Titanic director James Cameron and Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici say they aren't trying to undermine Christianity in their new documentary that claims the remains of Jesus, his wife, Mary Magdalene, and their child have been found.
Oscar-winner Cameron and Gemini-winner Jacobovici unveiled two limestone boxes they believe once contained the remains of Jesus and Mary Magdalene during a news conference Monday at the New York Public Library.
Cameron, best-known for producing the blockbuster movie Titanic, said the $4-million US documentary doesn't set out to undermine Christianity.
"It's very far from the case," said Cameron. "What this does is celebrate the real-life existence of… this man, who, 2,000 years ago, had a vision and communicated it to people."
The claim that the bones of Jesus have been found could challenge the Christian belief that Jesus died and was resurrected three days later.
Many Christians believe Jesus' body was kept at the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City. The burial site identified in the documentary is in a southern Jerusalem neighbourhood nowhere near the church.
Claims nonsense, says expert
Rev. Canon William Cliff, rector and chaplain at Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., said he's "doubtful" about the claims in the documentary.
"The Christian faith has always believed that Jesus was resurrected, so there would be no bones," said Cliff, who also teaches theology at the Anglican Church of Canada-affiliated college.
The Israeli-born, Canadian-raised Jacobovici said the documentary is not trying to answer any questions, but is intended to "bring the story to the world and let the experts weigh in."
Jerusalem-based biblical expert Joe Zias called thedocumentary nonsense, saying those involved in the project have "no credibility whatsoever."
"It's an old story that's been recycled. The story first broke in 1996 by the BBC. It burst in a couple of days," Zias said.
Atomb such as the one discovered in 1980 would have held more than 200 ossuaries and there is no way to determine whether six of those boxes contained the remains of members of a single nuclear family, Zias said.
Ossuaries found in 1980
The documentary examines 10 ancient ossuaries, first found in a tomb by a construction crew working in the Jerusalem suburb of Talpiyot in 1980. Experts from the Israeli Antiquities Authority excavated the site shortly after, finding the 10 limestone boxes inside.
Six of the ten limestone boxes were inscribed with names that could be translated as Jesus, Mary, Matthew, Joseph, Mary Magdalene and Judah, son of Jesus, said Jacobovici.
Some experts have countered these were common Jewish names at the timeand that Jesus' carpenter father couldn't have afforded a crypt for his family.
While the bones found in the boxes were buried in a consecrated area in Jerusalem, Jacobovici said forensic experts can examine DNA material from human residue.
Jacobovici sent samples from the Jesus and Mary Magdalene ossuaries to the paleo-DNA lab at Ontario's Lakehead University, one of five labs in the world that can extract DNA from ancient material.
The tests showed the remains in the Jesus ossuary were not linked to the remains in the Mary Magdalene ossuary through their maternal sides, he said.
Tombs from that time usually contained blood relatives and spouses, leading the filmmakers to believe Jesus and Mary Magdalene were a couple. The filmmakers said testing is continuing to determine whether the two were related through their paternal side.
Patinas match 'James' ossuary
The filmmakers also tested the patinas— the chemical film encrusting the limestone boxes— at the Suffolk County Crime Laboratory in New York.
They say the samples from the Talpiyotossuariesmatched the patina of the controversial James ossuary, first found around 1980.
The Israeli owner of the James ossuary made the limestone box public in 2002, saying its inscription— "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus"— proved its authenticity.
Israel's Antiquities Authority has declared the inscription fake and Israeli police have charged the ossuary's owner, Oded Golan, with forgery.
The Lost Tomb of Christairs on Discovery onSunday and on Canada's Vision TVon March 6.