cover image Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World's Holy Dead

Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World's Holy Dead

Peter Manseau, . . Holt, $26 (243pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-8652-2

You have to love a book with sentences like this: “Things got rough for the foreskins of Jesus as the Middle Ages matured.” Author Manseau (Vows ) lavishly scatters gems like this as he travels the world in search of the bones, teeth, hair and other scraps from the religiously renowned. The result is a lively lope among fragments from famous faith figures – Buddha's tooth, Muhammad's whiskers and the aforementioned foreskin, or foreskins, as many people and places have claimed ownership of this fragment. Manseau never gives over entirely to the snarkiness that sometimes marred some of his previous work, especially Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible . Instead, he provides a rich history of each of the, ahem, items he considers and examines their effects on contemporary believers. Occasionally, Manseau's pilgrimages feel a little cursory; he writes that some of his visits to the relic sites were shorter than he would have liked. Yet he listens well. When he meets a Pakistani man praying before the supposed whiskers of Muhammad in an Aleppo mosque, Manseau asks if the man has come to be close to the Prophet. “Close? I cannot be close,” the pilgrim replies. “I come to remind me how far it is I must go.” (Apr.)