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Mel’s Passion

Newsweek has a detailed analysis of Mel Gibson’s controversial film The Passion. And it would seem that Jewish concerns – about the film and Mel Gibson himself – may not be entirely unfounded.

After viewing the film, Newsweek believes that Gibson has portrayed the Jews in an unfavorable light, especially when compared to the Romans.

As moving as many moments in the film are, though, two NEWSWEEK screenings of a rough cut of the movie raise important historical issues about how Gibson chose to portray the Jewish people and the Romans. To take the film’s account of the Passion literally will give most audiences a misleading picture of what probably happened in those epochal hours so long ago. The Jewish priests and their followers are the villains, demanding the death of Jesus again and again; Pilate is a malleable governor forced into handing down the death sentence.

So why was the Gospel storyóthe story Gibson has drawn onótold in a way that makes “the Jews” look worse than the Romans?

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As the day dawns, Jesus is taken to Pilate, and it is here that Gibson slips farthest from history. Pilate is presented as a sensible and sensitive if not particularly strong ruler. “Isn’t [Jesus] the prophet you welcomed into the city?” Pilate asks. “Can any of you explain this madness to me?” There is, however, no placating Caiaphas.

The scene of a crowd of Jews crying out “Crucify him! Crucify him!” before Pilate has been a staple of Passion plays for centuries, but it is very difficult to imagine Caesar’s man being bullied by the people he usually handled roughly.

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In the memorable if manufactured crowd scene in the version of the movie screened by NEWSWEEK, Gibson included a line that has had dire consequences for the Jewish people through the ages. The prefect is again improbably resisting the crowd, the picture of a just ruler. Frustrated, desperate, bloodthirsty, the mob says: “His blood be on us and on our children!” Gibson ultimately cut the cry from the film, and he was right to do so.

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A moment later in Gibson’s movie, Pilate is questioning Jesus and, facing a silent prisoner, says, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus then replies: “… he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.” The “he” in this case is Caiaphas. John’s point in putting this line in Jesus’ mouth is almost certainly to take a gibe at the Temple elite. But in the dramatic milieu of the movie, it can be taken to mean that the Jews, through Caiaphas, are more responsible for Jesus’ death than the Romans areóan implication unsupported by history.

As for Mel Gibson, I am beginning to think that earlier signs of backtracking, if indeed true, are not a reflection of any fond feelings towards Jews. Take this alleged statement from Gibson about his movie.

So it’s not singling them out and saying, ‘They did it.’ That’s not so.. We’re all culpable. I don’t want to lynch any Jews… I love them. I pray for them.”

In other words, we are all going to hell and so Gibson prays for us. But a lifetime with Satan may not be too bad, given that we support the horned one himself.

Late last week David Elcott, the U.S. director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, reported that he had been present at a screening when someone asked Gibson, “Who opposes Jesus?” Gibson’s Manichaean reply: “They are either satanic or the dupes of Satan.”

I still have not seen the movie (and don’t plan to); yet from what I have heard, the ADL may have a point.

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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