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Mel Gibson's Passion

Mel Gibson's Passion: The Film, the Controversy, and Its Implications

edited by Zev Garber
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  • Book Info
    Mel Gibson's Passion
    Book Description:

    There is no question that the Passion is the most controversial Jesus-if not religious-movieever made. The articles...are an attempt by academics to explain why. Five essays were presentedin an earlier version at the Jewish Studies Symposium on key issues raised by The Passion of the Christ held at Purdue University on March 30, 2004 (Garber, Mork, Pawlikowski, Robertson, Young); and 15 essays (Bartchy, Edelheit, Edelman, Feldman, Golan, Greenberg, Haas, Holdredge, Jacobs, Libowitz, Moore, Neusner, Wheeler, Zuckerman) complement the Purdue Symposium. The contributors reflect on a plethora of issues, and they show that concerned andinformed Jews and Christians together can assess dis/misinformation, monitor dissent, alleviate community fears, and reassure that the solid rock of Jewish-Catholic-Protestant dialogue, though assailed, has not become chipped.

    eISBN: 978-1-61249-010-6
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)
    Zev Garber

    The unprecedented biblical-cinematic debate on the merits and demerits of Mel Gibson’s controversial Jesus movie,The Passion of the Christ, began long before its release nationwide in 2,000-plus American theaters on Ash Wednesday, February 25, 2004. A combined group of Christian and Jewish scholars convened by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Advisory Committee on Catholic-Jewish Relations and the leadership of the Anti-Defamation League met in the spring of 2003 to evaluate the film’s biblical accuracy in conformity with the Catholic Bishops’ Guidelines on Passion Plays.¹ Their judgment was two thumbs down in both categories and they offered corrections...

  2. Section 1: Reflections on the Film

    • 1 Review of The Passion of the Christ
      (pp. 7-12)
      Irving Greenberg

      Mel Gibson has fashioned the most successful Passion play of all time. His film,The Passion of the Christ, is weak in its presentation of Jesus’ teachings, but is a powerful retelling of the Gospel stories, complete with miracles, cosmic portents, and signs—though bloody and bordering on the sadomasochistic. The film is gripping and emotionally wrenching, but it focuses one-sidedly on the suffering and death of Jesus and hardly deals with the Resurrection.

      The Passionwill be seen by tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions of people—that is, by far more viewers than all previous Passion plays combined. The...

    • 2 Gibson at the Crossroads
      (pp. 13-20)
      Penny Wheeler

      Mel Gibson’sPassion of the Christis a cinematic tour de force which manages to humiliate both Christians and Jews. It humbles Christians by having their Christ—as well as his mother, apostles, and disciples—speak an incomprehensible Middle Eastern language, the language spoken byhispeople, the Jews. Jews, in turn, are embarrassed by the sight of some Jews kicking Jesus when he is obviously down, having offered no resistance to his captors. Gibson’s insistence on Aramaic implies getting back to the original sources: the four Gospels of Christian scripture. From the outset, however, it is apparent that the...

    • 3 Gibson’s Passion
      (pp. 21-30)
      Yvonne Kozlovsky-Golan

      Many critics claim that Mel Gibson’sThe Passion of the Christis a violent movie, whose main theme is not Christ’s vision of Christianity, but Gibson’s vision of violence for its own sake.¹ A careful viewing reinforces this impression and identifies aesthetic, contextual and format-related flaws in the film. Yet this is not all; as we examine the movie and its context more closely we find subversive elements that reflect not merely a violent vision of pure sadism, but narrative and methodological contradictions that blatantly disregard the text of the Gospel according to Matthew and its historical connections and religious...

    • 4 Where Are the Flies? Where Is the Smoke? The Real and Super-Real in Mel Gibson’s The Passion
      (pp. 31-38)
      Bruce Zuckerman

      First of all, I have to make confession: I really did not want to see this film. I wasn’t reluctant because I thought that the message conveyed about Jews and/or Christians, ancient and/or modern, might prove “problematic” (as we scholars like to say when we want to choose a polite word for something we do not like for one reason or another). If anything, the problematic potential of Mel Gibson’sThe Passionwas more of an inducement to go see it than a disincentive. Truth be told: I’m squeamish. I do not like depictions of blood and gore, nor do...

    • 5 How Austrians Viewed The Passion of the Christ
      (pp. 39-44)
      Klaus Hödl

      Mel Gibson’s controversial filmThe Passion of the Christhit European movie theatres six weeks after its release in the U.S. By that time, a large segment of the population was already familiar with the content, whether they read film reviews or not. This was due to the fact that all major newspapers covered the controversy in the U.S. over the movie’s potential anti-Semitism. The polemics surrounding the film were not paralleled in Europe. It may even be argued that the American reaction to the movie was of more interest to Europeans than the movie itself.

      As much as research...

    • 6 Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and the “Via Media”
      (pp. 45-54)
      Richard Holdredge

      References to Mel Gibson’sThe Passion of the Christare plenteous on the World Wide Web and can provide college instructors from a variety of disciplines a wide range of responses suitable for classroom presentation and discussion. This range of responses can be considered a sociological phenomenon in and of itself. Particular commentaries and position papers can be used most certainly in Religious Studies and Cinema, as well as Sociology, History and Mass Media.

      Reporting data on the World Wide Web is like trying to hit a moving target, as materials on the Web are always in flux. Most articles...

  3. Section 2: Scriptural Jesus and Gibson’s Passion

    • 7 The Quest of the Historical Jesus Revisited: Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ
      (pp. 57-62)
      Peter Haas

      In the first chapter (“The Problem”) of his famous book,The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede, Albert Schweitzer notes, “It is no doubt interesting to trace how modern thoughts have found their way into the ancient dogmatic system, there to combine with eternal ideas to form new constructions; it is interesting to penetrate into the mind of the thinker in which this process is at work; but the real truth of that which here meets us as history we experience within ourselves.” Despite his affirmation of the “eternal truth” of...

    • 8 The Jewish Jesus: A Partisan’s Imagination
      (pp. 63-69)
      Zev Garber

      My own approach to finding the historical Jesus in the text of the New Testament may appear to some as extreme. It seems to me that Mark, the earliest Gospel version on the life of Jesus compiled shortly after the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E., contains authentic traces of the historical Jesus shrouded in repeated motifs of secrecy which are intended to obscure the role of Jesus as a political revolutionary sympathizer involved in the Jewish national struggle against Rome. When the Gospel of Mark is analyzed in its own light, without recourse...

    • 9 History, Archaeology, and Mel Gibson’s Passion
      (pp. 70-75)
      Gordon D. Young

      Whatever elseThe Passion of the Christis about, it is about history. Thus, it is important to examine the film from the perspective of history, and see how, andif, the film incorporates what we have come to know about that era. A great deal of progress has been made into the recovery of the first century C.E. in the last several decades, and much of it has been done by archaeologists. In my few pages in this section, I propose to examine the film’s depiction of the last few hours of the life of Jesus in the larger...

    • 10 Where Is the History in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ?
      (pp. 76-92)
      S. Scott Bartchy

      Why has this film, which is claimed by many to be the most historically reliable presentation ever made in a movie about Jesus of Nazareth, become so controversial, so potentially dangerous in arousing anti-Jewish sentiment, and in my judgment such a betrayal of the memory of the historical Jesus?

      More than twenty feature-length commercial films have dealt with the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, beginning in 1898 with Alice Guy’s French film,Jesus devant Pilate. Among the best known that followed are Cecil B. De-Mille’sThe King of Kings(1927), George Stevens’sThe Greatest Story Ever Told(1965),...

    • 11 Reflections on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ
      (pp. 93-107)
      Louis H. Feldman

      As Elie Wiesel has said, the world is willing to forget the slaughter of six million innocent Jews sixty years ago, but it will never forget the execution of that one Jew two thousand years ago.

      What we have in the filmThe Passionis a Passion play of the sort that used to be put on in Oberammergau and that was always an occasion not merely for the production of the play, but also for raising the population against the Jews. And I believe that the danger of such a film is tremendous, precisely because it is of the...

    • 12 Crucifixion in Rabbinic Context: Juridical or Theological?
      (pp. 108-114)
      Jacob Neusner

      How people view the death penalty governs their reading of the Passion narratives. The prevailing picture is simple and secular. Execution after trial and conviction represents a legal punishment after an unjust trial—pure and simple. Jesus was tried for a crime, found guilty, and executed. Reading the execution as penalty for a crime does not accommodate the next chapter in the story. The resurrection disrupts that narrative rather than completing it and forming its climax. Within that framework, Good Friday alone—the trial, conviction, sentence, and execution—registers. Within the teleology of the juridical narrative there is no accounting...

  4. Section 3: Diversity and Dialogue

    • 13 Dramatizing the Passion: From Oberammergau to Gibson
      (pp. 117-123)
      Gordon R. Mork

      In 1633 the village of Oberammergau, in the Bavarian Alps, fell victim to the plague. It seemed to the village elders that their community would be wiped out by the sudden onslaught of the feared disease. Therefore they gathered beneath the crucifix of the parish church and prayerfully swore that if God would protect them from further depredations of the plague, they would perform the Passion play, once each decade, forever. According to local records, no one died thereafter from the plague, so the villagers put on the first of their Passion plays the next year, 1634, and have been...

    • 14 Deicide Déjà Vu: Mel Gibson’s Film The Passion—An Attack on Forty Years of Jewish-Christian Dialogue
      (pp. 124-128)
      Samuel Edelman and Carol Edelman

      It is now four decades after “Nostra Aetate” and a few years after bothA Sacred Obligation: Rethinking Christian Faith in Relation to Judaism and the Jewish PeopleandDabru Emet: A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity. In addition, the Scholar’s Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches has for more than thirty years now been a positive force for Jewish-Christian dialogues in both North America and Europe. The results of these documents and dialogues have been far-reaching, even to the parish and local church level. The results of these dialogues have even begun in a modest way to...

    • 15 Gibson’s Passion: The Challenges for Catholics
      (pp. 129-133)
      John T. Pawlikowski

      A contemporary film on Christian anti-Semitism terms this centuries-long disease within the church as a “shadow” on the cross. Recent Catholic documents have spoken in even stronger language. In 1989 the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace at the Vatican issued a major document on racism in which it clearly placed anti-Semitism high on its list of continuing manifestations of racist ideologies. In point of fact, it called anti-Semitism the most tragic example of racism to appear in the twentieth century.

      Pope John Paul II provided decisive leadership in the effort to awaken the conscience of the global community regarding...

    • 16 Gibson’s Passion on a Catholic Campus
      (pp. 134-139)
      Richard Libowitz

      Saint Joseph’s University, a Jesuit institution of higher education, occupies a 43-acre campus at the extreme western edge of Philadelphia, abutting the affluent suburban “Main Line.” While offering graduate degrees in business and education, its primary student clientele consists of approximately 4,000 undergraduates, the majority of whom have matriculated from homes within one hundred miles of the campus. The student body, as might be expected, is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic in religious confession; many are products of parochial elementary and/or secondary schools. Female students outnumber their male counterparts by several percentage points. The faculty, consisting primarily of laymen and women, embodies...

    • 17 Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ: A Protestant Perspective
      (pp. 140-143)
      James F. Moore

      Mel Gibson’sThe Passion of the Christis a film. This has two meanings for the essay response that I am writing. First, it is merely a film and not any more. Thus, any analysis of the film requires a general sense of popular culture and how such films impact the popular mind. Second, it is a film of the Passion story and is in this way like so many other films and forms of presenting this story. That is, it is a Passion play, and Protestant Christians (for that matter all Christians) must think about the film in the...

    • 18 Jewish “Officialdom” and The Passion of the Christ: Who Said What and What Did They Say?
      (pp. 144-153)
      Steven Leonard Jacobs

      Among the falsely perceived myths, not only of this historical American Jewish experience but the contemporary one as well, is that of a singular American Jewish community, seemingly united by such common factors as religious faith and belief; love of and support for a continuously beleaguered State of Israel; higher educational agendas for the young; support for defensive organizations against the ongoing post-Holocaust/Shoah specter of anti-Semitism; politically left-wing, liberal, primarily Democratic voter identification; uncanny fundraising abilities; opposition to inter-religious or mixed marriages; socioeconomic concerns associated with middle-class to upper-middle-class to upper-class lives, and the like. The reality of the American...

    • 19 A View from the Pew on Gibson’s Passion
      (pp. 154-158)
      Stuart D. Robertson

      By the time this book is published Gibson’s once front-page-news movie may have the lingering interest most front-page stories retain. The heavy publicity preceding the movie’s release, and the record ticket sales in the early showing, which are the kind of details often catching the media’s ephemeral fascination, do not completely overshadow the issues that arise from the composition, filming, watching, and effects ofThe Passion of the Christ. My task here is to critique something of the ordinary Christian’s response to the movie. In particular, didThe Passionstir up anti-Jewish sentiment? And did it add fuel to supersessionist...

    • 20 The Passion of the Christ and Congregational Interfaith Relations
      (pp. 159-164)
      Joseph A. Edelheit

      By the time you read this we will be in the midst of the next installment of howThe Passionwill impact Jewish-Christian relations since the DVD was released on August 31, 2004. As of this writing you can find competing discounts for as low as $17.50 and bulk orders through churches are going to boost sales even before it is released. Mel Gibson’s violent, darkly personal interpretation of the final twelve hours of the life of Jesus continues to be a fascinating measurement of theZeitgeist. The flurry of charges and counter-charges about the film’s anti-Semitism are now being...