The past week’s hoo-ha over James Cameron’s claim that he may have located the burial tomb of Jesus and his family put me in mind of a magazine feature that I’ve tried repeatedly to sell over the past 10 or 12 years, always without success. Though this is an age of interminable record-keeping and certifying and documenting and notarizing, it happens that the whereabouts of the remains of several once-prominent people is completely unknown, or seriously disputed.

Unfortunately, the tomb story is no hook for finally selling that piece, because no editor wants to get 10,000 letters explaining that Jesus’ bones aren’t ever going to be found because he lifted-off like a bottle-rocket and disappeared behind a cloud, destination Heaven, complete with a citation from the Inerrant Bible.

Thomas Paine, the Forgotten Founding Father, the Rush Limbaugh of his day, was refused burial in the local Quaker cemetery because he turned away from orthodox Christianity and became a Deist, and buried in a plot for indigents with no more than a handful of acquaintances in attendance. In time, a promoter had the idea that maybe he should dig-up Paine’s bones and take him to England, where he would build a memorial to the great, freethinking revolutionary.

So he did.

Once back in England the promoter went bankrupt, Paine’s bones went into a warehouse &#0151 and that’s the last anybody ever heard of Thomas Paine’s bones.

Frank Lloyd Wright died in 1959 and was buried near his childhood home in Wisconsin. When his wife died in 1985, it was her wish that she and Wright be cremated, their ashes mixed together, and then jointly interred at the compound they shared in Arizona. Accordingly, some of her followers secretly disinterred him, moved the remains to Arizona, and had them cremated and buried together.

Or, so the story goes. Nobody really knows where Wright ended-up, and the dispute over his whereabouts has to this day a sort of cult following. The consensus is Arizona, but so far as I know it’s never been dispositively settled.

There are three cemeteries in Mississippi which claim the remains of Robert Johnson, the great bluesman alleged to have sold his soul to the devil at a delta crossroads. When he died at 27 of unknown causes, he may have been buried in an unmarked grave at a church near to the place where he died.

Or, maybe not. According to American Heritage magazine, “People have claimed to have located his grave, and three stone markers have been planted in three different cemeteries.”

Interesting, no? In the modern era, when we keep records about everything lest public servants have nothing to do, the remains of 3 prominent men, each with fanatical admirers and fierce detractors, simply vanished. In the case of Wright and Johnson, there is probably some skulduggery involved; in the case of Paine, neglect and indifference.

How much more difficult must it be, then, to discern the truth about Jesus? There was surely no shortage of underhanded and neglectful characters in Jesus’ day, too, and cynical publicists and opportunists all too eager to peddle an interesting tale, and family who wished for him to rest peacefully. The fight for control of his remains, and the storyline, must have been titanic, rivaling even the battle for Anna Nicole Smith’s remains.

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