesis fails, they discussed the issue from the Bible. Barbour used the Bible to fit his ideas. The 1873-4 date came to Russell first through Wendell. Though Barbour was the primary advocate, there were many voices pointing to that date, and Russell knew nothing of Barbour. Russell did not see Barbour as his spiritual father. Russell saw God as his spiritual father and himself as led by God. Russell was sorrowed by Barbour’s deflection and troubled by it. But he wasn’t shaken by it because he believed the message come from God through Christ.
            Even when he came to see himself as the Faithful and Wise Servant, he only saw himself as the servant of a divine message, not the originator of it. Barbour “consulted” only to promote his new doctrines. Russell actively sought the light others might possess, discussing with anyone who would difficult scriptures.
            The fundamental issue was view of self and message. Russell was confident of divine leading. Barbour thought he was semi-divine.

Monday, August 25, 2014

More practice photos

I'm not very good at this yet. But you might like to see these.
Drama Script - Austria

Kingdom School Reunion Bookmark

"Public Talk" Invitation

Polish Awake! Published under Communist Ban

Post Card - 1912
All Items from Our Research Collection
We would consider selling the Post Card for the best offer over
three hundred dollars.

New Camera

I finally surrendered to need and bought a new camera. It’s harder to use than my old one, but my old one is now dead. I’ve been practicing, but my “aim” is still off. Here is a “crooked” photo of part of our research collection. Some of you will be able to identify these books.

Rutherford Era

If we’re to write a history of the Rutherford years we will need some significant support. I don’t mean money. I mean documentation. It may seem that there is a huge amount of that, but there are huge gaps in significant areas. And there are many wrong or simply misleading claims.

We would need personal letters of any Bible Student or Witness from the 1916-1942 era no matter how insignificant they may appear.

We have a very limited number of Rutherford’s letters. We would need many more.

We have one Witness diary from the Rutherford Era. There must be more.

Anything at all, no matter how insignificant it may seem is important.

If you want us to continue into the Rutherford Era, we will need to see what you have. Send us scans. Start now.

There are no guarantees. Mr. Schulz is oldish and infirm. I’ve outlived my “expiration date” by nearly 17 years. If you’ve read my personal blog, you already know that. So time and circumstance may end our writing. But we’re optimistic.

Send us stuff.

Friday, August 22, 2014


Several have emailed concerns for our health. They see that we haven’t posted for a while, and they’re worried. Bruce suffers from old age issues. He hasn’t posted regularly for sometime, leaving that to me or Jerome. He continues to write, and he is teaching again this year. We’re both very busy with start of school meeting and planning.

I’ve been in and out of the hospital with my usual issues. But we’re working on volume two of Separate Identity at a steady pace. Current research issues are the most difficult we’ve faced. If you don’t see a comment here, it’s because we are following trails so faint that sometimes we despair. It is worth while though. If you want a peek, ponder how Henry George, the economist, William McKinley, an assassinated French politician and Presidents Grant and Lincoln fit into Watch Tower history. Have fun with that.

Following vague hints in Watch Tower articles to a factual story is challenging.


Someone asked Bruce if we would continue our histories into the Rutherford era. I don’t know. We have a developing archive. Time is the issue. People don’t live forever. Neither of us will continue if the something happens to the other. Time will tell.


I spend more time thinking about my classes than about Watch Tower history. That will continue for the next few weeks. When the new students settle down and my classes fall into a workable routine, I can refocus. The same is true for Mr. Schulz.

Because this blog isn’t about personalities or hobbies or private affairs, we seldom post personal comments. But I wish you could see Bruce’s students respond to him. He can’t walk down the main hall in his school without many greetings and occasional hugs from the lower grades students. It is interesting to watch this tough as nails, no-nonsense man generate this kind of affection from students and staff.

I’ll be up there and in his school for a seminar mid-week next. Afterward we’ll review the outline for volume 2 of Separate Identity. It needs to be reworked – again.

So be patient with our posts. Write your own. If it’s well supported by documentation and not a polemic, I’ll consider it. Make the writing stellar.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How Many Graves?

(Advance warning: this is an article written by Jerome - a pedant writing for pedants)

All readers of this blog will be familiar with the burial plot at United Cemeteries where CTR was buried, and where, in its center, is a pyramid monument erected in 1919-1920. The idea originally was to provide burial plots for Bethel workers and Pilgrims and their families.
When the site was first mooted, the total number of graves given was more than 275. The 1919 convention report on page 7, comments that: “the Watch Tower Society burial lots in Rosemont United Cemeteries...contain ample grave spaces for all the members of the Bethel family, and the Pilgrims and their wives – in all more than 275 adults graves.”

Perhaps the key word for this large number is lots (plural). There is more than one lot owned by the Watch Tower Society on the site, although most attention naturally focuses on the lot with the pyramid at its center.

However, if you examine modern cemetery records, the total number of graves surrounding the pyramid monument is only 128. They comprise four sections: T-33, 34, 46 and 47, with 48 grave spaces in each.

This article details some history of the site to explain the discrepancy.

Initially, when the Society owned the whole cemetery, any area assigned for Bible Student burials did not matter too much because it could likely be adjusted as necessary. But once they sold off the bulk of the cemetery lands it was necessary to specify which parts were to be retained for their own use.

Much of the land was sold off to the North Side Catholic Cemetery around 1917, which already owned adjoining property. The North Side Catholic Cemetery became part of the Catholic Cemeteries Association in 1952, and this body sold a large swathe of land to the Masonic Fund Society for the County of Allegheny in 1994. Credulous polemicists who see the grave of CTR and the pyramid with the Masonic building in the background should note this progression of sale which has nothing whatsoever to do with the Watchtower Society, ancient or modern. But for our purposes, when these transfers took place it was necessary to specify which bits of land were being held back and never belonged to either Catholics or Masons.

It appears there were three parcels of land retained by the Watch Tower Society. One small tract is a bit of a mystery and has never been used for burials, but the other two are grave sites today. These were mentioned when the pyramid monument was installed and the event marked with a front page article in The New Era Enterprise, published St Paul, Minnesota, Tuesday, February 10, 1920, and entitled: “The Pyramid Monument on the Bethel Burial Lots.”

The article mentioned that “the Society has the entire control of this plot of ground. It was not included in the sale of the farm and cemetery property.” Also “the Bethel lot has space for 192 graves, and in another lot just across the upper roadway the Society has a lot of 64 grave spaces.”

This would total 256 spaces – just a little under the original 275 figure – but is an accurate statement of intent for these sites. The upper site is quite near the obelisk for William Morris Wright, one of the original trustees of the original cemetery company back in 1905. (You can read about Wright and see a photograph of his memorial on this blog if you scroll back to June 5 of this year).

That the main Bethel site with its pyramid was intended for 192 burials is clearly shown by the pyramid itself. On each of its four sides there is an open book and marked spaces for 48 names. Although somewhat worn, on a day when the sun shines in the right direction, you can see these numbers clearly. They are divided up into lots, A, B, C, etc. (up to H) and each lot has six numbers, allowing for six graves per lot. That is 48 numbers per side – making the grand total of 192 for all four sides. The plan was to inscribe the names in the appropriate spaces as plots were used. In reality, all the names that do exist on the pyramid (there are nine in total) were of people who died before the pyramid was completed.

So why do modern cemetery records only note 128 grave spaces?

The original plan for the cemetery was abandoned almost before it had started. Once the pyramid was erected, with the exception of CTR’s sister, Margaretta Land, who died in 1934, no other interments took place until the 1940s. When burials restarted, the ground plans were redrawn. Modern cemetery records show the total number of plots was reduced by increasing the size of graves. Current records show each lot to now have only 4 plots, rather than 6. So A has 4, B has 4, and so on. The size of the plots has been increased to eight feet by four feet. This was wise, because the site is on a hill, and not only a hill but a slightly curved hill, and it became difficult over time to keep exact track of locations. Even with the larger sizes for plots, some graves have reportedly been disturbed when new ones have been dug.

This reduces each section to 32 graves and the total number of spaces to 128.

There is one a further reduction. Four grave spaces (Lot 33, H4: Lot 34, E3; Lot 46, D2; and Lot 47, A1) can never be used because there is a rather large pyramid monument on top of them, complete with a five foot depth of concrete foundation, courtesy of J Adam Bohnet’s labors in 1919.

So the total number of grave spaces is down to 124. I have it on good authority that there is just one remaining grave space unsold, where doubt as to what might be beneath makes sale unwise; but apart from that, the remaining 123 have been sold, although not all have been used.
As to how the site has been used over the last one hundred years, that will be dealt with in future articles.


Monday, August 11, 2014

A Letter

At the risk of upsetting some of our readers, I'm posting this. This is my half of an exchange between historians. I don't think there are any surprises here. Mr. Schulz is a Witness; I am sympathetic but not one. That's not news here. But we get an occasional personal question. This should answer what is usually asked. Feel free to rant. I won't be angry.

My mother was Austrian born and came to the US with her parents at the start of WW II. (I'm a late in life child.) They were Catholic. My dad is American born but his grandfather was a German. He was raised Lutheran, but does not seem to have ever taken religion seriously. He is a scientist, still actively writing in his extreme old age though otherwise retired. My mother met the Witnesses when I was ten and was baptized when I was twelve.

The Catholic Church was repellant, and mom thought she’d found something better.  I attended meetings with her until I was of age. It seemed the proper thing to do. From the start I read all the Witness literature I could borrow. It was intriguing. But I asked how they knew what the modern application of Scripture was: They found modern fulfillments for parts of the Bible that do not seem prophetic. The answer was, “They don’t know. They only believe.”

To my mother’s great distress and my father’s irritation (he discounted religion and saw it as a waste) I read widely from other religions. I am independent. For a while I associated with an Abrahamic Faith congregation. They are, as most of that fellowship is, Socinian. We parted ways agreeably and I sometimes still attend. I occasionally attend Witness meetings. My writing partner is a Witness. I am not one and was never baptized as one.

Most of my base beliefs are similar to or the same as Witness basic doctrine. But I reject the tinge of Christian Mysticism that colors their doctrines especially the extra Biblical sense of divine appointment and the prophetic scheme that takes them into fanciful and shifting prophetic applications. I am, however, very sympathetic to Witnesses and other millennialists. I continue to read widely of the literature and have accumulated a large collection of it. Some of it is excellent.

An unexplored influence is that of the German expositors from the 17th Century onward. While I know that German influence returned in the 1960s with someone closely reading Lang’s Commentary (which I own and find very useful) and was evident in the 1950s with Watchtower writers dependent on Kiel and Delitzsch and Franz in regular conversation with someone he considered an adept Jewish scholar. But in the 19th Century Russell was influenced second hand by German writers through Seiss and others who quoted them and referenced them. It is almost impossible to point to specifics. Russell didn’t read or speak German, though some of his associates did.

There was an English translation of Lang’s massive commentary (many authors under his editorship.), and Russell quoted from it once, in November 1907. Though there is the one quotation, I believe the influence of the work is more extensive than that. I haven’t pursued this yet. It’s more suitable for our third book, should we write it.

My personal opinion of Lang’s Commentary is that it should still be read. I’ve read it entire and returned to it several times. If I have a serious question, that’s where I start.

I hope you find Nelson Barbour: The Millennium’s Forgotten Prophet helpful. There is one error in the book. We misidentify his grandfather as his father, misled by a newspaper article. His father’s name was David.

If you’re interested, here is a photo of part of my research library: 

top photo

Saturday, August 9, 2014


We need a clear photocopy or scan of Paton's Songs of Hope for All People. (1887)

Research Assistance

Mr. Schulz is having issues with blogger. I am posting this on his behalf. I appreciate his comments as found in the last two paragraphs.

In the 1970s Paton family members provided another researcher and myself with material now easily found on the Internet. Another family member, now deceased, refused to share some material fearing that it would ruin John Paton’s reputation. Beyond that, I don’t know what her specific concern was.

            The documents appear to be lost. Access to Paton’s letters and other papers would resolve several issues. If you have any of his papers, no matter how irrelevant they may seem, please share them. Without them, we’re left with speculation with little substance. Speculation provides us with research trails, but it isn’t evidence.

            One additional note:

            This blog once had an additional contributor. He was deleted for cause by Dr. de Vienne. This message is meant for him:

Her word is final. E-mailing her will not reverse the decision. Stop it. She doesn’t welcome your emails or your visits to her personal blog. Why would someone who claims Christianity as their faith insist on going where he is not welcome? Why would he send emails to a person he knows does not want to receive them. This is not Christian behavior, and it is not adult behavior.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Answer to an email from another historian ...

If he gives me permission, I'll post his email too, but I don't have permission yet. So herewith is my answer sans the original email:

Update: I now have permision to post it. Here it is:

Just wanted to update you on my progress. I received your book last week. I have read it including almost all the footnotes. And have highlighted most every page with red pen so that I can go back and zero in on certain points, which I plan to do.
I very much appreciate your labor of love on this project. From my own areas of research, I understand how much work and tedious effort goes into such a production. As authors and researchers, you excel at this task.
Through your hard work I am beginning to perceive that the type of people interested in the issues and the various publications that dealt with them represented a broad Circle or “network” of truth seekers, rather than simply “Adventists” or “Age to Come” folk. It seems to me that several papers churned various doctrinal discussions back and forth, with replies and republications of articles shared between them all.
I would think that many of the readership(s) subscribed not to just one of the papers, but to two or more. Even though each paper “represented” a particular slant or interpretation, nevertheless subscribers not fully attached to that view read and often replied to articles appearing in various papers. In this way, it seems that there was a body of truth seekers spanning several “churches”/”parties”/”ministries”/”works” including those tending to One Faith, Age to Come, Bible Students, Church of God groups, or even Sabbatarian Age to Comers who were strongly opposed to SDA E. G. White’s control. 
Seems most of these shared a common belief in the literal Millennium with Israel restored at some point to lead the nations under the transformed Elect. Within this Circle there was intense interest in restoring Biblical truths concerning such areas as: restoration, restitution, probation, Lords Supper, feet washing, Passover, OT types, state of dead, fate of the wicked, role and fate of Satan, identity of Israel and return to Land, name of church, nature of Jesus, preexistence, trinity, holy Spirit, etc. The papers served to keep all these “hot” issues “popping” before the churches and scattered individuals within this network/Circle.
What is becoming apparent to me is that the borders between these participants were “soft” as members migrated from one part of the Circle and in some case back around again. Even when the groups themselves wanted harder boundaries, members within those closed groups would often find themselves moving on and around over time.
Thus, the labels we tend to use, such as Life and Advent, Church of God, One Faith, Christadelphian, Jehovah Witnesses, Age to Come, etc. may be rather artificial attempts to pigeon-hole members of the faithful Circle so as to forge some kind of device by which to fix them in place for examination. From what I read from your work, even the “leaders” and “founders” and publishers of these “groups” over time often developed new ideas and took new directions, within the larger Circle.
During this period of the nineteenth century, in order for truth seekers within this larger Circle to communicate their studies and ideas, they had recourse to attending church, conferences, guest speakers and receiving items by snail mail such as paper publications. This was there “connectivity.” This was their means to a “network.” Had they been here today, they would be using the internet and participating in “discussion groups” and “list servers.” Too, they would likely be meeting on the weekend with local people of like minds, but would hasten back to their internet connections at home to share ideas and debate with others within this broader, and often divergent Circle. During the period of the early Russell, this broader network functions similarly, but by means of the dozens of publications and itinerant teachers, instead of the internet and dozens of list servers.
The model that I am trying to describe may be contrasted to my previous view which did not see the connectivity between all these many groups, but saw each of them as sealed off from the others more tightly than they actually were. That wrong perception probably arose due to my reading about each of these groups, churches, sects in handbooks of denominations which would have each one located in its own chapter with its own doctrines categorized. This presented a static “cookie cutter” version of reality that hid the dynamic organic nature of these people whose lives were dedicated to searching and seeking the “kingdom of God” wherever there seemed to be a revelation of it.
Please feel free to correct or modify my current perceptions of these issues.
I will continue to reflect on your book and the material in it.
Best Regards,
Phil Arnold, Ph.D.

My reply:

Yes, there was drift between the two primary millennialist groups, Adventists and Literalist Age-to-Come believers. Age to come was in turn divided into smaller parties which included on one side the Christadelphians and on the other small independent congregations, sometimes the only representative of their unique doctrine. The Restitution represented the most active and committed and most numerous of the age to come bodies in this era.

They did read each other’s papers and magazines, often commenting on something found in other papers. This practice decreased some after 1880. Advent Christians and Church of Christ (age to come, not Campbellite) believers broke off association in that era. References to World’s Crisis, the main AC publication, decline in The Restitution after that. This would change again, somewhat by mid 20th Century.

We find Watch Tower adherents reading a number of Adventist and Age to Come journals. Interest in Advent Christian and Life and Advent Union periodicals seems to die sometime near 1883-1885. They continued to read Restitution for several more years, to sometime near 1900. By 1882 Watch Tower readers usually also read Herald of the Morning, and J. H. Paton’s World’s Hope. The Herald suspended publication about 1885. A. P. Adams’ Spirit of the Word commenced about then, and saw a limited readership among Watch Tower readers. The number who read these three magazines was small in comparison to the total Watch Tower readership, but it was significant enough that Russell continued to address issues raised in these competing magazines until the mid 1890s.

Until about 1887, many of the congregations which drew Watch Tower interest also drew others with millenarian views, sometimes with opposing views. This was occasionally disastrous. The Newark, New Jersey, probably the second largest group in 1881, dwindled to nearly nothing after A. D. Jones defected. Morals issues, doctrinal division and personalities nearly killed the congregation.

Truly new congregations developed after 1882. This accelerated with the publication of Plan of the Ages in 1886. After 1886 we meet the first exclusively Watch Tower congregations. Where Paton’s followers were active, they often attended Watch Tower meetings because there were no others. Paton never had a large following. My best guess is that he had fewer than 1000 readers. The Watch Tower had about 10,000 or more by 1886. (Figures differ, but that’s close.)

If you read Day of Vengeance, you will note that Russell read widely. He cites a surprising number of religious periodicals. While this is true of him, it was becoming less common among Watch Tower readers. By 1903, when one of Paton’s sons picketed a convention in Denver, few delegates knew who he was. Fewer still cared that he was there.

Many who’ve written about millennialist movements suggest that those drawn to them were disaffected and alienated. This isn’t so. The suggestion that they were poor and uneducated is also false. The period in which the Watch Tower movement developed is sometimes called the Age of Optimism. The suggestion that God’s judgment impended seemed in contrast to be pessimistic, and we find Adventist and similar theologies described as “pessimistic sects.” This is false too. Though they had differing beliefs, they believed God intended ultimate Good for man. This was more clearly so of Age to Come believers, among whom we must class Watch Tower adherents. They believed in a sharp judgment, but a blessing to the bulk of mankind. So wide was their view of salvation that opponents called them Universal Salvationists, which is not at all accurate.

The first chapter of Clarke Garrett’s Respectable Folly (John Hopkins U. Press, 1975) has a useful review of historical perspectives. There is much to disagree with, but anyone interested in the broader history should read that.

May I post your letter and my reply on our history blog? Doing so may generate comments from others with insight into this history.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Wake Up!

We need a clear photocopy or scan of No. 3 and No. 5 of E. C. Henninges’ Wake Up! This newsletter style sheet was published in 1909-1910.  

Can you help?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Current work

I wrote this for my personal blog. Mr. Schulz asked me to post it here too. So, herewith, is my rambling post ...

            I continue to research our last chapter. (Don’t get all excited. We’re writing it out of order.) Our outline for it will change. Parts of it will be tucked into other chapters, and part of it may become a separate chapter. That’s not unusual. Since ours is original research, changes will come as we see persons and events more clearly.

            In volume one, we deconstructed a myth based on Russell’s Adventist associations, introducing our readers to Literalist belief and its influence. The last chapter of volume two discusses the place of Christian Mysticism in the broader movement and within the Watch Tower movement especially. We will not give this the space given to Literalists. Its influence, while distinctive, was narrow. We want to explain it in a few paragraphs without leaving our readers puzzled, outraged, or with many unanswered questions.

            Christian Mysticism is rooted in First Century sects. Paul speaks of them with disfavor. I believe one of the Seven Letters (in Revelation) does as well. But we start with the late 18th Century. The 1790s were closer in time to our story than World War I is to us. We take this narrative up to Russell’s personal experience. Striking a balance between needed detail and equally needed brevity is difficult. I may need a double dose of hot coffee and chocolate!

            Christian Mystics invariable urged chiliastic belief. The principal actors in our story had first hand contact with mystical belief, rejecting most of it, but adopting its characteristic belief in specially appointed last-days messengers.

            So … we have a partial first draft of this section. It’s interesting but needs work –

both more research and clarification. This, more than most of our story, will need unquestionable clarity. It will make some uncomfortable and unhappy. (We seem to have that effect on some.) Because Christian Mysticism is often associated with “spirit manifestations” and prophecy, we want to clearly define the very narrow way it touched believers in the 1870-1890 period. I don’t want the point misused by polemicists or rejected by current adherents. I want a “just the facts, ma’am,” clearly stated, unequivocal explanation.

            Writing is hard work.

            Current historiographic practice is to rehash all the analysis done by others. This is a carry over from dissertation writing. A rehash proves that you consulted all the appropriate material. Unfortunately, (or conveniently, depending on your viewpoint) it allows writers to escape responsibility for their opinions. Reflexive, passive voice writing plagues academic writing. We avoid passive voice and third person reflexive writing. It’s poor work, even if it is the standard among British and UK influenced academics. We assume responsibility for our conclusions. We won’t blame others for them, and if we share them with those who preceded us we will credit them or note the similarity. But we avoid the long “he said, they said, it said” summaries characteristic of many writers.

            In this last chapter we are forced to review the research of others to a greater extent than usual. I wish there was an alternative. There isn’t. We confront opinions widely held by sociologists (who think of themselves as scientists because they love graphs and charts) and historians of the millennialist movements. When applied to the movements we consider, some of their theories are partially correct. Others are wholly false but accepted uncritically by four or five generations of writers. They are, what ever the quality of the theory, an issue we cannot avoid.