April 4, 2010


Did Jesus Get Lost in Translation? (Gary North, LewRockwell.com)

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who is an Orthodox Jew, identified the issue.

Never has a film aroused such hostile passion so long prior to its release as has Mel Gibson's Passion. Many American Jews are alarmed by reports of what they view as potentially anti-Semitic content in this movie about the death of Jesus, which is due to be released during 2004. Clearly the crucifixion of Jesus is a sensitive topic, but prominent Christians who previewed it, including good friends like James Dobson and Michael Novak who have always demonstrated acute sensitivity to Jewish concerns, see it as a religiously inspiring movie, and refute charges that it is anti-Semitic. While most Jews are wisely waiting to see the film before responding, others are either prematurely condemning a movie they have yet to see or violating the confidentiality agreements they signed with Icon Productions.

Rabbi Lapin's most famous congregation member is Michael Medved, who has come to the movie's defense artistically.

Here is one of those strange aspects about modernity: besieged religious conservatives in their respective theological camps jointly support one another because they see that American society is under assault by liberals and moral libertines who are technically part of their respective theological traditions, but who are in fact allied in a full-scale frontal assault against traditional society and its culture. It is not that politics has made strange bedfellows. It is that the prevailing culture war has made strange bedfellows. Politics is secondary to the besieged, though not to the besiegers.

The irony of this is that Lapin, as an Orthodox Jew, is self-consciously an heir of the Pharisees, who took over the leadership of Judaism after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The Sadducees disappeared. The cultural and judicial conflict between Orthodox Jews and Christians lasted until the mid-nineteenth century. Then theological liberals in both camps adopted the same strategy of attack: a denial of the divine authority of the Bible. This academic procedure is called higher criticism. In their defense of the Hebrew text, the orthodox of both camps found that they could help each other and would have to rely on each other's academic efforts with respect to issues grammatical. The defense of the authority of the Hebrew text against its critics became more important to the defenders than their ancient rivalry regarding the interpretation of the text, i.e., the Talmud vs. the New Testament.

It is this odd dynamic--the accidental unity of believers of different faiths--that produces the even odder spectacle of folks who despise religious faith of every kind hiding behind charges that Mel Gibson is an anti-Semite in order to criticize a movie that, in truth, they loathe simply because it presents any religious belief seriously.

[Originally posted: March 4, 2004]

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Posted by at April 4, 2010 12:01 AM

All Jews today, not just Rabbi Lapin, are heirs of the Pharisees and the "Rabbinic Judaism" that developed from it. (The only exception to this were those communities that became cut off from the Jewish centers in Palestine, and later, Babylonia, e.g., the Ethiopian Jews.)

Perhaps more ironically, Jesus was himself a Pharisee (who criticized some others in the Pharisee camp for their hypocritical conduct--and he was not the only Jewish critic of the day--not unlike certain religious leaders in modern times who criticize their fellow leaders for this and that). Making his followers....?

Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 4, 2004 8:34 AM

For the record, I do not loathe Gibson's film because of its supposedly serious treatment of religious belief (actually, its marketing seems to me rather shamelessly cynical), or even because of its anti-Semitism. I loathe it because it is a typically lousy Mel Gibson film. There are any number of ways to identify Gibson's utter lack of imagination and ineptitude as a filmmaker, but perhaps the best example is his overuse of slow-motion, always a fallback for incompetent filmmakers unable to achieve drama by means of pacing. The slow-motion is so comically pervasive in Gibson's "Passion" that my own estimate is that it contributes as much as half an hour to the film's length.

Then again, I thought "Titanic" was a terrible movie as well. I never claimed to have my finger on the pulse of the nation...

Posted by: M. Bulger at March 4, 2004 9:44 AM

Mr. Bulger's negative criticism of the film is fully consistent with the others I have seen. The fresh angle is the condescending tone now extends to Mr. Gibsons tecnique. Having seen the film and being fully sensitized to the "suffering Christ" angle through a Catholic education, I found it a uniquely beautiful interpretation of the crucifixion. As to "tecnique", Mr. Bulger's working knowledge is focussed on slow-motion which, frankly, I can barely recall while many scenes are impossible to forget.

My interest was stoked by the controversy. It was an amazing film. One man's opinion. "Titanic" was garbage.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at March 4, 2004 10:24 AM

A little inside humor for OJ:

Another Lew Rockwell based article?!


Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at March 4, 2004 11:13 AM


Lucky I have you guys to cull it for me... :)

Posted by: oj at March 4, 2004 11:28 AM

Tom C.: Out of curiosity, have you yet encountered a negative opinion of "The Passion" that you did not feel was condescending?

Posted by: M. Bulger at March 4, 2004 12:37 PM


Maureen Dowd and David Denby and others aren't condescending in their reviews--they're simply unaware of themselves.

You didn't address any of the significant issues in the film, just technique.

Posted by: oj at March 4, 2004 12:46 PM

OJ: What issues? Most of the discussion of the film has centered about matters that are ancillary to its worth as a film. I've read about Mel Gibson's adherence to a reactionary wing of Catholicism, and his father's even more strident views, which include Holocaust denial. I've read about anti-Semitism and its history for the past 2000 years, and about the nice new PC vision that we somehow all killed Jesus (and here I thought the point wasn't who killed him, but who he died for). I have read a great deal of nitpicking over supposed historical inaccuracies, although nearly all of these, in my estimation, fall within the realm of "artistic license."

My point is that I really don't much care about any of that. I think the film is overtly anti-Semitic, moreso than even the Gospels would warrant. I also think that it is pornographically gory in a way that makes me wonder about the sort of neuroses that might be latent in its maker's psyche. (In the Gospels we read that Jesus "suffered" and was "scourged" prior to being crucified. In Mel Gibson's "personal vision," these minimal descriptions become the primary images of the story. That decision says something about him.) These are serious flaws, in my own opinion, but they aren't by themselves enough to kill any appreciation of the film.

More to the point, though, I don't _need_ Gibson's film to show me the Gospels. I've read them. His film should stand or fall on its own merits. In my view, it falls. Gibson isn't as intrusive a director as, say, Spike Lee, and he's better than Garry Marshall. But he's still wedded to the same cheap gimmickry--such as slow-motion--that most other modern directors rely upon, and his film is lacking in any quality that I might appreciate. Technique is an important part of that. I'm hardly a film expert; if _I_ can feel the heavy hand of the director's technique, then his imagination is lacking.

The film is boring and lacking in any sense of pacing; the brief flashbacks to the Last Supper or the Sermon on the Mount are a welcome respite from the gore, but do nothing to relieve the monotony. Gibson concentrates almost exclusively on the physical at the expense of the spiritual (Tim Hulsey's mention of Gibson's past and present obsession with carnality is particularly apt), which makes the film little different from any other modern blockbuster.

Am I being condescending? Perhaps. Gibson didn't make the film for me (although the controversy he adroitly drummed up was for the benefit of people like me who otherwise wouldn't have bothered), and my prose is inexpert enough that personal judgements might come off as proclamations. But in my view, Gibson's "Passion" is a terrible film, and that's the only issue.

Posted by: M. Bulger at March 4, 2004 1:29 PM


There you go--the "nice new PC vision that we somehow all killed Jesus (and here I thought the point wasn't who killed him, but who he died for)".

That is the point. Liberals are required to deny that we all killed Him because it acknowledges the reality of human evil.

Posted by: oj at March 4, 2004 1:46 PM

"In the Gospels we read that Jesus "suffered" and was "scourged" prior to being crucified. In Mel Gibson's "personal vision," these minimal descriptions become the primary images of the story."

This is no personal "vision" of Mr. Gibson's. We know from many different sources what the Romans were capable of when they "scourged" a criminal. Mr. Gibson was true to his history in this regard.

Posted by: Bartman at March 4, 2004 2:24 PM

Andrew Sullivan raised the same complaint: that the beatings and scourging did not receive more than one line in (each of) the Gospels, so why focus on them?

In 30, 40, 50, or 60 AD, everyone knew what Roman beatings and scourgings meant - they were public spectacles. So why elaborate? The Gospels focused on the Last Supper, Gethsemane, and Calvary. Each one mentions different characters and touches more or less on different events.

I have not yet seen the film, but Sullivan's criticism is just silly. If Gibson made the violence the whole of the story (which many have noted), then he may just be stuck in a rut (as M. observed), but Bartman is correct: the violence is integral to the story (God suffering at the hands of men).

Posted by: jim hamlen at March 4, 2004 2:42 PM

M: Can you please explain how Gibson "adroitly drummed up" the controversy over the film? The way I remember it was that Frank Rich, some writers at Salon, etc., began writing numerous columns something like 6 months ago attacking the movie, which is more or less unprecedented for any movie I've ever heard of. Were they secretly Gibson PR agents (by design, rather than in effect)? I also have seen nothing in the way of advertising for the film so I can't speak to that.

Posted by: brian at March 4, 2004 2:56 PM

OJ: I don't remember being forced to deny human evil when I was initiated into the Liberal Priesthood. I will bring it up at the next meeting.

Bartman: I may have made it easy to miss my point. I was not accusing Gibson of historical inaccuracy. I was noting his choice of what to emphasize in crafting his "personal vision." Gibson has a history of emphasizing sadomasochistic gore in his films, although not quite to the length or extremes of "The Passion."

Jim Hamlen: I tend to agree with you. But I have seen other films in which violence is integral to the story, but which do not concomitantly lose sight of the rest of the story. Which have other, and less monotonous, points to make. "Fargo," to take one example.

Posted by: Anonymous at March 4, 2004 2:58 PM


Are you a Fargoian?

Posted by: oj at March 4, 2004 3:11 PM

OJ: Cute. But I get the point, which I suppose I knew beforehand. Namely, that Gibson's "Passion" is not a film. You already know the story; now fully appreciate the physicality of Jesus' suffering! You've heard all that pretty talk of the Blood of the Lamb? See it spurting about in beautifully filmed, slow-motion globules!

It's a ride in an amusement park. A filmstrip. A ritual. And in that sense, it is little different from "Star Wars." Gibson does know his audience, I suppose.

Posted by: M. Bulger at March 4, 2004 3:42 PM

We preach Christ crucified. If the Crucifixion upsets you then the movie would indeed be pointless.

Posted by: oj at March 4, 2004 3:51 PM


Thanks for the clarification.

Posted by: Bartman at March 4, 2004 3:59 PM

Whoa, there big fella! It's only a movie which claims to dramatize an historical event. No doubt, the value seen in a work of art is subjective but the graphic depiction of the quiet suffering and triumph of the man on the cross should arouse little vituperation from the critics, unless what is truth to some is simply too much for others to even acknowledge.

The nutty ideas of the director's father would seem to have little to with anything.

What I found unique in your criticism was the extension of the condescending tone to the filmmakers tecnique which one could assume to be a bit of a stretch unless a critic was somewhat credentialed in the art.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at March 4, 2004 4:07 PM

Tom C.:

"The nutty ideas of the director's father would seem to have little to with anything."

That was my point, although I wouldn't go so far with it. Hutton Gibson's nuttiness has little to do with an evaluation (inevitably subjective and personal as it may be) of the worth of the film. It might have ramifications on the cultural impact of the film, however: the director himself couldn't bring himself to acknowledge the Holocaust (speaking of human evil...) when asked by Peggy Noonan.

"What I found unique in your criticism was the extension of the condescending tone to the filmmakers tecnique which one could assume to be a bit of a stretch unless a critic was somewhat credentialed in the art."

What's unique about that? I find most slow-motion sequences in modern films to be distracting and manipulative. That is solely the aesthetic judgement of a viewer, and shouldn't depend on any sort of credentials in the art. There are other techniques still in vogue--the perpetually jumpy camera, for example--that are just as distracting to me. As for credentialed critics, can you find me one who thinks that slow-motion _isn't_ a lazy director's trick to convey drama when other means escape him? That judgement is practically textbook.

OJ: The Crucifixion does not upset me. The gore was temporarily unsettling (I'll give Gibson that--at least his violence isn't cartoonishly dispensable), but after a while I was desensitized to it, as with any other violent film. I suppose we are at an impasse: clearly the film was enough for you (I'm assuming you've seen it). I needed more to justify the carnality. You brought Christ with you into the theater, and Gibson pushed the right buttons. I needed to see Christ in the film. It is my opinion that Gibson didn't put Him there. Coupled with the disconnect between the two views--the Protestant tradition in which I was raised, where "God so loved the world he gave to it his only Son," and within which we are perpetually grateful for Christ's sacrifice; vs. the rather more militant "we all killed Christ"--no mutually amenable conclusion is possible.

Posted by: Anonymous at March 4, 2004 4:42 PM

I haven't seen it but think that disconnect vacuous. God gave Him knowing we'd kill Him, because He so loves us, is the point.

Posted by: oj at March 4, 2004 5:25 PM

>There you go--the "nice new PC vision that we
>somehow all killed Jesus (and here I thought the
>point wasn't who killed him, but who he died

If that idea's PC, it's sure been around for a LONG time...

Posted by: Ken at March 5, 2004 4:35 PM
blog comments powered by Disqus
« | Main | INGENIUS: »