The Urtext and the Early Chapters of the Text of 
A Course in Miracles®

By Kenneth Wapnick

(Excerpts from the introduction to the 32-DVD set entitled:
"Classes on the Text of A Course in Miracles")

Let me say a few words about the relationship of the early chapters of the text to what Helen had originally taken down. Briefly -- since most of you know the story -- Helen had written down the dictation from Jesus in notebooks. She used shorthand -- her own particular version that combined various well-known methods with her own variations. She then dictated what she had written down to Bill Thetford, who typed it out. What Bill typed out is what we usually refer to as the urtext. The word "ur" comes from the biblical story of Abraham, who was born in Ur of the Chaldees. Basically it is used to symbolize the beginning of something.

So when we speak of an urtext, we mean the first version of a manuscript. Thus, there are famous urtexts of Shakespeare's works and many other literary masters. With regard to A Course in Miracles, we used that term to denote what Bill had typed, the original typed manuscript that was based on Helen's notebooks. Helen then retyped the manuscript of the text twice. And then there was the penultimate version, which was the version I saw when I met Helen and Bill. That is the version Helen and I edited into the finished copy -- the published copy. 

What Helen originally heard and wrote down in her notebooks, and what was largely recorded in the urtext, contained a lot of personal material.  During the early weeks of the scribing, Helen was quite nervous about what was happening. I think it was not so much about what she was taking down, although that certainly made her uncomfortable, but rather it was about the very process of all of this coming from Jesus. And I also think that her discomfort was connected with her experience of her relationship with Jesus -- the closeness of it -- a relationship that was impossible for her to ignore at this point, since she was basically hearing his voice all the time now.

I would also say that her hearing during these early weeks was not very good. An example that I have always used that I think still best expresses what happened is this: If you are away from your home for quite some time and then come back, when you turn on a water faucet, the water usually runs dirty -- especially if it is an older house. There is rust and other kinds of minerals that do not belong there. And as the water runs, it takes a while for all of these impurities to wash out and the water to run clean again. In one sense, I think this is what happened with Helen. She had not used her scribal ability for a long, long time. 

In one of her visions that antedated the Course, she saw herself come upon a piece of machinery in a rowboat that was beached on shore. She described the machinery as "an ancient sending and receiving set," which she later understood -- when the Course began -- to be a symbol of this ability to receive the messages from Jesus in her mind and then to send them, in terms of writing them down. In fact, in a vision the stranger appears, and after a while Helen recognizes him as Jesus. This "stranger" said to her, "Don't do anything with this yet. You're not ready." So it was obvious that some preparation had to occur within Helen in order to allow her to hear as clearly and as purely as she later did. But that was not the case at the beginning. So she wrote down things that are frankly wrong. A number of these things Jesus would later correct. The style was very awkward and clumsy.

Again, as I just mentioned, interspersed with the actual teaching was a great deal of personal material that Jesus was giving to help Helen accept what was happening, to help her relationship with Bill. There were messages for Bill, and messages that really were an attempt to help them not only with their relationship, but with other relationships in their lives. There also was material that was an attempt to help them bridge the gap between the very conservative, psychoanalytic psychology that they both believed and the psychology of the Course. Consequently, there was material on Freud and some on Jung, Rank, and other neo-Freudians. Then there was material on mental illness and mental retardation, which was Helen's field. 

Moreover, Bill was very much involved with Edgar Cayce, having begun to read him when Helen started to have all of her experiences in the spring of 1965. Bill was very taken by Cayce and read a great deal of him. He then had Helen read Cayce, and actually took her, in spite of her objections and protests -- almost literally yelling and screaming -- to Virginia Beach to meet Hugh Lynn Cayce, who was Edgar Cayce's son. So there is a lot of Cayce material in the early pages, as well as the Cayce style. 

The Cayce material, for those of you who do not know it, contains some rather brilliant teachings, but written in a very archaic, awkward style. It is not very pretty writing. Some of that awkwardness in phraseology and terms can be found in these early scribings of Helen.

When Helen dictated this to Bill, she basically dictated everything she had taken down with some very, very personal exceptions -- material that was personal. Then she and Bill edited out what clearly did not belong. And Jesus was very clear to them that anything of a specific or personal nature did not belong in these "notes," which was his term for what he was giving Helen. So what we now have in the published version has all the personal material taken out. The material that was really meant only for Helen and Bill -- about Cayce and Freud, for example -- was taken out, because it did not belong there. But, unfortunately, what is still there has some of the awkwardness of phrasing and style, as well the gaps that were left when the personal material was taken out. 

The early scribing was not basically Jesus standing in Helen's ear with a microphone and dictating this. It was much more of a dialog where Jesus would say something, Helen would ask a question, Jesus would answer it. They would go off on a tangent. Sometimes Jesus would reprimand her, gently and lovingly, for going on a tangent as a way of not dealing with this material. Removing those passages, though, left a gap, so that we had to fill that gap with minor words. But it does not read well because of these factors.

The Introduction as we now have it was not part of the original dictation. The Course began with: "This is a course in miracles. Please take notes." And then on to: "The first thing to remember about miracles is that there is no order of difficulty among them." Within a few weeks Helen was complaining to Jesus about this impossible material he was dictating to her, saying to him, "I'm assuming this is an elective course," a clear reference to what happens in universities when there are certain classes that are required of all students. For example, every student has to take a foreign language, math, or science, or history -- whatever. And then there are other courses that are elective -- that a student can elect to take. So she was being a little cute and said, "I assume this is an elective course." And his response was just as cute: "No, it is not an elective course, it is a required course." Then he went on with: "Only the time you take it is voluntary." That is what those next sentences mean in the Introduction.

It was not meant to suggest that everybody in the entire world had to take A Course in Miracles. What was meant was that for Helen and for Bill it was a required course, because this is what they asked for. Remember they asked for another way of relating. Well one could not ask for a better answer to that question -- to have been given a better way of relating to another person: without judgment, condemnation, criticism, attack, etc. 

Again, the text as it is now, was not necessarily dictated word for word. This pertains largely to the first four to five chapters. I might also mention that at the beginning there were not fifty miracle principles. In fact there were not fifty right in a row, the way they appear now. There would be a statement of a miracle principle, and then a discussion. And, again, the discussion could sometimes go a little far afield. Not far afield from what was helpful to Helen, but certainly far afield from the teaching. Some of the material that is now in Chapter 1, in the sections after the first fifty principles, was originally part of the miracle principles themselves -- part of the discussion. When we finally did the editing, when I saw it, I think there were fifty-three principles. They had gotten them down to fifty-three. And then Bill had the idea that there should be fifty, because fifty is a nice, round number. So that is why there are fifty principles. The three that were taken out were not lost, they were just reabsorbed in the material. They were just restated.

I mention this again because so many people have a kind of sacrosanct view of the Course -- that every word is absolutely holy and sacred and cannot be touched. That was not the way Helen felt about it. She was very clear about not changing any of the important words. But the "that's" and the "which's," -- the "dese, the dems, the doses," as we used to say in Brooklyn -- were obviously not important to the teaching, and so she did make those kinds of changes. Most of these changes, again, only happened at the beginning.

So what we had at that point we all felt was exactly the way Jesus wanted it -- that the material that did not belong was not left in. The problem still was that the first four chapters frankly just did not read well. As the text moves on, the writing becomes more and more beautiful, and the last half of the text is filled with passage upon passage in wonderful blank verse. This is not the case in the first four chapters, however. And Helen was always very ashamed of them. In fact, when anyone in the early days would want to see the Course -- and she would show the Course to very, very, very few people (and she wouldn't show them the whole Course) -- she would just show the really beautiful, rhapsodic, ecstatic passages. And she was always rather ashamed of this early part, so much so that when we were going through it and editing it, I said to her, "You know, it would save us both a lot of time if you asked Jesus to just re-dictate the first four chapters." I did not really think she would do that, and she did not think she could stand it again.

So the first four chapters are as they are. Despite everything I've been saying, they still are remarkable in what they contain. The ideas don't flow nicely one from the other, as one finds later, but the ideas and statements here are incredible in terms of containing the entirety of the thought system of the Course, even if it is not necessarily expressed nicely, and at times even obtusely. So there is still a kind of a treasure field here for us to mine, but Helen would just like me to apologize to everyone if the writing is not up to what is found later.

From Classes on the Text of  A Course in Miracles
by Kenneth Wapnick, copyright 2001 by the
Foundation for 
A Course in Miracles®. 
Reproduced here with permission.


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