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“Lost Tomb of Jesus” — The Agenda

A Hollywood money man, a Zionist filmmaker, and a renegade “Christian” theologian got together to mar this year’s Lenten season with yet another television event denying and debunking Christianity.

Lee Duigon
  • Lee Duigon,
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“[T]o deny Christ’s resurrection from the dead, His physical resurrection, is to subvert the whole Gospel … There is no Gospel apart from this fact.” —R. J. Rushdoony[1]

A Hollywood money man, a Zionist filmmaker, and a renegade “Christian” theologian got together to mar this year’s Lenten season with yet another television event denying and debunking Christianity.

As always, reporters from the big media gushed over them at their press conference without questioning their backgrounds, their credentials, or their agenda.

True, criticism of this caper, from archaeologists and religious commentators, has been blistering and amply reported. But the questions of who these debunkers are, and what they are trying to do, have not been specifically addressed.

Tomb Twaddle

At issue is The Lost Tomb of Jesus, aired March 4 on the Discovery Channel. Produced by James Cameron (noted for producing movies like Titanic and The Terminator), directed by Simcha Jacobovici, and theologically apologized for by Dr. James Tabor, the film promotes “scientific discoveries” supposedly disproving the physical resurrection of Christ.

If the film’s claims are true, then orthodox, Biblical Christianity is a lie.

The “lost tomb” is an archaeological site in Jerusalem, discovered in 1980 and described by its discoverer, archaeologist Amos Kloner of Bar-Ilan University, as a typical middle-class family tomb from the 1st century C.E. ( Dr. Kloner has described the documentary film as an exercise in cheap sensationalism: “They just want to get money for it,” he told the Associated Press, February 26. And to The Jerusalem Post: “There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb. They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem” (from the story cited previously).

Brushing aside such assessments, Cameron and company base their argument on personal names scratched onto 10 bone boxes, or ossuaries, found inside the tomb. The roster of names includes “Joshua” (Jesus), “Mariamene” (Mary), “Jose” (Joseph), and other names familiar to readers of the New Testament.

They should be familiar. These names, as many scholars have pointed out, were exceedingly common in ancient Judea. Strong’s Concordance, for example, lists seven different women named “Mary” in the New Testament. The first century historian Josephus, in his history of the Judean revolt against Rome, mentions ten different men named “Jesus” in addition to Jesus Christ Himself.[2]

Other scholars, meanwhile, dispute the filmmakers’ reading of the names scratched on the ossuaries.

But if that weren’t enough, the filmmakers claim to have “DNA evidence” recovered from the bone boxes. Of course, there is no way to be sure that any “human DNA residue” found in a bone box, after the passage of 2,000 years, actually belonged to the box’s original occupant or to anyone else in particular. And there is no control sample to compare it with!

The Lost Tomb deserved the storm of brickbats thrown at it by critics from the realms of archaeology and religious studies. But no amount of criticism deterred Cameron, Jacobovici, and Tabor from repeating their extravagant claims to anyone who’d give them airtime.

The Zionist

The film’s director, Israeli-born Canadian Simcha Jacobovici, has won many awards for his work as a filmmaker, including two Emmy Awards (in 1995 and 1996).

He is also an eminent Zionist. He has chaired the North American Jewish Students’ Network; founded and chaired Network Canada, a national union of Jewish students; founded the Canadian Universities Bureau of the Canadian Zionist Federation; served on the National Executive of the Canadian Jewish Congress; was president of the International Congress of the World Union of Jewish Students; and in 1980 won the Knesset Medal for his Zionist work on North American college campuses (

He has been described as “a maximalist/corroborationist when it comes to the claims of Hebrew scriptures and minimalist/revisionist in his evaluation of Christian scriptures … (confirming Jewish beliefs and disconfirming Christian beliefs) …” (

In an exchange of emails with Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review (for full text, see , Jacobovici candidly affirms his beliefs.

The subject of the “debate” is his 2006 film, The Exodus Decoded. This, like The Lost Tomb of Jesus, was financed and produced by James Cameron. Unlike The Lost Tomb, this film seeks to validate Scripture, in this case the Biblical account of the Exodus.

Shanks chides Jacobovici for “accepting as proof anything archaeological that seems to confirm the historicity of the text” and pressing his claims without persuading any reputable scholars to back him up. By and large, The Exodus Decoded — aired on Easter Sunday 2006 on the Discovery Channel — got a frosty reception from historians and archaeologists. Jacobovici’s efforts to “explain” the miracles of the Exodus (the ten plagues, for instance) in naturalistic or “scientific” terms struck Hershel Shanks and others as belabored at best.

The Exodus Decoded illustrates the extent to which Jacobovici is willing to go when he wishes to affirm the historicity of Jewish Scriptures. For a detailed discussion, see

In 2003 — again on Easter Sunday, again on the Discovery Channel — another Jacobovici documentary aired: James, Brother of Jesus. This film focuses on another famous ossuary: this one inscribed with the words, “James, brother of Jesus.”

For what it’s worth, the Israel Antiquities Authority has officially declared the artifact a fraud, the inscription a modern forgery. The man who “discovered” it is charged with a crime and awaiting trial. A few scholars and commentators, including Hershel Shanks, hold out the possibility that the box and the inscription might be genuine; but this is a minority view, and support for it is shrinking.

On Jacobovici’s own website (, we find a review of this film written by Elaine Fletcher, in Jerusalem, that summarizes the purpose of the exercise: a presentation of “Christianity in its embryonic form, when it is essentially a Jewish sect. James was the leader of that early sect. And the very fact that he was buried as he was underlines the fact that not only did he live as a Jew, but he died as a Jew.”

“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1) — is this how a Jew would describe himself? Would a Jew have accepted martyrdom as the price for preaching the divinity of Christ?

But as we shall see, the agenda of Jacobovici and his cohorts is to deny the divinity of Christ and demote Christianity to the status of a Jewish sect.

The Theologian

Supplying the scholarly facade for The Lost Tomb was Dr. James Tabor, chairman of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

No one at the press conference asked Tabor about his track record of Christ-debunking. Had the reporters forgotten he wrote The Jesus Dynasty? Only a year ago, many of the same media outlets covering this year’s press conference were reviewing Tabor’s book; and some of those reviews were raves.

In The Jesus Dynasty, Tabor rejects the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, His virgin birth, and His divinity. In what might be described as a marriage of The Passover Plot and The Da Vinci Code, Tabor purveys slanders about Christ’s parentage, His supposed survival of the crucifixion, and all the familiar neo-Gnostic rubbish about His alleged marriage to Mary Magdalene, and their alleged descendants.

Tabor himself discusses his book on an website (, and on his own “The Jesus Dynasty Blog” ( In these posts, and in the other reviews provided by, Tabor promotes “an alternative vision of Christian origins,” which features Jesus as the bastard child of Mary and a Roman soldier.

Tabor argues that Christianity was just another Jewish sect until St. Paul came along and hijacked it, perpetrating a monumental fraud that became orthodox Christianity.

When questioned at the press conference, Tabor and Jacobovici tried to backpedal away from claiming their efforts have exposed Christ Himself, and Christianity, as frauds. Tabor, as reported by The Jerusalem Post on February 27, “also cited traditions asserting that Jesus’ resurrection was ‘spiritual.’”

A purely “spiritual” resurrection, as opposed to the genuine bodily resurrection described in the New Testament? “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:39). If Tabor is right, then the gospel of Jesus Christ is a lie.

This is an ancient heresy, this claim of a “spiritual” resurrection. “The first to deny the Christian doctrine of a bodily resurrection were the Gnostics of the first through third centuries. Many involved in the New Age movement today hold views similar to the early Gnostics.”[3] St. Paul refuted this claim, mostly notably in 1 Corinthians 15:12–20, “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (vs. 12).

If Tabor does not openly commit himself to the Gnostic heresy, modern Gnostics have certainly embraced him. The Jesus Dynasty is prominently featured on the Gnostic Bookstore website (

Denying Christ for Profit

Meanwhile, Christ-debunking has become a regular sideline for the Discovery Channel.

In addition to giving Simcha Jacobovici all the airtime he can handle, every Easter season, the Discovery Channel has its own book club (see, which features a selection of titles on “Religion and Mythology.” Among the books on Bigfoot, the Hollow Earth, and fairies, we find books on Christianity and Christian history — most of them by Bart D. Ehrman, all of them dedicated to the proposition that Christianity is false.

Ehrman, chairman of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, recently gave an interview to Biblical Archaeology Review (“Losing Faith: How Scholarship Affects Scholars,” March/April 2007, Vol. 33, no.2) in which he spoke candidly of his disbelief in God, in Christ, and in the Bible. His books — BAR describes him as “a leading expert on the apocryphal gospels” — are devoted to spreading that disbelief, and the Discovery Channel Book Club has them all.

A Pattern of Abuse

James Cameron and the Discovery Channel have established a pattern of using Christ-debunking documentaries (and books) as a vehicle for profit. As long as enough people watch the broadcasts and buy the books, they or someone else will continue to provide them.

Simcha Jacobovici, in his zeal for Judaism, has established a pattern of building up his religion by tearing down Christianity. We do not suggest that all Zionists do this: but Jacobovici does.

Christianity and Judaism take irreconcilable positions on the divinity of Jesus Christ. Viewers of Jacobovici’s documentaries should be aware of his a priori conviction that belief in Christ’s divinity is false. For him it is a question of faith. If his faith is the true faith, then our faith must be wrong. To demonstrate that we are wrong is clearly his agenda: he cannot afford for us to be right.

Do you have to trample the cross to become a religious studies chairman in the UNC system? While James Tabor has not renounced Christ as candidly as his colleague Professor Ehrman has, he has publicly promoted a version of Christianity that preserves nothing but the empty name.

James, the son of Joseph, like most of the founding leaders of the church, suffered martyrdom rather than deny his Lord. Are we to believe that he, and Peter, and Paul, and countless others — when they could have saved themselves simply by disavowing Christ — willingly went to their deaths for something they knew to be a lie?

God uses insults like The Lost Tomb to force us to defend our faith. As Peter tells us (1 Pet. 3:15), “[B]e ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”

We have not done that here, but rather demonstrated that The Lost Tomb is anything but a piece of honest scholarship. Driven by its creators’ anti-Christian agenda, riddled with special pleading and overstated claims, derided by serious archaeologists and Bible scholars, The Lost Tomb simply has no credibility — which does not prevent it from being a snare for the ignorant.

Why spend so much effort to attack it?

Because, before we can begin to sow the good seed of the gospel in the hearts and minds of those still unfamiliar with it, we must first clear out the weeds!

[1] R. J. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1994), 906.

[2] The New Complete Works of Josephus, index (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999).

[3] Gary Zeolla, “The Nature of Resurrection: Resurrection, Gnosticism, and the Church Fathers,”

Lee Duigon
  • Lee Duigon

Lee is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels and a contributing editor for our Faith for All of Life magazine. Lee provides commentary on cultural trends and relevant issues to Christians, along with providing cogent book and media reviews.

Lee has his own blog at

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