Claims of Revelation: The Origin Story of The Urantia Book

Claims of Revelation: The Origin Story of The Urantia Book June 9, 2016

earth-in goldBelievers in the mysterious Urantia Book maintain that it is an epochal revelation of supernatural origin that is not the product of human authorship of any sort. As evidence, they point to its outstanding coherence, originality, and literary richness and its astonishing range of topics spread out over 196 chapters and 2,096-pages. Adherents claim that writing at this level of beauty and brilliance is simply impossible of accomplishment by any one human author or conceivable group of authors—especially given that there is no evidence of monetary compensation nor any possibility of social recognition. On the other hand, it would only be natural for those outside this circle of followers to see this work as a “channeled” text like so many others, perhaps containing dictations from spirits, but very likely contaminated by the perspective and prejudices of its human “channel.” Even with the evidence now in the public record because of copyright litigation and historical research, this issue of authorship is a controversy that may never be settled. Yet I do believe that The Urantia Book, whatever the technique of its reception, stands in a class of its own among purported revelatory works. The evidence I have come across in decades of research shows that, as a literary artifact, The Urantia Book is unique in the annals of scripture, channeling, and revelation—for at least three reasons.

First are the known facts about ownership and copyright. An oracular work that comes through an identifiable human person legally belongs to that person as its “official” author, even if they claim it was dictated to them from celestial beings. Channeled works are routinely assigned valid copyrights because of their association with a human conduit—a typical case in point being the Conversations with God series by Neale Donald Walsch. But The Urantia Book is different from the norm. In 2001, a complex decision by a federal appeals court declared the text of The Urantia Book to be in the public domain because no evidence of human authorship was produced by the original publisher, the Urantia Foundation. The Foundation’s trustees had spent millions defending it over a period of eight years.

Adherents believe the The Urantia Book’s reception was miraculous, and the courts were unable to verify a human author for this text, but the work does have many peripheral human associations. The most important of these was the man known as the “contact personality,” a male who remained anonymous and is long ago deceased. Yet, almost every other comparable case has involved some well-known person, for example, a “psychic channel” like Edgar Cayce or a “revealer” such as Muhammad. The identities of these persons are publicly known and they are typically deeply involved in the revelatory process along with witnesses and assistants who were on hand for the presentation of the revelatory materials. By all accounts, the unidentified contact person for the Urantia Revelation was not a psychic or a prophet, and he is in fact believed to have been an ordinary businessman who was almost entirely disinterested in the process that occurred over a period of over thirty years.

A Course in Miracles, a tome comparable to the Urantia Revelation, poses an interesting contrast. The “scribe” for A Course in Miracles, Helen Schucman, was originally granted a copyright with the designation of “Anonymous (Helen Schucman).” The Course lost its copyright in 2003 not because her “authorship” was disputed, but because the text had been widely disseminated before its copyright registration. Schucman was not indifferent to the revelation that poured through her from the “Voice” (which she later identified as Jesus), and the accounts we have make clear that she had a highly emotional and complicated personal relationship with the effort.

Most channeled works have an informal set of associates who enable their reception, publication, and dissemination. For example, Schucman was assisted by her colleague Bill Thetford, who typed and compiled the handwritten materials, after which a few other volunteers helped get the book printed and distributed. Walsch had almost no support system other than his original publisher, Bob Friedman of Hampton Roads Publishing.

But the human support for the Urantia Revelation was of a rather different and unprecedented scale. The reception of the Urantia “papers” (as they were originally called) was fostered by a formalized group of six humans known as the “Contact Commission” plus a large group of hundreds of interlocutors known as the “Forum,” whose involvement was kept a secret until the process was completed. Beginning around 1924, Forum members read new drafts of each of the 196 papers (or attended meetings where new papers were read aloud). They asked questions that were conveyed to the celestial authors through the Contact Commissioners; responses then came in the form of new drafts of these papers which addressed the most pertinent questions. This interactive process shaped the content of the papers, but there is no evidence that the Commissioners or the Forumites had any hand in the actual writing.

I can think of no other case where hundreds of people from all walks of life helped shape a revelatory text. The Forum consisted of many professional men and women but also included farmers, housewives, secretaries, office workers, and common laborers.

By contrast, channels of comparable tomes were largely solo acts. Famous modern examples include Helena Blavatsky, Alice Bailey, Rudolph Steiner, Mary Baker Eddy, or Edgar Cayce. In almost each case these high-profile personalities had their names attached to their published works and profited in some way by their work with higher beings, or gained wide notoriety. By contrast, none of those involved with the Urantia Papers gained celebrity or made money from the process, nor does anyone still today. Even Joseph Smith gained great fame by promulgating the Book of Mormon, but in his case paid the price of persecution. The key person in the Urantia Book’s Contact Commission, Dr. William Sadler, died without any fame or fanfare and had spent a fortune in time and money on the process of publication and dissemination.

Second, almost all other channeled works are dictated by a single incorporeal being (such as Djwhal Khul in the case of Bailey, Morya in the instance of Blavatsky, and Jesus in the case of Schucman). At most we may hear about the involvement of a small group of unseen beings, such as Mormon and Moroni in the case of Joseph Smith. The Urantia text, by contrast, is a composite work of a corps of numerous celestial beings, some of whom “authorized” or “sponsored” the project and others who served in the role as authors of individual papers or groups of papers out of the 196 total papers. Twenty-three separate beings are attributed as authors, some by name, such as Malavatia or Solonia, others by the order of being they belong to, such as “Divine Counselor,” “Chief of Archangels,” or “Midwayer.” Almost all are unique to the book and each case are described within the text itself (at least by type). In addition, the work must have also been compiled and edited on the other side by a highly adept editorial team of celestial specialists, given that its 2,096 pages are widely considered to be internally consistent in style and content to a high degree.

Third, typical channeling involves “mind-to-mind” communications or “inner dictation,” but the preponderance of the public record reveals that the Urantia materials were not at any point transmitted through the mind of the contact person. Rather, it was “materialized” by largely unknown means with the help of minimal human involvement. Why such a methodology of transmission? Usually, channeled works are the result of what can be called auto-revelation or personal revelation, which can be valid as far as it goes. But a purported epochal revelation like The Urantia Book should have no connection with the limited viewpoint of a human personality—even one as great as an Apostle John or an Emanuel Swedenborg. According the original Contact Commissioners of the UB, their main reason for not revealing the identity of the contact person was that the revelators did not want any human being ever to be associated with the origin of The Urantia Book. They wanted it to stand on its own as a singular work of epochal revelation.

An Outline of the Origin Story

The origin story of the UB is in a class by itself. The Urantia text came into being during a complex process that was initiated in 1911 (some say 1908) and completed in the early 1940s, most likely in the year 1942. The story remained shrouded in secrecy and mystery until the last two decades or so, when ongoing historical research into private archives, diaries, and the oral histories of those involved, as well as evidence provided in the aforementioned federal copyright lawsuits, revealed much about the process.

There are no witnesses to the formal transmission process of the original Urantia papers; no one ever saw the contact person or anyone else write down those source materials that—according to all accounts—appeared in hand-written form but not in the handwriting of any known person. Handwriting analysis experts were unable to trace the written materials to the contact personality or any other person. Yet, for a period of a few decades, “voluminous handwritten documents” frequently appeared in association with the contact person, these being the various drafts of the papers that appeared in succession over these many years.

The contact personality (sometimes also known as “the sleeping subject”) was described by one reliable source as “a hard-boiled businessman and a member of the Chicago Board of Trade and Stock Exchange.” Over the entire time of contact, the celestials did engage in informal verbal communications through him in the manner conventionally known as channeling, usually by speaking through the contact personality while he was deeply unconscious. At times there were dictations to members of the Contact Commission that appeared as short written messages of practical import. (There were also cases of “direct voice” contact—actual audio communications from unseen beings that were heard, as it were, “in the air” during meetings of the Contact Commissioners.)

According to the lore, the contact person was not personally engaged with the process other than to allow his body to be used in informal celestial communications having to do with logistics, not in the promulgation of the written content. But the formal transmission of the papers was another matter. Preliminary “channeled” contacts existed as far back as 1911, but the formal papers began to appear in succession on February 11, 1924 and continued to appear for about 18 years. The testimony of all those concerned states that no instances of channeling or automatic writing of any sort occurred during these years to produce the papers.

These celestial transactions occurred in the city of Chicago. The main locus—and the meeting place of the Forum—was the large home of a distinguished physician, psychiatrist, and author, Dr. William S. Sadler, and his wife Dr. Lena Sadler, also a distinguished physician and author. Dr. Sadler trained as a surgeon and physician, and had also studied briefly in Vienna with Sigmund Freud. Because of his prolific writing and research and decades of clinical practice, he was known by some in his day as “the father of American psychiatry.” He did write a widely used psychiatry textbook and was author of several dozen other books, many of these directed to the popular reader. He and his wife were also pioneers in preventive medicine and in their earlier careers were Seventh Day Adventist ministers. Lena Sadler was especially known as a pediatrician and for her work in women’s health, but died in 1939 before the completion of the reception of the Urantia Papers. Her husband lived on to see the book printed in 1955 and died at age 93 in 1969.

One scholar, Sioux Oliva, PhD, has concluded that Bill Sadler himself was the contact personality for the revelation, but had covered his tracks to remain anonymous; Martin Gardner, the famed skeptic and science writer, took the position that the contact personality must have been Wilfred Kellogg, a brother-in-law of Lena Sadler who was a member of the Contact Commission. Virtually all other researchers believe that neither of these two men were the contact and that it must have been some other unknown person living very near the Sadler home. This is the universal testimony of Sadler and other direct witnesses.

According to these sources, each new paper came into existence in the proximity of the contact personality, always in hand-written form. It would purportedly appear—either on a table in his bedroom or miraculously in a nearby safe. Historical records indicate that papers were either “materialized” as hand-written text (and then dematerialized once they were typed)—or more likely, were very quickly hand-written by an unseen being while the contact person and his wife slept at night. According to Bill Sadler, Jr., one of the Contact Commissioners, “I think you would have seen a very exciting phenomenon, a pencil moving over paper with no visible means of propulsion. That’s where the physical writing was consummated.” (The source of this quote is the best existing history, written by Larry Mullins with Dr. Meredith Sprunger, A History of the Urantia Papers. See chapters 4 and 5.)

Dr. Sadler explained in an account first published in 1929 that—despite all sorts of probes and tests—he and his associates could detect no discernible link to the contact personality’s mentality, personal beliefs, worldview, or handwriting style. Eventually, all came to believe that the writing was actually carried out by unseen celestial beings and was not generated somehow through the human mind of the contact person as, for example, occurred in the transmissions of Edgar Cayce. Sadler himself, with his hard-core scientific training during an era of logical positivism, remain a skeptic longer than all the others involved in the process. He even brought in other scientists as well as debunkers and magicians, including even the likes of Harry Houdini, to see if these outsiders might come up with an explanation for the materialization of the papers. He finally accepted the “miraculous” explanation in 1936, after all 196 papers had appeared with no trace of an author.

Here is a brief overview of the whole revelatory process: Once a new paper of the revelation appeared, it was carefully typed and checked, and then read aloud at the Forum meetings that were held on a Sunday afternoon beginning in 1924. After the reading of a paper, forum members would immediately ask questions that were written down, and later sorted and classified. These new questions would be presented by the Contact Commissioners in closed meetings; and, like clockwork, a new draft of the paper would appear soon thereafter. This procedure continued until 119 papers had been compiled in 1935. And then, to the great surprise of all, the last 77 papers appeared all at once. This material became the 774-page Part IV of the text, the beloved “The Life and Teachings of Jesus.” This was the capstone of the process and the revelation. After its appearance, the Forum was invited for one more round of interaction. The entire corpus was presented once again to the Forum, new questions were asked, and the final drafts of the 196 papers appeared, culminating in 1942. After years of proofreading, plus a long delay requested by the celestials, the book was first printed in 1955, has been through innumerable re-printings, and has been translated into 17 languages.

The informal communications between the celestial authors and the human contact group took place via a technique similar to that of Edgar Cayce and his interlocutors, or any number of other channelers before and since. This is true channeling as contrasted with true “revelation” of the sort that is unique to the Urantia Revelation. The so-called Teaching Mission is a case of true channeling that involved scores of contactees who were Urantia students. This massive series of transmitted lessons that began in 1987, all referential to the Urantia Revelation, are covered in my forthcoming book, Romancing the Universe, and are explained at my website.




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