He hasn't cracked the Da Vinci code, but religious groups are annoyed at James Cameron all the same.
The Titanic Oscar winner's latest project, the Discovery Channel documentary The Last Tomb of Jesus, has been called an attack on Christianity by some who are none too pleased with the film's so-called revelatory findings.
Last Tomb, produced by Cameron and written and directed by Simcha Jacobovi, chronicles the 1980 discovery of a 2,000-year-old tomb in Jerusalem's East Talpiot neighborhood that, the film argues, was the final resting place of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Mary Magdalene and a boy who could have been her and Jesus' son.
Of course, it was partly the Jesus-and-Mary-Magdalene-had-a-kid subplot in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code that ticked off Christians and resulted in worldwide protests when Ron Howard's film adaptation came out last May.
"It's time the Discovery Channel discovered ethics and stopped with the sensationalism," Catholic League president Bill Donohue told Variety Tuesday. The film is scheduled to be televised on Sunday.
"If the Discovery Channel fails to cancel this slanderous documentary, it will have to explain why it is intentionally misleading the public," Brent Bozell, president of the conservative watchdog group Media Research Center, told the trade. "They should be embarrassed by this plunge into sensational speculation masquerading as science. The Discovery Channel will have dug its own grave if it doesn't pull this documentary."
Meanwhile, network spokeswoman Catherine Frymark said that Discovery has never yanked a film because of protest before and isn't going to start now.
"People will have to believe what they want to believe," Jacobovi says in an article about the film in Newsweek's Mar. 5 issue.
According to the documentary and its tie-in book, in 1980 a construction crew unearthed 10 "bone boxes," or ossuaries, buried beneath a small concrete plot next to an apartment building in the Talpiot suburb. One of the caskets is said to have the words "Judah, son of Jesus" scripted on the side.
The very idea that Jesus had a final resting place refutes one of the basic tenets of Christianity, which is that Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected after the Crucifixion and ascended to heaven.
James Charlesworth of the Princeton Theological Seminary, who also consulted on the film, told Newsweek that the documentary makes a strong case for the biblical lineage, which is supported in part by archaeologists, historians, statisticians and DNA and forensics experts.
"A very good claim could be made that this was Jesus' clan," he said.
Cameron, who since hoisting his Best Picture and Director Oscars for 1997's Titanic has been busy exploring the real-life heart of the ocean in nonfiction projects such as Ghost of the Abyss and Volcanoes of the Deep Sea, has also come under fire for his role in the film.
Namely, what does the self-proclaimed "King of the World" think he's doing?
"[Simcha] got this guy Cameron, who made Titanic or something like that—what does this guy know about archaeology?" queried Joe Zias, a former curator at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem who personally numbered the bone boxes found in the tomb.
"I am an archeologist, but if I were to write a book about brain surgery, you would say, 'Who is this guy?' People want signs and wonders," Zias told Newsweek. "Projects like these make a mockery of the archeological profession."
Cameron, for one, had the answer.
"I don't profess to be an archeologist or a Biblical scholar," the filmmaker, who helped Simcha secure a $3.5 million budget for the project, said. "I'm a film producer. I found it compelling. I think we're on firm ground to say that much."