(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Discovery TV Channel has released new details of the "Lost Tomb of Jesus" documentary that is to be officially launched at a New York press conference on Monday, including the claim that Jesus was buried in a Jerusalem tomb alongside Mary Magdalene and, possibly, their son Judah.
The film also suggests that the so-called "James, Brother of Jesus" ossuary, which surfaced in 2002 in the collection of Israeli antiquities collector Oded Golan, may also have come from the tomb. The "James" ossuary made world headlines, but the Israel Antiquities Authority has branded part of the actual inscription a forgery, though it still has many defenders.
According to the website of the Discovery Channel, for whom the "Lost Tomb of Jesus" documentary was produced, Israeli-born filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and his colleagues have gathered scientific evidence, "including DNA analysis conducted at one of the world's foremost molecular genetics laboratories," as well as expert scholarship, to bolster their staggering claim that a 2,000-year-old cave in the Talpiot neighborhood once held the remains of Jesus of Nazareth, his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene and, possibly, their son Judah.
Prof. Amos Kloner, the Jerusalem District archeologist who oversaw work at the tomb when it was uncovered in 1980, told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday that the documentary's claims were "impossible" and "nonsense," and that there was "no likelihood" that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb.
The tomb contained 10 ossuaries, five of which were inscribed with names believed to be associated with Jesus, Mary, a possible relative named Matthew, Jesus's brother Joseph and Mary Magdalene. A sixth inscription translates to "Judah Son of Jesus," according to the Discovery Channel article. All but one of these inscriptions are in Hebrew or Aramaic. The exception, written in Greek, reads "Mariamene e Mara," which can be translated as "Mary known as the master."
Francois Bovon, professor of the history of religion at Harvard University, says that "Mariamene, or Mariamne, probably was the actual name given to Mary Magdalene," and that this is the name given to Mary Magdalene in a non-canonical text called the "Acts of Philip," which mentions the apostles and Mariamne, sister of the apostle Philip.
The filmmakers retrieved samples from the "Jesus" and "Mariamene" ossuaries for DNA analysis. "The human remains were analyzed by Carney Matheson, a scientist at the Paleo-DNA Laboratory at Lakehead University in Ontario, Canada. Mitochondrial DNA examination determined the individual in the Jesus ossuary and the person in the ossuary linked to Mary Magdalene were not related. Since tombs normally contain either blood relations or spouses, Jacobovici and his team suggest it is possible Jesus and Mary Magdalene were a couple" and that "Judah. may have been their son."
The filmmakers claim that the 10th ossuary, said to have disappeared from the collections of the Israel Antiquities Authority, may be the so-called "James, Brother of Jesus" ossuary, rediscovered in 2002 by Israeli collector Golan, who said he had bought it from an Arab dealer in the Old City decades earlier and not initially realized its significance. Although the ossuary still has its supporters, the IAA has branded part of the inscription itself a forgery, and Golan has been charged with running a forgery ring - charges he has denied.
Analysis of the "patina" residues from the Talpiot ossuaries matches the "patina" of the James ossuary, the filmmakers say.
Kloner told The Jerusalem Post that no inscribed ossuary from the Talpiot tomb had ever gone missing.
The filmmakers asked Andrey Feuerverger, professor of statistics and mathematics at the University of Toronto, to study the likelihood of the cluster of resonant names found in the Talpiot tomb being merely coincidental. He concluded, according to the Discovery Channel, that "the odds are at least 600 to 1 in favor of the Talpiot Tomb being the Jesus Family Tomb. In other words, the conclusion works 599 times out of 600."
The "Lost Tomb of Jesus" documentary is being screened next week on the Discovery Channel and around the world - including Israel's Channel 8.
Executive producer James Cameron and director Jacobovici are formally launching it, with colleagues, at a press conference in New York on Monday, where they are also set to display the key ossuaries, loaned out to them by the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Academy Award-winner Cameron said in a press release, "It doesn't get bigger than this. We've done our homework; we've made the case; and now it's time for the debate to begin."
Asked by The Jerusalem Post whether the loan of the ossuaries implied IAA confirmation of the claims made in the film, an IAA spokeswoman denied this, and said it was a "routine" loan. Prof. Kloner said the IAA had been "very foolish" to lend out the ossuaries. "The left hand there doesn't know what the right hand is doing," he said.