Washington, Jan 18 : A leading New Testament expert has reopened the controversy that followed a James Cameron documentary which suggested that the ossuaries found in a tomb in the hills behind Jerusalem were that of Joseph, Mary, Jesus, the son of Joseph, Mariamne (possibly Mary Magdalene) and Judah, son of Jesus.
The documentary was aired by Discovery Channel last year. However, its nature and haphazard sleuthing saw it being panned by some academics and many Christian clerics.
Now, Prof. James Charlesworth from Princeton Theological Seminary has organized a conference in Jerusalem to determine whether or not the tomb of Christ really had been found.
Taking part in the conference will be over 50 archaeologists, statisticians and experts in DNA, ceramics and ancient languages.
The experts' task has been complicated because bones have gone missing through a mishap of Israeli bureaucracy since the crypt was opened in 1980.
Also missing are diagrams made by excavators that showed where each stone sarcophagus lay inside the tomb. The placement of the sarcophaguses are important as they give a clue as to what the relationships between the people might have been.
Prof. Charlesworth, in an interview with TIME magazine, said that though he has reservations, he cannot completely dismiss the notion that the crypt may be the tomb of Jesus.
"I have reservations, but I can't dismiss the possibility that this tomb was related to the Jesus clan," CNN.com quoted him, as telling the mag.
Based on the evidence, Charlesworth says: "we can tell that this was the tomb of a Jewish family from the time of Jesus. And we know that the names on the ossuaries are expressed the correct way as 'Jesus, son of Joseph.'"
There are however, a few doubts.
"The name on Jesus's ossuary was scrawled on, like graffiti. There was no ornamentation. And there should have been. After all, his followers believed he was the Son of God."
Construction workers digging the foundations for an apartment building in the Talpiot hills initially found the tomb in 1980. it was then excavated by Joseph Gat and two archaeologists.
Gat's widow said: "My husband believed that this was Jesus's tomb, but because of his experiences as a Holocaust survivor, he was worried about a backlash of anti-Semitism and he didn't think he could say this."