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Did Loma Linda University Help Finance “Prophetess of Health?”


During a public discussion on Sabbath, May 30, some may have understood Ronald Numbers to have said that the Loma Linda University Division of Religion helped finance Prophetess of Health:  A Study of Ellen G. White.  I think that Numbers would agree that what actually happened was more complicated and much more interesting than might convey.

The panel convened on Sabbath to discuss Ellen Harmon White:  American Prophet, a recent book that Numbers of the University of Wisconsin, Terrie Dopp Ammodt of Walla Walla University and the recently deceased Gary Land of Andrews University edited.   

The public discussion was organized and moderated by James Walters, a professor in the Loma Linda University School of Religion where, among other things, he is the Director of its Division of Humanities.  In addition to him and the book’s two living editors, the panelists included Jonathan Butler, independent historian, Jon Paulien, Dean of the LLU School of Religion and Ted Levterov, Director of the LLU Ellen White Research Center. Eager audience members filled the large Damazo Amphitheater on the LLU campus.  The following is how I recall what happened decades ago. 

Sometime in the mid-1970s, Loma Linda University hired Numbers who had recently earned a PhD in the history of science at the University of California at Berkeley, to teach this subject in its School of Medicine. Not long thereafter, LLU granted him a block of time to do research.  Because no formally trained historian had already done so, he focused on Ellen G. White.

In the course of his research, Numbers discovered that she had utilized significant amounts of material that had been written by others without giving them credit. He conclusively demonstrated this in Prophetess of Health by placing her writings and those of the earlier authors in side-by-side columns.

Some might say that LLU helped finance Prophetess of Health because it hired Numbers in the first place and because it supported him as he did his research.  Yet I have never heard anyone make this charge.  This is because the dots that connected what the university did and what he found and published were so faint as to be non-existent.  Besides, no one knew precisely what Numbers would find before he started looking.  Not even Numbers knew.  

We should say exactly the same thing about the frequent charge that A. Graham Maxwell helped finance the publication of Prophetess of Health with money from what was then called the LLU Division of Religion.  This was related to the claim that Maxwell had met with Numbers in Chicago about how to destroy Ellen White’s reputation and that while Maxwell was there he had spent huge sums of money on women of ill repute.  

Elders Robert Pierson and Neal Wilson, two of the denomination’s top administrators at the time, took these charges seriously enough to launch an investigation. Although I wasn’t present at every minute of its work, I have first-hand knowledge of the overall process because Maxwell had been given permission to have me accompany him.  He said he wanted me to “be a witness to history.”

As Dean of the LLU Division of Religion, Maxwell had hired Vern Carner and he had supported Carner in his energetic and successful collection of materials that would have made LLU a major center for what we now call “Adventist Studies.”  Carner and Numbers were good friends and collaborators in historical research and they still are.  A number of us were friends of both Numbers and Carner and we remain so to this day.  Sometime subsequently I co-authored one chapter in one book with Numbers.

These people were not strangers and no one has made that claim.  Yet, to repeat, when Numbers began his research no one knew exactly what he would find and how he would report it.  Not even Numbers knew this.  Thus, even though various forms of support flowed from the Division of Religion to Ron Numbers through Vern Carner, this did not rise to the level of “helping to finance Prophetess of Health.”

This was the conclusion of Elder Wilson’s investigation.  Also, the investigation did not find Maxwell guilty of consorting with harlots in Chicago or anywhere else.  

Those who had been trying to build a case against Maxwell had pilfered some records from the LLU Accounting Department with the help of someone who worked there.  Although they wanted us to say as little said it as possible, Elder Wilson and his investigators were concerned about this.

Soon after Prophetess of Health was published, both Carner and Numbers were invited to serve elsewhere and both did.  Carner has been a successful entrepreneur and Numbers has had a successful academic and publishing career at the University of Wisconsin.  A. Graham Maxwell is now deceased.

My own view is that the best way to allow Ellen White to live in the 21st century is to situate her in the 19th.  

Look for a cluster of articles about Ellen G. White in the next issue of the Spectrum journal, to be mailed to subscribers shortly.   

Image: A new statue of Ellen G. White was unveiled at Loma Linda University on Sabbath, May 24. There was a ceremony, and historic photos of the sanitarium were also on display. Photos by Neils Michael Scofield.


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