A Hollywood filmmaker whose new movie reports on the “discovery” of the Jerusalem grave of Jesus Christ is nothing more than “a modern day circus sideshow,” according to a prominent Christian leader in the United States.

James Cameron, who previously directed “The Titanic,” held a New York news conference yesterday to display two stone coffins he said come from a family grave that he alleges he documented as belonging to Jesus and another member of his family.

The statement, of course, conflicts with the Christian belief that Jesus was crucified, rose on the third day, and after a time returned to Heaven.

“Cameron, whose claim to fame is a fictionalized account of the sinking of the Titanic, unveiled a documentary claiming a coffin found in Jerusalem 27 years ago once contained the remains of Jesus Christ,” said Rev. Rob Schenck, the president of the National Clergy Council.

However, he said, “a Hollywood director is the least qualified to render any determination of biblical truth. Not only so, but the people Mr. Cameron has partnered with completely lack credibility. One has been discredited by experts as a charlatan. This is nothing more than a modern day circus sideshow.

“At best it is pure presumption. At worst, it is pure chicanery,” Schenck said.

The Resurrection of Jesus is key to the Christian faith, but Schenck said the attack on Christianity isn’t even anything new.

“Over the years, Hollywood has attacked and mocked Christianity, providing only negative portrayals of people of faith. It has produced films that undermine moral culture. Hollywood’s production of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ sensationalized a conspiracy theory that the Catholic Church engaged in a cover up of the real story of Jesus operating in the manner of a crime syndicate,” Schenck said.

Cameron’s film, which is to be broadcast next weekend, alleges Jesus not only was not God, but he apparently had a son, Judah, with Mary Magdalene.

“According to Cameron, his film is no mere speculation, but historical fact. By claiming the remains of Jesus returned to dust along with other members of his family, the Hollywood filmmaker is denying the divinity of the Son of God and his victory over death,” Schenck said.

“Cameron clearly intended to drive a stake into the heart of Christianity, since without the Resurrection, Jesus was only a mortal man,” he said.

Schenck recommended that media outlets “should exercise restraint in reporting Cameron’s Hollywood fiction masquerading as scientific fact.”

“All of Jesus’ contemporaries recorded Christ rose after being dead for three days and ascended into Heaven. For 2,000 years people of faith along [with] countless scholars have pored over the Scriptures, confirming their veracity,” Schenck said.

Rev. Schenck holds degrees in Bible and Theology, Christian Ministry and has completed additional postgraduate work in Christian History. He is chairman of the Committee on Church and Society for the Evangelical Church Alliance and president of the National Clergy Council in Washington.

The news conference promoted the Discovery Channel film, called “The Lost Tomb of Christ.” It makes the claim that ancient ossuaries – small caskets used to store bones – found in a Jerusalem suburb in 1980 may have contained the bones of Jesus and his family, according to the Discovery Channel.

But a coalition of leading biblical and archeological scholars issued a statement calling Cameron’s logic “full of holes, conjectures and problems.” Ben Witherington, author of “What Have They Done With Jesus?” said the production is just “old news with a new interpretation.”

“There are all sorts of reasons to see this as much ado about nothing,” he said.

He and the others said the film is without substance because:

  • There is no DNA evidence that this is the historical Jesus of Nazareth

  • The statistical analysis is untrustworthy

  • The name “Jesus” was a popular name at that time, appearing in 98 other tombs and on 21 other ossuaries

  • There is no historical evidence that Jesus was ever married or had a child

  • The earliest followers of Jesus never called him, “Jesus, son of Joseph”

  • It’s unlikely Joseph, who had died earlier in Galilee, would have been buried in Jerusalem

  • The Talipot tomb and ossuaries probably would have belonged to a rich family, which is not a historical match for Jesus

  • Fourth-century church historian Eusebius makes quite clear the body of James, brother of Jesus, was buried alone near the temple mount.

  • The two Mary ossuaries do not mention anyone from Migdal, but just Mary, a common name

  • By all ancient accounts, the tomb of Jesus was empty, making it unlikely that any body was moved, allowed to decay for a year, then be put into an ossuary.

Theories about the possibilities that Jesus survived the crucifixion abound. One current website alleges that Jesus lived, moved to India, and died and is buried there, while another claims he’s buried in Japan.

Israeli antiquities officials said they did allow two of the ossuaries to be transported to the United States for use in the press conference, but they contained no human remains.

The movie makes the claim that one of the boxes found in the tomb bears the title, “Judah, son of Jesus,” providing support for a supposition that Jesus may have had a son.

The BBC more than a decade ago broadcast a short documentary on the same issue, and archaeologists at the time challenged the claims. It largely had been an ignored issue since then.

Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the site, said the conclusions cannot be supported by the evidence – but it’s a way to make money on television. He would have nothing to do with supporting the movie’s assertions. “It’s nonsense,” he said.

Another blogger at BibleProbe.com agreed the new movie is just another way to make a buck. “Why is it, nobody seems to have any interest in doing the same thing to Islam, rabbinic Judaism, Hinduism or Buddhism?” he asked.

And Bill Venard wrote WND to
challenge the simple logic that the movie proposes. “Consider this: James, the half-brother of Jesus and author of the book of James, the early leader of the church in Jerusalem, was martyred for his faith. Why does James make no mention in his letter that Jesus was not bodily resurrected? When he was about to die why didn’t he just recant his beliefs and say, ‘Okay, okay! My brother didn’t rise from the dead. Here’s where we took him. Here’s where his bones are. Here’s our family tomb. We made the whole thing up?’ People will generally not die for a lie when they know it’s a lie. … Why would James die perpetuating a lie when it would have been so easy to disprove?”

Cameron, on a movie information website, expressed a little of his own theology, which won’t be familiar to those who study the Bible.

“Well, I see our potential destruction and the potential salvation as human beings coming from technology and how we use it, how we master it and how we prevent it from mastering us,” he said.

The movie purports to have documentation from DNA supporting the idea that the bone boxes were for Jesus and his family.

But even bloggers discounted that. “DNA comparison only works if you have something to compare the bones to. Last I checked, no one had a Jesus hair follicle in their bathroom hair brush. Sure, someone might claim to have DNA that definitely belonged to the Christ, but there’s no way to prove it. And without absolutely proof positive Jesus DNA to compare those bones to, I don’t see how Cameron can prove anything,” wrote Joshua Tyler.

“This whole thing is a waste of time,” he said.

Discovery said its “scientific analysis” provided “credible new information that the tomb once may have held the remains of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.”

“It doesn’t get bigger than this,” said Cameron. “We’ve done our
homework; we’ve made the case; and now it’s time for the debate to begin.”

The movie makes the case for Jesus and Mary Magdalene being “a couple,” because their DNA results indicated people whose remains had been in two of the boxes were unrelated maternally.

Discovery also makes a modest attempt to assure Christians it means no disrespect by including a website disclaimer.

“It is a matter of Christian faith that Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected from the dead three days after his crucifixion circa 30 [A.D.] This is a central tenet of Christian theology, repeated in all four Gospels. … Even if Jesus’ body was moved from one tomb to another, however, that does not mean that he could not have been resurrected from the second tomb.”

“It is also a matter of Christian faith that after his resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven. Some Christians believe that this was a spiritual ascension, i.e., his mortal remains were left behind. Other Christians believe that he ascended with his body to heaven. If Jesus’ mortal remains have been found, this would contradict the idea of a physical ascension but not the idea of a spiritual ascension.”

Schenck said the whole publicity stunt may backfire on Cameron, and encourage people to dig deeper into the reasons they believe the way they do. “In the end … the truth will be told,” he said.

He cited a favorite Bible verse: “What the devil means for destruction God will turn for good.”

The news comes a year after the release of “The Da Vinci Code” movie, based on the best-selling novel of 2004 by Dan Brown, both of which also claimed Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus. But while the new movie alleges Jesus had a son, in “The Da Vinco Code,” it was a daughter.

A website has been created to tout the media event. A companion book, “The Jesus Family Tomb,” published by Harper-Collins, is set for release this week.

Does science back up Jesus’ resurrection?

Had it up to here with phony history?

Own the Bible the Pilgrims used: Geneva version, older than King James, resurrected

The code in the Bible finally cracked! ‘Bombshell’ book leaves no doubt Scripture comes from heaven

Old Testament IDs God’s anointed Messiah

Previous stories:

‘Titanic’ attack on Resurrection

‘Da Vinci Code’ errors: A quick list, by Dr. D. James Kennedy

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.