Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Claims in a new documentary that an ancient tomb discovered decades ago outside of Jerusalem contained the bones of Jesus and his family may be a great money-making gimmick - but scientifically, it is nonsense, according to leading archeologists and scholars in Jerusalem.
"The Lost Tomb of Jesus," due to air on the Discovery Channel on March 4, claims that a 2,000-year-old tomb containing 10 boxes of bones belonged to the family of Jesus of Nazareth. (Two millennia ago, the dead were left to decompose in a cave and their bones collected a year later and buried in bone boxes or ossuaries.)
The documentary claims that inscriptions on six of 10 ossuaries found in a single tomb indicate that there is a one in 600 chance that bones in the tomb were those of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and a son, along with other family members, a press release said.
According to the Bible, Jesus was God incarnate who was crucified, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. He wasn't married and never had any natural children. Mary Magdalene was a woman out of whom seven demons were exorcized and became a follower of Jesus.
Oscar-award winning filmmaker James Cameron and Emmy Award-winning documentary director Simcha Jacobovici presented their findings at a press conference in New York on Monday where they displayed two ossuaries on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA)
Unlike previous "discoveries," there is no doubt about the authenticity of the ossuaries, IAA spokeswoman Osnat Goaz told Cybercast News Service.
What is in question is the interpretation of the facts and conclusions drawn by the documentary filmmakers, she said.
The IAA loaned the ossuaries to Cameron and his colleague for their press conference in the interest of "artistic freedom," Goaz said. That does not mean that the IAA backs the film's assertions, she added, although the IAA has chosen not to comment on the film.
Discovered in 1980 and excavated by the Israeli government ahead of a building project in the area, the tomb is currently wedged into the Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot and covered by a cement slab.
Professor Amos Kloner of Bar Ilan University oversaw the original archeological dig 27 years ago. Kloner could not be contacted Tuesday, but comments published in the Jerusalem Post indicated that he dismissed the tale entirely.
"It makes a great story for a TV film," Kloner said. "But it's completely impossible. It's nonsense."
Since Jesus was from the Galilee area, there is no way he and his relatives would have had a family tomb in Jerusalem, said Kloner. The tomb in which the ossuaries were found belonged to a "middle class family from the first century," he said.
Hebrew University archeologist and epigraphist Leah DiSegni said that the names found in the tomb were among the most common names of the day.
It would be like finding a tomb with the name "George" on it in the future and people asserting that it must have been the tomb of President George Bush, DiSegni told Cybercast News Service.
Many women in that era were called Miriam (Hebrew for Mary), DiSegni said. That was why they added descriptive titles to their names, such as where they were from.
DeSegni, a Jewish Israeli, also pointed out that according to the Christian faith, Jesus was resurrected and so there would have been no bones left behind.
Until now the Talpiot tomb was just a common excavation, like hundreds of similar tombs from that time period discovered all over Jerusalem, she said.
DiSegni did not think the filmmakers truly believed the theory they were promoting but were simply out to make money.
"It's a pity people are so easily fooled" and more ready to believe in "fables than in reality," she added.
Professor Stephen Pfann, a biblical scholar, archeologist and historian at the University of the Holyland, said what was unusual about the tomb is that so many of the ossuaries had names inscribed on them. But the names themselves were not unusual at all.
Most ossuaries that have been found have no names on them, likely because they contained the skeletons of more than one family member, Pfann explained.
He also questioned the actual inscription of the box. It supposedly says "Yeshua ben Yoseph" (Jesus the son of Joseph) but he noted that it was "scratchy" and hard to read.
The filmmakers want to "stir up a hornets nest," said Pfann. He doubted the documentary would affect Christians as long as they don't succumb to skepticism, he added.
"It's not the kind of thing that's a challenge to our faith," said Pfann, a Christian. "For people who really have faith it's not an issue."
Ken Trestrail is the chaplain at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, one of two traditional sites of the tomb in which Jesus was buried and from which he was resurrected.
Another Christian tradition says he was buried on the site where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher now stands inside the Old City of Jerusalem. In either case, what the two have in common is that they have empty tombs and no bones.
Trestrail said there is no point in arguing over where Jesus might have been buried. "It isn't the place - it's the person, and he's alive," Trestrail told Cybercast News Service.
Claiming that Jesus' bones have been found is "a load of nonsense," said Trestrail. "We know that Jesus was raised gloriously from the dead."
He noted that according to the biblical account, Jesus was seen by his disciples and more than 500 people at one time, so it could hardly have been a hallucination.
As to the claim that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had had a son, Trestrail described it as "heresy."
There is no reason to make up stories about Jesus when the story is recorded clearly in the Bible, he added.
"People would always rather believe in the ridiculous than the miraculous."
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