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Inspired Author or Plagiarist? Can we trust Ellen White’s books?

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1 Inspired Author or Plagiarist? Can we trust Ellen White’s books?
Denis Fortin The Writings of Ellen G. White

2 The Issue One of the most discussed issues regarding the writings of Ellen White is the use in her own literary productions of material she borrowed, or allegedly plagiarized, from other sources without giving explicit credit to the original authors.

3 The Issue The charge that Ellen White plagiarized affects not only the credibility of her claim to a prophetic gift, but also the very integrity and genuineness of her personal life. She has been accused of being a thief, a liar, and an exploiter of church members who constituted a captive market for her books.

4 The Issue That Ellen White borrowed from other authors was openly acknowledged by herself (cf. GC xi-xii) and by people close to her (cf. 3SM ). The real issue, however, is not whether she borrowed without giving proper credit but whether she borrowed in such a way as to deceive the reader.

5 The first allegation Dudley M. Canright, former Adventist minister and colleague of James and Ellen White. Seventh-day Adventism Renounced (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1889). The allegation of plagiarism was first raised in 1889 by Dudley M. Canright, former Adventist minister and colleague of James and Ellen White, in his book, Seventh-day Adventism Renounced (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1889). Canright's personal knowledge of her life and ministry made his attacks even more cutting and persuasive to many. Among the many critiques he raised was that of plagiarism–the charge that she had copied her books from other authors.

6 More recent accusations
Walter Rae, The White Lie Dale Ratzlaff, The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists Video: Seventh-day Adventism:The Spirit Behind the Church

7 The church’s response The Seventh-day Adventist church has repeatedly addressed these accusations. In 1951, Francis D. Nichol’s Ellen G. White and Her Critics (RHPA) gave a synopsis of the charges and provided answers ( ).

8 Legal opinion But renewed and intensified charges of plagiarism in the 1970s and early 1980s led the church to begin an extensive study into Ellen White’s borrowing of external material in the production of her works. At the same time, a legal opinion was sought and the charge that Ellen White plagiarized her books was reviewed by Attorney Vincent L. Ramik. But renewed and intensified charges of plagiarism in the 1970s and early 1980s led the church to begin an extensive study into Ellen White’s borrowing of external material in the production of her works. At the same time, a legal opinion was sought and the charge that Ellen White plagiarized her books was reviewed by Attorney Vincent L. Ramik. Ramik was provided with Ellen White's books and every evidence brought up against Ellen White by her accusers.

9 Legal opinion In his August 14, 1981 report, after spending more than 300 hours researching about 1,000 relevant cases in American legal history, he concluded that "Ellen White was not a plagiarist, and her works did not constitute copyright infringement/piracy."

10 Legal opinion Ramik explained that, "Nowhere have we found the books of Ellen G. White to be virtually the ‘same plan and character throughout’ as those of her predecessors. Nor have we found, or have critics made reference to, any intention of Ellen White to supercede [other authors] in the market with the same class of readers and purchasers."

11 Legal opinion Instead he found that "she invariably introduced considerable new matter to that which she borrowed, going far beyond mere ‘colorable deviations,' and, in effect, created an altogether new literary work." (Adventist Review, September 17, 1981)

12 John Wesley’s practice
"It was a doubt with me for some time," he wrote in the preface, "whether I should not subjoin to every note I received from them the name of the author from whom it was taken; especially considering I had transcribed some, and abridged many more, almost in the words of the author. But upon further consideration, I resolved to name none, that nothing might divert the mind of the reader from keeping close to the point of view, and receiving what was spoken only according to its own intrinsic value." (quoted in F. D. Nichol, Ellen G. White and Her Critics, 406) Another aspect of this issue is that the practice of borrowing from other authors without giving explicit or detailed credit was widespread among writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Although by today’s literary standards this practice is unacceptable, it forms the historical context of Ellen White’s own practice. Such a practice was followed, for example, by John Wesley in writing his Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament.

13 Ellen White’s practice
"The great events which have marked the progress of reform in past ages are matters of history, well known and universally acknowledged by the Protestant world; they are facts which none can gainsay. This history I have presented briefly, in accordance with the scope of the book, and the brevity which must necessarily be observed, the facts having been condensed into as little space as seemed consistent with a proper understanding of their application. Ellen White’s reasons for not naming her sources were similar to Wesley’s: she did not want to “divert the mind of the readers” from the context and purpose of what she was writing. In her introduction to The Great Controversy, Ellen White openly acknowledged her practice of literary borrowing.

14 Ellen White’s practice
“In some cases where a historian has so grouped together events as to afford, in brief, a comprehensive view of the subject, or has summarized details in a convenient manner, his words have been quoted; but in some instances no specific credit has been given, since the quotations are not given for the purpose of citing that writer as authority, but because his statement affords a ready and forcible presentation of the subject. In narrating the experience and views of those carrying forward the work of reform in our own time, similar use has been made of their published works" (GC xi-xii). More documentation of W. C. White's acknowledgement of this practice can be found in 3SM where we find copies of letters he wrote to L. E. Froom. In these letters White gives insights into his mother's practice of reading books by other authors and finding geographical and historical details she did not receive through inspiration.

15 Truth Belongs to God Both John Wesley’s and Ellen White’s admission to borrowing from other authors without giving full credit indicates that for both the truths they were borrowing transcended these authors. For Wesley and White truth ultimately belongs to God and not to humans.

16 Ellen White’s practice
In The Great Controversy (in all three editions of 1884, 1888, and 1911) materials are borrowed from: Merle D'Aubigné, History of the Reformation J. A. Wylie, History of the Waldenses J. N. Andrews, History of the Sabbath Uriah Smith, The Sanctuary and Its Cleansing James White, Life of William Miller (itself drawn from other sources as admitted on its title page) As she admitted, Ellen White did borrow from other authors without giving references. The five works referred to were well known to the Adventist membership.

17 Ellen White’s practice
Regarding D’Aubigné’s book, Ellen White recommended, "Provide something to be read during these long winter evenings. For those who can procure it, D'Aubigne's History of the Reformation will be both interesting and profitable. From this work we may gain some knowledge of what has been accomplished in the past in the great work of reform." (RH December 26, 1882) Less than two years before the publication of the 1884 edition of The Great Controversy, she specifically encouraged members to read D'Aubigné's book. In an article titled "Holiday Gifts" she recommended the quote given on the screen. Wylie’s book was also well known and sold through the Review and Herald office, as were the three books written by Adventist pioneers. Obviously, Ellen White and her readers knew about these books and many would have readily seen the literary parallels between her books and others sold by the Review.

18 Ellen White’s practice
A study done by the Ellen G. White Estate to document passages in her writings known to be verbally dependent upon prior external material indicates that about 15% of The Great Controversy (1911 edition) is taken from other sources for which she gave the proper references and about 5% is from uncredited sources.

19 W. C. White’s explanation
“The great events occurring in the life of our Lord were presented to her in panoramic scenes as also were the other portions of The Great Controversy. In a few of these scenes chronology and geography were clearly presented, but in the greater part of the revelation the flashlight scenes, which were exceedingly vivid, and the conversations and the controversies, which she heard and was able to narrate, were not marked geographically or chronologically, and she was left to study the Bible and history, and the writings of men (continued)

20 W. C. White’s explanation
“who had presented the life of our Lord to get the chronological and geographical connection. Another purpose served by the reading of history and the Life of Our Lord and the Life of St. Paul, was that in so doing there was brought vividly to her mind scenes presented clearly in vision, but which were through the lapse of years and her strenuous ministry, dimmed in her memory. Many times in the reading of Hanna, Farrar, or Fleetwood, she would run on to a description of a scene which had been vividly presented to her, but forgotten, (continued)

21 W. C. White’s explanation
“and which she was able to describe more in detail than that which she had read” (3SM 459, 460). “In some of the historical matters such as are brought out in Patriarchs and Prophets, and in Acts of the Apostles and in Great Controversy, the main outlines were made very clear and plain to her, and when she came to write up these topics, she was left to study the Bible and history to get dates and geographical relations and to perfect her description of details” (3SM 462).

22 Desire of Ages Source Study
In the 1980s, Dr. Fred Veltman, retired professor of New Testament Literature from Pacific Union College, was commissioned by the Ellen G. White Estate to study the literary dependency of Ellen White’s Desire of Ages book on the life of Christ. We knew that her library contained a number of books on the life of Jesus and we wondered to what extent the Desire of Ages was dependent upon other literary sources.

23 Desire of Ages Source Study
Fifteen chapters were selected at random and were compared to other books using a scale of seven levels of dependency applied to each sentence. The criteria differentiating between these levels of dependency are the amount of verbatim words and the order of word elements in the parallel sentences.

24 Desire of Ages Source Study
Levels of dependency Level 7 – Strict verbatim (all words identical) Level 6 – Verbatim (1 or 2 words changed) Level 5 – Strict paraphrase Level 4 – Simple paraphrase Level 3 – Loose paraphrase Level 2 – Source Bible Level 1 – Partial independence Level 0 – Independent If a sentence from an Ellen White text is in every respect identical to a sentence in a source text the sentence is classified as strict verbatim and given a dependency value of seven (7). In cases where the sentences are identical except for an obvious synonym being substituted for a word or a slightly different form of punctuation, the sentence is identified as verbatim and given a value of six (6)–indicating that is has a lesser degree of dependency than strict verbatim. As the verbatim words become fewer and the order of similar elements in the parallel texts follow separate arrangement, the dependency ratings are lowered to strict paraphrase (5), simple paraphrase (4), or loose paraphrase (3). When the Ellen White text and the source are identical because both writers are depending directly on an obvious text of Scripture for the story being told, the sentence is labeled Bible Quotation and given a value of zero (0). If the text of Scripture is identical but not one usually associated with the story the sentence receives the label of Source Bible and given a value of two (2). In those instances when part of the sentence exhibits strong parallelism and yet a significant part of the sentence is clearly not dependent in the wording, it is given a value of one (1) and designated as partial independence. When there is no clear indication of literary dependency, the sentence is classified as “independent” and given a dependency value of zero (0)—even when the content of the Desire of Ages text is very similar to that of the source text.

25 Desire of Ages Source Study
Results of 2,647 sentence units of text studied No level 7 – strict verbatim 29 (1.1%) level 6 – verbatim 183 (6.9%) level 5 – strict paraphrase 823 (31.1%) levels 4,3,2,1 1,612 (60.9%) level 0 – independent sentences Average level of dependency is level 3.3 (a little higher dependency than loose paraphrase).

26 Desire of Ages Source Study
Fred Veltman – “While the investigation followed through on its initial method of research, in the final analysis it was not able to ascertain the extent of Ellen White’s literary dependence, given the amount and variety of her writings and the limitations of time and research personnel. Nevertheless there can no longer be any doubt that she used sources regardless of the subject content. And though there are many facets of her dependency yet to explore, and questions about her borrowing that beg for answers, there is also something to be said about her independence and originality. [continued]

27 Desire of Ages Source Study
“The research clearly shows that the sources were her slaves, never her master. She readily recognized what expressions in her sources would enhance her writing and serve her purposes. Ellen White with the aid of her literary assistants, built out of the common quarry of stones not a replica of another’s work but rather a customized literary composition which reflects the particular faith and Christian hope she felt called to share with her fellow Adventists and the Christian community at large.” (Ellen G. White Encyclopedia)

28 The Life of Paul Ellen White's writings on the life of Paul expanded slowly through the years: Spiritual Gifts, volume 1 (1858) The Spirit of Prophecy, volume 3 (1878) Redemption series, number 8 (1878) Sketches from the Life of Paul (1883) Acts of the Apostles (1911)

29 The Life of Paul The charge against Sketches from the Life of Paul states that she copied large sections from a work found in her library, by W. J. Conybeare and J. S. Howson's The Life and Epistles of St. Paul (New York: Crowell, ca.1855). Ellen White’s Sketches from the Life of Paul (1883) has also been cited as an example of extensive literary borrowing. Covering similar themes and historical events as her own book, Conybeare and Howson's book contains descriptions of the historical context and culture of the Middle East as it relates to the life and ministry of the apostle Paul.

30 The Life of Paul An advertisement for Conybeare and Howson's book appeared in the Signs of the Times of February 22, 1883, with an endorsement from Ellen White: "The Life of St. Paul by Conybeare and Howson, I regard as a book of great merit, and one of rare usefulness to the earnest student of the New Testament history." This was a well known book among Adventists and was also recommended as good reading. The fact that her own book on the life of Paul was about to be released in June of that year is strong evidence that Ellen White made no attempt to hide from church members the obvious parallels between her work and that of Conybeare and Howson.

31 Paul in Ephesus Conybeare and Howson: Eustathius says that the mysterious symbols called ‘Ephesian Letters’ were engraved on the crown, the girdle, and the feet of the goddess.... When pronounced they were regarded as a charm, and were directed to be used especially by those who were in the power of evil spirits. When written they were carried about as amulets.... The study of these symbols was an elaborate science, and books, both numerous and costly, were compiled by its professors. (p. 392) Ellen White: Upon it [the statue of the goddess] were inscribed mystic characters and symbols, which were believed to possess great power. (1) When pronounced, they were said to accomplish wonders. (4) When written, they were treasured as a potent charm to guard their possessor from robbers, from disease, and even from death. (3) Numerous and costly books were written by the Ephesians to explain the meaning and use of these symbols. (3) (p )

32 Paul in Ephesus This statement throws some light on the peculiar character of the miracles wrought by Paul at Ephesus. We are not to suppose that the apostles were always able to work miracles at will. An influx of supernatural power was given to them at the time and according to the circumstances that required it. And the character of the miracles was not always the same. They were accommodated to the peculiar forms of sin, superstition, and ignorance they were required to oppose. Here, at Ephesus, Paul was in the face of magicians, like Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh; and it is distinctly said that his miracles were ‘not ordinary wonders,’ from which we may infer that they were different from those which he usually performed As Paul was brought in direct contact with the idolatrous inhabitants of Ephesus, the power of God was strikingly displayed through him. (0) The apostles were not always able to work miracles at will. (6) The Lord granted his servants this special power as the progress of his cause or the honor of his name required. (1) Like Moses and Aaron at the court of Pharaoh, the apostle had now to maintain the truth against the lying wonders of the magicians; hence the miracles he wrought were of a different character from those which he had heretofore performed. (3)

33 Paul in Ephesus A miracle which has a closer reference to our present subject is that in which the hem of Christ’s garment was made effectual to the healing of a poor sufferer and the conviction of the bystanders. So on this occasion garments were made the means of communicating a healing power to those who were at a distance, whether they were possessed with evil spirits or afflicted with ordinary diseases. Yet was this no encouragement to blind superstition. When the suffering woman was healed by touching the hem of the garment, the Saviour turned round and said, ‘Virtue is gone out of me [italics theirs].’ And here at Ephesus we are reminded that it was God who ‘wrought miracles by the hands of Paul’ (v.11), and that ‘the name,’ not of Paul, but ‘of the Lord Jesus, was magnified’ (v.17) (393). As the hem of Christ's garment had communicated healing power to her who sought relief by the touch of faith, so on this occasion, garments were made the means of cure to all that believed; "diseases departed from them, and evil spirits went out of them." (4) Yet these miracles gave no encouragement to blind superstition. (5) When Jesus felt the touch of the suffering woman, he exclaimed, “Virtue is gone out of me [italics hers].” (5) So the scripture declares that the Lord wrought miracles by the hand of Paul, and that the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified, and not the name of Paul (5) (p. 135).

34 The Life of Paul These two paragraphs show that in many instances Ellen White borrowed or paraphrased key words and expressions from Conybeare and Howson. In Sketches from the Life of Paul the borrowed material, estimated at about 12%, was almost entirely limited to historical information and backgrounds, and was often rearranged by Mrs. White to fit her own thought and chapter outline. Whereas Conybeare and Howson give little spiritual application of and commentary on the events Paul encountered, White emphasizes the spiritual lessons to be gained from these events. In these spiritual applications she borrows little from the earlier authors.

35 The Life of Paul When in 1911 Ellen White published an expanded edition of Sketches from the Life of Paul and included its content in Acts of the Apostles, she used even less material from Conybeare and Howson and added more of her own theological and practical commentary.

36 Thoughts on inspiration
Comparison of: Calvin E. Stowe, Origins and History of the Books of the Bible (1867), pp Ellen G. White, Manuscript 24, 1886 (published in 1SM 21)

37 Thoughts on inspiration
Stowe -- It is not the words of the Bible that were inspired, it is not the thoughts of the Bible that were inspired; it is the men who wrote the Bible that were inspired. Inspiration acts not on the man’s words, not on the man’s thoughts, but on the man himself; so that he, by his own spontaneity, under the impulse of the Holy Ghost, conceives certain thoughts and give utterance to them in certain words, both the words and the thoughts receiving the peculiar impress of the mind which conceived and uttered them, and being in fact just as really his own, as they could have been if there had been no inspiration at all in the case Inspiration generally is a purifying and an elevation, and an intensification of the human intellect subjectively, rather than an objective suggestion and communication; though suggestion and communication are not excluded. The Divine mind is, as it were, so diffused through the human, and the human mind is so interpenetrated with the Divine the utterances of the man are the word of God, that for the time being. White – It is not the words of the Bible that are inspired, but the men that were inspired. (5) Inspiration acts not on the man's words or his expressions but on the man himself, who, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, is imbued with thoughts. (4) But the words receive the impress of the individual mind. (5) The divine mind is diffused. (6) The divine mind and will is combined with the human mind and will; thus the utterances of the man are the word of God. (4)

38 Thoughts on inspiration
Assigning levels of literary dependency to this example is difficult because although the words are the same, the theological thought is not. Had Ellen White simply copied Stowe’s words without thinking carefully through their ramifications, she might have adopted a theology of inspiration similar to that later developed by theologians such as Karl Barth or Emil Brunner. Stowe advocated a theory of inspiration in which the subjective elements of the prophet are predominant and in which inspiration is an encounter between the divine and the human. There is no actual transmission of objective information between God and the prophet.

39 Thoughts on inspiration
Note that two key phrases on the inspiration of thoughts in Stowe’s explanation of the process of inspiration at the beginning of his paragraph are not inserted by Ellen White in her own shorter text. While Stowe mentions that a prophet’s thoughts are not inspired, Ellen White’s understanding of inspiration gives a greater role to the Holy Spirit in imparting inspired thoughts to a prophet. In her explanation of the process of inspiration there is an actual objective transmission of information between God and the prophet.

40 Thoughts on inspiration
Although much of Ellen White's wording is taken from Stowe, the two views are very different. It seems obvious from this example that she had Stowe’s text nearby when she wrote her own. Yet she did not mindlessly copy from Stowe but carefully weighed the concepts and understood the difference she wished to emphasize in her own understanding of the process of inspiration.

41 What would she do today? Were Ellen White alive today, would she use her sources in the same way as she did in her time? Would she be more aware of her uncredited use of sources and would she be willing to give proper references?

42 W C White to L E Froom "In many of her manuscripts as they come from her hand quotation marks are used. In other cases they were not used; and her habit of using parts of sentences found in the writings of others and filling in a part of her own composition, was not based upon any definite plan nor was it questioned by her copyists and copy writers until about 1885 and onward. When critics pointed out this feature of her work as a reason for questioning the gift which had enabled her to write, she paid little attention to it. (continued)

43 W C White to L E Froom “Later on, when complaint was made that this was an injustice to other publishers and writers, she made a decided change--a change which you are familiar with. It is my belief, Brother Froom, that I cannot too frequently restate the fact that Sister White’s mind was keenly active with reference to the contents of the articles published in our periodicals, and the chapters composing her books, and that she had help from heaven and was remarkably acute in detecting any error made by copyists or by copy editors" (3SM ).

44 No plagiarism Ellen White was fully engaged in the process of redaction of her books and adapted the external material to fit her thought. She used external material not in lieu of her own thought, but to enhance her expression of her thought. She made references to other authors and openly invited people to read their books. Many other examples of literary borrowing could be given but these representative examples suffice to illustrate that she did not attempt to deceive her readers nor did she copy mindlessly the words and thoughts of other authors. She was fully engaged in the process and adapted the external material to fit her thought. There is evidence to support the conclusion that she used other sources, not as a mere compiler, but as an original author. She used external material not in lieu of her own thought, but to enhance her expression of her thought. Her minimal references to her borrowing no doubt reflect her concern not to blur the distinction between her own inspired message and those of other authors from which she received supporting information and useful terms of expression.

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