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Special Report: Has James Cameron Found Jesus's Tomb or Is It Just a Statistical Error?
By Christopher Mims
When Associated Producers, the production company behind the new documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus, contacted Andrey Feuerverger, he was, to put it mildly, surprised. "This is not in the usual run of things one gets to do," says the University of Toronto statistician, alluding to Associated Producers' somewhat unusual request that he calculate the odds that a particular tomb in Israel is the last resting place of Jesus Christ.
Despite his previous lack of interest in biblical archaeology, Feuerverger spent two years crunching numbers for what turned out to be a labor of love. At the end of all of his figuring, he told the documentarians, including director James Cameron of Titanic fame and award-winning investigative journalist Simcha Jacobovici, that there was a one in 600 chance that the names—Jesus, Matthew, two versions of Mary, and Joseph—scribbled on five of the 10 ossuaries (or caskets for bones) found in the Talpiot tomb could have belonged to a different family than the one described in the New Testament.
When Cameron and Simcha announced Feuerverger's calculations along with a package of other evidence (including forensics, DNA and archaeology) earlier this week, it sparked a media firestorm.
Some news outlets reported that Feuerverger's odds had really been as high as one in a million, which the statistician denies. That "is not a number I would want to ever think originates with me," he says.
Meanwhile biblical historian James Tabor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the primary historical advisor on the production team, reported on his blog that he calculated the odds were one in 250,000 that another family of that period would have the same names as those scrawled on the bone boxes.
Even the Discovery Channel, which is set to air the controversial documentary on Sunday, March 4, seemed confused by Feuerverger's calculations, declaring on its Web site that that the odds are "600 to one in favor of this being the JESUS FAMILY TOMB."