“There is no beautiful thought a man can have about a woman that isn’t followed by an absolutely disgusting thought about the same woman. We can’t help it. It’s what we do.”
I lead with this quote from comedian Louis C.K. because it was the first thing uttered from my DVR when I got back from vacation—and my annual bacchanal of reading the Biblical Archaeology Review.
You read that right. BAR is the only magazine I subscribe to, but I never find time to read it except during the one week when I can spend mornings catching up on a year’s worth of issues while sunning on an empty beach on a northwoods lake.
I’m fascinated with how discoveries of potsherds and old bones lend new insight into stories that sound so familiar, yet seem so odd. Like Sodom and Gomorrah: “No, you may not have relations with my sons, you perverts! Here, take my virgin daughters instead.” Tragedy averted.
This year I read an issue in which BAR dug up fodder for a more modern controversy. Namely the staid magazine’s penchant for running pictures of bent-over, scantily clad, twenty-something archeological babes.
Father Bruce Perron, an Orthodox priest, complained in 1990 that such pictures made him wonder if, rather than scholarship, ars mores dissoluti—love among the ruins—was the publication’s focus.
Donna Canalizo, the T-shirt and shorts-clad object of Perron’s rage, responded by saying his “interpretation was a result of projecting his own thoughts onto the image. The object in the image to be focused on is not my body, but rather the hypocaust tiles, one of the most spectacular finds in my grid last season.”
She also wondered why the priest did not object to a picture of a shirtless man in the same spread.
A male reader subsequently thanked Perron for “reminding me to look at the picture again. Praise be God who has made such a work of beauty.”
The issue still had legs fifteen years later, when a woman noticed her octogenarian husband, who, she said, “still appreciated female pulchritude,” studying the magazine. “It’s an unusual cover,” he said. She followed with, “You don’t think an Iron Age clay bead is an appropriate subject?” And he said, “What bead?”
As Doris Day sang, a guy is a guy.
Three years after that, a middle-school Sunday school teacher decried the magazine’s use of a photo of a millennia-old figurine of the Canaanite goddess Asherah with her hands cupped beneath her breasts. “How can one teach young boys that purchasing pornographic books is wrong?”
Proof of Louis C.K.’s assertion? Maybe. But the person who wrote that last letter’s name was Barbara.
So maybe thinking about women is problematic for everyone. But what we’re talking about here, scholars say, is “a characteristic expression of Judahite piety.”
And, really, the only thought anyone should have when looking at this picture is how amazing it is that someone could turn nothing but a bunch of mud into a thing of beauty.