A seasoned archaeologist asked me this question as he looked at my latest drawing on display at the ASOR Annual Meeting. I've been pondering the question since.
Basically, I wanted to be fully archaeological, and totally grounded in specific, real objects. I wanted to not merely draw something based on what was dug up from the ground, but to show the things themselves. I wanted to create a picture that an archaeologist could point to and say, "This is exactly what we found, just as it might have been in life."
Kenyon's Jericho Tomb H6 had been sealed for 3500 years and even organics like meat and fabric were remarkably preserved. It was a rare opportunity to perform a nearly-total recall of a moment in the past, object-by-object.
Funny incidents are fleeting and generally leave no material traces behind. They can be drawn in a way deeply informed by archaeology, but would not be in the strictest sense archaeological illustration.
Archaeologists work with whatever is preserved. In this case, it was the remains of four dead bodies and the grave goods that were buried with them.
In one sense, I doubt that I drew this picture sad enough. Modern North Americans like me are not comfortable with expressing grief. When bereaved, we cry because we cannot help it, but we try to keep grief restrained. On an unforgettable day nine years ago, my friends lost all five of their small children in an automobile accident. At the funeral, there were many tears, but no visible anger, no wailing. No one was tearing their hair or their garments. From ancient art and description from Egypt (which was a strong cultural influence on the Canaanite world), I believe that the people of ancient Jericho would have found our restraint in the face of great collective and individual grief hard to understand. They almost certainly would have reacted in a much more demonstrative way when four of their family died in quick succession.
However, since I was drawing for a largely North American audience, I was afraid that a picture of extreme emotion might seem sensational or manipulative. I am certain that it would have drawn all attention away from the physical arrangement of the tomb, which was part of what I was attempting to communicate. So, I drew the mourners as if they had perhaps "had their cry" already and were in a sad but meditative mood just before they left and sealed the tomb behind them.
On the other hand, although my picture is sad, it is not only sad. In whatever way the four buried together in Jericho Tomb 6 met their end, I do not feel that they had a "bad death" in the minds of those who buried them. They were properly buried by their relatives with ceremony and offerings, amid the bones of their ancestors. When I drew bodies placed in the middle of piles of bones, it seemed very cross-cultural to me: strange and creepy. But those who had died were returning to their families and to where they belonged. Similarly, rather than saying that King David died and was buried, the Bible very eloquently states that he "slept with his fathers."
This kind of burial was culturally extremely important, and considered a vital element in a life well lived: "A man might have a hundred children and live to be very old. But if he finds no satisfaction in life and doesn't even get a decent burial, it would have been better for him to be born dead." - Ecclesiastes 6:3
This view of burial as returning to your family (without, near as we can tell, any concept similar to the christian Heaven) may be hard for us to grasp across cultural distance, but love is universally understandable. As I drew the roast sheep, furniture, and other grave goods, I said to myself, "Somebody really loved these people, to bury these valuable things with them." Love isn't the only possible explanation, of course. Grave goods could also have served to impress the living with the wealth of the dead or to persuade the dead not to come back to plague the living. But I feel that love is the clearest, simplest explanation, even if it cannot be rationally explained.
And when I think of love existing in life and persisting beyond death, I cannot see this as an entirely sad picture. I have no regrets for what I drew.