Monday, October 29, 2007

John Milton's New Fans: The Jehovah's Witnesses

Watchtower Buildings in Brooklyn, New York
(Image from Wikipedia)

On the Milton List that I belong to, one of the participants, Rodney C. Wilson, has generously put online an anonymous article from the Jehovah's Witnesses's magazine The Watchtower about John Milton's Christian Doctrine.

The article is titled "John Milton's Lost Treatise" and was printed on pages 11 through 13 in the September 15th, 2007 issue of The Watchtower: Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom. Wilson informed the Milton List readers:
For those interested, I have scanned the cover of that issue of the WT and the three-page article and uploaded them here (a red, flashing arrow will indicate the file download link).
Wilson also reminded those on the listserve of a previous announcement and provided some additional details:
A few weeks back, there was a brief discussion regarding a three-page article in the September 15, 2007, issue of The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom (WT), published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah's Witnesses). The WT's average printing run is 28,578,000 copies in 161 languages, so Milton definitely got some face-time with this article. Tomorrow and next Sunday, FYI, following the morning's Public Talk, this issue will be used for the Watchtower Study in Kingdom Halls of Jehovah's Witnesses all over the world.

It seems that the Witnesses approve of Milton's doctrinal positions on the Trinity, the subordination of the Son to the Father, and future resurrection as the hope of humankind (as opposed to an immortal soul that does not die). They do not approve of his position on divorce!
I've read the article, and it's not bad as a brief on Milton. It isn't scholarly, of course, but it's accurate enough for popular purposes, and it's quite clear and even asks some of the right questions about the delay in the publication of Milton's Christian Doctrine:
Although Milton had not previously hesitated to express his views, he held off publishing this treatise. Why? For one thing, he knew that its scriptural explanations widely differed from accepted church teaching. Furthermore, with the restoration of the monarchy, he had fallen out of favor with the government. He may therefore have been waiting for quieter times. In any case, after Milton's death, his secretary took the Latin manuscript to a publisher, who refused to print it. The English secretary of state then confiscated the manuscript and filed it away. A century and a half would pass before Milton's treatise came to light. ("John Milton's Lost Treatise," The Watchtower: Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom, September 15, 2007, page 12.)
I don't know the full details on this point, but the article sounds factual enough. The point about the "restoration of the monarchy" might be obscure for people lacking familiarity with British history. Milton was a political revolutionary who supported the removal and execution of the king and the construction of a republic instead. He not only supported this but even worked as Latin Secretary for Oliver Cromwell, the revolutionary leader. So, of course, Milton wouldn't have been very popular when the monarchy was restored. His religious views also would not have been acceptable, as the article notes.

I'm no expert on the Jehovah's Witnesses -- though I did use to talk with a French believer who visited me about once a week for a while when I was living in Tuebingen, Germany. I didn't learn much about their organization or practices but focused upon particular items of interest. I recall that the fellow emphasized that the "cross" upon which Jesus was crucified should be called a "torture stake." This seemed to be a very important point for the Jehovah's Witnesses. I don't know why, for I found the point to be a minor one and told the fellow that I wasn't interested in that.

Anyway, not being an expert, or even superficially knowledgeable, I had to do a bit of digging around online to find out what a "Public Talk" and a "Watchtower Study" refer to. On these two points, I'm actually willing to trust Wikipedia: on the "Beliefs and practices of Jehovah's Witnesses":
A qualified elder or ministerial servant delivers a discourse on a Bible-based subject. The speaker may be from the local congregation or from another congregation, usually nearby. This Public Meeting is generally held on Sundays, but can be on another day if that is more convenient for the congregation (this is most usual when more than 4 congregations share a Kingdom Hall). This talk is particularly directed toward interested members of the public who are not Jehovah's Witnesses, but is of interest to Jehovah's Witnesses as well. This meeting is 45 minutes in length, and is usually followed immediately after (with a transitional song) by the Watchtower Study. ("Beliefs and practices of Jehovah's Witnesses (The Public Talk)," Wikipedia, accessed October 29, 2007)

Following the Public Talk, after the intermission of a Kingdom Song, is the Watchtower Study. The Bible is studied with the aid of an article in the Watchtower magazine. An experienced elder (the Watchtower Study Conductor) leads the discussion from the platform. Each paragraph is read by a 'brother in good standing' and is assigned by the conductor for that week. Questions included in the article for that paragraph are then posed to the audience. After calling on one or more in attendance to answer on that question, the conductor will often ask follow-up questions of his own or offer comments himself before moving to the next paragraph. Many of the numerous scriptures cited in the study article will be read aloud by called-on members of the audience. Four or five review questions are typically asked at the end of an article. The Public Talk and Watchtower Study together usually last 2 hours from opening prayer to closing prayer. ("Beliefs and practices of Jehovah's Witnesses (The Watchtower Study)," Wikipedia, accessed October 29, 2007)
Wilson informs us that "Tomorrow and next Sunday, . . . following the morning's Public Talk, this issue will be used for the Watchtower Study in Kingdom Halls of Jehovah's Witnesses all over the world." Since he sent his email on Saturday, October 27, then I presume that he meant that the Public Talk and Watchtower Study on Milton's views would take place on Sunday the 28th of October and on Sunday the 4th of November. That doesn't leave much advance warning for the 28th, but Gypsy Scholar readers all over the world can attend next Sunday's Public Talk at a local Kingdom Hall and listen to what the Jehovah's Witnesses have to say about Milton.

I wonder if the speakers are first required to read anything by Milton...

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At 8:54 AM, Blogger A.H. said...

"Furthermore, with the restoration of the monarchy, he had fallen out of favor with the government." That's a great under-statement. Milton's notion that a king was a blasphemous idol of the King would have tended to upset the status quo somewhat.

At 8:59 AM, Blogger A.H. said...

I was curious about the article, but didn't care to wait for it to download: it was taking an eternity.

At 9:18 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

From what I know of the Jehovah's Witnesses, they might agree with Milton about the king being an idol, for they dismiss much public ritual concerning government as idolatrous.

On downloading the article, I had to try twice, and the second time was faster and successful.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In 1958, the Watchtower Society published a book entitled "From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained". It was commonly used with children, but was not originally intended to be a children's book, and it gives a JW view of the Bible from creation to Armageddon and the future millennium. The book is best remembered for its graphic portrayal of Armageddon on pp. 208-209 which terrified many a JW child.

At 1:38 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Eklektekuria, thanks for visiting and for the interesting detail.

Was the book From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained dependent in any way on Milton's two, similarly titled poems?

I can imagine that Milton's depiction of Hell would frighten many a child as well...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to but in and say We dont believe in all of Miltons teachings. We follow no man but rely on the scriptures entirely for what we believe and teach. I think the point of the article was to make mention of an individual, that lived long before the Watchtower was ever around, that not only used Jehovah's name freely but stuck to Bible truth to see thru the false teachings of religions of his day. We all should study scripture as hard as Milton did. If he were alive today, do you think he'd be a Witness? I do.

At 5:14 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, thanks for the comment.

I realize that the Jehovah's Witnesses don't agree with everything that Milton wrote -- his views on divorce, for instance (as the Watchtower article noted).

But would he have joined the Jehovah's Witnesses? I rather doubt it. Milton was too independent a thinker. He was more one to split from others than to join groups.

But we won't know until we reach that other shore, where we can ask him...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:47 AM, Blogger Jason said...

Do you know where I could obtain a copy of the book The Complete Prose Works of John Milton, Volume VI Edited by Maurice Kelley and translated by John Carey
New Haven, Yale University Press, 1973?

At 5:23 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jason, you might try Amazon Books. You can do a search there and see what comes up. I located a copy with that title, edited by Kelley, but I wasn't sure if it was volume 6. If you do the search for "The Complete Prose Works of John Milton," however, you'll see a lot of items and can check for yourself which seems to be the right one.

Another possibility is to locate a copy in a university library and ... photocopy it (though this might be against copyright law, depending on where in the world one lives).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your belief that Milton would probably not have joined a group is interesting. In the 17th century I don't think a discernable group that was following the principles Milton advocated could have been found. Although Milton admits that the Protestant Reformation was a step in the right direction, breaking away from the established Christian(Catholic) church fraught with unscriptural practices, the protestants were a far cry from conforming to scriptural truths esp the identity of God and Christ. Milton was one of the few men -since the perversions to scriptural truths were manifest -who had the courage to promote his faith and hope in the scriptures as written. Those who read Milton's Treatise on Christian Doctrine and verify his statements with what the Bible says cannot but agree with most of his doctrinal conclusions. I think you will agree that it was Milton's intention to help right-hearted ones to know the Truth and break away from false religious beliefs and practices. When his works were translated and published in the 19th century, there were many who did prove to themselves the truths that Milton had found in his studies of the scriptures. Charles Tase Russell et al were among those who definitely agreed with Milton and took it a step further. They saw the need to proactively preach the Good News of Milton's findings to others as the Lord commanded in Matthew 24:14 and 28:19,20. So in the 1870's, some 50 years after Milton was published, that work began by those then called International Bible Students and later renamed Jehovah's Witnesses in 1931. I believe that John Milton would have rejoiced in knowing that some 6.7 million Witnesses are teaching people in more than 236 lands the truths that he found in the Bible. I you like, you can contact me personally at

At 8:34 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous (or "Larry"?), thanks for the interesting comment.

I found most interesting this bit of information:

"Charles Tase Russell et al were among those who definitely agreed with Milton and took it a step further. They saw the need to proactively preach the Good News of Milton's findings to others as the Lord commanded in Matthew 24:14 and 28:19,20."

If I understand correctly, you're saying that Charles Tase Russell read Milton and was at least partly motivated to study the Bible more deeply and also to reveal what Milton had learned?

Did Russell also read Milton's Christian Doctrine? Did he know that Milton rejected the Trinity? Has anyone written on a link between Milton and the Jehovah's Witnesses? That sounds like a good topic for some original research.

Thanks for visiting, by the way, and for any answers to these questions.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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The following will provide THE BEST and MOST ACCURATE info about Jehovah's Witnesses, their beliefs, and how they actually practice such day to day.


The following website summarizes over 500 U.S. court cases and lawsuits affecting children of Jehovah's Witness Parents, including 350 cases where the JW Parents refused to consent to life-saving blood transfusions for their dying children:


The following website summarizes over 500 lawsuits filed by Jehovah's Witnesses against their Employers, incidents involving problem JW Employees, and other secret JW "history" court cases:


At 3:57 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, the websites will probably be useful to some readers, but do these sites provide any information on the topic of this blog entry, namely, John Milton and the Jehovah's Witnesses?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:23 PM, Blogger tom sheepandgoats said...

The "lawsuits" comment has been posted hundreds of times on sites (including mine) that make mention of Jehovah's Witnesses. The author apparantly does not care for them.

I don't think the Milton article meant to imply that Russell or the JW organization was swayed by Milton's writings. Rather, Watchtower publications frequently highlight historical figures who've had scriptural views which dovetail with their own. For example, Isaac Newton, who wrote more on religion than on math and science combined, also took the trinity teaching to task.

As you or your readers may have discovered by now, although that issue of the Watchtower was up for consideration at that week's meetings, it was not that article. Each issue of the Watchtower contains two or more "study" articles, and others articles of general interest. The article about Milton was one of the latter.

I appreciate your description of the article: It isn't scholarly, of course, but it's accurate enough for popular purposes, and it's quite clear and even asks some of the right questions about the delay in the publication of Milton's Christian Doctrine:

The magazine circulates among the general public, most of whom are not scholars. It is our intent, not to talk over their heads, but to be "quite clear" and ask the "right questions."

Yours was an interesting post.

At 10:38 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Tom Sheepandgoats, for clarifying some points.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:40 AM, Anonymous TheSeventhTrumpet said...

As a Jehovah's Witness i can say that Milton was so close to our views about God and the Church. When the Watchtower article was studied during our meeting in the kingdom hall, an old brother told that Milton might have been one of the 144,000 anointed Christian saints who go to rule with Jesus in Heaven(Revelation 14:1).These saints according to the Bible and the Witnesses too, are a link between the first century church of the apostles and the modern day church. Whether Milton was one of them or not, i can clearly say that he was definetly a person who loved Bible Truths even and he tried to search for more. I would think Milton as a spiritual brother in the Lord.

At 8:55 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Seventh Trumpet, for the comment.

Jeffery Hodges

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