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Respected historian of science Ronald Numbers here examines one of the most influential, yet least examined, religious leaders of the mid-nineteenth century — Ellen G. White, the enigmatic visionary who founded the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Numbers scrutinizes White’s life (1827–1915), from her teenage visions and testimonies to her extensive advice on health reform, which influenced the direction of the church she founded. This third edition features a new introduction and two key documents that shed further light on White — transcripts of the trial of Elder I. Dammon in 1845 and the proceedings of the secret Bible Conferences in 1919.
List of Illustrations
Introduction The Historian as Heretic Jonathan M. Butler Butler, Jonathan M. 1
1 A Prophetess Is Born 43
2 In Sickness and in Health 76
3 The Health Reformers 95
4 Dansville Days 127
5 The Western Health Reform Institute 156
6 Short Skirts and Sex 184
7 Whatsoever Ye Eat or Drink 219
8 Fighting the Good Fight 239
Afterword: Ellen White on the Mind and the Mind of Ellen White Ronald L. Numbers Numbers, Ronald L. Janet S. Numbers Numbers, Janet S. 267
App. 1 Physical and Psychological Experiences of Ellen G. White: Related in Her Own Words 291
App. 2 The 1864 Dansville Visit 320
App. 3 The Trial of Elder I. Dammon 326
App. 4 The Secret 1919 Bible Conferences 344
Posted October 15, 2013
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I'm not a Seventh Day Adventist, but I read this book because of Ellen G. White's large-scale influence on her followers' (and members of break-off sects) dietary and other healthy-lifestyle practices.
I'm not beholden to White because of religion, nor am I eager to shine a spotlight on her shortcomings. But author Ronald L. Numbers does a disservice to the book by holding back on White's sometimes blunt and harsh personality, questionable moral compass, pursuit of autonomy across the breadth of church issues (prescriptions and proscriptions for health, etc.). White's influence was widespread and autocratic at the turn of the 20th century -- a feat for a woman at the time. She shaped society then. Who knows where the breakfast-cereal industry would be today if White's authority didn't extend to excommunication? She dismissed and discarded John Harvey Kellogg, whose life had revolved around the church. Feeling rejected, he tried to join his brother Will -- less obsessed with the church and okay with -- gasp -- adding sugar to the cereals he had been making while his brother John stayed busy at the church's sanitarium. The two of them -- and C.W. Post -- spent many years facing each other in court. All because of Mrs. White.
The book would have been more engaging if Numbers were less reserved about sharing a broader -- but truer -- biography of Ellen G. White. I believe he considered himself to be pushing the envelope regarding White and the church, but (he had his reasons) he self-censors his text.
White was no angel. No one should expect her to be. She had her fair share of imperfections and mishandled situations, and shining a light on these would have made the book more engaging and helped the reader better understand White for the woman she was.
Posted November 22, 2009
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Ellen Gould White (nee Harmon, 1827 - 1915) was a founding member of Seventh-day Adventism. In her lifetime and for some time afterward, not a few Adventists took many of her voluminous writings to be Divinely inspired. Some took her works to be infallible. A few saw them as more authoritative than Scripture. She herself was more modest. She had her visions and trusted them. And she felt that she knew how to separate them from both ordinary imaginings and diabolic temptations. Ellen also distinguished God's personally revealed truth from her imperfect way of expressing those visions. She accepted help as a writer amd researcher where she found help: from her husband James White, from secretaries and from her own wide readings of contemporary specialists in mesmerism, water cures, vegetarianism, women's health and dress reform and other topics. ***
Mid-19th Century America abounded with other enthusiastic religious prophets like Mormon Joseph Smith and Christian Scientist Mary Baker Eddy. They are included in the social milieu sketched and illustrated by Professor Ronald L. Numbers in PROPHETESS OF HEALTH: A STUDY OF ELLEN G. WHITE. When first published in 1976, the book fell like a bombshell in conservative Adventist circles. For it recapitulated the then state of increasingly sceptical research into eye witnesses, early press coverage and White's own writings. This research found unacknowledged borrowing of ideas from other contemporaries, evolving views on topics such as women's dress, vegetarianism and, especially, butter. For not a few Adventist faithful brought up to regard Mrs White as an infallible oracle, Numbers's book created something of a crisis of faith. Disappointed, some left Adventism. Others pondered out new personal syntheses in which Ellen G. White was gratefully credited with being an authoritative guide to Adventism's founding years, but not necessarily a Divine oracle. ***
Professor Numbers argues that Mrs White had an "histrionic" personality. She craved attention and got it from an early age by lying on the floor at church meetings, going into trancelike states, then emerging to accuse persons present of various concrete failings attached to a warning from God to be baptized that very evening or die. One such meeting is described by multiple witnesses in the proceedings of a February 1845 civil trial in Piscataquis County, Maine. Ellen Harmon was then 17, and she and another slightly older prophetess are described at length, if in passing, in Numbers's Appendix 3, "The Trial of Elder I. Dammon." In the third edition this appendix takes up pages 326 - 343. It is illustrative of the author's painstaking research into hard to find materials. ***
Numbers focuses on White's contributions to health. On this as in theology, "We believed her" was repeated over and over by enthusiastic followers. Her contributions endure today: sanitaria in Battle Creek and Loma Linda, John Kellogg's pioneering breakfast cereals, an elaborate worldwide Adventist network of hospitals, schools, universities and conference centers. Vegetarians invoke her insights. Women are grateful to her, to Amelia Bloomer and other reformers for skirts that no longer drag in mire and waists happily uncorseted. Ellen G. White, by contrast with Joseph Smith and Mary Baker Eddy, is, alas, even today not widely known outside her own denomination, which now has between 14 and 17 million adherents. Pity. -OOO-
Posted December 22, 2008
No text was provided for this review.