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Beth-Sarim :: House of Princes

Despite the failures of 1914 and 1925, Rutherford continued stating that the earthly resurrection was about to happen. In 1929, he authorised the purchase of Beth-Sarim, a house for Abraham and other resurrected Princes to live in.

Bethsarim front Bethsarim pool

Concerning Beth-Sarim, the book Salvation explains:

"At San Diego, California, there is a small piece of land, on which, in the year 1929, there was built a house, which is called and known as Beth-Sarim. The Hebrew words Beth Sarim mean "House of the Princes"; and the purpose of acquiring that property and building the house was that there might be some tangible proof that there are those on earth today who fully believe God and Christ Jesus and in His kingdom, and who believe that the faithful men of old will soon be resurrected by the Lord, be back on earth, and take charge of the visible affairs of earth. The title to Beth-Sarim is vested in the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society in trust, to be used by the president of the Society and his assistants for the present, and thereafter to be forever at the disposal of the aforementioned princes on earth. . . . while the unbelievers have mocked concerning it and spoken contemptuously of it, yet it stands there as a testimony to Jehovah's name; and if and when the princes do return and some of them occupy the property, such will be a confirmation of the faith and hope that induced the building of Beth-Sarim." Salvation (1939) p.311

The Golden Age 1930 included a copy of the Beth-Sarim deed, showing who was expected to take possession of it.

"Both the grantor and the grantee are fully persuaded from the Bible testimony which is the word of Jehovah God and from extraneous evidence that God's Kingdom is now in the course of establishment and that it will result beneficially for the peoples of earth; that the governing power and authority will be invisible to men but that the kingdom of God will have visible representatives on the earth who will have charge of the affairs of the nations under supervision of the invisible ruler, Christ. That among those who will be thus the faithful representatives and visible governors of the world will be David, who was once King over Israel; and Gideon, and Barak, and Samson, and Jepthai, and Joseph, formerly ruler of Egypt, and Samuel the prophet and other faithful men named with approval in the Bible at Hebrews 11th. chapter. The WATCH TOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY shall hold said title perpetually in trust for the use of any or all of the men above named as representatives of God's kingdom on earth and that such men shall have possession and use of said property hereinabove described as they may deem for the best interest for the work in which they are engaged. Any persons appearing to take possession of said premises shall first prove and identify themselves to the proper officers of said Society as the person or persons described in Hebrews chapter eleven and in this deed." Golden Age 1930 Mar 19 pp.400,401

golden age 1930 p.400 Bethsarim Deed     golden age 1930 p.401 Bethsarim Deed
Click on the thumbnails for a scan of the deed as quoted in the 1930 Golden Age.

In 1931, The Messenger contained an article on Bethsarim, with some interesting photos, including Rutherford seated in front of the fireplace.

Click for a 17MB scan of the 1931 Messenger.

Rutherford's imagination that Jehovah was going to resurrect the Princes to live in California shared the American centric views of similar religions such as the Mormons. The Messenger explains that San Diego was chosen, (instead of the Brooklyn headquarters), for its climate.

"The climate is the same as that of Palestine. The place is planted with date and palm trees, such as would be familiar and pleasing sights to these men." Messenger 1931

In 1942 the 'House of Princes' was sold, proving false the statement that it would be "perpetually" and "forever at the disposal of the aforementioned princes." Why did the Watchtower board of directors decide to sell Beth-Sarim? The Watchtower 1947 December 15 explained:

"It had fully served its purpose and was now only serving as a monument quite expensive to keep; our faith in the return of the men of old time whom the King Christ Jesus will make princes in ALL the earth (not merely in California) is based, not upon that house Beth-Sarim, but upon God's Word of promise."

There is very little mention of Beth-Sarim since 1950. In a 1992 Watchtower article, it is referred to in the life story of Sandra Cowan. She relates;

"Often we preached near Beth-Sarim, which was where the ailing president of the Watch Tower Society, Brother Rutherford, had spent the winters before his death in 1942. We visited regularly and had dinner with the full-time servants there." Watchtower 1992 Mar 1 p.27


A second property - Beth-Shan - was purchased next to Beth-Sarim on February 3rd 1939. The only time Watchtower literature ever mentioned it was in the Consolation 1942 May 27 p.3

"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."

Though the Consolation discusses Beth-Sarim in regards to Rutherford's desire to be buried there, the property deed read similar to that of Beth-Sarim;

"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."

It appears that Beth-Shan had a threefold purpose; to house the princes, to be a burial place for Rutherford and to provide protection during Armageddon. Word spread that a bomb shelter was built at Beth-Shan. This was adamantly denied in a 1940 Watchtower.

"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." Watchtower 1940 Jun 1 p.162

The reliability of the Watchtower report is questionable, as it claimed the rumor was about Beth-Sarim, not Beth-Shan, hence avoiding answering whether or not Beth-Shan contained a bomb shelter.


Judge Rutherford smirk

Watchtower's history book, Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, briefly discusses Beth-Sarim, where it is also made to appear to have been purchased predominantly for the health of Rutherford.

""House of the Princes"
Brother Rutherford had a severe case of pneumonia after his release from unjust imprisonment in 1919. Thereafter, he had only one good lung. In the 1920's, under a doctor's treatment, he went to San Diego, California, and the doctor urged him to spend as much time as possible there. From 1929 on, Brother Rutherford spent the winters working at a San Diego residence he had named Beth-Sarim. Beth-Sarim was built with funds that were a direct contribution for that purpose. The deed, which was published in full in "The Golden Age" of March 19, 1930, conveyed this property to J. F. Rutherford and thereafter to the Watch Tower Society." Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom p.76

These descriptions may not be far from the truth. Rutherford summered in Europe and wintered at Beth-Sarim. During the Great Depression he owned two luxury Cadillac's. Whilst it is possible Rutherford believed his own teaching that the end was going to arrive in his life time, the purchase of Beth-Sarim was as much for his own benefit as that of the resurrected princes.

Rutherford was known for excessive use of alcohol, even printing an article against the prohibition in the Watchtower 1924 Nov 1 pp.323-326. Olin Moyle worked as legal counsel for Jehovah's Witnesses during the time of Rutherford. After writing a letter of complaint to Rutherford over issues within Bethel, including Rutherford's excessive drinking and extravagance, Moyle resigned from the position. A court case ensued, described in the Watchtower's publication Consolation 1944 Dec 20 p.21.

The following picture of Rutherford has been regularly used as an example of his intoxication, though it is probable that this is a picture of non-alcoholic root beer. The glasses and dispenser with the pump on top is typical of root beer dispensers from the 1920s and 1930s.

Rutherford wished to be buried at either Beth-Sarim or Beth-Shan. On Rutherford's death Knorr and the Watchtower Society went to court in an attempt to have Rutherford buried at Beth-Sarim. As shown in the Consolation 1942 May 27 insertion below, this was to do with Rutherford's fanciful belief in the return of the "the King of the East" to Beth-Sarim and his need to face "the rising sun" upon that return. Knorr lost the case, but his action postponed Rutherford's burial for three and a half months after he died.

Consolation 1942 May 27 regarding Rutherford's Burial

Similar Groups

Rutherford was not the only person expecting resurrected leaders would want to live with them in America. Genevieve Ludlow Griscom, member of the cult Outer Court of the Order of the Living Christ, had similar delusions of grandeur. In 1928, a year earlier than Beth-Sarim, Griscom built a similarly opulent property at 360W 253rd Street in Riverdale, Bronx for Jesus to live after the second coming. In January 2017 the house sold for $USD 6.25 million. (See New York mansion built for Jesus sells for $AUD8 million 9 April 2017 and Divine intervention? Bronx mansion built for Christ’s return finally sells for $6.2M 6 April 2017)

Written 2007. Latest update May 2017.

creative commons copyright    Paul Grundy  2005 - 2023