August 24, 2005 was a day of reflection for me after I learned that two more men were appointed to be part of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I read the information on the Internet discussion board, Jehovahs-Witness Discussion Forum. The poster, who goes by the name of “truthsetsonefree,” started a new discussion topic, “Hot News-New GB members,” where he repeated the announcement made at Bethel that morning of the appointments of Geoffrey Jackson and Anthony Morris to be part of the Governing Body.1
As interesting as that announcement was, what really caught my eye were some of the comments made by other posters, specifically one person who posts by the name of “Truthseeker.” Truthseeker had copied a post made on August 31, 2001 by Maximus. The name of the subject which Maximus started way back then was, ‘Food at Proper Time: Insider’s Insight from Barbara.’2 Here “Maximus” (an ex-Bethelite and former circuit overseer), with my permission, posted a private email from me, although he did edit some of my statements and they read harsher than I intended. My insights came from spending almost eleven years at Bethel, and observing first hand the Engineering Department and the Writing Department.
When I went back and reread Maximus’s 2001 thread, I noticed that many posters back then were curious about the “Nethinim” (meaning Given Ones) concept introduced back in the April 15, 1992 Watchtower, a concept I called “ridiculous” and a “hoax” in my email to Maximus. Although many posters had questions after they read my words about the Nethinim, I did not give out any clarifying information at that time. However, Maximus was specifically called upon for his review of the Nethinim teaching, to which he replied that he had…
“No stomach for reviewing that Nethinim thing again. It’s simply a strained analogy that proved more embarrassing than important. Are there assistants? Of course. What’s stupid was to trot out that ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’ nonsense as having application in this way, thrilling new light.”
And I certainly agreed with Maximus.
Inasmuch as the appointment of two new Governing Body members on August 24, 2005 had, once again, caused many posters to seek more information about the Nethinim teaching, I decided to post some information not previously revealed as to why I called the Nethinim analogy “ridiculous” and “a hoax,” and to share some heretofore unknown background facts.
Tension in Brooklyn
Bethelites always receive a personal copy of the Watchtower or the Awake! magazine in their Bethel room about one month before subscribers receive their copy in the mail and as much as two months before the cover date of the magazine. We received the April 15, 1992 issue some time around the middle of February 1992. From that Watchtower, we learned how the Nethinim in ancient Israel foreshadowed a few faithful, capable overseers in Bethel whom the Governing Body would select. Their job would be to provide the Governing Body with “some additional assistance.” They would take part in Governing Body committee meeting “discussions and carry out various assignments given them by the committee.”3
For weeks much of the private conversation in the Writing Department centered on this topic with the younger “mature overseers” telling the older “mature overseers” that this one or that one was surely going to be appointed. No one knew exactly what an assistant would be doing, but it would certainly be a feather in one’s cap to get the appointment. Although the actual article itself (pages 12-17), and the detailed announcement on page 31, ‘Assistance for Governing Body Committees,’ were fairly explicit as to their duties, still the question was on the minds of all those concerned, Just how important was the job? The article was clear that, “Their being assigned to work with a committee does not give them a special status,”4 although everyone knew that the “assistants” would indeed have status and, as I had observed, status was important to many men at Bethel!
After consideration of the Daily Text at Bethel on the morning of April 15, 1992, apparently coordinating the announcement with the date of that particular Watchtower, the names of sixteen assistants to the Governing Body committees were read. Later, I came to call that day “Black Wednesday” because, if you will, just imagine the disappointment of the men who were not chosen! From the moment all the “mature overseers from the great crowd who have gained a wealth of ability and experience” in Bethel read that Watchtower in their rooms, they were anxiously awaiting the announcement to see if they were would be one of the ‘selected few’ assistants to the Governing Body, and no more so than the senior writers in the Writing Department where I was assigned to work at that time.5
On that special day in April, Joseph Eames, Robert Pevy, and Gene Smalley were appointed to be assistants to the Governing Body Writing Committee. Later on when I arrived at work, many of us were saddened by the behavior of some of the men who were not asked to be part of this privileged group. As an example, John Wischuck, senior writer, who held one of the most important assignments in the Writing Department as a Watchtower magazine compiler, was so upset he didn’t do a lick of work. He spent his day going from office to office with coffee cup in hand lamenting over his rejection and receiving soothing words from his peers.
Harry Peloyan was visibly upset because he wasn’t chosen. He went to Lloyd Barry and asked him face-to-face why he wasn’t appointed. Lloyd said that Ted Jaracz blocked Harry’s appointment. And Harry knew why. It was because of his doggedness to get the Society’s sexual child abuse policies changed.
Harry told me that Lloyd reassured him saying he wasn’t missing anything by not being appointed because these assistants to the Governing Body would be nothing but paper-pushers and Harry was too important for that. From that day forward, Harry Peloyan, who had been the Awake! editor for many years, was officially given the title of “Editor” by Lloyd. I know for a fact that this was done to pacify a very angry Harry Peloyan. Oh, by the way, I heard that John Wischuck kicked up such a fuss over not being appointed that later, when more men were being asked to be assistants, he was included as one of them!
Origin of the Teaching
Shortly after this April 15, 1992 issue of the Watchtower appeared in our rooms, my husband, Joe, good-naturedly teased Governing Body member, Dan Sydlik, about the new arrangement and the name, Nethinim. Instead of his usual lighthearted banter in response, Dan told us that he was the one behind the idea for the Governing Body to have assistants. He specifically mentioned the need for ‘new blood,’ for men from outside of Bethel to be brought in to serve as assistants to introduce fresh, innovative ideas to the Governing Body. Dan was very plain-spoken to us during that conversation. He told us that the other Governing Body members liked the idea, but instead of bringing in ‘new blood,’ the majority voted to appoint men from within the Bethel ranks. Consequently, they got more of the same—fearful men with narrow and limited outlook, deficient of experience, offering the same unvarying opinions and points of view as before. And Dan let it be known to us that the choice of assistants taken only from the ranks of Bethel men was clearly a disappointment to him.
If the idea for assistants to the Governing Body was Dan Sydlik’s, was the Nethinim (‘Given Ones’) analogy also his? Privately, a Writing Department staff member told me that another Governing Body member, Albert Schroeder (who considered himself to be quite a Bible scholar), came up with the “Nethinim” idea. And having the Governing Body’s full confidence in his ability to present “new light” convincingly, I was told that senior writer, Gene Smalley, was chosen to write the article which eventually was titled, “Jehovah’s Provision, the ‘Given Ones.’ ” Here would be found the evidence that would add to the organizational model—helpers, mainly from the great crowd, and, at that time, only from Brooklyn headquarters, “to share in the meetings of each of the Governing Body committees” who were “modern-day Nethinim.” In this way, “the faithful and discreet slave” class was providing more “life-giving spiritual food” to Jehovah’s Witnesses.6
The most fascinating aspect of all of this was the fact that Gene Smalley’s exegesis, with Governing Body Schroeder’s approval, was viewed by many as unsustainable. How do I know?
One morning, some time in March 1992, shortly after the April 15, 1992 issue of the Watchtower was received by Jehovah’s Witnesses through the mail or at Kingdom Halls across the United States, I met an elderly, disheveled man with a very heavy Jewish accent in Ciro Aulicino’s office. Ciro, who was a Writing Department staff member, told me that this man was a close friend of the Watchtower Society’s President, Fred Franz. At that time, Franz, confined to the Bethel Infirmary, was no longer actively writing books or articles, inasmuch as he was blind and ill due to advanced age. If my memory serves me correctly, Franz’s Jewish friend lived outside of New York City, not too far from Brooklyn. This man was the “expert” Franz would go to when he needed help to explain, translate, or interpret the Hebrew language for many of the complicated interpretive books which Franz (“the Oracle”) wrote for the organization. After the encounter, I questioned Ciro and found out that this man was not an active Jehovah’s Witness; yet, it appeared, he was able to freely come and go in the Writing Department.
I remember the name of Franz’s friend, Barry Horowitz, and I recall his agitation. It was because of the Watchtower article about the “given ones” [Hebrew: nethunim] or Nethinim. He did not agree that these circumcised non-Israelites, who returned to the Promised Land from Babylon and assisted the Levites at the Temple, foreshadowed longtime dedicated volunteers, men mostly not of the anointed group, but of the other sheep, who would be assigned weighty responsibilities under the oversight of the anointed remnant and eventually take the lead among the other sheep after the “great tribulation” was over.7
As I listened to the reasons this man gave for not supporting the Nethinim concept, it appeared to me that there was indeed something amiss. However, I was in a rush that morning and did not stay to hear all of the discussion. But I definitely knew that the Nethinim theory was not credible according to what I had heard. It was much later that I decided to research the subject to satisfy myself.
Who were the “given ones”?
According to the Watchtower article:
The following information is what I found and you can decide for yourself if there were striking similarities between the Nethinim and “men of the other sheep [who] have weighty responsibilities in true worship today.”9
According to McClintock & Strong,10 the name Nethinim (or these “given ones”) was first bestowed upon the Levites because they were “given to Aaron and his sons, i.e. to the priests as an order.” Later, this appellation was applied to any non-Israelite slaves who were “given” to the Levites for service at the Temple, beginning with the Gibeonites. Around nine hundred years before the return to the Promised Land from Babylon, “the Gibeonites, whom Joshua consigned forever to be the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, i.e., the perpetual menial servants of the sanctuary, are the original caste denominated Nethinim in the post-exilian period; As these Gibeonites or sanctuary slaves were greatly diminished by the bloody persecutions of Saul, and in the massacre at Nob, and moreover, as the reorganization and extension of the sanctuary service effected by the royal Psalmist both rendered the work of the Levites very laborious and demanded an increase of the existing staff of menial servants, ‘David and the princes (after him) gave the Nethinim (or these given ones) for the service of the Levites.’ Ezra viii, 20.”
Although the Watchtower stated, “The Levites were given to help the priests,” one important point which was left out is that the Levites were the first Nethinim because they were given (Numbers 3:8) to the priests long before the Gibeonite account (Joshua 9:27) in the Bible. The Levites were descendants of Levi, the third son of Jacob by Leah. The priestly family of Aaron, who also descended from Levi, had as their assistants the rest of the Levite tribe.
So Levites were given as assistants to the Aaronic priests, and later, non-Israelite servants were given to assist the Levites in Temple work.
When David replenished the Temple servants (Nethinim or these given ones), they are thought to have counted in the thousands. Yet, years later, only six hundred and twelve Nethinim returned from Babylon and all had to be coaxed—by a powerful Levite chief who controlled them in Babylon—to get them to return from exile. Once in the Promised Land, some of the six hundred and twelve Nethinim helped to rebuild Ophel because of its proximity to the Temple; while others dwelt with the Levites in their own cities. Yes, they were considered as sacred ministers because they belonged to the Temple, along with all others who performed services there. And, as they were all Temple workers, they were exempt from taxation by the Persian King.
The Watchtower stated that, because the Nethinim were exempt from taxes and assigned living quarters close to the temple:
Further, the Watchtower explains in this same paragraph regarding the Levites and Nethinim that they returned to serve as “ministers for the house of our God,” which almost sounds as if they held lofty positions in the Temple. (Ezra 8:17). However, in the New World Translation footnote for Ezra 8:17, instead of “ministers,” the word “attendants” is found. Two other English translations of this verse, plus Matthew Henry’s Commentary, refer to these returnees as “Temple-servitors” or just “servitors” instead of “ministers.” Webster’s defines servitor as “a male servant.” Random House defines servitor as “a person who is in or at the service of another; attendant.” This conveys a clearer understanding of what non-Israelites were doing at the Temple.
To summarize: Aaron and his priestly Levite family were given the rest of the Levite tribe to be their assistants. These assistants were the first Nethinim. Later, any non-Israelite males who were given to the Levites and priests came to be called Nethinim. However close in proximity to the priests these slaves worked, and whatever perks they were given because they were Temple servants, they still were considered perpetual menial servants. Aside from Aaron’s family, the rest of the Levite tribe might have been a better-fitting analogy prefiguring today’s modern-day counterparts, the “assistants to the Governing Body,” but they would have to be male anointed members of the remnant assisting the anointed Governing Body, who are supposed to have been prefigured by the Levitical priests.
Now note what the Watchtower article went on to state:
So, unlike the priests and Levites who continued to serve among the Jews in John’s day, their counterpart, the remnant of spiritual Israel, the author is saying, will be decreasing in number and their Nethinim-type assistants will increase and grow in number. What about the ancient Nethinim? Can they be used in the analogy here? No, and it appears that the author of the article realized that because he appears to end the analogy with paragraph 21? Why? Because according to McClintock and Strong, page 983, the Nethinim decreased, not increased:
“Eventually they [Nethinim] seem to have been merged in the mass of the Jewish population, as no allusion to them occurs in the Apocrypha or New Testament. Their number, at all event, was then insufficient for the service of the Temple; whence, as Josephus tells us (War, ii, 17, 6) a festival, called Xylophoria, was established, in which the people, to supply the deficiency, were obliged to bring a certain quantity of wood to the Temple for the use of the altar of burnt-offering.”
There is another, even more fatal, flaw in the Watchtower analogy. To work at the Temple, the ancient non-Israelite Nethinim had to be circumcised and conform to the religion of their conquerors. For circumcised foreigners, it was definitely a privilege to work at the Temple, no matter how lowly the job was. Did this mean the privileged Nethinim were viewed by Jews as having a high social position? Absolutely not! And this is made abundantly clear when reading further than apparently the author of the Watchtower article did in McClintock and Strong. Notice on page 982 this important information:
“Though they conformed to the Jewish religion (Ex. xii, 48; Deut.xxix,11; Josh.ix, 9; Neb. x, 28) they [Nethinim] occupied a very low position, and were even ranged below the Mamzer, or illegal offspring, as may be seen from the following order of precedence given in the Mishna: ‘A priest is before a Levi, a Levi before an Israelite, an Israelite before a Mamzer, a Mamzer before a Nathin, a Nathin before a proselyte, and a proselyte before a manumitted [released] slave.’ (Horajoth, iii, 8) The Nethinim were restricted to intermarriage among themselves, and if a Jew or Jewess married one of them, though all the valid ceremonies were performed, the issue shared in all the degrading disqualifications of the Nethinim (Mishna, Kiddushin, iii, 12; iv, 1; Jebamoth, ii, 4); and they were even excluded from being exempt from military service, allotted to newly-married people and to those who were faint-hearted (Deut. xx, 7, 8, with Mishna, Sota, viii, 3-6). If a woman was suspected of being deflowered by any one, or if she had an illegitimate child, it was ascribed to a Nathin, and the offspring took the degraded position of the Nathin, notwithstanding the assertion of the mother that the father of the child was a priest, unless she could adduce proof to support her assertion (Mishna, Kethuboth, i, 8, 9). If a court of justice gave a decision, and one of the members of the court was found to be a Nathin, the judgment was invalid, inasmuch as he was not regarded as a legal number of the congregation specified in Lev. iv, 13; Numb. xxxv, 24 (Mishna, Ilorajoth, iii.1).” [Emphasis added]
As a further example of the muddled thinking behind this “new light,” note the following contradiction:
All the non-Israelites who returned from exile in ancient Babylon parallel the other sheep who now serve with the remnant of spiritual Israel… God today has extended privileges and added duties to some mature and willing other sheep.”14
Therefore it has been decided to invite several helpers, mainly from among the great crowd, to share in the meetings of each of the Governing Body committees…”15
In this context, the terms “other sheep” and “great crowd” are synonymous.16 So, are the Governing Body assistants taken only from among the “other sheep”? On the one hand, they said in the study article, “all the non-Israelites… parallel the other sheep.” In other words, all the Nethinim are “other sheep.” But in the separate ‘Announcement’ they stated that the assistants would be from ‘mainly the great crowd.’ “Mainly,” but not necessarily exclusively. One of the men assigned as an assistant to the Service Committee, Gerrit Lösch, claimed to be anointed and two years after the announcement about assistants to the Governing Body being appointed, on July 1, 1994, he was appointed to the Governing Body.17
Of course, the majority of “given ones” are “other sheep” and have no immediate prospect of being appointed to full Governing Body membership. It will be interesting to see whether, over time, the distinction fades.
In light of the above information, there is no doubt that these facts highlight the unsoundness of the analogy claiming that the ancient Nethinim foreshadowed “men of the other sheep [who] have weighty responsibilities in true worship today,” and who will be “‘princes’ prepared to take the lead among the other sheep.”18
The non-Israelite Nethinim was not an important member of Jewish society, and his social position was lower than the lowest illegal offspring of a Jew. Nethinim were not assigned weighty responsibilities in true worship and were not “as princes” taking the spiritual lead in Jewish society or in the Temple. Accordingly, how could Nethinim foreshadow or prefigure the assistants to the Governing Body, who are next in command to the anointed remnant, some even becoming members of the Governing Body? It is no wonder that Fred Franz’s Jewish friend was irritated with this premise as spelled out in the April 15, 1992 issue of the Watchtower. Hence, Maximus’s words quoted in the beginning of this essay bear repeating:
“No stomach for reviewing that Nethinim thing again. It’s simply a strained analogy that proved to be more embarrassing than important. Are there assistants? Of course. What’s stupid was to trot out that hewers of wood and drawers of water nonsense as having application in this way, thrilling new light.”
Accordingly, all Jehovah’s Witnesses should be irritated by the facts regarding this strained analogy. They should be embarrassed by this deceitful presentation of a nugatory subject and ask themselves, What was the rationale behind the Watchtower writer, with the approval of the Governing Body, to use such a flawed analogy anyway? Furthermore, this author suggests that Jehovah’s Witnesses give some thought to how the following words may apply to the men who are responsible for this exegesis and also of the more critical tenets of their faith, some of which could be life and death matters:
“The person faithful in what is least is faithful also in much and a person unrighteous in what is least is unrighteous also in much.” Luke 16:10
This article written by Barbara Anderson was originally posted on Freeminds.org
This very distinct difference of usage perhaps indicates that, while Gene Smalley wrote the article, the ‘Announcement’ was prepared by someone else, perhaps someone in the Service Department (note Kingdom publisher numbers, and expressions similar to those used in Our Kingdom Ministry). This could only have been done under the direction of the Governing Body member who directly oversees that department, and who might have desired to use this new arrangement as a ‘proving ground’ for potential new Governing Body members. All subsequent Governing Body appointees have first spent time as assistants, e.g.. Gerrit Lösch, Sam Herd, Guy Pierce, Stephen Lett, David Splane, Geoffrey Jackson and Anthony Morris.
Inasmuch as all of these men were of the “other sheep” class, and since they were living in the last days and expected to live through the “great tribulation,” that would have made them part of the “great crowd” of “other sheep.” In time, each man came to believe he was called to become part of the “anointed remnant.” And that calling could make him available to become a member of the Governing Body. Hence, the “Given Ones” arrangement could prove to be a ‘proving ground’ for potential new Governing Body members. But, does this mean that anointed “Given Ones,” who were once part of the great crowd, will survive Armageddon? And just think, all of this difficult to comprehend doctrinal labyrinth can be attributed to merely trying to explain that the ancient Temple servants, foreshadowed and paralleled, “mainly from among the great crowd, ” those who would become assistants of the Governing Body.