Ellen White’s first books on the life of Christ were Spirit of Prophecy, Volume 2 (1877), and the first 19 chapters of Volume 3 (1878). But, as the years passed, she continued to write still more on Jesus’ earthly life.
After Great Controversy was completed in 1884 and enlarged in 1888, and then Patriarchs and Prophets in 1890, she determined that, at last, she would write a full-size book on the life of Christ. Six years were dedicated to the task; for she was often interrupted by problems throughout the world field, especially in Battle Creek.
“When she went to Australia in the autumn of 1891, it was her expectation that the long-hoped-for life of Christ could soon be prepared. During the years 1892 to 1898, she spent much time in writing chapters for this book.”—A.L. White, Ellen G. White: Messenger to the Remnant, pp. 58-59.
In the course of going through all this material for his Desire of Ages Project, Veltman gradually recognized how Ellen White prepared each chapter in Desire of Ages.
How would she write a chapter?
Ellen White would sit down and either begin writing or she would select one (sometimes two, but never more than two) other books on the life of Christ and see what they did. Then she would set the book aside; and, referring to her earlier writings on the topic at hand, she would rewrite it, adding bridgework and new material. Occasionally as she wrote, a word or phrase she had earlier noticed in a life-of-Christ book, would come to mind and she would use it. Thus, nearly all the time, that which she wrote was her own production (aside from Bible quotations, of course). Was that copying? No it was not. Was it borrowing? No. Was it plagiaristic? Not in the least. More on all this in the next chapter.
Though Ellen White never looked in more than one or two books at a time before beginning to write, what were the names of the books she might have looked at?
There were nine possibilities: Lyman Abott, A Life of Christ; Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah; F.W. Farrar, Life of Christ; John Fleetwood, The Life of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; Cunningham Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ; William Hanna, The Life of Christ; George Jones, Life Scenes from the Four Gospels; Daniel March, Walks and Homes of Jesus; Hugh Macmillan, Our Lord’s Three Raisings from the Dead.
Please understand that she may not have referred to all of those books. It only appeared that, at times, there may have been, in Desire of Ages, words or phrases similar to what was found in one or another of those books.
Can you give me samples of what these similarities were like?
“The greatest of Christ’s miracles”
“The greatest of His miracles” (Hanna 452).
“This crowning miracle” (DA 529).
“The great closing crowning miracle” (Hanna 450).
“Lazarus was stricken with sudden illness”
“Lazarus was stricken down with one of those sharp malignant fevers of Palestine which break out suddenly” (MacMillan 146-147).
“I have entered upon the last remnant of My day, but while any of this remains, I am safe”
“So long as I do what He desires, my life is safe” (Hanna 449).
“Absorbed in her grief, Mary did not hear the words”
“Mary had not heard at first of the Lord’s coming, or, if she had, was too absorbed in her sorrow to heed it” (Hanna 458).
“Jesus encouraged her faith” (DA 530).
“Jesus, who was willing to encourage this imperfect faith” (Fleetwood 281).
After looking at the above typical examples of so-called “borrowing,” one might well say, what is all the fuss about? There is just nothing of significance here! Frankly, the complaining and the charges are pathetic, when compared with the supposed “parallels” which are actually found.
“The greatest of the miracles.” Well, the raising of Lazarus was, wasn’t it? Why would she not use that adjective? She did not have to read someone else’s book to figure that out. Lazarus had been dead three days. Prior to His resurrection, no physical miracle Christ did was greater.
“The crowning miracle.” We agree that this was a unique phrase. Yet is this isolated similarity a decent reason to condemn Ellen White as a low-down thief and criminal?
“Stricken with illness.” How else would she say it? Was she supposed to say “He got sick,” “He came down sick,” “He had got ailing”? No reading of someone else’s book was needed to hit on the commonplace phrase, “stricken with illness.”
“ . . I am safe.” This is an obvious explanation of the meaning of John 11:9. How would you describe the verse?
“Mary did not hear . .” This is a simple and much needed explanation of John 11:20. Note that Hanna was not sure which of two possibilities was the real reason; while Ellen White, with certainty, selected one. She always spoke with certainty while all other writers spoke with hesitancy.
“Jesus encouraged her faith.” Well, didn’t He? Jesus spoke the words in John 11:23, in response to her grieving statement of 11:22. Read the progression in 11:22 to 26. It is obvious that He was encouraging her to exercise faith in Him as a divine Person and as the Great Healer. It takes no searching of books to figure that out.
In conclusion, with the possible exception of “crowning miracle,” nothing in that chapter appears to have been taken from any other authors. Those amount to all the similarities found in one chapter of Desire of Ages.
But should not every book in the world be totally different than every other book?
In all this, we should keep in mind that it is natural for two different writers, when speaking of the same subject, to use similar words and phrases.
The next time you have a study circle with friends, hand everyone a sheet of paper and ask them to write, in one brief paragraph, what happened when Jesus walked on the water by the boat—from the moment the disciples first saw Him until they suddenly recognized Him.
Then compare sheets—and you will find many similarities. But, basically: (1) They saw a mysterious figure walking. (2) They were afraid. (3) He spoke. (4) They recognized Him and were glad. (5) Some may have added another point, which came immediately afterward: They pled with Him to come to them and stop the storm. Unless somebody wrote in a foreign language, all the sheets will be similar. Next, compare the sheets, count the supposed “parallels,”—and then decide “who borrowed from whom.” You will find, theoretically, that everybody in the room “borrowed” from someone else.
I would think that a key issue would be, not whether she used a similar word occasionally, but whether Ellen White slavishly adhered to the concepts and theology of other writers.
There is a dramatic difference between Ellen White’s choice of concepts and those of others. In the four Gospels, many (many!) details are left unexplained. Yet, in writing an expanded commentary on the life of Christ, it would be needful to fill in some of those gaps. The other life-of-Christ authors would hesitantly suggest this or that possibility. But Ellen White always spoke with fullest certainty and selected only one possibility. —And everything she wrote sounded just right! Here are some samples of this contrast. The ideas in Desire of Ages are compared with those in other books:
“Ellen White is clearly unique in what she chooses to include and what she does not choose to include in her description of this subject:
“1 - Lazarus died ‘after’ the messenger returned to Bethany (not ‘before’ the messenger returned). Here E.G.W. differed with Abbott, Edersheim, Farrar, Hanna, March, and MacMillan.
“2 - Christ’s promise, ‘Thy brother shall rise again,’ pointed to the future resurrection of the just (not to the immediate raising of Lazarus). Here E.G.W. disagreed with Edersheim, Farrar, and MacMillan.
“3 - Lazarus’ death was an unconscious sleep (not a conscious existence somewhere). Here E.G.W. disagreed with Abbott, Farrar, Geikie, Hanna, March, and MacMillan.
“4 - One reason why Jesus wept was that the people were mourning while the Life-giver stood by to help them. Abbott, March, and MacMillan gave other reasons, but not this one.”—The Use of Earlier Writings by Scriptural Writers [PG-6], a collection drawn from selected studies given at the New Orleans (1985) General Conference Session, by R.W. Olson, R.W. Coon, and P.A. Gordon, pp. 2-3.
How did Fred Veltman carry on his research work?
He set up his office in Angwin, California, home of Pacific Union College and his many liberal friends. Then, having recruited unpaid volunteers to help him, he set down 14 questions which each staff member was required to rigorously apply to each of the 2,624 “sentence units,” into which the 15 Desire of Ages chapters had been broken down. One would think this was a CIA operation! It surely was as complicated. Although it would take six tedious years to complete the task, the group was determined to find every source for those 15 chapters!
Specifically, what were his conclusions?
There were thirteen of them. Let us briefly consider each one:
The following information is based on pages 871-903 of Veltman’s 958-page Desire of Ages ProjectReport. If you wish to read a far more detailed discussion of that project, we refer you to the present author’s 16-page tract set, The Desire of Ages Project [WM–351-354].
#1 - Veltman and his assistants found that there were pre-DA sources (“pre-DA sources” is Veltman’s term for earlier writings by Ellen White on life of Christ topics) for the entire book. Analyzing them and comparing their style, vocabulary, and concepts with Desire of Ages,—he concluded that Ellen White wrote Desire of Ages, not her assistants! That is a major discovery; but there are more (Veltman Report, p. 871).
#2 - Veltman found that Desire of Ages fully agreed with the theological positions in Ellen White’s earlier writings. None of the religious views or teachings had changed (Report, p. 874).
#3 - Veltman disclosed his findings after he and his assistants spent six years comparing the spiritual level of Desire of Ages with 500 non-Spirit of Prophecy books. They found that, consistently, Desire of Ages was much more spiritual in content than any or all of the 500 other books on the life of Christ! None of those other books had the spiritual emphasis found in Desire of Ages! (Report, p. 875).
#4 - His questions 5 to 7 bring us to the heart of the research: Did Ellen White copy other sources?
“What is the nature of the dependency of the DA text on other literary sources?” “What proportion of the chapter contains sentences in their composition that reflect the influence of other sources?”
“What is the nature of the independence of the DA text influenced by other literary sources? What proportion of the chapter contains sentences which do not reflect the influence of literary sources in their composition?”
“What is the degree of dependence for the dependent sentences, when evaluated according to the rating scale? How do the dependent sentences rate when figured against all sentences in the chapter other than Bible quotations?” (Report, pp. 20-21).
These three questions distill down to this: To what extent did Ellen White use sources? Veltman’s chart (shown on p. 879 of his Report), summarizing the data for these three questions, is titled “Statistics on Source Parallel Evaluation for the Desire of Ages text.”
Here is a summary of the conclusions shown on that chart: Look at the bottom (horizontal) line of the chart in his Report. This is the “totals” line. It is this that was essentially discovered in the six years of exhaustive work. It reveals eight basic facts:
(1) There are 2,624 sentence units in the entire 15 chapters (chart: column 2, bottom). (We will refer to them as “sentences”; since nearly all are full sentences, except for nine which are split compound sentences he split in two.)
(2) Of the 2,624 sentences, none are “strict verbatim” (col. 11, bottom). That means NOT ONE of the 2,624 sentences was DIRECTLY COPIED FROM ANY SOURCE, other than earlier Spirit of Prophecy writings or the Bible! That is the conclusion of six years of intensive research!
(3) Of the 2,624 sentences, only 29 were “verbatim” or partially similar! That is a ratio of one sentence out of every ninety, which showed a slight similarity!
(4) Columns 7-9 indicate various degrees of paraphrase; and the total for them is 532. That means, of the 2,624 sentences, 532 appear to show some indication of possible paraphrase. But keep in mind that, because of the nature of the material, it is easily possible for many of those 532 sentences to only appear as paraphrases, when in fact they are not. (You will recall our earlier analysis of when Jesus spoke with Mary and Martha at the death of Lazarus. Nearly all the supposed parallels amounted to nothing.) “Paraphrase” means saying all or part of the idea of a sentence in different words. It would be difficult for anyone to write a paragraph describing an event in Christ’s life without using words similar to those others would use.
(5) Column 6 indicates that a Bible quotation, which a source is quoted from, differed from the King James Version. Veltman incorrectly termed each such instance “an outside source.” A Bible quotation is not an “outside source”! Yet Veltman used column 6 in preparing his column 12 total.
(6) Column 5 represents “partial independence,” which refers to those sentences in which the slightest hint of possible use of a source might be present. This category sounds so loose that it probably means little. Veltman also used this column in arriving at his Column 12 total.
(7) Summary: Of the 2,624 sentences in the 15 chapters, none were actually verbatim (exact copies); only 29 were partially verbatim; and only 532 might be paraphrases.
(8) The final total for Column 12 is the totals of columns 5 through 10 added together, which is really unfair—yet that total is only 823. (If Columns 7-11 had been used, the Column 12 total would only have been 561.)
There you have it: This exhaustive six-year research has produced zero “strict verbatims” and only 28 partial “verbatims” out of more than twenty-six hundred sentences!
Ramik said there simply was no case; and the data from Veltman’s research essentially says the same thing.
#5 - Veltman tried to ascertain the books Ellen White most likely looked at, before she would begin to write a chapter. Veltman’s three charts indicate possible major and minor sources (other than her earlier writings and the Bible) she might have used. William Hanna’s book, Life of Christ, was definitely referred to most frequently. None of the other books were used very often.
Since Veltman found that none of the life-of-Christ books had the deep spirituality that Desire of Ages had, why would Ellen White bother with looking at them at all?
The answer is simple enough. She primarily referred to them for factual material, such as geographical, historical, and cultural data, etc., which had not been revealed in vision. She knew she would be guided to clearly discern truth when she read it. She had been told she could do so. She was encouraged to do so; therefore she did so.
“In her early experience when she was sorely distressed over the difficulty of putting into human language the revelations of truths that had been imparted to her, she was reminded of the fact that all wisdom and knowledge comes from God, and she was assured that God would bestow grace and guidance. She was told that in the reading of religious books and journals she would find precious gems of truth expressed in acceptable language and that she would be given help from heaven to recognize these and to separate them from the rubbish of error with which they were sometimes associated.”—W.C. White, Letter dated 1933, written from Elmshaven, California.
“She was acquainted with Daniel March’s Walks and Homes of Jesus, and his Night Scenes in the Bible. Geikie’s Hours with the Bible and Edersheim’s works on the Temple and its services and Jewish social life were known to her as well as some others. While, as noted, these books did not constitute what might be said to be her sources, they proved an aid to her in her descriptions of places, customs, and historical events.”—A.L. White, The Australian Years, pp. 385-386.
Looking at the three source charts which Veltman’s staff prepared, one is struck by the fact that there is hardly anything there which could possibly be called “sources”! Only little bits and hints was all that his staff could find in 500 books!
#6 - Veltman found that Ellen White used “source data” (information she gleaned from other books) more often for “background and descriptive material than devotional and evangelical comment” (p. 900). This fact reveals that Ellen White primarily used other books only for factual background data. This may be one of the most important findings in this study. When writing a book, what is wrong with finding additional background material on geography, secular Roman history, and similar things from other books? Absolutely nothing!
#7 - Veltman noted that Ellen White may possibly have patterned a small part of the order and titles of chapters after those of other authors. This point has never been contested. Ellen White was frequently not shown in vision which event came before or after another event. It was left to her to decide on sequence, chapter contents and splits, and chapter titles.
“As the materials were assembled and arranged into chapters, careful attention had to be given to the sequence of the events in the Saviour’s life. To what extent and in what detail visions provided the sequence in ministry and miracles in Christ’s life and work is not known. It is known that a decade earlier she made a significant request: ‘Tell Mary to find me some histories of the Bible that would give me the order of events’ (EGW, Letter 38, 1885). The Gospel writers in their accounts did not help much in the point of sequence. In the absence of direct instruction from Ellen White, or clues in the materials themselves, Miss Davis consulted carefully prepared harmonies of the Gospels, and as the work progressed made considerable use of S. J. Andrews’ Life of Our Lord upon the Earth, which as noted on the title page took into account ‘historical, chronological, and geographical relations.’ ”—A. L. White, The Australian Years, pp. 384-385.
“Chapter titles came rather naturally as the material was prepared, being representative of the subject matter. The Bible narrative suggested some, but there was some paralleling with chapter titles used by others who wrote on Christ’s life. Selection was based on appropriateness and reader appeal.”—Ibid., p. 385.
#8 - Veltman discovered that, using his exhaustive research methods, all the “sources” seemed frequently to be copying one another! At this point, this foolish study of chasing after rabbits which cannot be found—turns into a comedy.
“We often found similarities and even verbatim expressions among the sources used by Ellen White.”—Veltman Report, p. 952.
“The writers used by Ellen White often exhibited literary parallels between themselves.”—Ibid.
Using the methods that Veltman used to trace “literary dependency” and “use of sources” (pp. 920, 952), it appears that all the sources were copying one another! It would have been interesting if Veltman had made charts interconnecting all the “borrowings” by the various “sources” from one another. He could have tabulated how much everybody “borrowed” from each other! Quite obviously Veltman’s assumptions, of what constitutes “borrowed materials,” is so stringent—that it would apply to everything anybody writes! The next time you write a letter to someone, know that you must have “copied it” from someone else you have never met or heard about! Perhaps someone who wrote a letter a hundred years ago.
These charges of “plagiarism” against Ellen White have injured thousands; yet they are based on extreme assumptions of similarity of content —which would condemn anyone’s writings as plagiaristic! Who is willing to throw over his faith in the Spirit of Prophecy, so he can wander down the wilderness trails blazed by critics, such as Walter Rea?
#9 - Elsewhere, Veltman mentions another discovery about Desire of Ages.
We find it on p. 901 of his Report: Unlike all the other 500 authors of her time, Ellen White spoke, with authority, as though she absolutely knew that each detail was correct!
There would be no way humanly possible for a life-of-Christ author to know which possibilities were correct. For this reason, the other authors very frequently expressed uncertainty; but Ellen White, never.
“Where the source might invoke the use of imagination and supposition or in other words make clear that it was not necessarily dealing with the real facts of the case, Ellen White’s descriptive commentary reads like a work of history.”—Ibid., p. 901.
#10 - Veltman also did some checking into sources of the pre-DA Spirit of Prophecy writings. His conclusion (pp. 903-904) was that there was not enough evidence that her pre-DA writings had been borrowed from any outside sources.
#11 - After very careful analysis, Veltman concluded that Ellen White’s helpers did not write her book, Desire of Ages, nor any part of it. They did not arrange its structure; and they did not write its content. But, as earlier reported, they did make grammatical corrections (ibid., p. 913).
#12 - After much close investigation, Veltman also concluded that there had been no progressive change in her writing style, content, objectives, beliefs, etc., between her pre-DA writings and Desire of Ages itself (ibid., p. 925).
#13 - It has been charged that Marian Davis, Ellen White’s primary assistant, may have been the author of Desire of Ages, Christ’s Object Lessons, Education, and Ministry of Healing.
But Veltman concluded that this could not be so. He said that Marian Davis could not write Ellen White’s books, since Davis’ work on Desire of Ages stopped abruptly in 1899, due to overwork. Yet that which was done beforehand and afterward on the book was all alike. So Marian could not have done any actual writing (ibid., pp. 945-946).
So those were the thirteen discoveries, which Fred Veltman nailed down. Are there any other factors we should take into consideration?
We should also keep this in mind:
1 - Ellen White received frequent visions during the time she was writing Desire of Ages. Not only were her earlier writings used, and possibly some consultation with other life-of-Christ books, but she also received direct counsel from the angel. It is known that she wrote many fresh, new sections—in addition to rewriting her earlier materials.
“As the reader has observed the frequency of the visions given to Ellen White in Australia dealing with the various features of the work and the experience of individuals, it is reasonable to assume that as she wrote, views on the life and work of Jesus were frequently given to her also. In 1889 she told of how ‘the betrayal, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus’ had passed before her, point by point’ (Letter 14, 1889). In 1900 she wrote:
“ ‘Heavenly scenes were presented to me in the life of Christ, pleasant to contemplate, and again painful scenes which were not always pleasant for Him to bear which pained my heart’ (MS 93, 1900).”—A.L. White, The Australian Years, pp. 382-383.
2 - Desire of Ages contains a very special class of material, which would be far eaier to interpret as “dependent on sources” than most other Spirit of Prophecy books. This is because it is so heavily narrative; that is, it contains descriptions of stories and events. Why was not Testimonies to Ministers, Messages to Young People, and other Spirit of Prophecy books selected by Rea, for his attacks, and Veltman for his research? The answer is that Desire of Ages especially requires a knowledge of geographical, historical, and cultural data which Ellen White would normally need to turn to outside writers for.
3 - The very nature of the content of Desire of Ages lends itself to imagining literary dependency when little or none actually exists. This is because she was describing stories which many other authors had described. It would therefore be easy for someone to later come along and find many imagined parallels in description.
Take the story of Jesus healing the sick man by the pool of Bethesda. There are only a few ways of describing that narrowly circumscribed scene. Out of 500 books, it should be easy to find some author which had described that scene in a similar manner! How would you describe the event? There are only a limited number of ways a partially described Bible story can be told; for it is a specific, short-term incident. The facts, as given in the Bible, place within very narrow limits what can be said about it.
If you wrote a book on the life of Christ, everything you wrote would be “similar to” and “parallel to” all the other books on the life of Christ! But if you wrote a book on something more unique—a set of stories not found anywhere else in print, then your book would appear different from other books. Is that why Desire of Ages was selected for the rough treatment, in an attempt to prove “borrowing” and “plagiarism”? Walter Rea knew he could play games with that book.
It is significant that, in spite of these factors, the best that Veltman could arrive at was this: No directly quoted sentences and only 29 “verbatim” (partially similar) sentences out of a total of 2,624! That is only one sentence out of every ninety, which showed a slight similarity! That is all that six years of research produced!
Let’s face it: The entire case against Ellen White is weak and shallow. Additional reasons why the case is shallow will be presented in the next chapter.
Did Veltman see things differently by the time he completed this project?
It has been said that the Word of God is like a block of solid granite, which is the same measurement in all directions. You can push it, shove it, turn it every which way; but it will always be right side up. That is the way the Spirit of Prophecy is also. The skeptics can claw at the cliff of Scripture; but they will never wear it down. It stands firm against all the attacks of the critics.
Surely, such findings as these must have had an effect on Veltman! It is obvious that the Desire of Ages Project(supposed to take two years from its beginning, then extending to four and finally to six years) changed Fred Veltman! He had been in close contact with God’s Word for six years; and it shook him up. He entered upon the project an open doubter in the Spirit of Prophecy and very willing to express his questions openly. He concluded it with this statement:
“I am under the strong conviction, now more than before I began this research project, that the issue is not one of deciding if Ellen White was a prophet or merely a religious leader. It is not a case of ‘either/or.’ Rather, it is an issue of ‘both/and.’ ”—Veltman Report. p. 956.
That trick phrasing verified that Veltman had concluded that she was a prophet, as well as a religious leader.
Here are several additional concluding comments from Veltman’s official report:
“The special character of Ellen White’s commentary is to be found in its practical use of Scripture and in its stress on spiritual realities and personal devotion.”—Ibid., p. 925.
“Anyone aware of Ellen White’s limited formal education would be surprised at the high level of readability, the clarity, and the literary force her original writings exhibit.”—Ibid., p. 927.
“Another quite distinct character of Ellen White’s work on the life of Christ is in the stress given to what, for lack of a better term, I have labeled ‘spiritual realities.’ ”—Ibid., p. 928.
“Ellen White seems to have had a great interest in the ‘other world,’ in the invisible and real world of spiritual beings of the universe.”—Ibid.
“Ellen White writes as if she is dealing with realities, whether on earth or beyond the world we see. The reader is not left to imagine anything except what it would have been like to have been in Palestine in the time of Jesus and to have faced the realities she is describing.”—Ibid., p. 929.
“[She] stayed with the main storyline and with the essential elements of the background and characterizations. The reader of the DA is hardly ever conscious of the text itself or impressed with the literary skill of the author. One is caught up with the narrative and its meaning and appeal.”—Ibid., p. 930.
“The fingerprint of Ellen White may be found in the devotional, moral, or Christian appeals or lessons which may be expected anywhere in the chapter, but are often placed at the end.”—Ibid., pp. 930-931.
“What needs to be recognized in addition to her independent commentary is the selectivity represented in the many decisions she must have made NOT to use material from her sources.”—Ibid., p. 937.
“If there is one general conclusion generated from my countless hours spent in reading and studying her writings over the past six years, it is this: Ellen White was above all a practical believing Christian. Her writings were written to inform and to build personal faith in and personal obedience to God’s will as it comes to expression in His Word, the Bible.”—Ibid., p. 957.