Skip to main content


Return to Transcripts main page


Army Secretary Resigns; The Jesus Mystery; Atlanta Bus Crash Kills Six; Did Archeologists Really Find Tomb of Christ?; Who Was Mary Magdalene?; Can Biblical Miracles Be Proven?

Aired March 2, 2007 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.
The claims that a tomb of Jesus has been found have ignited debate about some of the mysteries of the Bible. Ahead tonight, we will look at some new theories about the world's most influential book. Did it really rain for 40 days and 40 nights? Could the Red Sea truly have parted for Moses? Did Jesus have a wife and child? And were there bones interred in an earthly tomb?

A special report, "The Jesus Mystery," is coming up.

Also tonight: the heartache for the families and friends of six people killed in a crash that sent a bus full of college athletes plunging from an overpass. The question now, what went wrong? We will investigate that.

First, though, our top story: major action today on those deplorable conditions at the Army's top hospital, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. We have been reporting on the problems there, as complaints about Walter Reed have grown into a broader indictment, that the military medical establishment is breaking this country's promise to the men and women who defended it -- today, signs that people at the highest levels are being held accountable.

The secretary of the Army has resigned. And, this afternoon, his boss, the secretary of defense, explained why.

Details from CNN's Joe Johns.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The new defense secretary was blunt, as he accepted the resignation of Army Secretary Francis Harvey: People weren't doing their jobs.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I am disappointed that some in the Army have not adequately appreciated the seriousness of the situation pertaining to outpatient care at Walter Reed.

JOHNS: To be clear, the conditions for outpatient vets at Walter Reed were deplorable.

BRIGADIER GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: That is an emotional, compassionate, sensitive subject. And it's good for everybody who's involved to get emotional about that. JOHNS (on camera): But where was the emotion two years ago, when Washington all but turned its back on Walter Reed, with the U.S. at war in two countries?

(voice-over): The president agreed to a commission's recommendation to close down by 2011 what once was known as the finest military hospital around and move operations to another hospital a few miles away.

It's called cost savings, but now look at what's happened to Walter Reed.

MARKS: And, first and foremost, you have got facilities and -- and an infrastructure at Walter Reed that needs repair. And people make decisions to invest money in a facility that's providing world- class care that is going away. So, you're conflicted: Do I invest the money, or do I wait for this thing to close, cross my fingers that everything's going to be all right?

JOHNS: When the government decided to close it down, people started looking for other jobs. Former Senator Max Cleland was treated at Walter Reed decades ago.

MAX CLELAND (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: You start talking about closing Walter Reed, and you start having what you have now. That is, a lot of doctors that are senior, they are looking forward to retirement. A lot of the young doctors that would like to make a career in the Army -- in Army medicine, they are going to be looking for another assignment.

JOHNS: So, they decided to privatize -- What else could they do? -- and went from 300 federal employees at the outpatient facility here to 60 private contractors. Again, it's called cost savings. But what's the cost of that, especially at a time when planeloads of injured vets keep arriving home.

"Keeping Them Honest," some people are saying it was the decision to close down Walter Reed that's at the root of all of this.

MARKS: I don't understand why, while the nation's at war, a key medical facility would be in the discussion, even in the mix.

JOHNS: Who knows how many heads will roll? The smoking-gun memos are trickling out now. Democrats on the Hill are firing up oversight hearings, and the hospital is still slated to close.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Unbelievable. We will continue to following the story.

A devastating day at Bluffton University in Ohio ended with a prayer vigil just hours after a horrific accident killed six people, including four student athletes. You're seeing pictures of the vigil there. The athletes were members of the school's baseball team on their way to Florida for a tournament. Most were still sleeping when the bus, carrying 35 people in all, toppled off of an overpass outside Atlanta. They had been traveling all night.

CNN's Randi Kaye has details.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 4:30 a.m. Friday, the bus is cruising through Georgia. A new driver takes the wheel. One hour later, the driver exits Interstate 75, but fails to stop at the top of the ramp. The bus sails through a two-and-a-half-foot-tall barrier and plunges on to the highway below.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just heard a big boom when -- I guess when the bus hit the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We seen some boys laid out. We just ran over there. And that's when the bus had just went over, and the boys had fell out the -- the -- the windows of the bus.

A.J. RAMTHUN, BLUFFTON BASEBALL PLAYER: I heard some guys crying: "I'm stuck. I'm stuck."

KAYE: Eighteen-year-old A.J. Ramthun is jolted awake as the bus flies off the overpass. He breaks his collarbone in the fall.

RAMTHUN: I wanted to give my heartfelt -- to the families, to the baseball players involved, my teammates. I just wanted to say, I just wish there is something I could do to the families who lost their loved ones.

It's -- this is something that's not going to leave the guys who were on that bus this morning. This is going to be with us forever.

KAYE: Minutes after the crash, 5:35 a.m., Mike Morris is on his way to work. He and others stop to help.

MIKE MORRIS, REPORTER, "ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION": Guys start climbing out of the emergency hatch. All of them were blood -- covered with blood. Most of them, their faces were real bloody.

KAYE (on camera): AT 6:00 a.m. Bluffton University assistant football coach Steve Rogers is working out with the university's football team. Like many others, he learns about the crash on television.

Around that same time, Atlanta resident Ed Kay gets a call from his son Tim, a junior at Bluffton and a pitcher for the team.

ED KAY, SON INJURED IN BUS CRASH: My son called from the accident scene about 6:00 a.m. this morning. I was sleeping at the time, and were -- hadn't gotten up for work yet. And the kids were passing some cell phones around to let all the parents know what had happened.

KAYE: By 7:00 a.m., eight people, six of them dead, are cut from the wreckage.

10:00 a.m., a tow truck hauls the bus away.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: As we said earlier, four of those killed were students at Bluffton. The driver of the bus and his wife also died.

Now, just before the accident, the bus was in a high-occupancy vehicle, or HOV, lane which exits on the left side of the road. What no one yet knows -- and maybe never will -- is exactly what went wrong on that exit ramp.

Joining us now from the crash site is CNN's Drew Griffin -- Drew.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we can at least put this thing together and show you where he was coming off the freeway.

That is the top of the exit right there, Anderson, where he should have been coming to a stop, where he should have been making a left or right turn. But all indications are tonight that the bus driver, at the top of the ramp, thought he was still in a HOV lane on the freeway, barreling through the intersection on top speed -- this mark on the ground, we're told, the only effort, the last effort the try to avert the bus before hitting this concrete wall.

He could not avoid it, hitting this at top speed with such force that he actually catapulted the bus over the top of this wall and down on to the freeway. And, right now, from everything we are learning, it appears it was all just a driver's mistake.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): The explanation is simple to anyone trying to navigate through an unfamiliar city in the dark of early morning. The bus was headed south on Interstate 75 in this HOV lane.

It is here, at this point, the bus followed the clearly marked exit, heading up a ramp, instead of straight down the highway. Reflectors on the ground warn of a stop ahead. But the evidence left behind paints a picture of a bus traveling on to this exit ramp at high speed, barreling through the intersection, and smashing over the other side, leading to the conclusion the driver had no idea this was the end of the road.

MAJOR C.W. MOSS, ATLANTA POLICE DEPARTMENT: We don't have any evidence on the roadway suggesting that the bus had attempted to stop in a -- in a quick manner, if you will. There were no skid marks.

GRIFFIN: Sleeping in the back, A.J. Ramthun, an 18-year-old freshman, says the only warning was the crash itself.

A.J. RAMTHUN, BLUFFTON BASEBALL PLAYER: All I remember, as I woke up -- I woke up as soon as the bus hit the overpass' wall. And that's when I looked up. And the bus landed on the left side, which is the side I was sitting on.

And I just looked out and saw the -- the road coming up after me. And it was just -- that's all.

GRIFFIN: What was going through the driver's mind? What mistakes may have been made? Why the driver turned at such a high rate of speed on to an exit ramp, we will never know. Both the bus driver and his wife were among the dead.

Ramthun, who has a broken collarbone and stitches on his ear, says there was no plan to stop anywhere in Atlanta.

RAMTHUN: We were supposed to be driving all the way through. The next time we were supposed to stop was supposed to be 8:00 this morning for breakfast.

GRIFFIN: Atlanta police say they believe they have ruled out at least one possibility, no evidence of driver fatigue.

MOSS: Essentially, a second driver met them at an area north of the city. The bus stopped. They swapped drivers. And then they continued southbound.

GRIFFIN: And while road crews were out making sure all exit signs were in place, and the exit was properly marked, it may still have been confusing to an out-of-town driver.

On Interstate 75 heading into Atlanta, this exit for an HOV lane is the first of its kind, where you leave the highway on the left.


Cooper: And, Drew, what do we know about the driver at this point and the company and their safety record?

GRIFFIN: Both pretty good, Anderson.

The driver, we know, had a speeding ticket in 1992. This bus company out of Ottawa, Ohio, is satisfactorily related -- rated, according to the federal government, passed inspection just this past February, and has not had an accident among its 20 drivers in the last two years -- so, good records on both accounts.

COOPER: And have they tested his body for drugs and alcohol?

GRIFFIN: That's something the NTSB will do, they tell us. It's routine, drugs and alcohol tests, along with trying to find out whether or not this bus had one of those data recorders. They don't know the answer to that yet.

COOPER: All right, Drew Griffin, appreciate it. Thanks, Drew.

Bluffton is Mennonite university. We wanted the find out a little bit more about this branch of Christianity. Here's the "Raw Data."

According to figures from the Mennonite World Conference, there are nearly 1.5 million Mennonites in 75 countries -- the largest number, in Africa, with close to 530,000 members. The U.S. comes in close second with about 500,000 members. Mennonites are Anabaptists, meaning they get baptized as adults, not infants. They're also known for their pacifism, many choosing not to participate in military service.

Just ahead: questions that torment even the faithful, namely, why bad things happen to good people, like the bus crash, in this case, the good people of Alabama and Georgia, in the wake of killer tornadoes -- a late report tonight from the hardest-hit town of all.

Also tonight: a 360 special.


COOPER (voice-over): Faith-shaking claims.

CHARLES PELLEGRINO, AUTHOR, "THE JESUS FAMILY TOMB": The whole constellation of evidence is pointing that this is the holy family that we are looking at.

COOPER: Or is it? Was this really the tomb of Jesus? How a documentary's radical new theory fits the facts, and how science could explain some of the other mysteries of Jesus, Noah, Moses, and more.

In our next hour: the many faces of Christianity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had one pastor wave his finger at me and said, you better never call the earth your mother.

COOPER: From green Christians, to a church that prays for success, to Christians who follow Jewish traditions. What is a Christian? Where do you fit? -- next on 360.



COOPER: Well, the pictures tell the story tonight. Parts of South are in ruins and in mourning after that tornado outbreak that killed more than 20 people.

According to the National Weather Service, at least 31 tornadoes were reported across several states, part of a massive storm system that swept across much of the nation. The Sumter Regional Hospital in Americus, Georgia, apparently took a direct hit from a tornado. Damage was extensive. Two people there were killed.

But the greatest death toll is from a high school in Enterprise, Alabama. There, at least eight students died. Even though the storm was approaching, the school remained open. And many want to know why.

CNN's David Mattingly investigates. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One day after the worst day of her life, 17-year-old Hannah Jones is covered in bruises.


MATTINGLY: Her ears swollen and purple -- her back and legs took such a beating, it hurts to be touched.

JONES: I wake up and there's this beam laying on top of us, and there's this girl's leg in my lap, and somebody dead on this side of me.

MATTINGLY: Expressing regret, the Enterprise Board of Education offered the names and yearbook photos of the eight students who died. Three of them were 17 years old, the rest just 16, the smiling faces of a town's future taken in an instant.

The last thing Hannah remembers before being knocked unconscious was her botany teacher throwing herself on top of Hannah at the last second, protecting her from the tornado's direct hit.

JONES: My teacher saved my life, just jumped on me. I was just thankful she was there for me.

MATTINGLY: The teacher remains hospitalized -- her injuries not disclosed.

And, today, Hannah is among those who wonder if they might have been safer if school officials had let them leave. The first tornado warning came to the school at 11:00 a.m. Under the school disaster plan, students had to stay in the hallways. They couldn't leave unless parents came to get them. Administrators were going to let them all go home at 1:00, but, then, another warning came, and, at 1:15, the tornado.

(on camera): Top state officials say school administrators here did exactly what they were supposed to do, and that the evidence is everywhere. Who knows how many people would have died if they had been caught out in their cars or out in the open when the tornado hit?

And, as bad as it looks, that battered and broken school building off in the distance, they say, was probably the safest place any of these kids could have gone.

GOV. BOB RILEY (R), ALABAMA: I truly am amazed that we didn't have more loss of life. I told the principal, you can do everything right and still have this occur.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Federal officials say this tornado was unusually large and unusually strong to hit this far into the Deep South. The lesson in this disaster may be that, in such a direct and hard hit, all the right things may still not be good enough.


COOPER: David, are there any indications that there might be changes coming to how schools there deal with tornado warnings?

MATTINGLY: Well, if there are changes, don't expect anything dramatic by what we were being told today.

I talked to state school officials who say they can't recall the last time, if ever, something like this happened, where a child lost his or her life while seeking refuge inside a school during a tornado. They say these things just don't happen. They -- they feel confident with the disaster drills that they have and the way they're working. They say, the way they worked here saved a lot more young lives.

COOPER: A lot of pain in that town tonight.

David, thanks -- David Mattingly reporting.

Just ahead on 360: two special reports, starting with some of the greatest mysteries of the Bible, from Noah's Ark, to Mary Magdalene, to a tomb that some are saying is the final resting place of Jesus of Nazareth. We are going to go in-depth on the intersection of science and religion just ahead.

Plus: what it means to be a Christian in 2007. And where do you fit in? A report that may change the way you think about the world's largest religion or your place in it -- next on 360.


COOPER: This is a 360 special edition, "The Jesus Mystery."

To billions of Christians, of course, he is a savior, but he's also the subject of intense debate. For centuries now, key questions about the life of Jesus have gone unanswered.

But now those questions are being reexamined by historians and filmmakers, theologians and scientists -- tonight, a look at some of the greatest mysteries of the Bible, the role of Mary Magdalene, the existence of Noah's Ark, and, most recently, a tomb that some believe is the final resting place of Jesus of Nazareth.

That claim about the tomb is being made in a new film, "The Lost Tomb of Jesus." It's a documentary produced for the Discovery Channel by James Cameron, who also made the Oscar-winning film "Titanic."

The tomb was discovered in Jerusalem in 1980 and dates back to the first century. The film's claims about what was found inside the tomb amounts to heresy for many Christians, who see it as an attack on the core tenets of their faith.

Here's CNN's Joe Johns.


JOHNS (voice-over): It is the very foundation of Christianity, the belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, leaving just an empty tomb, the greatest of miracles -- but now, another theory.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ascension could have been spiritual, leaving his body behind.


JOHNS: The filmmakers behind the new documentary believe the bones of Jesus were buried in this tomb. It was discovered in 1980, wasn't considered significant back then.

But, recently, some researchers began to take a closer look at these burial boxes, or ossuaries, that had been clustered inside. They were engraved with a curious collection of names.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jesus and Joseph.


JOHNS: On another ossuary, Joseph -- on another:




JOHNS: Or Mary, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, all very common names in that era. But to find them all together, what were the chances of that?

Then, another ossuary.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The inscription has two parts. The second part reads Mara, while the first part is a diminutive of Mariamne.

JOHNS: Which translates, they claim, into Mary Magdalene. All those names in one place, the filmmakers say, it couldn't be a coincidence.

JAMES CAMERON, DIRECTOR: Literally, this is the biggest archaeology story of the century.

JOHNS: That's actually quite an understatement. If true, the discovery would rock of the one of the world's major religions.

But the film takes it one step further. Researchers did DNA testing on the sediment left in the Jesus and Mary Magdalene ossuaries. SIMCHA JACOBOVICI, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: If the DNA matched, it meant -- that would mean that this Jesus and that Mary were brother and sister or mother and father -- and son. They could not be husband and wife. The DNA did not match. The forensic archaeologists concluded that they must be husband and wife.

JOHNS: What's more, the researcher uncovered yet another ossuary -- the inscription, "Judah, son of Jesus."

Could it be true?


JOHNS: "The Last Tomb of Jesus" bills itself as fact. But it's also an action-packed movie, with actors and extras and a big Hollywood budget.

And critics say that's all it is, entertainment, fiction.

But what if it's more than that? What if it's the answer to one of the greatest mysteries of all time?


COOPER: To say that the film, even the idea of a lost tomb of Jesus is controversial would be a massive understatement. The claim it makes could shake the foundations of the Christian faith, if it's true.

And now many scholars, from archbishops to archaeologists, are coming forward saying, simply, it is not true.


COOPER (voice-over): The new documentary makes an explosive claim, supported, filmmakers say, by scientific evidence: Perhaps the body of Christ just decomposed, disintegrated into dust and bones, and was buried in this tomb in this stone box.

CAMERON: To a layman's eye, it seemed pretty darn compelling.

COOPER: But, to William Dever, one of the world's preeminent archaeologists, it seems like something else.

WILLIAM DEVER, ARCHAEOLOGIST: It looks more like a publicity stunt than any kind of real discovery.

COOPER: The Discovery Channel documentary, produced by James Cameron of "Titanic" fame, airs this weekend.

CHARLES PELLEGRINO, AUTHOR, "THE JESUS FAMILY TOMB": The whole constellation of evidence is pointing that this is the holy family that we are looking at.

COOPER: Scientist Charles Pellegrino worked on the documentary. He insists there is compelling evidence Jesus and his family were all buried in the tomb, arguing that finding burial boxes inscribed with all their names, all grouped together in the same tomb, is just statistically astounding.

PELLEGRINO: Give or take roughly 800 years of a population the size of the city of Jerusalem to produce this combination of names just once.

COOPER: Dever says, that's just rubbish.

DEVER: They're not scholars. They're not experts. They didn't discover this material. And I'm afraid they already have gone much too far. I don't know a single archaeologist in this country or in Israel who agrees with their findings.

COOPER: Dever bristles at the documentary's alleged DNA discovery, the claim that, since DNA recovered from the supposed Jesus and Mary Magdalene's ossuaries doesn't match, perhaps the two were married. Call it "Da Vinci Code" deja vu.

DEVER: "The Da Vinci Code" is fiction. And a lot of this story is fiction as well. I mean, to argue, from DNA evidence, that the Jesus in this tomb is not related to Mary, presumably Mary Magdalene, and, therefore, that they are not siblings, so they must be married, does strain one's credulity, doesn't it?

COOPER: Dever argues, the movie is built on a bunch of meaningless coincidences, that scholars have only begun to scratch the surface of what is buried beneath Jerusalem.

DEVER: And, in archaeology, you always have to look at the larger picture, not at the individual discovery, which may seem to be unique and extraordinary, and turns out to be very ordinary after all.

COOPER: But one Kansas City pastor perhaps put it best. "To think this mystery will be solved as easily as 'CSI: Jerusalem,'" he wrote, "is ludicrous."


COOPER: Simcha Jacobovici is the director of "The Lost Tomb of Jesus." He also co-authored the companion book, "The Jesus Family Tomb," and stands by the integrity of his work. Sandra Scham is editor of the journal "Near Eastern Archaeology."

I spoke to both just after the controversy broke out.


COOPER: Sandra, let me start with you.

First, the DNA. Filmmakers say the DNA tests could prove that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. Do you buy that?

SANDRA SCHAM, EDITOR, "NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY": Well, as far as I know, the DNA test only proved that two of the individuals in the tomb were not related to each other by blood. And, from what I understand, having seen the film and read the reports about it, they didn't do DNA tests on anyone other individuals in the tomb, because they didn't really find any bones. The tests were done on residues, I believe, from the ossuaries.

So, really, you have DNA tests of two individuals, proving that they're unrelated. We don't have a whole corpus of DNA testing from -- from ossuary burials that we can compare it to, to -- to say that it's very strange to find two unrelated individuals in this kind of tomb. Surely there were family tombs. That's true. But it does not necessarily mean that, if you find an unrelated individual in the tomb, that they were married, certainly.

COOPER: Simcha -- Simcha, what about that?

JACOBOVICI: You have to take all the evidence together.

The fact is, there is a tomb. The fact is, there's a Jesus, son of Joseph, in the tomb. That's undisputed. The fact is, people say these are common names. It's the only Jesus, son of Joseph, ever found, out of thousands of ossuaries, in a provenanced archaeological context.

Next to him are two Marys. Next to him, there's a Jose, the only Jose ever found out of thousands of ossuaries. And it matches the nickname given to the brother of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.

And then there's -- one of the Marys is called Mariamne. And Mariamne is the Greek version of Mary that scholars, Harvard professor Bovon, in our film say that's the real name of Mary Magdalene. So, you take the archaeology. Then, you take the epigraphy. You take the text. You take the statistics.

I have heard all kinds of people, like professor Dever, giving opinions. He is an archaeologist. When I want to know about statistics, I go to statisticians. And, when we went to statisticians, they told us that the odds, after eight months of study, the odds are 600-1 in favor of this tomb being the tomb of the Jesus of Nazareth.

COOPER: OK, let me...

What are we -- what are we doing? We're reporting the news. We're telling academics, hey, this is significant. Study it.

COOPER: Actually -- actually, you're not. What you're doing is you're making a public announcement at a media event. There are scientists who are saying, "Look, if you really want to tell academics, you would write in a peer review journal and submit it..."

JACOBOVICI: I'm not an academic. Anderson, I'm not an academic. I'm a journalist like you. And for 27 years, scientists have kept quiet about this tomb. What we're doing is we're calling attention to the world.

COOPER: OK. JACOBOVICI: The DNA -- we didn't conduct the DNA tests. One of the five best paleo DNA labs in the world, Dr. Karne Mattheson (ph), conducted the DNA test.

COOPER: Let me jump in, Simcha. Just to respond to what you said. Critics would also say that the reason scientists have sort of not paid attention to this tomb is because they disregarded this long ago.

But I want to bring in Sandra.

You heard some of what Simcha is saying. Your response?

SANDRA SCHAM, ARCHEOLOGIST, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA: Well, I think my response is, well, the implication is that people disregarded this on purpose.

I mean, obviously, when they first -- when the archeologists first excavated these ossuaries, he noted the names. They are common names. I'm not going to address the statistical analysis now.

But I might also add that, in the '90s, I believe they excavated tombs not far from there in North Talpiot, where they found similar names. And in those tombs the bones themselves, they found as many as three or four individuals in one ossuary.

COOPER: What people are saying is if you really feel strongly and confident in the results you got, why not submit it to a peer reviewed scientific journal?

JACOBOVICI: I repeat again, I got no results. I'm a filmmaker. I have a skill set. It's journalism. I have two U.S. Emmys in investigative journalism. I took the skills of investigative journalism and brought them to bear on a biblical archeological story.

Now I'm coming and telling the world in the book, in the film that's going to air on Discovery on Sunday night, here's the evidence. Here's the DNA evidence. Here's the statistics evidence.

Let's not listen to the archeologists saying -- giving their opinions about statistics. Let's go to statisticians. Let's go to forensic archeologists that I followed the scientists and I recorded what they said, not what I say.

And now I'm reporting it to the world, and I hope that this will be the beginning of the story. Not the end of a story. Scientists should weigh in.

COOPER: Well, we're going to leave it there. And they certainly are weighing in. Simcha, we appreciate your perspective. Sandra, as well. Thank you very much, both of you.

Just ahead, a new look at Mary Magdalene. She's mentioned in the Bible but so many mysteries remain. Who was Mary Magdalene and how close was she to Jesus?

Plus, faith versus science.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To believe that something is a miracle is to believe that it was a special act of God. And there's nothing that can prove that it was or wasn't a special act of God. Nothing that you can observe.


COOPER: That hasn't kept scientists from trying. What they found when this special edition of 360, "The Jesus Mystery", continues.


COOPER: The Bible tells us so little about her, this mysterious woman who was with Jesus Christ at the house of his death. She was not a prostitute, as had been rumored for centuries, not the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her own hair.

But Mary Magdalene was, indeed, close to the man believed by millions to be the son of God. In the scriptures, Christ cast demons out of her body, and she became one of his most faithful disciples. Some say she became a lot more.

The movie "The Da Vinci Code" tells the tale.


IAN MCKELLEN, ACTOR: Witness the biggest cover up in human history.

COOPER (voice-over): The claim: Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus Chris, and she bore him a child, that she's the figure sitting at his right hand in Da Vinci's masterpiece, "The Last Supper". Those claims have been called blasphemy, and most religious scholars have dismissed them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm afraid it's fantasy.

COOPER: In the Bible, Mary Magdalene was among those who discovered Christ's empty tomb on Easter morning. She saw him in the garden after he was resurrected, where he told her to tell the disciples that he was ascending to heaven.

ROBIN GRIFFITH-JONES, RELIGIOUS HISTORIAN: The Easter story in John's gospel when Mary Magdalene and Jesus meet on Easter day, it's a terrifically romantic, sensuous story. It is not about a married couple.

COOPER: So many questions but few answers about a woman who meant so much to one of the most important men who ever lived.


COOPER: One of the challenges, of course, to solving the mysteries of Jesus in the secular realm is the lack of physical clues.

Darrell Bock is a professor of New Testament studies in Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas. He spent a good deal of time looking into the claims of "The Da Vinci Code" that caused so much outrage. I spoke to him recently.


COOPER: Professor Bock, as you know, this Discovery Channel documentary is claiming to have found evidence that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were husband and wife, based on DNA testing. Obviously, the evidence is pretty slim that they are pointing to.

But is there anything in the Bible that actually supports the notion that these two were ever married?

DARRELL BOCK, PROFESSOR OF NEW TESTAMENT STUDIES, DALLAS THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: Absolutely not. There's nothing in the Bible. There are only two passages and extra biblical materials from which you have to make major inferences in order to get into the position to think about Jesus being married. So, and out of volumes of material, that's not very much.

COOPER: So why do you think there's this fascination, both in "The Da Vinci Code" and now with this tomb documentary about the idea that Jesus was married?

BOCK: Well, I think for a lot of people the idea that Jesus would be married sounds, at one level, very, very human. So there's a very understandable desire to have him kind of have the full round of human experience.

But in fact, there's absolutely no evidence for it. And for Jews of that period who were particularly religiously dedicated, for example, the Essenes, the idea of remaining celibate in order to carry out the calling before God was common. And so it's not unusual that this would happen for someone who was as religiously dedicated as Jesus was.

COOPER: This documentary also says that Christianity allows for the possibility that it's Jesus' spirit that was resurrected but that the physical body didn't rise up to heaven. Does that jive with your understanding of the Bible?

BOCK: Absolutely not. This is where I think we've got a case of someone who has a cultural understanding of Christianity bumping into what Christianity has historically taught.

I mean, we can conceive of that kind of a resurrection, but it's a resurrection that Christianity itself never held to, and neither did Judaism, out of which Christianity was born. They didn't hold to it either.

They've all -- both Judaism and early Christianity believed in a physical dimension to the resurrection that allowed a person's identity to be maintained. COOPER: What is the importance of Mary Magdalene?

BOCK: She is actually an example of someone who was actually very faithful in following the lord, a beneficiary of his goodness and grace. She was one from whom -- out of whom demons were exorcised.

And she saw where Jesus was crucified, where Jesus was buried and was one of the woman to whom Jesus appeared and who announced the resurrection to the rest of the early Christian group.

COOPER: What do you think of this documentary that's put on?

BOCK: Well, my attitude towards it is schizophrenic. It, at one level, shows what's involved in doing archeological work. That part of it's pretty fascinating, because most people have never had that kind of an experience.

But the frosting, the thick frosting of this hypothesis is a real problem, because there's so little to it. And yet, it's so explosive in what it's trying to claim.

COOPER: Professor Bock, appreciate your expertise. Thank you.

BOCK: My pleasure.


COOPER: Just ahead on 360, testing spiritual beliefs with the tools of science. Many people are asking, can it be done?

Plus, what some believe satellite photos have revealed about Noah's ark. The search for proof of what's in the Bible, when "The Jesus Mystery" continues.


COOPER: This is a special edition of 360, "The Jesus Mystery".

The new documentary, "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" contends that a Jerusalem tomb may have contained the remains of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and possibly their son.

The uproar over the film raises the question, when it comes to what's in the Bible, where does science fit in? Or does it ever?

CNN's Tom Foreman investigates.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The idea that God touches the earth and makes miracles is a cornerstone belief for many Christians.


FOREMAN: John Cavadini, a theology professor at Notre Dame, teaches about miracles and says they can't be proven or disproven by anyone.

CAVADINI: Because to believe that something is a miracle is to believe that it was a special act of God. And there's nothing that can prove that it was or wasn't a special act of God. Nothing that you can observe.

FOREMAN: Still, scientists try.

CHARLTON HESTON, ACTOR: Behold his mighty hands.

FOREMAN: Take the parting of the Red Sea which allowed Moses to escape the Egyptians. The Bible says the lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land.

Researchers with the American Meteorological Society say, indeed, intense wind or an earthquake could cause shallow water in that region to recede dramatically and then rush back in, just like the Bible says.

What about walking on water? Some researchers say it happens all the time. Although the Sea of Galilee is not known to freeze, they say once a century or so, patches of ice appear, and maybe Jesus strolled on these.

(on camera) All this can be a slippery slope. Showing how something might be done does not prove it was done that way. And even the scientists don't always agree with each other.

(voice-over) Archeologists have sought biblical sites all over the globe. They've suggested that the ark that held the Ten Commandments might be in Ethiopia or Egypt or Israel.

Jesus' tomb has been found in the Israeli capital, Jerusalem, not once but three different times in different places. Not to mention those researchers who think it may be in Kashmir or even Japan.

And Noah's ark? Various sources say that great ship of biblical lore came to rest in Turkey or Egypt or Iran.

So John Cavadini says it again.

CAVADINI: You can't prove that that was a miracle. You can't disprove that that was a miracle. Miracles don't prove the faith. They're invitations to faith.

FOREMAN: After all, if you've got proof, it's not really faith at all.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Just ahead, the Bible describes a devastating flood and the ark that provided salvation. A biblical story, but is it just a story?


BOB CORNUKE, BASE: We just found what could be the carcass of the ark.


COOPER: In search of Noah's ark, with spy satellites pointing the way, when this special edition of 360, "The Jesus Mystery", continues.


GRAPHIC: "The Lord then said to Noah, 'Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous." (Genesis 7:1)

COOPER: The book of Genesis describes a great flood created by God to destroy all life under the heavens. Before the flood, God told one of his followers, Noah, to build an ark and fill it with two of every species on the earth.

Many believe the story is a matter of faith. Some have been trying for decades to prove that the ark existed.

More on that from CNN's John Roberts.


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Many believe the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat, a 17,000-foot high extinct volcano in Turkey.

In 1949, a U.S. spy plane first took photos of an anomaly on the mountain, an anomaly that some believe is the ark. Then last spring, new satellite photos of the mountain sparked new interest.

PORCHER TAYLOR, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF RICHMOND: This is a paradigm busting satellite photo of what might be the remains of Noah's ark on Mount Ararat.

FOREMAN: Professor Porcher Taylor of the University of Richmond has been hunting the ark for years. He's also a national security analyst.

TAYLOR: I've had very tricky conversations and meetings with intelligence officials regarding a spy satellite imagery of this exact site, and more than a few CIA photo interpreters believe this is the remains of a huge boat on Mount Ararat.

ROBERTS: But some analysts weren't so sure, saying the images suggest an ark so big that it wouldn't hold together. Also, that the ark was 15,000 feet up the mountain.

Then, a new theory. Over the summer, a group of Christian archeologists hiking in the mountains of Iran made their own discovery.

CORNUKE: We just found what could be the carcass of the ark. ROBERTS: Members of the U.S.-based Bible Archaeology Search and Exploration Institute found a rock formation emerging from a ridge. This one was 13,000 feet up, and it looked like a fossilized wooden boat.

CORNUKE: Some of those rocks look like they were cut at right angles and even beams. And others look just like pieces of log.

Well, you can see here that this is definitely looking like sea life and that it's definitely clams. And what's it doing at that altitude? So high in the mountain?

ROBERTS: Did the great flood carry the ark up this mountain in Iran? Or is this the ark, captured in satellite photos of Turkey? We may never know, and for true believers, it may never matter.

John Roberts, CNN, New York.


COOPER: More now on the search for answers. Joining us is Bruce Filer, best selling author of "Walking the Bible" and most recently, "Where God was Born".

What do you make of this hunt for Noah's ark?

BRUCE FILER, AUTHOR: Well, I think it's been going on for a long time, pretty much ever since the story was written down, people have talked about claiming to have found Noah's ark.

COOPER: I remember when I was a kid there was like a cheesy movie about the finding of Noah's ark.

FILER: Oh, and Air Force One, when Jimmy Carter was flying to meet the shah of Iran, they said to have seen it.

Now, actually, not a lot is going on because the Turkish government has actually closed the mountain. Actually, because they smuggle pornography and guns from Iran into Turkey. So it's pretty much closed down.

COOPER: That only adds to the mystery, though. The idea that this mountain is closed off.

FILER: And it's very controlled. I actually got special permission to go up a few years ago when we were filming "Walking the Bible" for PBS.

And what was interesting about being on the side of the mountain is there's all these tribes who live in huts there. And they talk about the luck of Noah and who has the luck of Noah and who doesn't. And they have these songs and these stories.

And what was striking to me is I don't think we're going to find it, and even if we find it we're not going to be able to prove that God ordered Noah to build it but that the stories are still alive and they feel this personal connection.

COOPER: This desire to find evidence of what is in the Bible, where does it come from? What is -- what is -- is it a good desire?

FILER: I what's interesting about that desire, Anderson, is that it grows the further you get from the Middle East. It's actually less powerful in the Middle East. It's extremely powerful in the United States. And I think that there is this idea if you can prove that one school existed, then you can prove that the whole machine existed.

COOPER: So why does it ,in your opinion, no longer -- why is it no longer as important to find the actual rock, to find the ark?

FILER: Because I think that the reason the stories have survived is not because of science. They weren't writing a scientific textbook. They were writing a story about humans and God developing a relationship with one another.

COOPER: When a filmmaker comes forward, as these filmmakers now have about this alleged tomb of Jesus, does it seem particularly cynical to you?

FILER: Well, I think in this case there's a kind of leap of faith in what they're claiming, that they don't really have.

But if you and I -- if you and I had been talking 100 years ago, we would have been talking about Darwin and evolution. If we'd been talking 50 years ago, we'd be talking about physics.

Religion is the last major human endeavor where it's now reflected back on us, that we each have to become theologians. We each have to make up our own minds. We've seen that with "The Da Vinci Code", people going to their preachers and saying, "Tell me about it."

We've seen that with my books, people sitting in groups and discussing with one another. The people realize we can't just accept the answers anymore that are given down to us.

And whatever you're thinking about, whether it's DNA, whether it's child rearing, whether it's struggling with your parents, the Bible will have a story that's relevant to your life. And when you get into that part of it, where it happened or how the Red Sea split or whether the burning bush caught on fire is much less important, because you're getting meaning from the stories, which is why they have survived.


COOPER: You know, 2,000 years later the mystery of Jesus continues to stir up controversy and probably always will.


COOPER (voice-over): Coming up next, we'll dig further into the faith that two billion people share but practice in many different ways. So many ways, in fact, it may make you wonder just what is a Christian and where do you fit?

It is a 360 special report, starting right after this break.




© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines