G. White -- the Myth and the Truth
by Å. Kaspersen
of the ever popular adventist myths tells about Ellen White holding a heavy
bible straight out from the body for about half an hour. The source for this
story is the book "The Great Second Advent Movement" by John N. Loughborough.
"I will here state some facts respecting her third . . .as related to
me by Mrs. White's father and mother, by her sister, Mrs. Sarah Belden,
and others. In the room where the vision was given, there was lying on the bureau
a very large family Bible . . .and weighs a little over eighteen pounds.
While in vision, she arose, and took this heavy Bible on her left arm, the book
lying open, and held it out at right angles with her body; and then for over
half an hour, with her right hand, turned from place to place, and
pointed to different texts of Scripture, which she repeated while her eyes were
looking upward, and in an opposite direction from the book. . . in every instance
she was repeating the scripture upon which her finger was resting." (J.N. Loughborough,
The Great Second Advent Movement, pp. 236-7. Emphasis supplied.)
This feat should be enough to convince even the most hardened sceptic. Strange
enough neither her close family nor other people who witnessed this "supernatural
strength" became convinced that her visions were from God. This is somewhat
strange, and gives some reason to believe that there was nothing supernatural
about the incident.
One of the witnesses was Mrs. Lunt, who wrote,
"With my father's family, attended the meetings of Sister Harmon in Topsham,
in 1845, and during these meetings she had a vision. It was the first time we
ever saw her in vision. One of those old-fashioned Bibles [the Teale Family
Bible, weighing eighteen pounds] was owned by Brother Curtiss.
This big Bible was taken from the bureau by Sister Harmon while in vision, and
texts of Scripture were pointed out by her as she turned from leaf to leaf,
while her eyes were looking upward, and away from the book. The texts she repeated
were either words of instruction, encouragement, or reproof. Another peculiarity
of the manifestation at that time was the position of the book. It was held
on her open hand at an angle of forty-five degrees, and no one else was able
to hold any book at a similar angle without its slipping at once from the hands;
but Sister Harmon held this Bible at that angle for several minutes,
as firmly as though it was stuck to her hand, she passing meanwhile from one
to another in the room." (Ibid., p. 238. Emphasis supplied.)
Another witness was Mrs. Truesdale, who related the incident more than 61 years
"Sister Harmon was in vision over two hours. . . .as she read
to us passages. . . .such as. Heb.2:2,3; James 5:7,8; Heb. 10:35,39; 1 Peter
1,7; Luke 12:32-37 besides many others, holding the large family Bible so high
that I was obliged to stand on a chair to read where she was pointing." (Ibid.,
pp. 238-9. Emphasis supplied.)
Mrs. Truesdale's memory must have been exceptional. It was quite a feat to remember
all these scriptures being read to her when she was fifteen years old!
These testimonies are so divergent that it is difficult to rely on them. The
heavy Bible incident occurred allegedly during the so-called Topsham-vision
in 1845, and Loughborough quoted Mrs. Lunt and Mrs. Truesdale 45 years later.
Loughborough says that Ellen held the heavy Biblestraight out from the
body for more than thirty minutes, while Mrs. Lunt says that she held
it at an angle of 45 degrees for "several minutes," and Mrs.
Truesdale claims the incident lastedmore than two hours.
During the 1919 Bible Conference the President of the General Conference, A.G.
Daniells, commented on this alleged incident,
"Now with reference to the evidences: I differ with some of the brethren who
have put together proofs or evidences of the genuineness of this gift, in this
respect, - I believe that the strongest proof is found in the fruits of this
gift to the church, not in physical and outward demonstrations. For instance,
I have heard some ministers preach, and have seen it in writing, that Sister
White once carried a heavy Bible - I believe they said it weighed 40
pounds - on her out-stretched hand, and looking up toward the heavens
quoted texts and turned the leaves over and pointed to the texts, with her eyes
toward the heavens. I do not know whether that was ever done or not.
I am not sure. I did not see it, and I do not know that I ever talked with anybody
that did see it. But, brethren, I do not count that sort of thing as
a very great proof. I do not think that is the best kind of evidence. If I were
a stranger in an audience, and heard a preacher enlarging on that, I would have
my doubts. That is, I would want to know if he saw it. He would have
to say, No, he never did. Then I would ask, 'Did you ever see the man that did
see it?' And he would have to answer, 'No, I never did.'
"Well, just how much of that is genuine, and how much has crawled into
the story? - I do not know. But I do not think that is the kind of proof we
want to use. It has been a long time since I have brought forward this sort
of thing, - no breath in the body, and the eyes wide open." (1919 Bible
Conference. Statement by A.G. Daniells. Emphasis supplied.)
A.G. Daniells had been personally aquainted with Ellen White for many years,
and also knew J.N. Loughborough well. However, he did not put confidence in
this story. In 1890 it was claimed that the heavy Bible weighed twenty pounds,
and in 1919 it had increased to forty pounds!
Wallace D. Slattery related an incident during a visit to the White Estate,
"My aide in my last SDA teaching position in Pennsylvania was a great-granddaughter
of Sister White. I discussed this supposed event with her, and she agreed that
undoubtedly it never happened. She telephoned her mother, who worked at the
White Estate in Washington, D.C., and asked her, 'Why do you still show that
big Bible to people who come in, when you know that the event never took place?'
Her mother answered, 'But you should see their faces when they see it!' (W.D.
Slattery, Are Seventh-day Adventists False Prophets? A Former Insider Speaks
Out, p. 5.)
Even the White Estate admits that the heavy Bible incident never happened, and
that the evidences are dubious. It has become one of the many adventist myths
which have slipped in. Through the years one single feather has become five
It is quite possible that Ellen White on a particular occasion may have held
a heavy Bible during a certain period. But as Daniells said, just how much of
that is genuine, and how much has crawled into the story? A person may hold
a heavy book a certain amount of time, but this does not make that person a
prophet from God. It is not unknown that certain psychic ailments on occasions
can give a person almost supernatural strength. It is possible that Ellen White's
visions were triggered by a special type of epileptic seizures (see chapter
15). During such seizures patients may display unbelievable strength, and may
perform feats of strength they normally would not dream of under normal conditions.