But the Talpiot ossuaries are different, the filmmakers said.
Six of the boxes are inscribed with names of prominent figures from the New Testament, they noted.
The inscriptions, written in ancient Aramaic, include "Jesus, son of Joseph;" "Maria," possibly referring to the mother of Jesus; "Mariamne," said to be the real name of Mary Magdalene; and "Judah, son of Jesus."
Scientists at Lakehead University in Ontario, Canada, conducted genetic tests on microscopic bits of material found in the boxes said to belong to Jesus and Mariamne.
Results showed that the two were not related by blood.
Assuming that the cave was devoted to the remains of a single family, in keeping with ancient custom, this finding suggests that Jesus and Mariamne were spouses, the filmmakers said.
"The forensic archaeologist concluded that they were husband and wife," Jacobovici said.
Skeptics, however, counter that the evidence is too circumstantial to support the film's contentious claims.
Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine to Talpiot tomb, refutes the film's theory, saying that the names inscribed on the boxes are not as significant as the filmmakers suggest.
"The names on the caskets are the most common names found among Jews at the time," Kloner told the Associated Press.
"[Talpiot] was an ordinary, middle-class Jerusalem burial cave," he added.
Critics might also question the filmmaker's further suggestion that the cave may be the source of the disputed "James ossuary."
That ceremonial box sparked controversy in 2003 when its inscription—"James, brother of Jesus"—was found to have been faked. (Read "'Jesus Box' Is a Fake, Israeli Experts Rule" [June 18, 2003].)
Jacobovici, the film's director, said further investigation may show that the James ossuary came from the Talpiot cave, which could support his team's theory that the tomb is that of Jesus' extended family.
"If that [box] can be traced definitively to this tomb, then there could be no question that this could be the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family," Jacobovici said. "So the science has to go on."
Free Email News Updates
Best Online Newsletter, 2006 Codie Awards
Sign up for our Inside National Geographic newsletter. Every two weeks we'll send you our top stories and pictures (see sample).
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES