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Holland Park Press

Do you want foolproof evidence?

23 March 2011 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

The past week brought nothing but misery; still, there was marvellous news from the Middle East. Apparently 2000-year-old codices have been discovered in a Jordanian cave. The texts are supposed to mention the Messiah and the Resurrection. Most scholars are cautious; before you know it, your reputation is in shreds.

An Israeli Bedouin and farmer, Hassan Saeda, owns the artefact. I thrive on this type of news. They call him a farmer - hopefully of cattle, as a cucumber grower without fixed abode doesn’t ring true.

For the time being reports are inconclusive. One source says the codices were discovered five years ago; another source maintains Saeda inherited them from his grandfather.

The Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran, a previous major discovery, were also owned by a Bedouin who was simply looking for his sheep. I can picture him, ‘Honestly I was just trying to locate my flock.’ In that case the discovery concerned the Old Testament and it took years to establish authenticity.

This one concerns the New Testament and you live in hope that Dan Brown’s entire oeuvre can be mothballed; the man next to Jesus in The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci isn’t a woman, and Dali shouldn’t have painted a moustache on the Mona Lisa. I am trying to say: I hope Jesus didn’t have any children, so there is no bloodline.

Actually, it doesn’t matter. Rembrandt van Rijn did exist and whether there are any descendants is of little consequence. In Rembrandt’s case there is no doubt, the van Rijn family is extinct. In 1715, his granddaughter Titia van Rijn died aged 46 and childless in Amsterdam.

Yet his paintings court controversy, just like the Collected Works of the Redeemer.

The Rembrandt Research Project was founded in 1968, and establishing which paintings were the work of Rembrandt was expected to take a few years. At the end of this year, forty-three years on, the Rembrandt Research Project will be shut down, even though far from all of the paintings have been certified.

Old Man with Turban one of the reinstated paintings, involuntary reminds me of Muammar Gaddafi who has definitely been removed from all lists.

Attics and top floors regularly produce finds of scores by Mozart (‘a Credo in D Major’) or Beethoven (‘Grosse Fuge’) and experts compete with each other to prove their authenticity.

Did Shakespeare exist? The question has sparked serious discussions and the following have also been pondered: Was Shakespeare homosexual? Was he Italian? Or was he homosexual and Italian? Does Berlusconi write sonnets?

There is not even absolute certainty about Napoleon’s penis. Apparently his testicles are on display in a French museum. In 1977, his penis was bought for 38,000 dollars by the American urologist John Kingsley Lattimer. The exhibit is shaped like a grape and just one inch in length. So you are landed with Napoleon’s penis on your mantelpiece, ‘Another grape, Amice?’

The auctioneers Christie’s described the item as follows: ‘a small shrivelled object, elegantly detailed as a mummified muscle removed from the emperor’s body during an autopsy’, which triggered this headline in a British tabloid, ‘Not tonight, Josephine’. 

It seems out of the question that we will quickly reach an agreement about 2000-year-old texts however, the message remains excellent: something written two thousand years ago is still revolutionary.

I don’t believe in conspiracy theories and certain issues don’t need proof. Yet this week I wondered: Does Nicolas Sarkozy really exist or is he backed by the Muppet Show producers? Surely you don’t think Gaddafi’s hair is his own?

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press

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