In 1980, an ancient tomb was unearthed on a building site in the Jerusalem suburb of Talpiot. Inside the tomb, archaeologists Amos Kloner and Shimon Gibson were intrigued to discover several boxes of bones – "ossuary’s"[sic.] – dating from the first century AD. The inscriptions on the side of these boxes included the names "Jesus son of Joseph", "Mary", another Mary in the rare form of "Mariamne", "Jose", "Matthew" and – perhaps most fascinating of all – "Judah son of Jesus".Five is probably the most lowbrow of British TV's terrestrial channels. (Whoever composed the photo above doesn't seem to have grasped that the bones are meant to be kept in the boxes, and, if you're going to promote a documentary about the "Jesus Tomb" you should probably learn how to spell "ossuaries"). That said there are a number of scholars although it's no surprise to find Bart Ehrman and James Tabor are the most prominent.
The similarity of these names to the New Testament family and disciples of Jesus Christ were clear, yet the boxes were removed from the tomb and left untouched in the stores of the Israeli Antiquity Authority for over 20 years. It was not until the early years of this century that Bible historian James Tabor began to wonder if the tomb at Talpiot was in fact the final resting place of Christ.
A series of scientific tests and a close analysis of ancient texts seemed to suggest that this could indeed be the tomb of Jesus, especially if the ossuary ascribed to "Mariamne the master" could be associated with Mary Magdalene. If this connection was made, it would also suggest that the ‘Judah son of Jesus’ ossuary belonged to Jesus’s son.
Yesterday's papers featured reviews from The Times and The Telegraph, whilst The Guardian simply mentions that the show "attracted 1.4 million" viewers.
Mark Goodacre has a good length review rejecting some of the more dismissive reviews
The documentary makers should, however, be lauded for avoiding sensationalism and for sounding fairly reasonable, at least by the end of the programme. A few features showed some sensitivity to scholarly conventions, like the use of "BCE" and "CE" (unexplained in the programme) rather than "BC" and "AD", but at other points repeated cliché (Christianity rocked to its foundations) and banality (Jesus was not a Christian) will have turned away the educated viewer. And if they said that ossuaries were bone boxes once, they said it a hundred times.Jim West also makes a few comments, mainly based on Andrea Mullaney's review in The Scotsman.
Edit: Having Just watched this a few further comments to add. Firstly, I think this documentary benefited from being shown over a year after the Jesus Tomb story first broke (or at least regained our attention). One of the comments made at the time was that the because the news was released such a short time before the documentary there was no time for the wider scholarly community to sift it properly. Now that time has passed some of the objections to the theory that this is in fact Jesus's tomb have been allowed to, um, ossify.
Secondly, as I only had this on in the background, I only caught some of the visuals, but it seemed that, at least on that level, that it was nicely put together. It was nice to see someone looking genuinely middle eastern playing Jesus, and there were some interesting angles and nice dissolves etc.
Finally, it seems that Helen Bond was involved at some stage as she is pictured on the Channel Five website, but she seems to have been cut out of the final programme. That's a not only a little bit cheeky, but also a bit of a shame. It would have been nice to have a few more British scholars involved.