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‘Jesus tomb’ documentary denounced by Christians, archaeologists

In the quiet Jerusalem suburb of East Talpiot, a tomb claimed by a US documentary team to be the last resting place of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, has become the centre of a worldwide controversy.

The Discovery Channel will on 4 March screen "The Lost Tomb of Jesus". It will claim the 2000-year-old tomb could hold the remains of Jesus of Nazareth, Mary his mother, Mary Magdalene, said to be his partner and Judah said to be their son, along with other members of his family.

Produced by Hollywood film maker, James Cameron, the film makers say forensic tests support the view that six of the 10 ossuaries found in the tomb – now held by the Israel Antiquities Authority – bear inscriptions that link them to "Jesus, son of Joseph".

The film’s co-producer, Simcha Jacobovici, has called for further archaeological work on the site so that additional forensic and DNA testing can be carried out on the remains.

But archaeologists and theologians have criticised the film’s claims as unfounded.

Stephen Pfann, a biblical scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem interviewed in the documentary, told the Associated Press 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."

Archaeologists said the burial cave was probably that of a Jewish family with similar names to that of Jesus, a common name at the time.

Professor Amos Kloner, the archaeologist who initially excavated the site in 1980, decried the documentary’s claims to the Jerusalem Post newspaper as "brain confusion" which mixed fact with fiction and "dressed up facts" in a Hollywood-like manner.

The burial site is about five kilometres (three miles) away from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City where many Christians believe Jesus’ body lay for three days.

The Israel Antiquities Authority is responsible for the site, although it is located on private land. It said it would be willing to re-open the tomb but only if it got the go-ahead from the Jerusalem municipality.

But Gidi Schmerling, a spokesman for the municipality, told Ecumenical News International that no request has yet been made.

(c) Ecumenical News International