Unlike NBC, CBS and ABC Express Skepticism Over ‘Jesus Tomb’ Claims

February 27th, 2007 4:50 PM

As noted in NewsBusters on Monday, NBC’s "Today" show breathlessly reported the claims, articulated by filmmaker James Cameron in a new Discovery Channel documentary, that the tomb of Jesus, with Christ buried inside, has been located. Co-anchor Matt Lauer hyped the network’s exclusive interview with Cameron by credulously repeating the documentary’s assertions and stating the film could "rock Christianity to its core."

In contrast, the other networks provided a more skeptical interpretation. On the February 26 edition of ABC’s "Nightline," anchor Terry Moran repeatedly noted that many archaeologists are skeptical of the claims that the tomb of Jesus and a reported family have been found. On Tuesday’s "Good Morning America," reporter Dan Harris prefaced a segment on the subject by observing, "If the claims in this new documentary are true, and many people doubt that they are, they would challenge some of Christianity's central articles of faith..." Over on CBS, "Early Show" anchor Hannah Storm peppered the film’s director, Simcha Jacobovici, with a number of tough questions:

Hannah Storm: "Simcha, are you attacking the basic tenets of Christianity that Jesus indeed rose from the dead?"

Hannah Storm: "What about people who say this is nothing more than a publicity stunt, Simcha?"

On Monday’s "Nightline," in a segment that aired at 11:35pm, host Terry Moran and reporter Wilf Dinnick commented on the skepticism the project has been receiving. Dinnick also featured a clip of archaeologist Amos Kolner, the man who helped locate the tomb 27 years ago and doesn't believe Mr. Cameron's claims:

Terry Moran: "Good evening, I'm Terry Moran. Today there is news that has archaeologists, skeptical, and many Christians up in arms. The director, James Cameron, he won an Oscar for 'Titanic,’ says he's now found evidence of the burial place of Jesus Christ. And Cameron claims Christ's family was buried there, too. So did the man who called himself king of the world really find the tomb of the king of kings? There are certainly skeptics. ABC's Wilf Dinnick has the latest installment of our series, 'Faith Matters," from Jerusalem."

Wilf Dinnick: "It is the very heart of the Christian faith, the church of the Holy Sepulcher, the place where most Christians believe Jesus died, was buried, and resurrected. For the faithful, a story that is very real. Hollywood producer and director, James Cameron, the man who brought you the blockbuster movie, 'Titanic,’ claims to have uncovered evidence proving the body of Jesus never rose to heaven, but instead, was buried here several miles from the Holy Sepulcher. And this is it, where the filmmaker say Jesus and his family were buried. Today, it's on the outskirts of Jerusalem in an apartment complex. The filmmaker has claimed the tomb, uncovered in 1980, actually held the bodies of Jesus and his family."

James Cameron: "I think we have found a very, very compelling or have made a very, very compelling case for what we're saying, that this is the tomb of the Jesus family."

Dinnick: " Here is the theory, 10 coffins or ossuaries were found in the tomb, all of them inscribed with biblical names translated to Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. The filmmakers argue it has to be more than just a coincidence, all these names in the same tomb dating back to the same time as Jesus. But we found the man who first discovered the tomb 27 years ago. Amos Kolner was in charge of archaeological finds in Jerusalem at the time. He says there have been 900 similar tombs uncovered in Jerusalem from that era. And contrary to what the filmmakers say, there is nothing special about this one or those names, all very popular at the time."

Amos Kolner: "We have 71 cases, and I mentioning it in my study, of individuals having the name Yoshua, Yeshua, or Jesois"

Dinnick: "Be of Jesus?"

Kolner: "Be of Jesus. So it's a very common name found on ossuaries, found in scriptures, found every place."

On the February 27 edition of "Good Morning America," reporter Dan Harris again featured Kolner and the segment, which aired at 7:10am, also maintained a level of skepticism that was lacking in NBC’s report:

Diane Sawyer: "Well this morning, scientists and theologians are rejecting controversial claims in a new documentary that strike at some of the basic tenets of Christianity. The film is by Academy Award winning director James Cameron of ‘Titanic’ fame. And he says the remains of Jesus Christ have been found, and not only those of Jesus, but his family, including Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ son? ABC’s Dan Harris has more. Dan?"

Dan Harris: "Diane, good morning. If the claims in this new documentary are true, and many people doubt that they are, they would challenge some of Christianity's central articles of faith, including the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The documentary, called ‘The Lost Tomb of Christ,’ airing on the Discovery Channel this weekend, reexamines the contents of this tomb, first found in 1980 on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The film argues that stone caskets, also called ossuaries, found here, may have held the remains of Jesus and his family. Executive producer James Cameron of ‘Titanic’ and ‘Terminator’ fame unraveled the ossuaries in New York with experts and fellow film makers."

James Cameron: "There is a definite sense that you have to pinch yourself, that what you’re doing, that the e-mail you just wrote is, is real."

Harris: "If the remains of Jesus were entombed, that raises questions about the Biblical assertion that Jesus was resurrected from the site that of what is now the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, a site Diane Sawyer toured this past November. But the film goes even further, arguing that Jesus may have been entombed next to the woman who may have been his wife, Mary Magdalene and their son Judah. These are the same claims spelled out in ‘The Da Vinci Code.’"  

[‘Da Vinci Code clip]

Harris: "Scientists and theologians are widely and roundly rejecting these claims."

ABC hasn’t always been so skeptical of anti-Christian claims. As noted in an MRC special report, this is the same network that devoted an entire hour to the legend of "Pope Joan":

ABC aired an entire 60-minute PrimeTime special last December 29 spreading the anti-Catholic legend of "Pope Joan," a supposed female Pope slaughtered by the faithful when she when into labor pains. Host Diane Sawyer, the same one who demanded facts from Mel Gibson, was clearly enamored by this feminist-pleasing tale: "Amid the clues, the controversy, denials, and from scholars, ridicule...But something whispers across the years. If it is myth is there a meaning?...Legend, fact, fantasy. Tonight, the astonishing tale ripped from a dark-age headline, the woman said to have become the Holy Father, the mystery of Pope Joan."

In the 7am hour of Tuesday’s "Early Show," co-host Hannah Storm questioned the film’s director on some of his claims. Also featured in the interview is author Bruce Feiler:

Hannah Storm: "Simcha Jacobovici is director of 'The Lost Tomb of Jesus' and co--author of the companion book, 'The Jesus Family Tomb,' and Bruce Feiler is a best-selling author and adventurer who has explored many places in the Bible for his latest book 'Where God Was Born.' Good morning to both of you."

Bruce Feiler, ("Where God Was Born," Author): "Good morning Hannah."

Hannah Storm: "Simcha, are you attacking the basic tenets of Christianity that Jesus indeed rose from the dead?"

Simcha Jacobovici, "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," Director: "First of all, I'm not a theologian I'm not attacking anybody. I'm a reporter. And I'm reporting a set of facts. It's interesting that people want God's DNA and whatever. I'm not in the business of theology. I'm reporting a set of facts. It's a fact that the tomb was found. It's a fact that there's a Jesus son of Joseph buried in that tomb. There's two Marys, there's a Judas son of Jesus. These are facts. So what we are doing is reporting saying, hey, world, pay attention. Don't discuss theology. First let's discuss the facts and then let's see the implications on theology."

Hannah Storm: "Alright, let's discuss a few of the facts, starting with the names. Could that be coincidental? How popular were the names that he just stated at that time?"

Bruce Feiler: "21 percent of all women were called Mary at the time, Joseph and Jesus were among the top three names. And I think that the facts are very important. And the facts are, there is no DNA proof. All they have is the DNA proof is that one of the bones of the women are not related to one of the bones of the men patrilineally."

Hannah Storm: "Which could be total coincidence."

Bruce Feiler: "We have no evidence --"

Hannah Storm: "It doesn't mean anything, does it?"

Simcha Jacobovici: "I just want to point out something, I'm a journalist. I'm not an expert. Just like Bruce is not an expert. When I want to discuss statistics, I don't make up statistics. I went to statisticians. Four studies we commissioned. Professor <inaudible>, a professor of mathematics from the University of Toronto was the most conservative. He said 600 to 1 in favor of this tomb, based on the names that Bruce just mentioned, that it is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. Now, if other statisticians now want to weigh in, that's great. But why are people who don't know anything about statistics, including me, talking statistics?"

A few minutes later, Ms. Storm closed the interview with this blunt question:

Hannah Storm: "What about people who say this is nothing more than a publicity stunt, Simcha?"

Simcha Jacobovici: "You know, again, I can just say we put forward a set of facts. And the set of facts, the tomb is real. The inscriptions are real. DNA was gathered, it's real. We know he was buried in a tomb, the Gospels tell us so. We know he could afford a tomb in Jerusalem because the Gospels tell us so. The question is which tomb? The Church of the Holy Sepulchre or the one we're presenting. We brought statistical evidence, now people have to see the film, read the book and weigh the facts instead of coming with these emotional reactions about beloved stories."

As noted earlier, ABC and CBS haven’t always been so skeptical when it comes to dubious anti-religious and anti Christian claims, but in this case, they certainly expressed more skepticism than NBC.