National Post

Wednesday, February 28, 2007 

It is, I suppose, a great Canadian moment: producer James Cameron and director Simcha Jacobovici announcing to the world that they have found the tomb of Jesus, His wife, His child and assorted friends and relatives. Most of the Jesus family in fact. All hidden away in a tomb in Jerusalem. 

Or not hidden away. Because the outlandish claim made by the two filmmakers in a new documentary and book is based on 10 ossuaries, or small stone boxes for skeletal remains, that were discovered in a 2000-year-old tomb in 1980, and have since been stored by the Israel Antiquities Association. As such, they have been scrutinized by some of the finest experts in the world. 

The pair claim that because the names Yeshua bar Yosef (Jesus, son of Joseph), Maria (Mary), Mariamene e Mara (possibly Mary Magdalene), Judah, son of Jesus, and others are inscribed on six of the ossuaries, the tomb in which they were sealed must have been the final resting place of Christ. More than this, because the DNA of Jesus and Mary in question reveals that they were not related, they have to have been married. So the child in the tomb is, yes, their son. 

The chances of this all being a coincidence, the men say, are so remote as to be almost impossible. As for 2,000-year-old DNA being unreliable and the preposterous notion that two people not linked by blood are necessarily married, we have yet to hear a convincing answer. 

It is, as they say, difficult to know where to begin. To put this nonsense in the context of serious archaeology and scholarship, this is akin to the current conspiracies announcing that 9/11 was an inside job perpetrated by the CIA and the Mossad. Or to paraphrase the great British writer GK Chesterton, when people stop believing in the truth, they don’t believe in something else, they believe in anything else. 

Especially, of course, when it means a lucrative film and book contract and endless publicity. And James Cameron, the producer of The Terminator, Aliens, Rambo and Titanic, knows all about publicity. He doesn’t, however, know very much about archaeology and, as he himself said, “I?m not a theologist.” 

“Theologist”? Who is, James? Who is? 

The names Jesus and Mary were the most common amongst the Jews of first-century Palestine. There are, for example, at least two other well-known tombs of the period that contain ossuaries bearing the names Jesus, son of Joseph. There is even serious doubt as to whether the name Jesus is on these new caskets. Stephen Pfann from the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem thinks the word is more likely Hanun, particularly as Semitic text of the era is extremely difficult to translate accurately.


Nor is he a lone intellectual voice refusing to take these “revelations” seriously. In fact there are few if any serious academics who give any credence at all to the claims. Professor Amos Kloner from Israel’s Bar-Ilan University was the archeologist who first discovered the tomb. He argues that the ossuaries are irrelevant to Christian history. 

Biblical anthropologist Joe Zias says the claims are “dishonest” and have “nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus. He was known as Jesus of Nazareth, not Jesus of Jerusalem, and if the family was wealthy enough to afford a tomb, which they probably weren’t, it would have been in Nazareth, not here in Jerusalem.” 

Then we have to consider simple logic and apply it to known history. The Jewish and Roman authorities were obsessed with finding the body of Jesus. The early church was enormously threatening to them. If they could prove Christianity to be a lie — i.e., that Christ was not resurrected and did not ascend into heaven — the Church would fold into just another local Jewish cult. 

So Roman and Jewish soldiers and officials searched small and relatively lightly populated Jerusalem incessantly. They knew the city intimately but found no tomb. Yet according to a Canadian filmmaker, it was there all the while, obvious to everyone and in full public display. With all due respect, reality simply cries out to be heard. 

There are Christian, non-Christian and anti-Christian archeologists who have been working in Jerusalem and the rest of Israel for most of their lives. They are fluent in ancient languages and ancient history and have expanded our knowledge of the Bible and the life of Christ in ways thought impossible just half-a-century ago. 

But they do not make pop documentaries and do not hold sensationalist press conferences. It was, of course, James Cameron who announced at the Oscars in 1998 that he was, “King of the world.” Sorry Jimmy. My money is still on Jesus Christ. 

– Michael Coren is a writer and broadcaster. Reprinted with permission. 

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