Ellen G. White -- the Myth and the Truth

by Å. Kaspersen


12 -Adventist Myths

One 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 later,

"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 hens.

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.

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