Book Review: ‘Studies in the Scriptures IV- The Curse of the Black Pearl’

This 660 page tome by CT Russel (Actual title, ‘The Battle of Armageddon’), was originally titled, ‘The Day of Vengeance’, and was published in 1897. It was renamed and re-branded when the ‘Millennial Dawn’ series became the ‘Studies in the Scriptures’ series in 1904. My copy is from 1912. How did I get it? It was found in my local Kingdom Hall trash can, discarded with the rest of Watchtower ‘old light’. So much for appreciating spiritual heritage. What makes this series of books unique is that over a 100 years ago this was the main study volumes the group who later became known as Jehovah’s Witnesses used at their meetings, along with the Watchtower magazine itself of course. This was, for lack of a better term, their theological basis of belief, their statement of faith, what identified them as a group of people. Such an important book series such as this surely would be treasured and well known, if not well read, among present day JWs right? However, JWs do not have a great love of old books, especially their old books. So even the important works by their “founder” CT Russel are as useless to them now as would the writings of Luther, Calvin, or Augustine. Today, 99.9% of current Witnesses would only know the ‘Studies in the Scriptures’ series only from the title of the book, but nothing within its pages. Its legacy nowadays is only from a random photo in a WT magazine or an even more random one-line quote from the book in an article. Strange that an organization that emphasizes how monumental an event the early days of its history are would go to the lengths it does to hide what was actually being discussed back then, to the point where no person sitting in a Kingdom Hall today could accurately tell you what CT Russel’s beliefs really were.

The situation is very different for most EX-JWs. They are VERY familiar with the organization’s past. We have spent the time and energy finding out what they seek to cover up. And while they seek to throw out the embarrassing past, we are only to happy to lay it out in the open. Why make such a fuss over it though, a current JW might ask? Why, if the organization keeps refining itself with ‘new light’, does it even matter what they taught over a 100 years ago? The reason it is important, even critical, is because of the claims of the WT organization today. They claim that in 1919 their band of only a few thousand were selected, out of ALL the churches and religious groups in the world, to be Christ’s one true people and henceforth to be the one and only channel of ‘truth’ on earth. Dispute that claim today and say bye bye to any JW family or friends you may have. So what that group believed from 1879-1919 would be pretty important in establishing the ‘truth’. I have commented on these beliefs more extensively in other post so I wont go into detail here, but if CT Russel had a time machine and came to the year 2019 he would not recognize the organization he began, and would more than likely be expelled and shunned for apostasy.

Now that we have that out of the way, lets turn to the book in question. This is not meant to be a exhaustive point-by-point discussion of the book, only an overview. As the title suggests, the book covers the terrible conditions of the world, its forthcoming date with earth-wide disaster, and the only remedy from it – the establishment of God’s Kingdom on Earth. All topics that a current JW would recognize quickly. The devil is in the details they say, however, so lets dig in…….

“It Is Time”

“The remarkable fulfillment of this prophecy marks our day as the time of The End’’, so says page 4 of the introduction of this book. A very familiar line that you could find in almost any WT publication today in 2019 – except that these words were penned in 1897! What prophecy was remarkably fulfilled to prove that the end was right around the corner? Daniel 12:4, which says in part that ‘many would rove about and knowledge shall be increased’. While today this verse is viewed as ‘spiritual’ knowledge being abundant as they are blessed with insight as they ‘rove about’ the scriptures (See ‘Daniel’s Prophecy’ page 294 published in 1999), the application in the late 1800s was more literal:

“All over the world people are running to and fro as never before. Railroads, steamboats, automobiles, electric cars carry mankind everywhere. General increase of knowledge characterizes our wonderful day. Every child ten years old is able to read. All over the world are books, newspapers, Bibles in every home – opportunity for knowledge such as never has been known since man was on earth. “

Look at all the new technology! This must be the end! That as the main selling point of being in the last days, at least in this book. What do you do with that after a century of atomic bombs, manned missions to the moon, and instant communication and info at the palm of your hand? You turn the application into a ‘spiritual’ fulfillment and pretend you never said the other thing of course!

Other spiritual gems just in the introduction:

– The Roman Empire is still around under the name of Christendom
– The Dragon of Revelation is the Roman Empire, represented by the civil powers of today.
– The Beast of Revelation is the Papal system of government in the Catholic church.
– The False Prophet (or the Image of the Beast) of Revelation is the Protestant churches.
– The Church of England gives authority to Evangelical Protestant churches which is the mark of the beast that no one can buy or sell (spiritual things) without.

Based on these ‘gems’ by Russel he must have been rolling in his grave when WT published its ‘new’ commentary on the book of Revelation in 1988. The introduction concludes with the remarks (obviously put into later editions such as my 1912 edition) that

for 40 years the Armageddon forces have been mustering for both sides of the conflict…..the lines of battle are daily becoming more distinctly marked. Nevertheless Armageddon cannot be fought. Gentile Times have still 2 years to run.”

2 years until Armageddon! But wait, I thought that the end coming in 1914 was only a wrong expectation that some had? That’s clearly how it is presented today. The most recent retelling of JW history is the 2014 ‘God’s Kingdom Rules’ book and on page 50 it addresses this issue. After giving a brief overview (1 whole sentence) to the wrong dates that they championed back then, it asks this question:

Do mistaken ideas such as these cast doubts on whether Jesus was guiding those faithful ones by means of holy spirit? Not at all!….although God’s people sometimes try to work out details of Jehovah’s purposes before it is time for the holy spirit to guide them to such truths, it is clear that Jesus is leading them. Thus faithful ones prove willing to be corrected and humbly adjust their views.”

First off everyone has to acknowledge that how the early Russelites viewed 1914 and how JWs today view 1914 is completely different. Russel viewed it was the end, the culmination of the battle of Armageddon. JWs today view it as the beginning, when the last days started. Second, Russel didn’t present this as an ‘idea’ or opinion. Although not as forceful as Rutherford would be after him, Russel made no mistaking that the Bible was explicitly clear about 1914 being the end. It wasn’t a matter of a ‘tourist with eager questions getting ahead of its guide’ as the ‘God’s Kingdom Rules’ book tries to say. No, it was a some 40 year period of banging the war drum of scriptures about the central issue of their times. 40 years, with a huge six-volume set of books and hundreds of magazines covering how the Bible plainly speaks of the battle of Armageddon that would end the world as they knew it in 1914! Why does that not matter to current JWs? As the quote above from the ‘God’s Kingdom Rules’ book tells us, “ Jesus was clearly leading them”. That’s a bold statement that they do not even try to back up. They just keep on going. ‘Sure we got ALL those dates wrong, but it doesn’t matter because Jesus was leading us’. How can it be that Jesus is leading you when all that was wrong? ‘Umm….I think the elders need to speak to you after the meeting for those dangerous questions.’ Keep in mind this view about 1914 (and every other issue) in the ‘Studies in the Scripture’ book was still considered ‘the truth’ in 1919, the date that Jesus supposedly selected them. I guess Jesus doesn’t care to much about accurate Bible truth, just sincerity, in which case I think most religious organizations in the world would qualify for the title of ‘God’s organization’. Lastly on this point and then back to the overview of the book: read very carefully the last line of the quote from the ‘Kingdom’ book above about ‘being humble and willing to accept correction’. WT is making its point very clear for all its readers. ‘You may think we are wrong, but you need to be humble and accept correction. No more of these questions.. MOVE ALONG, NOTHING TO SEE HERE’. I think Jesus would have something to say here…something about straw vs a rafter in your eye maybe???

“The Doom of Babylon”

The beginning of the book chapters, 1 – 6, carry the theme of judgement against Babylon, which is described as Christendom but more specifically the Roman Catholic Church. One thing you must keep in mind when thinking of the early JW days is just how anti-catholic they were in their publications. The Catholic Church was enemy number one to the WT, and they were not shy about excruciatingly pointing that out in detail. In fact, Protestant churches are praised in chapter 2 of the book and the high minded goals of the Reformation are lauded throughout the publication. However they are thoroughly condemned and mocked whenever they start to act like their ‘‘mother’’ the Catholic Church. If a Protestant church makes any attempt at friendly relations with Catholics, let alone agreeing with them on some point, “they are sharing in her sins”. Protestant churches have compromised, it says, not because of their own doctrines, but because of how near or far they keep from the Catholics. In one embarrassing paragraph, it lauds the USA for its greatness and religious (dominantly Protestant) attitude, and then warns of the dangers America faces from immigrants from Catholic countries. The book calculates ‘the time of the end’ as starting in the year 1799, the year Napoleon invaded Italy and Papal authority was broken. It goes on a tirade over the Catholic celebration of Mass, calling it ‘the abomination of desolation’ and critiquing Martin Luther for not recognizing this. I cannot emphasize to you how much the early JWs HATED Catholicism. Just in this book it amounts to 40% of the pages at least. Page after page after page of transcripts and comments from religious clergymen or people talking about religious clergymen. It reads like someone cut and paste newspaper articles and then made a book of it. Based on this book, I would even go so far as to suppose that if not for the Catholic Church, the Watchtower would have fizzled out long ago, having run out of things to bash.

In the midst of this bashing of Catholics and anyone similar, there was this wonderfully honest and very ironic comment on page 63:

“They have baptized and catechized them in infancy, before they had learned to think; then, as they grow to adult years, they have lulled them to sleep, and given them to understand that their safe course in religious matters is to commit all questions of doctrine to them, and to follow their instructions, intimating that they alone had the education, etc, necessary to the comprehension of divine truth, and that they, therefore, should be considered authorities in all such matters without further appeal to God’s word. And when any presumed to question this assumed authority and to think differently, they were regarded as heretics and schismatics.”

This is a great description of Jehovah’s Witne……..I mean Catholics. Right, Right, Catholics.

“The Nations Assembled”

After making the case against Christendom, Russel now turns his attention against the governments of the world in the next several chapters. A major problem, according to Russel, was income inequality. Under the heading ‘The Heaping of Treasures’, he sounds just like a guest on the ‘Rachel Maddow show’:

“More wealth has been produced and accumulated during the past 50 years than during the past 19 centuries……there are now numbered 4,600 millionaires in the land…….One of the greatest dangers which now menace the stability of American institutions is the increase of individual millionaires and the consequent concentration of property and money in single hands.”

CT Russel – Social Justice Warrior. Good for him calling out injustice as he saw it in the economic and political system. And he didn’t just call it out, he named names. Page after page he goes on calling out individual business men (William Astor, John Rockefeller, etc) and detailing their net worth. He lists line by line business and monopolies in his day and their profits as well as whole nations and accumulated wealth and holdings of each. Once that was painstakingly done, the contrast is then made with the plight of the poor in society, with long quotes of newspaper after newspaper dealing with the economic conditions of America’s poorer population. The detail in this section of the book is staggering. While talking about the wealth of western nations, he lists every person in the British Royal family of his day and what each of them makes a year. 4 and a half pages of names and salaries of the Royals!

Some of the materiel is very dated and would be massively offensive to today’s audiences, with such subheadings as “The Yellow Man with White Money” and “Female Competition a Factor” I mean, really embarrassing language. After a while you forget your reading a religious book with the sheer amount of political and economic information complete with numbers and board room debates. Just when you think you can’t say any more about the topic, he begins a whole new chapter “The Cries of the Reapers” where all the woes of the farming industry with all the info you ever wanted to know about wheat and barely prices per bushel in the late 1800s. In a fascinating bit of political history (to me anyway) the big debate from the 1896 elections about silver monetary policies are given a spotlight in the chapter, with Russel clearly siding with the promoters of the silver policies, saying “But now the case is hopeless, silver will not be restored to the place lost in 1873…….the people have voted contrary to their own interests.” I’m a fan of politics, but even I was completely out of my depths with the amount of coverage even the most mundane talking point got in this section, a 4-page speech quoted verbatim by the US Assistant Attorney General in 1896 being a perfect example. To be honest, when it started getting into the nitty gritty of US tax policy, I started skimming the pages. When I got to the end of this section I was almost shocked not to have read, “I’m CT Russel, and I approved this message.”

“The Battle of the Great Day”

Finally, with already 95% of the book already behind me, I get to a section about Russel’s view of the future from the Bible. I mean, that is what the book’s title said it was about so it might as well talk about it. But first a 20-page look about the French Revolution. After that, annnnnnndd now a look at the Bible. Some interesting points of eschatology that are different from that of current JWs are as follows:

– There would be unprecedented gathering of Jewish people back to Palestine. “All men are witnesses to the fact that such a gathering of Israel to Palestine is begun, but it is quite manifest that their exodus from other lands will have to receive some great and sudden impulse in order to accomplish this prophecy within the appointed time. Just what this impulse will be remains yet to be seen.” Remember that this was written in 1897, so kudos to Russel on that remarkable foresight. Although Rutherford would later disavow all of this during his tenure and current JWs do not acknowledge any fulfillment of prophecy dealing with natural Israel.

– When Israel was re-established in their homeland they were toexperience one final wave of anguish Russel says is called in scriptures as ‘The Time of Jacob’s Sorrow”. The nations, Gog and Magog, would descend about Israel to wipe them out, out which point God would reveal himself and defend Israel as he did in ancient times.

– The prophecy of Jesus warning about fleeing Jerusalem for the mountains and hoping that the the flight not take place in the winter is all applied to fleeing the Catholic church (of course).

– The Sun and moon darkening and stars falling out of the sky part of Jesus prophecy is applied to literal events that occurred during that time. May19th, 1780 a great darkening of the sun occurred and notated by newspapers at the time. The next sign took place half a century later on November13th, 1833 when a massive meteor shower was seen. Of course, it says also that the prophecy could be applied spiritually and not literal and gives the example of the sun spiritually darkening because of….wait for it….Catholics.

– ‘This Generation’, the topic that JWs love to change and re-change, was spoken of as being 100 years. Since the first sign of the sun darkening took place in 1780 then all the signs have taken place by 1880 (remember that the believed at the time Jesus returned in 1874). But if you reckon the 100 years from the last sign in 1833 you would by 1897 still have a few decades to go. But that suggestion is quickly dismissed as, “Many are living that witnessed the star falling sign. Those who are walking with us in this light of present truth are not looking for things to come… but are waiting for the consummation of matters already in progress.”

“The beginning of the earthly phase of the kingdom in the end of A.D. 1914 will consist wholly of the resurrected ones of olden times – from John the Baptizer back to Abel.” The ‘Ancient Worthies’ will be on the scene in Israel during the attack of Gog of Magog. They may not be believed to be authentic at first but will soon be recognized due to their ‘superior mental powers’. Because of this their ‘perfect minds will quickly grasp present day knowledge and inventions’ They will lead Israel into victory over her enemies and will usher in the kingdom on earth.

– As other people and nations take notice of this they will soon come under their authority and influence. And since these resurrected ones will have a direct line of communication with heaven, their reforms issued from Jerusalem, the world’s new capital, will be plainly seen by all peoples as divine. And it appears that nothing will go unnoticed. From moral and political reforms to banking and labor reforms all the economic policies of the new kingdom will transform society.

– This transformation takes place over time, 1000 years to be exact, for this to truly make over every person and institution on the planet, but at the end all will be persuaded to its side as they see the unmistakable proofs and benefits of kingdom rule, not to mention the resurrection of other dead ones. DID YOU HEAR THAT CURRENT JWs??? “Persuaded”. No mass slaughter of everyone at Armageddon. 1914 comes, bringing the end of the lease the gentiles have upon the world. God sets up his Kingdom in Israel with the resurrected faithful at the helm (who are already on hand at the start of it) and the inevitable tide of blessing and progress, including perfect health and life (and monetary policy reform apparently), sweep over the globe.

CONCLUSION

The thing that surprised me the most when reading this book and all such writings by Russel at that time, is the nature of the argument. I think by and large, JWs probably think of the ‘Studies in the Scriptures’ book series to be like the ‘Bible Teach’ book of today, just with some archaic language here and there. Overall a good summary of Biblical doctrine and a refutation of falsehoods. But that is not at all how the books are written. After a brief few pages of scriptural introduction, you get some 500 pages of Catholic bashing and Geo-politics with a smattering of scriptures here and there, before returning in the end to a brief outline of Biblical prophecy. These were not the beacons of light that they are portrayed to be nowadays by WT. This book is an exhaustive rant with no detail or statistic considered to small not to mention; and no speech by some obscure politicians to long winded to include. If your looking for a paragraph by paragraph discussion of Biblical topics, similar to what your used to in a WT article, this is not for you. Even if you updated this book to account for modern numbers and current events, any JW today would be absolutely embarrassed to present this book to people in their door-to-door ministry, and yet they hold up this series of books as proof that they were being led by God’s spirit. Never knowing what is actually in it, or that almost everything that was scripturally related in it was later changed and dropped. What’s sadly ironic, and will go unnoticed by JWs, is that 100 years from now every single thing in their current book “What does the Bible Teach?” will be changed or discarded too. But what what does it matter what it said way back in 2019, its clear God is leading us right?

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