Beth-Sarim Revisited for Newbies


At 4440 Braeburn Road, San Diego, Ca., in the rich and prestigious "Kensington Heights" neighborhood sits one of the biggest embarrassments in the long and continuing list of embarrassments the Watchtower Society has created for itself.

Most dubs know nothing about it, and if it wasn't for a few brief comments about it in the Proclaimers book in 1993, even fewer dubs would know anything at all about it.

It is the home once known as Beth-Sarim (pronounced "Beth-Sareeeem"), the "House of the Princes."

It is a house with a history the Society has shown by its historical lack of candor, hopes everyone would forget. In fact, the Society has done just about everything it could do to ensure that its history will be forgotten. In the first book devoted to discussing the history of Jehovah's Witnesses, this house and its history is not even mentioned. I'm referring to that great 1959 novel "Jehovah's Witnesses in the Divine purpose" a "history" (HAHAHAHAHAH!) of the Jehovah's Witness movement. The only book I can recall that had a more boring presentation and plot than the "Divine Purpose" book was a manual on how to rebuild automobile transmissions. Incidentally, only the auto transmission book actually told the truth.

I found only a very few references to Beth-Sarim in my search for comments about the property within in the last 45 years and with only one exception, NONE of these references told the truth about the home and its original stated purpose. The one that did tell the truth, did so in a footnote, almost as a begrudging afterthought.

This statement in a 1955 Watchtower was made by Hazel O. Burford, Rutherford's nurse in the weeks preceding his death:

"A week later I was privileged to accompany Brother Rutherford and his party to California, where we lived in Beth-Sarim, the "House of the Princes," for the next eight weeks until his death January 8, 1942." [The Watchtower, November 1, 1955, p. 655]

In 1975 the Society mentions Beth-Sarim, but it lied about their original statements about why it was REALLY built:

"In time, a direct contribution was made for the purpose of constructing a house in San Diego for Brother Rutherford's use. It was not built at the expense of the Watch Tower Society. Concerning this property, the 1939 book Salvation stated: "At San Diego, California, there is a small piece of land, on which, in the year 1929, there was built a house, which is called and known as Beth-Sarim." [1975 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, pp. 193-194]

This statement clearly said the home was built for "Brother Rutherford's use." Actually that statement turns out to be absolutely true as we will see. What is not true, is what was stated by the Society for decades about the original PURPOSE of that home.

The latest statement I found was from a 1992 Watchtower, and it tells us next-to-nothing:

"Often we preached near Beth-Sarim, which was where the ailing president of the Watch Tower Society, Brother Rutherford, had spent the winters before his death in 1942. We visited regularly and had dinner with the full-time servants there." [The Watchtower, March 1, 1992, p. 27]

Well, at least we know Rutherford lived like royalty: he had live-in full-time servants to attend to his every need.

In the 1940's there were only a few brief mentions of Beth-Sarim, yet in its heyday, Beth-Sarim played a major and central role in Watchtower theology and in its recruitment of new members.

The Proclaimers book gives the most accurate and candid comments since the 1930's and early 1940's about why the Society said they had commissioned the Beth-Sarim home to be built:

"At the time, it was believed that faithful men of old times, such as Abraham, Joseph, and David, would be resurrected before the end of this system of things and would serve as "princes in all the earth," in fulfillment of Psalm 45:16. This view was adjusted in 1950, when further study of the Scriptures indicated that those earthly forefathers of Jesus Christ would be resurrected after Armageddon. -- See The Watchtower, November 1, 1950, pages 414-17." [Jehovah's Witnesses -- Proclaimers of God's Kingdom (1993), p. 76, footnote]

This was a footnote in small print at the bottom of a single column devoted to the subject.

All in all, the society has not said very much since the 1940's about a house that had once caused so much hope and excitement among Jehovah's Witnesses in years past.

San Diego Press Devotes Much Space to Beth-Sarim

Beth-Sarim cost $25,000 to build. That was in 1929. Two months after the mansion was completed, Rutherford was quoted in the San Diego Sun saying he had been offered $75,000 for it. Keep in mind that this was in the Great Depression. I have lately seen homes in the neighborhood selling for $800,000 and up, and every one of them are dumps compared to Beth-Sarim. None of them has anywhere near the 5,156 square feet (per the deed when the house was last sold) as does Beth-Sarim, either.

Behind Beth-Sarim is a huge and steep canyon and there is no possibility that any homes can be built that will encroach upon the back of the home and the privacy the canyon provides. There are about 7 much smaller homes facing Beth-Sarim across the street on the same cul-de-sac. Behind these homes is another huge canyon. None of those homes existed when Rutherford occupied the place. This means that Rutherford had huge canyons in both his backyard, to the West of the home and across the street from the home. He lived in a very secluded area in the 1930's, insulated from others by nature itself.

Here are few of the many comments made by the San Diego press when Beth-Sarim first appeared on the scene:

March 15, 1930 San Diego Sun: "San Diego Mansion -- With All Modern Improvements -- Awaits Earthly Return of Prophets."

Jan 9, 1931 San Diego Sun, "David's House Waits for Owner." A reporter asked Rutherford how he thought those ancient men would look and he replied he thought they would arrive in frock coats, high hats, canes and spats!

Perhaps due to the embarrassment of such a ridiculous statement, a year later in 1932, the booklet, "What You Need" showed an illustration of those old prophets in ancient garb. It wasn't the first time JFR would stick his foot in his mouth. Nor was it the last.

This same newspaper article stated that in the garage, "stands a new, yellow 16-cylinder coupe which will be turned over to the rulers along with all the personal property of the place."

This was a car which could only be afforded by the ultra-rich in the early 1930's.

In discussing this particular car, "Special Interest Autos #92, April 1986, page 21 states," Naturally, it was the very rich -- and often as not, the famous -- who made up the limited clientele of the V-16. Among the owners of the first generation cars was Al Jolson... Robert Montgomery... Marlene Dietrich..." (And of course, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, the "humble" servant and personal spokesman of Almighty Jehovah God Himself.)

A 1931 Ford cost about $600.00. The Cadillac just mentioned cost between $5,400.00 and $9,200.00 depending upon style. This means Rutherford's Cadillac cost between NINE and FIFTEEN times as much as a regular new card in its day. That car cost much more than many nice houses of the day.

Oh, by the way, Rutherford had TWO of these cars. The other one was a convertible sedan kept for his personal use in Brooklyn.

Beth-Sarim is Shamelessly Promoted at the Same Time "A People For His Name" are Christened

Most dubs remotely familiar with their history are aware of the noteworthy 1931 Columbus, Ohio convention. This was the convention where the very night before he was to deliver a keynote speech, Da Judge had an "inspiration" to create a new name for his pet religion. That name was, of course, "Jehovah's Witnesses" and he dubbed them (no pun intended) with that very name the next day. What most Jehovah's Witnesses do NOT know is that during that same convention Jehovah's Witnesses at that convention circulated a newsletter produced by the Society called the "Messenger." In both the July 25th and July 30th editions of this newsletter were pictures and articles all dealing with Beth-Sarim and what its REAL purpose was supposed to have been.

The Messenger called it "Beth-Sarim -- Much Talked About House." (For some strange reason the new motto is, "Beth-Sarim, The Embarrassment that We Hope No One Talks About Again.")

One picture of this mansion had as its caption, "Do You Think David Will Like It?"

The Trail of Lies and Cover-Ups Begins

Originally, the society stated that Beth-Sarim was constructed for one single purpose: to be a place of residence for those faithful "ancient worthies" like Abraham, Enoch, David, et. al.

Even as late as 1942, William Heath, Jr., a confidant of Rutherford and live-in caretaker of the Beth-Shan mansion stated this before the San Diego Planning Commission, " (the Beth-Shan mansion) property cannot be sold because it is held in trust for the ancient Witnesses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob et al.,... As a consequence, it is impossible that this property will ever be sold to anyone else..."

(Beth-Shan was quietly sold three years later.)

Similar statements were made with regards to Beth-Sarim. In answer to the question, "Will Beth-Sarim be held for the perpetual use of the Lord's people and the "princes?", this reply was given, "... When David and Joseph or some of the other ancient worthies return they will have it..." "The title to that house is in the Society, and is held in trust for the perpetual use of God's faithful ones." -- Golden Age, March 19, 1930, p. 406, 1931 Yearbook, p. 36.

In 1942, this same song was again being sung by Heath about Beth-Sarim, "Further proof that these princes will shortly take office upon earth as perfect men is found in the prophecy of Daniel... and we may expect to see Daniel and the other mentioned princes any day now!"

(Beth-Sarim was quietly sold after it was decided in 1947 that it would be sold.)

It is a worthwhile exercise to follow the trail of evidence about the Society's views on that home from that point forward.

Rutherford even bragged that he had trees and plants that were native to the soil where the ancient worthies lived so they would feel "more at home." Yeah, right. How much "at home" would they feel when they saw a car drive by, used a toilet or running water for the first time, listened to a radio or heard the telephone ring?

Regarding the return of the "ancient worthies" or "princes, the August 1, 1931 Watch Tower quoted a letter from a dub who stated in part, "Surely the Lord guided you to having the house build in San Diego in preparation for their return." (p. 239)

If this was not also the viewpoint of the Society, this letter would have never been published in the Watch Tower magazine.

Even to this very day, the Society gets dubs giddy every time it mentions the famous Rutherford talk and booklet, "Millions Now Living Will Never Die." The talk was first given in Los Angeles in 1918 and in 1920 published into a booklet and circulated by the millions.

What most dubs don't know or don't WANT to know is that the entire theme of this talk revolved around Jehovah beginning to restore the earth to a paradise in 1925 and resurrecting those ancient worthies! Because of its major significance in this scenario, it may be said that Beth-Sarim was as much a part of the "Millions" talk as the resurrection and paradise restoration itself.

Originally, Rutherford stated in his "Millions" talk, "Therefore we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the faithful prophets of old." (pp. 89, 90)

After the colossal failure of his 1925 prediction, the trail of lies and cover-ups took their first tenuous start. In the July 1, 1926 Watch Tower magazine this lie was printed, "It was stated in the 'Millions' book that we might reasonably expect them to return shortly after 1925." (p. 196)

But the "Millions" booklet stated "may confidently", not "might reasonably" and that "1925 WILL mark the return," not "expect them to return SHORTLY AFTER 1925."

Rutherford Hits the Sauce

Credible anecdotal evidence shows that after his huge 1925 fiasco, Da Judge hit the bottle with ferocity.

A former JW who goes by the pseudonym, "Edward J. Ford, Jr." served as a JW for forty-plus years and worked on the staff at Bethel. He related in a conversation about five years ago that A.H. Macmillan was a frequent visitor to his family home. A.H. Macmillan, you will recall, was a famous JW-apologist and major supporter of Rutherford. He also wrote the thoroughly whitewashed and WTS-sanctioned book "Faith on the March." I bring this up because Macmillan was not an "opposer" or an "apostate", but a very loyal dub even 'til his death. Macmillan told Edward Ford's father the real reason for building Beth-Sarim was "for no purpose other than to get the drunken and declining Rutherford out of Brooklyn." Even Haydn Covington, a high-ranking WTS official and famous defender of the legal rights of Jehovah's Witnesses in this country said that Fred Franz stated, "they built the judge a house out in California just to get him out of Bethel." That's ironic, since Covington was a practicing alcoholic himself and was once disfellowshiped for it. However, he was reinstated and "died faithful."

So, the Society has a problem with Da Judge who's becoming increasingly erratic, beligerant, often conspicuously drunk and an embarrassment since his 1925 false prophecy. What to do? Who do you call? Well, as was nearly always the case from the early days of Da Judge until his own death, you call the "oracle," Fred Franz himself! Who do you call? You call the "Prophecy Buster" himself! Covington stated that Franz "concocted the cover story... saying that the house was for the ancient prophets due back 'any day'..."

Evidence for Rutherford's Alcoholism

Notwithstanding the comments by Ford, Covington and Franz (as if that weren't enough) there are other sources who confirmed Da Judge was a tragic alcoholic. Walter Salter confirmed it in his open letter and embarrassed the Judge by letting the world know that Da Judge had him illegally smuggle CASES of booze from Canada. M. James Penton interviewed a lady who stated she sold "great quantities of liquor" to Rutherford when he visited her husband's San Diego drugstore. She even went so far to say that Rutherford was one of her "best customers" when it came to liquor purchases.

Did the Judge try to hide his abuse of liquor during his long stays at Beth-Sarim? Note this interesting comment from the Society's 1975 Yearbook:

"Sister Hazel Burford was one of the nurses who cared for Brother Rutherford during his final illness at Beth-Sarim, where he was taken in November 1941. She tells us: "We had the interesting times, for he got to where he would sleep all day and then all night long he was busy with the Society's business and kept us on the move."" [1975 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, p. 194]

Now, isn't THAT interesting? By setting a schedule of working at night (when his servants and guests were sleeping), Rutherford could safely indulge himself in his bottles to his heart's content. When he retired, he could lock his door, sleep it off, and no one would be the wiser.

Just How "Beloved" Was Rutherford, Anyway?

Rutherford was a man whose influence touched (for better or worse) millions of lives. He molded the WTS from a little cult into a big "Theocratic" cult. His writings were printed and distributed in the tens of millions. He was the undisputed and de-facto autocrat who ran "Jehovah's Organization" for a quarter-of-a-century. He gave his pet religion the name they carry to this very day. He institutionalized the Jehovah's Witnesses and set in motion standards of dress, education, entertainment, speech and doctrine that still have a major influence on Jehovah's Witnesses to this very day. Then he died. It is therefore notable to mention who took the time to attend his funeral and who did NOT take the time to attend his funeral. A.H. Macmillan stated in disappointment that there were only FOUR people who attended Rutherford's funeral, and NONE of these four included his wife Mary or his son Malcolm. Nor did they include a single other relative of his. His hand-picked successor, Nathan H. Knorr did not even bother to attend. Nor did Fred Franz, his oft-ghostwriter and the one who concocted all the doctrinal lies about Beth-Sarim so Rutherford could indulge himself in his rants and booze far, far away from the Brooklyn Bethel.

"Any Day Now"

Even though the earthly princes failed to make their return in 1925, Da Judge still continued to believe they would return "any day now." He continued to believe this until his death in January 1942, some 17 years after his failed 1925 prediction.

After Rutherford's death, his protégé Nathan Knorr continued to spread the same lies about Beth-Sarim, even though it wouldn't be long before the house was quietly sold and Rutherford's doctrine on the Princes would be dropped. It is interesting to note that predecessors of WTS Presidents never make quick and decisive doctrinal moves upon their accession to the Presidency, even when they KNOW doctrines are wrong and need to be changed. The WTS has a long history of ever-so-slow changes in doctrine until the original doctrine becomes unrecognizable and forgotten. Frankly stated, they are quite aware of the self-imposed stupidity of their members and believe they can get away with just-about-anything in matters of doctrinal flip-flops.

In 1942 and after Rutherford's death, the book "The New World" continued on with the "resurrected princes" mantra started a quarter-century earlier: the "faithful men of old may be expected back from the dead any day now. The Scriptures give good reason to believe that it shall be shortly before Armageddon breaks." Beth-Sarim was mentioned in the statement that it was "now held in trust for the occupancy of those princes on their return."

And here is a real gem from the same book:

"the most recent facts [facts???? HAHAHAHAHA!] show that the religionists of this doomed world are gnashing their teeth because of the testimony which the 'House of the Princes' bears to the new world." (p. 104)

Imagine that! Can you picture all these millions of "religionists" all over the world sitting around and saying, "Dang! That mansion in San Diego is really causing us a LOT of trouble. It's RUINING our religion and causing hundreds of millions of our followers to leave us, because the guy who lived there thought David was going to come knocking on his door EIGHTEEN YEARS AGO! What should we do about this MOST SERIOUS problem?"

Answer from one of his associates: "I think we should sit around and gnash our teeth for a while. I think we should also call up all of our peers around the world and tell them to sit around and gnash their teeth, too."

"Yeah, that's it! We'll all gnash our teeth! THAT will show them Jehovah's Witnesses a thing or two!"

"Hey, wait a minute, guys! I have false teeth. What should I do?"

"Take them out and rub them together REALLY hard, that's what!"

"Ok. I'll do just that. I want to gnash too, you know."

What rubbish!

Speaking of rubbish, I wonder if any dub back then asked him/herself this question, "If the Creator of man and everything else that exists has the power to give back life, bodies and personality to men dead for thousands and thousands of years, why would he need to use a drunken false-prophet to buy land and build a mansion for them? Would not God easily be able to get or build a suitable house for them, too? And why in San Diego, and not the Middle East where they would be comfortable with the terrain and where much of the culture had changed little since they lived so many centuries ago?"

Well, the answer to that seems obvious to me: Rutherford didn't WANT to hold any "house in trust" in Israel or especially in countries now occupied my Muslims. They don't sell booze there!

So for WHO'S benefit was the house called Beth-Sarim really built? Isn't that answer also obvious? Here's another fact that will make that conclusion even more obvious, if that is at all possible.

The society also very secretly purchased more land and constructed another large house across the Fairmont Canyon from Beth-Sarim. It was of the same size and quality as Beth-Sarim. Much of its construction was done at night, with guards stationed at the entrance to the property. They called it "Beth-Shan" and it was so secret, it was only mentioned ONCE in all of the society's literature. That mention was in the May 27, 1942 Consolation magazine. The deed to this house also contained wording that the house was to be held in perpetual trust until the return of the resurrected earthly princes. Ok, fine and dandy. We now have TWO mansions for the earthly princes. Well, maybe there was going to be a LOT of those earthly princes, and so two mansions were necessary for them.

Except for one sticky little detail. Beth-Shan was built under the direction of the WTS with a bomb shelter! About 250 feet from the main house and above the three-foot-thick ceiling of solid concrete was a secret entrance to this shelter in a small bathroom at ground-level. One would have to open the medicine cabinet and pull a concealed lever to gain access to this shelter.

Now, why in-the-hell would that house need a bomb shelter complete with self-contained power-generators and months of food stocked, anyway? Couldn't Jehovah of Armies protect those souls he resurrected to lead the earth from a few Japanese bombs fer Heaven's sake? Apparently, Da Judge didn't think so. Either that, or he may have thought Jehovah would be able to protect the earthly princes, but NOT be able to save his own sorry ass should San Diego be attacked by the Japanese enemy.

Yet, the society even lied about THAT. Keep in mind that the society only ONCE mentioned Beth-Shan in its publications and that mention was only as a possible burial site for Da Judge. No bomb shelter at Beth-Shan was ever mentioned in the society's publications. Yet, rumors had started and the society took devious attempts to squelch them.

In the June 1, 1940 Watchtower on page 162 under the heading "False Reports," the society states, "Some unreliable person is responsible for the circulation of a report that Beth-Sarim is being enlarged as a place of security and that this is being built by the Society. There is absolutely not one word of truth in the report."

This denial by the Society is a valid one, but also deceptive. It wasn't Beth-Sarim at all that was being built as a place of security, but Beth-Shan, which means "House of Security" in Hebrew! And it WAS Beth-Shan which had the bomb shelter. Was the Society honest and candid about "correcting" the rumor and telling the truth about Beth-Shan? No. As stated, the society only mentioned Beth-Shan once and that was regarding using the property to bury Da Judge.

Obvious Questions That Need to be Asked

Any person capable of forming even a modicum of rational thought would ask these simple questions regarding Beth-Sarim:

If Jehovah could resurrect persons dead for millennia, why couldn't he also provide them with nice housing, too? Why would he allow precious monetary resources to be wasted on two mansions for two decades when they could have been used to expand the "preaching work?"

Why would Jehovah desire that all these ancient worthies live in the same house, and why would that house be in San Diego, California?

If these prophets were to take over leadership of the earth, wouldn't they be scattered around the earth so as to be more effective in their governing?

Why would Jehovah allow a bomb shelter to be constructed for their "protection" on a property that was held "in perpetuity" for their sole benefit?

And if the bomb shelter was not for their protection, but for the protection of Rutherford and Company, why would Jehovah not be able to protect Rutherford in the same way he would protect the ancient worthies?

Why would Jehovah sanction a brand new Cadillac COUPE for transportation for those worthies? Why not a VAN or a vehicle capable of transporting more than two or three of them at any-one-time? Wouldn't a fabulously expensive and exotic car like a yellow Cadillac look pretentious and ostentatious for these "humble" ancient ones to be using for their transportation?

Why wouldn't Jehovah resurrect these ancient ones in the terrain and in a Culture they were most familiar with, so their transition to modern-life would be easier? Why instead, would Jehovah resurrect them, give them frock coats, top hats and SPATS? Why instead, would Jehovah give them a house with electric lighting, flush toilets, a modern kitchen, and telephones? Wouldn't that be a major culture shock for them at first?

Wouldn't it be rather cruel of Jehovah to place poor old weak-willed Lot and Noah around one of the largest private stocks of liquor imaginable? :-)

Given David's proclivity for hanky-panky, wouldn't he be tempted to knock off Bonnie Boyd's husband and take her for himself? :-)

And undoubtedly, the most important question of all, "Why would Jehovah use a broken-down, abusive and delusional alcoholic tyrant to make up all that shit in the first place?"

Perhaps the real answer came from Rutherford himself as quoted in the May 15, 1930 Watchtower, p. 154: "How are we to know whether one is a true or a false prophet? If he is a true prophet, his message will come to pass exactly as prophesied. If he is a false prophet, his prophecy will fail to come to pass."

Note: I wish to give due acknowledgement to Professor Edmund C. Gruss and Leonard Chretien and their book, Jehovah's Witnesses -- Their Monuments to False Prophecy. It was they who were responsible for all the hard research that I tapped and summarized. My commentary only touched on a very few of the fascinating facts to be found in their 300-page book. That book only focuses on three issues: 1) Russell and Pyramidology, 2) Beth-Sarim, and 3) Beth-Shan. It is jam packed with photos of the properties, photo-copies of original WTS documents, San Diego newspaper articles and legal documents relating to those two homes. Contrary to stealing any of the thunder from the book, I hope I merely whetted the appetites of those who are interested in learning the truth about Beth-Sarim and Beth-Shan. I've only touched the surface in this brief commentary. Monuments to False Prophecy is also modestly priced and a worthwhile addition to any person seriously interested in JW history.

I also am indebted to Randy Watters for generously providing me with a copy of this excellent reference work and to Jan Groenveld for providing me with enough information to be able to locate Ed Gruss and discuss Beth-Sarim with him at length over the telephone.