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What's Up With Mel
Gibson's "The Passion"?
By Derek Leman, February 15,
2004 - Hope
Derek is the Messianic leader
of Hope of David, a Messianic Fellowship located in Sandy Springs
Some Christians immediately think all of the
flap about Mel Gibson's movie about the trial and death of Jesus is
nothing more than anti-Christian bias. Well, maybe a lot of it is. But
there really has been some cause for concern, a reason to question Mel
Gibson and a reason to wonder what effect the movie might have on the
Jewish community. It seems now that the movie is going to be a well-made
and mostly accurate version of the events leading up to the crucifixion,
but consider these reasons for concern in the early days of publicity
for the movie:
1. Mel Gibson's inspiration was the book
The Dolorous Passion of the Christ by Anne Catherine Emmerich, an
Augustinian nun who died in 1824. Sister Anne was reputed to be a
stigmatic, having the wounds of Christ on her body and crosses imprinted
on her chest. She had mystic visions of the life of Jesus, filling in
details missing from the Bible. Emmerich has an anti-Semitic slant in
her telling of the story. According to the Boston Globe (Aug 18, 2003,
Cathy Young), "Emmerich claimed that the cross on which Jesus died
was built in the Jewish temple on the orders of the high priest."
The good news, however, according to a newsmax.com reporter who saw a
screening of the movie, is that nothing in the movie actually comes from
the book. Viewers need not fear that any anti-Semitic writings from a
mystical nun will ruin the movie.
2. Mel Gibson belongs to a reactionary group
within Catholicism that rejects Vatican II. One of the provisions of
Vatican II is to repudiate the belief that Jews, past or present, are
collectively responsible for "deicide." Gibson's father,
Hutter Gibson, made remarks denying the holocaust to the New York Times.
Apparently, Gibson's father believes that a relatively small number of
Jews died in Germany during the war. One can only hope that Mel
Gibson does not share his father's views and that the spiritual
experiences Mel has spoken of during the filming of the movie have
renewed his love for Israel and the people from whom Jesus came.
3. Mel Gibson has made some unfortunate
remarks, apparently in anger. He was quoted in the New York Daily News
as saying that he wanted to keep in the movie a scene where Caiphas
says, "His blood be upon us and our children." This statement
from the gospels has, sadly, been misused as a reason to persecute Jews
through the centuries (see below).
Gibson said of the scene, "I wanted it in. But, man, if I included
that in there, they'd be coming after me at my house, they'd come kill
me." (New York Daily News, Sept 6, 2003). When Mel Gibson said he
worried that Jews would come to his house to kill him, he clearly
crossed the line of decency. One can only hope that it was a remark made
in the heat of anger and does not reflect a conspiracy view of Jewish
4. Some anti-Semites are already using the
movie to incite hatred. Consider this ridiculous quote from http://aztlan.net/thepassioncrucified.htm:
"We are convinced that these hypocritical and self-righteous
Zionists are of the same mold as those Jewish Pharisees responsible for
the cruel crucifixion of Our Lord Jesus Christ." These people
clearly do not represent Gibson, but this is the type of result Jewish
groups were concerned would occur.
5. Passion plays have a history of
anti-Semitism. The most famous is the Oberammerggau Passion Play which
runs every 10 years in Bavaria. Until the 1990 play, "Jewish
characters used to appear in horned hats suggesting a link between Jews
and the Devil, and Jewish religious officials were portrayed as evil and
sadistic. When Adolf Hitler went to see the play in 1934, he considered
it a “precious tool” for his fight against Judaism" (http://www.flholocaustmuseum.org/history_wing/antisemitism/arts/passion_plays.cfm).
So, it seems there was some legitimate reason
for the Jewish community to be concerned. Especially in Europe, with its
recent increase of anti-Semitic acts, the fear of renewed anti-Jewish
popular sentiments is well-placed.
is not true, though it is often-repeated by those criticizing Gibson's
film, is that the gospels are anti-Semitic. The charge is historically
ludicrous since the writers of the gospels were not only Jews, but
faithful Jews who continued to worship at the Temple daily (Acts 2:46,
3:1, 5:42). The reader of the gospels needs to keep a few facts in mind:
1. Jewish groups often used strong rhetoric
against each other. The Essenes, who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls,
attacked other Jewish groups viciously. In The Rule of the Community,
for example, they claimed that the Jews who were sacrificing at the
Temple were wasting their time, "He will not become clean by acts
of atonement . . . defiled, defiled he shall be all the days he spurns
the decrees of God" (1QS 3:4-5, Florentino Martinez translation).
There are many descriptions of damnation and suffering for Jews who do
not join the Essenes. This was not anti-Semitism, but intra-Jewish
rivalry over religious issues.
2. The official synagogues of the first
century held in some cases the power of life and death over Jewish and
Gentile followers of Jesus. By turning Jesus-followers in to Roman
authorities, the synagogues could subject them to prosecution for
refusing emperor-worship (only those of the Jewish religion were
exempt). Thus, when John, an Israelite from Galilee, spoke of the
"synagogue of Satan," he was not characterizing a religion or
a people group, but referring specifically to persecutors of his people.
3. The modern term "Jew" or
"the Jews" did not refer to all people of Israel.
"Jew" is a term derived from "Judah" and
"Judea." John and other Galileans would not have been referred
to as "Jews" in the parlance of the time. Thus, when John
refers in his gospel many times to "the Jews," he means the
Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Just as we refer to the leaders of America
as "the people in Washington," so John referred to the Temple
leadership and the Sanhedrin as "the Jews" (the Judeans).
There was a sort of rivalry between Galilean and Judean Israelites.
4. When Matthew reports
(27:25) the Jewish leaders and the relatively small crowd standing by
Pilate's hall as saying, "His blood be upon us and our
children," he was not making a theological basis for anti-Semitism
and the charge that Jews attempted to kill God (deicide). Those in the
church throughout history who used this text for evil did not follow the
spirit of the New Testament in the least. Matthew's account is
historical. Most scholars date Matthew's writing before the destruction
of the Temple in 70 C.E., which means even the terrible destruction that
came upon these same Jewish leaders at that time was not being hinted at
in Matthew's text. That a determined and corrupt group of leaders, as
even other Jews of the time viewed Caiaphas and his band, took the blood
of Yeshua the Nazarene on themselves, is not a divine sanction for
punishing anyone of Jewish descent. It shows rather the corruption of
the individuals involved, not the Jewish people as a whole.
Mel Gibson's movie, not released yet as this
article is being written, will probably be an accurate account of the
last hours of Yeshua before his crucifixion. It will be a view biased
from Catholic tradition and Catholic art (as opposed to a Jewish
perspective), but it will probably be moving. God will use a movie
like this which has the whole country talking about Jesus. One can only
hope that Mel's visuals and script will emphasize the Jewishness of the
man who died for the sins of others. May God cause many in America and
abroad to consider Jesus, the Jewish Messiah for themselves.
MAN-NA - Messianic
Alliance of North America (new)
Union of Conservative
Messianic Jewish Synagogues