Was this the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth? Discovery has provided an interactive site that allows us to explore the tomb and discuss our opinions with experts. Of course, given the stated odds and statistics cited, all of this begs the question of whether the names of those buried in this tomb--Jesus, Mary, Matthew, Joseph, Mary Magdalene...and a sixth inscription, written in Aramaic, that translates to "Judah Son of Jesus"--are a coincidence...or not?
With James Cameron leading the charge on this ("It doesn't get bigger than this....") and only scant mitochondrial DNA samples from two of the ossuaries (no DNA from any of the bones taken, or supporting analyis of the bones offered), and an over-reliance on statistics to make their case...well, you can count me as an extreme sceptic.
UPDATE: Jay Cost in his Real Clear Politics Column, provides the best rebuttal to the documentary's claims I've yet seen in his post "Examining the 'Jesus Tomb' Evidence." Here is an excerpt from Cost's analysis:
The documentarians' claim is not valid. The Cameron-sponsored Jesus Family Tomb proffers a specious claim based upon bad theory, bad statistics, and bad history. A careful examination of their evidence demands that their claim be rejected....
Scientific method demands a careful, systematic weighing of all the evidence, for and against. The documentarians have not done this. They have systematically ignored the unfavorable evidence: (1) they ignored those who should not be in the tomb, (2) they did not properly consider those who should be in the tomb; (3) they ignored the strong likelihood that Jesus could not be buried in the tomb. Their method is essentially, "Evidence that favors the theory is included. The rest is excluded."
This is how a freak accident becomes a sure thing.
What they offer here is not science, but pseudo-science -- polemic dressed in scientific language. Numbers and "tests" are trotted out, but only for the sake of appearance. The hypothesis is never actually in danger because the falsifying evidence is excised before the evaluation begins. In other words, the rules of the game are: heads they win, tails you lose. The game was rigged from the start.
Here is the Discovery article
Here is the Interactive Site
This article from David Harovitz in the Jerusalem Post provides one of the better counterpoints to these two decade old claims (my emphasis added):
New film claims Jesus buried in Talpiot
By DAVID HOROVITZ
Feb. 25, 2007 0:25
The Israeli-born, Canadian-based filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici is reigniting claims, first made over a decade ago, that a burial cave uncovered 27 years ago in Talpiot, Jerusalem, is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.
At a press conference in New York on Monday, the two-time Emmy winner Jacobovici and his team - including Hollywood director James Cameron - will detail claims that of 10 ossuaries found in the cave when it was discovered in 1980, six bear inscriptions identifying them as those of Jesus, his mother Mary, a second Mary (possibly Mary Magdalene), and relatives Matthew, Josa and Judah (possibly Jesus's son).
Their documentary will be screened this week in the US, UK, on Channel 8 in Israel and around the world. The producers are said to have worked on the project with world-renowned archeologists, statisticians and DNA specialists.
But Bar-Ilan University Prof. Amos Kloner, the Jerusalem District archeologist who officially oversaw the work at the tomb in 1980 and has published detailed findings on its contents, on Saturday night dismissed the claims. "It makes a great story for a TV film," he told The Jerusalem Post. "But it's impossible. It's nonsense."
Kloner, who said he was interviewed for the new film but has not seen it, said the names found on the ossuaries were common, and the fact that such apparently resonant names had been found together was of no significance. He added that "Jesus son of Joseph" inscriptions had been found on several other ossuaries over the years.
"There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb," Kloner said. "They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle-class family from the 1st century CE."
A spokeswoman for the Israel Antiquities Authority had no comment herself on the documentary and referred inquiries to Kloner, who no longer works for the IAA.
The spokeswoman did say, however, that the IAA has loaned out two of the ossuaries that were found in the Talpiot tomb for display by the filmmakers at Monday's New York press conference. She said it was a routine procedure to lend out such artifacts provided the borrowers complied with the necessary handling, transport and insurance requirements and that it did not signal any IAA authentication of claims made in the documentary.
Kloner said the IAA had been "very foolish" to agree to the loan. "The left hand there doesn't know what the right hand is doing," he said.
The Daily Telegraph reported this weekend that the 10 ossuaries removed from the tomb when it was first excavated "were taken initially to the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum outside the Old City of Jerusalem. Nine were catalogued and stored but the tenth was left outside in a courtyard. That ossuary has subsequently gone missing."
But Kloner said the IAA routinely left ossuaries in the courtyard if they were not inscribed and were unremarkable, since it had no room for them all "under our roofs." He added: "Nothing has disappeared."
The Jacobovici documentary comes more than 10 years after similar speculation about the so-called Jesus family tomb made world headlines, prompting a London Sunday Times feature entitled "The Tomb that Dare Not Speak Its Name" and a BBC documentary.
The assertion that the ossuaries found in the Talpiot tomb were those of Jesus of Nazareth and family members was branded by The Sunday Times at the time as an archeological discovery "that challenges the very basis of Christianity."
The makers of the documentary are refusing to discuss its content prior to their New York press conference.
Here is the Associated Press article reporting along the same lines....
By MARSHALL THOMPSON
Associated Press Writer
Feb 26 1:04 PM US/Eastern
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Archaeologists and clergymen in the Holy Land derided claims in a new documentary produced by James Cameron that contradict major Christian tenets, but the Oscar-winning director said the evidence was based on sound statistics.
"The Lost Tomb of Christ," which the Discovery Channel will run on March 4, argues that 10 ancient ossuaries _ small caskets used to store bones _ discovered in a suburb of Jerusalem in 1980 may have contained the bones of Jesus and his family, according to a press release issued by the Discovery Channel.
One of the caskets even bears the title, "Judah, son of Jesus," hinting that Jesus may have had a son, according to the documentary. And the very fact that Jesus had an ossuary would contradict the Christian belief that he was resurrected and ascended to heaven.
Cameron told NBC'S "Today" show that statisticians found "in the range of a couple of million to one in favor of it being them." Simcha Jacobovici, the Toronto filmmaker who directed the documentary, said the implications "are huge."
"But they're not necessarily the implications people think they are. For example, some believers are going to say, well this challenges the resurrection. I don't know why, if Jesus rose from one tomb, he couldn't have risen from the other tomb," Jacobovici told "Today."
Most Christians believe Jesus' body spent three days at the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City. The burial site identified in Cameron's documentary is in a southern Jerusalem neighborhood nowhere near the church.
In 1996, when the British Broadcasting Corp. aired a short documentary on the same subject, archaeologists challenged the claims. Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the site, said the idea fails to hold up by archaeological standards but makes for profitable television.
"They just want to get money for it," Kloner said.
Cameron said his critics should withhold comment until they see his film.
"I'm not a theologist. I'm not an archaeologist. I'm a documentary film maker," he said.
The film's claims, however, have raised the ire of Christian leaders in the Holy Land.
"The historical, religious and archaeological evidence show that the place where Christ was buried is the Church of the Resurrection," said Attallah Hana, a Greek Orthodox clergyman in Jerusalem. The documentary, he said, "contradicts the religious principles and the historic and spiritual principles that we hold tightly to."
Stephen Pfann, a biblical scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem who was interviewed in the documentary, said the film's hypothesis holds little weight.
"I don't think that Christians are going to buy into this," Pfann said. "But skeptics, in general, would like to see something that pokes holes into the story that so many people hold dear."
"How possible is it?" Pfann said. "On a scale of one through 10 _ 10 being completely possible _ it's probably a one, maybe a one and a half."
Pfann is even unsure that the name "Jesus" on the caskets was read correctly. He thinks it's more likely the name "Hanun." Ancient Semitic script is notoriously difficult to decipher.
Kloner also said the filmmakers' assertions are false.
"It was an ordinary middle-class Jerusalem burial cave," Kloner said. "The names on the caskets are the most common names found among Jews at the time."
Archaeologists also balk at the filmmaker's claim that the James Ossuary _ the center of a famous antiquities fraud in Israel _ might have originated from the same cave. In 2005, Israel charged five suspects with forgery in connection with the infamous bone box.
"I don't think the James Ossuary came from the same cave," said Dan Bahat, an archaeologist at Bar-Ilan University. "If it were found there, the man who made the forgery would have taken something better. He would have taken Jesus."
None of the experts interviewed by The Associated Press had seen the whole documentary.