Scorn poured on James Cameron’s ‘coffin of Christ’
25.02.07 Add your view
Archaeologists and biblical scholars have poured scorn on a Hollywood film director’s sensational claim that he has discovered the coffin of Jesus Christ.
Oscar-winning ‘Titanic’ director James Cameron’s assertion that the bones of Jesus and his family were hidden for centuries in a Jerusalem tomb caused an outcry in the Holy Land.
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Even a British archeologist who worked with Cameron, Dr. Shimon Gibson, admitted he’s “sceptical” about the claims that challenge some of the central tenets of Christianity.
The very fact that Jesus had a grave would contradict the Christian belief that he was resurrected and ascended to heaven.
‘The Lost Tomb of Christ’, a documentary set to air on Channel Four next month, argues that ten ancient ossuaries, small caskets used to store bones, which were found when bulldozers flattened a Jerusalem suburb in 1980, may have contained the remains of Jesus and his wife and child.
One of the caskets even bears the title, ‘Judah, son of Jesus,’ which Cameron claims as evidence that Jesus may have had a son. Another coffin was said to hold the bones of Mary Magdalene, also known as ‘Mariamne’.
Cameron unveiled two of the small limestone caskets at a press conference in New York, but the director could offer little proof to support his claims, other than the mathematical probability of a tomb containing a set of ossuaries with names linked to Jesus.
Of the ten ossuaries found, six were inscribed with the names of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Mary Magdalene, as well as Judah, Son of Jesus, and a Matthew, of which there were many in Mary’s family, according to Luke 3:23.
Critics said all the names were commonplace in Biblical times.
Apparently surprised at the hostility over his ‘discovery’, the director who famously claimed to be ‘the king of the world’ when he won an Oscar for Titanic, insisted it was not a publicity stunt and said his critics should wait and see the film.
“I’m not a theologist. I’m not an archaeologist. I’m a documentary filmmaker,” he said.
Dr. Gibson, who was one of the first people to examine the caskets 27 years ago, now says: “Entering the tomb in 1980 I didn’t imagine this would become such an international focus.
“These are typical stone caskets from the first century. There are a lot of aspects that need to be looked at. A lot of new research has to be done. I’m sceptical.”
Even Cameron, pushed to support his claims, said statisticians found “in the range of a couple of million to one in favor of it being them.”
Most Christians believe Jesus’ body spent three days at the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Old City. The burial site identified in Cameron’s documentary is in a southern Jerusalem neighborhood nowhere near the church.
Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the site, said the idea fails to hold up by archaeological standards but makes for profitable television.
“They just want to get money for it,” Kloner said. “It was an ordinary middle-class Jerusalem burial cave,” he added. “The names on the caskets are the most common names found among Jews at the time.”
“The historical, religious and archaeological evidence show that the place where Christ was buried is the Church of the Resurrection,” said Attallah Hana, a Greek Orthodox clergyman in Jerusalem.
Stephen Pfann, a biblical scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem who was interviewed in the documentary, said the film’s hypothesis holds little weight.
“I don’t think that Christians are going to buy into this,” he said. “But sceptics, in general, would like to see something that pokes holes into the story that so many people hold dear.”
“How possible is it?” he added. “On a scale of one through ten, with ten being completely possible, it’s probably a one, maybe a one and a half.”
Pfann is even unsure that the name Jesus on the caskets was read correctly. He thinks it is more likely the name Hanun. Ancient Semitic script is notoriously difficult to decipher.
Cameron spent two years working with a team of experts to make the controversial film. Director Simcha Jacobovici told the press conference: “For millions of readers, the Da Vinci Code was a fantasy, a fiction. Here is a Judah, son of Jesus, next to a Jesus and a Mariamne.”