Archive for December, 2006


Context is Everything

December 24, 2006

Recently Tom Zwemer commented: “What better evidence that Ellen G. White was a child of her time?” He is correct; for the historian, context is everything. Context is the key to understanding not only Ellen G. White, but every other aspect of our past.
Recently while browsing the June 13, 1907 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald I came across an interesting essay by Ellen G. White titled, “No Other Gods Before Me”. In it she states:

As I visit the homes of our people and our schools, I see that all the available space on tables, what-nots, and mantelpieces is filled up with photographs. On the right hand and on the left are seen the pictures of human faces. God desires this order of things to be changed. Were Christ on earth, he would say, “Take these things hence.” I have been instructed that these pictures are as so many idols, taking up the time and thought which should be sacredly devoted to God.
These photographs cost money. Is it consistent for us, knowing the work that is to be done at this time, to spend God’s money in producing pictures of our own faces and the faces of our friends? Should not every dollar that we can spare be used in the upbuilding of the cause of God? These pictures take money that should be sacredly devoted to God’s service; and they divert the mind from the truths of God’s Word.
This making and exchanging photographs is a species of idolatry. Satan is doing all he can to eclipse heaven from our view. Let us not help him by making picture-idols. We need to reach a higher standard than these human faces suggest. The Lord says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Those who claim to believe in Christ need to realize that they are to reflect his image?? It is his likeness that is to be kept before the mind. The words that are spoken are to be freighted with heavenly inspiration….
After going from home to home, and seeing the many photographs, I was instructed to warn our people against this. evil. This much we can do for God. We can put these picture-idols out of sight. They have no power for good, but interpose between God and the soul. They can do nothing to help in sowing the seeds of truth. Christ calls upon those who claim to be following him to put on the whole armor of God.

Now, how should one interpret such an essay? Do I have to get rid of the picture of my wife in my office? Throw out my wedding pictures at home?

While Ellen White’s negative statements on bicycle purchase and cycling have frequently been raised, I’ve never seen this particular prohibition against photographs dealt with.

When dealing with such statements, we must recognize indeed that “Ellen G. White was a child of her time?” This is something that both those against Ellen White and those for her, often fail to do.

The biggest difficulty lies in determining the cultural context in which she was writing. Questions that need answering regarding this article include:

  • What was the cost of having your picture taken in 1907?
  • How does this cost compare with the average wage of the time?
  • What was going on in the Seventh-day Adventist church in 1907? Was there are financial crisis etc?

Unfortunately I don’t have complete answers to these questions, however the following points may provide some insight:

  • According to the History of Photography timeline photography was well developed by 1907—the first positive permanent photograph was created in 1834 by Henry Talbot. In 1900 the Kodak box-brownie was introduced, and in 1907 the French Lumiere brothers had introduced the first colour film.
  • During the period 1900-1909, “Many changes during this time were brought about through advances in technology. The turn of the century decade began one of transition and progress and is considered the first decade of materialism and consumerism. The Industrial age was in full swing, mass production made prices fall to all time lows. Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs were read more than any book other than the Bible. Teddy Bears became a fad started from a cartoon of a bear with Teddy Roosevelt (Letter’s to his Children) (1902) and were mass produced in 1905. During this decade, safety in food processing and the environment became issues and laws were enacted. There were hundreds of job openings for a typewriter secretary. Radio broadcasts and transportation, especially automobiles, ships, and trains, changed the way people viewed their world.” ( (Emphasis added.)
  • The “average worker (1900-1909) made $12.98/week for 59 hours [work]”. (
  • George R. Knight terms the period 1901-1910, the “Era of Reorganization and Crisis”. (A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists, p108) Knight notes that John Harvey Kellogg was disfellowshipped from the Battle Creek congregation in November 1907 after a long and traumatic feud. He also points out that this decade was a time of major expansion in both education and overseas missions.

It must also be noted that numerous photographs of Ellen G. White exist, the earliest being an ambrotype of James and Ellen most likely taken in the late 1850s:

Here is James and Ellen in 1868:

One of the last photographs taken of Ellen G. White was this one taken as she was addressing local church school children on June 15, 1913, in California:

The photographs of Ellen White include this family group taken in 1907—the year she wrote so vehemently against photographs:

Front row (L to R): Great grandchildren Henry, Gracie, and Herbert; seated- Mrs. W. C. White, Mrs. E. G. White, Elder W. C. White; standing: Ella M. Robinson, D. E. Robinson, W. D. Workman, Mabel E. Workman.

Some photographs of Ellen White have caused controversy:

This 1913 family group photograph shows Ellen G. White’s granddaughter Ella May Robinson seated on the right. Ella is wearing a long dark necklace. The presence of this item of jewellery in close proximity to Ellen, caused the Review and Herald publishers to censor the photograph—removing the necklace—when it was published in the final volume of Arthur L. White’s biography Ellen G. White: The Later Elmshaven Years in 1982. The retouched photograph appears at the bottom of page p243. You can see the photographs side-by-side here.

Similarly, this 1878 photograph of Ellen and her twin sister Elizabeth, in which Ellen wears some jewellery—apparently a watch chain of some description—has caused controversy amongst some Ellen White opponents.

There are still a lot of gaps to be filled in this story of Ellen White and photographs. Let me conclude with this: in this Christmas season—a time of overeating, commercialism, rampant consumerism, and selfishness—we would do well to remember Ellen G. White’s words in another passage from that same article:

Christ looks upon a world filled with the din of merchandise and trade, with the dishonesty and scheming of buyers and sellers. In their desire to get gain, men have lost sight of the laws of justice and equity….
We are God’s stewards, and “it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” The money that God has entrusted to us is to be carefully husbanded. We are to increase in efficiency by putting to the best use the talents given us, that at God’s coming we may return to him his own with usury.

Merry Christmas to you all.


Religion in Ellen G. White’s Portland

December 14, 2006

This post comes about in a rather round-about way. For some weeks I have been an avid reader of the Strange Maps blog. I got to thinking about adventist history & maps, and googled those terms. most of the links were modern–maps of SDA college/university campuses, directions to SDA churches etc. I did however follow a link that led me here. The article is a preview of a historical project–the development and publication of an historical atlas of Maine. The article was first published as: Hatlen, Burton, Joshua M. Smith, Peter Lodge and Michael Hermann. 2002. “A Sampler from the New Historical Atlas of Maine: Religion in Maine.” Maine Policy Review 11(1): 48-57. The article discusses the religious settlement of Maine–and importantly for my purposes–focusses on Portland; with a .pdf of an 1847 map of Portland’s churches. Portland–as all historically literate SDAs will know–was where Ellen G. White spent her childhood and first heard and accepted the Adventist message.

Robert Harmon
Ellen and her fraternal twin sister Elizabeth were born on November 26, 1827 in Gorham, Maine to Robert and Eunice Harmon. They were the youngest of the eight Harmon children.
A few years after the birth of Ellen and Elizabeth, Robert Harmon (left) gave up farming and moved to the city of Portland, about twelve miles east, where he began work as a hat-maker.

While living in Portland, the Harmon family attended the Chestnut Street Methodist Church; and it was there that Ellen and her siblings received their early religious instruction.

In March, 1840, the Harmon family attended a revival at the Casco Street Christian Church in Portland, (below left) and heard William Miller preach on the second coming of Christ.

Casco St Christian Church portland Maine

“In March 1840, William Miller visited Portland, Maine, and gave a course of lectures on the second coming of Christ. These lectures produced a great sensation, and the Christian Church on Casco Street was crowded day and night….In company with my friends, I attended these meetings. Life Sketches, p20.

“At the age of thirteen [in 1842] I heard William Miller deliver his second course of lectures in Portland, Maine. I then felt that I was not holy, not ready to see Jesus. And when the invitation was given for church members and sinners to come forward for prayers, I embraced the first opportunity, for I knew that I must have a great work done for me to fit me for heaven. My soul was thirsting for full and free salvation, but knew not how to obtain it.” Early Writings, p12.

On June 26, 1842, after attending a camp-meeting at Buxton, White was baptised by immersion in Casco Bay, Portland. That same day she was received as a member of the Chestnut Street Methodist Church. She saw her baptism in very emotional terms, reflecting later,
“When I arose out of the water, my strength was nearly gone, for the power of God rested upon me. Such a rich blessing I never experienced before. I felt dead to the world, and that my sins were all washed away.” Spiritual Gifts, 13.

The Harmon family’s Second Advent beliefs soon placed them at odds with the majority of Methodists in their local congregation. Following a visit from the Methodist minister and a church hearing, White recorded that,
“The next Sunday [September 1843], at the commencement of the love feast, the presiding elder read off our names, seven in number, as discontinued from the church. He stated that we were not expelled on account of any wrong or immoral conduct, that we were of unblemished character and enviable reputation; but we had been guilty of walking contrary to the rules of the Methodist church. He also declared that a door was now open, and all who were guilty of a similar breach of the rules would be dealt with in like manner.” Life Sketches, 53

The Harmon’s final expulsion followed a lengthy examination process by four committees that met between February and June 1843, and a “committee of trial” that met on August 14, 1843. Robert Harmon appealed the decision at the September 2, 1843 “Quarterly Meeting Conference for the Portland Station,” but the decision was unanimously upheld.

The article mentioned gives some insight into the religious life of Portland while White was growing up there:

“As our 1847 map shows, Portland, as a center of commerce, early offered a diverse array of religious possibilities. The map shows four “parish” churches, listed on the map as the First, Second, and Third Parish and the High Street meeting houses. These all began as Congregational churches. However, the oldest and most socially prestigious of these churches, the First Parish church, had become effectively Unitarian in 1809, when it called an avowed Unitarian, Ichabod Nichols, to serve as pastor; in 1831 the church renamed itself as Unitarian. The Third Parish meeting house, only two blocks from the First Parish church, apparently developed in some measure as an alternative to the increasing liberalism of the First Parish church. The church met for a time after its founding in 1807, but then suspended operations; only after 1825 did the Third Parish church assume a distinct identity, as a robust Trinitarian alternative to the Unitarian First Parish church.
Both the Baptist and the Methodist churches had established a presence in the city by the 1840s, with two Methodist churches, on Chestnut Street and Pleasant Street respectively, and with two Baptist churches, on Federal Street and Free Street. Also, the Freewill Baptists had come to town, with a church on Casco Street. One of the first Episcopal churches in the state, originally named St. Paul’s, had formed a parish in 1764 and built a church a year later; Irish immigrants established a Catholic parish in 1827 and built a church in 1830; and the only African-American church in the state, the Abyssinian Religious Society, began meeting on Munjoy Hill in 1828. The Universalists, the Society of Friends, the Christians, and the Swedenborgians also had established regular meetings in Portland by 1847. The Portland map suggests a religious geography that is typical of Maine cities: the main line Protestant churches are clustered together on the high ground around the conjunction of Congress and Federal streets, while the Catholic church, the radical Free Will Baptists, the heretical Swendenborgians, and Abyssinian church are on the outskirts, near the waterfront or out toward Munjoy Hill. There are exceptions, however—in particular, the relatively radical Universalists, at this stage of their history very different in their emotional fervor from the more rationalistic Unitarians, found a home near the center of the city.”

For an interesting overview of Portland in White’s time, see: Frederick Hoyt, “Ellen White’s Hometown: Portland, Maine, 1827-1846.” In Gary Land (Ed.) The World of Ellen G. White (Washington, Review and Herald: 1987), 13-31.

Maine Memory Network:

Burton Hatlen, Joshua M. Smith, Peter Lodge and Michael Hermann. A Sampler from the New Historical Atlas of Maine: Religion in Maine:

Loma Linda University Heritage Room :


Bacchiocchi’s Sabbath to Sunday-Take 3

December 12, 2006

I have blogged previously on the controversy surrounding Samuele Bacchiocchi’s academic credentials & his use of an imprimatur in his published books, here and here. Bacchiocchi responded to some of the allegations concerning his qualifications in his Endtime Issues newsletter #159 which may be found here. In his recent Endtime Issues newsletter #160 Bacchiocchi responds to the second part of the allegations–his use of an imprimatur.

Stephen Korsman responds to Bacchiocchi’s statement comprehensively here.

To quote Korsman:

So I think it is quite clear – the Imprimatur on the current books printed by Bacchiocchi do not apply to the books it is printed in, and it never applied to his thesis as a whole. It is being used
inappropriately, and he should stop. It is misleading.
The[n] comes the fact that the Imprimatur still is not what he claims it is – approval of the contents by the Catholic Church. The contents are not in agreement with the Catholic faith, and nobody ever thought they were. Bacchiocchi admits it was a lengthy and difficult process, involving a number of favours, to get it. So, assuming it ever existed, it is still not approval from the Catholic Church. As Bacchiocchi admits elsewhere in his part 2, Imprimatur means “It can be printed”.

Based on my reading of the evidence offered by Bacchiocchi, I agree with Korsman’s statement.

Overall, it seems that Bacchiocchi has made a number of poor decisions in his drive for self-promotion, and is now reaping the fruits of such.


A Visionary Hymn

December 7, 2006

The November 1850 issue of The Present Truth contains a copy of a four verse hymn titled “The Better Land” on its front page:

We have heard from the bright, the holy land,
We have heard, and our hearts are glad;
For we were a lonely pilgrim band,
And weary, and worn, and sad.
They tell us the pilgrims have a dwelling there–
No longer are homeless ones;
And we know that the goodly land is fair,
Where life’s pure river runs.

They say green fields are waving there,
That never a blight shall know;
And the deserts wild are blooming fair,
And the roses of Sharon grow.
There are lovely birds in the bowers green–
Their songs are blithe and sweet;
Aml their warblings gushing ever new,
The angels’ harpings greet.

We have heard of the palms, the robes, the crowns,
And the silvery band in white;
Of the city fair with pearly gates,
A radient with light,
We have heard of the angels there, and saints,
With their harps of gold, how they sing;
Of the mount, with the fruitful tree life
Of the leaves that healing bring.

The King of that country, he is fair,
He’s the joy and the light of the place!
In, his beauty we shall behold him there,
And bask in his smiling face.
We’ll be there, we’ll be there, in a little while,
We’ll join the pure and blest;
We’ll have the palm, the robe, the crown,
And forever be at rest.

The hymn seems fairly typical of early Adventist hymns, what intrigues me about it is a note on the final page of that issues which reads:

Some may be interested in learning the origin of the Hymn on the first page of this number. In the spring of 1845, the author of the vision, published in this paper, was very sick, nigh unto death. The elders of the church were finally called, and the directions of the apostle [James v, 14,15] were strictly followed. God heard, answered and healed the sick. The Holy Spirit filled the room, and she had a vision of the “city,” “life’s pure river,” “green fields,” “roses of Sharon,” “songs” of “lovely birds,” the “harps,” “palms,” “robes,” “crowns,” the “mount” Zion, the “tree of life,” and the “King of that country” mentioned in the Hymn. A brother took up his pen, and in a very short time composed the hymn from the vision. It has been published in two or three Second advent papers, Smith’s collection of hymns, and finally found its way into the “Advent Harp,” published by J. V. Himes in 1849. Let those who “despise prophesyings,” and reject the fulfillment of God’s word in visions of the “LAST DAYS,” remember when they sing this hymn, that it was composed from a vision.

So far as I’m aware (and happy to be corrected) this is the only early Adventist hymn or song whose inspiration was one of Ellen G. White’s visions. A little research led me to Arthur L. White’s biography of Ellen White which also points out this connection (The Early Years p88-89.); and notes that the hymn’s author was William Hyde.
This edition of the Present Truth also contains an account of a vision by Ellen White. However, contrary to Arthur L. White’s assertation (The Early Years, p89), it is not the vision that Hyde’s hymn is based on. The vision that the hymn was based on was in fact Ellen White’s first vision. The exact date for this vision is unknown, however Ellen White in 1847, placed it sometime in December, 1844. This first vision of Ellen White was published just over a year later by Enoch Jacobs in the Day Star of January 24, 1846. You can read it in Early Writings, p13-20.