Recent Finds: Why Russell Distanced Himself From Rutherford’s “Great Battle”

Recently we posted a link to Rutherford’s “SPICY” booklet, and the first mention of it in the May 1, 1915 Watch Tower. That post highlighted how Russell distanced himself from the booklet and its publication. He offered the advertisement for it, but only after making it clear that he himself hadn’t read it.

The booklet referred to is, of course, “A Great Battle in the Ecclesiastical Heavens.” We linked to a copy on .

It’s also available on along with a lot more interesting documents that Barbara Anderson has collected, which can make for some very interesting historical reading by and about the Watch Tower Society. You’ll find it in the 1900-1919 section: .

In our post we mentioned that Russell might have distanced himself from the booklet for “legal” reasons. Some additional speculation on that subject is found in a discussion on JWN. We have permission from some of the people involved in that thread on JWN ( ). The relevant post (from 9 years ago) is reproduced below, although the rest of the thread is quite interesting for other reasons:


Gamaliel  9 years ago

Russell needed to distance himself from Rutherford’s “Great Battle in the Ecclesiastical Heavens” for seveaal reasons. It compared him to Jesus (“SAME OLD GAME OF THE PHARISEES AGAINST ONE MAN”). It obliquely labeled his wife as a “persecutor” of Christians ultimately because a judge was convinced she was telling the truth in court. (“EVEN GOOD JOHN WESLEY’S WIFE JOINED HIS PERSECUTORS”) 

The great and good John Wesley was another victim his own wife joining his persecutors. The same Pharisaical class defamed the Lord Jesus when He was on earth. They called in question the legitimacy of His birth, applied all manner of vile epithets to Him, denounced Him as an enemy of the government, and finally caused His crucifixion.

It included a hatred of Catholics that Russell was always careful to back away from. (“PAPAL ROME AND HER MONGREL PROGENY AGAINST ONE MAN”) 

Also, it included the common “worship” of Russell that Russell’s followers were infamous for. Russell was always careful to accept this worship with mock humility. 


Then of course it tries to cover over Russell’s various “scandals” and likely gives untrue reasons by way of explanation. For example, the move from Pennsylvania to New York seems contrived, based on exact timing and other factors, to avoid monetary payments due his wife. The NY Corpororation and People’s Pulpit is defended for other reasons. Same goes for the defense of Russell’s “United States Investment Company”. In the same context the booklet tries to explain how Russell, who admittedly had “a quarter million dollars” had put it all into religious work and corporations. (And, for those who knew the specifics, it would therefore “go without saying” that he had truthfully claimed to have very little with which to compensate his wife, who had just been awarded damages by the court for Russell’s ill treatment and mental cruelty.) 

Russell was no doubt aware that Rutherford had taken some liberties to defend Russell against any possibility of truth in the claims of his wife. If the court transcripts are read carefully, Russell actually acknowledges some of his wife’s claims up to a point by acknowledging the alleged circumstances but putting a different spin on how he had got himself into those circumstances. Rutherford goes so far as to publish some of the actual claims against Russell which was probably a legal mistake in the long run. It made it harder to ever cover up the specifics. For example, the book includes the following under the heading “THE GREATEST FISH STORY EVER MANUFACTURED”: 

Upon the trial of this cause Mrs. Russell testified that one Miss Ball had stated to her that her husband said, “I am like a jelly-fish, I float around here and there. I touch this one and that one, and if she responds I take her to me, and if not I float on to others.” 

All this matter the Court struck from the record and would not permit it to go to the jury. In his charge to the jury the Judge said: “This little incident about this girl that was in the family, that is beyond the ground of the libel and has nothing to do with the case because not being put in it, and it was condoned or allowed to pass.” 

It is manifest that this “jelly-fish” story was entirely the product of Mrs. Russell’s imagination, and other facts which appear in the record conclusively show that it could not have been true. 

Pastor Russell emphatically denied that any such thing ever occurred. It would seem unreasonable that any man would make such a statement about himself. 

But the most conclusive facts disclosed by the record showing her statement to be untrue are these: Miss Ball came to them in 1889, a child of ten, and was taken into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Russell. She was treated as a member of the family. She was an orphan. She kissed both Mr. and Mrs. Russell good night each evening when she retired. They treated her as their own child. (Court Record, pages 90, 91.) Mrs. Russell testified that the “jelly-fish” incident transpired in 1894, when the girl could not have been more than fifteen years of age.

His [Rutherford’s] legal reasoning is full of non sequiturs. The reason for being struck from the record was not related to its truthfulness or lack thereof. Rutherford cleverly avoids this point. It is not “manifest” to be untrue. The attempt to reduce Mrs. Ball’s age to that of a young child may also be based on Rutherford’s taking advantage of a mistake in the court transcript, not Mrs. Russell’s testimony, per se. However, it misses the point. In the transcripts, Mrs. Russell was actually creating a much more general picture of infidelity that may have indeed included accusations of indiscretions with the opposite sex that could have begun at a younger age than the actual episode in question with Miss Ball. Miss Ball was not the only female mentioned. There was another “unfaithful and indiscreet servant” episode involving a servant girl in the household. Portraying Miss Ball as a young girl and later noting that Mrs. Russell continued to put up with her husband are hardly the concrete proofs that get Russell off the hook. 

As an aside, all good PR men and politicians manage to work their own resume into a praise of someone else. Note this clever little turn that Rutherford managed:

“We are reminded that St. Paul was a practicing lawyer for a time, and a successful one, too, and that he also made tents to provide his temporary necessities. Jesus was a carpenter. Blessed is he that labors.”

St. Paul’s first billing is “lawyer” not “tentmaker”?


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