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Israeli expert quashes film claim about Jesus tomb
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Published: Monday February 26, 2007
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A top Israeli archaeologist on Monday rubbished claims featured in a documentary by award-winning film directors that the burial site of Jesus has been located and which suggests he had a son.

The Oscar-winning James Cameron and Israel-born Simcha Jacobovici are to unveil their explosive conclusions at a New York news conference on Monday ahead of the March 4 premiere of their film on the Discovery Channel.

The claims in "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" are based on the 1980 discovery of a tomb containing 10 caskets in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Talpiot.

Some of the caskets were inscribed with the Hebrew names Yeshu Ben Yossef (Jesus son of Joseph), Yehuda Bar Yeshu (Judah son of Jesus), Martha and Myriam (Mary) -- all names associated with key players in the New Testament.

But archaeologist Professor Amos Kloner, who documented the tomb as the Jewish burial cave of a well-off family more than 10 years ago, is adamant there is no evidence to support claims that it was the burial site of Jesus.

"I'm a scholar. I do scholarly work which has nothing to do with documentary film-making. There's no way to take a religious story and to turn it into something scientific," he told AFP in a telephone interview.

"I still insist that it is a regular burial chamber from the 1st century BC," Kloner said, adding that the names were a coincidence.

"Who says that 'Maria' is Magdalena and 'Judah' is the son of Jesus? It cannot be proved. These are very popular and common names from the 1st century BC," said the academic at Israel's Bar Ilan University.

Kloner said that of 900 burial caves found within four kilometres (two and a half miles) of Jerusalem's Old City and from the same era, the name Jesus or Yeshu was found 71 times, and that "Jesus son of Joseph" had also been found.

Discovery News said new scientific evidence, including DNA analysis conducted at one of the world's top molecular genetics laboratories, suggests that the tomb could have once held the remains of Jesus and his family.

The findings also suggest that Jesus and Mary Magdalene might have had a son called Judah, it said on its website -- claims that Kloner ridiculed as impossible to prove.

"You would have to do DNA checks and see if the DNA of the bones found in the cave, which allegedly belong to the son of Jesus, match with God's DNA!" he said, referring to the Christian belief that Jesus was the son of God.

Israel's Antiquities Authority refused to comment, although in 1996 a spokesman said that the probability of the caskets belonging to the family of Jesus were "next to zero."

"It doesn't get bigger than this. We've done our homework; we've made the case; and now it's time for the debate to begin," said Cameron in a statement.

The Orthodox and Catholic Christian churches place Jesus's tomb below the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Old Jerusalem, while Protestants believe it is farther north outside the city walls.