James Cameron, acclaimed director of the film Titanic, explorer of the actual Titanic, creator of The Terminator and countless other classic movies, and finder of Jesus Christ's bones???
In 2007, Cameron launched a documentary he had produced with Canadian documentary maker Simcha Jacobovici, which aired on the Discovery Channel. In it, the filmmakers claim that they had found the tomb of Jesus Christ, his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Jesus's son "Judah".
Cameron, talking about The Lost Tomb of Jesus at its release, told an audience at the New York public library that he had always believed in historical Jesus.
"But the simple fact is there has never been a shred of physical, archaeological evidence to support that fact," he said according to NPR, "until right now".
The documentary focused on the Talpiot Tomb, first re-discovered in 1980 in east Jerusalem. Inside the tomb are 10 ossuaries, six of which are inscribed with epigraphs. Four of the containers, used to house remains, read "Jesus son of Joseph", while two are inscribed with variations of "Mary", and one for "Judah the son of Jesus".
The filmmakers believed, based on Harvard professor François Bovon (who would later deny it), that one of the ossuaries that referred to "Mariamene" was the name for Mary Magdalene. Testing the DNA of the Jesus jars and the Mariamene containers, they determined that the two were not related – despite being housed in a tomb that would be used for families of the era – and concluded that they must have been a married couple. The other Mary was assumed to be Jesus's mother, mother Mary.
A statistical analysis provided for the program concluded that the odds against these names appearing altogether were 600 to 1.
"The tomb is a fact, the names are facts, the DNA relationship is a fact, the statistical studies are facts," Jacobovici said of the documentary. "There was enough to say it's time to bring this to the attention of the world and let a scientific, academic, theological debate begin."
Well, that debate did happen, and the conclusion was: there is very little evidence that this is the tomb of Jesus, and a lot of historical context that says it probably isn't the tomb of Jesus.
As well as several academics featured in the film who claimed they had been misquoted or misrepresented, academics point out that the names found on the tombs were extremely common at the time, and that Jesus was not known as "son of Joseph" by his followers, but was called that by outsiders (who would not have been involved in burying his remains).
The DNA analysis impressed few, proving little other than the two were not related. One big point of contention is where the family was buried, given that they were too poor (according to written text about Jesus) to be buried in such a tomb, and that their ancestral home was in Nazareth. Were they buried away from Nazareth, for reasons unclear, it would likely be noted on the tomb as was the tradition of the time.
More annoyed than anybody were archaeologists.
"The identification of the Talpiyot tomb as the tomb of Jesus and his family is based on a string of problematic and unsubstantiated claims," Jodi Magness of the Archaeological Institute of America wrote at the time.
"[The claim] contradicts the canonical Gospel accounts of the death and burial of Jesus and the earliest Christian traditions about Jesus. This claim is also inconsistent with all of the available information – historical and archaeological – about how Jews in the time of Jesus buried their dead, and specifically the evidence we have about poor, non-Judean families like that of Jesus. It is a sensationalistic claim without any scientific basis or support."
All of which is to say: there's a reason why you know James Cameron as "that Avatar guy" rather than the man who found Jesus Christ's bones.