The Lost Tomb of Jesus, a new documentary produced by Academy Award-winning director James Cameron, claims that an ancient family tomb, unearthed in 1980 during construction of a Jerusalem apartment complex, once held the bones of Jesus’ family, including His mother, Mary, His “son” (Judah) and Mary Magdalene, supposedly Jesus’ wife.
Despite widespread ridicule from scholars, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” drew more than 4 million viewers when it aired on the Discovery Channel on 4th March 2007. A companion book, “The Jesus Family Tomb,” has rocketed to sixth place on The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list. The film and book suggest that a first-century ossuary found in a south Jerusalem cave in 1980 contained the remains of Jesus, contradicting the Christian belief that he was resurrected and ascended to heaven. Ossuaries are stone boxes used at the time to store the bones of the dead. The filmmakers also suggest that Mary Magdalene was buried in the tomb, that she and Jesus were married, and that an ossuary labeled “Judah son of Jesus” belonged to their son. This, therefore, belongs to the same genre of religious fiction recently proven to be so lucrative by Dan Brown.
Of course, such claims are a total contradiction of Bible-believing Christianity. The film created a firestorm of worldwide attention, but the documentary received universal criticism and negative reviews from professing Christians, atheists and secularists alike.
Among the archaeologists and secular scholars who rejected the film’s claims:
David Mevorah, curator of the Israel Museum:
“Suggesting that this tomb was the tomb of the family of Jesus is a far-fetched suggestion”
Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:
“This whole case [for Jesus’ tomb] is flawed from beginning to end”
Amos Kloner, one of the first men to excavate the tomb in 1980, called The Lost Tomb of Jesus “nonsense” (AP).
Dr. Daniel Gall, an associate professor of environmental science and archaeology at Mount Olive College, stated that
“The accepted scientific method for such discoveries – research, testing, reproducible data and peer-reviewed conclusions – has not been followed… All that is done and then we go public, not before”
According to Joe Zias, who was the curator for anthropology and archaeology at Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum from 1972 to 1997, and who had personally numbered the tomb’s caskets,
“[The film’s director] has no credibility whatsoever…Projects like these make a mockery of the archaeological profession”
William Dever, retired professor of archaeology at the University of Arizona, said this about the possible motives behind the film:
“I’ve known about these ossuaries for many years, and so have many other archaeologists… It’s a publicity stunt, and will make these guys very rich, and it will upset millions of innocent people because they don’t know enough to separate fact from fiction”
Stephen Pfann, a textual scholar and paleographer at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, said he has released a paper claiming the makers of “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” were mistaken when they identified an ancient ossuary from the cave as belonging to the New Testament’s Mary Magdalene. The scholars who analyzed the Greek inscription on one of the ossuaries after its discovery read it as “Mariamene e Mara,” meaning “Mary the teacher” or “Mary the master.” But having analyzed the inscription, Pfann published a detailed article on his university’s Web site asserting that it doesn’t read “Mariamene” at all. The inscription, Pfann said, is made up of two names inscribed by two different hands: the first, “Mariame,” was inscribed in a formal Greek script, and later, when the bones of another woman were added to the box, another scribe using a different cursive script added the words “kai Mara,” meaning “and Mara.” Mara is a different form of the name Martha. According to Pfann’s reading, the ossuary did not house the bones of “Mary the teacher,” (which Gnostic sources would link to Mary Magdalene) but rather of two women, “Mary and Martha.” “In view of the above, there is no longer any reason to be tempted to link this ossuary … to Mary Magdalene or any other person in biblical, non-biblical or church tradition,” Pfann wrote.
Furthermore, even if the names were to be understood as it claims, the film only presents probabilities of finding specific names together in the same tomb. This is based on a list of names that have been found in various forms from history, from monuments, documents, ossuaries, and chiseled in stone on ossuaries, sepulchres, walls of homes, etc. – hardly a representative database! Poor folks don’t show up in historical documents and chiseled in stone nearly as often as the rich do. Given, then, that the number of entire families that have been unearthed is but a tiny percentage of the actual number of people who lived, someone has said: ‘the statistical argument of the film is like concluding that a family with a father named Earl and a mother named Sarah and a boy named Michael could only have existed once in a particular part of the country.’
More highly-circumstantial ‘evidence’ was presented when maternal DNA tests were done on samples found in the caskets to determine the relationship of Jesus and Mariamne. When no maternal genetic connection was found, the filmmakers asserted the individuals must have been married. However, this DNA testing only proves the people in the caskets did not share the same mother. This left several other possibilities: cousins, paternal half-siblings, uncle and niece or aunt and nephew.
Stringing the alleged plot together are some of the same late, second century Gnostic myths and writings which Dan Brown used as a source for his non-historical speculations. From these it is alleged that Maria, the Latin form of Mary, is how Jesus’ mother came to be known after his death as more Romans became followers. Mariamne is the Greek form of Mary, and this is linked to Mary Magdelene who, it is similarly alleged, spoke and preached in Greek. And, it is claimed, Jose was the nickname used for Jesus’ little brother. All this is summed up well by James R White:
“From what I have seen, we have biased, prejudiced filmmakers and writers with a huge financial stake in matters using every possible kind of theoretical source without the slightest concern for consistency or proper historical methodology going for the most sensationalistic slant they can.”
(James R White).