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The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials

Ellen G. White Estate, eds., 4 volumes, Ellen G. White Estate, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Washington, D.C., 1987, 1812 pages, $34.95, paper.

Reviewed by Ron Graybill, associate professor of history/religion, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California.

This year the Seventh-day Adventist Church celebrated the centennial of the landmark 1888 General Conference session. At that meeting in Minneapolis, controversies over prophetic interpretation, righteousness by faith, the covenants, and law and gospel in Galatians all surfaced in a public debate that has never quite abated. This publication, made up largely of facsimiles of original type scripts of Mrs. White's letters, sermons, articles, and diary entries dealing with the 1888 General Conference session, is another landmark in Adventist history.

It is historic for a number of reasons. In the majority of cases complete documents are included rather than selected passages. No documents are omitted be cause they are too sensitive or contain rebukes of individuals that might be embarrassing to their descendants. This is quite a change from the 1940s, when Robert Wieland, a seminary student, was told he could not do research on the original 1888 documents. The White Estates decision to photocopy the documents takes all of us into their vaults to do our own research. Over the years the White Estate has been steadily moving toward complete access to its sources, and this collection is dramatic evidence of that progress.

A companion one-volume collection, Manuscripts and Memories of Minneapolis, contains similar facsimiles of letters writ ten by other principle actors in the drama--Uriah Smith, George Butler, A. T. Jones, and E. J. Waggoner--in addition to many notes, diaries, and newspaper articles on the topic.

The reader of these volumes will learn far more than the details of the controversies. In thousands of marginal notes and other marks, we discover how Mrs. White did her writing, how her assistants edited it, and how the White Estate handled the material over the years.

On page 56 (all references are to volume 1) the reader can see a sample of Mrs. White's unedited handwriting. The pas sage, complete with grammatical errors and largely without punctuation, is typical of her writing when she anticipated that it would be polished by her literary assistants and then passed back to her before publication. The handwritten work is some times better, sometimes worse, as far as literary perfection is concerned.

These handwritten materials were then edited and typed by the assistants. A sample from one of the typewriters of the time is seen on page 400, where one also observes Mrs. White's handwritten interlineations. On that same page is a paragraph marked for Manuscript Release 906, which appears in the book In Heavenly Places.

The value of having complete documents is graphically illustrated on pages 238 and 239, where it is seen that two pages of typescript had previously yielded passages for seven different manuscript releases. This is not to suggest that any were taken out of context--just that now the reader has access to the entire set ting. The work of many hands is seen on these pages. Notes by Arthur White occasionally identify obscure names.

Although no index is provided to these Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, all of the documents are stored on computer at the White Estate, where researchers can con duct searches for words or phrases. They are also scheduled to be included in the compact disk collection of Mrs. White's published writings, a project that should be completed in a year or two and made available to anyone who has a computer with a CD-ROM drive.

The publication of this material provides an invaluable source for students of denominational history and doctrine. What are needed now are complete collections enriched with annotations arranged chronologically rather than topically. This would provide us with the background familiar to the first readers of the documents, as well as textual notes to recapture significant variations in revisions of the documents. Such a collection would allow us to see the works in their full historical context, dealing not only with the aftermath of 1888 but with the full range of challenges and opportunities the church has faced over the years.


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Reviewed by Ron Graybill, associate professor of history/religion, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California.

December 1988

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