We visited the Tutankhamen exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago with my daughter and her family on Tuesday. Of course the Field is awesome, and the Tut exhibitions are moving.
But I had two reactions that I’ve not had before, at least not so strongly, when studying antiquities.
1. Get out of the guy’s life. He’s gone; let it be.
Several times I felt like an intruder, involved in a very uncool activity, as part of a very discourteous culture.
Besides, we’ve got contemporary life to deal with here; kids are suffering and we’re all greatly endangered here and now. Let’s move along.
That’s a strange feeling for me, since I’ve always been into the “romance” and adventure of archeology, the insights that come from exploring other cultures, and delight in the arts and skills of other people.
2. And what about this massive burial effort and expense? What it amounted to was spending exhorbitantly to use the highest technologies available to preserve the meanings of one’s own culture and life.
I mean, you do all you can with the technologies and wealth available to try to find meaning and permanence in life, or to insist on the meaning and permanence you think you’ve found.
But how often does it still come down to a vigorous, focused, and incredibly expensive guess – a well-developed, much honored guess. Or, if not a guess, an insistence. This HAS to be right. Look how much energy, money, and heart we have put into it!
Today’s mega-investor-manipulators do it with money (wealth). Today’s neo-con’s (who overlap some with the mega-wealth groups) do it with advanced weaponry and Machiavellian politics. Leaders in various religions do it with religious traditions and with hierarchies of religious organization (money and power).
It is often at least as impressive as a Pharaoh’s tomb. And, as in that case, all the rest of us pay for it.
I have to wonder whether they went so vigorously along that route of formalities because they had refused to attend to clear moral guide-posts at earlier stages in their cultural history, and in their individual lives.
That is how my understanding of Biblical morality and anthropology leads me to see it. We get into our formalistic or technocratic obsessions because we choose to ignore better options available to us day by day by which we could pursue the greater values.
You know, things like loving God and loving our neighbors.
I guess I mean that sometimes we have to make an exclusive choice to go love our neighbor – to the exclusion, that is, of creating some artifact of awesome beauty like Tut’s mask or coffin or some wonder of organization and planning like the building of a secret tomb in the desert.
Costly choices. Are the gains worth the cost?
It’s odd, but I had similar feelings when seeing this exhibit. I thought of the nameless artisans whose work is why we even remember Tuthankhamen.
It is they, who earned their bread by the sweat of their brow, that, in their anonymity, gave us something of great beauty. The king just had the good
luck of having the right parents. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.