The excitement for the 6,000 year chronology ending in 1975 and the idea that Armageddon, followed by the Millennium, would begin about then captured the hopes and visions of almost all Witnesses. Viewed 35 years later, it is incredulous that so many of us put our lives on hold for such a non-event as 1975 turned out to be. I explained in the first part of this series how the date was introduced to Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1966 with the publication of the book Life Everlasting — In Freedom of the Sons of God. When nothing happened in 1975, Watchtower leaders were ready with an explanation. The July 11, 1977 issue of Time magazine contained an interview with Frederick W. Franz (who had been Vice-President of the Watchtower Society during the build up of the excitement for 1975). It accurately explains how the disappointment was first explained:
By 1968, the sect’s magazine, Awake!, was proclaiming a new date for Armageddon: “Today we have the evidence required, all of it. And it is overwhelming! All the many, many parts of the great sign of the ‘last days’ are here, together with verifying Bible chronology.” That complex chronology ran like this: Adam was created in the autumn of 4026 B.C., which meant that 6,000 years of human existence would end in late 1975. The 6,000 years would be followed by the Millennium, 1,000 years of “Sabbathlike rest,” just as God rested after six days of Creation and established the Sabbath.
Asked about 1975, Franz now says that the 6,000-year chronology is correct, but the seventh day of Creation did not begin until Eve was created. Thus the date for the End has to be extended by the amount of time between the advent of Adam and of Eve—an interval not yet revealed (previous Witness publications had stated that Adam and Eve were created in the same year).
It’s comical to the point of absurd now to think of it, but this interval between the time of the creation of Adam and Eve became a big deal for us. It was used by Watchtower leaders as a way to hold onto the 6,000 year chronology and an imminent Armageddon, while allowing some “wiggle room” as the months and years ebbed by after 1975. (Nowadays, there is little mention of the 6,000 year chronology in Watchtower publications, let alone concern about the passage of time between Adam and Eve’s creation. I doubt any JWs really believe Adam was alone in the Garden of Eden for over 35 years before he met Eve!)
We started hearing about the “Adam and Eve” problem in early 1975. Early that year, Watchtower president Nathan H. Knorr and Vice-President Fred Franz did a series of lectures to Witnesses around the world. Fred Franz’s lecture was simply entitled “What is the Significance of 1975?” and was delivered in several cities to Witnesses in special assemblies. While he broached the Adam-Eve gap in his lectures, he remained very upbeat about Armageddon’s nearness. His nephew, Raymond Franz (who later left the religion), describes his uncle’s speech in his masterful memoir Crisis of Conscience:
In his talk, the vice president spoke of 1975 as a “year of great possibilities, tremendous probabilities.” He told his audience that, according to the Hebrew calendar, they were “already in the fifth lunar month of 1975,” with less than seven lunar months remaining. He emphasized several times that the Hebrew year would close with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, on September 5, 1975. Acknowledging that much would have to happen in that short time if the final windup was to come by then, he went on to talk about the possibility of a year or so difference due to some lapse of time between Adam’s creation and Eve’s creation. He made reference to the failure of expectations in 1914 and 1925 and quoted [Joseph F.] Rutherford’s remark, “I made an ass of myself.” He said that the organization had learned not to make “very bold, extreme predictions.” Toward the close, he urged his listeners not to take an improper view, however, and assume that the coming destruction could be “years away,” and focus their attention on other matters, such as getting married and raising families, building up a fine business venture or spending years at college in some engineering course. (page 249)
Even if we weren’t making plans for our own future, the Watchtower Society was thoroughly busy with its own plans. In early 1975 the Watchtower Society bought the Towers Hotel at 25 Clark St., which about doubled the living space for the Bethel family. A massive remodeling of the Towers building was begun that year with volunteer Witness labor and it was connected to the other Watchtower residence buildings on Columbia Heights via a tunnel under 86 Willow St. There were several non-Witness tenants who had been living in the Towers on a long-term basis who found themselves pressured to move out of the building to make way for future Bethelites who would come to help publish warnings about a near Armageddon and the upcoming Millennium. Their sad story is documented in Barbara Grizzuti Harrison’s Visions of Glory: A History and a Memory of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pp. 136-138.
There had been, of course, some cautionary statements in Watchtower publications about the year 1975. Those were well known. About 1974, some specific back-pedaling about 1975 began. I took part in a District Convention presentation in 1974 in Pullman, Washington which cautioned Witnesses not to be dogmatic about 1975. But, those of us who took the religion seriously had no doubts regarding the essential concepts of the 6,000 year chronology. Not one of my friends believed we’d be here in 2010, looking back 35 years and this old world still rockin’.
At the factory, when we started making the 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, we joked that its army-green cover was actually “Armageddon green.” The Bethel family first heard Vice President Fred Franz’s explanation of the “Adam and Eve” gap in March of 1975 at a lecture he gave for the graduation ceremonies for the Gilead missionary school. His lecture incorporated the points he had made earlier in his global tour mentioned above. As much as I believed in the 6,000 year chronology we then espoused, I thought Fred Franz’s lecture was “over the top.” He pinpointed September 5, 1975 as the exact end of the 6,000 years from Adam’s creation. I thought of all the uncertainties there had to be to begin with in biblical chronology, let alone determining the exact date of Adam’s creation. I remember I had laughed when I first heard of how Anglican Archbishop Ussher had determined that Adam was created on a Sunday, the early evening preceding October 23, 4004 BC. Here, Fred Franz was trying to do the same thing but using his chronology. At least he wasn’t specific about the time of day! There were other Bethelites similarly troubled. A good friend of mine, borrowing from a line in the song “Maria” from The Sound of Music quipped: “Freddy makes me laugh.” The May 1, 1975 Watchtower reported on Fred Franz’s lecture:
Another speaker, F. W. Franz, the Society’s vice- president, forcefully impressed on the audience the urgency of the Christian preaching work. He stressed that, according to dependable Bible chronology, 6,000 years of human history will end this coming September according to the lunar calendar. This coincides with a time when “the human species [is] about to starve itself to death,” as well as its being faced with poisoning by pollution and destruction by nuclear weapons. Franz added: “There’s no basis for believing that mankind, faced with what it now faces, can exist for the seventh thousand-year period” under the present system of things.
Does this mean that we know exactly when God will destroy this old system and establish a new one? Franz showed that we do not, for we do not know how short was the time interval between Adam’s creation and the creation of Eve, at which point God’s rest day of seven thousand years began. (Heb. 4:3,4) But, he pointed out, “we should not think that this year of 1975 is of no significance to us,” for the Bible proves that Jehovah is “the greatest chronologist” and “we have the anchor date, 1914, marking the end of the Gentile Times.” So, he continued, “we are filled with anticipation for the near future, for our generation.”
This new uncertainty about the 1975 prediction was quickly noticed by the press. John Dart’s article, “Jehovah’s Witnesses Backing Away from 1975 Forecast,” published by the Los Angeles Times, was picked up by several newspapers throughout the country. As can be imagined, Witnesses were poked fun at, such as this piece by an editorial writer for the Spokane, Washington Spokesman-Review, entitled “First the Good News”. A couple of the jabs:
The Jehovah’s Witnesses, according to the Los Angeles Times, once again last week postponed the end of the world. The stock market promptly plummeted 17 points….Reports were vigorously denied that the postponement had been caused by pressure from the television networks, who feared the event would conflict with Monday Night Football….Unfortunately, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have not publicly rescheduled the event. But the trial run has served to prepare the nation’s media.
Later, as September 5, 1975 passed by unnoticed by the world, newspapers carried articles from news services such as “End of the World Delayed Again” , published September 21, 1975 in the Boca Raton News.
Many of us realized, though, that this “Adam-Eve” gap was nothing new. The February 1, 1955 Watchtower (pp. 93-95) had made the same points about this gap. In 1963, the Watchtower Society specifically referred to the unknown time between Adam and Eve’s creation on page 286 of All Scripture is Inspired of God and Beneficial. Referring to the 4026 B.C.E. date for Adam’s creation, that book asked:
Of what significance is this today? It means that by the fall of 1963 mankind has dwelt upon this earth 5,988 years. Does this mean, then, that by 1963 we had progressed 5,988 years into the ‘day’ on which Jehovah ‘has been resting from all his work’? (Gen. 2:3) No, for the creation of Adam does not correspond with the beginning of Jehovah’s rest day. Following Adam’s creation, and still within the sixth creative day, Jehovah appears to have been forming further animal and bird creations. Also, he had Adam name the animals, which would take some time, and he proceeded to create Eve. (Gen. 2:18-22; see also NW, 1953 Ed., footnote on Vs. 19) Whatever time elapsed between Adam’s creation and the end of the ‘sixth day’ must be subtracted from the 5,988 years in order to give the actual length of time from the beginning of the ‘seventh day’ until now. It does no good to use Bible chronology for speculating on dates that are still future in the stream of time.
We had begun “speculating on dates that are still future in the stream of time” 3 years later! Soon after, in 1968, a couple of years after the first mention of 1975 in Witness publications, the Watchtower Society changed any doubt about such a gap, stating that Adam and Eve were created in the same year — 4026 B.C.E. — and the difference between Adam and Eve’s creation was greatly minimized:
Thus, Adam’s naming of the animals and his realizing that he needed a counterpart would have occupied only a brief time after his creation. Since it was also Jehovah’s purpose for man to multiply and fill the earth, it is logical that he would create Eve soon after Adam, perhaps just a few weeks or months later in the same year, 4026 B.C.E. After her creation, God’s rest day, the seventh period,immediately followed. Therefore, God’s seventh day and the time man has been on earth apparently run parallel. To calculate where man is in the stream of time relative to God’s seventh day of 7,000 years, we need to determine how long a time has elapsed from the year of Adam and Eve’s creation in 4026 B.C.E. From the autumn of that year to the autumn of 1 B.C.E., there would be 4,025 years. From the autumn of 1 B.C.E. to the autumn of 1 C.E. is one year (there was no zero year). From the autumn of 1 C.E. to the autumn of 1967 is a total of 1,966 years. Adding 4,025 and 1 and 1,966, we get 5,992 years from the autumn of 4026 B.C.E. to the autumn of 1967. Thus, eight years remain to account for a full 6,000 years of the seventh day. Eight years from the autumn of 1967 would bring us to the autumn of 1975, fully 6,000 years into God’s seventh day, his rest day. (Watchtower May 1, 1968 p. 271)
Are we to assume from this study that the battle of Armageddon will be all over by the autumn of 1975, and the long-looked-for thousand-year reign of Christ will begin by then? Possibly, but we wait to see how closely the seventh thousand-year period of man’s existence coincides with the Sabbath-like thousand-year reign of Christ….It may involve only a difference of weeks or months, not years. (Watchtower, Aug. 15, 1968, p. 499)
Dropping uncertainties about biblical chronology and proclaiming 1975 as the end of 6,000 years of God’s “rest day” to be soon followed by the Millennium had helped to generate a tangible excitement about the nearness of Armageddon and had nearly doubled the number of Witnesses. Record numbers were being baptized and we were working day and night at the factory in Brooklyn to supply Witness evangelists with literature to distribute door-to-door. We were riding an emotional high of excitement full of confidence in our prophetic expectations. However, as the 6,000 year chronology became questionable, things began to unravel. I suppressed my dismay that we’d gone from an uncertainty about the significance of the 6,000 year chronology (the 1955 and 1963 statements) to certainty (the 1975 predictions based on Adam and Eve being created in the same year), back to uncertainty (the recycled ‘we don’t know when Eve was created, so our chronology is not exact’).
As the year 1975 progressed with no End in sight, suppressed doubts began to surface among many other Witnesses also. Was the End really so imminent? Many of us had said that the exact timing of the End was not important. We had dedicated our lives to Jehovah and we would continue in His Organization regardless. Still, we had made life choices based upon the Watchtower Society’s 1975 chronology. Some of us had passed up higher education. Others had missed business opportunities or used up assets because “the time left was short.” Some Witnesses had deferred marriage or having children. We clung to the idea that our chronology was only off due to the uncertainty between the timing of Adam and Eve’s creation. Maybe Armageddon would come next year. But, several of us Bethel brothers realized also that if the End was decades or more away, we would need to consider how to support a family after our four year Bethel commitment was over. Living in the present world became a reality that had to be faced. Without specialized training or education after high school would many of us be left with low-paying, menial-type jobs?
Next: Leaving Bethel (under preparation)
For further reading on the 1975 prediction:
M. James Penton’s Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pp. 91-101, esp. note 11 on p. 357.
“Time In Which We Are Now Interested” (Lecture given in early 1975 by Fred Franz discussing its significance)
Answers to Questions about the “Last Days” (the Watchtower Society’s current explanation about 1975 — audio and text from the 2009 District Convention)