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101 Questions on the Sanctuary and on Ellen White

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    81. Criteria of Dependence

    The Chicago Tribune of November 23, 1980, quotes Walter Rea as saying, “She copied and borrowed almost everything.” Newsweek magazine, in its January 19, 1981, issue states, “The copying charge was leveled by Rea. In all, he estimates as much as 80 percent of Mrs. White’s writing was lifted almost word-for-word from earlier works. ‘The borrowing wasn’t a sentence here and word there,’ he says, ‘it was her habit to copy from the beginning of her writing to the end.’” (Page 72). Is there any way of knowing how much borrowed material there is in Ellen White’s writings?QSEW 79.1

    The evidence now available does not support Rea’s claims. Actually, it would be an impossible and fruitless task to attempt to discover the exact origin of every word or phrase found in the writings of Ellen White—or of the Biblical authors, for that matter.QSEW 79.2

    At the request of the White Estate, in 1979, Walter Specht and Raymond Cottrell spent several months comparing William Hanna’s Life of Christ with The Desire of Ages, Cottrell taking the first half and Specht the last half. In his 85-page report Specht pointed out the difficulties involved in attempting to come to firm conclusions in this kind of study. In response to the question, “Did Ellen White copy Hanna?”QSEW 79.3

    Specht states:QSEW 80.1

    “In answering a question of this kind one must first explain what is meant by copying. If by copying we mean reproducing Hanna’s Life of Christ verbatim et literatim, then the answer is clearly, ‘No.’ We have not found a single sentence in The Desire of Ages, 419-835, that corresponds verbatim with Hanna’s Life of Christ. But the problem is far more complicated than this fact suggests.QSEW 80.2

    “How does one determine literary dependency? In the literary study of the New Testament one of the most complicated problems scholars face is the solution of the Synoptic Problem. This problem concerns the literary relationship that exists between the first three Gospels. It is the problem of explaining the large amount of agreement in wording between them, and at the same time the marked divergences that occur.QSEW 80.3

    “Alfred M. Perry has set forth some Critical Criteria for determining literary dependence which have proved helpful in the study of the Synoptic Problem:QSEW 80.4

    “The two criteria of dependence upon written sources are resemblance and continuity. Proof here does not rest upon casual similarity, but upon the following rather definite similarities:QSEW 80.5

    1. Resemblance of the contents: telling the same stories.QSEW 80.6

    2. Resemblance in continuity: telling the stories in the same order.QSEW 80.7

    3. Similar sentence and word order: telling the stories in the same way.QSEW 80.8

    4. Extensive agreement (50 percent to 60 percent) in the words used.QSEW 80.9

    5. Agreement in using unusual words or harsh construction.—“The Growth of the Gospels,” Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 7, Page 62.QSEW 80.10

    “In applying these criteria to the present problem, however, there are certain qualifications that must be considered. Number one, ‘Resemblance of the contents: telling the same stories,’ for example, cannot take one very far. Since both White and Hanna based their writing on the Gospel accounts, the fact that they tell the same stories is not an evidence of literary dependency of one on the other. The same applies to number two, ‘Resemblance in continuity: telling the same stories in the same order.’ We would expect them to agree in giving the stories in the same order.QSEW 80.11

    “The other criteria, however, have more validity. One will need to examine whether White follows a similar sentence and word order as Hanna (No. 3). It can be at once stated that this is not often the case. Hanna has a tendency to use long and involved sentences. Ellen White uses much shorter sentences, and apparently aims at clarity and simplicity.QSEW 80.12

    “Criterion number four, ‘Extensive agreement in the words used,’ is a valid criterion. But there is no such extensive agreement (‘50 percent to 60 percent’) between White and Hanna as Perry calls for to show literary dependence.QSEW 80.13

    “The fifth criterion also has validity unless both writers borrowed the words in question from the King James Version of the Bible, the basic text of both authors. It is evident, then, that the task we have undertaken is a complicated and difficult one.”—“The Literary Relationship Between The Desire of Ages by Ellen G. White and The Life of Christ, by William Hanna, Part II,” pages 1-3.QSEW 81.1

    With reference to the similarities between Hanna and The Desire of Ages, Specht states:QSEW 81.2

    “It appears doubtful that Ellen White had Hanna’s Life of Christ before her as she wrote. In her search for adequate words to portray what she had in mind, however, she may have recalled some of the exact words and phrases Hanna had used in the work she had carefully read. The resemblance between paragraphs between the two authors is one of ideas rather than literary structure” (Ibid., pages 19, 20).QSEW 81.3

    Specht also notes the dissimilarities between Hanna and The Desire of Ages. He states: “There are a number of statements in Hanna which Ellen White evidently held to be incorrect. At any rate, The Desire of Ages makes assertions that contradict what Hanna has written” (Ibid., Page 49).QSEW 81.4

    The greatest difference between Hanna and Ellen White, Specht notes, is her constant emphasis on The Great Controversy between Christ and Satan:QSEW 81.5

    “It is the interpretation of Jesus Christ—His life, His ministry, His death, His resurrection—as a part of this great controversy that constitutes the central theme of The Desire of Ages. This is Ellen White’s distinctive contribution to the life of Christ, and helps to make her book the great classic that it is.”—Ibid., Page 83.QSEW 81.6

    Cottrell worked independently of Specht, yet he came to the same conclusions. He states that Ellen White’s “unique, original contribution” was her interpretation of Christ’s life on earth “in terms of its role in the age-long conflict between the forces of good and evil and in the outworking of the plan of salvation” (“The Literary Relationship Between The Desire of Ages, by Ellen G. White, and The Life of Christ, by William Hanna, Part 1,” Page 30).QSEW 81.7

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