LOS ANGELES: When the Discovery Channel announced it would air a new documentary by Oscar-winning producer James Cameron, one challenging Jesus' physical ascension and virgin birth, among other core Christian concepts, it immediately provoked controversy within both religious and scientific communities.
But in terms of getting publicity, The Lost Tomb of Jesus is an endeavor of titanic proportions.
Scheduled to premiere Sunday, March 4, the $3.5 million, 90-minute film features dramatizations and interviews with archeologists, DNA experts, and theologians, all centered around 10 limestone burial boxes Tomb alleges contain the microscopic remains of Jesus and his family. "It doesn't get bigger than this," Cameron said at a press conference last week.
In a statement, National Clergy Council president the Rev. Robert Schenk questioned the movie's credibility, calling it "nothing more than a modern-day circus sideshow."
Like a sideshow, though, the debate surrounding Tomb has garnered plenty of media attention for the Silver Spring, MD-based network. Discovery, which didn't return requests to comment by press time, set up a special hotline and e-mail address to handle media inquiries, as well as a Web microsite featuring a "virtual evidence kit," photos and maps, and an interactive expert-and-audience "forum for debate." In addition, a disclaimer on the site notes - with Biblical references - which tenets of Christianity the film could confront.
Though it has raised the indignation of religious leaders and archeologists, including one personally involved with the tomb's excavation, few have called for the film's cancellation, or for advertisers to back out. Many agree, though, that the flashy marketing trumps Tomb's scientific content.
Dr. Jerry Johnson, president of Criswell College in Dallas and host of radio show Jerry Johnson Live!, told PRWeek, "The only reason Cameron did the press conference was publicity: publicity at the expense of Christianity."