Tomb raiders

DAVID WARREN

Years ago, when I was young and impressionable, I visited a bookstore in Toronto.

It was the old Bob Miller Book Room, in a ground floor corner of what was then the Rochdale high-rise hippie haven (now, appropriately, the Sen. David A. Croll retirement home). Mr Miller himself, a minor legend in Toronto bookselling, commanded a large sorting table on the lower of the store’s split levels, from which, if he ever looked up, he could review events on the higher floor.

He was an undistractable man. He could be fearsome. One asked him a stupid question at one’s peril. His staff seemed suitably in awe. A boyish face, already silvery hair, in a monkish haircut, and spectacles tied round his head by a chain. Were he not so obviously learned and articulate, people might have thought him mad. But no, just a terrifying eccentric.s

A bearded youth on the upper level was perusing books in the Psychology section. He had a shopping bag, and I noticed that he would occasionally drop a shiny paperback into it, very discreetly. The only other person who could possibly see, would be Mr Miller, but he seemed entirely absorbed in processing the books on his sorting table.

I was still wondering what I should do, when Mr Miller’s voice boomed forth, riveting the attention of everyone in the store.

“You, with the beard. What are you doing?” Mr Miller’s head had not tilted up: he was still making entries in his stock ledger. The book thief froze rigid.

“Hum?” followed this. The book thief began taking the shiny paperbacks back out of his shopping bag, and replacing them on the shelves.

“And what, pray, is the cause of your appalling behaviour?” Mr Miller continued, in his own good time. Still not looking up, still continuing his administrative labour. And still getting no audible reply.

“Let me tell you, since you do not know. BAD LIVING! That is the cause. Now remove your sorry person from my store, and never you dare return!”

It was a magnificent performance. The bearded youth skulked away, no doubt usefully scarred for life. And all who witnessed him “felt his pain”. Verily, the droll cashier I was nearest commented, as the bearded youth stepped out the door, “It isn’t easy being a psychology major.”

The event I’m remembering happened thirty-seven years ago. I pine for those days, when there were figures of authority, who could strike the fear of God, and hellfire, into our callow youth. Mr Miller had spoken out of the rich old Protestant traditions of English Canada — of which, even now as a converted Catholic, I remain immensely proud.

  


It was a magnificent performance. The bearded youth skulked away, no doubt usefully scarred for life. And all who witnessed him “felt his pain”.


I was thinking of this while reading about the latest trash-historical documentary, to be soon released among the ignorant masses, via Britain’s Channel Four. Titanic James Cameron is the director, teamed with our sometime-Canadian Simcha Jacobovici as “journalist”, of a disgusting little exercise in money-making entitled, The Lost Tomb of Christ. The thing is to religion in the West what roadside bombings are to politics in Iraq: not a significant matter in itself, just that there are so many of them.

The documentary seizes on a group of ten ancient ossuaries (small stone caskets housing bones) that were found when a Jerusalem suburb was bulldozed back in 1980. It trades on the fact that six of the names — a “Jesus”, a “Judah, son of Jesus”, a couple of Marys, a Joseph, and a Matthew — also appear in the New Testament.

Even the film’s own bought archaeologist, Dr. Shimon Gibson, doesn’t believe its claims. Under press examination he could only confess his “scepticism”, and Mr Cameron himself was at a loss to provide anything more than two small limestone caskets at a New York press conference.

Many archaeologists have already poured scorn on the premise of the movie, but we’ll let Amos Kloner, the first to examine the site from which the ossuaries were taken, speak for the rest:

"They just want to get money for it," Mr Kloner told a London newspaper. "It was an ordinary middle-class Jerusalem burial cave. The names on the caskets are the most common names found among Jews at the time."

Names as common as “Steve” and “Debbie” are today. And no further linkage to the Gospel history. Yet the director of this film has a track record, for contriving confections that delude millions: constructing, for instance, that Titanic movie around a chintzy little love-affair that could never have happened on board the real ship.

But it is pointless to argue the merits of a case that even its presenters know to be absurd. It would have been pointless for Bob Miller to argue that book theft is wrong. We should instead be confronting the makers of such films, and asking them, in the most psychologically scarring way possible: “What, pray, is the cause of your appalling behaviour?”

  

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

David Warren. "Tomb raiders." Ottawa Citizen (February 28, 2007).

This article reprinted with permission from David Warren.

THE AUTHOR

David Warren, once editor of the Idler Magazine, is widely travelled — especially in the Middle and Far East. He has been writing for the Ottawa Citizen since 1996. His commentaries on international affairs appear Wednesdays & Saturdays; on Sundays he writes a general essay on the editorial page. Read more from David Warren at David Warren Online.

Copyright 2007 Ottawa Citizen


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