- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2004

Interestingly, 2003 ended with two national magazines examining the validity of a 2,000-year-old doctrine — Christianity. U.S. News & World Report devoted its Christmas-week cover to “The Jesus Code: America is rethinking the Messiah — again” with a fairly wimpish portrayal of Christ by 17th century artist Anthony Van Dyck as the art.

“The Jesus Code” is, of course, a shameless reference to the monster best seller “The Da Vinci Code” (4.3 million copies in print) that plays on the notion that Jesus married a nice Jewish girl, Mary Magdalene. (The Vatican decided only in 1969 that the poor woman had been unjustly maligned as being a prostitute.) Moreover, they had children that somehow wound up passing their holy heritage down to our day via the bloodlines of the Merovingian kings of France. (Don’t ask what the Wachowski brothers were thinking when they introduced a character named the Merovingian in their “Matrix” films.)

Time magazine, meanwhile, devoted an eight-page story to “Lost Gospels,” (a bearded, disheveled Saddam Hussein took the cover at the last minute) in which we are treated to a swift brush over Gnostics, Ebionites, Marcionites and Thomasines. We are left at the end with an 82-year-old gentleman, a one-time research scientist at General Electric and lifelong Methodist, declaring, “My picture of Jesus is more plausible now. I think my faith is enriched.”

I’m curious to see the covers and features that Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Jesus” will generate in February considering that it’s opening in theaters on Ash Wednesday (Feb. 25) … especially because the Pope has given the film his approval, with the succinct statement “It is as it was.”

• • •

That worthy Washington-based publication Wilson Quarterly is devoting 33 pages of its winter issue to an utterly fascinating essay, “The Hidden Agony of Woodrow Wilson,” by the late Kenneth S. Lynn.

Although Mr. Lynn, a professor emeritus of history at Johns Hopkins University, was working on a biography of Rudyard Kipling at the time of his death, this piece on Wilson constituted part of a projected book on presidential medical problems.

Earlier this year, Atlantic Monthly ran an excerpt of Robert Dallek’s quite shocking revelations about John F. Kennedy’s medical history. But you need to read Mr. Lynn’s detailing of Wilson’s health problems to realize that here, too, was a man who might never have even run for president if the full extent of those problems had been known to the American public.

Plagued by fierce headaches from childhood and unable to read until he was 12, Wilson, Mr. Lynn observes, may have been the victim of early strokes. In some stroke cases, the victim is unable to read yet retains the ability to talk. Mr. Wilson compensated for his slowness in reading by developing a dazzling, almost photographic memory. Throughout college and law school, he suffered from pronounced stomach trouble — severe enough to postpone some of the lectures he gave as a law professor at Princeton.

The 28th president was 39 when his right hand was paralyzed by a stroke, an occlusion of a central branch of the left middle cerebral artery. He had a tremendous will to succeed — keeping his strokes, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis and disabling headaches concealed from the country even as he was ushering the United States into World War I. It is fairly well-known, but surely not as thoroughly documented as by Mr. Lynn, how Mr. Wilson, or rather his strong-willed second wife (the former Edith Bolling Galt), virtually filled the role of president as he lay paralyzed. The plans that Mr. Wilson concocted to get the Senate to ratify a treaty bringing America into the League of Nations were, as Mr. Lynn deems them, “cockeyed.”

All in all, it’s a splendid chapter of American history that we could all benefit from reading.

• • •

National Geographic in its January issue is right on the mark, as our newspapers are filled with stories of the anticipated unmanned spacecraft landing on Mars.

The cover story, “Mars: Is There Life in the Ancient Ice?” is illustrated with — as you might expect from this publication — some quite extraordinary photographs showing “flow lines” of glaciers, possibly indicating evidence of flowing ice. There is a good map showing Mars explorations past, present and future. The editors conclude, “Whatever else Mars turns out to be, it won’t be a useless, changeless lump in the universe.”

Speaking of exploration and extraordinary photos: The National Geographic Traveler, National Geographic’s sister publication, has dedicated its January-February issue to the places the magazine’s photographers love most: Alaska, Scotland, the Aeolians, Burma and Iceland. The pictures are, in a word, scrumptious.

• • •

AARP the Magazine bills itself as “America’s largest circulation magazine,” although it’s nominally aimed at those 50 or older. These days, however, it manages to come up with articles of interest for just about any age group.

Case in point: The January-February issue has a very smart piece on vitamins, explaining which ones do you more good than others.

Also noteworthy is the article that serves as Pain 101. It’s pretty handy to keep around, detailing with photographs 10 exercises that are all pretty simple — and do work to ease pain.

• • •

In Style, that celebrity home-styling magazine, has just brought out a special issue, themed weddings, for brides-to-be.

Oscar winner Kevin Costner and his intended, Christine Baumgartner, get the cover, sharing it with such sundry headlines as “Find the Perfect Dress, Hair & Makeup You’ll Love” and “Great Ideas for Every Budget.”

You get the idea from all the ads as well as the features geared toward bridal gowns that the strapless number is very much the look for brides in the coming months.

As for the “Every Budget” story, there’s not a single gown I spotted in passing that costs anything under four figures.

• • •

You want a little fun?

Check out New York magazine’s Dec. 22-29 issue featuring 100 years of “New York’s Hottest Scenes.”

The cover alone is almost all the enticement you’ll need to pick it up off the newsstand: a youthful Truman Capote endeavoring to guide Marilyn Monroe as she smiles, beguiling, at someone off camera.

The photographs cover everything from speakeasies and the Cotton Club to more recent playgrounds, where the likes of Paris Hilton romp. It makes for a nice sweep of New York social history.

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