I've posted a partial rough draft of my introductory essay for Separate Identity, volume 2. It is a work in progress and will change. It has upset some Watchtower adherents who read our history blog. Read it please and tell me if I've been unfair to the Watchtower. ...
Partial rough draft
I see a well-written and thorough introduction. Not really in my field of interest, but I can see why some WT believers would be rankled by some of your statements. They feel that they are above the fray of "common" religions and prefer to believe that their particular religion simply sprang up out of dry ground as the need arose in the Last Days.
Yes, it's no wonder that they are "secretive" about their history.
Thanks for your work.
Very interesting vienne. I like the inclusion of the religious background influences from the reformation onward, your caveat for lack of in-depth scrutiny in this area notwithstanding.
It appears to me that the Watchtower message from Russell's time has always been maintained with a belief that their interpretation of the scripture must be right and therefore delivered in the spirit of certainty. Certainty that it is true because it is based on Biblical doctrine spoken by God's appointees and therefore inevitable. However the writers of the Watchtower have always both supplied the discourse and controlled the thinking on it whilst expecting the flock to believe without question.
People have always responded positively to the concept of "certainty" and when allied to Biblical prophecy it was like flies attracted to carrion. I see this as part of their past success. However it only ever worked in the absence of critical evaluation and to start inviting a scholarly analysis on all JW literature and belief would be shooting itself in the foot. As a social organism they have good reason to be secretive.
From the viewpoint of the governing body the thought of anyone applying a scholarly examination to Watchtower history would appear to be undermining their authority, preventing them from having the last word on the subject. What is at stake is what they think is their right to present the current 'light' on their own re-writable history.
In a different forum discussion I posted this site which may be of interest:
Apparently Russell's beliefs were greatly influenced by the Adventist movement.
None of Russell's doctrine derives from Adventism. It derives from Age to Come belief, called literalism by many in that era. We examine this in great detail in chapter four of Separate Identity.
Russell read Adventist literature, writing to some periodicals. This ended in 1872 or 1873. It is claimed that Barbour was an Adventist and such he was up to 1875. When Russell met him he had switched to Church of the Blessed Hope, a Literalist (non-Adventist) faith. Russell reports that Barbour and Paton had left the Adventists. Barbour names the faith to which he switched. Barbour did not teach Russell Adventism. They shared Age to Come belief as expressed in the religious newspaper The Restitution. Barbour and Russell are (Russell more than Barbour) both called "brother" by that non-Adventist periodical.
Some suggest that Russell's chronology is Adventist. It is not. In 1859 Barbour returned to a study of prophetic figures. He found a satisfying chronology in Elliott's Horae where a chart by Christoper Bowen is found. Neither Elliott nor Bowen were Adventists. They were Church of England Clergy. There are other books, some of which we know Barbour consulted, that present the 1873-4 date as a fixed predictive date. They are all written by Anglican or Church of Scotland clergy. You will find much of this in our Nelson Barbour: The Millennium's Forgotten Prophet. Barbour also derived the date 1914 from non-Adventist sources. None of the chronology believed by Russell and Barbour came from Adventism.
Russell mentions both Storrs and Stetson. George Storrs left Adventism amongst great controversy in 1844. Thereafter he promoted Literalist belief. Storrs when Russell met him was long removed from Adventism. Stetson adopted Literalist (non-Adventist) belief starting in 1864-5. He was banned from some Adventist congregations because he taught contrary doctrine. He was recognized by the Restitution, again not Adventist but antagonistic to Adventism, as an authorized preacher. He was not, when Russell met him, an Adventist, but was writing for The Restitution and for the British journal The Rainbow.
The claim of Adventist influence is greatly exaggerated. He did not adopt any doctrine that was uniquely Adventist. ALL of his doctrines can be found within the Age-to-Come/Literalist/Church of God movement of the late 19th century.
Among the Anglican and Church of Scotland clergy upon whose work Barbour based his chronology were these: [Paragraph taken from our bio. of N. Barbour]
John Fry in Observations on the Unfulfilled Prophecies pointed to 1873. Fry ended the 1260 days in 1872/73, writing that “the arrival of the years 1844, 1872, and 1889 must be expected with feelings of the deepest interest by all who are looking for ‘this great day of the Lord.’” W. Snell Chauncy also pointed to 1873 in his 1839 publication Dissertations on Unaccomplished Prophecy. In 1835 Thomas Brown suggested that the 1335 prophetic days might end in 1873, and he felt the way was opening up for “the full triumph of the Gospel kingdom and the final restoration and conversion of Israel.” Matthew Habershon counted the 1290 days from 583 to 1873-74 C.E. (A.D.). At least one advocate of 1873 was mentioned in The Literalist, printed by Orrin Rogers in Philadelphia between 1840 and 1842. Closer to Barbour’s time, the anonymous British writer “S. A.” suggested in his Apocalyptic History that at least one prophetic period might end in 1873. Though the basis for fixing on 1873 varied, there were a number who believed it a prophetically significant date.
 Fry, John: Observations on the Unfulfilled Prophecies of Scripture: Which are yet to Have Their Accomplishment Before the Coming of the Lord in Glory or at the Establishment of His Everlasting Kingdom, Printed for James Duncan and T. Combe, London, 1835, page 380. This book is in the British Library.
 Published by James Nisbet & Co.; J. Johnstone, 1838, page 387. This book is in the British Library.
 Brown, Thomas: A Key to the Prophetical Books of the Old Testament, Published by the Author, London, 1858, page 103.
 Habershon, Matthew: A Dissertation on the Prophetic Scriptures Chiefly Those of a Chronological Character: Shewing Their Aspect on the Present Times, and on the Destinies of the Jewish Nation, James Nisbet and Co, 1834, page 452.
 The Literalist: Elements of Prophetical Interpretation, etc., Orin Rogers, 1840, page 333.
 S. A.: Apocalyptic History, S. W. Partridge and Company, Second Edition, London, 1871, page 21.
 Peters mentions a Balfour who looked to 1873. This seems to be a misprint for Barbour. — Peters, G. N. H.: The Theocratic Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, Funk and Wagnalls, New York, Volume 3, 1884, page 99.
Thanks, very interesting. You make good points about secrecy and Watchtower not really tolerating, much less encouraging deep research by members or outsiders.
I tend to agree that their reluctance to engage with the early history is because they know so little about it themselves. It’s not so much that they want to promote a particular view of early characters or events, it’s that they just want to leave it alone. They may be suspicous of people who know a lot about the early history, not because there is anything they specifically wish to hide, but because their lack of knowledge leaves them exposed, should inconvenient facts emerge.
On Watchtower referencing and scholarship, I think one of the better researched and presented publications is the divine name brochure. It doesn’t have footnotes, but it does contain fairly trasparent and useable references in the text itself.
On the issue of Adventist roots, I think there are a few things going on. There are those who make the basic mistake of thinking Russell broke away from an Adventist group, or worse from the Seventh Day Adventists. That’s just wrong. And then there are others who lazily think that ideas, such as the view sometimes called “soul sleep”, must have come from Adventists. But many non-Adventists shared this perspective.
However one thing from Adventist remains. It does seem to be the case that Russell initially opposed the popular Adventist idea that accurate endtime chronology could be derived from scripture. Russell’s view on this issue seems to have changed as a result of his meeting with long-time Adventist Nelson Barbour, and from that time forward Russell taught that reliable endtime chronology could be derived from the Bible. It remains a key part of JW teaching to this day. So to the extent that Russell was persuaded by Barbour to ‘give chronology another look’ and subsequently promote the use of endtime chronology, I think it is fair to say that Russell, and JWs have been influenced, via Barbour, by the Adventist movement in this crucial respect.
Chronological speculation is a long standing protestant hobby extending back at least to the 15th Century. It was not a peculiarity of Adventism. Even after the Adventist failure of the 1840s both Adventists and non-Adventist millennialists remained addicted to the practice.
You would find Froom's Prophetic Faith helpful. He profiles many expositors, none of whom were before Miller any sort of Adventist, but they were Millennarians.
I agree chronological speculation is widspread, not confined to Adventism.
But these are the basic facts are they not:
1. Russell initially opposed chronological speculation.
2. Russell met Barbour and was persuaded to give chronology another look.
3. Thereafter chronology has been central to Russell and JW teaching.
If those facts are true, how can we deny that Adventism impacted Watchtower teaching?