The first volume of a projected series covering the unpublished writings of Ellen G. White was just released this month. This is a major new work that makes a major contribution to Ellen White studies. It is perhaps the most significant publication to come from the Ellen G. White Estate in over three decades, perhaps since the 1982 Prophetic Guidance workshop. It was also in the early 1980s that the White Estate made a shift to generally start releasing her unpublished writings, unless there was a reason not to. Then in the 1990s serious discussions culminated in a project to annotated her unpublished writings. Begin in earnest in 2002 Roland Karlman spent the last decade of his career on this volume.
Among some of the significant contributions:
- Essay by Alberto R. Timm on the interpretation and authority of Ellen White’s unpublished writings.
- Essay by Merlin D. Burt on the Shut Door. He argues in essence that a careful historical study separates Ellen White as taking a more moderate view that allowed for her to progressively expand her view. This essay alone is worth the price of the book.
- The actual unpublished writings. While all of the unpublished writings will be released next year (July 16, 2015) on the 100th anniversary of Ellen White’s death, these earliest writings (up to 1859) give valuable insights. Plus, the careful identification of important people and places is invaluable.
- Afterward is a list of key biographical personalities from her life, as well as a timeline and several other useful tools.
- One of the appendices is also by Merlin D. Burt on charismatic experiences. In it he notes that she was far more enthusiastic in her religious experience than generally characterized, but still far from many of the fanatical excesses that she warned against.
In addition the book contains several detailed indices, along with maps inside the front and back covers with key Adventist places located on the maps. Except for a handful of typos, the book has been carefully edited and is a significant piece of research.
Some of my concerns:
- The book is so carefully edited that at the current rate, the project will likely last over two centuries. The denomination and the White Estate needs to invest more into the project. Perhaps one way would be to allow for more scholars in Adventist studies to contribute to the project.
- I have concerns about textual variations. The editors did a sampling that led them to believe that the typed version as the White Estate has it is the most accurate rendition. Some of my own research, especially with the discovery of some Ellen White letters about a decade ago, leads me to question how accurate the text is: scholars will likely want to know precise terms used by her, not what later secretaries thought she should say, including variants between carbon copies that is characteristic of her later writings. Which edition of these unpublished writings will remain authoritative? Some of these concerns are of significance for Ellen White scholars, but only those able to travel to the General Conference will be able to compare what is published against original autographs since the same copies are what are available at White Estate Branch Offices and Research Centers.
- Lack of historical context. While there is great deal of effort made on the literary context: identifying individuals for example who are mentioned is of prime importance to the White Estate, some of the historical context is missing that could have made this a much richer volume. As this volume is published in the immediate wake of Ellen Harmon White: American Prophet (Oxford, 2014) and The Ellen White Encyclopedia (Review and Herald, 2013) the contrast is rather glaring. Why is there no essay or significant treatment in this volume about Israel Dammon, despite the fact that he is mentioned in one of her earlier letters. This is now considered by many Adventist scholars as a key incident in her life, and regardless of the interpretation, needs a more thorough discussion of what this means for Ellen White’s prophetic ministry. Similarly, larger discussions should discuss some of the economic cycles, especially the series of depressions, the great cholera epidemic of 1849, the Second Great Awakening, and the whole series of reforms and revivalism that made for such a turbulent period in American religious history.
Despite its flaws this still is a major new work for the serious student of Ellen G. White’s life and ministry, and will serve a valuable place in furthering scholarship in the field for years to come. One can only hope that future volumes are done in a much more expeditious manner than this first one, which no doubt will come from Pacific Press now that the Review and Herald plant is closing up in Maryland.