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The Heavy Bible
S. of P. Treas. Chest

Top "Myths": Ellen White "Lofted a Heavy Bible"

Charge

This charge comes to us from Dirk Anderson's web site.

The web page in question declares to be a myth the story that Mrs. White held up a heavy Bible longer than humanly possible while in vision. Part of the evidence offered in support of this charge is the contradictions seen between two accounts of the same incident. The first account is that of John Loughborough:

I will here state some facts respecting her third vision...related to me by Mrs. White's father and mother, by her sister, Mrs. Sarah Belden, and others. In the room where the vision was given, there was lying on the bureau a very large family Bible...and weighs a little over 18 pounds. While in vision, she arose, and took this heavy Bible on her left arm, the book lying open, and held it out at right angles with her body; and then for over half an hour, with her right hand, turned from place to place, and pointed to different texts of Scripture, which she repeated while her eyes were looking upward...in every instance she was repeating the Scripture upon which her finger was resting. (Great Second Advent Movement, pp. 236-37)

The second account is that of Mrs. Frances (Howland) Lunt:

The Teale Family Bible, weighing 18 pounds was...taken from the bureau...it was held on her open hand at an angle of 45 degrees...for several minutes... (Ibid. p. 238)

In comparing these two accounts, Dirk highlights the following contradictions:

Version #1 Version #2
Bible weighed over 18 pounds Bible weighed 18 pounds
Bible held with arm straight out (90-degrees to body) Bible held up at a 45-degree angle
Bible was held up for over 30 minutes Bible was held up for several minutes
Mrs. White pointed and quoted verses without looking It is physically impossible for the right hand to point to verses while holding an open Bible (27 inches by 11 inches in size) up at an angle of 45-degrees with the left hand. Try it.
Conclusion: An obvious supernatural feat of strength. It is virtually impossible to hold an 18-pound weight at a 90-degree angle for more than a minute. Conclusion: A feat of human strength easily within the realm of possibility for a motivated 18-year-old female.

[Note: Because of our research, the last two excerpts above have been silently removed from the web page in question. They were first posted no later than 1999 and were removed sometime around January 2004. See Revision Notes.]

Initial Observations

What we find peculiar is that a book by Loughborough would contain such contradictory accounts on adjoining pages. His recitation of the account of others is on pages 236 and 237 of his book, and he then includes Mrs. Lunt's apparently contradictory account on the very next page, page 238. Was he that stupid?

Analysis

Both accounts contains ellipses, which suggests that further investigation is in order. Do the deleted portions shed any light on this topic? For the sake of completeness, we will quote both accounts in their entirety, with the the deleted portions in a different color.

I will here state some facts respecting her third vision, the one given in her father's house, mentioned in Chapter XIII, page 212, as related to me by Mrs. White's father and mother, by her sister, Mrs. Sarah Belden, and others.

In the room where the vision was given, there was lying on the bureau a very large family Bible. It was one of an edition printed in Boston by Joseph Teale, in the year 1822. The book is eighteen by eleven inches, four inches in thickness, and weighs a little over eighteen pounds. While in vision, she arose, and took this heavy Bible on her left arm, the book lying open, and held it out at right angles with her body; and then for over half an hour, with her right hand, turned from place to place, and pointed to different texts of Scriptures, which she repeated while her eyes were looking upward, and in an opposite direction from the book. Her sister Sarah (afterward the wife of Stephen Belden), or, at times, some other person present, looked at every text to which her finger pointed, and saw clearly that in every instance she was repeating the scripture upon which her finger was resting. Mother Harmon said her daughter Ellen in her natural condition "was unable, for lack of strength, to lift that heavy Bible from the bureau; but in the vision she held it as easily, apparently, as though it were only a pocket Testament."


The Topsham Vision

Very soon after this occurrence the company of Adventists at Topsham, some thirty miles northeast of Portland, Maine, hearing of the Lord's dealings with Miss Ellen G. Harmon, invited her to that place. The invitation was accepted, and thus her first visit was made to Topsham. The Adventist meetings at that time were held in the house of Mr. Curtiss. Mrs. Frances Lunt (formerly Miss Frances Howland), of Oakland, Cal., gave me the following statement, dated Jan. 19, 1890:-

"I, with my father's family, attended the meetings of Sister Harmon in Topsham, in 1845, and during these meetings she had a vision. It was the first time we ever saw her in vision. One of those old-fashioned Bibles [the Teale Family Bible, weighing eighteen pounds was] owned by Brother Curtiss. This big Bible taken from the bureau by Sister Harmon while in vision, and texts of Scripture were pointed out by her as she turned from leaf to leaf, while her eyes were looking upward, and away from the book. The texts she repeated were either words of instruction, encouragement, or reproof. Another peculiarity of the manifestation at that time was the position of the book. It was held on her open hand at an angle of forty-five degrees, and no one else was able to hold any book at a similar angle without its slipping at once from the hands; but Sister Harmon held this Bible at that angle for several minutes, as firmly as though it was stuck to her hand, she passing meanwhile from one to another in the room."

To our surprise, we discover that Loughborough's and Lunt's accounts are of two totally different events! The former occurred at her parents' home in Portland, and the latter occurred in Topsham. Both visions involved the same Bible edition, but they weren't even the same copy!

The deletions made to Mrs. Lunt's account particularly attract our attention. In light of these deletions, let us reexamine each of the alleged four contradictions:

Version #1 Version #2
Bible weighed over 18 pounds Bible weighed 18 pounds

The weight of the Bible in Mrs. Lunt's account is enclosed in brackets, indicating that Loughborough, not Mrs. Lunt, said that the Bible was 18 pounds. Because the brackets were deleted, the reader of Dirk's web page has no way to know this, and indeed is led to believe that Mrs. Lunt authored every word cited.

It thus appears that Loughborough wanted us to know that the Bible was a little over 18 pounds. Then, after informing us of that fact, he later rounds off the number to 18 pounds.

Version #1 Version #2
Bible held with arm straight out (90-degrees to body) Bible held up at a 45-degree angle

Something isn't quite right with this one. Notice carefully again the words of Mrs. Lunt, with emphasis added:

"It was held on her open hand at an angle of forty-five degrees, and no one else was able to hold any book at a similar angle without its slipping at once from the hands; but Sister Harmon held this Bible at that angle for several minutes, as firmly as though it was stuck to her hand, she passing meanwhile from one to another in the room."

Loughborough stated that Mrs. White held the Bible out in her left arm, but Mrs. Lunt is addressing something entirely different. The forty-five degree angle she refers to is that of Mrs. White's hand, not her arm!

Anyone can hold "any book" of any reasonable weight with one's arm at a forty-five degree angle without it slipping from "the hands," but the palm is another matter. Try it and see, but don't use any glue.

Version #1 Version #2
Bible was held up for over 30 minutes Bible was held up for several minutes

It is apparent that Loughborough is talking about the entire length of time that Mrs. White held the Bible, while Mrs. Lunt is talking about the length of time that she held it in her palm. Thus she held it for several minutes in her palm, out of a total time of, of, well, we don't really know how long. Consider the next account of the Topsham vision given by Loughborough:

Mrs. Truesdail's Testimony

. . . "I was fifteen years old in 1845, and was present at the time of Sister Harmon's first visit to Topsham, when she had the vision at the house of Brother Curtiss, where she took up the great family Bible and held it up in a position in which none of the others could hold a book on the hands without its slipping off at once.

"Sister Harmon was in vision over two hours. . . . she read to us passages so comforting and appropriate in our trying position; such as Heb. 2:2, 3; James 5:7, 8; Heb. 10:35, 39; 1 Peter 1:7; Luke 12:32-37, besides many others, holding the large family Bible so high that I was obliged to stand on a chair to read where she was pointing. I do not think Sister Harmon was over two inches the taller." (Ibid. p. 238, 239)

The entire vision lasted two hours, but how long she held the Bible up during that time we do not know.

Version #1 Version #2
Mrs. White pointed and quoted verses without looking It is physically impossible for the right hand to point to verses while holding an open Bible (27 inches by 11 inches in size) up at an angle of 45-degrees with the left hand. Try it.

To the contrary, it is indeed possible. Did Mrs. Lunt mean that Mrs. White pointed at texts while the Bible was lying in her left arm? Nothing implausible there. Did she mean that Mrs. White pointed at texts while the Bible was at a forty-five degree angle in her palm. Again, nothing implausible about simply pointing at texts while in either position.

Further Analysis

Where the above mentioned measurements of the Bible came from, "27 inches by 11 inches," is a puzzle. The original source said 18 by 11 inches. This raises the question of whether Dirk was quoting his material from another critic, but failed to give proper credit.

The same question was also brought to our minds by the fact that Mrs. Lunt's account as quoted was inaccurate. We therefore wrote to Dirk on September 07, 2003:

I assume you didn't write that page and alter the quote like that. Who did?

He responded on the 13th (the ellipsis is his):

I will check into that. It has been so long ago that I cannot remember where the quote came from...could have been taken from Spectrum Magazine. I believe Loughborough's book is available somewhere on the web now, perhaps the James White Memorial Library on the Words of the Pioneers CD. I'll check into it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Specific Conclusions

There are no apparent contradictions between the two accounts, accounts of two different events, when the sources are read in their entirety. Those wishing to discredit the claimed supernatural nature of these incidents will need to resort to other evidence.

General Conclusions

Improperly altered quotations can be explained in several ways:

  1. Simple human oversight.
  2. Carelessness.
  3. Dishonesty.
  4. Plagiarism.

On that last possible explanation, we would strongly recommend that critics do not merely copy from each other, without bothering to do their own independent research in the original sources. And whenever they do quote from each other, they should always give proper credit, just like an English teacher would require for a research paper in school: "as quoted by so and so in such and such."

This is all the more important in light of the fact that one of the charges most often leveled at Mrs. White is that of plagiarism. For a critic to not give proper credit himself gives Mrs. White's apologists an apparently legitimate complaint against them of hypocrisy.

Notes on Revisions

Around January 2004, Dirk removed all accusations about contradictions between Loughborough's and Lunt's accounts. He is to be commended for doing so. Yet he still, as we initially did in the first version of this page, makes the mistake of thinking that these two accounts are of the same event.

Unfortunately, it appears that one is left without solid evidence upon which to call into question these Bible-holding incidents. At least, if there is such solid evidence, his revised web page does not mention it.

Thus we are left with:

  1. Ellen White's parents claiming that she held a heavy Bible in her outsretched arm for 30 minutes during a vision, a Bible that she in her sickly condition could not even pick up at other times.
  2. Mrs. Lunt and Mrs. Truesdail claiming that in another vision at another location, she held the same edition of the Bible a) in her palm at an angle at which it should have slipped, but didn't, and b) high enough that one girl had to stand on a chair in order to read it.
  3. Yet another account of a third incident, not quoted above, about a heavy Bible that was held up sometime during a six-hour vision at Randolph, Massachusetts, in which the Bible was "lifted up as high as she could reach" (Ibid., p. 243).
  4. In each of the three incidents, the testimony of the eyewitnesses was that Ellen White turned and pointed at texts and quoted them correctly, while not looking at where she was pointing.

We await the discovery of any new evidence that might prove these eyewitness accounts to be incorrect.

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