Passion of the Christ' Incites Passionate Criticism||
A new controversial movie written and directed by actor Mel Gibson sparks debates
about history, religion and the explosive question of who bears responsibility
for the death of Jesus.
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Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," a film depicting the last
12 hours of Jesus' life, opened in theaters on Wednesday amidst intense scrutiny
from film critics, religious leaders and historians. |
a conservative Roman Catholic, spent around $25 million of his own money to produce
the film, which is based on the Biblical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Known collectively as "the Passions," each tells the story of ancient
Jewish high priests, along with Roman emperor Pontius Pilate, putting Jesus on
trial and condemning him to death by crucifixion.
But since beginning production,
Gibson has been accused of making a film that is anti-Semitic, hostile toward
Jews, overly violent and historically inaccurate about everything from the language
Jesus speaks to his hair and clothing.
Criticism of Gibson's film began prior to its release when some Jewish leaders
said its depiction of Jews could incite hatred. The movie has been compared to
"passion plays" -- medieval performances that exaggerated the Gospels
and depicted Jews as bloodthirsty haters of Christ, often inciting crowds to violence
leading to persecution and murder.
Jewish leaders who have
worked closely with the Catholic Church to dispel such myths say the film could
stir similar emotions. They especially object to seeing the Jewish high priests
in the movie rendered as schemers demanding Jesus' death over the protests of
a sympathetic Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor.
"It's as if the Jews
ruled, the Romans were only pawns in the Jewish hands," said Abraham Foxman,
the head of the Anti-Defamation League-- a group dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism.
a statement on its Web site, the Anti-Defamation League said, "We do not
believe that Gibson intended his film to be a passion of hate. Our concerns stem
"For nearly 2,000 years, Jews have been the victims
of persecution and pogroms fueled by the age-old canard that Jews bear responsibility
for the death of Jesus for all time."
The league had asked Gibson to
remove some of the more controversial depictions of Jews from the film and to
put a postscript at the end of the film, imploring viewers not to leave the theater
Gibson, who refused, has denied any charges of anti-Semitism
and has said the movie is a true account of the Bible.
have a problem with me don't really have a problem with me in this film,"
Gibson said in an interview on ABC's Primetime Thursday. "They have a problem
with the four Gospels. That's where their problem is."
much violence? |
In addition to charges of anti-Semitism, critics have said the film, which
is rated R, is brutally violent and could be traumatic for teenagers. The movie
shows a real-time graphic beating and Jesus being nailed to the cross.
many church groups and Christian parents argue that the story of Jesus' death
is a large part of their faith and that their children should not be shielded
from the violence in this movie as they would other movies.
this movie is an exception is that it's a true story," Dr. Bill Maier of
the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family told the Dallas Morning
"It's the most important story every told from a Christian perspective.
And it's the greatest lesson of altruism and self-sacrifice anyone has ever seen,"
Some historians have also criticized the accuracy of "The Passion of the
Christ," particularly Gibson's use of Latin in the movie. While the actors
speak entirely in Latin and the ancient language of Aramaic with English subtitles,
scholars say Jesus would have spoken Greek and Aramaic, not Latin.
talking to Pilate and Pilate to Jesus in Latin!" said De Paul University
religious studies professor John Dominic Crossan in a New York Times article.
"I mean in your dreams. It would have been Greek."
In the film,
Jesus also has long hair, which historians say is not accurate for Jewish men
of that time. Other critics argue that the film does not provide enough background
about Jesus' life and teachings. There are also questions about Gibson's use of
the Gospels, which many religious scholars consider political documents, and not
pure depictions of what happened.
Gibson says the movie is his depiction
of what he read in the Bible.
"This is my version of what happened,
according to the Gospels and what I wanted to show - the aspects of it I wanted
to show," he said.
the controversy and because of the publicity, "The Passion of the Christ"
is expected to gross between $15 million and $30 million in its opening weekend
and is one of the most talked about films since Star Wars, according to movie
industry magazine Variety.
Last week the online movie ticket seller Fandango.com
reported that "The Passion" had accounted for 70 percent of its advance
Kristina Nwazota, Online NewsHour