I suppose the real test of the endurance of the narrative behind any historical figure is its adaptability to the needs of a ravenous pop-culture audience. Jesus has been there at the acme of widescreen movie epics (King of Kings), the rock musical (Jesus Christ Superstar), the long-form TV miniseries (Jesus of Nazareth), the historical thriller (The Da Vinci Code), the mania for sadistic violence (The Passion of the Christ), and now the slick, exposé-like, science-rules cable documentary — burnished narration, revelatory dramatizations, high-tech cameras and charts — with the Discovery Channel’s weekend premiere of The Lost Tomb of Jesus. What treasure possibly lies beneath a nondescript Jerusalem apartment building? Why, the familial tomb of the Son of God himself… although the whole Son of God thing naturally comes into question if it’s determined he left his DNA behind when he supposedly took the express elevator upward after his death.
Faith-shattering possibilities aside, however, Israeli-born filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici entertainingly lays out his case — mathematical, historical and physical — that a group of inscribed ossuaries unearthed more than 25 years ago not only show Jesus’ final resting place, but also prove he and Mary Magdalene, also supposedly inhabiting one of the limestone coffins, married and had a kid, Judah. (In blow-your-mind logic fashion, the a-ha theory is about their DNA not matching! Can’t be related! Gotta be husband and wife!) Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown is nowhere to be found in this doc, but sure enough, we find Jacobovici picking up ancient holy books strewn about the tomb and saying, “There’s the code!” as if to make perfectly clear who his audience is: people for whom history is little more than a buildup of clues in need of a mask-revealing finale. (Jacobovici’s last movie was another fact-based slice of crypto-Bible interpretation shrewdly called The Exodus Decoded.) The only thing missing, really, considering that James Cameron signed on as an executive producer, is a triumphant Jacobovici shouting from the apartment complex’s rooftop, “I’m the King of the Docs!”