Magazine article The New Yorker

Remains of the Days; Comment

Magazine article The New Yorker

Remains of the Days; Comment

Article excerpt

Last week, our attention turned, collectively, to the problem of what ought to be done with the remains of one recognized even among nonbelievers as at least semi-divine--one who had, despite a complicated paternity, transformed our consciousness, and whose life, retold as a series of parables, has proved an enduring source of solace, guidance, and fascination. Also last week, someone claimed to have found the tomb where Jesus was buried.

These twin cable-television disputes formed an odd and yet touching counterpoint: the first dispute was, of course, over the body of Anna Nicole Smith, the former jeans model and oil millionaire's wife whose untimely death caused an unseemly tussle between her mother and her boyfriend over where she ought to be buried. The second involved the revelation, keyed to the launch of a book and a television documentary--produced by James Cameron, the director of "Titanic" (and, while we're at it, the much better "Aliens" and "The Abyss")--of a group of ossuaries, in Jerusalem, that are said to be the last resting place of Jesus and his family. This set off an unseemly tussle between Cameron and those who doubted that the ossuaries had ever held Jesus or anyone he knew.

The argument over Anna Nicole Smith's remains focussed on the question of her intentions, and had as its central figure a Florida judge, right out of a Carl Hiaassen novel, who was enjoying his brief moment of attention enough to want to draw the thing out, it seemed, beyond the point of putrefaction. The argument about the identity of the Jerusalem tomb focussed on a question of names and their frequency. The tombs were marked with the names Jesus, son of Joseph; Joseph (possibly a brother); Mary (conceivably a mother); Judah (perhaps a son); and Mariamene or Mariamne, who is alleged to be Mary Magdalene. Skeptics hold that these names occurred about as frequently in first-century Jerusalem as the names Emma, Jacob, and Dylan do on the Upper West Side today; believers insist that this spray of names would almost never show up by chance, particularly with the unusual form of "Mary" thrown in. "It's like finding a John, a Paul, and a George, and you don't leap to the obvious conclusion...unless you found a Ringo," Cameron remarked triumphantly.

The two overlapping stories may have in them something more than mere exploitation; the tears the judge shed for Anna Nicole, though shed for the camera, were real tears. The obsession with burial and what to do with bodies when life has fled is a defining human trait, as much a subject of poetry and epic as love or jealousy or war. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.