More Passion passions


Everyone may be tired of the controversy over The Passion of the Christ by now, but I will, nonetheless, link my latest Boston Globe column (not posted on the Reason site this week), Demonizing Critics of The Passion. My main focus here is not so much the movie itself as the notion, assiduously promoted by Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity et al. that all criticism of The Passion comes from some left-wing cabal of "secularists."

By the way, here is another critique of the film by a politically conservative Catholic, University of San Diego law professor Tom Smith, on the blog The Right Coast.

Meanwhile, in Germany, Protestant and Catholic churches have issued a joint statement with Jewish leaders deploring the "overly negative portrayal" of Jews in The Passion and warning that the film might "revive anti-Semitic prejudices." Obviously, this has not happened in the United States; but I think there are still valid concerns about it becoming an anti-Semitic propaganda tool in certain parts of the world.

I don't mean to belabor the issue of anti-Semitism. I think some of the charges against the movie have been a stretch (in The New Republic, for instance, Leon Wieseltier saw anti-Semitism in the fact that Caiaphas has a gravelly voice and a gray beard), but a lot of the details add up: The fact that when we first see Caiaphas, he's haggling with Judas over money; the fact that Satan is seen moving among the crowd of Jews (but not the Romans); Gibson's selection of the gospel lines that emphasize the guilt of the Jews; the fact that after Jesus' death, an earthquake shatters the Jewish temple while leaving the Roman governor's palace intact (which suggests that the Jews are cursed by God -- an implication that the Catholic Church specifically warns to avoid in passion play performances).

UPDATED TO ADD: Another rarely mentioned element of Gibson's narrative that accentuates the negative in the portrayal of the Jews is his treatment of Barrabas, the condemned man released in Jesus' stead at the crowd's request. In the gospels, Barrabas is described as a man who had committed murder during a riot -- most likely, an anti-Roman street agitator who may well have had the sympathies of the Jerusalem crowd for political reasons. In The Passion, Pilate describes him as "a notorious murderer," and he looks grotesque -- a sneering, snarling, physically hideous gargoyle who, for all we know, could be the Hillside Strangler of ancient Judea. How damning, then, that the priests and the crowd would rather let this creature loose than release Jesus.

I do want to respond to an argument that I've seen in many places, and that quite frankly drives me up the wall: "How can this film be anti-Semitic when all the good guys -- Jesus, his mother, the apostles -- are Jews?" By this logic, of course, Christian anti-Semitism could not have existed. I am not saying that anti-Semitism is inherent in Christianity, but surely no one can deny that there was plenty of it in Christian history. The gospels, Matthew and John in particular, do contain a strong streak of hostility toward those Jews who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, and at times in the history of Europe this hostility turned to virulent hate. Perhaps part of the reason many people sincerely misunderstand this issue is that after Nazism and the Holocaust, we tend to think of anti-Semitism as a purely racial prejudice; for most of history, however, it was a form of religious bigotry that conspicuously exempted Jewish followers of Christ.

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  1. Ok, seriously...

    Even I'm getting tired of this crap.


  2.'s stupid to re-visit this.

    But just to take one detail...they are "haggling", because NEITHER one of them wants the money-- an actual Gospel detail.

  3. Well, I hope someone tells O'Reilly to knock it off too, because he still continues to harp on how the secularists at the New York Times etc. have persecuted poor Mel.


    Not true. The first words Caiaphas speaks in the movie are something, "Thirty pieces of silver, that's all. That's what we agreed on. Right?"

  4. Before I posted this, I did some personal research.
    Seems I read "Growing up in Moscow: A Soviet Girlhood." in Feb. of 1990.
    I had no idea then Cathy and I would cyber-meet on Hit and Run, but whatever Cathy says is true for sure.

    For everyone else, I saw the Passion Play in Oberammergau in 1970.

    Not exactly true.
    I was more interested in collecting the coaster of the local brewery of Oberammergau, which had a line drawing of the outdoor theater there. So I didn't see the whole play through, not to mention they seemed to be speaking German? What was up with that?

    After we sneaked out, we drove halfway between Ober and Unterammergau and took pictures both ways.

    Should I sell 'em on E-Bay?

  5. "Germany's Roman Catholic and Protestant churches joined the Jewish community on Thursday in a rare joint declaration to warn that Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ" could fan anti-Semitism in Europe."

    G E R M A N Y comes to the front lines
    in protecting the Jewish race from anti-semitism!!!!

    This has to be a J O K E !!!!

    The irony of it all!

    Miracles happen in the strangest of places.
    I'm starting to believe there is something going on with this movie.

  6. >

    That's B.S. Total B.S. I read Cathy Young's previous article on the Passion prior to watching the movie and because of her article I made a point of looking specifically for Satan and he is walking amongst the crowd of Jews AND he is walking in another scene amongst the Romans. (I think it was the scene where Jesus was getting whipped s&m style by the Romans. Not 100% sure it was that scene, but i specifically remember Satan walking amongst the Romans.) I suggest she check out the flick one more time. BTW, the movie i thought was just average. It didn't exactly suck but it

  7. "Was it, as Gibson's supporters imply, illegitimate and scurrilous to bring up the matter of Gibson's father?
    No, for the simple reason that, family ties aside, Hutton Gibson is a leading figure in the same religious movement to which Mel Gibson belongs." ---Cathy Young

    Would be better by far to discuss the movie,
    not the man and the father of the man.

    Are the effects of the movies so subliminal
    that they can not be described or demonstrated
    without going into the life of the director
    and into the mind of his 80 year old father
    to discover motives by which to condemn a movie
    that seems less to stir up hate than those
    who condemn it for doing so?

  8. > Ok, seriously...
    Even I'm getting tired of this crap.

  9. So I didn't see the whole play through, not to mention they seemed to be speaking German? What was up with that?

    I think Mel was originally planning to put his movie in German with no subtitles, until he realized Bach was a Lutheran.

  10. Eh, I hear He dies in the end...

  11. if the "jews" killed jesus than they gave the Christians forgivenss and everlasting life
    for thats what jesus died for
    but i am just a mere simpleton

  12. Some Jewish characters were portrayed unattractively in POTC, but there is a much better reason for Jews to dislike the film: It suggests that modern Judaism is false.

    When Christ dies and the temple is destroyed, it signals the end of Judaism as a valid religion. Jesus has destroyed the old order and created a new one, and any Jews who do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah are left in the dark.

    I'm surprised no one is holding that against the film. . .

  13. Well, that's interesting, considering that I never mentioned, in any of my articles, the issue of Satan walking among the Jews. I watched the movie pretty carefully (as for seeing it again, I think $9 of my money in Mel's coffers is enough), and I'm pretty sure Satan only moved among the Jews; but I'm not 100% certain on this one. I find other elements of the movie far more important, from the image of the avaricious Jew in the temple scene at the beginning to the destruction of the temple at the end (which is NOT in the gospels). See also the added paragraph in my post ("update") about the portrayal of Barrabas.

    di of raleigh: was it relevant to bring up the issue of Gibson's belief and his father? Remember, the controversy started long before the film came out. What critics had to go on was his views and his comments about the movie. Gibson was making a film based on a story that HAS been used, at various times, to promote anti-Semitism; surely the possibility that he may hold anti-Semitic views was relevant to the issue?

    By the way, once again--I don't know whether Gibson is an anti-Semite. I do think that some of his comments are very troubling, such as his dismissal of charges of anti-Semitism against Anne Catherine Emmerich, the 19th Century nun on whose "visions" he relied for parts of the Passion script. (According to Emmerich's biographer and co-author the Rev. Carl Schmoger, her "visions" included a chat with the ghost of a Jewish woman who confessed to her that "the Jews, both in our country and elsewhere, had strangled many Christians, principally children, and used their blood for all sort of superstitious and diabolical practices." See this site for the information: ) Gibson's comment in The New Yorker -- "Why are they calling her a Nazi? Because modern secular Judaism wants to blame the Holocaust on the Catholic Church. ... And they've been working on that one for a while" -- shows him, in my view, to be both extremely cavalier about anti-Semitism and obsessed with the idea of a Jewish conspiracy against the Catholic Church. (Probably the most influential book indicting the Church's role in the Nazi era, "Hitler's Pope," was written by Catholic scholar John Cornwell.)

  14. DJ: No question, there is still a substantial neo-Nazi movement in Germany, and I think that the laws suppressing it merely make it glamourous. I've been to Germany twice, but my experience with the Germans I've met reflects a very skewed sample (as would any one person's experience). It would take a really long time to know the country. I haven't seen any tendency to deny the past, though I've sometimes seen the kind of historical short-sightedness -- not denial, but just lack of knowledge and understanding in any depth -- often found in America. Perhaps it's more surprising in people with such a long history.

  15. DJ: Your amazement at Germany's "protecting the Jewish race from anti-semitism" suggests you aren't up on world events. In Germany, it's illegal to publish Hitler's works for general consumption, or even to claim that the Jewish Holocaust didn't happen.

  16. my bad. It was not Cathy Young's aricle. Somebody posted it on hit and run and i've looked for it for a while and i can't find it.

  17. Repeat after me:

    It's only a movie..........

    Be grateful it isn't a rock tune though, because then, you'd have a rash of lyric induced teen age suicides, especially amongst those of the Jewish persuasion.

  18. > When Christ dies and the temple is destroyed, it signals the end of Judaism as a valid religion. Jesus has destroyed the old order and created a new one, and any Jews who do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah are left in the dark.

  19. > When Christ dies and the temple is destroyed, it signals the end of Judaism as a valid religion. Jesus has destroyed the old order and created a new one, and any Jews who do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah are left in the dark.

  20. Cathy Young,

    Great article and Hit n' Run comments; thank you for your clear and insightful commentary on these matters.

  21. DJ Your amazement at Germany's "protecting the Jewish race from anti-semitism" suggests you aren't up on world events. In Germany, it's illegal to publish Hitler's works for general consumption, or even to claim that the Jewish Holocaust didn't happen.---Posted by garym

    When I walk into a place, say a pool room,
    and the rules on the wall say "no betting"
    or go into an old store with "no spitting"
    I know what goes on in there BY THE RULES:
    Spitting on the stove and betting on games!

    If I went into Germany, I'd expect to find
    a tendency to deny the past and an interest in it!

    And still the banner of Germany in outrage of TPOTC
    strikes me as ironic and a double-edged statement.

  22. "Satan did not walk any closer to them than to the soldiers."

    Satan looks like s/he was on roller skates to me, not walking at all.

  23. Jesus,
    You, of all gods, should know boredom will be our greatest curse through all eternity precisely because you will not let us die. Meany.

    But, consequently I will continue beating this dead horse in hopes of pulling a Lazarus on it.

    What I really wanted to say is, couldn't we call your "passion," suicide by cop... I mean the "cops" of your day?

  24. " boredom will be our greatest curse through all eternity"

    Boredom does NOT exist where those totally in love are together.

  25. A few points:

    Satan walked among both the Jews and the Romans during the scourging scene. In deference to your analysis, Ms. Young, the Jews were shown first.

    Gibson was given a choice in his depiction to assign blame. Gibson could have chosen some interesting ways to spread blame around, like portray the same actors as disciples/Jews/Romans, or even to place himself among each. That would have gotten the message across to even the obtuse, because it seems that the quote at the beginning and the Satanic presence weren't enough. In fact, I find it interesting that no one is willing to cut Gibson slack for inserting extra-historical causation--the devil--into the movie. Most reviewers have ignored this fact and treated the devil as if he were a mere co-conspirator of the Jews and Romans, rather than the ultimate cause of this miserable occasion.

    Also, Ms. Young's concerns about the Temple undergoing damage but not the Roman palace ignores the salient fact that even the Jews of the time believed that God resided in His Temple...thus it was an appropriate place for Him to show His anger. And while it appears that Gibson is stacking the Gospel narratives on top of each other (is he whipped or scourged, depends on which one you read--but in Gibson you get both) and three accounts have the veil tearing, of which one has the veil tear plus an earthquake (Matthew)--it doesn't seem unreasonable to assume that the force that could tear the veil from top to bottom might have broken up some other stuff as well.

    Personnally, I side with ET's previous comment in a way, because Christianity's core belief (The Messiah has come) contradicts Judaism's core belief (The Messiah has yet to come), and so the story itself is bound to arouse passions, so to speak.

    Also, Ms. Young, Chris Lehmann's review in, touted on this website, noted that one of the subtle forms of anti-semitism being depicted in the movie was that the high priests/Sanhedrin always moved as a group. Very subtle, indeed!

  26. My own two cents on the "Where's Satan?" controversy:

    I clearly remember Satan walking among the Roman soldiers as they scourged Christ. There may have been some Sanhedrin members around at the time also, but as far as I recall, Satan did not walk any closer to them than to the soldiers.

  27. R.C. Dean,

    Cathy just explained it; you are a rather dense fellow.

  28. If depicting a Jewish High Preist as having a beard constitutes the extent of anti-Semtism, then what the world needs now is a little bit more of that.

  29. I've never understood how a movie where most of the good guys are Jews (you know, Jesus and the apostles) could be anti-Jewish.

  30. EMAIL:
    DATE: 05/21/2004 05:10:38
    Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.

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