Posted by: ushistoryfiles | August 19, 2009

The Fawning Author

Several years ago while I was at MTSU, a mentor of mine told me that in order to write a biography you had to either love your subject or you loathed your subject.  The trick as a historian was to not let your feelings get in the way of the biography and just write about that person.

Fast forward a bunch of years and I am reading “Prophet of Destiny” by Rene Noorbergen.  The book is about Ellen G White one of the initial founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and considered by some to be a prophet (hence the title).  I am reading this book because I proposed a paper to the Society of Civil War Historians that talks about her, her Civil War “prophecies”, and the way the fledgling church went about defining its role in the conflict.  More on that topic in future posts.

Reading through “Prophet of Destiny” is like reading a 7th grader’s love letter about their latest crush.  Noorbergen’s book just gushes with mind numbing drivel about how right White’s “prophecies” are and how it has taken years for everyone to catch up.  Truth of the matter is just about 61 of the 228 pages is actual biography.  The rest, with chapters titled “The Enlightened Prophet” and “Science Catches Up with a Prophet”, is nothing more than dubious (even for 1971) “facts” to prove that White is the real deal.  Noorbergen goes through a series of “prophecies” about health (diet, smoking…) as if Ellen White were the first to draw the connection.  Forgetting that even in the 1600s people opposed smoking and saw it as unhealthy and that even King James way back in 1604 recognized it as unhealthy (medical theories of the time saw it as unhealthy), or that the health benefits of a vegetarian diet extends back to ancient times, Noorbergen acts as if no one was aware of these things until White’s “prophecies”.

Now in Noorbergen’s defense I believe that he was a journalist and not a historian, but gushy is still gushy.

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