Did Ellen G. White Plagiarize?
The situation is something like the builder who wishes to build a house. There are certain basic, essential units of building materials that are available to him—windows, doors, bricks, and so on. There are even certain recognizable kinds of textures and styles that have been created by various combinations of these different materials by earlier builders. The builder brings together many of these and uses them. Yet the design of the house, the ultimate appearance, the ultimate shape, the size, the feel, are all unique to the immediate, contemporary builder. He individually puts his own stamp upon the final product—and it is uniquely his. (And he doesn’t say—or need to say—I got this brick here, that door there, this window there, either!) I think it was that way with Ellen White’s use of words, phrases, clauses, sentences, paragraphs, yes, and even pages, from the writings of those who went before her. She stayed well within the legal boundaries of “fair use,” and all he time created something that was substantially greater (and even more beautiful) than the mere sum of the component parts. And I think the ultimate tragedy is that the critics fail to see this.
I started out, I think, basically neutral on the literary charges. But, somehow, as I read one particular Adventist-authored defense of Mrs. White, it left me with the feeling that she was not, in fact, very well defended. Well, I came back thinking that Mrs. White was, if I may use the expression that has been used by others, a literary “borrower.” And that she had borrowed a lot and that she had borrowed with something less than candor and honesty! In other words—and this was before I had delved into her works themselves—I became actually biased against her in the sense that I thought she was what some people, such as her latest critic, Walter Rea, had alleged— guilty of plagiarism. REVIEW: Once you got into her writings themselves, was this negative impression reinforced or altered in any way? Ramik: I gradually turned 180 degrees in the other direction. I found that the charges simply were not true. But I had to get that from her writings; I did not get that from either the people who said she was a plagiarist, or the people who said she was not. I simply had to read her writings and then rid my mind of the bias I had already built into it— prejudice. And, in the end, she came out quite favorably. But it took more than 300 hours of reading—including case law histories, of course. REVIEW: So it was reading her writings that changed your mind? Ramik: It was reading her messages in her writings that changed my mind. And I think there’s a distinction—a very salient difference—here. REVIEW: Would you describe the distinction that you see? Ramik: I believe that the critics have missed the boat badly by focusing upon Mrs. White’s writings, instead of focusing upon the messages in Mrs. White’s writings. REVIEW: What did you find in her messages, Mr. Ramik? How did they affect you? Ramik: Mrs. White moved me! In all candor, she moved me. I am a Roman Catholic; but, Catholic, Protestant, whatever— she moved me. And I think her writings should move anyone, unless he is permanently biased and is unswayable.
The message is what is crucial. The critic reads a sentence, and receives no meaning from it—he may, and often does, even take it out of context. But read the entire message. What is the author’s intent? What is the author really saying—where the words come from is really not that important. What is the message of this? If you disregard the message, then even the Bible itself is not worth being read, in that sense of the word.
The bottom line is: What really counts is the message of Mrs. White, not merely the mechanical writings—words, clauses, sentences—of Mrs. White. Theologians, I am told, distinguish here between verbal inspiration and plenary inspiration. Too many of the critics have missed the boat altogether. And it’s too bad, too! I, personally, have been moved, deeply moved, by those writings. I have been changed by them. I think I am a better man today because of them. And I wish that the critics could discover that!
REVIEW: Attorney Ramik, how would you sum up the legal case against Ellen White as far as charges of plagiarism, piracy, and copyright infringement are concerned? Ramik: If I had to be involved in such a legal case, I would much rather appear as defense counsel than for the prosecution. There simply is no case! -Article published in the Adventist Review, September 17, 1981, featuring an interview with Attorney Vincent L. Ramik, Senior Partner of Diller, Ramik & Wight, Ltd., Washington, D.C.
Need more information or have other questions about Ellen White? Go to: http://www.ellenwhiteanswers.org/answers/plagiarism/
Prophet of Destiny (E-book)
Since girlhood, she had had more than 2,000 visions, revealing truths of religion, history, medicine and nutrition, often foreshadowing scientific discoveries yet to be made. Inspired by these visions and her sense of the presence of God, Ellen G. White worked throughout her life, first to help found the Seventh-day Adventist Church, then to spread its word around the world. She lived to see it become one of the major religious forces of our time; and during her lifetime, wrote more than fifty books which have been translated into one hundred languages and sold in the millions of copies. All of this she accomplished in the face of dire poverty, with no formal schooling beyond the third grade.
Rene Noorbergen's bestseller is a full and fascinating portrait of a truly remarkable, yet strangely little-known woman.