Following my article on why Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate Easter and Tony Browns excellent account of his visiting the memorial meal online, post 1 here, post 2 here, I thought it might be helpful to look at how Witnesses think about the elements of the Christian Pasch, starting with the cross. In their Insight on the Scriptures the Watchtower Society writes:
TORTURE STAKE. An instrument such as that on which Jesus Christ met death by impalement. (Mt 27:32-40; Mr 15:21-30; Lu 23:26; Joh 19:17-19, 25) In classical Greek the word (stau·ros#) rendered “torture stake” in the New World Translation primarily denotes an upright stake, or pole, and there is no evidence that the writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures used it to designate a stake with a crossbeam.—See IMPALEMENT; Int, pp. 1149-1151. The book The Non-Christian Cross, by John Denham Parsons, states: “There is not a single sentence in any of the numerous writings forming the New Testament, which, in the original Greek, bears even indirect evidence to the eﬀect that the stauros used in the case of Jesus was other than an ordinary stauros; much less to the eﬀect that it consisted, not of one piece of timber, but of two pieces nailed together in the form of a cross. . . . it is not a little misleading upon the part of our teachers to translate the word stauros as ‘cross’ when rendering the Greek documents of the Church into our native tongue, and to support that action by putting ‘cross’ in our lexicons as the meaning of stauros without carefully explaining that that was at any rate not the primary meaning of the word in the days of the Apostles, did not become its primary signiﬁcation till long afterwards, and became so then, if at all, only because, despite the absence of corroborative evidence, it was for some reason or other assumed that the particular stauros upon which Jesus was executed had that particular shape.” —London, 1896, pp. 23, 24.
Isn’t that a juicy quote? Don’t you want to know who this authority John Denham Parsons is? I did, so my thinking was side-tracked, as is so often the case when the Watchtower quotes or cites an authority.
John Denham Parsons (1861-1936) was an English writer and Shakespeare theorist (he favoured Bacon as the true author of the bard’s works). To say his works are speculative and eclectic seems an understatement. He was a member of the Society for Psychical Research, and had a great interest in the paranormal. In other words, he was typical of the amateur scholar of his day, an enthusiast for a range of issues.
It was the time of the fraudulent Madame Blavatsky and her Theosophical Society, Annie Besant and her allegedly forged letters form Mahatmas, Spiritualism as promoted and legitimised by the misguided Arthur Conan-Doyle. It was a period when great interest was shown in the ancient and esoteric worlds of Egypt, Greece, Alexandria, of hidden masters, and emerging world teachers. This was the world in which Mr. John Denham Parsons moved.
By now, of course, the name Johannes Greber may have sprung to mind. Between 1962 and 1983 the WBTS quoted Johannes Greber to support its rendering of John 1:1, even though they knew in 1956 that his wife acted as a spirit medium to produce Greber's translation.
As well as his book The Non-Christian Cross, he wrote Our Sun-god, or Christianity Before Christ, in which he links Christianity with ancient sun worship via Constantine, divides Paul from Christ and emasculates the message of the New Testament in an attempt, he writes, to supply the deficiency in our true understanding. I imagine if his book was published today it would carry a title such as, ‘The Lost Message of…’ Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.
Most noteworthy is the fact that the bulk of the entry on Torture Stake in Insight comprises this one quote. Indeed, of the total of 273 words, 202 are given to John Denham Parsons! Which brings us to Psalm 1. Paul, in the New Testament, writes, ‘Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character." (1 Cor.15:33) The Psalmist concurs:
‘Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.’
It does seem the Watchtower isn’t nearly as particular with the company it keeps. Next time we will go on to look at the cross...unless I find another rabbit hole in the warren of the Watchtower.