by Monte Sahlin
By Adventist Today News Team, June 11, 2014
Historians from within and outside the Adventist movement shared assessments of Ellen G. White and her contributions during a May 31 event on the campus of Loma Linda University (LLU). The complete manuscripts of the presentations, as well as an article summarizing the surprising number of scholarly books on White that are being produced, will be published in the summer issue of Adventist Today’s quarterly print magazine.
This is a topic that has long been invisible outside the Adventist community, and it has been narrowly focused on predictable issues during insider discussions. The focus of this event was much broader than debating again these narrow concerns. It comes in the same season as the publication of two landmark volumes: Ellen Harmon White: American Prophet, a collection of papers published by Oxford University Press, and The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia (Review & Herald), a monumental collection of virtually all known information on the figure, with nearly 200 contributors and 1,500 pages. It includes, for example, the first published list of every White letter, noting to whom is was originally addressed to, when and where it was written, and where extracts have been published. (Appendix C)
Most of what has been written on White over the years is rooted in opinion or devotion, pro or con, instead of the careful, comprehensive fact-finding done by professional historians. Many pages of passionate pleas and heated exchanges, often rooted in less-than-accurate information, are typical. The discourse at this event was of a different nature. The theme was “Scholars Discover Ellen, Finally.”
Two of the presentations at the event were from scholars no longer connected with the Adventist denomination. Dr. Ronald L. Numbers is an emeritus professor of the history of science at the University of Wisconsin; the author of two acclaimed histories: Ellen White: Prophetess of Health, now in its third edition, and The Creationists, in a second edition. Dr. Jonathan Butler has written several significant essays on Adventist history over four decades and is completing a cultural biography of White.
Numbers’ book on White was first published in the 1970s and kicked up considerable controversy. Other presenters have key roles within the denomination. Dr. Theodore Levterov is director of the White Estate branch office at LLU. Dr. Terrie Aamodt is a professor of history and English at Walla University. Dr. Jon Paulien is dean of the School of Religion at LLU and a well-published Bible scholar on the book of Revelation.
Historians outside Adventist circles and at the most prestigious institutions have begun to take an interest in the contribution the movement has made to the larger society. Numbers is under contract with Harvard University Press to produce a book on Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the originator of Adventist health ministries and a close associate of White’s for many years. He is also collecting information to write a biography of his grandfather, Pastor W. H. Branson, who served as president of the denomination’s General Conference in the 1950s.
If you would like to get a copy of the complete presentations from the May 31 event, contact the Adventist Today office by email at email@example.com or by telephone at (503) 826-8600.