06-12-'04 | G.T. Jensma
Oera Linda Book was Haverschmidt’s attempt to disprove Bible
The infamous nineteenth-century mystification of the Oera Linda Book has been a hot topic both in the Dutch province of Friesland and beyond for almost one hundred and fifty years. The book, which came to light in 1867 when it came into the possession of a shipwright living in Den Helder, describes a rich four-thousand-year-old Frisian culture. Opinions on the authenticity, character and possible author of the book are still divided. Goffe Jensma’s PhD thesis about the case is based on extensive literary-historical research and contains two significant conclusions. Firstly, the book should be interpreted as a religious manuscript, both in intention and reception, and secondly, François Haverschmidt was the founding father of the Oera Linda Book. He wanted to show his orthodox contemporaries that the Christian Bible was not to be taken literally. Jensma will receive his PhD on 6 December 2004 at the University of Groningen.
Anyone who takes a quick glance at the original Oera Linda manuscript will get the impression that it is an ancient chronicle of the Over de Linden clan – an authentic representation of a culture that existed thousands of years ago, led by women and with a highly liberal approach. The Leeuwarden classicist Jan Gerhardus Ottema took the book at face value. His translation and publication in 1872 enabled the book to be read as a ‘bible’ in later years, mainly in Germany in the interwar years and in the Anglo-Saxon New Age movement.
Jensma took more than a quick glance; he conducted a thorough analysis of the manuscript using the available sources and literature. He discovered that Ottema’s reaction was completely different from what the main author, François Haverschmidt, had had in mind – people were supposed only to believe in the work for a while rather than lose themselves in it, as Ottema did. The book contains numerous warnings, which on close reading reveal its inauthenticity. For example, the paper had been yellowed in a clumsy way and although the writing may look like runes, they are in fact fairly legible Roman capitals. In addition, the language, which at first sight looks like Old Frisian, turns out to be caricaturally distorted Dutch.
Finally, claims Jensma, the crazy, fragmented historical content conceals a consistent religious message – a message that ties in closely with nineteenth-century modernism, a theological movement that tried to harmonize theology and natural sciences, claimed the Christian miracle was impossible and was unable to accept a literal interpretation of the Bible as the Word of God. The Oera Linda Book becomes most meaningful, says Jensma, if it is interpreted as an allegory of the nineteenth-century denomination battle between liberalism and fundamentalist orthodoxy, written from this modernist perspective.
As soon as the expected public discussion resulted in the book being definitively identified as a fake, the modernist Haverschmidt would enter the stage in person and tell the public that neither this text nor the Bible was to be taken literally. However, the intention of poet-minister Haverschmidt and his two co-authors Eelco Verwijs and Cornelis over de Linden was thwarted by Ottema’s unshakeable belief in the text.
It is striking that Haverschmidt’s possible authorship has thus far never been systematically studied, since, Jensma states, the Oera Linda Book fits into his oeuvre ‘like a hand in a glove’. It has numerous similarities to his other works and expresses the same urge for mystification that his alter ego Piet Paaltjens also demonstrated. Jensma: ‘Haverschmidt is a complex author, who is conscious of the possibilities of his ironic writing. The Oera Linda Book is the best evidence of this.’
Goffe Jensma (Kornhorn, 1956) studied philosophy and history at the University of Groningen. He then went on to work as a freelance historian and contract researcher for institutions such as the Open University, Erasmus University Rotterdam and the University of Groningen. Since 2000 he has worked as a literary and cultural historian for the Fryske Akademy in Leeuwarden, from where he is also seconded to the University of Amsterdam as University Lecturer in Frisian culture and literary history. He has written several books on subjects including the history of universities in the Netherlands in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the development in the nineteenth century of modern conceptions of Friesland. An academically justified republication of the Oera Linda Book will appear in 2005, published by Uitgeverij Verloren in Hilversum. Jensma started his research, which was partly funded by NWO, at the department of Religious Studies of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Groningen and completed it at the Fryske Akademy. His thesis is entitled De gemaskerde god. François Haverschmidt en het Oera Linda-boek [The masked God. François Haverschmidt and the Oera Linda Book].
Date and time
Monday 6 December 2004, 4.15 p.m.
(commercial edition: Uitgeversmaatschappij Walburg Pers, Zutphen. ISBN 90-5730-344-2. Sales price: EUR 35)
De gemaskerde God. François HaverSchmidt en het Oera Linda-boek [The masked God. François Haverschmidt and the Oera Linda Book]
Prof. J. Bremmer and Prof. M.T.C. Matthijssen-Verkooijen
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