Sunday, November 20, 2011
The Emphatic Diaglott and the Watch Tower Society
We've been getting many visits to this post in the last 2 months. This is curious. Please explain your interest. - R. M. de Vienne
Note: This was abridged from an article originally appearing on blog 2. The complete article with an update has now been reposted on this blog on July 23, 2013, which please see.
Although the Emphatic Diaglott and its publication by the Watch Tower Society come a little later than the main period being researched on this blog, this translation had a major role to play in the early history of the Society.
This article will review that history briefly, but is primarily written to reveal who actually obtained the plates and gave the copyright to the Watch Tower Society in 1902.
Benjamin Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott was first published in one volume in 1864 and the edition produced by the Fowler and Wells Company of New York was widely used by various Adventist and Age to Come groups. Wilson had been a friend of John Thomas, founder of the Christadelphians, but the two ultimately had doctrinal differences and split. While Thomas founded the Christadelphians, Wilson – although strongly anti-organization - had a major role in the founding of the (Age to Come) Church of God of Abrahamic Faith.
The Diaglott’s connection with our history starts when one of Nelson Barbour’s readers, Benjamin Keith, hit upon Wilson’s translation of the Greek word “parousia” as “presence” rather than “coming”. This set minds working on an apparently failed prediction for Christ’s second coming in 1874. If the coming was an invisible presence then their expectations had actually been fulfilled – but invisibly. This view ultimately became a major part of Charles Taze Russell’s belief system. (Hereafter abbreviated to CTR).
Once established, Zion’s Watch Tower Society highly endorsed the Diaglott. In Old Theology Quarterly for April 1893 “Friendly Hints on Bible Study and Students’ Helps” pages 9 and 10, the Diaglott is highly recommended as (quote) another of God’s special blessings for our day...While we cannot say this work is perfect, we can say that we know of no other translation of the New Testament so valuable to the critical student – and this includes all to whom we write (end quote).
At the same time, The Restitution paper carried an advertisement for the Diaglott each week for several decades.
Wilson died in 1900. Shortly after, in 1902, the copyright to the Diaglott was obtained for the Watch Tower Society, and they became its publisher for the next one hundred years. Anyone who wanted to obtain a Diaglott now had to contact the Watch Tower Society.
The Proclaimers book on page 606 made the comment (quote) That same year (1902), the Watch Tower Society came into possession of the printing plates for The Emphatic Diaglott...Those plates and the sole right of publication had been purchased and then given as a gift to the Society (end quote).
The original reference comes from the back page of the Watch Tower for December 15, 1902 (which is not in the reprints). In offering the Diaglott as part of a list of available publications, the blurb stated (quote) For several years a friend, an earnest Bible student, desirous of assisting the readers of our Society's publications, has supplied them through us at a greatly reduced price; now he has purchased the copyright and plates from the Fowler & Wells Co., and presented the same to our Society as a gift, under our assurance that the gift will be used for the furthering of the Truth to the extent of our ability, by such a reduction of price as will permit the poor of the Lord's flock to have this help in the study of the Word. REDUCED PRICES.--These will be sold with ZION'S WATCH TOWER only. (end quote)
So who was this earnest Bible student, anonymous friend and benefactor?
The answer was established in a court hearing in 1907. And it is not rocket science to guess who it really was.
The hearing was in connection with CTR’s difficulties with Maria Russell, and in April 1907 testimony was taken on CTR’s financial situation. At this hearing he explained quite openly how the Society obtained the Diaglott.
He stressed that the aim had been to allow as many as possible to obtain the Diaglott, and so had made it available on a not for profit basis.
Quoting from pages 204-205 of the transcript of the April 1907 hearing, CTR said (quote and CAPITALS MINE)
We publish also a brief New Testament, with an interlinear translation in English, and the marginal translation. It was published originally and for many years, for 30 or 40 years, by Fowler and Wells, of New York. THE PLATES WERE PRESENTED TO THE SOCIETY BY MYSELF. The Society had certain corrections made in the new plates etc., as they were considerably worn, and the edition which Fowler and Wells retailed at $4.00 and wholesaled at $2.66 – 2/3 the Society is now publishing at $1.50 per copy, and it includes postage of 16 cents on this, and as they are nearly all purchased by subscribers to the Watch Tower it goes additional with each volume, and in his subscription to the journal; that is to say, that the Watch Tower for the year and this book that was formerly sold for $4.00 go altogether, with postage included, for $1.50, WITH THE VIEW OF INTERESTING PEOPLE IN THE WATCH TOWER PUBLICATION, and permitting the Watch Tower subscribers to have the Diaglott in every home possible (end of quote).
So CTR personally donated the plates to the Watch Tower Society.
The repairs to the plates extended the life of the Diaglott, and the new price made it more accessible to the public. In addition, throwing in a year’s Watch Tower subscription as part of the deal was adroit proselytizing. For instance, any newcomers to the world of The Restitution who wanted a Diaglott (or wanted just to replace a copy), now had to approach the Watch Tower Society for one. It was perhaps not surprising that attacks on CTR’s theology intensified in The Restitution in the early 20th century.
However, this leaves us with the question: Why did CTR chose to remain anonymous, referring instead to a nameless benefactor?
It is here this writer is on shaky ground, because we have no direct way of knowing. But I can suggest two reasons why CTR might have done this.
First, there are his comments in the booklet A Conspiracy Exposed and Harvest Siftings published in 1894. In dealing with a query, CTR said on page 45 (quote) I bring my own name as little into prominence as possible. This will be noticed in connection with everything I have published – the O(ld) T(heology) Tracts, the DAWNS, etc. (end quote).
Looking at the tract series and early editions of the Dawns (Studies) one would be hard put to discover the author. CTR indeed kept quite a low profile at this time. That basic desire to keep a personal name out of matters may have influenced CTR’s decision to donate the Diaglott without claiming personal credit.
A second related reason may be tied to another comment from A Conspiracy Exposed, this time page 40. In connection with a business matter, CTR made the comment that he (quote) preferred to avoid any unnecessary notoriety (end quote). Had the world known that CTR had bought the plates and the rights from Fowler and Wells, there could have been uproar in certain quarters. This writer would theorize that if various Age to Come groups who used the Diaglott knew for certain that CTR had personally brought their baby under his control – and now would only make it available with a year’s worth of his journal – promoting his brand of heresy as they saw it – then cries of Foul and Unfair would ring out loud and clear.
There would be rumbles whatever happened, but no name – no direct blame. An anonymous benefactor leading to a publishing organisation generously providing the volume at reduced cost to all was far better P.R.
In fact, CTR did the public a great service. He rescued the Diaglott from potential oblivion with the state of the plates as they were. Then that reduction from $4.00 to $1.50 was well worth having. And for around a hundred years thereafter, the Watch Tower Society made this translation readily available to all. Ultimately the copyright expired and the Society’s inventory dwindled. Since 2004, groups like the Abrahamic Faith Beacon Publishing Society published their own version and viewed the translation as “coming home”. Interestingly, the modern versions published have retailed at a far higher price than the Watchtower Society ever charged, even when they did have a fixed contribution for literature.