We analyze. You decide!
"No lie can live forever." Thomas Carlyle

An Analysis of the Literary Similarity
of The Desire of Ages, Chapter 58
With that of other Authors

      Some critics have accused Ellen White of plagiarizing the contents of The Desire of Ages from the writings of various authors. But, did she really? Below is an analysis of one chapter comparing the alleged sources with Ellen G. White's Desire of Ages and then with each other.

      One problem with those who are "victims" of parallelomania is that they confuse the mere presence of a few words in both texts as being evidence of plagiarism. They completely overlook the context and meaning of the words that are similar, an even more importantly, the far greater number of words that are dissimilar. Beyond that, and more importantly, they never compare and contrast between the alleged sources to see if Ellen G. White was following the same practice she could have seen in reading their works. The need for this kind of study had been noted by Dr. Veltman in his Life of Christ Research Project back in 1988. To the best of my knowledge I am the first to follow through on that suggestion and to present the findings.

      If we look at the material that Ellen G. White is allegedly dependent upon and compare her alleged sources with each other we can (at least in part and in theory) determine if Ellen G. White did in fact plagiarize. The sources I have looked at in the study of this chapter are:

      There are four major flaws and one major assumption in this kind of study that the reader needs to be constantly aware of:

      The first flaw here is that we are only looking at one chapter. More work needs to be done on other chapters to determine if Ellen G. White's practice here is her normal, or usual, practice.

      The second flaw of the tabular analysis is that it ignores the length of the phrase. This needs to be kept in mind when looking at the presentation of the phrases. Doing this greatly helps to overcome this flaw.

      The final flaw of the tabular analysis is that it ignores the "quality" of the phrase. By "quality" I mean the significance of the words that are used; one should look at a phrase and look to see if the words are rather "weak," or ordinary, such as: "if," "and," "but," "who," "what," "when," "why," "how," etc.. This needs to be kept in mind when looking at the presentation of the phrases. Again,doing this greatly helps to overcome this flaw.

      The fourth flaw is that in the presentation of the phrases one cannot tell how close they are to each other in the two texts. In some cases two phrases may only be separated by a Biblical text and a connecting word of some sort.

      The one major assumption we are making is that each alleged "copier" had access to the alleged source(s). Of course, the longer the phrase

      Typical author's caveat: all errors are, of course, mine. If you find any errors please let me know and I'll fix them.

The Most Significant Phrases of Literary Similarity
(presented in the form of alleged source and then the alleged copier)

      Both Fleetwood and Hanna have: "the body of the {deceased/dead} was {lying/laid}"

      Both Fleetwood and Trench have:

            "the length of time {during/-} which"
            "it is probable that" (check on this phrase in others)
            "Jesus loved Martha and"
            "he aboded {-/indeed} two days"
            "the stroke of death"

      Both Fleetwood and March have:

            "brother from the sleep of death"
            "call of the Son of {God/Man}"

      Both Fleetwood and Farrar have:

            "{Two days being thus expired, Jesus/And at the end of those two days He} said to His disciples,"
            "{awake/wake} him out of {his/-} sleep"
            "and contemplative disposition"
            "from the sleep of death"
            "{the stone/the stone was moved} from the place where the dead was laid"
            "witness of this {stupendous/-} miracle"

      Both Fleetwood and Edersheim have:

            "two {-/whole} days in the {same/-} place where he was"
            "the widow's son at Nain"

      Both Fleetwood and Geikie have:

            "two days {same/more} in the place where"
            "{came/come} from Jerusalem to comfort the two {mournful sisters/sisters}"
            "the more active" (I have included this short phrase because both use it to describe Martha)
            "{Having uttered that/having made this} great confession, she"
            "was a recess"
            "jaw {that/-} four days {previously/before}"
            "of the resurrection {of our bodies from the grave,/-} at the last day"


      Both Hanna and Trench have:

            "that Jesus should be put to death"
            "than could have been"

      Both Hanna and March have:

            "he {grieves/groaned} in spirit and {is/was} troubled"
            "{came/cometh} to the grave. It {was/is} a cave, and a stone"


      Both Trench and March have:

            "and {-/fears} must have {greatly/-} tried the {faith/hearts} of the {-/afflicted} sisters"
            "the voice of the Son of God"
            "that Lazarus was already {dead/in his grave}" (check on this phrase in others)
            "from that day forth {there were continual/they took} {counsels/counsel}"

      Both Trench and Abbott have: "Lazarus was already dead."

      Both Trench and Farrar have:

            "was sitting {retired/-} in the house,"
            "two days {-/longer} where he was"
            "and held the office"
            "from that day forth"

      Both Trench and Edersheim have:

            "two {-/whole} days where he was,"
            "especially during the first {-/three} days"


      Both March and Farrar have: "from that day forth"

      Both March and Edersheim have:

            "{tearing/plucking} out their hair"
            "the bier at {Nain/the gate of Nain}"

      Both March and Geikie have:

            "comfort {-/to} the bereaved"
            "the presence of {many/hostile} witnesses"


      Both Farrar and Edersheim have:

            "two {-/whole} days {longer/-} where He was"
            "going {-/there} to wake him out of sleep"
            "He had {-/, indeed, before this} raised the dead; but"
            "the silence of the Synoptists"
            "nay {as/and} St. John adds, not {-/only} for {Israel/that nation only}"
            "shook His whole {frame/inner being}"


      Both Abbott and Fleetwood have: "arrived at Bethany, Lazarus had {already been dead/expired}"

      Both Abbott and March have: "the feeble faith of"

            Abbott has: "prayer of thanksgiving to his Father"
            March has: "prayer to His Father is a thanksgiving"

      Both Abbott and Edersheim have:

            "Lazarus had {already been/been already} four days"
            "the cave {in/-} which {Lazarus was/was Lazarus'} {entombed/tomb}"

      Both Abbott and Geikie have: "the group of mourners"


      Both Geikie and Edersheim have:

            "message suddenly reached"
            "{while/so long as} it lasts no"


      Both Hanna and Ellen G. White have: "to the grave. It was a"

      Both Trench and Ellen G. White have: "to the {distressed/-} family at Bethany, and" (differing contexts)

      Both March and Ellen G. White have: "in a quiet place by the {wayside/roadside}"

      Both Edersheim and Ellen G. White have: "in the place where he was"

      Both Geikie and Ellen G. White have: "Though He was the Son of God, {-/yet} He"


      In the following table I will produce a numerical analysis of the above phrases to see if it will show the degree of relationship between the alleged source and "copier".

      In the first column I will list the alleged sources in chronological order. In the subsequent columns I will list each following author (again in chronological order) and a count of the number of the above phrases that seems to be literarily similar to the alleged source. Then in the last row I will total the counts.

Fleetwood Hanna Trench March Abbott Farrar Geikie Edersheim EGW
Fleetwood (1767) - 1 5 2 1 6 7 2 0
Hanna (1863) - - 2 2 0 0 0 0 1
Trench (1865)* - - - 4 1 4 0 2 1*
March (1866) - - - - 2 1 2 2 1
Abbott (1869)* - - - - - 0 1 0 0
Farrar (1874) - - - - - - 0 6 0
Geikie (1879) - - - - - - - 2 1
Edersheim (1883) - - - - - - - - 1
Total 0 1 7 8 3 11 10 14 4


      * Even though neither Lyman Abbott's nor Richard C. Trench's book were part of one of Ellen G. White's libraries the inclusion of them is important on three counts:

1) it allows us to see if, and how, they might have used previous authors and in turn, if, and how, they might have been used by subsequent authors;
2) it allows us to test for literary similarities in Ellen G. White's Desire of Ages to see if they might rise (in quantity and uniqueness) to the level to be thought of as being literary dependent.
3) if there is literary similarity with Ellen G. White then we can ask, "Why?" Was it from a third party? Or, was it because of the way the English language works?

      On the latter point we find the following phrases in chapter 58 of DA (neither of these is considered significant enough to be included in the above counts):

      Abbott, page 373: "Martha went out" the same as DA, page 529
      Abbott, page 374: "the grave to weep" the same as DA, page 533

      One online critic of Ellen G. White and who defends the plagiarizing claim commented on one example: "And if two writers use similar words they must be plagerizing [sic] each other." He realized that the mere presence of literary similarity does not constitute proof that a later author copied from an earlier author; unfortunately, he did not apply that same standard when evaluating literary similarity between Ellen G. White and those who preceded her. If we apply his standard to the above examples we might be tempted to conclude that all of the literary similarities that we see are the result of accidental "copying", otherwise known as cryptomnesia (called "unconscious plagiarism," "accidental plagiarism," and "natural plagiarism" during timeframe of the above authors).


      1) If we compare the number of significant phrases that seem to be common between the alleged source and alleged "copier" we find that Ellen G. White is well within the accepted practice of her day and age as we evidenced by what we find in the previous authors.

      2) The presence of two short phrases that we see in Abbott and Ellen G. White are of such a minor nature (in quantity and "quality") that they were not copied.


      The above evidence leads us to conclude that Ellen G. White did not plagiarize (unless the critics wish to claim that the previous authors plagiarized as well).

Future Work

      Because the above work is based on a limited sample size (and yet as limited as it is it is much larger than anything we have for any other chapter) more work needs to be done. So far, I have identified the following areas:

      1) We need to analyze two more known (how many possible devotional works there may be is unknown) potential sources that EGW may have copied/borrowed from in the making of her chapter on the raising of Lazarus. The two sources that I know of are:

      2) We need to uncover more sources before Fleetwood to determine what material he might have "borrowed" from his sources and to determine if Hanna, March, etc. may have "borrowed" from them as well.

      3) We need to uncover more sources who wrote between Fleetwood (in 1767) and Hanna and March in the early 1860's to determine how much material Hanna and March and later Farrar, Edersheim and Geikie may have "borrowed" from them.

      4) We need to uncover more sources in this time frame to determine how much material is the common mode of expression on this subject.

© David J. Conklin (April 5, 2006)