The Bubonic Plague and Our Fascination with the Ancient

Last week my sister sent a video to our family group chat of her playing “Ring Around the Rosie” with two of our niblings. I snarkily commented “And yet another generation learns about the bubonic plague…looks like fun!”, in reply to which she sent a link to an article debunking this commonly-held metafolkloric belief concerning this children’s song-game. Turns out it is most likely not a macabre quasi-celebration of the Black Death, and that this interpretation of the lyrics probably first appeared in the 19th century. One line from the article particularly stood out to me:

Folklorists know better than anyone the fascination with things that are older than they seem.”

Stephen Winick

My mind instantly went to our human fascination with the old and mysterious. People travel thousands of miles at great expense to see ruined old buildings, and at its core, the sales pitch for these trips is basically, “these things are old, and we don’t know too much about them. That’ll be $4000, thank you.” If you stop and think about it, it is a little odd, but for some reason, we keep on coming back. We are fascinated with bygone eras. We marvel at ancient things simply because they are old. No one cares to see the toothbrush I threw in the trash 10 days ago, but people will pay to see one that someone threw away 10 centuries ago. Why? Because it is old.

I do not think this is accidental. I think we are hardwired to look back and sift through history, going through the rich story of mankind piece by piece until we look up and see God standing there at the beginning of it all, the One who began it all, who holds it all together, and who will bring the story to its glorious completion in ages yet to come. Our fascination with old stories is a part of the way God has designed us to look to Him and the story He is writing, which includes us today. In this story, the eternal God comes to Earth as a helpless newborn. Surely this is the greatest example of something older than it seems, and surely Jesus is the one most worthy of our fascination. Ultimately, we are fascinated with the ancient because our Maker is the Ancient of Days.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”

-Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV

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