I would never have predicted that I would one day buy an e-reader, since I always was a firm believer that nothing exceeds the pleasure of holding a paper-book in your hands. But, I have surrendered, and it would appear that I may even like it—especially when traveling by train or plane, or even for a few lost moments at home, or on the balcony. Already over a year ago I received a coupon with a value of 100 Euros—to be spent with the German amazon—in appreciation of a few lectures during a Bible study weekend of Adventist believers in the Darmstadt area. This enabled me to buy through amazon.de an e-reader—to be precise a Kindle-paperwhite, for just under 120 minus 10o Euro, including a leather case. It thus required a minimal investment to enter the guild of e-reading people.
I quickly downloaded a few e-books. One of these is the newest book by Maarten ‘t Hart, entitled Magdalena—a book about his mother. But, as we often find with this well-known Dutch author, is is to a large extent about himself and provides a little further insight in his rather complex personality. There never was a truly loving relationship between Maarten and his mother. But Maarten is simply not well endowed with relational skills, although he did get on somewhat better with his father, who died some decades ago. His books tell us nothing (as far as I know) about the relationship with his wife Hanneke. However, I assume that she must not have been amused when her husband Maarten went through a period of cross-dressing and for some time went by the name Maartje (the female form of his real name). We read in several of his books that Maarten related poorly to several people in his neighborhood, especially when they had decided to join a Pentecostal church, or, even much worse, became Seventh-day Adventists. From his early years on Maarten greatly disliked the Reformed church in which he grew up, and those who belonged to this church. And I have personally experienced what this gifted story teller, (with his abundant fantasy) thought about my (in his eyes utterly ridiculous) religious views. This is clear from his books Dienstreizen van een Thuisblijver (2011), in which he needs several pages to criticize me (pp. 202-208). He even refers in these page to me as the ‘pope’ of Dutch Adventism. I have not even received this ‘honor’ from my Adventist fellow-believers.
Back to Magdalena. The chapter about his discussion with his mother on the subject of Noah’s ark is not just extremely amusing, but also provides considerable food for thought—in spite of the excessive exaggerations and many dubious details. When Maarten ‘t Hart writes about religion and faith, he is not only hopelessly cynical but he also demonstrates an extensive knowledge of the Bible and often puts some arguments forward that are not easily dismissed (certainly not by his mother). This is also the case in his calculations regarding Noah’s ark. The Bible indicates that this ship was large enough for all animals, ‘after their kind’.—one pair of ‘unclean’ animals and seven pairs of all ‘clean’ animals. According to Maarten (besides being an accomplished author also a respected biologist) the world is the habitat of roughly two million ‘kinds’, and therefore several millions of animals must have entered the ark. But apart from mind-boggling fact: How did these animal make their way to the ark? Some kinds of snails are only found in Scandinavia. They travel at most about five meters a day, which means that the journey must have taken them quite a few years. But there the further complication that they must have died while en route. And how about feeding all these animals during the sea voyage? And how did Noah make sure the animals did not devore each other? And then, just think of all the manure. Etc. etc.
A very amusing chapter. For those whose believe in a world-wide flood and take into account that the pre-flood world must in many ways have been different from the post-flood world, some of the problems Maarten ‘t Hart mentions can be solved. Nonetheless, Maarten helps his readers (myself among them) to look at some of the Bible stories in a different light from what many were used to in the Sunday school or children’s Sabbath school. The story of the flood—that can be found in most ancient cultures in some form or another—is a great story with abiding significance. But Genesis 7 is hardly an eyewitness report of how things exactly happened. It would be good if Maarten would not just make mince-meat of the details of the story but also see its abiding significance.
Well, in a few days time my wife and I will leave for our annual vacation in Sweden. This year the stack of books that we will take along is less high than usual, for the e-reader will accompany me. But I hope to also enjoy the paper edition of the (700-plus pages) third volume of Hans Küng’s autobiography!