In the first six installments of this column, I have reviewed several of the multiple "prophetic periods" promoted by William Miller.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/12259
In the first six installments of this column, I have reviewed several of the multiple "prophetic periods" promoted by William Miller.
This sort of grasping at straws is what happens when a delusion is so strongly held that it overrides one’s critical faculties. Miller, Snow, EGW, et al wanted so much to be living in the time of the end that they would desperately try to find every possible clue to drive that outcome. This truly was a conclusion in search of evidential support.
Historicism, a method which requires a prior belief in foreknowledge, is an irrational imposition on the context and purpose of the writer. Even to assume that the writers were actually seeing/hallucinating the scenes they described, rather than to consider that they were simply composing in a familiar genre, is unwarranted. The desire to believe in “magic” is a powerful delusion, and causes some to discard a more mundane, but more plausible explanation.
Apocalyptic, a genre of writing popular from the second century BCE to the second century CE, is concerned with current crises and claiming to show what is happening behind the scenes in the heavens, and predicting a divine intervention in the immediate future to save the chosen people. Whether the book of Daniel written as propaganda to boost the spirits of the Torah observant people of Judea suffering under Seleucid rule in the early-mid second century BCE to Revelation doing the same in light of the Roman-Jewish wars, both were focused on the endurance of the people in dire circumstances and predicting an imminent resolution.
Both books are a sort of history, written in symbolic terms, leading up to their present, and predicting an imminent intervention to reverse the status quo. Yahweh’s people would come out on top, the enemies would be put down, and the utopian kingdom would be put in place.
That Daniel and Revelation both made predictions which did not come true, in combination with a belief in inspiration which requires them to be true, gave rise to both historicism and futurism. There can be no failed prophecies in this view (or really substantial error of any kind); therefore, the true meaning must be placed in the distant future (from the point of view of the writer).
I will make a prediction. The apologists for historicism will now appear, led by Darrel Lindensmith.
Hi there Bart, I think your view below is probably true. Confirmation bias is always, even when benevolent, leads to misunderstandings.
Your extrapolation from this that the Historicism itself is amiss is a stretch. Just because the pied piper is not real, doesn’t mean you and I are not real. A confirmation bias that would say foreknowledge by God is not possible because there is no such entity as God is a presupposition based on a feeling.
The fact is that prophecy has been documented as a real historical fact that one must give account for, even if the supposition of Theism here is distasteful.
I didn’t extrapolate from the SDA pioneers experience that Historicism is amiss. Historicism itself is unwarranted aside from how anyone might choose to pigeonhole events into a chart of fulfillment. When one can understand an apocalyptic writing within the time and context of the writer, it is not warranted or proper to instead impose a magical scheme of foreknowledge of the distant future onto the account. I won’t even begin to discuss the problems such a view would have for free will and determinism.
A quick aside about sources for the book of Revelation. The book of Enoch was well known at the time of authorship. In it, there is a description of a war in heaven between good and bad angels, the fall of the bad ones to earth, animals representing nations, the final war between good and evil and the final battle between Jews and gentiles, the lamb which would wield a great sword and slay the evil animals (nations), a final judgment, a 1000 year Messianic reign, the joint rule of God and the Messiah, a destruction of the wicked, the resurrection of the righteous, a New Jerusalem and a new earth (“the old heaven will pass away and a new heaven will appear” 1 Enoch 91:15-16), and a golden age without sin in an eternal kingdom. The book of Enoch also contains most of the Jewish Messianic expectations which were extant during the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE and may form some of the concepts of the imminent kingdom preaching placed into the mouth of Jesus in the gospels. Which do you think is more likely? That the writer of Revelation composed his book in the genre of the book of Enoch as a memetic work of normal composition, or that he was reporting on a storm telepathic visions which just happened to “rhyme” with the book of Enoch?
The book of Enoch is still considered to be canonical by the Ethiopian and Eritrean orthodox denominations, but since it isn’t in the protestant canon, it can be dismissed… BTW, a translation of the book of Enoch was published in 1838 and widely distributed and was likely read by EGW as many of the themes in her early visions mirror those found in the book.
The same can almost certainly be said of John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul née Saul, John the Revelator and countless purportedly Christian sects over the past two millennia.
At some point please consider the fact that a fulfilled prophecy proves exactly the same thing as a performed miracle; i.e., nothing.
Science has successfully made infinitely more predictions and performed more reliable and repeatable miracles than the Bible, EGW and organized religion combined, all without insisting that any of those conclusively establish the existence of either the OT or NT god(s).
So no, there is no need to account for or rebut “god of the gaps”, “I don’t understand so it must god” thinking.
I’m impressed by the intellectual tone of the comments so far. For me, there is a direct and simple reality. Ellen White endorsed the musings of Miller and Snow, implying they were of divine source, that God had guided them. In other words, White endorsed — with the words “I saw…” - bad Biblical interpretation and theology. What are the implications of that?
The implications are clear. The concept of inspiration, telepathic communication and guidance from some “supernatural” source by non-sensory means, is in the case of EGW a fraud and a farce. I would go further to propose that in all cases, it is a meritless claim which dupes the gullible. It always demands faith in the individual making such a claim. Somehow the hearers are supposed to believe that otherwise unknowable information lacking any evidence whatsoever, that one individual, or a select few, are recipients of communication unavailable to everyone equally. This is a con, pure and simple. Those who are deluded by this kind of claim will try to move mountains to find defenses for the delusion.
Don’t you think you should notify the GC of your findings?
I mean, I’m sure this will be news to them and that they’ll want to set the record straight for the congregation.
Then immediately after that, they’ll undoubtedly see that using EGW’s “writings” to evangelize the most credulous among peoples of third world countries has been an horrific scam with innumerable unintended consequences and which practice must be stopped no later than yesterday morning.
Yes, as truth-seekers, they will certainly want to put out an apology…or not.
Thank you for this study which adds important analysis to the Ellen White research project within Adventism. What I would like to do now is add some context to the larger discussion initiated by some.
Science has no doubt been remarkably successful in the last 300-400 years of human history, and for that we should all be grateful. But it has not been perfect. It needed technology developed to test even its most bizarre theories (at first, Einstein?, Quanta Heisenberg?) and it needed sensational telescopes to abandon the “steady state theory” of the cosmos. Who could have foreseen the “expanding universe” and big bang? Yet, that is the genius of empirical observation/experimentation and testing.
There is another dimension to experience besides the “empirical” or “sense-perceptual” which has also captivated human speculation and reflection, but is internal to human consciousness and, in many respects, unavailable to empirical research (yes, neuroscience is mapping brain cell activity and its emotional/thinking products in human reactions). Two of these domains, mysterious as they may seem, are the "ethical/moral imperatives (“oughtness”) and the so-called “sacred,” or transcendent. These dimensions of personal experience have been the object of philosophy, religion and moral reflection since ancient times, even though they are not in most (if not all) senses “empirical” and amenable to verification and falsification via sensory data. Descriptors here default of necessity to “symbolic” language. When the divine is discussed, e.g., in Babylonian and other Ancient Near East cultures, it is polytheistic and deserving of attention. When Judaism emerges from that milieu it is monotheistic. That difference makes all the difference to their thinking about everything, beginning with Creation.
All ancient cultures wrestle with justice and moral codes, and so does the Hebrew. And they all mature and change over time. Then they encounter the Greek genius on ethics and morality and even politics. Without that encounter, who knows where even empirical science might be?
Many religions, including Christianity and Judaism, are a somewhat mystifying synthesis of symbols and reported historical events; the former illuminated by phenomenological analysis and the latter subject, when possible, to historical investigation. Traditions like the Exodus or the resurrection of Jesus Christ are at the nexus of event and symbol. Believers pretty well know they may not be all they have claimed to be since we cannot go back and check the past.
As a result, the J-C tradition ends up with the future, with apocalyptic, with hope. Hence, the ease with which a Miller or Ellen White grabs the rope that might indicate the promised future is almost here. In general, the “hope” of a “soon-coming” redemption produces an all-consuming spiritual awakening (LSD like some suggest) that forges a new internal “reality” which cannot be ignored. A community erupts, even after the hope is dashed, and does both remarkable and foolish things (just as science did). Over time, it learns it must correct itself, but not all are convinced it needs to.
So here we are. My apocalyptic faith and hope is not impregnable, nor should it be. But it is not as simple as falling like a “sucker” for a film-flam either. Why is it that American culture was so ripe for the 19th century explosion of “sect” religion, alternatives to established theology (Spiritualism, Mormonism, Christian Science, Adventism)? And why is “religion” and “other strange stuff” so deeply ingrained in human experience?
One could go on and on, but you get the point.
i’d say “or not”…this Casebolt series seems to see egw’s endorsements of various points her contemporaries raised as an independent response, and as a carte blanche for everything they raised, or considered…it doesn’t see her visions as the definitive form of guidance and knowledge that egw and the fledgling Church, by and large, ultimately yielded to…traditional adventism doesn’t subscribe to these premises, and so it isn’t likely to accept logical consequences, much less responsibility for these consequences, that stem from them…
This is the part in the story where Adventism tends to falter.
I have read a couple of articles in this series and come away thinking the author has missed the mark each time because - “he who proves too much proves nothing”.
But since we’re dealing with issues that cannot be quantified or proved, there is no reason to believe that apocalyptic religions are rooted in anything more complicated than every generation’s desire to be earth’s last generation.
Ironically, you may be onto something.
Adventism has not and cannot prove it’s first principle, i.e., that EGW was on a mission from god.
So any attempt to disprove the rest of it probably lends the denomination infinitely more attention than it deserves.
But I still find Mr. Casebolt’s series seriously engaging.
Perhaps only in the “rubber necking/one can’t look away from a train wreck” sense; but of interest to me personally because of it’s detailed nature and given that it confirms what everyone even marginally aware of the story already knows.
EGW’s “role” in SDA history has been dramatically altered in the sense you describe. She is no longer considered “normative” by SDA’s who have moved beyond fundamentalism, as early as almost 50 years ago. But, like Luther and Wesley and Calvin she is considered “formative;” that’s a historical fact. And like these others, her role should and can be diminished as the last word on theology or ethics. In fact, most non-fundamentalist preachers and theologians are there. The apocalyptic emphasis is as old as late Judaism and deserves to be taken seriously if one is in any sense a “believer”–even if a rigorously rational one.
I am a believer of sorts and in the manner of Thomas Jefferson who discounted Jesus’ purported miracles (which don’t prove anything anyway) and took the apocalyptic aspects of his recorded teachings with a grain of salt.
IOW, you’re right, doomsday prepping is a hobby as old organized religion but it is no more deserving of serious consideration now than it was at any point over the past two or three millennia.
That said, it is irrational to gainsay the existence of “self-fulfilling prophecies”. So the fact that so many people believe they will live to see the end of the world, and have a death-wish desire to watch humanity brought to its knees, is definitely cause for concern, even though that demise will most likely be caused by those beliefs, rather than a long-anticipated act of god.
Miller was a false prophet no matter how you slice it, or sugar coat it. We came out of a delusional man. We need to be very careful when talking about “truth” to other denominations. These people thought Jesus was coming, everything was done, the US and pope were going to unite and bring on the mark of the beast…so when we read stuff they wrote, remember that mindset. None of that came true, and we need a new, true look at modern day history. These people in the 1800s had very little real knowledge of history, and it shows. Like the holy roman empire being something big and powerful. Nothing of the sort happened, and they know it. The world could care less what happened to the pope in 1798, even as we try and pump it up. We have this false history that people keep promoting. Makes us look stupid.
It is historicism, the belief that the future was foretold along with the strained attempts to make history somehow fit the interpretational scheme, that is stupid. All this while ignoring the obvious; that the apocalyptic writers were focused on their own time and made predictions for the immediate future which did not come to pass. It is the belief in magic that deludes the ignorant.
You’ll get no argument from some in this forum while others, lots.
But I’m curious as to what-other than stupidity perhaps?-would cause one to remain a part of that “us”?