What Was the Attraction on the Mountain?
by John Kennah
On December 22, 1962, William Branham claimed to have had a vision in which he saw himself and his seven-year-old son Joseph in the desert near Tucson, Arizona. He noticed a group of tiny birds in a nearby bush which soon flew away. Then he saw a flock of larger birds fly past him. As he looked to the west, while still in the vision, he saw what he said were, "five of the mightiest angels I have saw in my life," flying towards him. As they approached, he heard what sounded like a sonic boom in the distant south and thought that this might mean that he was to be killed in an explosion. He dismissed the notion when he saw that Joseph was not affected. Besides, there were five angels before him. A single angel would signify death, he reasoned, but five was the number of grace. He then understood that the angels were there to give him his "new commission." The vision suddenly ended without an explanation of what this commission would be.1
HUNTING AT SUNSET MOUNTAIN
WMB's Campsite at "Sunset Mountain"
3D satellite image from Google Earth
To see a satellite image of the area yourself online, Click Here.
On March 6, 1963, Branham and two friends (Eugene Norman and Fred Sothmann) set out to hunt javelina in a favorite location of his a few miles southeast of Klondyke, Arizona, in a wilderness area roughly 50 miles northeast of Tucson. They set up camp at their usual spot near the north end of Rattlesnake Mesa. Message believers commonly call the area "Sunset Mountain" after WMB referred to the area as such in a sermon in 1965. (Although their location was about 16 miles north of Sunset Peak, the area became known as "Sunset Mountain" after WMB began to call it that in 1965. See the sermon, "What Is the Attraction on the Mountain?" [message #65-0725E] where Branham once correctly identified the area as "Sunset Peak," but for the rest of the sermon he referred to it as "Sunset Mountain." He presumably did this because it fit well with his Message having come in what he believed to be the "evening time" of church history, as well as in reference to the many times the Bible points to important events happening on or at various mountain locations.)
On the morning of March 8, the three men separated to search for game individually. While they hunted, they were startled by a loud blast. When the three reunited, Branham immediately asked his two friends if they had heard the blast. They said they did, and continued hunting without any further discussion of the blast.2
THE VISION IS INTERPRETED
After the hunting trip, Branham returned to his church in Jeffersonville, Indiana, to hold a series of special meetings that he had announced almost 2 1/2 months earlier.3 The subject of the meetings was to be, "The Revelation of the Seven Seals," based on Revelation 5 through 8. From March 18 through 24, Branham devoted seven evening services to teaching his interpretation of the seven seals. During the course of the meetings he claimed that the Holy Spirit swept into his room each day to supernaturally open the seal that he was going to preach on during each respective evening service.4 On the last evening of the meetings, Branham told his followers that he finally knew what the vision from December 22 meant. He said that the two flocks of birds represented two consecutive stages of his ministry, which he called the First and Second Pulls.5 He told his congregation that after he heard the blast while hunting with his friends at Sunset, the Holy Spirit told him to return to Jeffersonville to hold his series of meetings on the seven seals.6 At this time I must point out that since the meetings began, Branham had changed the number of angels he said he saw in his vision from five to seven.7He said the seven angels from his vision represented his journey back to Jeffersonville to preach his revelation of the seven seals at those meetings.8
DISCOVERY OF THE CLOUD
The following May, Eugene Norman showed Branham a curious article in the May 17, 1963 issue of LIFE magazine.9 It reported that a large, ring shaped cloud appeared over Flagstaff, Arizona, and was so unusually high that it remained illuminated by the sun for one half-hour after sunset. At the time of the article, the origin of the cloud was still a mystery. A photograph of the cloud, taken at Flagstaff, accompanied the article.10 On June 1, 1963, Branham commented on the cloud to a small gathering of his followers. His explanation is somewhat vague, but he seemed to say that the photograph depicted the seven angels as they appeared in his vision of December 22.11 He pointed out that the presence of the cloud coincided with the approximate dates of his hunting trip at Sunset Mountain. His explanation began to evolve on June 23, 1963, when he said that the seven angels actually made a physical appearance to him at Sunset and that the cloud was formed as they approached.12 Between this date and December 4, 1965, Branham maintained on several occasions that the photograph in LIFE was taken while he was on his hunting trip and that his two friends also witnessed the appearance of the angels (they did not).13
In July, 1965, Branham said that the Lord had just showed him that if he turned the photo of the cloud 1/4 turn to the right, he would see that the cloud formed the outline of Jesus' head. He offered this as further vindication that his Message was the truth.14
DISCREPANCIES IN BRANHAM'S TESTIMONY
There are several serious problems with Branham's explanation of the cloud. For example, the cloud that was featured in LIFE magazine was photographed on February 28, 1963, yet he always maintained that the Cloud appeared to him while he and his two friends were hunting at Sunset Mountain which was well into March. Also, LIFE's cloud appeared over Flagstaff, which is about 185 miles northwest of where Branham was hunting. William Branham was at the wrong place at the wrong time in relation to LIFE's Cloud. All things considered, there is no connection whatsoever between the appearance of the Cloud and William Branham's claimed angelic visitation at Sunset Mountain.15
From the time Branham had begun to claim that the angels formed the cloud, he began to credit them for other incidents that he had not mentioned before. For example, if you recall, Branham said that after he heard the blast while hunting, the Holy Spirit told him to return to his church to preach on the seals. However, after his discovery of the cloud he said that the angels told him to do so.16 Also, Branham originally said that the Holy Spirit opened the seals to him each day of the meetings on the seals, but after the cloud, he said that the angels took turns opening the seals to him each day.17
THE VISION AS A FALSE PROPHECYAnd what about you, church, that about six or eight months ago hearing, standing here saying, "IT’S THUS SAITH THE LORD, that I'm going to Tucson, Arizona. There'll be a blast and seven Angels will appear." You remember? Not even... God making it so real ‘til the Look magazine took the pictures of it.--William Branham
(Souls in Prison Now, vol 2-B, #22, p. 22, tape #63-1110M)
Can we prove that William Branham's vision was a false prophecy? Let's examine the evidence.
Deuteronomy 18:22 says, " If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken presumptuously." There are several parts of the vision that did not come to pass as foretold. First, Branham plainly said he saw five angels in his vision the first time he told of it. When it allegedly came to pass, however, he said that seven angels actually appeared.
Second, Branham said that in the vision, his son Joseph was with him. On one occasion he even said that Joseph was with him when the vision came to pass.18 I questioned Branham's son Joseph about what he saw at Sunset and he told me that he did not accompany his father on the trip when the angels supposedly met with Branham.19 The two flocks of birds were also absent from the vision's fulfillment.
Third, even though WMB claimed to see a group of 5 or 7 angels in his vision (whichever sermon you choose to believe), it wasn't until after he learned of the Cloud in LIFE magazine that he said 7 angels actually appeared to him while he was hunting. Previously, in his series of sermons on the Seven Seals in late March, he claimed the angelic portion of his vision was symbolic of the Holy Spirit when, during each day of the series, He would visit him in his room and reveal to him the meaning of the Seal he was going to preach on that evening.
Finally, Branham said that the blast in his vision came from the distant south. When it came to pass, however, it was apparently centered at his location and "almost ... shook the mountains down."20
It is clear that Branham's "THUS SAITH THE LORD" prophetic vision was not from God.
In this article we have examined three aspects of Branham's vision and its so-called fulfillment and have found ample reason to believe that he was a false prophet. First, we found many discrepancies in his explanation for the cloud's origin. Next, we noted that many details in Branham's account of what happened during this entire episode changed frequently. Finally, we determined that his vision did not come to pass as foretold. To see a list of quotes Wm. Branham made regarding the appearance of the Cloud, Click Here.
My desire is that those who follow William Branham's teachings will discover that his prophetic ministry could not have been commissioned by the Lord and that the only Message of the hour is the Gospel of Jesus Christ as found in the Bible.
Origin of the Cloud and the Message Believers' Response
What caused this unusual Cloud formation over the Arizona desert on February 28, 1963? It is true that it was located about 26 miles in altitude. It is not true that clouds do not form this high. However, this cloud was not formed naturally or even supernaturally; it was man-made. During an investigation of the Cloud, Dr. James E. McDonald of the University of Arizona Institute of Atmospheric Physics learned that a series of test missiles were launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the coast north of Los Angeles, California in 1963. Several of those launches left trails in the sky similar to the one that appeared in the May 17, 1963 issue of LIFE magazine. Trails at the altitude of the Cloud are not visible during daylight hours because the sky is too bright for them to be seen (just as stars are not visible during daylight hours). When the sky is dark, these clouds are so high that they remain illuminated by the sun which shines directly on them (just as the sun continues to shine on the moon after sunset). This was a rare phenomenon in 1963 because missile tests were uncommon. When the clouds formed by the rockets began appearing, the public did not know what caused them. The formation of such clouds is now relatively common. I have seen this awesome phenomenon on at least four occasions during the past 8 years here in Tucson because of our close proximity to Vandenberg AFB and White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. It is a fantastic sight to see a brightly-lit cloud in a dark sky.
Dr. McDonald concluded that the Cloud was the result of a test missile which was launched from Vandenberg AFB and detonated nearly directly overhead earlier in the day of February 28, 1963. The steady, high speed stratospheric wind carried the Cloud to where it was later discovered over Flagstaff, Arizona after sunset. Followers of the Message, however, continue to insist that there is no scientific explanation for the Cloud.
Recently, Message believers have attempted to suggest that Dr. McDonald really wasn't sure what caused the formation of the Cloud based on a six page document he published in May 1963. In the course of his investigation of the Cloud, Dr. McDonald amassed a large volume of photographs and weather data pertaining to the Cloud. On May 31, 1963, he published this six paged paper which was titled, "Status of Investigation of the Northern Arizona Stratospheric Cloud of February 28, 1963". This report was not a final analysis of his investigation, but a progress report of what he had learned to date. However, Message believers misrepresent this report and refer to it as proof that Dr. McDonald was not convinced that the Cloud was formed by the Vandenberg rocket. On page 5 of the report, Dr. McDonald clearly stated, "... [I]t remains uncertain whether one may conclude that the Flagstaff cloud was due to the detonation at Vandenberg. It is necessary to seek still further cross-checks" (emphasis added). The "further cross-checks" were never made because such data was not collected and thus not available to Dr. McDonald. It is clear that in this report, Dr. McDonald had not finished his investigation nor had he drawn a final conclusion of what formed the Cloud. Some time after he wrote this paper, he became satisfied that the Cloud was the result of the rocket launched from Vandenberg. In a 1996 letter to George Greene of Christian Awareness Fellowship, Aden and Marjorie Meinel (authors of Sunsets, Twilights and Evening Skies, and colleagues of Dr. McDonald at the University of Arizona) said, “Aden was involved with the launch of rockets from Vandenburg AFB, California and immediately recognized the McDonald cloud as from an explosion of a rocket the afternoon of 28 February 1963. We told McDonald of the event. . . . He was disappointed to learn that it was only a man-made cloud.” In a subsequent telephonic phone interview I did with Mrs. Meinel, she told me that Dr. McDonald stopped writing articles on the Cloud after he became convinced of its the mundane human origin.
At this point, it is interesting to note that after Dr. McDonald published his final article pertaining to the Cloud, other similar clouds began appearing over southwestern skies. These clouds were immediately explained as noctilucent trails caused by the launches of rockets from from Vandenberg AFB. See, "Cloud Was 1 of Several in 1963".
In a letter dated June 5, 1980, from Dr. Louis Battan (then Director of the University of Arizona Institute of Atmospheric Physics) wrote, "He [Dr. McDonald] convinced himself and others here at the Institute that the cloud was caused by the release of water into the upper atmosphere by the detonation of a rocket fired from Vandenberg." In the mid-2000's, I spoke with a colleague of Dr. McDonald (a professor emeritus of whom I'm not at liberty to identify) who affirmed what Dr. Battan had said.
This simple explanation for the Cloud caused Dr. McDonald to lose all interest in publishing any further articles about it, and he spent the major part of his energies with his real passion, the investigation of UFO's, of which he was a firm believer. The Message believers' claim that Dr. McDonald was not sure the Cloud was formed by the rocket at Vandenberg, particularly based on his progress report, is thus unfounded.
For those who are still inclined to believe that the Cloud was a supernatural sign sent to confirm WMB's Message, please consider the following:
- Why didn't WMB seem to know anything about the Cloud until Gene Norman brought the May 17, 1963 issue of LIFE magazine to his attention (approximately 3 months after his experience with the 7 angels and his preaching of the Seven Seals)?
- Instead of appearing over Sunset Peak, why did the Cloud appear over Flagstaff, Arizona, which is 200 miles to the northwest?
- Why have followers of the Message claimed for nearly 40 years that the Cloud appeared during WMB's visit by the 7 angels while hunting despite evidence proving the contrary? Some are still erroneously publishing that WMB's hunting trip coincided with the Cloud's appearance on February 28, 1963.
- If the Cloud was a sign that WMB would soon meet with the 7 angels as Rebekah Branham-Smith has said, why didn't he know that, allowing his followers to believe that the angels formed it while he met them at Sunset on February 28, 1963? And why didn't anyone know of such a sign until long after the event it was supposed to have predicted had come to pass?
- Why do followers of the Message continue to say that there is no scientific explanation for the Cloud?
When the facts are known, we find that there is no connection whatsoever between the Cloud's appearance and WMB's hunting trip in Arizona. In fact, there is nothing in common between the Cloud formation and William Branham at all! Don't take my word for it. Search the facts for yourself!
Cloud Related Documents From the Files of John Kennah
Letter from Louis Battan, 6-5-80
Letter from Louis Battan (colleague of Dr. McDonald and Director of the University of Arizona Institute of Atmospheric Physics) to ex-Message believer Robert Moore, stating that Dr. McDonald convinced himself and others of the Cloud's human origin.
Letter from the Department of the Air Force, p. 1 & p. 2, 1-26-96
Letter from Air Force Chief Officer of History to George Greene, confirming the fact that the Cloud was caused by one or the other of two Missiles launched from Vandenberg AFB on February 28, 1963. The date of the letter contains a typo. It was actually written on 26 January, 1996.
Letter from Aden and Marjorie Meinel, 8-23-96
Letter from Aden & Marjorie Meinel to George Greene (then president of Christian Awareness Fellowship) in which they said they knew what formed the cloud and that they informed Dr. McDonald of its man-made origin (to see a discussion at our forum of the two reports written by Dr. Meinel in 1963 that are menioned in this letter, see, "Cloud Was 1 of Several in 1963" posted on October 21, 2007). In a personal phone call I made to Mrs. Meinel, she told me that Dr. McDonald stopped writing about the Cloud when he became convinced that it was man-made.
Thrust Augmented Thor Report
Unclassified report of the Thrust Augmented Thor 354/Agena 1159 Missile that created the Cloud on February 28, 1963.
Letter from Betsy McDonald, 9-10-96
Letter from widow of Dr. James McDonald, Betsy McDonald, to George Greene confirming Dr. McDonald's conclusion of the human origin of the Cloud.
Timeline of events surrounding the Cloud as it appears in "The Message: What every follower of William Branham should know," by John Kennah (1991)
Timeline p. 1 & p. 2
Timeline of events surrounding the cloud published in "Only Believe" magazine in 1992 the year after John Kennah's booklet had mailed his booklet to several prominent leaders in the Message.
Last page of the "Seals Book"
Photo of the Cloud in the "Seals Book" falsely claiming in the caption that WMB mentioned the Cloud throughout the book (referenced in "The Message," by John Kennah ).
NOTES1. William Branham, "Reproach for the Word," The Spoken Word (TSW), Spoken Word Publications (Jeffersonville, IN, sermon preached 12-23-62), 2:16, pp. 4-7 back
2. Rebekah Smith, "The Road to Sunset," Only Believe (Tucson, AZ, June, 1992), 5:1, pp. 6-7
It's interesting to note that Fred Sothmann once said that it sounded like a "tremendous blast like a jet plane breaking the sound barrier, only louder." ("The Cloud," The Arizona Republic, March 26, 1967). While reseaching the issue of the Cloud at the University of Arizona microfilm library in 2004, I found a possibly related article written the day after the Cloud appeared over Arizona. The Arizona Republic had reported of complaints by residents and businesses in Springerville, AZ, of shattered windows caused by two unusually loud sonic booms made by military jets flying out of Williams Air Force Base near Phoenix two days previously. The article goes on to say that such sonic booms had been occurring more loudly in previous weeks. (see, "Springerville Shaken Up by Sonic Booms," March 1, 1963) back
3. Ibid., pp. 5-6 back
4. Branham, The Revelation of the Seven Seals (Spoken Word Publications), pp. 122, 178, 231, 269, 279, 336-337, 411, 448, 557 back
5. Ibid., pp. 565, 577 back
6. Wm. Branham said, "And the Holy Spirit turned, said, ‘Return to your home immediately, for the Seven Seals is going to be opened’" (Look, April 28, 1963 [tape #63-0428]). It is interesting that he would have been instructed to return to Jeffersonville to hold these meetings since he had already announced plans for these meetings 2 1/2 months prior to this (see footnote #3). back
7. Branham, The Revelation of the Seven Seals (Spoken Word Publications), pp. 565, 577 back
8. Branham, The Revelation of the Seven Seals, pp. 577-578 back
9. Smith, "The Road to Sunset," p. 7 back
10. "Odd Sights at Heights," Life (May 17, 1963), 54:20, p. 112 back
11. Branham, "Come, Follow Me," Voice of God Recordings (sermon preached 6-1-63), tape #63-0601 back
12. Branham, "Standing in the Gap," TSW (sermon preached 6-23-63), 6:7, pp. 20-21. After this date, he maintained that the cloud was formed as the angels flew away (Cf., Branham, "The Rapture," TSW [sermon preached 12-4-65], 5:14, pp. 32-33) back
13. Branham, "Testimony," TSW (sermon preached 11-28-63), 17:5, p.6 A list of several other example references is available on request.
Also, even though neither Norman nor Sothmann witnessed the angels, Sothmann testified of seeing an unusual cloud that day which he associated with the cloud that appeared in the LIFE magazine. See, "The Cloud," by Dave Davies (The Arizona Republic, March 26, 1967) back
14. Branham, "What is the Attraction on the Mountain?" TSW (sermon preached 7-25-65) 8:8, p. 22. Later, he added that one could actually see features of Jesus' face in the cloud (Branham, "Trying to Do God a Service Without it Being God's Will," TSW [sermon preached 11-27-65], 7:2, pp. 13-14. However, no such features are evident in the original photograph. back
15. Air Force officials and other atmospheric scientists have determined that the cloud was the result of a rocket launch over Vandenberg Air Force Base earlier that day. It drifted to Flagstaff where it was discovered and photographed after sunset. Documents on file. back
16. Wm. Branham said, "And right standing beneath that, a man that is setting right present now, was right standing there by me, when seven Angels come down from God, visibly standing right there, and told me about the end time, and these revelations and things of the Book of Revelation, the Seven Seals, and said, ‘Return home, and one by one we'll bring the Message’" (Testimony, November 28, 1963 [tape #63-1128M]). Also, "This Day This Scripture is Fulfilled," TSW (sermon preached 2-19-65) 3:8, p. 25 back
17. Branham, "Standing in the Gap," p. 20 back
18. Branham, "What is the Attraction on the Mountain?" p.22 back
19. Letter received from Joseph Branham, Jeffersonville, IN, April 30, 1996. Letter on file. back
20. Branham, The Revelation of the Seven Seals, p. 560 back
Revised and updated from, "What Was the Attraction on the Mountain," by John Kennah, Copyright ©1996, The SERVANT, vol. II, issue 96, Christian Awareness Fellowship, Inc. Used by permission.
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