(CNSNews.com) - As archeologists question filmmaker James Cameron's claim that he has discovered the tomb of Jesus Christ and his family, Christian groups are criticizing the Discovery Channel for what they call another attack on Christianity.

The cable channel, which bills itself as "the number-one nonfiction media company," will air "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" on Sunday, March 4.

According to Discovery Channel promotional material, the documentary produced by Academy Award winner Cameron and directed by Simcha Jacobovici presents "new evidence that Jesus and Mary Magdalene ... may have had a son named Judah."

The filmmakers claim that bone boxes first discovered in 1980 may contain the physical remains of Jesus and his family. They suggest that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that they produced a child named Judah, because an inscription on one of the boxes says, "Judah, son of Jesus."

According to several accounts in the New Testament, Mary Magdalene had been cured of demon-possession early in Jesus' ministry. She become a follower of Jesus and was one of the first to hear of his resurrection.

Several scientists, including the Israeli archeologist who discovered the boxes in 1980, have disputed Cameron's claim. "The claim that the burial site has been found is not based on any proof, and is only an attempt to sell," Amos Kloner said in a statement. "With all due respect, they are not archeologists," he said of Cameron and Jacobovici.

As scientists criticize Cameron's "attempt to sell" his documentary, Christian groups are criticizing Discovery Channel for airing the claims.

"Unfortunately, this is a story full of holes, conjectures and problems," Asbury Theological Seminary professor Ben Witherington said. "It will make good TV and involves bad critical reading of history."

For Christians around the world, the claims in the documentary threaten the foundation of their faith system. If the documentary's claims are true, the evidence undermines the core tenets of Christian faith, most notably that Jesus was resurrected three days after his crucifixion and later ascended into Heaven.

"As a born-again Christian, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is an immovable foundation of what I know is true," Randy Thomasson, president of the Campaign for Children and Families, said in a statement.

Quoting the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians, Thomasson highlighted the centrality of the resurrection, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

Some Christian leaders see the airing of the widely criticized claims as a direct attack on Christianity.

"Not a Lenten season goes by without some author or TV program seeking to cast doubt on the divinity of Jesus and/or the Resurrection," Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said in a statement. The Lenten season is the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter during which Catholics honor the biblical account of Jesus' 40-day fast.

According to Discovery, the movie does not challenge Christian beliefs. Spokesmen for the network argue it actually buttresses some doctrines.

Representatives for the channel were unavailable Tuesday, but in a statement on its website, the network says that "if Jesus' mortal remains have been found, this would contradict the idea of a physical ascension [into Heaven] but not the idea of a spiritual ascension," adding that the latter is consistent with Christian theology.

In a news conference hosted by Discovery Channel to promote the film, Dr. James Charlesworth, a professor of New Testament language and literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, said the findings could help Christian doctrine by combating heretic teachings that Christ was not fully human.

If the findings are accurate, Charlesworth said, "we're finding a basis for Christian hope and vision indeed the Christian affirms that Jesus was fully God and fully human."

Jane Root, president and general manager of the Discovery Channel, said at the news conference that the network has "a longstanding policy of strict editorial neutrality when presenting scientific evidence."

She also said the network "believe[s] that there is compelling data that these tombs may have contained the remains of Jesus of Nazareth and members of his family."

"We don't state a point of view, rather our responsibility is to provide a forum for credible evidence," Root said of the channel. "We allow our viewers to weigh the merits and make their own judgments."

She recognized the controversy surrounding the film's claims and said, "We welcome and encourage the spirited conversations about what this all means."

Discovery Channel is no stranger to Christian controversies. In 2002, the channel promoted the apparent discovery of a similar bone box some believed belonged to Jesus' brother, James.

The Israeli Antiquities Authority later determined the box to be a forgery when it appeared as though the name inscription, which read "James son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus," has been recently added to the artifact.

In 2006, the NBC network aired an April special on Michael Baigent, an author who believes that much of the common understanding of Jesus' life is "a lie." In the report, Baigent argued that his crucifixion was "rigged" and that Jesus never really died. He also supports the theory that Jesus and Mary Magdalene produced a child.

In May 2005, ABC's 20/20 aired a special examining the resurrection story, including input from Christian leaders who believe the biblical account and skeptics who viewed it as myth or misunderstanding.

:
Jerusalem Experts Trash Jesus' Bones Claim (Feb. 27, 2007)

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