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An Orthodox priest in the Edicule, or tomb, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed to be the site of the crucifixion in Jerusalem's Old City. Archaeologists and clergymen in the Holy Land derided claims in a new documentary produced by an Oscar-winning director that contradict major Christian tenets.
AP photo by Oded Balilty
An Orthodox priest in the Edicule, or tomb, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed to be the site of the crucifixion in Jerusalem's Old City. Archaeologists and clergymen in the Holy Land derided claims in a new documentary produced by an Oscar-winning director that contradict major Christian tenets.

The fruit of thy tomb
Local Christians say Jesus' bone box claims shouldn't shake faith

By Melanie B. Smith
msmith@decaturdaily.com 340-2468

Calvin McBride of Decatur isn't fretting about claims that Jesus' burial box was discovered in Jerusalem.

A documentary detailing the so-called discovery won't affect his belief in Jesus' bodily resurrection, said McBride, an attorney and a children's Sunday school teacher at Beltline Church of Christ.

If the graves unearthed in 1980 had any real importance, McBride said, scholars would have brought them to public attention long before now.

"Those trying to downplay Christianity will make a big deal about it," he said of the documentary.

"The Lost Tomb of Jesus," produced by Oscar-winning film director James Cameron, will air Sunday on the Discovery Channel.

Among its claims are that names on ossuaries, or bone boxes, translated into English as Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Judah "son of Jesus," show that Jesus was married and had a son.

McBride says the makers are simply doing it for money, and he isn't the only believer making that judgment.

The Rev. Steve Bateman, pastor of Decatur First Bible Church, said the timing of the broadcast isn't accidental. Films, cover stories and media hype about the "historical Jesus" seem to appear every Easter and Christmas. They sell, he said.

Still, conservative Christians should view such presentations as opportunities, Bateman said.

"It gets Jesus and the Resurrection on the front page. It's an opportunity for spirited but honest dialogue about the claims of Christ," he said.

Likewise, the Rev. Darryl Wood, pastor of Moulton Baptist Church, said Christians should not be afraid of watching. The show may be good — or bad — entertainment, he said.

Wood described the conclusion by the filmmakers that the bone boxes showed Jesus had a wife and son as "pop" archaeology. He said his faith isn't based on archaeology but on the Bible, "and my Bible says Jesus was raised from the dead."

The pastors, both of whom have earned doctorates, said their main concerns about "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" are about accuracy.

Criticism

Many biblical scholars have criticized the arguments in the documentary as contrived, and the conclusions from DNA analysis of remains as fanfare.

The archaeologist who originally documented the tomb, Amos Kloner of Israel's Bar-Ilan University, said there is no evidence that the burial boxes are those of Jesus and his family.

Many scholars say names translated from the Hebrew on the six boxes are common. Jesus was the sixth most popular male name of the first century, and Mary was the most common name for women, said Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary, a professor of New Testament who will be at Bateman's church in April.

Bock said in a phone interview that the only fact in the show is that 10 bone boxes were found and six of them had names. Everything else is interpretation, he said.

"We don't even know if it was a family tomb," he said.

In his online blog, Bock questions 10 assumptions the filmmakers apparently made before drawing the conclusions they did. He wondered, for instance, why there would be a family burial place in Jerusalem. Jesus and his family members weren't from Jerusalem but were pilgrims there.

He said the DNA tests sound impressive, but all testers found was that the person in the Jesus box and the person in the Mary Magdalene box weren't related. The documentary links them as husband and wife, but they simply could have been two townspeople, said the professor, who saw a preview of the film.

It's mostly critics who have weighed in with postings on a Discovery Channel Web site discussion forum about the documentary. Issues raised are supposed to be addressed by several scholars, including Vanderbilt University professor Amy-Jill Levine, after the broadcast.

In defending his show, Cameron, who directed the film "Titanic," said his work celebrates Jesus and his family and shows the first archaeological evidence of their existence.

Challenge to Christians

Bock said, given that Christmas and Easter are natural times for the public to be curious about Jesus, Christians need to do quality programming for the mass market. Most shows Christian groups do are for other Christians, based on the Bible as God's word, he said.

Bock, who is also editor-at-large for Christianity Today magazine, wants programs that start from a secular approach. He suggests that Christian companies pool their resources to underwrite first-class work for public consumption. He said he knows someone with a script and has technical people lined up, but money is the holdup.

Cameron's documentary cost $4 million, according to several reports.

Wood recommends believers watch the show with a Bible in hand and their faith in mind.

"You don't take everything you see on TV as the truth," he said.

Bock said Christians shouldn't just cover their eyes and hope the challenge to their faith will go away. The first Christian missionary, Paul, took on issues in the public square regarding God, he said. To ignore the documentary would leave millions of people with only one side of the story, Bock said.

McBride said he'll watch it because he doesn't like to criticize shows he hasn't seen. Bock will speak at First Bible on April 15.

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