It was perhaps the greatest hoax in art history. Han van Meegeren was an artist with a grudge. Painting in the Netherlands pre World War 2, critics mercilessly panned his exhibitions. One critic described him as “A gifted technician who has made a sort of composite facsimile of the Renaissance school, he has every virtue except originality.” Stung, van Meegreen decided to strike back. He painted a work with flourishes of the style of the great Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, titled it “The Supper at Emmaus”, and submitted it to the prominent critic Abraham Bredius. Bredius took the bait, writing that “It is a wonderful moment in the life of a lover of art when he finds himself suddenly confronted with a hitherto unknown painting by a great master… And what a picture! We have here a – I am inclined to say the – masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer of Delft.” The art world gasped, the painting was sold for the equivalent of millions of dollars, and displayed in the Boijmans Gallery in Rotterda.
Han van Meegren planned to expose the forgery at the opening of the Gallery’s 400 Years of European Art exhibition, in which his forgery was given pride of place. His critics would be humiliated and their reputations shattered. Greed, however, got the better of him. Rather than exposing the forgery, he made more, raking in millions more dollars. When the Nazis swept through Europe, he even managed to sell The Supper at Emmaus to them.
This almost proved his undoing.After the war the victorious Allied forces were determined to return the artworks collected by the Nazis to their previous owners. A receipy led two soldiers from the Allied Art Commission to the studio of vm Meegren. They wanted to know from whom van Meegran had bought the artwork. Unwilling to divulge the truth, van Megreen was arrested on charges of treason and faced the death penalty. Confined in prison, facing death, van Megreen had a change of heart. He confessed, but no-one believed him. Experts testified that the work was indeed an original by the Dutch master Vermeer. The only way to prove his innocence was to produce another fake, anfd so he did, spending weeks literally painting for his life!
The final twist to the story is that van Meegren was not only acquitted, but became a national hero, for he had fooled the Nazis, shown them to be the corrupt regime everyone knew they were.
Source: information found in “The forger who fooled the world” The Telegraph, Aug 5, 2006
The cartoon character Popeye is famous for eating spinach. Whenever he breaks open a can of spinach and eats it he gains enormous strength. Popeye was employed by the US Government during World War 2 to promote the idea of eating spinach. Meat was a rarity during war, but spinach appeared to be a great substitute. In the 1890’s German scientists had shown that spinach contains the same amount of iron as meat. And iron of course is one of the essential vitamins in building strength.
But the facts are wrong. The German researchers did prove that spinach contains iron, but when they wrote down their results they put the decimal point in the wrong place. They overestimated the amount of iron in spinach by a factor of 10! Unfortunately, the correction didn’t get across the ocean until after WW2.
This episode shows how easily false ideas can quickly become accepted truth. It’s not uncommon in the area of Christian belief for Christians to quickly give unquestionable status to beliefs that may in fact have questionable origins. We should never be afraid to go back and ask why it is that we hold a particular belief or a particular interpretation of the bible. Our investigation may prove we got it right, or it may show we didn’t. Either way our understanding and application of God’s word will only be improved.
Source: Information about spinach obtained from Karl Kruszelnicki’s Great Moments in Science website (abc.net.au/science) May 24, 2001
One of the world’s most loved comic strips is Hagar the Horrible. In one strip we find Hagar kneeling in prayer. “It’s not easy to believe in you God. We never see you. How come you never show yourself? How do we know you even exist…” Next we see
- a flower springing into life beside Hagar,
- a volcano erupting in the distance,
- an eclipse of sun turning the sky black,
- a star shooting across the stratosphere;
- a tidal wave rushing over Hagar,
- lightning flashing,
- a bush beginning to burn,
- a stone rolling away from the entrance to a tomb.
Hagar pulls himself from the mud, dripping wet, surrounded by darkness. “OK, OK. I give up! Every time I bring up this subject, all we get is interruptions.”
Bishop Roger Herft, former Anglican bishop of Newcastle, NSW, Australia, tells of a Croatian refugee he met in mid 2001. This man had fled his war-torn country and arrived in Australia some years before. Since then his marriage had broken up and he lost custody of his children. To add to his agony 24 members of his family, including his 84 year old grandfather and four month old niece, had been killed during the most recent conflict in Croatia.
He said to Bishop Herft, “Where is God when it really matters? I’ll tell you where. God has got fed up with us. He has put up a board saying, ‘Gone Fishing’, and has left us to live in this bloody mess.”
Source: reported in Lake Macquarie News, 19/12/01.
The Holocaust is one of the terribly traumatic episodes of modern history, yet it has also yielded some astounding stories of bravery and faith. In France a Jewish family were hidden by some concerned French nationals in the basement of their house. The Jewish family waited and waited for their deliverance. At the end of the war these words were found scribbled on the wall of that basement:
“I believe in the sun even when it does not shine.
I believe in love even when it is not given.
I believe in God even when he is silent.”
Source: reported in Hans, God on the Witness Stand (Baker, 1987)
Elie Wiesel was a survivor of the dreaded Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. He wrote of his experiences in the book The Night. In that book he relates the harrowing story of two Jewish men and a Jewish boy hanged alongside one another. Having mounted the stairs the two adults cried, “long live liberty”, but the boy was silent. Behind Wiesel someone desperately asked “Where is God” Where is He?” The chairs the victims were standing on were kicked out from under them and the three hung there. The adults died quickly, but the boy’s weight wasn’t great enough to snap his neck immediately. For more than half an hour he hung there, dying in slow agony before their eyes. Again Wiesel heard the question “Where is God now?” And standing there Wiesel heard a voice within himself answer: “Where is he? Here he is. He is hanging here on this gallows.”
When Wiesel said it was God hanging on the gallows he indicated the death of his faith. Faith in God died with that hanging child. But there is another interpretation, that God suffers with those who suffer, seen most visibly in the death of Christ hanging on his own gallows, the cross.
Source: Elie Wiesel, The Night (1969). Reported in Moltmann, The Crucified God and Stott, The Cross of Christ.