August 08, 2009

A fresh case study in KJV-only dishonesty

A few years ago, I wrote a post about the history of my exposure to KJV-onlyism: especially the way I have seen the movement's nonsensical claims, when left unchecked, tend to escalate into greater heights of foolishness.

This post generated about 9 or 10 comments. For a relatively low-traffic blog such as mine, that's a pretty decent number. Of course, being a low-traffic blog, once a post disappears from my front page, by rights it's pretty much forgotten, even by me.

Nonetheless, every so often a new comment will pop up on even a 3-and-a-half-year-old post like that one. This happened about two weeks ago, when a poster calling himself/herself "KT" (I assume the latter) wrote:

Oh just thought someone might like to know that in the book The Encyclopedia of Witches & Witchcraft (I know I shouldn't have it...) the Hermes Club is noted and it was clearly occultic through and through and praised in this secular book. W & H [i.e. B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort] were members according to your article. I don't think from the looks of things they were doing too much stuff on Greek and Roman culture in this club!!!

The second edition of The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft1 is available from and has a limited preview of the contents available. While it did not include any pages from the H's, it did at least have the complete index, so I was able to look up any references to the Hermes Club. There were none, although there are multiple references to Hermes, Hermes Trimestigus, and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This aroused my suspicion. Nonetheless, that didn't mean the book said nothing about the Hermes Club, only that it hadn't been indexed.

A quick check of the local public library's online catalogue confirmed that it holds both the first and second editions of The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, by Rosemary Ellen Guiley, so I requested both, and waited for them to be transferred to my local branch. I had the opportunity yesterday to sit down with these volumes and inspect them for myself.

I wasn't surprised with the results. Neither edition mentions the Hermes Club of which B. F. Westcott was a member while an undergraduate. There are multiple mentions of the Greek god Hermes, of course, usually in an entry on some aspect of Greek pagan mythology: not at all surprising in a book on this subject matter. But how can The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft note that it was "clearly occultic and praised through and through" if it doesn't mention it at all?

The following excerpt, however, is notable information from the entry on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which may shed some light on how KJV zealots think:

The key founder of the Golden Dawn was Dr. William Wynn Westcott, a London coroner and a Rosicrucian. In 1887 Westcott obtained part of a manuscript written in brown-ink cipher from the Rev. A. F. A. Woodford, a Mason. The manuscript appeared to be old but probably was not. From his Hermetic knowledge, Westcott was able to decipher the manuscript and discovered it concerned fragments of rituals for the "Golden Dawn," an unknown organization that apparently admitted both men and women.

Westcott asked an occultist friend, Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, to flesh out the fragments into full-scale rituals. Some papers evidently were forged to give the "Golden Dawn" authenticity and a history. It was said to be an old German occult order. Westcott produced papers that showed he had been given a charter to set up an independent lodge in England. The Isis-Urania Temple of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was established in 1888, with Westcott, Mathers, and Dr. W. R. Woodman, Supreme Magus of the Rosicrucian Society of Anglia, as the three Chiefs. The secret society quickly caught on, and 315 initiations took place during the society's heyday, from 1888 to 1896.2

Well, there you go. Guiley says nothing about the Hermes Club co-founded by Brooke Foss Westcott, but it has plenty to say about the Hermetic Order co-founded by William Wynn Westcott. Obviously our friend KT is not telling the truth. Whether she is lying, or reporting unreliably because of sloppy reading, I leave to the Loyal Readers to decide for themselves.

But KT is merely following in the footsteps of KJV-only high priestess Gail Riplinger, who never met a fact she couldn't distort. Gail the Ripper also cannot keep her Westcotts straight. She attempts to connect B. F. Westcott with occultic practices, writing: "Westcott took the wand and relayed it into the 20th century."3 In a lengthy footnote, she then explains how

[t]he articles on Hermetic doctrine in Blavatsky's Theosophical Dictionary "were contributed at the special request of H. P. B. by Brother W. W. Westcott." She mentions B. F. Westcott, the subject of this last chapter, several times in her other books. B. .F. Westcott's son points out that his father's signature was almost always read as W., not B., preceding his last name. . . . The similar identity of these two is not a matter of historical record.

Only at the end of this footnote (and never in the main body of the text) does Riplinger admit:

The connection between B. F. Westcott and the activities attributed to the possible allonym W. W. Westcott are speculation on my part.4

Well, there you have it. In the alternate universe where KJV-onlyists spend their waking hours, similar means same. What matters is not factual accuracy, but how well a factoid supports KJV-onlyism. Supporting the system trumps integrity. So what if the lives of Brooke Foss and William Wynn Westcott are well known, and there's no way they are the same person. Hey, close enough.

So what was the Hermes Club? If we are to believe Riplinger, it was an occultic secret society, as she writes in a section titled "Hermes: Alias 'Satan'":

As a Cambridge undergraduate, Westcott organized a club and chose for its name "Hermes." the designation is derived from "the god of magic . . . and occult wisdom, the conductor of Souls [sic] to Hades . . . Lord of Death . . . cunning and trickery." . . .

Author of the Occult Underground cites Hermes as the entry point of scholars and philosophers into the occult. Westcott's "Hermes" club met weekly for three years from 1845-1848, discussing such topics as, the "Funeral Ceremonies of the Romans," "The Eleatic School of Philosophers," "The Mythology of Homeric Poems," "the Theramines" [sic] and numerous undisclosed subjects.5

Sounds spooky, until we realize that Riplinger is trumping up charges again. All too frequently, reality is quite boring, which is why we need conspiracy theorists to invent a more interesting one. Riplinger frequently cites the biography of Westcott written by his son - usually wildly inaccurately, but I assume she at least takes it seriously as a reliable source. Here is what Arthur Westcott has to say about the Hermes Club:

Westcott's most intimate friends during his career as an undergraduate were J. Llewelyn Davies, C. B. Scott, and David J. Vaughan. These four, together with W. C. Bromhead, J. E. B. Mayor, and J. C. Wright, were the original members of an essay-reading club, which was started in May 1845, under the name of "The Philological Society." At a later date the society took the name of "Hermes." The society met on Saturday evenings in one or other of the members' rooms, when a paper was read, and a discussion, not infrequently somewhat discursive, ensued. The following were the subjects of papers read by my father: - The Lydian Order of the Etruscans; The Nominative Absolute; The Roman Games of (or at) Ball; The so-called Aoristic Use of the Perfect in Latin; The Funeral Ceremonies of the Romans; The Eleatic School of Philosophy; The Mythology of the Homeric Poems; The Theology of Aristotle; Theramenes." . . .

At times the philosophic gravity relaxed, as witnesses the following entry in the minute-book under date 8th May 1848: "Mr. Vaughan having retired to his rooms, and Mr. Davies within himself, the rest of the society revived the ludus trigonalis [i.e. a Roman ball game], and kept it up for some time with great hilarity." Presumably Westcott took his share in this hilarious revival, though it did not form part of the discussion on his paper concerning Roman Games of (or at) Ball. . . .

The last recorded meeting of the society took place on 15th May 1848. . . . Whether the society survived to discuss the character of Philopœmen or not is not apparent. Probably not, for the four faithful members of the club had now graduated. There is an entry in the minute-book which indicates that in March the end was near. Above the initials B. F. W. occur these words: "Let me here offer my heartfelt tribute to a society from which I have derived great pleasure, and, I trust, the deepest good - not least under the feelings of today." The subject that evening had been "The Condition of Women at Rome"; but the discussion had wandered over a wide field, and, in its latest stages, was concerned with a comparison of Plato and Aristotle.6

Well, that's a lot less spooky. The Hermes Club was simply an essay-reading club, formed by some schoolmates, to discuss topics of interest to classics students. When most of them had graduated, the group dissolved. Of course, essays on Roman ball games and Latin verb tenses don't quite convey her negative sentiments, so she simply omits them from her citation.

Riplinger's latest tree-slaughtering missive, Hazardous Materials, promises more of the same. The Highland Host has been reading it (under duress, I am certain) and posting some of his impressions. In his latest, he accurately notes that Riplinger's usual modus operandi is simply to cast her enemies in as bad a light as possible. The general thrust of this new book appears to be to try and discredit any study of the original biblical languages. The most recent issue of the Riplinger Report, her email newsletter, touts HazMat thusly:

Learn about the corrupt source of new versions and the problems with: . . . Greek-English Lexicons by Moulton, Thayer, Danker, and Liddell. . . .

All Greek-English New Testament lexicons plagiarize the first Greek-English lexicon written by Scot and Liddell. He [sic] harbored the pedophile author of Alice in Wonderland (who yet today remains a suspect in the Jack the Ripper case). This lexicographer permitted him to take improper photographs of his daughter Alice, for whom he [sic] named the famous child's story.

I'll leave the historical inaccuracies regarding the relationship between Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, Alice Pleasance Liddell, and her father Henry Liddell to others. I shall pause only to snigger that Riplinger actually takes the claims that Dodgson was Jack the Ripper seriously. I do wonder why she sees the need to discredit Liddell and Scott, as this is the standard lexicon of classical Greek, not the koine dialect of the Bible. Perhaps she feels that studying Aeschylus in the original is just as fruitless. (I wonder which translation of Seven Against Thebes is the inspired one?) But go back up to my citation of the Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, and note that W. W. Westcott consulted with a Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers.

Spooky. Is there a relationship? Can Riplinger trump one up quickly enough for her next book?

Hey, close enough.


1 Rosemary Ellen Guiley, The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft (New York: Facts on File, Checkmark, 1989).

2 Ibid., 156.

3 G. A.  Riplinger, New Age Bible Versions (Munroe Falls, OH: AV Publications, 1993). I do not own a paper copy of this work. Shortly after its publication, and presumably with the approval of the author, a KJV-onlyist fan of Riplinger made an electronic copy of NABV available on his bulletin-board system, which was active for most of the 1990s. Any page numbers I refer to therefore correspond to the electronic copy, and I will also include a chapter number to assist in locating the source of the citation. This quotation appeared on page 852 (in Chapter 30).

Any KJV-onlyist feeling I should cite a more authoritative edition of NABV is invited to remedy the situation, at his expense.

4 Ibid., 866-68 n. 128.

5 Ibid., 809-10 (chapter 30).

6 Arthur Westcott, Life and Letters of Brooke Foss Westcott, vol. 1 (London: MacMillan, 1903), 46-48.