For the past 2000 years the Jewish people have been persecuted with extreme prejudice. They have been murdered for countless different reasons over the course of two millennia. The underlying reason for this hatred and racism has always been a belief that their ancestors were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This racism is literally an ongoing punishment for the supposed sins of the early Hebrews.
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In at least three of the gospels in the Christian bible there are differing accounts of the roles the early Jews played in the actual trial and execution of Christ. Needless to say, these passages remained controversial for as long as they have been committed to paper. There is speculation as to the validity of their claims as historical proof. A recent film about the final twelve hours of Jesus Christ’s life and death places these inconsistencies and the mistreatment of the modern Jews back into the spotlight. This alleged literal translation caused many contemporary Jews to cry out in protest over the hard-line depiction in Mel Gibson’s new film The Passion of the Christ.
Part of the reason this new film is causing so much controversy is because of Gibson’s blatant reinterpretations and artistic license taken throughout the film. He tends to go out of bounds with the already tough Jewish public sentiment in regard to Christ’s death and creates a completely anti-Semitic work. Artistic license is acceptable when creating, but when the claim is made that the work will be a literal translation of the gospels, one looses the ability to fabricate and enters into a new realm of scrutiny.
Mel took a copious amount of artistic license with this film, but he does not see it that way. In 1965, the Catholic Church via the pope in the Vatican declared, among other things, that the Jews were not responsible for the crucifixion of Christ. This declaration is formally entitled Vatican II. It exonerates the Jews and condemns all those still seeking Jewish suffering. It directly affects the Catholics, which means that Gibson and his family, who are not Catholics, are not required to abide by these new dictates.
Mel, his family and a group of others called The Holy Family, have decided that their particular form of Catholicism needed to be further amended and conservatively redefined. They practice the Trinitine Mass, an extremely conservative form of Christianity based on traditional Catholicism, and they openly reject the changes of Vatican II. In short, they still hold present and past Jews responsible in particular for the death of Christ.
Mel’s father, Hutton Gibson, stated “all the popes since John XXIII are illegitimate anti-popes, the Second Vatican Council was a ‘Masonic plot backed by Jews’, and the Holocaust figure of 6 million Jews killed was an exaggeration” (Schroth 2). He himself is a full-fledged member of this ultra conservative right wing theology and did nothing but illustrate their prejudiced philosophies to the media and an interested society at large. He is an accurate reflection of the ideals that helped to form the interpretations governing this film.
Mel’s self-professed goals for this film were simple. ” Gibson claimed that his account would be historically truthful because it would be based on the Gospels” (Schroth 3). He was unimpressed with previous attempts to depict the passion in film so he embarked on the journey of telling this story. He wanted to depict the scriptures literally and show the events the way they truly happened. Gibson funded his attempt with his own 25 million dollars and the rest was history. This is an attempt to influence his audience to believe that the sacrifice Christ made for humanity happened the way he and his “Holy Family” see it. By creating a flashy high-profile film he makes this subject popular and accessible to the secular world as well as the established Christian community.
No matter what Gibson claimed to begin with he fell short of his publicly stated intentions. After viewing his finished product one can easily walk away with the notion that this is actually an Anti-Semitic film and not the truthful enlightenment of the Scriptures originally purported. First, because Gibson stated the film would be ‘Scripturaly truthful’ one must stay alert, knowing that the film starts off on shaky ground. The bible is a huge collection of literal contradictions and potentially inaccurate historical events, “the Gospels themselves, written between A.D. 70 and 100, are not reliable historical documents. They contradict one another on detailsâ€¦” (Schroth 3). These inconsistencies can and do become a damning problem when one begins to make claims using the bible as infallible support as Gibson does for the film.
Second, people interpret the bible’s same passages in many different ways. This is part of the reason that Christianity separated into so many factions at different times throughout history. It is the reason so many people believe they are acting within spiritual grace. While other Christians may think the same action would be deviating from the correct path. These differing interpretations have been a source of constant confusion for two millennia, with no end in sight. So when Gibson makes a movie based on the scripture it could contain almost anything, slanted and yet still hold validity and accuracy. However this does not mean it was the way the true events occurred in history. It means he is trying to make truth from what can be anecdotal metaphors without any real support for actual fact regardless of Scripture.
Perhaps most intriguing here is that the bible is actually at odds, within itself, as to the actual culpability of the Jews. The four gospels do not agree with the role the Jews played in Jesus’ execution, the amount of Jews present during the entire ordeal and ultimately whether or not they are guilty at all. Gibson in his film removes all the bibles messy inconsistencies and forces the Jews to shoulder the responsibility themselves; all the while operating under the pretense that this is the most faithful rendition of Scripture yet. This is a condemnable offence by itself on Gibson’s behalf.
Gibson’s film boasts several inconsistencies with the Bible. This is a rough point for a film, which was purported to be a truthful translation of the Scripture. If we accept the Bible as fact, as faithful Christians do, then we are instantly exposed to many small changes and artistic licensing. These new interpretations singularly may not present an offence, but collectively within the span of a two-hour film become impossible to ignore.
Among the more prominent of these points in dispute with the facts as the bible presents them are the inclusion of the devil as a supporting character. He, or she in the film, does not enter even once into Christ’s final twelve hours at all. No matter how great Satan is as a metaphor for evil in general, he had no place here. The portrayal of Harrod as an unbelievably self-consumed man is acceptable. The problem there was removing a classic sense of blame which can be interpreted as guilt in the role he played in sending Christ to a certain death at the hands of Pilate. He became a nonentity that only slowed the progression of the story. The depiction of the irrational high court’s evaluation and sentencing of Christ is not congruent with the scriptures as well. The court actually speaks words directly from scripture but acts in a way that makes them seem to be just a well-dressed addition to the radically insane Jewish mob. There is a thoroughly unbelievable Jewish mob, which defies both scripture in most cases and also reality throughout the entire film. With the exception of Jesus’ inner circle there is no scene in this film that does not feature throngs of Jews acting horribly by spitting, beating and ridiculing Christ. It losses effect after fifteen minutes and just becomes farcical. Jesus and his inner circle are not portrayed as Jews in this film. They read as something else entirely, but the truth is they were Jews and just the sign above Christ’s cross was not enough to show that. This subtle technique only further pushed the Jews into a corner of singular guilt. This was particularly ridiculous. The outright destruction of the throne and the Jewish temple with the high priests falling all over themselves was a blatant misrepresentation of the truth. The Bible’s account only shows the sacred curtain being ripped down. Again, this is a real strike against the Jews with nothing to back it in terms of scriptural fact. Last, and very important to these minor arguments was the extreme brutification of the criminal Barrabas. His role in the film is taken out of chronological order from the scriptures in all cases. This would seem minuscule, but it becomes profound, when in the film the Jewish mob chooses a disgusting known killer of Jews over a scourged and mutilated Jesus Christ. As opposed to how it actually takes place in scripture before the whipping. Again, all of these points are inconsistent with the Bible as a fact, and most of them are used to make the Jews look horrible, so that their sole blame can be easily established.
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The next and possibly most important point illustrating Mel’s disdain for the Jews is his treatment of the crucifixion, whipping and flogging in the film. In all four of the Gospels there is a description of the torture and execution of Jesus, but in only two of these accounts is he ever flogged. When mention of his flogging appears it is only included as an unelaborated fragment of another sentence. There is substantial doubt as to whether or not the scourging ever happened, let alone the flogging, but this is not how Gibson portrays this event. Gibson uses the bible’s lack of detail as a green light to insert his own interpretations as he sees fit. He literally takes the sentence fragment from the two Gospels which mentioning a whipping, and recreates a seriously significant new transgression in Christ’s final trials. This newfound trial is then portrayed to be even more severe than the actual crucifixion itself, finally becoming Christ’s horrific true sacrifice. Gibson only had to reinsert the Jews as the scapegoat decision makers and in the audience’s eyes they would automatically take the blame for this horrifying act. This is a very subtle and true masterstroke on Gibson’s part and it shows his deliberate intent completely.
Gibson’s doctoring of the Gospel’s accounts, reinterpretations of their clear passages and wholesale elaborations on their context becomes damning. It changes the movie from a literal interpretation of the Bible and creates a propaganda piece outlining one fanatical but skillful director’s point of view: the Jews are not only responsible for Christ’s death but are guilty of an execution so brutal and a torture so heinous that it is literally unparalleled in human history. Furthermore, they should still be held accountable even now 2000 years later. Not only are these concepts ridiculous, but they became so polarized before the movie even released, that Gibson, probably realizing he had gone to far, cut out several lines from the film directly accusing the Jews of wrong doing. He knew he had crossed the line and would have an increasingly serious problem on his hands because the script pieces he removed were literal text from the Bible, not speculative fodder like many of his other treatments of the events. He must have truly understood that what he was doing was deplorable if he felt that cutting actual, literal text was acceptable when his goal was to make a truthful version of the Gospel in film.
In order to understand how deeply Gibson’s desire to defame the Jews runs, we need only examine the treatment of one of the movies main characters. Gibson’s cruel intent is ironically tied to his saintly portrayal of the man Pontius Pilate. It is first important to note that all four of the Gospels are uniquely in unison on one thing: Pilate killed Jesus. Pilate made it his final decision to crucify Christ. If the whipping and scourging happened at all the way it did in the film, Pilate made that so. A small group of Jews 2000 years ago called for Christ’s execution, but it was Pilate who ordered it. Pilate is a monster, and he has always carried that reputation so fiercely that it is and has been common knowledge to Christians for 2000 years. It is Pilate who is responsible for Christ’s demise and not the Jews, but Gibson has another idea.
For one very specific reason Gibson sees fit to take extreme artistic license once again with the facts as presented in the Bible and utilizes revisionist history to reinvent the monster Pilate into a good man. In his film Pilate is presented almost as a hero. He is the voice of reason and personifies logic. He is completed with a cliché good-guy demeanor that is not at all the standard template for this dubious historical figure. Gibson plays him out in the film as a fine, moral Roman Tribune possessed of extraordinary logic and sympathy, struggling with a profound unwillingness to execute Christ amidst throngs of blood-hungry, insane Jews. Gibson manufactured Pilate into deity from an evil human being, and by doing that absolved Pilate of guilt.
Pilate’s absolution was paramount to Gibson because it drives the nail home on the Jews. Gibson has carefully crafted many inconsistencies with the scriptures in order to create an even more terrifying version of Christ’s ordeals. With Pilate he removed any and all others associated with the wrongful death of Christ so that the burden would fall squarely on the Jews. There literally remains no third party to convolute the picture of now clearly established blame.
Finally Gibson’s grand-masterstroke can be revealed. The audience’s horror with his extreme violent depictions of scourging and crucifixion will subconsciously transform into a basis of hatred against the Jews. This hatred of the character Jews in the film is probably intended to further proliferate a continuing Anti Semitic sentiment in both Christian and global Culture, perpetuating a 2000-year-old racial prejudice
Gibson is an experienced master of his craft, which means that he acted deliberately. Nothing could have appeared in a film he produced, directed, financed and helped to write without his knowing and approval of every small detail. He can point no fingers here; there is nowhere to hide. All of his ugly subtleties were in the end, all to apparent to people with an open mind and an understanding of the facts as presented in the Bible. This is Gibson’s true intent for this film, not historic truth based on the Gospels at all.
Gibson’s attempt to slander and blame the Jews either shows a profound lack of understanding or a scalding ignorance of the Christian faith on his part. He thinks he is a very devout Christian, but Christians believe in one very important thing: Jesus Christ is the Son of God and he sacrificed himself to atone for all of man’s sins. Gibson’s film does not reflect this ideal. He blames the Jews directly, but they could not be directly responsible at all. This shows either his inability to accept the fact, or just a simple prejudice. The Jews are not guilty because all mankind is guilty. A true follower of the teachings of Christ knows this and acts accordingly. After all, Jews helped Christ to fulfill the prophecies needed in order to die for all mankind’s sin. This could serve to shed a fresh, new, and positive light on the Jews; in the end they are God’s chosen people.
Gibson’s extremist mincing throughout the film works against his established intentions. His interpretations are shallow and transparent. They clearly show his prejudice towards the Jewish people, and he can only come off as an ugly person in the end. Intelligent people and open-minded Christians will not be swayed by the coercive piece of propaganda that The Passion Of The Christ is. It will insult them and their intelligence. Gibson’s only stroke of brilliance involved with this project was displaying that he understood the psyche of the religious-right in the US. He knew how to strike up the publicity on this film. Not only did he get the hard-core right wing Christian community to back it without question, he drummed up an overwhelming amount of raw curiosity throughout the secular world. His story, the publicity, the controversy, the disagreements, the inconsistencies, earned him notoriety, acclaim and over 300 million dollars. That money may be the only true success he earns with this film, because anyone ignorant of Christ’s story will not be converted by this nonsense. They will just be confused about how his portrayal of Jesus could measure up to the man so many people worship as God.