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James Cameron Joins the Bottom-Feeders

By Mark Davis

Archaeologists need to make a deal with filmmaker James Cameron. "You keep making blockbusters like Titanic and Terminator," they should tell him, "and leave the artifact analysis to us."

That would honor the arenas of both science and faith, the two concepts savaged by Mr. Cameron's latest attempt at profit.

I have thoroughly enjoyed his past attempts at profit, and some of his money came from me. From the two giant movies mentioned above to the first Alien sequel to one of my all-time favorites, The Abyss, Mr. Cameron's name has usually been a guarantee of onscreen excellence.

Not any more.

This proud director has now joined the ranks of bottom-feeding junk pushers. The occasion is his Discovery Channel documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, set to air on that otherwise admirable network at 8 p.m. Sunday.

Barring a last-minute burst of good judgment, this detestable program will be consumed by an audience of some size, spurred by the desire to see if the man who showed us Leonardo DiCaprio proclaiming "I'm king of the world!" has now found the remains of the King of the Jews.

I'm sorry, do I sound skeptical? Then I have aimed too timidly. My goal is to sound colossally repulsed, for there is something in Mr. Cameron's low exploit to offend nearly everyone.

It will offend the faith of millions who have about had it with pop culture hacks casting doubt on millennia of Christian beliefs. This unenlightened orgy hit a peak with the recent bug-eyed devotion to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, an amateurish book turned into a medium-quality Ron Howard movie of the same name.

Mr. Brown wanted it both ways. He wanted to be treated with the respect afforded a genuine theologian, yet he could always shrug when the questions got too tough, falling back on the safety net of a work of fiction.

At least Mr. Howard never delivered pseudo-authentic lectures on Bible history; he just wanted to make a profitable Tom Hanks movie.

That he did, and its audience, combined with the millions who read the book, now contains countless people who believe that Jesus got married and had a daughter.

The scolding I wish to deliver brings with it a responsibility to a stratospheric level of objectivity. That said, I'll assert flat out that Jesus may well have been a family man. My faith tells me otherwise, but faith is belief based on factors other than empirical evidence.

But willingness to doubt is one thing. Willingness to make things up is another. Not satisfied to spit on religion, Mr. Cameron also zestfully offends the standards of science.

My gripe with the cult of faux studiousness that comprised The Da Vinci Code zealots was that they felt as though they were immersed in substantive, carefully vetted historical analysis rather than clumsy conspiracy ramblings based on the flimsiest of premises.

Mr. Cameron's Lost Tomb is an even emptier exercise. His assertion is that skeletal remains found in a Jerusalem suburb in 1980 simply must be the remains of Jesus' nuclear family: wife Mary Magdalene, son Judah - hey, the Virgin Mary herself might have been the contents of one of the chests unveiled with a flourish at a news conference to hawk the documentary.

"I think we have a very compelling case," says Mr. Cameron. Perhaps he will forgive Amos Kloner, the archaeologist who first found the remains, who disagrees completely, citing that Jesus' family roots lie elsewhere and that the names found on the sides of the vessels are all fairly common, including "Jesus," found 71 times over the years.

But it's just too tempting. Too tempting to make the logical leaps. Too tempting to taunt the faithful with "evidence" that their Bible - and the resurrection that is the basis for all of Christianity - are flawed tales. Too tempting to make money from such reckless journeys in fake scholarship.

To question and speculate about the underpinnings of faith is a fair intellectual exercise. But to make wild and hurtful assertions from such a paper-thin platform reveals audacity that is hard to forgive.

Mark Davis is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. The Mark Davis Show is heard weekdays nationwide on the ABC Radio Network. His e-mail address is

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