If it really were the most important archaeological discovery in history, the point of truth came with very little song or dance. There was no drum roll or fanfare, just the sweeping aside of black felt drapes to reveal a pair of simple stone boxes sitting side by side.
But for the panel of film-makers, theologians and statisticians at New York’s public library yesterday, this really was the moment. As James Cameron, the director of the film Titanic who has lent his name to the project, said: “It doesn’t get bigger than this”.
The claim that was being presented to the world’s media and which will be aired on the U.S. Discovery Channel on Sunday was that the two boxes once contained the bones of Jesus of Nazareth and his wife Mary Magdalene. Another box, not present at yesterday’s event but coincidentally on display in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, contained, so the theory goes, the bones of their son, Judah.
Here’s the set-up. In 1980 a construction crew in the Jerusalem suburb of Talpiot chanced upon a first-century tomb, which are not uncommon in that city. The Israeli Antiquities Authority found 10 bone boxes there, and stored them in a warehouse. Some bore inscribed names: Jesus, son of Joseph; Maria; Mariamene e Mara; Matthew; Judas, son of Jesus; and Jose. Each name with the exception of Mariamene seemed common to their period, and it was only in 1996 that the BBC made a film suggesting that. given the combination, it might be THAT family. The idea was eventually discounted, however, because, as University of St. Andrews (Scotland) New Testament expert Richard Bauckham asserted in a subsequent book, the names with Biblical resonance are so common that even when you run the probabilities on the group, the odds of it being the famous Jesus’s family are “very low.”
Director Cameron was at a loss to explain a corroded watch found on the wrist of the female skeleton. ” Does anyone truly know when clocks were invented?” he asked ” but these skeletons will sure publicize my upcoming documentary. ‘ The lost Tomb of Jesus.’ “
Nice try, Mr. Titanic!