Filmmaker James Cameron's latest documentary project asks the 2,000-year-old question: Did Jesus exist, and what is the biblical accuracy of the canon of Catholicism?
At a news conference Monday packed with national media, an unlikely lot of scientists, theologians and moviemakers unveiled two ossuaries, or limestone coffins, that they said held the skeletal remains of Jesus, son of Joseph, and his wife, Maria Magdalena, also known as Mariamene e Mara.
The group's claims -- that it found the first scientific, statistical and theological evidence of Christ's existence along with an unexpected son named Judah -- seemed at once credible and cryptic.
But the news conference was only a teaser to more commercial machinations: a book and a television movie produced by award-winning directors Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici.
On March 4, the Discovery Channel will air "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," which follows the suspenseful journey into the origins of the ossuaries that were discovered in a first-century Jewish burial cave in Jerusalem in 1980 but were never conclusively connected.
In conjunction with the film, HarperSanFrancisco is publishing a companion book, "The Jesus Family Tomb," co-authored by Jacobovici and paleontologist Charles Pellegrino, with a foreword by Cameron.
Cameron -- the not-so-media-shy director who declared he was "king of the world" when he won an Oscar for best director for "Titanic" in 1997 -- said that he had never doubted the existence of Jesus, but that there had never been any evidence until archaeologists had unearthed the ossuaries.
If, indeed, the ancient coffins contain the bones of Jesus and his family, the whole notion of the Christian resurrection will be thrown into question.
The announcement came just one day after the Academy Awards, suggesting to some that their timing was right for promotion.
"This is not a publicity stunt," Cameron said. "It's part of a well-considered plan to reveal the information to the world in a way that makes sense with proper documentation."
The film offers the latest evidence from world-renowned experts in Aramaic script, ancient DNA analysis, forensics, archaeology and statistics, according to promotional material from Discovery.
It will also be aired by Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, the Canadian channel Vision, and the Israeli Channel 8, all of which were co-producers of the documentary.
"My impression is this is a prostitution of religion and archeology," said Thomas Reese, senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center. "This is just the sort of thing archaeologists will tear apart and ask for what proof you had -- and whether it was a fraud or for real."
Not since the successful book and movie "The Da Vinci Code," which also postulated that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, have science and the church seen such a face-off.
The ossuaries were two of 10 such coffins that had been discovered 27 years ago at a 2,000-year-old tomb in Talpiot, outside of Jerusalem. Scientists working with Cameron said that the time frame was biblically accurate within a century -- dating sometime between 14 B.C. and the year 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed.
Statistician Andrey Feuerverger of the University of Toronto told reporters that because of the match of all the family names, odds were about 600-1 that the ossuaries were genuine.