March 31, 2013


Deicide and The Passion (Jeff Snyder, September 22, 2003, Enter Stage Right)

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and various religious scholars have expressed grave concern that Mel Gibson's new film, The Passion, a portrayal of the final 12 hours of Christ's life based on the Gospels will, if released in its present form, increase anti-Semitism
throughout the world because of the manner in which it portrays Jews. The controversy has generated lots of news coverage and articles, despite the fact that almost no one who is criticizing the film has actually seen it. When fundamentalist Christian groups criticized The Last Temptation of Christ years ago without having seen the film, this was taken as a sign of their intolerance, narrow-mindedness and overall nuttiness. So far, however, the news reports of criticisms of Mr. Gibson's film by people who have not seen the movie are reported, and seemingly supposed to be taken, with utmost seriousness. [...]

Although Mr. Gibson has from the beginning insisted that he is endeavoring to make a movie that is faithful to the Gospels, Mr. Boyer's New Yorker article makes it clear that that is precisely what the group finds troubling. He quotes a group of Catholic ecumenical scholars as stating that "One cannot assume that by simply conforming to the New Testament, that antisemitism will not be promoted. . . . After all, for centuries sermons and passion plays based on the New Testament have incited Christian animosity and violence toward Jews." This is actually a horrifying statement. One would hope that Catholics and all Christians would be shocked by the suggestion that anti- Semitism springs forth as a near automatic and somehow "natural" response from a literal reading and telling of the Gospels. Mr. Boyer also cites an example of one of the recommended changes -- that the two thieves crucified with Christ be referred to as "insurgents," despite the fact that the original Greek does not support that interpretation. Evidently such efforts are thought necessary to subtly direct people's minds away from thoughts about Jewish culpability to Roman political concerns over a potential revolt in the province. However, at bottom such revisionism betrays a profound lack of trust in the Gospels and a cynical, distressing lack of faith in the ability of the Church to bring Christ's message to its members.

Mr. Snyder's essay, in the invaluable ESR, is the most thorough we've seen so far, dealing with both the atmospherics and the substance of the controversy. It implicates what seems an important question: is Mr. Foxman's anti-anti-Semitism per se anti-Christian?

NB: If you've got a link that we don't have iincluded in our list, please send it along.

Passion Play: The controversy over Mel Gibson's forthcoming movie on the death of Jesus Christ. (Michael Novak, 08/25/2003, Weekly Standard)

[O]n July 21, [Mel Gibson] brought a rough cut of the film (with English subtitles) to Washington for a few commentators and interested writers to see.

It is the most powerful movie I have ever seen. In the days since watching that rough cut, I have not been able to get the film out of my mind. [...]

There are, in a sense, only five historical accounts of the Passion: in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and, in bare but vivid outline, in the letters of St. Paul. Paul's accounts are by some thirty years the earliest and represent in large strokes the settled beliefs of the first generation of Christians. Down the centuries, the narrative of Christ's death and its meaning have remained much the same.

The fuller accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John supplement each other, often overlapping and sometimes contradicting one another on the sort of contingent details that eyewitnesses (or their note-takers) often report differently. But all the Christian accounts agree that Jesus Christ suffered and died for the sins of all human beings of all time, under the command of the Roman consul in Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate.

Jewish accounts concur that Jesus was a Jew who suffered and died under the Roman authorities. His claims for himself seemed to Jewish authorities then (and since) to be blasphemous--for Christ clearly announced that he owned an authority higher than the high priests and the rabbis', said forthrightly that he was greater than Solomon, and put himself on a higher plane than Moses. He went even further, daring to call God his father.

The claims Christ made for himself seemed at the time divisive and dangerous. Many people, the Jewish authorities told Pilate, were following this man's lead. His history, they said, showed that he worked magic, performed miracles, and consorted with demons. He had been sent by God, he as much as said, to "fulfill the Scriptures." His continued preaching might lead to riot and rebellion. But only the Romans had the power to do to Jesus what was actually done, and so it was under the authority of Pontius Pilate, and at the hands of the Roman Empire, that Jesus "was crucified, died, and was buried."

AT THE TIME of Christ's death, Christianity was still internal to Judaism. The Christian Church itself began not at the Passion, but fifty-three days later on Pentecost, when the apostles left an "upper room" in Jerusalem speaking in tongues. With his preaching Jesus had clearly put a challenge to Judaism, expressly announcing a "new" covenant, whose mandate was to "complete" and "fulfill" the "old" covenant. And there is no doubt that Jesus' death meant a parting of the ways between Christians and Jews. Nonetheless, from a Christian point of view, the life and teachings of Jesus and his new covenant do not remove or destroy the old covenant. God cannot be unfaithful to his promises. Besides, if the Creator is not faithful to his first covenant with the Jews, how can Christians expect Him to be faithful to His new covenant with them?

Thus, Christians hold that Christianity fulfills the hopes launched into the world by Judaism. They also hold that those Jews who reject Christianity remain vessels of God's first love.

[Originally posted: October 5, 2003]

Posted by at March 31, 2013 12:32 AM


The future of the planet is up for grabs right now. Mel Gibson and the meaning of his film is right up there with the number of angels that fit on the head of a pin.

It's immaterial, it's irrelevant and everyone should be using their outrage on the perfidy of the media in trashing real people in real time.

The Lord Jesus doesn't need our help right now. We need his.

Posted by: erp at October 5, 2003 3:49 PM

Why bother?

Posted by: oj at October 5, 2003 4:14 PM

The New Republic published an article last July by an author of the report that criticized the script: (subscription required, unfortunately).

The article reveals that the script is based in part the writings of two visionary nuns, at least one of whom seems to have carried some anti-Semitic baggage. So the claims against the movie sound more substantial than a vague "concern" that any presentation of the Passion might generate anti-Semitism. We'll have to wait for the movie to be released, though...

Posted by: Peter Caress at October 6, 2003 1:54 AM

How generous of you Peter. My understanding is that the movie is based on the literal gospels in Aramaic, not some "visionary nun." Indeed, we'll have to wait an see ...

Posted by: jd waton at October 6, 2003 6:41 AM

No, the stories linked to do address the two nuns. Of course, if you couldn't use anti-Semites as source material history would start in 1945 when the revelation of the Holocaust made such unacceptable.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2003 8:32 AM

(Spoilers for the movie below!)

The movie apparently has some major scenes that aren't in any of the Gospels, such as Satan inciting the executioners to their task and a riot occuring between Jews and Romans when Jesus is led to Golgotha. Whatever the movie may be, it sure doesn't sound like a literal rendition of the Gospels.

Posted by: Peter Caress at October 6, 2003 8:34 AM


I don't think that's in the movie, but was in the original script.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2003 8:44 AM

I see two issues from the nuns' writings.

(1) A concern isn't whether the nuns were anti-Semites, but whther any anti-Semitism in their writings made it into the movie. (Obviously, we can't tell yet.)

(2) If Gibson was trying to keep the movie historically authentic rather than just give the movie an historical feel, then the writings shouldn't be in there at all. The nuns weren't writing histories.

Personally, I think the fears of anti-Semitism will prove to be overblown.

Posted by: Peter Caress at October 6, 2003 9:14 AM


The point is that the opponents are not only saying that the Passion is inherently anti-Semitic, but that Gibson is an anti-Semite for defending himself against the charges. You don't need to be a Holocaust denier to believe that the fact the Holocaust occurred does not give Judaism a claim on how Christianity is practiced.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2003 9:25 AM

Is it anti-Semitic to quote the chief priests when they shout to Pilate: "We have no King but Caesar!"?

Presuming the Gospel accounts are accurate, that is the most damning sentence in all of Scripture.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 6, 2003 11:12 AM

My understanding is that the movie's dialog is in Latin and Aramaic and that it is very long.

My guess is that it will not have a long run and will not be seen by a lot of people. It will hit the art house circut and die there.

I am a Jew and I do worry about anti-semitism. But the sources of that anti-semitism are islamo-nazism, european left-wingers and France.

Abe Foxman at ADL and the usual suspects have been pushing the Gibbson movie as the beginning of a wave of anti-semitism among the vast underground of crazed KKK members and militamen who they are sure constitute the silent majority of red state citizens.

It's their fund raising ploy to distract their donor base from the fact that they have been asleep at the switch and missed the rise of left-wing anti-semitism. Their short sightedness was inevitable. They were raised in the big cities of the east coast in an era when slogans like no-enemies on the left governed political thought in their communities.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at October 7, 2003 7:39 PM
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