“The Rival Prophets”

NEW YORK TIMES, Editorial
March 29, 1903

“The Rival Prophets”

It is definitely settled that this community is to be invaded in October next by the spectacular Mr. Dowie and several thousands of his followers.  Mr. Dowie is the founder of the City of Zion, (Illinois) from which point he says he has projected over Chicago a purifying influence.  The purpose of the invasion is to effect a similar moral regeneration here.  It is timely to recall that Mr. Dowie has proclaimed himself to be in fact the prophet Elijah, though his recognition in that capacity has been rather limited. Some of the Chicago newspapers habitually and familiarly refer to him as ?Lije,? but it is suspected that this is mere ribaldry.  Serious persons out there say he does not show the distinguishing characteristics of the fiery Tishbite.  Although the general incredulity does not seem to embarrass Mr. Dowie, still it is reasonable to suppose that on the eve of his departure for a new and more important scene of activity he must welcome any opportunity to establish his historic identity.  Such an opportunity has presented itself.
Mr. Dowie (as the prophet) has foretold the destruction of all who do not believe in the divinity of his mission; and he has gone out of his way to include the distant Mohammedans in the grand cataclysm.  It happens that the Far East has its own prophets and naturally they consider this attack as contrary to the ethics of the profession.  To maintain their own prestige they must down the arrogant Westerner.  It is an old story that when prophets fall out there is Hail Columbia to pay.  One Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a Mohammedan of Quadian, Gundaspur, India (having 100,000 followers) has issued a challenge which would suit the indisputable Elijah down to the ground.  Popular opinion as to the verity of Mr. Dowie?s claim will depend a good deal on his treatment of this challenge.  Ahmed?s proposition is that the Western prophet and 1,000 of his people shall pray for the early death of the Mohammedan Messiah, while the latter and a similar number of gifted Moslems shall petition for the speedy deletion of Mr. Dowie.  The first of the two to die is to be proclaimed “a liar” throughout the world.

A genuine Elijah would jump at such a proposal.  When the priests of Basil denied the prophetic supremacy of Elijah, he dared the whole outfit (numbering 450 experienced professionals) to a prayer test.  No handicap could dash him.  But one against hundreds, he even deluged with water the woodpile he had pledged himself to burn.  How he reviled the perspiring priests and spurred them on with insults is a matter of record.

That is the kind of prophet Elijah was.  This incident is recalled because Ahmed?s challenge is much like that of Elijah to the priests, and whether the founder of Zion (Illinois) is in error as to his own identity will be determined by his acceptance or rejection of this test.  The Mohammedan is generous rather than fair.  He waives the consideration that he is ten years the elder and he stipulates that death shall be by disease, lightning, stroke or snakebite.  The normal death rate of Chicago is far below that of Qadian, and statistics show 673 deaths from snakebites in India last year and none in Cook County.  Apart from the prayers the conditions favor Mr. Dowie.

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