Patriarchs and Prophets Contains Secret Jewish Knowledge?

By Dirk Anderson, Apr. 2009

One of the most truly bizarre claims regarding Ellen White comes from an SDA artist named Elfred Lee. Lee apparently befriended a Jewish Rabbi who supposedly converted to Christianity after reading Ellen White's book Patriarchs and Prophets. Lee shared his "testimony" of this experience on an SDA web site, and he made some fantastic claims about Rabbi Kagan:

1. "He was amazed at her knowledge, saying that the information in this book (Patriarchs and Prophets) is Mishnaic. The Mishnah is part of the Hebrew scholarship. He said the Mishnah had only been translated into English 30 years ago [that statement being made in 1978, would mean it was translated in 1948] and that only high-level rabbis knew this information."

2. "This is the history of my people and it is very, very accurate. He also said that you have to know Hebrew to be able to write like this because her sentence structure is not English, it's Hebrew. The rhythm the meter, the arrangement of words and expressions are not English. He said it's as if she wrote in Hebrew and it was translated into English."

Are these fantastic claims true? Did Ellen White write in a mystical English translated from Hebrew?

Is Patriarchs and Prophets Mishnaic?

Brother Anderson submitted to a group of Jewish Hebrew scholars the claim that Ellen White's writings appear to be Hebrew translated into English. They scoffed at such a suggestion, saying the languages are so completely different that it did not even warrant an investigation. So, the burden is now upon Elfred Lee to supply some sort of proof that her writings appear to be Hebrew translated into English. To this day we have not seen any evidence to support that claim.

It is difficult to evaluate whether or not the book contains any secret Mishnaic information not available to Ellen White in the 19th century simply because Elfred Lee never tells us which parts of the book contain Mishnaic information.

What can be done is to examine the sources Mrs. White used for the book. While the earliest chapters rely upon The Book of Jasher and Milton's Paradise Lost, the majority of the book follows Alfred Edersheim's Bible History (a seven-volume history of the Old Testament published 1876-1887). Edersheim was raised as a Jew, educated in the Talmud and Torah, and converted to Christianity in the mid-1840s. Edersheim, became the pre-eminent Christian-Jewish scholar of the 19th century, and was undoubtedly familiar with the Mishnah, since he quotes from it in his writings.1

Mrs. White's reliance on Edersheim

Much of the book Patriarchs and Prophets mirrors the writings of Edersheim. This can be seen in both the overall structure of the book, and in individual quotes taken from Edersheim. First, let us compare the overall structures of both books:2

Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets; Mountain View, California, Pacific Press (1890,1913) Edersheim, Alfred, Bible History: Old Testament, vols. 1­4, (1876-1880)
Page in 1958 edition (White) Page in volume 1 (Edersheim)
33 Why Was Sin Permitted?xi Introduction
44 The Creation17 Creation
52 The Temptation and Fall

63 The Plan of Redemption

17 The Fall
71 Cain and Abel Tested23 Cain and Abel-The Two Ways
80 Seth and Enoch23 Seth and His Descendants
90 The Flood44 The Flood
105 After the Flood

111 The Literal Week

51 After the Flood
117 The Tower of Babel57 Babel-Confusion of Tongues
125 The Call of Abraham72 The Calling of Abram
132 Abraham in Canaan72 His Arrival in Canaan
145 The Test of Faith97 Trial of Abraham's Faith
156 Destruction of Sodom88 The Destruction of Sodom
171 The Marriage of Isaac106 The Marriage of Isaac
177 Jacob and Esau106 Birth of Esau andJacob
183 Jacob's Flight and Exile115 Jacob Is Sent to Laban
195 The Night of Wrestling132 The Night of Wrestling
204 The Return to Canaan132 Jacob Settles at Hebron
213 Joseph in Egypt142 Joseph's Early Life
224 Joseph and His Brothers161 Joseph Recognizes His brothers
Page in 1958 edition (White) Page in volume 2 (Edersheim)
241 Moses35 The Birth and the Training of Moses
257 The Plagues of Egypt63 The Ten "Strokes," or Plagues
273 The Passover78 The Passover and Its Ordinances
281 The Exodus78 The Children of Israel Leave Egypt
291 From the Red Sea to Sinai89 The Wilderness of Shur
303 The Law Given to Israel

315 Idolatry at Sinai

105 The "Ten Words," and Their Meaning
331 Satan's Enmity against the Law121 The Sin of the Golden Calf
343 The Tabernacle and133 The Rearing of the Tabernacle Its Services
359 The Sin of Nadab and Abihu137 The Sin of Nadab and Abihu
395 The Rebellion of Korah171 The Gainsaying of Korah
363 The law and the Covenants114 Civil and Social Ordinances- The "Covenant Made by Sacrifice"
374 From Sinai to Kadesh156 [March into the Wilderness]
387 The Twelve Spies163 The Spies Sent to Canaan
406 In the Wilderness171 The Years in the Wilderness
411 The Smitten Rock184 The Sin of Moses and Aaron
422 The Journey around Edom 433 The Conquest of Bashan 193 Journey of the Children of Israel in the Land of Edom
Page in 1958 edition (White) Page in volume 3 (Edersheim)
438 Balaam11 Character and History of Balaam
453 Apostasy at the Jordan23 The End of Balaam
462 The Law Repeated33 The Second Census of Israel
469 The Death of Moses42 Death and Burial of Moses
481 Crossing the Jordan53 The Miraculous Parting ofJordan
487 The Fall of Jericho58 The Miraculous Fall of Jericho
499 The Blessings and the Curses73 The Blessing and the Curse on Gerizim and Ebal
505 League with the Gibeonites72 The Deceit of the Gibeonites
510 The Division of Canaan87 Final Division of the Land
521 The Last Words of Joshua

525 Tithes and Offerings

530 God's Care for the Poor

96 Joshua's Farewell Addresses
537 The Annual Feasts33 Sacrificial Ordinances
543 The Earlier Judges105 Summary of the Book of Judges
560 Samson163 The History of Samson
Page in 1958 edition (White) Page in volume 4 (Edersheim)
569 The Child Samuel1 Birth of Samuel
575 Eli and His Sons10 The Sin of Eli's Sons
581 The Ark Taken by the Philistines16 Taking of the Ark
592 The Schools of the Prophets26 Samuel's Administration
603 The First King of Israel26 The Demand for a King
616 The Presumption of Saul56 Saul's Disobedience
627 Saul Rejected56 The Rejection of His Kingdom
637 The Anointing of David79 The Anointing of David
643 David and Goliath79 Combat between David and Goliath
649 David a Fugitive94 David's Flight to Samuel
660 The Magnanimity of David109 David end Jonathan
675 The Death of Saul147 Death of Saul
683 Ancient and Modern Sorcery136 Saul... the Witch of Endor
690 David at Ziklag136 Capture of Ziklag by the Amalekites
697 David Called to the Throne147 David King at Hebron
703 The Reign of David163 David... King over All Israel
717 David's Sin and Repentance190 David's Great Sin... Repentance

Following are a sample of the many places where Mrs. White incorporates the ideas and writings of Edersheim into Patriarchs and Prophets

Bible History Patriarchs and Prophets
Everything as it proceeded from the hand of God was "very good," that is, perfect to answer the purpose for which it had been destined. "And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made." (vol. 1, chap. 1) And God "rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made." God looked with satisfaction upon the work of His hands. All was perfect... (PP 47)
Accordingly He gave to Adam and Eve another son, whom his mother significantly called "Seth," that is, "appointed," or rather "compensation;" "for God," said she, "hath appointed me ('compensated me with') another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew." ' (vol. 1, chap. 3) To Adam was given another son, to be the inheritor of the divine promise, the heir of the spiritual birthright. The name Seth, given to this son, signified "appointed," or "compensation;" "for," said the mother, "God hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew." (PP 80)
Even so, "the long-suffering of God waited" for one hundred and twenty years, "while the ark was a preparing;" and during this time, especially, Noah must have acted as "a preacher of righteousness." (vol. 1, chap. 5) For a hundred and twenty years the preacher of righteousness warned the world of the coming destruction, but his message was rejected and despised. (PP 102)
As Luther says, "Ham would not have mocked his father, when overcome with wine, if he had not long before cast from his soul that reverence which, according to God's command, children should cherish towards their parents." It is a relief to find the other sons of Noah, so far from sharing their brother's sin, reverently defending their father from the unnatural vileness of Ham. (vol. 1, chap. 7) The unnatural crime of Ham declared that filial reverence had long before been cast from his soul, and it revealed the impiety and vileness of his character. (PP 117)
No wonder that the worldly pride of that age should have wished to make such a place the world-capital of a world-empire, whose tower "may reach unto heaven!" (vol. 1, chap. 8) ...Babel builders determined to keep their community united in one body, and to found a monarchy that should eventually embrace the whole earth. Thus their city would become the metropolis of a universal empire; its glory would command the admiration and homage of the world and render the founders illustrious. The magnificent tower, reaching to the heavens... (PP 119)
Samson offered no resistance, on condition that his own people should not attack him. Bound with two new cords, he was already within view of the hostile camp at Lehi; already he heard the jubilant shout of the Philistines, when once more "the Spirit of Jehovah came mightily upon him." Like flax at touch of fire, "flowed his bonds from off his hands." This sudden turn of affairs, and manifestation of Samson's power, caused an immediate panic among the Philistines. Following up this effect, Samson seized the weapon readiest to hand, the jawbone of an ass, and with it slew company after company, "heap upon heap," till, probably in various encounters, no less than 1000 of the enemy strewed the ground. (vol. 3, chap. 19) Samson consented to be bound and delivered to the Philistines, but first exacted from the men of Judah a promise not to attack him themselves, and thus compel him to destroy them. He permitted them to bind him with two new ropes, and he was led into the camp of his enemies amid demonstrations of great joy. But while their shouts were waking the echoes of the hills, "the Spirit of Jehovah came mightily upon him." He burst asunder the strong new cords as if they had been flax burned in the fire. Then seizing the first weapon at hand, which, though only the jawbone of an ass, was rendered more effective than sword or spear, he smote the Philistines until they fled in terror, leaving a thousand men dead upon the field. (PP 564)
From all their cities have the princes of the Philistines come up; from all the country around have the people gathered. The temple of the god Dagon - the fish-god, protector of the sea - is festively adorned and thronged. Below, the lords of the Philistines and all the chief men of the people are feasting at the sacrificial meal; above, along the roof, the gallery all around is crowded by three thousand men and women who look down on the spectacle beneath. It is a feast of thanksgiving to Dagon, of triumph to Philistia, of triumph against Jehovah and His people, and over captive Samson. ... And now the mirth and revelry have reached their highest point: Samson is brought in, and placed in the middle of the temple, between the central pillars which uphold the immense roof and the building itself. A few words whispered to his faithful Hebrew servant, and Samson's arms encircle the massive pillars. And then an unuttered agonizing cry of repentance, of faith from the Nazarite, once more such, who will not only subordinate self to the nation and to his calling, but surrender life itself! ... With all his might he bows himself. The pillars reel and give way. With one terrible crash fall roof and gallery, temple and image of Dagon; and in the ruins perish with Samson the lords of the Philistines and the flower of the people. (vol. 3, chap. 20) A feast was appointed in honor of Dagon, the fish god, "the protector of the sea." From town and country throughout the Philistine plain the people and their lords assembled. Throngs of worshipers filled the vast temple and crowded the galleries about the roof. It was a scene of festivity and rejoicing. There was the pomp of the sacrificial service, followed by music and feasting. Then, as the crowning trophy of Dagon's power, Samson was brought in. Shouts of exultation greeted his appearance. People and rulers mocked his misery and adored the god who had overthrown "the destroyer of their country." After a time, as if weary, Samson asked permission to rest against the two central pillars which supported the temple roof. Then he silently uttered the prayer, "O Lord God, remember me, I pray Thee, and strengthen me, I pray Thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines." With these words he encircled the pillars with his mighty arms; and crying, "Let me die with the Philistines!" he bowed himself, and the roof fell, destroying at one crash all that vast multitude. "So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life." The idol and its worshipers, priest and peasant, warrior and noble, were buried together beneath the ruins of Dagon's temple. (PP 567)


If there is indeed any secret knowledge of the Mishnah embedded within Patriarchs and Prophets, then it is most likely that knowledge was obtained from the writings of Albert Edersheim, and not by any supernatural means. Mrs. White copied heavily from his book when writing her book. While it is wonderful that Rabbi Kagan accepted Christ, it would seem the real credit for his conversion is due more to Albert Edersheim than Ellen White.


1. For examples of references to the Mishnah, see Alfred Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life, (1876). Example chapter 4: "But the Mishnah already directs that..."; Example chapter 18: "the Mishnah maintains that those who loved God...". Wikipedia article on Edersheim indicates he was trained in the Torah and Talmud.

2. Walter Rea, White Lie, Chapter 5. Page numbers are from the 1958 printing of Patriarchs and Prophets, and from volumes 1-4 of Bible History.

Category: Myths
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