Fossils, Meg Wyllie, Pontius Pilate, and Me

One of the interesting factoids about fossils is that the black stuff you see in prints like this:

…is the carbon residue from the body of the organism itself. It’s all that is left of the animal or plant and is squeezed thinner than a hair and sandwiched between the layers of rock. The sole testimony left to the entire life of a creature.

I got to thinking about that the other day when I contemplated the life of Meg Wyllie. You actually know her if you are familiar with pop culture at all. She was born in 1917 and lived a rich, full life as a character actress. In the 50s and 60s she was on every TV show there was. She lived for 84 years from her birth in Honolulu to her death on New Year’s Day 2002. She was once beautiful young woman with a life as full of relationships and friends as anybody’s:

And yet, as the weight of time presses down on all her experiences and achievements squished in the rock layers of history, she will likely be remembered only for this thin carbon layer fossilized in pop culture:

Yep. That’s Meg as the Talosian Keeper in “The Menagerie”, one of the earliest (and greatest) Star Trek episodes. In a century, this thin residue is all a civilization will recall of her whole life.

And that makes me think of Pontius Pilate, who likewise was a human being with a whole life of accomplishments, achievements, regrets, fear, hopes, and loves–all of which nobody but God remembers. An entire life from birth to death completely gone to dust except for one single afternoon carrying out a minor bureaucratic task that any number of other Roman functionaries had carried out in identical fashion across the length and breadth of the Empire. But unlike all of them, Pilate had his minor bureacratic decision caught, pressed into the rock of eternal historical memory and reduced to pure, everlasting, fossilized carbon in the words, “He was crucified under Pontius Pilate”.

It makes me wonder what I might be remembered for; what seemingly trivial thing I might do or say that could wind up being the only thing the world would ever recall of me.

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6 Responses

  1. In the same vein, I have literally thousands and thousands of photographs, all tucked away on a massive hard drive. When I croak, I think one of my grandkids will come along and see an opportunity to have more storage and simply wipe that hard drive clean… I hope not, but I do know that my own parents, who have been gone for over 25 years have faded from my memories in some ways — certainly NOT completely, but one tends to forget. *sigh*

  2. Jews rebelled against all occupants, as the last historical books of the Old Testament (Maccabees) attest, against Greeks, and this rebellion would persist against Romans. King Herod’s rule around Jesus’s birth contributed strongly to that, and Jews would view Romans as enemies.

    This is the major factor that caused Jews to scatter and create the expansive diaspora. After the last major Jewish-Roman war (the Bar Kokhba revolt), Romans forbade Jews from entering Jerusalem which led to decentralization of Jewish religion and society, disassociating them from Palestine. The lack of assimilation persisted in the diaspora, as Jews generally preferred to live in their own communities.

    Anyway, by many historical accounts, being appointed governor of Judea was a mixed blessing, so receiving this post was seen more as punishment. The post would befit Pilate’s class and ambition, but it would be very demanding and difficult.
    This led to one biography of Pilate saying that he and/or his family gained rank and high favor with the previous emperor, but were in disfavor with Tiberius.
    So Pilate would try his hardest to prove himself and avoid any possible offense to the emperor. Pilate would be an example of a good Roman governor, winning favor with Rome, and like a good Roman, he was cruel and had no qualms about executing anyone.
    Jewish leaders apparently knew this weakness perfectly well and played on this when they said: “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
    This made it personal. However Pilate felt about Jesus and his guilt up until that point did not matter anymore, there was no going back, Jesus would be executed.
    But Pilate would not take this affront lightly, so he cynically decided to play the game and show Jews their place. He brought Jesus forward and said:
    – “Here is your king.”
    – “Take him away! Crucify him!”
    – “Shall I crucify your king?”
    – “We have no king but Caesar.”
    Thus Pilate had the Jewish chief priests pay homage to the emperor right in front of their own people.
    And then to put salt on this wound, he had written the notice “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews,” and hanged it upon the cross. In three languages, to further drive the point home and announce to everyone that dreams of Jewish kingdom die along with Jesus.
    When Jewish chief priests protested, “Do not write «The King of the Jews,» but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews,” Pilate cuts it short by retorting that what he has written is what he has written. There will be no arguing, their king is dead by their own admission.

    The fact that Pilate was the one who gave the order to execute Jesus is _not_ accidental. If he did believe Jesus was innocent, any personal threat should not have mattered, but by allowing injustice to happen and taking personal gain above truth, Pilate brought dishonor to his name. Furthermore, he used Jesus to toy with Jewish leaders and priests.

    This simple and meaningless act of execution shows lack of his character.

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