Beth-Shan

The Watchtower's "House of Security"

 

Ken Raines

 

 

Beth-Shan in 1945, shortly after being sold by the Watchtower Society.
(Black and white photo courtesy of Edmond C. Gruss - color enhanced on computer).

 

 

 

 

Most people who have studied Watchtower Society (Jehovah's Witness) history have heard of Beth-Sarim, a Spanish style mansion the Society built in 1929 in San Diego California that was deeded to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and other Old Testament "princes." Most, however, have never heard of the Society's Beth-Shan house built in 1939, ten years after Beth-Sarim on adjacent property. Beth-Shan, which means "House of Security" in Hebrew, was literally a house of security - it was accessed by a single dirt road that was guarded and gated. It also had two secret bomb shelters to protect the Beth-Shan/Beth-Sarim residents (such as the Society's second president, J.F. Rutherford). The Society apparently wanted to keep the residence secret and covered up its very existence. The Society only mentioned Beth-Shan once in its literature. Almost nothing has been known as a result about Beth-Shan until recent research by Edmond Gruss and Leonard Chretien uncovered a few of its well kept secrets. The story of Beth-Shan further reveals the mentality, methods, and false expectations of JW leaders during World War II.

 

 

 

Beth-Sarim

In 1929, the Watchtower Society built a Spanish style mansion in San Diego, California called Beth-Sarim or "house of princes" in Hebrew. "Judge" J.F. Rutherford, the Society's second president lived there during the winter months until his death on January 8, 1942. Rutherford and the Society held the house and property "in trust" for Old Testament "princes," awaiting their return. The property and residence were deeded to these Old Testament individuals. None of the individuals named in the deed as rightful owners of the place (such as Abraham) showed up at Beth-Sarim to claim it, though the Society in print said numerous times that they could be expected to return "any day now." The Society sold the property and residence in 1947. [1] One individual at least claimed to be David of the Old Testament and thus a rightful owner of Beth-Sarim. However, Rutherford didn't believe this "unshaven tramp" (as he called him) was the real McCoy. [2]

Rutherford requested to be buried at Beth-Sarim, but this was denied after his death. The Society began building a burial crypt for Rutherford just below Beth-Sarim [see photos] shortly before his death. After this site was denied by local authorities, the Society proposed a second site which was located on the Beth-Shan property which was adjacent to Beth-Sarim. This second burial spot was also denied. To this day some have claimed that Rutherford was buried secretly at Beth-Sarim or Beth-Shan anyway, even though the Society has stated in print that Rutherford's remains were sent to Brooklyn for burial.

Needless to say, this strange Beth-Sarim story has become a source of ridicule and amusement to Watchtower critics and an embarrassment at times to JWs. The Watchtower printed numerous articles and statements about Beth-Sarim which opposers have used against the Society. In their recent history book, Jehovah's Witnesses Proclaimers of God's Kingdom , the Society felt a need to mention the Beth-Sarim episode, though in a sanitized and somewhat misleading manner. The Society has been silent though about the larger and at least equally important house and property adjacent to Beth-Sarim, Beth-Shan. Even researchers and critics of the Society have been unaware of Beth-Shan and its importance until the past year. Edmond C. Gruss with research help from Leonard Chretien have uncovered ?some of Beth-Shan's secrets. This has been put into Gruss's new book, Jehovah's Witnesses: Their Monuments of False Prophecy.

 

 

Beth-Shan: House of Security

 

Beth-Shan had a larger house than Beth-Sarim built on part of the "hundred acre estate" [3] that the Society owned in San Diego. It was built in 1939, ten years after Beth-Sarim. The Beth-Shan residence was a secret place the Society only mentioned once in its literature. It was sold in 1945, only six years or so after its construction. Why was it built?

 

Beth-Shan in 1945 (aerial photos) (85k)

 

The Beth-Shan deed

The deed to the Beth-Shan house and property were, like Beth-Sarim, made out to Abraham, David, and the other Old Testament "princes." In reading the deed to Beth-Shan, one could get the impression that it is simply Beth-Sarim, part II --the two deeds are very similar. Both of the residences and property were held in "trust" by the Watchtower Society's leaders for the Old Testament "princes" awaiting their return. The deed to Beth-Shan stated in part:

TO HAVE AND TO HOLD FOR THE FOLLOWING PURPOSES, to wit: Whereas the grantor herein W. P. Heath Jr., was entrusted with the duty and obligation of improving the premises hereinbefore described, and a number of persons... furnished the money for the purpose of improving said premises, and

WHEREAS the said W. P. Heath, Jr.... has erected a house and other improvements..., and

WHEREAS the grantor and the other parties interested, and who have contributed toward the improvement of said premises, thoroughly believe and expect the return of faithful men to earth who are hereafter named and who according to the Scriptures (Psalm 45:16 and Isaiah 32:1) shall be made the visible rulers on earth, and desire to prepare said property for them.

NOW THEREFORE this trust is created and said trustee shall hold the title to said property in trust for the use and benefit of the following named persons, whose names appear in the Bible at the book of Hebrews, chapter eleven, verses one to forty, to wit: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Sampson, Jephthae, David, Samuel,

Until such time as the aforementioned persons return and identify themselves to the legal representatives of the said WATCH TOWER BIBLE & TRACT SOCIETY and the consent of said Society take possession and control of said premises, the President of the WATCH TOWER BIBLE & TRACT SOCIETY shall have the right and be duty bound to direct the management and use of said premises hereby conveyed and to determine who shall be in possession and have the active management thereof. [4]

 

The Society's only known comment on Beth-Shan

As stated above, the Society only mentioned Beth-Shan once in its literature. This was in the May 27, 1942 Consolation magazine (now called Awake! ). In its long article on the court battles over Rutherford's burial request, they mentioned the location of the second proposed burial site as being on their Beth-Shan property:

The judge decided to continue the case so that the new site could be brought before the Planning Commission... the second plot was a proper place for burial.... The Planning Commission, who deliberated for more than two weeks, investigating the site, was haled before the court, and denied the second application for a cemetery.... New location for interment was almost in the center of the property known as Beth-Shan, which is roughly 75 acres of canyon and mesa land, adjoining Beth-Sarim but separated by a half-mile width of canyon. This property, also belonging to WATCHTOWER, has one small and one large dwelling on it and a few outhouses, and consists of some fruit trees and other cultivated patches in aggregate about seven acres, and about 65 acres of unreclaimed brush, either too steep, or rocky, or inaccessible for development.... Judge Rutherford, in a discussion before his death, had said that as a second choice he wished to be buried somewhere on these wild acres. In order that all the objections made in regard to the first site near to Kensington Heights might be removed to this new site, it was requested that only a ten-foot-square cemetery be granted. The spot was also inaccessible except by a private road a half mile long and closed by a gate. [5]

This only known reference to Beth-Shan was given in the context of trying to show that their second requested site for Rutherford's burial in a one-man cemetery near an exclusive residential area was reasonable. They pointed out that it was almost at the center of 75 acres of "canyon and mesa land," 65 acres of which were composed of "unreclaimed brush, either too steep, or rocky, or inaccessible for development." They further pointed out that these "wild acres" were "inaccessible except by a private road a half mile long and closed by a gate." According to Fred Eason, who was later to purchase some of the Beth-Shan property and residence (discussed below), the dirt road which was accessible through a gate, was also guarded by JWs, so unauthorized individuals couldn't enter. He first stumbled onto the Society's building of the Beth-Shan residence while he was looking for "Young's Cave," a series of man-made caves or tunnels in the area. He was "rebuffed" by "several men on horseback" and watched the building of Beth-Shan from a different side of the mesa canyon. [6]

These admitted facts raise the question of why the Society deemed it necessary or appropriate to purchase this nearly "inaccessible" property, build two "dwellings" on it and try and keep it all secret (except for the above mysterious or brief mention), even guarding and gating its sole, dirt road access. They apparently even tried to cover up what they were doing when rumors of Beth-Shan's existence circulated among JWs in early 1940 (see "False Reports" below).

The answer that makes the most sense to me is the Beth-Shan property and residence was what is now commonly called a "cult compound." Many cultic groups in the United States in recent years who have believed that Armageddon is about to break and will find their little group at the center of the action (or at least the reason for it), build remote or barely accessible and well guarded and protected buildings in the "boon-docks," not metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles or New York (the Watchtower Society's world headquarters is in Brooklyn, NY). They believe Armageddon will involve world-wide war, perhaps nuclear, and those groups who believe only their little group will make it through tend to build fallout and bomb shelters to protect their small following or at least their leaders who will emerge leaders on the New Earth. Major metropolitan areas will be the first casualties, so to the mountains and deserts they flee, sometimes building underground residences. Supporting this view of Beth-Shan's purpose is the Society's statements regarding the soon approach of Armageddon and famines, the inaccessibility of Beth-Shan, their secrecy and covering-up its existence and purpose, and the fact that it had two bomb shelters.

 

The Beth-Shan bomb shelter

The main building on the Beth-Shan property, referred to as a "large residence" in the May 27, 1942 Consolation, had a secret bomb shelter as a "basement." Its only access was "through a secret trap door and stairway." (Gruss, p. 74) It was 10 feet by 20 feet with lots of storage shelves.

 

The goat barn bomb shelter

Another building, a "goat barn" had a secret bomb shelter as well. It was a long building apparently used to house goats. At the rear of the building was a bathroom. Fred Eason bought 30 acres of the Beth-Shan property including the goat barn. In a letter to Ed Gruss he wrote of its bomb shelter:

To enter the shelter one would go to the small bathroom area at the rear of the building, open the medicine cabinet, and pull a concealed lever inside. A section of the wall would spring open, revealing a stairway down into what can only be identified as a bomb shelter--a room about about 30 feet x 15 feet, with a ten foot high ceiling. The walls were lined with storage shelves. The cement ceiling of the room was 3 feet thick!" [7]

Gruss noted in his Monuments book:

A person could go into the bathroom and would never know that the shelter was there. When a house was built on the property in 1967 it was placed on the lot so as to keep the shelter intact, and it still exists today. [8]

The goat barn's shelter was rediscovered in the 1960's when the land was bulldozed during further development of the area. (See this aerial photo of the Beth-Shan residence area that was being developed in the 1960's, revealing the shelter's "roof".)

These bomb shelters and the .007 manner in which they were accessed reveal the paranoid-like secrecy with which the Society approached the Beth-Shan residence.

 

Armageddon paranoia

Apparently, the reason for the Society purchasing the Beth-Shan property and incorporating bomb shelters in its buildings was their "new light" from Jehovah God concerning the soon approach of Armageddon and what that would entail. In 1938, Rutherford began to give speeches and write Watchtower articles stating that Armageddon was so close that getting married and having children were inadvisable. One Golden Age article stated that even having sex was out of the question as it was a Satanically fostered activity anyway! [9] Also from 1938 on, Rutherford stated that a Fascist/Roman Catholic Hierarchy led "totalitarian combine" was then in existence and would soon control England and America as well as the other major world powers:

When the totalitarian Catholic combine gains control of the British Isles, which it is certain to do, then all the liberties of the people will be at an end.... What will be the condition when all nations become totalitarian?.... The totalitarian combine is going to get control of England and America. You cannot prevent it. Do not try. [10]

In 1941, starting with his "Comfort All That Mourn" speech, Rutherford proclaimed that Jehovah God was revealing to him (through angels inaudibly transmitting thoughts into his mind) the correct interpretation of Daniel chapter 11. The two "kings" there described were currently on earth fulfilling this prophecy. WWII would lead to Armageddon. This was further elaborated in the "Demon Rule Ending" series of articles which appeared in the September 15 to December 15, 1941 Watchtowers , some of the last material the "Judge" authored:

Jehovah revealed to his people that the "time of the end" began in 1914.... Now the Lord reveals to his people the meaning of Daniel's prophecy.... The Lord has revealed to his people the identity of the two "kings" that are now contending for world domination... [11]

As to the final result, Jehovah has made that plainly to appear, and the WATCHTOWER understands... [12]

That battle of the great day of God Almighty will bring the demons' rule to its final end..... Thus the end for ever of Nazi-Fascist-Hierarchy rule will come, and that will mark the end forever of demon rule. It is in the days of these dictatorial powers... that the God of heaven will bring into action his kingdom, THE THEOCRACY. [13]

 

The Next War: famines and poison gas

As I have documented earlier, the Watchtower Society in the 1920's and 1930's believed that the "next war" would lead to Armageddon and result in the Theocracy or Kingdom of God on Earth. They believed it would be a war fought primarily or exclusively in the air with poison gas and bacterial (germ) bombs which would obliterate most life on earth. For example, they said:

... the next war will be a completion [of the First World War] and therewith an annihilation! There will be poison and explosion everywhere, beneath the whole canopy of the heavens.... Poison will be mechanically wafted forward and backward by unmanned airplanes, going up into the atmosphere and descending to the earth. [14]

The compact, thickly-populated, highly -industrialized centers of civilization will be drenched with gases, bathed in a liquid-fire and sown with bacteria. Unquenchable conflagrations will overspread the sky with a blanket of smoke.... Perhaps some previous preparation will have been made of elaborate subterranean tunnels and chambers in anticipation of this awful time. [15]

Apparently, the Watchtower Society did its own preparing for this future calamity in building Beth-Shan (House of Security) with two bomb shelters. Perhaps "Young's Cave" with its series of underground tunnels on the property was an appealing feature in their decision to buy the property!

The reason for the storage shelves in the bomb shelters is they believed that great famines would soon occur world-wide, including the United States. This was also brought out in the "Demon Rule Ending" articles:

A great famine is certain to afflict the many nations of the earth in the very near future. The United States is also in line for much suffering.... the United States is faced with world disaster now impending and about to fall... [16]

 

False Reports?

Apparently rumors spread as they tend to among Jehovah's Witnesses about this secret residence and the Watchtower tried to cover it up in the following announcement in The Watchtower :

FALSE REPORTS

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. Those who are interested in the Theocracy would better be circulating the kingdom message rather than false imaginations of others. [17]

It may be technically true that Beth-Sarim itself was not being enlarged as a place of "security," but the "hundred acre estate" on which it was built was. In fact, Beth-Shan means "House of Refuge" or "House of SECURITY" so the above denial is disingenuous if not a bold-faced lie.

It was the Society who sent out "false imaginations" about the eminent return of the "princes." It was they who told their followers not only to forego marriage and kids, but even sex as Armageddon was only "months" away. Armageddon did not come a few months or even decades later. Beth-Shan was sold only six years or so after it was built, so they themselves quickly abandoned their "expectations." Beth-Sarim was sold a couple years later as well. Abraham and the rest did not show up. If they ever do, the Society's leaders won't be there to greet them. They left decades ago. Beth-Shan was therefore a "monument to false prophecy" as Ed Gruss has called it. Even more serious to me is the fact that if angels were responsible for giving Rutherford these "false imaginations," the Society was under the direction of lying spirits by definition. The Society's leaders and the spirits who informed them proved "unreliable."

It was the Society's leaders it seems who were the real "unreliable persons" responsible for putting out a "false report" in The Watchtower about Beth-Shan, their "house of security" to cover up their secret activity. The fact is, they were building a house of security on property adjacent to Beth-Sarim. Perhaps they felt it was important to keep their "house of security" secret so it wouldn't be an easy target come doomsday. In any case, the fact is they denied the truth of the matter to their trusting followers. JWs today are still totally unaware that Beth-Shan ever existed. The Society has been silent to my knowledge about Beth-Shan since 1942. However, the proverbial cat is now out of the bag for all to see and marvel.

 

 

 

Therefore, do not be afraid of them [Deut. 18:20-22! ]; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.

-- Jesus, Matthew 10:26.

 

 

 

 


Acknowledgments

This study is based on the research of Edmond Gruss, a well known author of books on Jehovah's Witnesses and cults and the occult. Gruss's recent book, Jehovah's Witnesses: Their Monuments to False Prophecy , written based on research help by Leonard Chretien, contains a chapter on this subject and includes numerous photos, the deeds to Beth-Shan, and more. The photos included here are courtesy of Edmond Gruss. Gruss also has two articles which will be published in the Christian Research Journal. One on Beth-Sarim will appear in the Summer, 1997 issue, and one on Beth-Shan will appear in the Fall, 1997 issue. Many Christian bookstores carry the Christian Research Journal.

 


 

 

References and notes:

1. The Watchtower, Dec. 15, 1947, p. 382.

2. San Diego Sun, January 9, 1931, p. 15.

3. Consolation, May 27, 1942, p. 3

4. Book 1075, pp. 42-43, County Recorder; Edmond C. Gruss with Leonard Chretien, Jehovah's Witnesses: Their Monuments To False Prophecy, 1997, pp. 67-69, 250, 251 (hereafter, Monuments ).

5. Consolation, May 27, 1942, p. 9.

6. Telephone interviews between Edmond Gruss and Fred Eason, Dec. 3, 1996 and letter dated Dec. 12, 1996 from Eason to Gruss. Gruss, p. 70. Monuments, p. 70.

7. Monuments, p. 75.

8. Ibid., p. 75.

9. Raines, Ken, "WWII: Armageddon Soon!," JW Research, Spring, 1995, pp. 18-23.

10. Rutherford, J.F., Face the Facts, 1938, pp. 20, 21, p. 27.

11. The Watchtower, December 1, 1941, p. 355.

12. The Watchtower, Dec. 1, 1941, p. 360.

13. The Watchtower, Dec. 15, 1941, pp. 376-377.

14. The Golden Age, April 21, 1926, p. 455.

15. The Golden Age, June 2, 1926, p. 551.

16. The Watchtower, Nov. 15, 1941, p. 343.

17. The Watchtower, June 1, 1940, p. 162.

 

 

 

 

 


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