Why does the Watchtower leadership slap its own defenders in the face?

by slimboyfat 63 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • steve2

    Excellent OP, well presented. Thanks SBF.

    Here I think is the nub of the argument you advance:

    So I guess the answer to why the Watchtower are wary of acknowledging a strong academic defender of their movement like Rolf Furuli is - look what happened the last time. They got burned.

    Any thinker - and you give two examples of intellingent, articulate ones - stands a good chance of going beyond their "brief" and researching other aspects of jw teachings.

    Chuck Russell himself was such a man in his day; for all his idiosyncratic ways, he was intelligent and knew how to assimilate all of his vast influences. He could not be content to remain in an existing belief system. He was a powerhouse of individuality, regardless of whether we agree or not with his "system" of beliefs.

    So, yes, the organization would rather cite non-JW than JW sources because it would unintentionally support the notion that the organization rewards intelligent but unofficial inquiry. And, after they cited Penton, look what happened.

    They've learnt an important lesson: Do not praise independent inquiry - even if it is in complete harmony with existing teachings; instead, praise obedience. No suprises there.

  • EdenOne

    Besides, they value "spiritual qualifications" [i.e. unquestioning obedience] over expertise [which usually results in people "puffed with pride"].

    As a result, you get what you've paid for.


  • TD

    Rolf Furuli has defended JWs on multiple fronts in many different settings...

    --Not the topic of your thread, but since you did mention the blood issue, I'm going to point out that the reason he got "slapped" on that is beyond obvious.

  • slimboyfat

    Can you elaborate? I presume you mean the BMJ thread with Muramoto, Marvin Shilmer, Lee Elder and others? Mixing with apostates and advancing extra-Watchtower/canonical defences of doctrine was a bit risky.

    It was the early days of the Internet. He was a bit naive to participate I reckon. Thank goodness it's still on the web, fascinating discussion. I read it in real time all those years ago and got in touch with him and others through that thread.

    Round about the same time you had Greg Stafford using aliases to dialogue with Randy Watters and others. It was a hot time for JW apologists, the first decade of the web. Seems to have died down significantly now. Or gone underground?

  • TD

    Can you elaborate?


    He embarrassed the parent organization and that is a big, "no no."

    JW's, have had a rocky past with the medical community to put it mildly and the degree of acceptance and accommodation that they now enjoy has taken years and years to realize. Being respectful to doctors and other medical personal has always been HLC training 101, Day 1.

    Furuli repeatedly talked down to and patronized Dr. Osamu Muramoto, a Portland area neurosurgeon and author of the article under discussion. (I can give examples.) And he did this on the Rapid Response section of the BMJ, no less.

    This was even less forgivable because of Furuli's ignorance. Despite his education, he displayed a knowledge of basic biology well below the high school level. Honestly, he did not seem even seem to understand the purpose of a transfusion. (I can give examples here too.)

    Further, because of Furuli's idealism, naivete, or just plain ignorance he was apparently unaware that the JW parent organization has misrepresented studies and told out and out lies on this subject in the past. Of necessity, those things should be avoided in a discussion before a knowledgeable audience because the potential for embarrassment is huge. .

    Poor Furuli never did seem to grasp that fact. How could his beloved Society have lied to him? Every single time he went to his Watchtower library for assistance, he opened the door even wider for critics to air this dirty laundry in their rebuttals.

    His use of the Kitchens', study, for example, was both predictable and sad. And again, this was on the Rapid Response section of the BMJ in front of a medical audience who would fully grasp the depth of JW dishonesty on the subject.

    Seems to have died down significantly now. Or gone underground?

    I think the horse is dead at this point. ---Can't debate a topic when its proponents are unwilling to debate.

  • Wonderment


    First, thanks for your informative post.

    We don't know who are the new members of the NWT Committee, and may never will. Some may believe that WTS rashly undertook biblical translation work. I believe otherwise. I believe more effort and scholarship went into the original NWT than into any other WT publication, including Aid/Insight among them.

    For the 2013 revision, I would not expect any less effort spent on it. Undertaking translation work is very challenging, so I doubt the new NWT Committee went about it very lightly. I know that many ex-JWs find that hard to believe, but the fact is that most criticisms of the NWT deal with doctrinal issues, or the supposed incompetence of the translation team.

    In regards to how the NW Revised Edition deals with the Hebrew verbs now, my feeling is that they set out to simplify the reading of the original version, and logically, the Hebrew verb translation was the first casualty. This does not necessarily mean that the original product was a waste of effort or time, but the shift to improve readability in English translations since the publication of The Living Bible has made it necessary to do that. What was acceptable as a translation in 1950 may not be in 2015. In that sense, the NWT was falling behind the times.

    Also, the new release does not prove Furuli was wrong when he defended it. At least two other scholars have defended the treatment of the Hebrew verbal system as Furuli did. I think it is a matter of moving forward to make the Bible more readable to "uneducated" masses. It is more an adjustment to the times than a repair of the translation itself.

  • Vidqun

    Slimboyfat, my impression of Rolf Furuli is that he attempted to defend the indefensible, by propping up the Titanic, so to speak, and for that reason he would sink with it. He was not very honest either, never admitting in his books that he was a Witness or that he self-published. He would stick with Franz’s explanation of the Hebrew Verbal System (HVS) to his detriment.

    Allow me to quote criticism of his work by John Cook in his treatise, “Time and the Biblical Hebrew Verb: The Expression of Tense, Aspect, and Modality in Biblical Hebrew.” Cook discusses most modern theories of the HVS. It is interesting to note what he had to say about Furuli's thesis. Furuli believed that there is no difference between the waw-prefixed forms and their formal non-waw-prefixed counterparts, and I quote:

    “The most recent permutation of this type of theory comes from Furuli (2006), who claims based on his examination of all the verb forms in the Hebrew Bible, Ben Sira, and the Dead Sea Scrolls that there were only two conjugations: a perfective suffix conjugation (qatal and wĕqatal) and an imperfective prefix conjugation (yiqtol and wayyiqtol; Furuli 2006:4) He concludes that a diachronic approach is problematic and unnecessary, since (1) there is no evidence of a prefix preterite in Northwest Semitic or Akkadian, and (2) there is no evidence in his corpus of any semantic change in the Hebrew verbal forms (Furuli 2006: 147).

    Furul’s approach is based on two premises that he claims are not taken into account by any earlier theories. This first is a systematic distinction between past time reference and past tense. Although it is a sound principle, Furuli uses this premise to dismiss out of hand any and every tense explanation of Hebrew and Semitic (e.g., Furuli 2006: 32, 98). Furuli claims that context “can fix the temporal reference of a verb” and then refuses to acknowledge any other possible means of fixing temporal reference – that is, tense (Furuli 2006:100).

    His second principle is that aspect (viewpoint aspect, in particular) in Hebrew is of a different sort than English aspect, which he claims informs most previous understandings. Unfortunately it is unclear to me the basis for his claim because the only explanation he offers is, “because aspect is a kind of viewpoint, it is not obvious that it has the same nature in the different aspectual languages of the world” (Furuli 2006: 49).

    A full survey of Furuli’s work would take too long and yield too little of value (see the reviews of Kummerow 2007 and Cook 2010). Here I mention the two fundamental difficulties with his theory that are most germane to this discussion: his treatment of wayyiqtol and his analysis of aspect. A major if not central focus of Furuli’s work is to show that wayyiqtol is not a distinct prefix form from yiqtol (and wĕyiqtol) but is an invention of the Masoretes. He recognizes that a major obstacle to his argument is that 93.1% (according to his analysis) of wayyiqtols in the Bible refer to past events, which accounts for the majority view that the form has developed from a Semitic prefixed preterite form. He argues, however, that, “because of the problem of induction, confirmatory examples can never confirm a hypothesis, but contradictory ones can even falsify it” (Furuli 2006:73). Thus Furuli admits that he allows 6.9% of the evidence to drive his semantic theory of wayyiqtol! The obvious protest to this is that Hebrew is an ancient language, attested only in composite and redacted texts that has been vocalized (which is the distinguishing factor between wayyiqtol and wĕyiqtol) only hundreds of years after the stabilization of the text. But this point aside, Sapir’s dictum that “grammar leak” certainly applies here. Further, Furuli’s argument that the Masoretes created the wayyiqtol form and that they made mistakes in writing the form appears prima facie to cancel out the significance of his 6.9% of counterexamples: these data are simply “errors" introduced by the Masoretes; but even so, if the form is simply a Masoretic invention, how can any of the examples be deemed either erroneous or representative of the actual language of the texts? In addition, Furuli (2006:459) admits that his theory is completely at odds with the typological data on TAM but dismisses those findings, stating that: “we should not force modern views upon a dead language.” This comment betrays a lack of understanding of not only typology but the nature of languages and language universal!”

    Furuli, Rolf J.

    2006 A New Understanding of the Verbal System of Classical Hebrew: An Attempt to Distinguish between Semantic and Pragmatic Factors. Oslo: Awatu.

    There’s more but that’s enough for the time being. The above allows one a general impression of his work. Cook could not understand his reasoning, but we can. By sticking to Frederick Franz’s theory on the Hebrew Verbal System, he would build an elaborate hypothesis, only to be shot down by his peers.

  • slimboyfat

    Thank you wonderment for your thoughtful comments. You're right, unless there's a Ray Franz style breech we may never know who exactly comprised the new committee. But given that Geoffrey Jackson has a strong interest in linguistics, it was him who presented the revision at the AGM, and it's unlikely that the GB would deliver responsibility entirely to someone outside their group, I think it's fairly safe to assume he was at least involved, if not leading the project.

    I think you are right that the original NWT was a serious piece of work. It apparently took the best part of two decades complete. Outside scholars mixed approbium with some apparent astonishment that JWs actually pulled it off. Some speculated they got help from Goodspeed, unidentified Jewish friends, or that Franz just copied Rotherham's version and changed the wording to suit. But none of these has been substantiated. It just seems that Franz was incredibly geeky and self-taught and did the bulk of the translation himself, with help from some others compiling cross references and notes. The 1950 text was also quite substantially revised in 1960, and again a few changes were made in 1971, so it was still a work in progress. Articles from the Watchtower in the 1940s add 1950s show evidence of Franz thinking through the translation issues as he went along.

    But it I can't agree with you that the 2013 revision represents no egg on his face for Furuli. He has argued repeatedly and at length that the wordiness of the NWT was worth it because it made it more accurate. The 2013 revision of the NWT makes the opposite judgement, that readability is more important than any claimed improvement in accuracy from overuse of auxiliary verbs. There is no way of happily reconciling these views. The NWT did an about turn and left Furuli dangling.

    The fact that Benjamin Keder or others may have agreed with Furuli and the original NWT on its handling of Hebrew verbs is not the point. The rNWT itself no longer agrees in many of the instances that Furuli previously trumpeted as superior renderings.

    I should point out it's not the only time the Watchower has about turned on an issue that Furuli made a point of defending. The translation of Jeremiah 29:10 is another good example. Was that carelessness, indifference or outright hostility?

    The big question has to be, will the Watchtower abandon its peculiar chronology, and thus leave Furuli and his work completely high and dry?

  • Fencing
    Somewhat off-topic, but on the subject of Furuli: I still would love to know how much involvement he had in the (really poorly argued) two-part 607 defense article in the WT a few years ago. It's obvious that the bulk of the article came directly from his typical arguments (particularly the stuff trying desperately to shove that solar eclipse into the wrong year), but I wonder if he had more of a "hands on" role in the writing of it. Either advising the writing department, or perhaps even writing parts of it himself.
  • slimboyfat

    Good question Fencing, I really wish AnnOMaly was still around to give her opinion on that question.

    Thanks for the background TD. I've been reviewing sone of the BMJ posts this evening but some of it is very technical. Please if you can show me examples of Furuli talking down to Muramoto or making basic errors. He came up with an interesting, and as far as I know novel way of defending the Watchtower stance on primary components versus sub-components of blood using a verse in Luke. Genius or just bizarre I don't know, but not official Watchtower argumentation in any case.

    Vidqun thank you very much for the quote from Cook. I was unfamiliar with reviews of Furuli's work so that is really helpful. As you say, it's interesting to see Furuli engage with people who may not fully appreciate his agenda or the reasons for his peculiar slant. I'm not sure what to make of the self-publication brouhaha or JW non-disclosure. I guess what I was arguing above though is that while it may not be surprising that outside scholars don't share Furuli's Watchtower inspired positions on various issues, it's at least on the face of it somewhat more surprising that the Watchtower itself doesn't seem to have Furuli's back.

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