Originally posted on February 26, 2013 [by adventiststudies]
This paper is more fully entitled “The similarity between certain of Ellen White’s writings and John Milton’s epic poem ‘Paradise Lost’,” by Angus McPhee, Tuesday, February 19, 2013.
Angus McPhee has been by my friend since 1958; his work on Revelation is referred to elsewhere on this website. I am in substantial agreement with his analysis of the data, but writing from my bed in Sydney Adventist Hospital I have neither the tools nor the energy to debate details. My son flew from New York on Sunday to see me (for the last time?) and shortly he will burst in the door ere he catches the plane for New York. I pointed out to Angus that an MA thesis was written at Pacific Union College on this topic during the 1950s.1 During the past forty years I have been trying to contextualize this type of data. My contention is that Ellen White does not need defending, she simply needs understanding in view of all the known and potential data that is available to us.
So, here is Angus McPhee’s article, verbatim.
Sabbath, February 9, 2013, a retired pastor, the teacher of the Sabbath School class I was attending, used The Clear Word in connection with the pre-fall snake(s) having wings. He read from Genesis 3:1 which I remember as something like this: “the serpent was the most cunning of all the flying creatures.” (I have since discovered that the 1994 edition of The Clear Word (Hagerstown MD 21740: Review and Herald Publishing Association) reads: “Of all the animals, the flying serpent was the most beautiful and intelligent that God had made.” The 2003 edition, excerpts of which can be accessed at GOOGLE BOOKS, reads: “Of all the animals, the serpent was the most beautiful and intelligent that God had made.”) When I attempted to point out that the word “flying” was not in the Bible here, this retired pastor said that our translations were versions and that the only perfect Bible was the Hebrew OT and the Greek NT. “Whoa!” [Martin Luther, I think, has been misunderstood.] Ellen White had said that those snakes had wings. That was that.
I pointed out that Ellen White was influenced, in this connection, by John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” Some class members doubted. Naturally.
Back home I thought I’d better be sure about what I had said. I have discovered the following.
Ellen White’s descriptions of the Fall include concepts and details not in the Bible, but found in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” (1667-1674)
Satan’s pre-Fall council
Paradise Lost I: 751-757, II: 1-520
Satan and his evil cohorts gather in councel to plan their work against God. [The spelling in these quotations from “Paradise Lost” is John Milton’s 17th century English.]
Early Writings, 146
He [Satan] consulted with his angels, and a plan was laid to still work against God’s government.
The angels’ praise of Jesus for His decision
Paradise Lost III: 217-349
Jesus approaches His Father and offers to be a sacrifice for man’s salvation which His Father accepts. The angels join in praising Him.
No sooner had th’ Almighty ceas’t, but all The multitude of Angels with a shout Loud as from numbers without number, sweet As from blest voices, uttering joy, Heav’n rung With Jubilee, and loud Hosanna’s filld Th’ eternal Regions
Early Writings, 149-151
Then joy, inexpressible joy, filled heaven. And the heavenly host sang a song of praise and adoration. They touched their harps and sang a note higher than they had done before…
The description of the Garden and the Tree of Life
Paradise Lost IV: 218-220, 256, 259-260
…amid them stood the Tree of Life, High eminent, blooming Ambrosial Fruit Of vegetable Gold… Flours of all hue… the mantling vine Lays forth her purple Grape, and gently creeps Luxuriant…
Patriarchs and Prophets, 47
There were lovely vines, growing upright, yet presenting a most graceful appearance, with their branches drooping under their load of tempting fruit of the richest and most varied hues. … There were fragrant flowers of every hue in rich profusion. In the midst of the garden stood the tree of life, surpassing in glory all other trees. Its fruit appeared like apples of gold and silver…
Angels visit Adam and Eve
Paradise Lost V-VIII: The angel, Raphael, goes to Eden to meet Adam and Eve and discusses:
• The war in Heaven and fall of Satan (books V & VI)
• The creation of the world (books VII & VIII)
• In VIII, 633, the angel leaves after admonishing Adam and Eve to obey God’s commandments: “Be strong, live happie, and love, but first of all Him whom to love is to obey, and keep His great command.”
Early Writings, 147 Holy angels often visited the garden, and gave instruction to Adam and Eve concerning their employment and also taught them concerning the rebellion and fall of Satan. The angels warned them of Satan and cautioned them not to separate from each other in their employment, for they might be brought in contact with this fallen foe. The angels also enjoined upon them to follow closely the directions God had given them, for in perfect obedience only were they safe.
Eve is alone at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
Paradise Lost IX: 385
Thus saying, from her Husband’s hand her hand Soft she withdrew, and like a Wood-Nymph light Oread or Dryad, or of Delia’s Traine, Betook her to the Groves, . . .
Patriarchs and Prophets, 53-56
“But absorbed in her pleasing task, she unconsciously wandered from his [her husband’s] side.” “In a state of strange, unnatural excitement, with her hands filled with the forbidden fruit, she sought his presence, and related all that had occurred.”
Compare Genesis 3:6 (Note the inclusion of the words “with her.”).
KJV: And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
JB: The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye, and that it was enticing for the wisdom that it could give. So she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate it.
NIV: When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
NASB: When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.
ESV: So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
NRSV: So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.
LXX (3:7): And the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes to look upon and beautiful to contemplate, and having taken of its fruit she ate, and she gave to her husband also with her, and they ate.
The serpent praises Eve’s beauty
Paradise Lost IX: 538-547
Fairest resemblance of thy Maker faire, Thee all things living gaze on, all things thine By gift, and thy Celestial Beautie adore With ravishment beheld, there best beheld Where universally admir’d; but here In this enclosure wild, these Beasts among, Beholders rude, and shallow to discerne Half what in thee is fair, one man except, Who sees thee? (and what is one?) who shouldst be seen A Goddess among Gods, ador’d and served By Angels numberless, thy daily Train.
Patriarchs and Prophets, 64
But the serpent continued, in a musical voice, with subtle praise of her surpassing loveliness; and his words were not displeasing.
By eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil the snake had acquired the ability to both reason and speak.
Paradise Lost IX: 598-601, 863-874
The serpent spoke to Eve: Sated at length, ere long I might perceive Strange alteration in me, to degree Of Reason in my inward Powers, and Speech Wanted not long, though to this shape retain’d. Eve reported to Adam: This Tree is not as we are told, a Tree Of danger tasted, nor to evil unknown Op’ning the way, but of Divine effect To open Eyes, and make them Gods who taste; And hath bin tasted such: the Serpent wise, Or not restraind as wee, or not obeying, Hath eat’n of the fruit, and is become, Not dead, as we are threatn’d, but thenceforth Endu’d with human voice and human sense, Reasoning to admiration, and with mee Perswasively hath so prevaild, that I Have also tasted,
Patriarchs and Prophets, 54
By partaking of this tree, he [the serpent] declared, they would attain to a more exalted sphere of existence and enter a broader field of knowledge. He himself had eaten of the forbidden fruit, and as a result had acquired the power of speech.
It was Adam’s love for Eve that motivated him to eat the fruit
Paradise Lost IX: 890-891, 908-916
Astonied stood and Blank, while horror chill Ran through his veins, and all his joynts relax’d ….. How can I live without thee, how forgoe Thy sweet Converse and Love so dearly joyn’d, To live again in these wilde Woods forlorn? Should God create another Eve, and I Another Rib afford, yet loss of thee Would never from my heart; no no, I feel The Link of Nature draw me: Flesh of Flesh, Bone of my Bone thou art, and from thy State Mine never shall be parted, bliss or woe
Patriarchs and Prophets, 56 (cf. Early Writings, 148)
An expression of sadness came over the face of Adam. He appeared astonished and alarmed. … There was a terrible struggle in his mind. He mourned that he had permitted Eve to wander from his side. But now the deed was done; he must be separated from her whose society had been his joy. How could he have it thus? Adam had enjoyed the companionship of God and of holy angels. He had looked upon the glory of the Creator. He understood the high destiny opened to the human race should they remain faithful to God. Yet all these blessings were lost sight of in the fear of losing that one gift which in his eyes outvalued every other. Love, gratitude, loyalty to the Creator–all were overborne by love to Eve. She was a part of himself, and he could not endure the thought of separation.
Michael revealed future events to Adam
• Cain and Abel (XI: 423-465)
• Diseases (XI: 466-555)
• Defilement and corruption (XI: 556-637)
• War, violence, and crime (XI: 638-711)
• Noah and the flood (XI: 712-901)
• The Tower of Babel (XII:13-104)
• Abraham and Moses (XII:105-269)
• Jesus and Christianity (XII: 270-551)
The Story of Redemption, 47-48
To Adam were revealed future important events, from his expulsion from Eden to the Flood, and onward to the first advent of Christ upon the earth… Adam was carried down through successive generations and saw the increase of crime, of guilt and defilement, because man would yield to his naturally strong inclinations to transgress the holy law of God. He was shown the curse of God resting more and more heavily upon the human race, upon the cattle, and upon the earth, because of man’s continued transgression. He was shown that iniquity and violence would steadily increase; yet amid all the tide of human misery and woe, there would ever be a few who would preserve the knowledge of God and would remain unsullied amid the prevailing moral degeneracy. Adam was made to comprehend what sin is — the transgression of the law. He was shown that moral, mental, and physical degeneracy would result to the race, from transgression, until the world would be filled with human misery of every type.
The Edenic (original) snakes
The winged serpent of Ellen White’s writings does have an equal in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”
In “Paradise Lost”, Book VII, the angel, Raphael, reciting information about Creation to Adam, describes certain creatures which Adam has already named including snakes (lines 482-488):
… some of Serpent kinde Wondrous in length and corpulence involve’d Thir Snakie foulds, and added wings . . . .nor unknown The Serpent subtle’st Beast of all the field Of huge extent somtimes, with brazen Eyes And hairie Main terrific, though to thee Not noxious, but obedient at thy call.
Patriarchs and Prophets, 53
The serpent was then one of the wisest and most beautiful creatures on the earth. It had wings, and while flying through the air presented an appearance of dazzling brightness, having the color and brilliancy of burnished gold.
We should, however, note that the winged creature of Eve’s dream in “Paradise Lost” (V, 55) is said to be: “like one of those from Heaven by us oft seen” and when the serpent was leading Eve to the forbidden tree (XI, 631-633) Hee leading swiftly rowld In tangles, and made intricate seem strait, To mischief swift.
Did Jewish thought reflect the “winged serpent” theory?
Two mediæval Jewish commentators offer these understandings of “upon thy belly shalt thou go”
- Rashi (A.D. 1040-1105): It originally had feet which were now cut off.
- Sforno (born c. A.D. 1475-1550): The serpent would derive less pleasure from life, and procure its food with more difficulty than all the animals and beasts.
See The Soncino Chumash (Hindhead, Surrey: The Soncino Press, 1947), 15.
Since compiling the foregoing material I have had to consider another important and related matter.
It was the then head of the Religion Department of Pacific Union College, Dr. Fred Veltman, authorized by the General Conference to investigate the background to The Desire of Ages, who confirmed that Ellen White had indeed sourced some of her material from fiction. This was reported in the second of two articles in “Ministry” (October and December 1990). This can be accessed online at https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1990/December/the-desire-of-ages-project-the-conclusions.
There are some who support Ellen White’s sourcing from fiction. They say that the Holy Spirit guided her in her search. This creates a problem.
On the one hand Twenty-first Century readers of John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” consider that epic poem to be great English literature but still fiction. On the other hand there are Seventh-day Adventist readers of Ellen White who consider the same details and descriptions sourced from Milton to be inspired fact. Further, some go so far as to promulgate that material as not only historical fact but also a contribution to and part of Scripture. Jack Blanco’s Clear Word is the prime culprit.
“Seventh-day Adventist! Quo vadis?”
Posted by Arthur Patrick, 27 February 2013
- The paper to which Dr Patrick referred: “A Comparative Study of the Fall of Man as Treated by John Milton and Ellen G. White” | A Thesis Presented to the Graduate Division of Pacific Union College, August 1957 by Ruth Elizabeth Burgeson. A copy of this paper is available at The Ellen G. White Research Center, Avondale College, NSW and most likely at other EGW Research Centers.
Dr Arthur Patrick’s original theme picture for Adventist Studies and the cover page of Ruth Burgeson’s paper