Matt Lauer Boasts Today Exclusive 'That Could Rock Christianity to its Core'
Brought to you by the same people who couldn't get enough of Ron Howard's Christian-bashing The Da Vinci Code, comes another promotional effort of yet another Hollywood director's take on Jesus Christ conspiracy theories. At the top of the show NBC Today host Matt Lauer greeted viewers with the following tease about James Cameron's new documentary: "A shocking new claim that an ancient burial place may have housed the bones of Christ and a son. This morning a Today exclusive that could rock Christianity to its core."
Today co-host Meredith Vieira conducted the interview and promoted the discovery this way: "There are so few 'wow' stories out there, this is one of them." While Today did air some contradictory statements for the most part the entire segment ran as a full blown infomercial for Cameron's documentary. The following are all the teases and then the full segment as it aired on the 7:30am half-hour of the February 26th Today show:
Matt Lauer: "Is it the tomb of Jesus? A shocking new claim that an ancient burial place may have housed the bones of Christ and a son. This morning a Today exclusive that could rock Christianity to its core."
Meredith Vieira: "And then we have a potentially amazing story. Have we possibly found the tomb of Jesus Christ? You're looking live at the boxes that could have contained the remains of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. They are in an undisclosed location. There's a news conference later today but we're gonna talk to the filmmakers first, here on the Today show about that discovery."
Lauer: "More research needs to be done but if this turns out to be true this changes everything."
Vieira: "Oh it's a huge story, absolutely."
Meredith Vieira: "Meanwhile, coming up, a story that's bound to become the subject of a lot of debate. Have archeologists found the tomb of Jesus Christ? We'll get into the controversy but first this is Today on NBC."
Matt Lauer: "Also ahead we're gonna talk about a discovery that if it's true it could rock the world. Did this 2000 year-old tomb in Jerusalem once hold the bones of Jesus and his family including a son? A new book and a documentary from Oscar-winning director James Cameron traces an archeological find that could change everything we know about Jesus, Mary and Mary Magdalene."
Lauer, over song "Jesus Christ Superstar": "But up next a Today exclusive. Did these boxes once hold the bones of Jesus and Mary Magdalene? We'll find out why director James Cameron and others think it just may be true when we talk, right after this."
And now the full segment, in its entirety:
Meredith Vieira: "It could be the greatest archeological find ever. Since the 1970s hundreds of tombs and thousands of ancient bone boxes have been uncovered in the holy land but now one tomb unearthed in Talpiot in 1980 is being regarded differently because it once held a box with this inscription: 'Jesus Son of Joseph.' While the Bible tells the story of Jesus and his resurrection this box could show physical evidence that he existed, was buried and that he had a son, Judah. Those are the claims in a new book from Emmy-winning investigative journalist Simcha Jacobovici and a documentary from Academy Award-winning director James Cameron."
[Clip from The Da Vinci Code: "Witness the biggest cover-up in human history."]
Vieira: "It was the central controversial claim of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code."
[The Da Vinci Code clip: "Mary Magdalene was Jesus' wife."]
Vieira: "That Jesus and Mary Magdalene married and started a royal bloodline that continues today. Brown's story was fiction but now a new documentary and book announce a startling real life discovery."
[Clip from documentary]
Simcha Jacobovici: "It's unbelievable."
Unidentified man: "This is it!"
Jacobovici: "It's the real thing."
Vieira: "Journalist Simcha Jacobovici says this tomb discovered underneath what is now an apartment complex near Jerusalem may be the final resting place of Jesus Christ. And this limestone box, called an ossuary, could have held his actual bones."
[Clip from documentary]
Unidentified woman going over tomb inscription: "...is for 'M'"
Vieira: "This ossuary may have held Maria's or the Virgin Mary's. This one is labeled Mary Amne which Christian scriptures says was Mary Magdalene's real name. And perhaps most shocking of all the writing on this box translates to: 'Judah Son of Jesus.' If true the consequences are impossible to measure."
Father Thomas Williams: "Well Christianity really stands or falls with the fact of Jesus' bodily resurrection from the dead and that he physically ascended into Heaven."
Vieira: "Father Thomas Williams is an NBC News analyst."
Williams: "Where was this supposed son if, if he had one he would've been a prominent member of this new church and he wasn't."
Vieira: "The Church is not alone in auguring this tomb may have nothing to do with the Jesus Christ millions now worship. The site was first examined 27 years ago. An archeologist then came to a very different conclusion."
[Clip from documentary]
Professor Amos Kloner: "These are the most common names among Jews in the first century common era."
David Mevorah, chief curator, Israel Museum: "Suggesting that this tomb was the tomb of the family of Jesus is far-fetched."
Vieira: "Jakobovici says experts in statistics, DNA and patina testing back up the conclusion that this could be the biggest archeological find ever."
[clip from documentary]
Man: "We found it, we actually-"
Vieira: "Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron are here for their first television interview on the Jesus Family Tomb and the Discovery Channel documentary called The Lost Tomb of Jesus. Good morning to both of you gentlemen."
Simcha Jacobovici: "Good morning."
Vieira: "Read the book over the weekend, watched the documentary. There are so few 'wow' stories out there, this is one of them. I mean Simcha you believe you have found the family tomb of Jesus. You have brought over two of the ossuaries or the, the bone boxes, as we call them and you're gonna display them in front of the, the press later on today. We have them here. I want to show the audience. Got a live shot of them. And you describe which ones we're looking at. Oh there, there they are, right there."
Jacobovici: "We're looking at the bone box inscribed: 'Jesus Son of Joseph,' that's the more plain one, the smaller one. And the other one says Mari Amne which is, scholars today say is the real name of Mary Magdalene."
Vieira: "And they were found in that tomb along with other boxes that you believe held the, the remains of Mother Mary. Some of the relatives and also Judah who you think was the son. The box says, 'Judah Son of Jesus.' If this is correct what are the implications? They're huge."
Jacobovici: "They are huge but they're not necessarily the implications that people think they are. For example some believers will say, 'Well this challenges the resurrection.' I don't know why. If Jesus rose from one tomb he could have risen from the other tomb. It really has to do with ascension. But we're not theologians, I'm not a theologian. We're here, we're reporters and we're reporting the facts and what we're saying is here are the facts. There is a tomb, it has ossuaries. This, everybody agrees on that, archeologists. What do they say? 'Jesus Son of Joseph.' One that belongs to Maria, the mother, one belongs to Mary Magdalene. Another belongs to Josi, which the Gospel of Mark, the, the earliest gospel says is a nickname of the brother of Jesus. These are facts."
Vieira: "And that was a rare name, Josi? Not one you would find very often."
James Cameron: "It's the only one, it's the only one found with that exact name."
Vieira: "And another box is, is inscribed with the named Matia?"
Jacobovici: "Matthew, yeah."
Jacobovici: "So what we're saying is that we took, we took the facts and had been dismissive. 'It couldn't be, it couldn't be the family of Jesus.' For two reasons. The second Mary couldn't be, isn't Mary Magdalene. But in 1980 when it was found they didn't know that her real name, not her title but her real name is Mari Amne, and that's what it says on the box. And the second thing is what these people said on your show. They're common names. But these are archeologists, they never went to statisticians. What are the odds a cluster of names? We went to statisticians. We were shocked by, by what they said."
Vieira: "And what were the odds that, that this is indeed the family of Jesus."
Cameron: "Well I, I think that you, that they don't like to use the term odds but they'll do a probability study and the, sort of the upper numbers that we're coming up with were up in the range of a couple million to one against, I mean in, in favor of it being them. Or say two million to one that it's, that it's not, a chance that it's not them. And the lowest boundary is somewhere around 100 to 1. So 100 to 1 is a 99 percent probability."
Jacobovici: "It's 100 to 1 for the tomb, between 100 to 1 and 1000 to 1 for the tomb."
Vieira: "And nothing to you suggests that there's any forgery involved or anything like that?"
Jacobovici: "Nobody argue, the archeologists who even deny that this is the family of Jesus don't deny that this is a true, authentic find. The issue is that archeologists played statisticians and dismissed the find. What we did is we went to the statisticians. We're just reporting the new-, we're not statisticians, we're not theologians. We're reporting the news. And now the debate is gonna begin because statisticians say it's significant. DNA experts say it's significant."
Vieira: "I want to talk about the DNA because when these ossuaries were first found there were bones in them back in 1980 and the archeologists removed, the bones were removed and buried. But there was enough remnant in, in the, the box that you believe contained the, the remains of Jesus and the one with Mary Magdalene. And you were able to, to DNA tests. And what did you find?"
Jacobovici: "We didn't do, experts did-"
Jacobovici: "DNA experts-"
Vieira: "Were you able to have them conducted?"
Jacobovici: "They didn't remove, they didn't remove bones. What they removed was what they call forensic human residue. We had a CSI lab in New York work on this. We had a paleo-DNA lab in Ontario work on this. And, and they got mitochondrial DNA. And what they found, see this could have killed the whole theory. If Mary Magdalene and Jesus', if that, if they match it means they weren't husband and wife, they're brother and sister. They didn't match. So they got a DNA profile. And again we're here to, you know, people have to, you know, people are gonna talk about all kinds of rumors, people are already commenting. They have to see the film, they have to see the evidence, March 4th on Discovery. They have to read the book The Jesus Family Tomb because only after they see the evidence will they be able to judge something as shocking as this."
Vieira: "And there are some critics including and I'm probably not gonna pronounce his name right it's Jozias, 'z' 'i' 'a' 's.'"
Jacobovici: "He hasn't seen the film and he hasn't read the book so this-"
Vieira: "Well he is a curator who was involved in the, in the initial finding of the ossuaries. Let me just read to you what he says, James. He says, 'Simcha has no credibility whatsoever. He's pimping off the Bible. He got this guy, Cameron,' you, 'who made Titanic or something like that. What does this guy know about archeology? Projects like these make a mockery of the archeological profession. You were brought into this because, obviously, you felt strongly about it. What do you think of that statement?"
Cameron: "Well yeah. I mean I, I think that, first of all, it's fair to say that I'm not an archeologist, I'm not, I'm a filmmaker. I'm the executive producer of this film. I helped put together the financing to get it made. I, I looked at the evidence initially and as a, as a, as a layman I found it to be compelling but I, I knew I needed to learn a lot more which I did over the, over the two years of the study. And, and over that two-year period I haven't seen anything that contradicts the, the initial hypothesis. I think people have their, their specific agendas and their, and their specific kind of knee-jerk reactions but I think when they see the film and they see how the evidence is presented then they should, then they should comment. Yeah, I'm not a theologian, I'm not an archeologist, I'm a documentary filmmaker."
Vieira: "Why wouldn't people be clamoring to get at this information? That's what I don't understand."
Jacobovici: "By the way, by the way the same Jozias, by the way I agree with Jim, I'm not, I'm an investigative journalist. That's my skill-set. And we went to archeologists and saw, and so they're reporting. It's not us. It's not us doing the science but I'll say this, when Jozias was involved in the find back in 1980 he said, and I quote, 'If I hadn't seen this excavated myself I would think it was a hoax.' So he was very compelled. And then what did they do with all these ossuaries? They put them on shelves, kinda Indiana Jones-style and they ignored it for 27 years. All we're doing is we're telling the world a story and let the scientists-"
Cameron: "To be fair, to be fair to them, they, there was a critical piece of information they didn't have available. They looked at the, they said, 'Oh well there's a second Mary here, you know Mary Amne is a, is a diminutive of Miriam which is Mary."
Vieira: "Miriam, right."
Cameron: "And but they didn't have the information from the, from the Acts of Philip which definitely identifies Mary Magdalene as Mary Amne. If they had that information-"
Vieira: "Maybe they would've, yeah."
Cameron: "-they might have looked at the whole name cluster very differently in 1980."
Vieira: "Well it is-"
Cameron: "Simcha found that information."
Vieira: "Yeah I am, I'm sorry that we've run out of time because it is absolutely fascinating, potentially, I mean, many would argue the biggest story or one of the biggest stories of our lifetime if you are correct."
Jacobovici: "We are unveiling this today at 11am, at a press conference."
Vieira: "Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron thank you to both of you. The book is The Jesus Family Tomb and the Discovery Channel documentary is The Lost Tomb of Jesus which will air Sunday night at 9pm/8pm central. I'm sure you're gonna hear a lot more about this. You can also find more on our Web site at today.msnbc.com. And we are back after this. Thank you gentlemen very, very much."
UPDATE (Ken Shepherd | 23:38 EST): Below are a few good blog items that have picked apart Cameron's assertions as inconsistencies, although it appears the outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins is taking Cameron on blind faith at his blog, which labels itself a "clear-thinking oasis."Kim Priestap at WizBang pointed out archaeologists who dispute Cameron's claim.
Bryan at Hot Air dismisses the use of DNA analysis as meaningless pseudoscience when dealing with 2,000-year old remains and adds that it's laughable if Cameron's DNA comparison is that found on a relic of questionable authenticity:
If they’re comparing the DNA to what appears to be blood extracted from the Shroud of Turin, well, that would be…interesting. The Shroud’s authenticity isn’t exactly an established fact, though, making such a DNA comparison a bit specious, to say the least... It would be ironic, to say the least, if the Shroud pops up as Cameron’s DNA ace in the hole. The phrase "house of cards" comes to mind.