Mel Gibson's Film "The Passion of Christ"
SPECIAL OFFER ON THE PASSION OF CHRIST IN SCRIPTURE AND HISTORY
The long-awaited book THE PASSION OF CHRIST IN SCRIPTURE AND HISTORY (208 pages), has just come off the press. It has an attractive four-colors laminated cover, and is written in a simple, nontechnical language that the average reader can understand.
Millions of viewers of Mel Gibson's THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST are led to believe that the movie faithfully portrays the Gospels' accounts of Christ's Passion. This popular perception is fostered not only by Gibson's claims regarding the biblical accuracy of his movie, but also by the endorsements of popular preachers, who promote the movie as a biblical masterpiece.
These claims are grossly inaccurate. This investigation, as well as studies done by respected Catholic and Protestant scholars, clearly shows that The Passion of the Christ is strictly a Catholic movie, largely based on Catholic legends and superstitious beliefs foreign to the Bible. Distinctive Catholic beliefs are embedded in the movie.
Unfortunately, most moviegoers do not have the knowledge necessary to distinguish between biblical facts about The Passion and superstitious Catholic legends. They respond to the movie emotionally rather than rationally. It is this concern that motivated the author to write this book.
This book has two major objectives. The first is to provide the information necessary to help people distinguish between what is biblical and what is unbiblical in Gibson's portrayal of Christ's Passion.
The second objective is to help Christians of all persuasions more fully appreciate the centrality, necessity, and achievements of the Cross. May a thoughtful reading of this book lead many people to appreciate more fully the Passion of Christ as His passionate love to redeem us from the penalty (Gal 3:13) and the power of sin (Titus 2:14) through His sacrificial death.
A massive distribution of this timely book can help countless people who have viewed Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, to recognize the deceptive Catholic teachings embedded in the movie as well as to appreciate more fully the biblical meaning of Christ's sufferings and death.
Film release date was February 25, 2003
MEL GIBSON'S FILM "THE PASSION OF CHRIST"
February 6, 2004 (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, firstname.lastname@example.org; for instructions about subscribing and unsubscribing or changing addresses, see the information paragraph at the end of the article) -
Hollywood actor-director Mel Gibson's controversial film on the death of Christ is proving popular among Christians even before its February 25 release date.
The graphic, $25 million film "The Passion of the Christ" depicts Christ's life from the Garden of Gethsemane to the resurrection.
After a private showing, Billy Graham praised it. Mission America Coalition plans to use the movie for evangelism. Campus Crusade is promoting it. Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in southern California purchased 18,000 tickets. The Evangelical Free Church of Naperville, Illinois, purchased more than 1,000. Two members of Wheaton Bible Church in Wheaton, Illinois, have offered to buy out two screenings of the movie at a local theater. After Gibson showed part of the movie to a convention of the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship, he received a standing ovation. Afterward, the daughter of the organization's president laid hands on Gibson and asked Jesus to "bind Satan, bind the press, we ask you, Lord" (Peter Boyer, "The Jesus War," The New Yorker, Sept. 15. 2003). Worship Leader magazine for Feb. 2004 offers a free guide to Gibson's movie and says, "There has never been a film like it! Powerful, life changing, an unprecedented opportunity for evangelism & discipleship." Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral was given a private showing and afterward proclaimed, "It's not your dream, this is God's dream. He gave it to you, because He knew you wouldn't throw it away. Trust Him." The movie has been recommended by psychologist James Dobson and by Don Hodel, the current president of Focus on the Family. Ted Haggard, president of the National Evangelical Association, called Gibson "the Michelangelo of this generation." The Catholic League purchased 1,200 tickets at $9.75 apiece and will make them available to members for $5. The film was shown to members of the Vatican Secretariat of State, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and all of them expressed unanimous appreciation and approval.
A positive review of the movie is making the rounds via e-mail under the name "Paul Harvey's Comments on The Passion," but it was actually written by Roman Catholic apologist Keith Fournier.
Gibson belongs to a Traditionalist Catholic group that performs the mass in Latin, abstains from meat on Fridays, eschews ecumenism, and other such things that were changed at the Vatican II Council in the 1960s. Gibson built his own Catholic chapel, called Holy Family, near his California home. During the filming, Gibson attended a Catholic mass every morning with the misguided desire "to be squeaky clean." The script was translated into Aramaic and Latin by Jesuit priest William Fulco.
When asked by a Protestant interviewer if someone can be saved apart from the Roman Catholic Church, Gibson replied, "There is no salvation for those outside the Church" (The New Yorker, Sept. 15. 2003). This was the official teaching of Rome prior to Vatican II.
The movie is not based solely on the Bible but also on the visions of Roman Catholic nun-mystics St. Anne Catherine Emmerich and Mary of Agreda.
Of the visions of Emmerich, Gibson said, "She supplied me with stuff I never would have thought of" (The New Yorker, Sept. 15, 2003).
Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824) was a German nun who allegedly had the stigmata or wounds of Christ in her body. Emmerich supposedly "had the use of reason from her birth and could understand liturgical Latin from her first time at Mass." During the last 12 years of her life, she allegedly ate no food except the wafer of the Catholic mass. Her visions on the life of Christ were published in 1824 under the title "The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." They are still in print and were consulted by Gibson. An advertisement for Emmerich's Life of the Virgin Mary says, "This book is filled with unusual, saintly descriptions that are not recorded in the Gospel story -- descriptions that supplement and illustrate the Biblical narrative in a way that makes the actual Scripture passages truly come alive." Thus these alleged visions go beyond the Bible. According to Emmerich's visions, Protestants also go to purgatory but they suffer more than Catholics because no one prays for them or offers masses for them. She taught that it is more holy to pray for souls in purgatory than for sinners who are still alive. Her deceptive visions on the suffering of Christ describe His scourging and crucifixion in great detail, giving many "facts" which do not appear in Scripture. For example, she claimed that Christ "quivered and writhed like a poor worm" and that He "cried in a suppressed voice, and a clear, sweet-sounding wailing" as He was being beaten. She even claimed that Christ "glanced at His torturers, and sued for mercy." She also claimed that Jesus suffered from a wound on his shoulder more than any other.
Mary of Agreda (1602-1665) was also a Catholic nun and visionary mystic. Her entire family entered monasteries and convents in 1618, which means that her mother and father disobeyed 1 Corinthians 7 and separated for the sake of the Catholic church. She was given to trances and even claimed that she could leave her body and teach people in foreign lands. Her book The Mystical City of God is about Mary. Like the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich, those of Mary of Agreda go far beyond the Bible. For example, she claimed that though Joseph ate meat, Jesus and Mary seldom did.
Not surprisingly, therefore, Gibson's film contains errors when judged by the biblical account. For example, after Christ's arrest and as He is being escorted to the high priest's residence, He is beaten, knocked down, and thrown off a bridge. After Christ is whipped, Mary gets down on her knees and wipes up the blood. Mary is shown assisting Jesus on the way to the cross, with Jesus telling her, "Behold I make all things new."
Jim Caviezel, who plays Jesus in the Gibson film, is also a staunch Roman Catholic. He prayed to St. Genesius of Arles and St. Anthony of Padua for help in his acting career. He has visited Medjugorje to witness the site where Mary allegedly appeared to six young people. One of the things that Mary allegedly told them is that the pope "should consider himself as the father of all people and not only the Christians." Caviezel said, "This film is something that I believe was made by Mary for her Son" (Interview with Jim and Kerri Caviezel by Catholic priest Mario Knezovic, Radio "Mir" Medjugorje, December 2003; www.medjugorje.hr/int%20Caviezel%20ENG.htm). Caviezel also said that his goal with the movie is to "bring mankind back together." Caviezel said that he was given "a piece of the true cross, which he kept with him all of the time during the filming of the movie. He also had relics of "Padre Pio, St. Anthony of Padoua, Ste Maria Goretti, and saint Denisius, the Patron saint of Actors." He prayed the Rosary to Mary every day.
We believe that it is idolatrous to depict the Lord Jesus Christ in pictures and films. The Jesus in Mel Gibson's movie is depicted in the typical fashion with long hair, whereas the Bible is clear that Jesus would not have worn long hair (1 Cor. 11:14). Gibson got his inspiration for the long-haired Jesus from the Shroud of Turin. He attempted to re-create the face depicted on the Shroud.
Mel Gibson is famous for his roles in R-rated films such as Braveheart and Lethal Weapon.
[Distributed by Way of Life Literature's Fundamental Baptist Information Service, a listing for Fundamental Baptists and other fundamentalist, Bible-believing Christians. Our goal in this particular aspect of our ministry is not devotional but is TO PROVIDE INFORMATION TO ASSIST PREACHERS IN THE PROTECTION OF THE CHURCHES IN THIS APOSTATE HOUR.
MEL GIBSON'S FILM ON "THE PASSION OF CHRIST"
Samuele Bachiocchi, Ph. D.,
Retired Professor of Theology and Church History
Several subscribers to our newsletter have asked me to comment upon the much-publicized film "The Passion of Christ" by Mel Gibson. The film is scheduled to be released on Ash Wednesday, February 25, 2004. On that day the film will be shown in 2000 theaters across America and in countless others cinemas overseas. Evangelical congregations are booking showings, and religious leaders are urging believers to view the film's opening days. In London, England, where I am in this moment, there is considerable interest even among our Adventist members for viewing the film. This past Sabbath I was asked by several members to comment on the film.
The dozen of reviews that I have read indicate that the film dramatizes in gruesome details the last 12 hours of Christ's bloody trial and crucifixion. Since I have not seen the film, my comments are based on reviews and the few snap-shots I have seen in the commercials advertising the film. My remarks will focus on the reaction of some Jewish leaders who have viewed the film and on the legitimacy to impersonate the Divine Son of God by a movie star.
Is it Biblically Correct to Impersonate Christ?
Is it biblically correct for a movie artist to impersonate and dramatize the last twelve hours of Christ's suffering, by portraying His body splattered with blood on the way to Calvary? Can such dramatization be biblically justified? Or does it represent a sacrilegious act condemned by the Second Commandment?
The question of the biblical and ethical legitimacy of dramatizing in a movie the final hours of Christ's agony and death, is never addressed in the reviews that I have read. The comments of movie critics and church leaders who have previewed the film, focus primarily on the artistic qualities and historical accuracy of the film. The problem is that a film about Christ's agony and death, may be artistically brilliant, but biblically flawed, because of its attempt to impersonate the Divine Son of God, reducing Him to a mere mortal human being. Any attempt to impersonate Christ, in a movie or in actual life, cannot be biblically justified. Paul condemns the impersonification of Christ in 2 Thessalonians 2 as an endtime sign of the Antichrist.
No mortal human being can to understand and experience what it means to suffer as the incarnate Son of God. Any attempt by an artist to act out Christ's suffering and death, may ultimately lead many simpleminded believers to a veneration of the movie-Christ they have seen, rather than of the biblical Christ they have not seen. The temptation to worship a visible and objective Christ can be seen in dominant Catholic countries, where the only Christ devout Catholics know and worship is the One they touch, see, and often wear as jewelry. Statues, crucifixes and pictures of the bleeding Savior, abound in devout Catholic homes. Instead of worshipping the invisible Lord in Spirit and Truth, they worship an idol that they can see, touch and feel.
God's Precaution to Prevent Objectification of Christ
We can hardly blame God for the attempts to objectify the three members of the Godhead through movies, statues, painting, statuettes, and religious jewelry. The Lord took utmost precaution to prevent human beings from materializing and objectifying His spiritual nature. This is evidenced, for example, by the fact that when the second Person of the Godhead became a Human Being for about thirty-three years, He refrained from leaving a single material mark that can be authenticated as His own. Christ did not build or own a house; He did not write books or own a library; He did not leave the exact date of His birth or of His death; He did not leave descendants. He left an empty tomb, but even this place is still disputed. He left no "thing" of Himself, but only the assurance of His spiritual presence: "Lo, I am with you 'always, to the close of the age" (Matt. 28 :20).
Why did Christ pass through this world in this mysterious fashion, leaving no physical footprints or material traces of Himself? Why did the Godhead miss the golden opportunity provided by the incarnation to leave a permanent material evidence and reminder of the Savior's life, suffering, and death on this planet? Why do the Gospel writers minimize the suffering of Christ's final hours? Why is the "blood" factor, which is so prominent in Gibson's "Passion," is largely missing in the narrative of the Passion? Is this not clear evidence of God's concern to protect mankind from the constant temptation of reducing a spiritual relationship into a "thing-worship"?
It was because of this same concern that God chose the Sabbath-a day rather than an object- as the symbol of a divine-human belonging relationship. Being time, a mystery that defies human attempts to define it, the Sabbath provides a constant protection against the worship of objects and a fitting reminder of the spiritual nature of the covenant relationship between God and His people. If Gibson was to accept the message of the Sabbath regarding the spiritual nature of God, he might consider withdrawing the film before its release. Such a courageous decision would prevent the adoption by million of Christians of a distorted view of Christ's suffering and death-a view that, as we shall shortly show, is conditioned by the Catholic teachings regarding the imitation of Christ's Passion, rather than by the biblical account of Golgotha.
During the past few months Gibson has shown a preview of the film to selected groups of Christian leaders (not to Jewish leaders), including the Pope and Billy Graham. The reactions to the sneak-peek rounds have been either shock or awe. There has little middle ground among the viewers. It is hard to imagine a movie provoking such contrasting reactions among selected religious audiences.
Pope John Paul is reported to have approved the film "as it is," that is, as a factual representation of the events leading to the Crucifixion. This is not surprising in view of the traditional Catholic teachings regarding the imitation of Christ's Passion. To quell the growing debate over the Pope's alleged comment, later on Vatican officials denied it, saying the pontiff was not in the habit of making artistic opinions public.
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls confirmed that the Pope has seen the film, which in his view is "a cinematographic transposition of the historical events of the Passion of Jesus Christ according to the Gospel."
Similar praises for the film have been expressed by numerous Protestant church leaders and newspaper reporters. They feel that the film shows in gruesome but factual details, how Jesus died to redeem mankind. "The Passion of the Christ," Billy Graham has said, is "a lifetime of sermons in one movie" (Newsweek, February 16).
NO BLOODY DETAILS IN THE GOSPELS
The problem with such positive evaluations of the film is their failure to recognize that there are no gruesome, bloody details in the Gospels' narrative about Christ's trial, mocking, and crucifixion. As I took time to reread the four accounts of Christ's trial and crucifixion, I was impressed by the absence of "blood" in the stories. The only reference to "blood" is found in John 19:34 where we are told that one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side to find out if He was dead. "A sudden flow of blood and water" came out. In view of the fact that Christ was already dead, his legs were not broken, like in the case of the two thieves standing next to Him. If the focus of the narrative was on "bloody details," then the amputation of the thieves' leg, would have received far greater coverage. But, the focus of the four Evangelists is not on the "Passion," that is, on the bleeding Christ, but on the nobility of His character, which is revealed in the dignified way he handled Himself before His accusers, mockers, and executioners. Crucifixions were common in those days. Thousands of Jews were crucified at various times by the Romans because of their constant uprising. What makes Christ's crucifixion unique, is not the unusual harsh treatment He received, but His willingness to suffer silently "like a lamb led to the slaughter and as a sheep before her shearer" (Is 53:7). The focus of The Passion is notably different. According to Newsweek: "The arrest, the scourging and the Crucifixion are depicted in harsh, explicit detail in the R-rated movie. One of Jesus' eyes is swollen shut from his first beating as he is dragged from Gethsemane; the Roman torture, the long path to Golgotha bearing the wooden cross, and the nailing of Jesus' hands and feet to the beams are filmed unsparingly. The effect of the violence is at first shocking, then numbing, and finally reaches a point where many viewers may spend as much time clinically wondering how any man could have survived such beatings as they do sympathizing with his plight." Gibson's focus on the violent means in which Jesus was murdered, may reflect his commercial concerns as well his traditional Catholic beliefs. Commercially, it is a known fact that "blood" sells movies. Film producers and promoters know that snap-shots of the bleeding Christ appeal to some bloodthirsty elements of our society. BLOOD SELLS MOVIES
Popular films contain a generous (sickening) dosage of violence and bloodshed. This I know, not from viewing films, but from being confronted during the evening news with the snap-shots of shooting and bloodshed, used to advertise the latest films. The marketing industry know too-well that "blood sells" and this applies to religious films as well.
Frederica Matthewes-Green perceptively notes, "It's a mark of our age that we don't believe something is realistic unless it is brutal. But there's another factor to consider. When the four evangelists were writing their own accounts of the Passion, they didn't take Gibson's approach. In fact, the descriptions of Jesus' beating and crucifixion are as minimal as the writers can make them. Instead of appealing to our empathy, they invite us to awesome wonder, because they had a different understanding of the meaning of his suffering."
Apparently Gibson has a reputation for directing and/or producing films like Braveheart, where blood flows freely. Gregg Easterbrook writes in The New Republic that "Gibson has a reputation for movies that revel in gore, so there's legitimate worry that The Passion will depict an over-the-top, splatter-movie Hollywood version of Christ's final hours; and Gibson will sell this as historically accurate 'truth' when it is just one of many possible interpretations of an event no one can be sure about."
In a lengthy and penetrating analysis of the Passion, published in Newsweek (February 16, 2004) Jon Meacham, who previewed the film, raises important questions about the historical accuracy of the film. Like other reviewers, Meacham feels that Gibson "makes 'the Jews' look worse than the Romans." He writes: "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. . . . [In reality] Pilate was not the humane figure Gibson depicts. According to Philo of Alexandria, the prefect was of 'inflexible, stubborn, and cruel disposition,' and known to execute troublemakers without trial."
The sad reality is that millions of Christians will accept as truth Gibson's fictitious misrepresentations of Christ's suffering and death, instead of taking time to read and reflect upon the mysterious wonder of the Passion as cryptically portrayed in the Gospels.
HISTORICAL CATHOLIC ANTI-JUDAISM
Gibson's film may be conditioned not only by our violent culture that accepts bloodshed as a form of entertainment, but also by the traditional Catholic teaching that the Jews as a people are guilty of murdering Christ. Historically, the Catholic church has promoted anti-Jewish policies and practices by blaming the Jews for the death of Christ.
During the First Crusade in the eleventh century "Christian" soldiers massacred European Jews while they were on their way to expel Muslim from the Holy Land. Numerous church councils strongly condemned the Jews as murderers of Christ and even passed anti-Jews legislation, depriving them of civil rights and forcing them to go into hiding during the Easter week. Numerous books have been written on the historical manifestations of Catholic anti-Semitism. For example, some Church Councils decreed that any Jew found walking in the street during Easter week, could be killed with impunity.
Pope Innocent III (1160-1216) said that "the blasphemers of the Christian name, are forced into the servitude of which they made themselves deserving when they raised their sacrilegious hands against Him who had come to confer true liberty upon them, thus calling down His blood upon themselves and their children."
After the horror of Hitler's attempt to liquidate the Jews, the Roman Catholic Church has reconsidered her historical position against the Jews as the murderers of Christ. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) issued a thoughtful and compelling statement on the charge of deicide levelled against the Jews: "True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today . . . in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved . . . by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone."
The Pope himself has apologized to the Jews for the past Catholic persecution of their people. But Catholic traditionalists disapprove the action taken by Vatican II in absolving the Jews as people for the death of Christ.
Mel Gibson most likely belongs to the traditional wing of Catholicism which does not accept the new Catholic admission that sinners in general, and not the Jews in particular, share in the responsibility for Christ's death. Gibson's father, Hutton, told New York Times that "a Masonic plot backed by the Jews" influenced Vatican II to change the Catholic position. According to some reviewers, The Passion of Christ reflects the historical Catholic anti-Jewish position, by depicting the Jews as a sinister people.
The legitimate concern of some Jewish and Christian leaders is that The Passion, may rekindle historic antisemitism. Jon Meachan aptly notes: "Four decades after the Second Vatican Council repudiated the idea that the Jewish people were guilty of 'deicide,' many Jewish leaders and theologians fear the movie, with its portraits of the Jewish high priest Caiaphas leading an angry mob and of Pilate as a reluctant, sympathetic executioner, may slow or even reverse 40 years of work explaining the common bonds between Judaism and Christianity" (Newsweek, February 16, 2004).
Some prominent Jewish leaders who have secretly previewed the film, have been quick to point out the way the film defames the Jews. For example, after viewing the film, Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles, said: "I can tell you this is a terrible film, a terrible portrayal of Jews and will cause tremendous harm and be a delight to all the enemies of the Jewish people. . . . The film makes the Jews look as bad as possible. . . . The Jews are not only contrasted badly against the new Jews, the Christians, but also against the Roman hierarchy, which with the exception of the four whippers of Christ appear as pleasing, thoughtful and sensitive."
Rabbi Hier objects to the physical images of the Jews in the film, saying, "I was embarrassed by their evil look, their sinister faces-they all look like dark-eyed Rasputins and their faces are in stark contrast to the wonderful expressions on the faces of the Jewish Christians."
Abraham Foxman, the President of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, was able to see the film in a secretive way at a special gathering of Christian leaders, which was supposed to be restricted to Christians. He said: "The sad part is that this film is made by a man who declares himself to be a man of God and truth. Yet he is predetermining who can the see the film. . . . The film is as bad as it can be. It portrays the Jews as bloodthirsty. . . . He takes every opportunity to [blame] the Jews. . . . What makes this dangerous is that he is a genius of his art and by making it as painful as it is, your catharsis and anger rise. . . . The Vatican may have absolved the Jews of the responsibility for the death [of Christ], but Mr Gibson has not."
THE LEGACY OF ANTI-JUDAISM
As one who has spent several years researching the role of anti-Judaism in leading many Christian to abandon biblical truths such as the Sabbath and Passover, I am very sensitive to the above comments by Jewish leaders. What many Christians ignore is that heresies like the observance of the weekly Sunday and of the annual Easter Sunday, are the outgrowth of the development of a theology of contempt toward the Jews that began early in the second century.
For example, Justin Martyr, a leader of the Church of Rome at about A. D. 150, rejects the Sabbath as a trademark of Jewish depravity. He maintains that God gave to the Jews the Sabbath and circumcision as a sign of their wickedness, because they are a murderous people who killed the prophets and crucified Christ. The Jews deserve to be punished by the Romans and Sabbathkeeping provides to the Roman authorities an easy way to identify who are the murderous Jews. This subject is discussed at length in chapter 7 of my dissertation FROM SABBATH TO SUNDAY.
On a similar vein the Emperor Constantine urged Christians to abandon the Jewish (biblical) Passover date and adopt instead the Easter-Sunday date promoted by the Bishop of Rome, in order "to have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd." It is shocking to learn how some popular Christian beliefs and practices were inspired more by hate for the Jews than love for Jesus Christ.
Many Christians ignore that the Jews in general were quite receptive to the teachings of Jesus and later to the Messianic proclamation of the Apostles. Those who were hostile to Christ were primarily some of the Jewish leaders such as the Pharisees and the priests. For example, we read in John 11:45-47 that "Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what Jesus did [in resurrecting Lazarus], put their faith in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin."
The plotting for Christ's death was done by the Sanhedrin, not by the Jewish people in general. An indication of the Jewish positive response to Christ, can be seen in the thousands of Jews who accepted Him as their expected Messiah on the Day of Pentecost and afterwards. In Acts 21:20 James tells Paul that "myriads of Jews have believed and they are all zealous for the law." On the basis of the figures provided by Acts, it is estimated that about half of the Jewish population living in Jerusalem accepted Jesus of Nazareth as their expected Messiah. On the basis of this fact it is inaccurate and misleading to make the Jewish people as a whole guilty of Christ's death. This means that to the extent that Gibson's "Passion" places the blame for Christ's death on the Jews as a people, to the same degree it perpetrates the historical Catholic anti-Jewish beliefs and practices that have prevailed until recent times.
CATHOLIC IMITATION OF CHRIST'S SUFFERINGS
Gibson's interest to reenact in his movie "The Passion of Christ," may also be influenced by traditional Catholic teachings regarding the value of imitating Christ's suffering as a means of penance and salvation. I have seen Catholic FLAGELLANTS participating in the Easter procession on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. They scourge themselves or are scourged by others. This voluntary flagellation is seen as form of exalted devotion to Christ, in imitation of His Passion. Flagellation has been promoted among the various monastic orders. "Cardinal Pietro Damiani advocated the substitution of flagellation for the recitation of the penitential psalms, and drew up a scale according to which 1000 strokes were equivalent to ten psalms, and 15,000 to the whole psalter." The exaltation and imitation of Christ's Passion as a form of popular devotion, is promoted today in the Catholic Church, especially by the religious order of the Passionists, that was founded by Paul of the Cross in 1720. They take a vow to promote Christ's Passion by word and deed. Gibson, being a traditional Catholic, may well wish to promote in a subtle way through his "Passion" film, the Catholic devotion to Christ's Passion as a means of penance and salvation. Such teaching is foreign to those Protestants who accept the biblical view of salvation as a divine gift of grace, and not a meritorious human achievement. Yet, the film could favorably predispose Protestants to accept the Catholic devotion to the Passion as a way of salvation. ENDTIME SHOWDOWN OVER WORSHIP
Gibson's "Passion" could well be part of the prophetic endtime showdown over worship. The three angel messages of Revelation 14, summons endtime believers to worship the true God and abandon the false worship promoted by spiritual Babylon. The false worship of God is promoted today in a variety of ways, which transcend the Sabbath/Sunday controversy. A common characteristic of false worship is the attempt to objectify God by bringing Him down to the level where people can see Him, touch Him, feel Him, and use Him.
The objectification and manipulation of God is accomplished in a variety of ways such as the veneration of images and relics, the attribution of divine prerogatives to church leaders like the Pope, the physical and emotional apprehension of God through the stimulus of beat music (as discussed in the previous newsletter by Pastor Lloyd Grolimund), the impersonification of God through drama and films, the collocation of God in "sacred" shrines to which devout believers make pilgrimages.
The outcome of all the human divisings to objectify God is to make Him part of our human experience. The ultimate result is that people end up worshipping visible and tangible gods created after their own imagination, rather than worshipping the transcendent and invisible God of biblical revelation, whom we can approach only in "spirit and truth."
For more details, visit www.biblicalperspectives.com and click on the end time issues newsletter # 111
Here is what Reuter's Hollywood Reporter Kirk Honeycutt had to say in part: "Yet even a Bible student might wonder why Gibson would choose to downplay the self-sacrifice and love that went into Jesus' submission to torture and death. The spiritual significance of the crucifixion gets swamped in an orgy of violence visited upon Jesus' body. Indeed, it's doubtful any human being could remain conscious for his own execution were he to endure the level of physical abuse graphically depicted here. And hard to imagine, the key figure here, Jesus Himself (a game, blood-crusted James Caviezel), is such a punching bag for most of the movie that the filmmakers lose sight of his message..........more troubling is Gibson's decision to make Jesus into a victim of political intrigue, thus denying him his martyrdom........... ..........Why do the many disciples follow Him? What does His promise of eternal life mean in the context of these events? Gibson's intense concentration on the scourging and whipping of the physical body virtually denies any metaphysical significance to the most famous half-day in history."-unquote The New Yorker: NAILED
by DAVID DENBY
Mel Gibsonï¿¿s ï¿¿The Passion of the Christ.ï¿¿
Issue of 2004-03-01
In ï¿¿The Passion of the Christ,ï¿¿ Mel Gibson shows little interest in celebrating the electric charge of hope and redemption that Jesus Christ brought into the world. He largely ignores Jesusï¿¿ heart-stopping eloquence, his startling ethical radicalism and personal radianceï¿¿Christ as a ï¿¿paragon of vitality and poetic assertion,ï¿¿ as John Updike described Jesusï¿¿ character in his essay ï¿¿The Gospel According to Saint Matthew.ï¿¿ Cecil B. De Mille had his version of Jesusï¿¿ life, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Martin Scorsese had theirs, and Gibson, of course, is free to skip over the incomparable glories of Jesusï¿¿ temperament and to devote himself, as he does, to Jesusï¿¿ pain and martyrdom in the last twelve hours of his life. As a viewer, I am equally free to say that the movie Gibson has made from his personal obsessions is a sickening death trip, a grimly unilluminating procession of treachery, beatings, blood, and agonyï¿¿and to say so without indulging in ï¿¿anti-Christian sentimentï¿¿ (Gibsonï¿¿s term for what his critics are spreading). For two hours, with only an occasional pause or gentle flashback, we watch, stupefied, as a handsome, strapping, at times half-naked young man (James Caviezel) is slowly tortured to death. Gibson is so thoroughly fixated on the scourging and crushing of Christ, and so meagrely involved in the spiritual meanings of the final hours, that he falls in danger of altering Jesusï¿¿ message of love into one of hate.
And against whom will the audience direct its hate? As Gibson was completing the film, some historians, theologians, and clergymen accused him of emphasizing the discredited charge that it was the ancient Jews who were primarily responsible for killing Jesus, a claim that has served as the traditional justification for the persecution of the Jews in Europe for nearly two millennia. The critics turn out to have been right. Gibson is guilty of some serious mischief in his handling of these issues. But he may have also committed an aggression against Christian believers. The movie has been hailed as a religious experience by various Catholic and Protestant groups, some of whom, with an ungodly eye to the commercial realities of film distribution, have prepurchased blocks of tickets or rented theatres to insure ï¿¿The Passionï¿¿ a healthy opening weekendï¿¿s business. But how, I wonder, will people become better Christians if they are filled with the guilt, anguish, or loathing that this movie may create in their souls?
ï¿¿The Passionï¿¿ opens at night in the Garden of Gethsemaneï¿¿a hushed, misty grotto bathed in a purplish disco light. Softly chanting female voices float on the soundtrack, accompanied by electronic shrieks and thuds. At first, the movie looks like a graveyard horror flick, and then, as Jewish temple guards show up bearing torches, like a faintly tedious art film. The Jews speak in Aramaic, and the Romans speak in Latin; the movie is subtitled in English. Gibson distances the dialogue from us, as if Jesusï¿¿ famous words were only incidental and the visual spectacleï¿¿Gibsonï¿¿s work as a directorï¿¿were the real point. Then the beatings begin: Jesus is punched and slapped, struck with chains, trussed, and dangled over a wall. In the middle of the night, a hasty trial gets under way before Caiaphas (Mattia Sbragia) and other Jewish priests. Caiaphas, a cynical, devious, petty dictator, interrogates Jesus, and then turns him over to the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate (Hristo Naumov Shopov), who tries again and again to spare Jesus from the crucifixion that the priests demand. From the movie, we get the impression that the priests are either merely envious of Jesusï¿¿ spiritual power or inherently and inexplicably vicious. And Pilate is not the bloody governor of history (even Tiberius paused at his crimes against the Jews) but a civilized and humane leader tormented by the burdens of powerï¿¿he holds a soulful discussion with his wife on the nature of truth.
Gibson and his screenwriter, Benedict Fitzgerald, selected and enhanced incidents from the four Gospels and collated them into a single, surpassingly violent narrativeï¿¿the scourging, for instance, which is mentioned only in a few phrases in Matthew, Mark, and John, is drawn out to the point of excruciation and beyond. History is also treated selectively. The writer Jon Meacham, in a patient and thorough article in Newsweek, has detailed the many small ways that Gibson disregarded what historians know of the period, with the effect of assigning greater responsibility to the Jews, and less to the Romans, for Jesusï¿¿ death. Meachamï¿¿s central thesis, which is shared by others, is that the priests may have been willing to sacrifice Jesusï¿¿whose mass following may have posed a threat to Roman governanceï¿¿in order to deter Pilate from crushing the Jewish community altogether. Itï¿¿s also possible that the temple ï¿¿te may have wanted to get rid of the leader of a new sect, but only Pilate had the authority to order a crucifixionï¿¿a very public event that was designed to be a warning to potential rebels. Gibson ignores most of the dismaying political context, as well as the likelihood that the Gospel writers, still under Roman rule, had very practical reasons to downplay the Romansï¿¿ role in the Crucifixion. Itï¿¿s true that when the Roman soldiers, their faces twisted in glee, go to work on Jesus, they seem even more depraved than the Jews. But, as Gibson knows, history rescued the pagans from eternal blameï¿¿eventually, they came to their senses and saw the light. The Emperor Constantine converted in the early fourth century, and Christianized the empire, and the medieval period saw the rise of the Roman Catholic Church. So the Romansï¿¿ descendants triumphed, while the Jews were cast into darkness and, one might conclude from this movie, deserved what they got. ï¿¿The Passion,ï¿¿ in its confused way, confirms the old justifications for persecuting the Jews, and one somehow doubts that Gibson will make a sequel in which he reminds the audience that in later centuries the Church itself used torture and execution to punish not only Jews but heretics, non-believers, and dissidents.
I realize that the mere mention of historical research could exacerbate the awkward breach between medieval and modern minds, between literalist belief and the weighing of empirical evidence. ï¿¿John was an eyewitness,ï¿¿ Gibson has said. ï¿¿Matthew was there.ï¿¿ Well, they may have been there, but for decades itï¿¿s been a commonplace of Biblical scholarship that the Gospels were written forty to seventy years after the death of Jesus, and not by the disciples but by nameless Christians using both written and oral sources. Gibson can brush aside the work of scholars and historians because he has a powerful weapon at handï¿¿the cinemaï¿¿with which he can create something greater than argument; he can create faith. As a moviemaker, Gibson is not without skill. The sets, which were built in Italy, where the movie was filmed, are far from perfect, but they convey the beauty of Jerusalemï¿¿s courtyards and archways. Gibson, working with the cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, gives us the ravaged stone face of Calvary, the gray light at the time of the Crucifixion, the leaden pace of the movieï¿¿s spectacular agonies. Felliniesque tormenters gambol and jeer on the sidelines, and, at times, the whirl of figures around Jesus, both hostile and friendly, seems held in place by a kind of magnetic force. The hounding and suicide of the betrayer Judas is accomplished in a few brusque strokes. Here and there, the movie has a dismal, heavy-souled power.
By contrast with the dispatching of Judas, the lashing and flaying of Jesus goes on forever, prolonged by Gibsonï¿¿s punishing use of slow motion, sometimes with Jesusï¿¿ face in the foreground, so that we can see him writhe and howl. In the climb up to Calvary, Caviezel, one eye swollen shut, his mouth open in agony, collapses repeatedly in slow motion under the weight of the Cross. Then comes the Crucifixion itself, dramatized with a curious fixation on the technical detailsï¿¿an arm pulled out of its socket, huge nails hammered into hands, with Caviezel jumping after each whack. At that point, I said to myself, ï¿¿Mel Gibson has lost it,ï¿¿ and I was reminded of what other writers have pointed outï¿¿that Gibson, as an actor, has been beaten, mashed, and disembowelled in many of his movies. His obsession with pain, disguised by religious feelings, has now reached a frightening apotheosis.
Mel Gibson is an extremely conservative Catholic who rejects the reforms of the Second Vatican council. Heï¿¿s against complacent, feel-good Christianity, and, judging from his movie, he must despise the grandiose old Hollywood kitsch of ï¿¿The Robe,ï¿¿ ï¿¿The King of Kings,ï¿¿ ï¿¿The Greatest Story Ever Told,ï¿¿ and ï¿¿Ben-Hur,ï¿¿ with their Hallmark twinkling skies, their big stars treading across sacred California sands, and their lamblike Jesus, whose simple presence overwhelms Charlton Heston. But saying that Gibson is sincere doesnï¿¿t mean he isnï¿¿t foolish, or worse. He can rightly claim that thereï¿¿s a strain of morbidity running through Christian iconographyï¿¿one thinks of the reliquaries in Roman churches and the bloody and ravaged Christ in Northern Renaissance and German art, culminating in such works as Matthias Grï¿¿dï¿¿s 1515 ï¿¿Isenheim Altarpiece,ï¿¿ with its thorned Christ in full torment on the Cross. But the central tradition of Italian Renaissance painting left Christ relatively unscathed; the artists emphasized not the physical suffering of the man but the sacrificial nature of his death and the astonishing mystery of his transformation into godhoodï¿¿the Resurrection and the triumph over carnality. Gibson instructed Deschanel to make the movie look like the paintings of Caravaggio, but in Caravaggioï¿¿s own ï¿¿Flagellation of Christï¿¿ the body of Jesus is only slightly marked. Even Goya, who hardly shrank from dismemberment and pain in his work, created a ï¿¿Crucifixionï¿¿ with a nearly unblemished Jesus. Crucifixion, as the Romans used it, was meant to make a spectacle out of degradation and sufferingï¿¿to humiliate the victim through the apparatus of torture. By embracing the Roman pageant so openly, using all the emotional resources of cinema, Gibson has cancelled out the redemptive and transfiguring power of art. And by casting James Caviezel, an actor without charisma here, and then feasting on his physical destruction, he has turned Jesus back into a mere body. The depictions in ï¿¿The Passion,ï¿¿ one of the cruellest movies in the history of the cinema, are akin to the bloody Pop representation of Jesus found in, say, a roadside shrine in Mexico, where the addition of an Aztec sacrificial flourish makes the passion a little more passionate. Such are the traps of literal-mindedness. The great modernist artists, aware of the danger of kitsch and the fascination of sado-masochism, have largely withdrawn into austerity and awed abstraction or into fervent humanism, as in Scorseseï¿¿s ï¿¿The Last Temptation of Christï¿¿ (1988), which features an existential Jesus sorely tried by the difficulty of the task before him. There are many ways of putting Jesus at risk and making us feel his suffering.
What is most depressing about ï¿¿The Passionï¿¿ is the thought that people will take their children to see it. Jesus said, ï¿¿Suffer the little children to come unto me,ï¿¿ not ï¿¿Let the little children watch me suffer.ï¿¿ How will parents deal with the pain, terror, and anger that children will doubtless feel as they watch a man flayed and pierced until dead? The despair of the movie is hard to shrug off, and Gibsonï¿¿s timing couldnï¿¿t be more unfortunate: another dose of death-haunted religious fanaticism is the last thing we need.
I wonder if Mr. Gibson would be interested in the bloody script of "Foxes book of Martyrs" , the inquisition, the Amada, Bartholomew, and the burning and tortures of Millions of Christians in Christ name by his Church?