“The War of the Prophets”

June 15, 1907

“The War of the Prophets”

Now that Dowie is dead and buried, his claims repudiated, and none so hard up for an objurgation as to swear by his heard as that of a prophet, the squabbling over his property, his reputation, and his moth-eaten mantle seems indecent even to those who have always regarded him as an imposter. The following occurred in the newspaper dispatches last week:

“Chicago, June 2- Accompanied by a band which cost  $30 and hour, Wilbur Glenn Voliva, practically deposed from Zion by the Federal Court, today held a revolutionary meeting in a ten just outside the court, the courts laying enjoined him from holding a meeting in Zion Court. It was expected that the tent meeting would be livelier than ordinarily, but Gladstone Dowie, the “unkissed” son of the former prophet, suddenly took the reins in his own hands and put an unexpected crimp in the Voliva plans.

“The Voliva faction has been indulging in many bitter personalities regarding Mrs. Dowie, widow of the prophet and mother of Gladstone. This has become unbearable, and it was learned that similar attacks were to be chief entertainment at the Voliva meeting today. Gladstone, served notice upon Voliva and his adherents that if any more attacks, open or in secret, were made upon him or his mother the case would be carried into the courts, Voliva, who has come to have some respect for the Federal Court, headed the waning, and his meeting today, while well attended, was unusually tame, because its fire had been drawn. Many curious persons from Chicago and the towns surrounding Zion attended the meeting, expecting something sensational, but were disappointed.”

“In the city proper, where General Lewis, under the wing of the Federal Court, is holding forth as the legitimate successor of Dowie, the day was quietly spent with the customary religious services in the tabernacle. Voliva threatens to take his followers and build up a new Zion, preferably in some Southern state, but little heed is given the threat, and his followers are rapidly deserting and rallying to the Lewis standard. The courts are assisting the new overseer in putting Zion on a business basis, and with the removal of Voliva it is expected the people will settle down and regain their former prosperity.”

Old Dowie himself was too much of an egotist to spend any thought on the crows that would caw over his refuse when he was dead.

It is diverting to turn from the scene above described to a publication issued by a rival prophet on the other side of the globe, namely, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who is drawing a bunch of Mohammedans after hum at Qadian, Gurdaspur, India. The publication is a pamphlet entitled “Divine Judgment in Dowie’s Death: or, The Fulfillment of a Grand Prophecy.”

We have previously alluded to the prophecy in the above title. The late Dowie looked upon Mohammed as the prince of imposters; he not only prophesied that Mohammedanism would be destroyed by Zion, but from day to day prayed God for the time when the crescent should disappear. This coming to the knowledge of the Indian Messiah, he spread broadcast a challenge to Elijah II, to meet him and “pray to God that of us two whoever is the liar may perish first.” The Qadian man predicted that if Dowie accepted the challenge “he shall leave the world before my eyes with great sorrow and torment.” If Dowie declined, the Mirza said, the end would only be deferred; death awaited him just the same, and “calamity will soon overtake Zion.” That was the Grand Prophecy: Zion should fall, and Dowie die before Ahmad.

It appeared to be a risky step for the Promised Messiah to defy the Restored Elijah to an endurance test, because the challenger was by fifteen years the older man of the two, and probabilities, in a land of plagues and fanatics, were against him as a survivor; but he won out.

The argument he makes for the fulfillment of his prophecy that God would effect the decease of Dowie is cogent enough to convince the follower of the Promised Messiah, although in our view he weakens his case by stating that Dowie “drank Scotch highballs” and planned a band of seven “vestal virgins” to attend him. For if the founder of Zion indulged and endowed himself as alleged, there might be more of paresis than of providence in his taking off.

The war of the prophets dates from the remote past and will beyond doubt go on as long as there are two of them in the field. In the times treated of by the Bible writers, miracle competitions were held. Aaron, the successor of Moses, entered such a contest, arranged by Pharaoh. He cast down his rod before the monarch, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called the magicians of Egypt, who duplicated the trick, their rods, thrown down, turning likewise into serpents; but Aaron got the decision because his rod swallowed up their rods. After that test Aaron was the Mirza for the children of Israel?s money. Another competition among the prophets was engaged in by Dowie?s predecessor, Elijah. It was a praying match, Elijah being the challenger. He kept the priests of Baal praying ineffectively to their deity, from sun to sun, that they would start the fire in an altar they had prepared, and meanwhile Elijah stood about jibing them with such remarks as “Cry aloud, for he is a god, either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is on a journey or peradventure he sleepeth and must be waked.” He then, after performing certain incantations, lit the fire in his own altar although it had been previously drenched with four barrels of water: and nothing in the narrative supports the criticism of Mark Twain that the barrels, instead of water, contained kerosene, and that Elijah touched a match to the pile.

There is biblical precedent, therefore, for the Mirza’s “defi” to Dowie; there is also precedent in experience for the going to pieces of men of Dowie’s excessive activity and strenuous life. One who makes prediction and lives to se it fulfilled, of the downfall of a modern prophet, is not warranted thereby in setting himself up as another.

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