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Documentary Claims Coffin of Jesus Has Been Discovered

Controversy is raging over a new documentary that claims coffins discovered outside of Jerusalem in 1980 may have contained the remains of Jesus and his family. The filmmakers unveiled two of the limestone ossuaries - or small coffins - in New York Monday. From VOA's New York Bureau, correspondent Barbara Schoetzau has the story.

The filmmakers say that names found on the coffins indicate that the 2,000-year-old tomb may have belonged to Jesus and his family, including a son.

One of the central beliefs of Christianity is that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven after his body rested for three days at the site of a church in Jerusalem's old city. The burial site identified in the film is in another part of Jerusalem.

In 1996, the BBC aired a short documentary on the 1980 discovery of the coffins. But the new documentary is generating publicity because it is produced by James Cameron, the director of the record-breaking 1997 movie Titanic, which won the Academy Award and remains the highest grossing movie in history

Some scholars and religious leaders challenge the evidence in Cameron's latest project, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, which will air on U.S. television March 4. Cameron says he anticipated the skepticism.

"As executive producer, I felt that my role was to be the skeptic, to anticipate the skeptical analysis that would follow," said James Cameron. "So I pushed very hard for a strong chain of evidence that the provenance of the samples was carefully documented, that the proper rigorous scientific methodology was followed and that there was enough peer review form experts both during the making of the film and afterwards that we could have confidence in our results."

But Amos Kloner, who was the first archeologist to examine the site, says the film's hypothesis fails to meet archeological standards. He says the names found on the coffins are among the most common names found among Jews at the time. And some Biblical scholars say that ancient script is exceedingly difficult to decipher.

The filmmakers say they are opening up a debate, based on new scientific methodology, including DNA analysis, not drawing conclusions.

The controversy is reminiscent of the one that followed the Da Vinci Code, the phenomenally successful suspense novel that presents the idea that descendants of Jesus exist today.