By Irene Kuppan
Film-maker James Cameron's claims that the box believed to have contained the bones of Jesus has been found is "ridiculous" and just a publicity stunt.
That is the reaction of local Christian leaders, who have dismissed the claims of the Titanic director, who had also produced a documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus and the book The Jesus Family Tomb, based on the "findings".
Cameron, together with a group of scholars, presented what he claimed was evidence that the tomb of Jesus had been discovered to journalists in the United States this week.
The "evidence" was two stone ossuaries, or bone boxes. Cameron said the boxes could have contained the bones of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
The two ossuaries are among 10 uncovered by construction in south Jerusalem in 1980. Cameron said some of the boxes had inscriptions and those which had been translated read Jesus, Mary Magdalene and "Judah, son of Jesus".
Anglican Bishop of KwaZulu-Natal Rubin Phillip said from a theological point of view Cameron's claims contradicted the Bible.
"In terms of scripture Jesus ascended from this world. It was not only a spiritual ascension and resurrection, but a physical one, so there can't be any remains of Christ. The person making these claims sounds like a fraudster looking for publicity. I don't think any Christian would take these claims seriously because it goes against biblical teaching," he said.
Phillip said that over the past few years there had been "huge interest" in trying to discredit the Christian faith.
"The Dan Brown novel - The Da Vinci Code - is an example of this. It seems that the agenda behind Cameron's claims is to discredit the authenticity of Christianity,"Phillip said.
"We live in an age where there is a lot of uncertainty despite the advancements in technology. While it is true people are turning to religion, others are trying to discredit what has always been there - what is genuine and true."
He said the more people tried to discredit the Christian faith, the more it stood out as authentic.
Father Chris Townsend, information officer for the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, said: "It will be very difficult to verify if the bones are indeed those of Jesus... We should be more concerned with living the good news, not worry about bones."
Taryn Hodgson, national co-ordinator of the Christian Action Network - a network of Christian ministries in the country - said: "The credibility of Cameron's research, like that of The Da Vinci Code, will sink like the Titanic. People will try to find any justification for why their lives do not need to be accountable to a holy God." Rev Cyril Pillay, national chairperson for Global Network for International Christian Leaders, agreed, saying: "We find it difficult to reconcile this alleged finding of the box that contained Jesus's bones with our teachings," he said.