The following is a list of some of the more incendiary remarks made about the Mel Gibson movie, “The Passion of the Christ.” We do not maintain that it is anti-Catholic to criticize a film, even before it has been released, but we do contend that the hostility to Gibson and to his work is unseemly. The campaign against him has been ruthless, and that is why the Catholic League mounted a counter-offensive.
Ad Hoc Committee of Catholic and Jewish Scholars
America, April 5, 2004; Philip Cunningham:
“‘The Passion of the Christ’ unquestionably fails to follow the official Catholic teaching on biblical interpretation and the presentation of Jews and Judaism….
“Catholics who take seriously Pope John Paul II’s commitment, made during his visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem in March 2000, ‘to genuine fellowship with the people of the Covenant’ should ask whether it is acceptable for a filmmaker—even though he repeats the teaching of the Council of Trent that Christ died for the sins of all humanity—to combine scenes from the four Gospel accounts with many unbiblical elements so that the malice of the Jewish characters is magnified.
“In a church whose highest leadership has prayed for God’s forgiveness for exactly those sins over the past millennium and whose teachings repudiate such practices, the answer can only be no. The new wine of post-Vatican II teaching cannot be contained in the old wineskins of the pre-Vatican II Passion play that is the film ‘The Passion of the Christ.'”
Sun-Sentinel (FL), March 22, 2004; Sister Mary C. Boys:
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 7, 2004; “Pro and Con: Is Movie Anti-Semitic?; Film perpetuates the pain,” by Father John T. Pawlikowski:
“The main story line of Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ focuses on an evil cabal of Jews that relentlessly pursues Jesus until it can blackmail a weak-kneed Pontius Pilate into issuing a writ of execution….
“Unfortunately, the version Gibson brings to life on the screen has proved toxic over the centuries—leading to the persecution and killing of millions of Jews at the hands of Christians….
“Far too many Christian leaders and Gibson himself seem totally oblivious to the pain and suffering such portrayals have inflicted on Jews in the course of history. Christians who react favorably to Gibson’s film are shamefully evading their religious responsibility.”
Baltimore Sun, February 25, 2004; Father John T. Pawlikowski:
“Mr. Gibson has continued to blame the Jewish leadership in defiance of this scholarly and ecclesial consensus….
“This text [Matthew 27:25] has been used over the centuries by Christians to keep Jews miserable and marginal in society and at times even to justify their deaths. Mr. Gibson included this questionable text in his original script, deleted it because he claimed Jews would have his throat, put it back and then removed it from the final version. Such insensitivity to how much suffering this text has caused Jews over the centuries is deeply disturbing.
“The film also raises a question about Mr. Gibson’s ultimate agenda in making it.
“It is now clear that for the past several years he has been campaigning against the reforms introduced by the Second Vatican Council and against modern biblical scholarship. So the film also presents a challenge to the basic teachings of Vatican II, including its historic declaration on the church and the Jewish people.”
Forward (NY), February 13, 2004; Father John T. Pawlikowski:
“The changes [cutting Matthew 27:25 from the film] don’t mean anything unless the fundamental theme is changed. Gibson has to acknowledge that the Jews didn’t kill Christ.”
Sun-Sentinel (FL), February 7, 2004; Father John T. Pawlikowski:
“The Passion can be a tool for bringing Jews and Christians closer. But the Passion movie doesn’t bring us one iota in that direction.”
“The Rev. Philip Eichner, chairman of the League’s board of directors, called the film ‘a powerful rendition of the last 12 hours of Christ.’
“‘I don’t believe it’s anti-Semitic,’ he said. ‘And it wasn’t Jews who killed Jesus, the religious authorities did because Jesus challenged them.’”
—Associated Press, February 25, 2004
American Jewish Committee
Washington Post, February 28, 2004; Rabbi James Rudin, senior interreligious adviser:[Commenting on Mel Gibson’s statement that he prays for Jews] “I know what ‘praying for’ means—converting Jews to Christianity. We feel put upon and say, ‘Enough. After 2,000 years, isn’t it clear it isn’t going to happen?’…We have a perfected religion that doesn’t need an addition or change. It stands on its own.”
CNN “Live From…” February 25, 2004; Rabbi James Rudin:
“Mel Gibson could have made a thoroughly Christian Passion play without beating up on the Jews, vilifying my religion, my people, as he’s done. It’s also a sadomasochistic film.”
Fox News Channel “Hannity and Colmes,” February 18, 2004; Rabbi James Rudin:
“But the problems for me in my judgment go much deeper than just the violence, which I consider gratuitous. And one of the problems is that it’s really in a line of medieval passion plays, which have historically presented Jews and Judaism in a negative light….
“Inherently, it is a passion play that presents toxic Jewish, anti-Jewish images, stereotypes, and caricatures.”
Boston Globe, February 6, 2004; Rabbi David Elcott, director of interreligious affairs:
“But the real concern is that the movie pits Jesus and his immediate followers against everyone else, perfect goodness against satanic evil. In so doing, ‘The Passion’ has the potential to challenge the core values of democratic pluralism and mutual religious respect that undergird our country.”
Chicago Tribune, February 6, 2004; Emily Soloff, director, Chicago Chapter:
“The sacred text of Christianity is a complex document. I’m not saying there are going to be pogroms. But we had 2,000 years of that kind of relationship. It was often not a happy relationship. You can’t expect in the last 40 years things to have been turned on their heads.”
The Associated Press, January 22, 2004; Rabbi David Elcott:
“‘The movie undermines the sense of community that has existed between Jews and Christians for decades,’ Elcott said. ‘This film makes it more important than ever for like-minded Christians and Jews to reassert their dedication to promoting interfaith harmony.'”
New York Observer, March 8, 2004; Abraham Foxman, National Director:
“Only for sadists, only for masochists could this [film] be beautiful. And for him [Mel Gibson] to say, ‘I’m doing this because God commanded me’—there’s a certain arrogance. He’s on another trip. But that’s fine, you know? It’s his money. As long as we don’t pay the price!”
Washington Post, February 19, 2004; David Friedman, Regional Director:
“There have been important changes in theological understanding that this film appears to be thumbing its nose at.”
Dallas Morning News, February 7, 2004; Mark Briskman, Regional Director:
“The issue is not about Jewish sensibility. The issue is whether this movie can be used the way Passion plays have been used historically, in a way that is hurtful to the Jewish community.”
Detroit Free Press, February 7, 2004; Abraham Foxman:
“Over the last 2000 years, four words have fueled anti-Semitism: ‘The Jews killed Christ….’ So, we’re concerned about this message wrapped up in a popular film that’s couched as gospel truth and produced by a popular, creative genius.
“More people will see this film in three months than ever saw the passion plays in Europe through all the centuries. We know those plays rationalized anti-Semitic behavior. We fear this will, too.”
Orlando Sentinel (FL), February 7, 2004; Abraham Foxman:
“Abraham Foxman, executive director of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League, said he is troubled by the campaign, which he characterized as ‘a commercial crusade.’ The Passion, he said, ‘is not being sold as a movie. It’s being sold as a religious experience, as a pilgrimage, as a way back to faith.'”
Sun-Sentinel (FL), February 7, 2004; Abraham Foxman:
“‘The movie blames bloodthirsty Jews for Jesus’ death,’ said Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, which is conducting its national executive meeting in Palm Beach. ‘And this during a time of a rise of global anti-Semitism….’
“The leaders acknowledged that Gibson has denied anti-Semitic intentions; the star has often said instead that all humanity’s sins were responsible for Jesus’ death. ‘But that’s not in the movie,’ Foxman said. ‘What you see and hear for two hours is the Jews, the Jews, the Jews.'”
Sun-Sentinel (FL), February 7, 2004; Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, Interfaith Consultant:
“‘(Gibson) says his film is historically and scripturally accurate, but it’s not,’ he [Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor] said. ‘What happens if it goes to DVD and gets shown on youth retreats? And gets translated into Spanish and Arabic and Polish? It would turn back 40 years of Catholic-Jewish teachings.'”
Seattle Times, February 6, 2004; ADL Fundraising Mailer, quoted by David Klinghoffer:
“Of great concern to the Anti-Defamation League [with regard to the film] is the possibility that individuals are more likely to be targets of attack, simply because they are ‘different.'”
Daily News (NY), January 26, 2004; Abraham Foxman:
“He [Mel Gibson] didn’t miss any chance to malign the Jews.”
Palm Beach Post, January 25, 2004; Abraham Foxman and Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor:
“Mr. Gibson has produced his film with willful disregard for the opinions and outreach efforts of mainstream Jewish organizations and many Catholic and Jewish scholars. These mainstream religious leaders have continued to express concern about the impact of the film and its potential to turn back the clock on decades of positive interfaith dialogue and the Vatican II Council reforms of the Catholic Church….
“Love and compassion are demonstrated by the Romans—only a few sadistic Romans harm Jesus and only because the Jews made Pilate punish him….
“Our concern is that The Passion of The Christ could fuel the latent anti-Semitism that exists in the hearts of those people who hold Jews responsible for the death of Jesus, which always has been the source of Western anti-Semitism.”
Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2004; Abraham Foxman:
“Forty years ago, we in the ADL helped the bishops to write those guidelines that permit artists to be honest about their faith without being hateful in their work. What Mel Gibson is doing is as much an attack on the Catholic Church and the Second Vatican Council as it is anything else.”
Los Angeles Times, January 23, 2004; Abraham Foxman:
“In an interview about the film, Foxman added, ‘[Gibson is] hawking it on a commercial crusade to the churches of this country. That’s what makes it dangerous.'”
New York Times, January 23, 2004; Abraham Foxman:
“‘Do I think it will trigger pogroms? I don’t think it will,’ he said. ‘But will it strengthen and legitimize anti-Semitic feelings? Yes, it will….’
“He [Foxman] said he had initially felt bad about sneaking into the showing, but later changed his mind. ‘I decided yesterday, “Why am I uncomfortable? Let him be uncomfortable,” he said, referring to Mr. Gibson. “For him to say, ‘You can only see it if you love it?’ I felt it was my moral duty to see it.'”
Orlando Sentinel, January 23, 2004; Abraham Foxman:[On Foxman’s participating in a viewing of “The Passion of the Christ” in Orlando under false pretenses on January 21, 2004] “Foxman flew into Orlando with Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, the ADL’s interfaith consultant, Wednesday evening. Foxman said the confidentiality agreement was part of Gibson’s ‘commercial Christian crusade’ of screening the film, which opens Feb. 25, to conservative evangelical groups and making certain that only favorable comments resulted. ‘This is marketing; they’re hawking it.’
“Foxman and his colleague said they did not sign the agreement.
“‘We consulted our counsel and were told that it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on,’ Foxman said.
“Although he and Bretton-Granatoor bought tickets to the conference in their own names, Foxman acknowledged that they used unconventional tactics to get inside the sanctuary.
“For example, both men registered for the conference as representatives of ‘The Church of Truth,’ in Brooklyn, N.Y., rather than of the Anti-Defamation League, according to Michael O’Sullivan, a registration official with the conference.
“‘I am sorry we had to engage in stealth tactics, but only because he forced us to,’ Foxman said.”
Palm Beach Post, January 23, 2004; Abraham Foxman, National Director:
“‘Gibson is challenging the church’s teaching. We must reach out and ask the Vatican and other denominations to restate their teaching on the Passion,’ Foxman said.”
United Press International, January 23, 2004; Abraham Foxman:
“‘Do I think it will trigger pogroms? I don’t think it will,’ Foxman said. ‘But will it strengthen and legitimize anti-Semitic feelings? Yes, it will.'”
Anti-Defamation League Press Release, January 22, 2004; Abraham Foxman:
“We were saddened and pained to find that ‘The Passion of the Christ’ continues its unambiguous portrayal of Jews as being responsible for the death of Jesus. There is no question in this film about who is responsible. At every single opportunity, Gibson’s film reinforces the notion that the Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob are the ones ultimately responsible for the Crucifixion….
“Will the film trigger pogroms against Jews? Our answer is probably not. Our concern is that ‘The Passion of The Christ’ could fuel latent anti-Semitism that exists in the hearts of those people who hold Jews responsible for the death of Jesus, which has always been the source of Western anti-Semitism. Its portrayal of Jews is painful to watch.”
Cox News Service, January 22, 2004; Abraham Foxman:
“‘We respect Christians who come to see it,’ said Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL. ‘They were moved to tears, and some were deeply pained.
“‘I don’t know how many sorted out the underlying issues as they watched the film,’ Foxman continued, “but time and again it kept coming back to the bloodthirsty Jews.'”
Simon Wiesenthal Center
Los Angeles Times, February 8, 2004; Rabbi Marvin Hier, Dean and Founder:
“I don’t think the film is anti-Semitic. I think, however, it can inspire anti-Semitism around the world, by people who will view it and don’t have a proper context.”
Los Angeles Times, February 8, 2004; Rabbi Marvin Hier:
“Every Jew who appears in this film, except for the disciples of Christ, are portrayed cruelly and portrayed as a people with an almost sinister look in their eyes….Jews who see this film, I believe, will be overwhelmingly horrified.”
Fox News Channel “Big Story Weekend Edition,” February 7, 2004; Rabbi Marvin Hier:
“[T]he total film is two hours. And the Jews do not have a single word of intelligence to say in the entire two hours. Except of course, those disciples of Jesus. The Jews are portrayed horribly and it’s really an insult to the Jewish community….
“The beef is that the Jews are terribly insulted by this film and that will be the overwhelming reaction of the Jewish community.”
Chicago Tribune, February 6, 2004; Rabbi Marvin Hier:
“This film portrays Jews in the most horrible manner I have ever seen….
“The Jews come across as pushy people, unkempt, with Rasputin-like features….It is an attempt to portray all Jews as the enemy. I am not saying that synagogues are going to be burned when the film comes out, but it could poison the minds of young people who say to themselves, ‘Boy what a terrible people those Jews are.'”
CNN “CNN Live,” February 6, 2004; Rabbi Marvin Hier:
“I have never seen a more negative portrayal of Jews than in this film. I’m not talking about the high priests only, all Jews. They never have an intelligent thing to say in a two-hour film. The Romans are made to look good. The audience will only have one conclusion—if the Romans look good, with the exception of the four whippers, and the Jews look so bad, who is responsible for this terrible inhumanity inflicted on Jesus? And they will only conclude that it was the Jews collectively, which will stir anti-Semitic feelings, even if it’s not immediate, all over the world….
“The Roman authorities, from Pontius Pilate down, the generals, the captains, were portrayed as sensitive and nice people, with the exception of the four whippers. And there can only be one—in my view, there can only be one interpretation. At that time, the main people responsible for the terrible inhumanity inflicted on Jesus were the Jews, and that is unfair and a distorted view of history.”
Daily Variety, January 27, 2004; Rabbi Marvin Hier:
“It’s [a televised interview with Mel Gibson] a ploy to picture himself as a victim. No responsible Jew has made the accusation that Gibson is an anti-Semite….
“[The film] will engender worldwide anti-Semitism. There is no other conclusion that can be drawn from the film in which the only bad guys in the film are Jews—Jews who look like Rasputin-like characters. The good guys are even the Roman officers. The only bad Romans are the four guys who administer the whippings and (endless) torture.”
CNN “Anderson Cooper 360°,” January 26, 2004; Rabbi Marvin Hier:
“There’s no question the audience is going to come out there saying it was the Jews. And there we have the collective deicide issue thrown up here in the 21st century.”
CNN International “Q&A,” January 23, 2004; Rabbi Marvin Hier:
“I think that this movie is an incendiary device that will create a faster anti-Semitism all over the world, particularly in Europe, in the Arab world, and in South America. And I say this as a filmmaker myself. I’ve made six films. And I say that this film will engender hate against the Jewish people….
“It [the film] worships a Jew, but it persecutes his people. It is a horrible presentation of the Jewish people. Even the casting, which I’m sure the director had a hand in, every Jew in this film from his eyes to the way his mouth, to the frowning, they look like Rasputin or the devil incarnates. It’s a horrible portrayal of Jews, and I think that many Christians will walk out on this film after they see the horrendous torture scenes. There is just no excuse for making a film like this.
“This is not the first film on Jesus that has been made. All the others have never crossed the line that Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion’ has….
“I am not going to be used in some merchandising, or because of publicity, simply say, ‘Let’s be quiet and watch the Jews be portrayed horribly. Watch them be portrayed collectively as Christ killers.’ I have an obligation to speak out against this. And I’m not the only one. The overwhelming majority of Jewish leadership and Catholic leadership and Christian leaders…
“Nine experts in the field of Catholic-Jewish relations…have said that this film is horrible.”
New York Times, January 23, 2004; Rabbi Marvin Hier:
“Rabbi Hier said he was ‘horrified’ by the movie, which he said depicted all Jews, except those who were Jesus’ followers, as villainous, with dark beards and eyes, ‘like Rasputin.'”
“‘This movie is about sin and redemption, and man’s inhumanity to man,’ said William Donohue, president of the Manhattan-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights….
“‘Where they saw a Jewish mob calling for his crucifixion, I saw a mob,’ he said. ‘Ultimately, it was the Romans who crucified Jesus.’”
—Newsday (NY), February 26, 2004
Commonweal, May 7, 2004; “Anti-Semitism in ‘The Passion,'” by Rabbi Irving Greenberg, president, Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation:
“The Gospels themselves, literally understood, generate hatred (and worse) vis-à-vis Jews, living and dead….
“Read literally, they are primary sources of hatred and anti-Semitism. In order to atone for past sins and to prevent future evil acts based on Gospel writings, the bishops and the leaders of other churches must confront the New Testament (via modern scholarship or theological critique) or stand convicted of continuing the evils of the past.”
Jewish Week, April 16, 2004; “Mel’s Secret: Jew-Baiting Good For Sales,” by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach:
“[T]he real reason Mel Gibson succeeded with ‘The Passion’ was that he successfully baited the Jews, and Jew-baiting is big business….
“But Gibson decided that his principal marketing tool was going to be provoking the Jewish community. From his father’s public comments about how the Holocaust never happened, to the film’s substantial deviation from the New Testament script in an all-out effort to implicate the Jews and exonerate the Romans in the death of Jesus, Gibson stuck the pins into the Jewish watchdogs as deeply as possible. When they barked it was music to his ears….
“So in turns out that Mel Gibson may not be an anti-Semite after all. He’s just a businessman. Not necessarily very spiritual—if he were, then he would have announced from the outset that all profits from the movie would go to Jesus—but rather just an average guy who wanted to see a good return on his buck.”
Los Angeles Times, April 10, 2004; “‘Passion’ changes hearts, minds,” by Tim Rutten:
“Gibson’s passion narrative is a pastiche of scriptural literalism, the mystical visions of an anti-Semitic 19th century Bavarian nun and various obsessions that preoccupy the so-called traditionalist, pseudo-Catholic fringe.
“So, profits apart, the real question about ‘The Passion of the Christ’ is: Were those anxieties justified? Has Gibson’s film contributed to a climate in which anti-Semitism can flourish?
“We now have at least a provisional answer, and it is yes….
“When those who reckon by standards other than profit and loss come to judge the success or failure of Gibson’s film, they might hold in mind another admonition from the Christian scriptures:
“‘By their fruits shall you know them.'”
The Nation, March 29, 2004; “The Protocols of Mel Gibson,” by Katha Pollitt:
“The Bible’s brief mention of Jesus’s flogging… becomes a ten-minute homoerotic sadistic extravaganza that no human being could have survived, as if the point of the Passion was to show how tough Christ was.”
The New Republic, March 22, 2004; “Gibson’s Offering,” by Stanley Kauffmann:
“Is The Passion anti-Semitic? Certainly it is, because the Gospels themselves are anti-Semitic—in the sense of fixing Jewish responsibility for the Crucifixion.”
Los Angeles Times, March 20, 2004; “Folk piety links politics, ‘Code’ and ‘Passion,'” by Tim Rutten:
“Mel Gibson’s version of Jesus’ arrest and execution recapitulates virtually every crude anti-Semitic stereotype that has ever disfigured Christian memory.”
Saint Paul Pioneer Press, March 20, 2004; “‘Passion’ movie is no panacea for Christians,” by the Rev. Tom Ehrich (Episcopal):
“I found it sad that Gibson couldn’t allow his film to make its own way, but had to dangle the bait of anti-Semitism….I found it sad that Christian conservatives could be so easily lured into promoting a film…as if they needed to float a sinking ship by shilling for the Middle Ages redux….
“But today’s controversy reveals two worrisome undercurrents, which will outlive Gibson’s dash to the bank.
“One is that Christians are spoiling for a fight. This fight, that fight, any fight. Bring it on. If we aren’t fighting, we aren’t living.”
Jewish Week, March 19, 2004; “Gibson’s ‘Midrash,'” by Joshua Hammerman:
“The innocent Christian observer will focus far more on the familiar Sunday school touchstones…. But they will miss the subtle deviations from the text and incorporate some of these mythic events into their imagination, and that is where the danger lies….
“The filmmaker’s freedom of speech should never be questioned. But Mel Gibson at best was irresponsible to add a new element of bigotry to the most dangerous story ever told. To revive the Passion that launched a thousand pogroms is almost the equivalent of shouting ‘Midrash’ in a crowded theater. We should be increasingly wary of this combustible amalgamation of visual image and inflated commentary.”
Duluth News Tribune, March 17, 2004; “Distortions worsen pain of Gibson’s ‘Passion,'” by Edward Kale:
“‘The Passion of the Christ,’ however, should never have been produced. It is based on biblical documents which are neither historical nor factual yet are treated as such. Much of it is nonbiblical…. What did Jesus really say? Let’s be honest. We don’t know any more than Matthew did. The movie, to use British English, is ‘bloody literal and bloody awful.'”
America, March 15, 2004; “Mel O’Drama,” by the Rev. Richard Blake, S.J., Boston College:
“Yes, Roman execution was a brutal, bloody business, but presenting it in such graphic detail passes dangerously close to a pornography of violence. Clinical detail cheapens both eroticism and suffering….
“[The film has a] morbid fascination with pain….”
Bergen Record (NJ), March 14, 2004; “The Gospel of Mel Gibson,” by Mike Kelly:
“This is precisely the sort of narrow storytelling that led to centuries of anti-Semitic acts, culminating in the murder of 6 million Jews during World War II. Why doesn’t Gibson see this?…What’s truly scary is that audiences are flocking to see this.”
Idaho Statesman, March 13, 2004; “Bush and Gibson employ the politics of hatred,” by Dan Fink:
“How troubling…to find that bigotry wrapped in the mantle of piety is alive and well in our own nation. America—a land founded by people fleeing religious intolerance—is currently besieged by leaders promoting hatred in the name of faith. Consider the two most prominent recent offenders: George W. Bush and Mel Gibson….
“As for Mel Gibson, this veteran of numerous violent movies has now made a mint on his own sadistic film, promoting it through shameless Jew-baiting….In ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ Gibson not only revokes Pope John’s cry for forgiveness, he revivifies the ancient curse and revels in its bloodlust. Gibson would have us view the death of Jesus…with no reference to the terrible history of pogroms and murders inspired by generations of passion plays. This is, at best, inexcusably ignorant, and, at worst, simply anti-Semitic….
“Whatever its art, this film is malevolent….
“Alas, the consequences of our leaders’ courting bigotry in the name of sanctity are painfully obvious to those of us who suffer their wrath…. The real tragedy is that we…will have the terrible task of informing them [our children] that our nation’s president and one of its biggest film stars are on the side of the bigots who are bullying them.”
The New Republic, March 8, 2004; “The Worship of Blood,” by Leon Wieseltier:
“It is a repulsive masochistic fantasy, a sacred snuff film, and it leaves you with the feeling that the man who made it hates life….It will be objected that I see only pious pornography in The Passion of the Christ because I am not a believer in the Christ….
“[I]s the sanctification of murder really what this country needs now?…But there is a religion toward which Gibson’s movie is even more unfair than it is to its own. In its representation of its Jewish characters, The Passion of the Christ is without any doubt an anti-Semitic movie, and anybody who says otherwise knows nothing, or chooses to know nothing, about the visual history of anti-Semitism, in art and in film. What is so shocking about Gibson’s Jews is how unreconstructed they are in their stereotypical appearances and actions. These are not merely anti-Semitic images; these are classically anti-Semitic images. In this regard, Gibson is most certainly a traditionalist….
“But the loathing of Jews in Mel Gibson’s film is really not its worst degradation….Its loathing of Jews is subsumed in its loathing of spirituality, in its loathing of existence. If there is a kingdom of heaven, The Passion of the Christ is shutting it in men’s faces.”
New York Observer, March 8, 2004; “Passion of Mel is Mean, Gnarled, Next to the Sacred,” by Ron Rosenbaum:
“But enough about love. Let’s talk about hatred. Not the incitement to hatred in The Passion of the Christ, although by this time any informed person, Christian or Jewish, who doesn’t see it there is engaging in what Gabriel Schoenfeld calls ‘anti-Semitism denial’ (in his important new book The Return of Anti-Semitism). Let’s not even talk about the way Mel Gibson distorted not just history but the Gospels themselves to intensify the vilification of Jews. As Columbia scholar James Shapiro demonstrates inOberammergau: The Troubling Story of the World’s Most Famous Passion Play…efforts can be made to tone down the anti-Semitic incitement in the Passion narrative. Mel Gibson tones them up, as many have observed….
“You could argue that Mel Gibson is not intentionally anti-Semitic. It’s possible that he’s just too stupid to know the effect of what he’s done, too ignorant of the historical effect of Passion plays. But his father is intent personified—intent that seems to have been transmitted to a gullible son who wants to win his father’s love….
“Over the centuries, thousands of Jews have been murdered in pogroms that followed the anti-Jewish incitement of Passion play productions. It’s unlikely that anything like that will happen in America as a result of the film, but there are other areas of the world where it’s just as likely that something will. Its vicious incitement will be burned into the hearts of more people than have seen a Passion play in all of history up until now.
“If the Jews in Hollywood really ‘controlled’ everything, they would be making a movie about a Jew who was whipped and scourged by a mob who had been incited to murder by a Passion play. There’s plenty of precedent, and it might provide a useful corrective.
“But I don’t foresee that happening. As the Pope either said or didn’t say: ‘It is as it was.’ Until it gets worse.”
Washington Post, March 8, 2004; “Walking a Long Mile in Judas’s Sandals,” by Tom Shales:
“Unlike Mel Gibson’s notorious ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ ABC’s movie [“Judas”] seems happily lacking in anti-Semitic aspersions. Writer Tom Fontana…has Pontius Pilate’s wife tell her husband, as the assassination of Jesus is plotted on Palm Sunday: ‘Fix it so the Jews themselves are held responsible.’
“It might have been better still if the conversation had continued with Pilate scoffing, ‘Who’d believe that?’ and his wife replying, ‘You can always find a few bigots and idiots who’ll believe anything.’ Regardless, the Big Lie was born, and two millennia later, Gibson would find a way to recycle it and gross more than $200 million in the process. Surely his parking space in Hell has already been reserved.”
New York Times, March 7, 2004; “Mel Gibson Forgives Us For His Sins,” by Frank Rich:
“With its laborious build-up to its orgasmic spurtings of blood and other bodily fluids, Mr. Gibson’s film is constructed like nothing so much as a porn movie, replete with slo-mo climaxes and pounding music for the money shots. Of all the ‘Passion’ critics, no one has nailed its artistic vision more precisely than Christopher Hitchens, who on ‘Hardball’ called it a homoerotic ‘exercise in lurid sadomasochism’ for those who ‘like seeing handsome young men stripped and flayed alive over a long period of time…..’
“Speaking as someone who has never experienced serious bigotry, I must confess that, whatever happens abroad, the fracas over ‘The Passion’ has made me feel less secure as a Jew in America than ever before….
“What concerns me much more are those with leadership positions in the secular world—including those in the media—who have given Mr. Gibson, ‘The Passion’ and its most incendiary hucksters a free pass for behavior that is unambiguously contrived to vilify Jews….
“Of late, however, the star has racheted up the volume of his complaints, floating insinuations out of the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion.’ Speaking of his critics to Diane Sawyer of ABC, Mr. Gibson said: ‘It’s only logical to assume that conspiracies are everywhere, because that’s what people do. They conspire. If you can’t get the message, get the man.’ So who is in this dark, fearful conspiracy? The only conspirator mentioned by name in that interview was me. But Ms. Sawyer never identified me as Jewish, thereby sanitizing Mr. Gibson’s rant of its truculent meaning. (She did show a picture of me, though, perhaps assuming that my nose might give me away.)”
St. Petersburg Times (FL), March 7, 2004; “Is the Gospel Anti-Semitic?” by Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar, Poynter Institute:
“The tragedy lies in how we Christians have used the story of Jesus to hurt the Jews. This injustice will be visited upon our Jewish brothers and sisters with each viewing of The Passion of the Christ, not because the film is a hyperviolent distortion of the Gospels, but because it is a mostly accurate meditation on the central story of Christianity.
“Let me state my thesis more boldly. Every time we Christians tell the story of our salvation, we hurt the Jews….
“What would Jesus do if he sat through a Catholic Mass around Easter time and heard the communal reading of the Passion and listened as the congregation recited that the blood of Jesus is upon the heads of the Jews and their children?
“After he dried his tears, I think he would stand, raise his hand, and in the ensuing silence, declare to the congregation his pride in his Jewishness, his attachment to the Torah, and his sorrow that the story of his death had been turned so grotesquely against his own people.”
New York Times, March 5, 2004; capsule review by A.O. Scott:
“His [Gibson’s] stated goal was realism, but the emphatic musical, visual and aural effects—the first nail is driven into Jesus’ palms with a sickening thwack that must have required hours of digital tweaking—make the film a melodramatic exercise in high-minded sadomasochism.”
USA Today, March 5, 2004; “‘Passion’ so bloody it’s sadomasochism,” by Al Neuharth:
“This is a skillfully planned and presented but wasted exercise in sadomasochism.”
Forward (NY), March 4, 2004; “Mel Gibson’s Cross of Vengeance,” by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen:
“I have often thought but kept to myself what a gruesome thing they are, traditional crucifixes, each one with the likeness of a mangled, agonized body affixed cruelly to it. I sometimes wondered, even as a child, what kind of a religion would want children to look at an image of a suffering, dying or dead man, with nails piercing his hands. What is its effect upon them? Why would the spiritual leaders of any religion want their flock to gaze regularly at such horror, to gaze lovingly at such horror, to feel exalted at the image of such horror?
“Instinctively I have always been uncomfortable around crucifixes, even though I grew up in the Boston area, historically the most privileged kind of environment for a Jew in a Christian world, one that was free of intense or intensely expressed antipathies towards Jews. I never really understood exactly why I felt such discomfort with the crucifix, and since it was not much of a presence in my life, I never asked myself. Perhaps it was because of my historical knowledge, acquired sadly even as a child, of the harm that the followers of the crucifix had inflicted on those who refused to embrace it. But perhaps not. It might have been only or mainly a visceral reaction of a sensitive child. After all, I had become a vegetarian at the age of 10 because I found the sight of meat revolting….
“Because of Mel Gibson, to speak openly about the gruesome crucifix imagery seems now not only permissible but morally unavoidable. Gibson’s film takes the fetishizing of horror and death that exists within Christianity to some sort of sickly logical conclusion. Visually, iconographically and symbolically, Gibson’s ‘Passion’ is a sadomasochistic, orgiastic display that demonizes Jews as it degrades those who revel in viewing the horror….Its orgy of unsurpassed and virtually unremitting sadism restores this part of the Jesus story deemphasized by the Catholic Church since the Vatican II reforms to center stage, to haunt all those who would follow Jesus with indelible, iconic images of cruelty. Gibson has thus unwittingly exposed the misguidedness of this cult of death. To the extent that such a vision of God dominates and obscures Jesus’ Christian ministry of life, love and good works (as it does almost totally in the film), Gibson has also unveiled its meanness.”
Kansas City Star, March 4, 2004; “Ghoulish ‘Passion’ secular, not sacred,” by Vern Barnet:
“Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ is not just a bad movie; it is hurtful….Early concerns that the film might be anti-Semitic…now seem justified.
“One wonders if he [Gibson] is explaining the torture, depravity and sadomasochist preoccupations of his other movies by commandeering a sacred subject….What I ask is: Why doesn’t God forgive humanity without this barbaric sacrifice?
“The popularity of this irresponsible movie marks how dangerous the secular religious spectacle has become.”
Washington Post, March 4, 2004; “Scared Boring: Hollywood’s Timid Streak,” by Tina Brown:
“It’s not the supposed anti-Semitism of the movie they’re [‘Hollywood denizens’] worried about now—though you don’t have to be Jewish to wonder about a picture in which the only Jewish authority figures are a bunch of mean, hook-nosed temple priests with long beards and an effeminate, overweight King Herod wearing too much eyeliner and lounging around with a pet leopard, while the gentile authority figure is a conscience-stricken Roman with a fashionable Tom Ford stubble and a wife who talks like the chairman of the local chapter of Amnesty International.”
Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2004; “A Passion for Hatred That Mocks Christ’s Message,” by Robert Scheer:
“I just saw Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and it is a blood libel against the Jewish people that should have every prominent Christian minister and priest speaking out in opposition….
“It requires a deeply felt anti-Semitism on Gibson’s part to depict the community that nurtured Jesus as nothing more than a venal mob that forced an eminently reasonable and kind Roman overlord to crucify Jesus. Even the beastly lower-level Roman legionnaires who whip Jesus for most of the movie’s duration are engaged in this orgy of sadism not to please Caesar but rather to mollify the rabbis….
“[T]he sadomasochistic preoccupation of the film could not obscure the fact that Christ never endorsed vengeance or departed from his message of universal love. Ultimately, however, this is just an exploitation flick that serves up the body of Christ as an object of continuous sick torture while ignoring his life and thoughts.
“Despite our pretensions of modernity and humanitarianism, the world is currently plagued by Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Hindu fundamentalists who seem more passionate about employing their holy books as weapons than as instruments of peace.
“Sadly, that is the essence of Gibson’s movie.”
Philadelphia Daily News, March 2, 2004; “Fact… or cruci-‘fiction’?” by Stephan Rosenfeld:
“Most troubling to me is ‘The Passion’s’ historically inaccurate portrayal of bloodthirsty Jews as being responsible for the Crucifixion….His [Gibson’s] is a work of ‘cruci-fiction’ and should be seen in that context….
“I remember thinking during one of the Jesus-thrashing scenes that the portrayal bordered on the pornographic—grossly mechanical to a point where the audience was losing feeling along with Jesus.”
Washington Post, March 2, 2004; “Faith and Violence” by Richard Cohen:
“I thought the movie was…anti-Semitic, maybe not purposely so but in the way portions of the New Testament are—an assignment of blame that culminated in the Holocaust. But I wrote none of that, actually nothing at all, because there was something else about the movie that disturbed me, and it took days to figure it out. It is fascistic.
“I don’t know if I use the word right—probably I don’t. But I want to use it because I recently read Richard J. Evans’s brilliant ‘The Coming of the Third Reich,’ in which it becomes clear, if it wasn’t before, how violence was so much a part of fascism. It was not merely that Hitler and, to a lesser extent, Mussolini used force to get their way but also that violence, almost for the sake of it, became part of the ethic—what Evans calls ‘the cult of violence.’ After awhile, Germans became inured. That, both precisely and surprisingly, is how I felt watching Gibson’s disturbingly nondisturbing movie. I was bored stiff.
“This is what I mean by a fascistic sensibility. The violence was the message. It overwhelmed the message of Christ….What’s more, the cause of the violence—its origins—was not the Romans, who were actually in charge, but stereotypical Jews who, in their clever ways, manipulated even Pontius Pilate, about the only complex figure in the entire movie. Gibson says he is no anti-Semite. Maybe. But if he could breathe humanity into the autocratic Pilate, then why not something similar for the downtrodden Jews?”
Beliefnet.com, March 1, 2004; “Jesus at Midnight,” by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach:
“I personally found the film to be a gross defamation—not just of the Jews who were portrayed as having demonically demanded the death of Christ—but especially of Christianity which is portrayed as a religion of blood, gore, and death, rather than of blessing, love, and life.”
Newsweek, March 1, 2004; “So What’s the Good News?” by David Ansen:
“It’s the sadism, not the alleged anti-Semitism, that is most striking….I found myself recoiling from the movie, wanting to keep it at arm’s length—much the same feeling I had watching Gaspar Noe’s notorious ‘Irreversible,’ with its nearly pornographic real-time depiction of a rape.”
New York Times, March 1, 2004; “Not Peace, but a Sword,” by William Safire:
“Mel Gibson’s movie…is the bloodiest, most brutal example of sustained sadism ever presented on the screen….
“The villains at whom the audience’s outrage is directed are the actors playing bloodthirsty rabbis and their rabid Jewish followers. This is the essence of the medieval ‘Passion Play,’ preserved in pre-Hitler Germany at Oberammergau, a source of the hatred of all Jews as ‘Christ Killers.’
“At a moment when a wave of anti-Semitic violence is sweeping Europe and the Middle East, is religion well served by updating the Jew-baiting passion plays of Oberammergau on DVD? Is art served by presenting the ancient divisiveness in blood-streaming media to the widest audiences in the history of drama?…
“Gibson’s medieval version of the suffering of Jesus, reveling in savagery to provoke outrage and cast blame, fails Christian and Jew today.”
Time, March 1, 2004; “Why It’s So Bloody,” by David Van Biema:
“[T]he film’s true shock lies in Gibson’s vision of what is most important in the Jesus story, in the relentless, near pornographic feast of flayed flesh.”
San Antonio Express-News, February 29, 2004; “Truth seekers descend on city,” by Joe Holley:
“It wasn’t only Gibson’s overwhelmingly negative depiction of Jews (the movie slides by the fact that Jesus and his followers also were Jews); it also was Gibson’s searing and agonizingly long depiction of sadistic violence. I understand what Gibson’s trying to do, but, in effect, he panders to the same dark emotions that draw Spaniards to bullfights, that drew Romans to Colosseum gladiatorial bouts.
“For reasons too involved to explore here, I would argue that his Hollywood sadomasochistic torturefest dangerously distorts the Christian message.”
Washington Post, February 29, 2004; “So Much Irony in this Passion,” by Paul Richard:
“There is a lot of ‘anti’ in Gibson’s film, and not only anti-Semitism. The film is anti the secular, and anti the squeamish. And the many clean-cross Protestants who see it ought to be reminded that the style of its images once was aimed at Christians pretty much like them.”
Daily News (NY), February 29, 2004; “Week of Real Hatred,” by Jami Bernard:
“My main objection to ‘The Passion’ is that Gibson has used the tools at his disposal to disguise sadism as piety.”
San Antonio Express-News, February 28, 2004; “‘Passion’ rouses emotions—in all the wrong ways,” by the Rev. Michael Coffey, associate pastor, Christ Lutheran Church, San Antonio:
“For many centuries in Europe, the Passion play was presented in a specifically anti-Jewish way that provoked real violence and oppression against Jews….
“It is this history of blaming Jews for Jesus’ death that must be considered when evaluating public presentations of the Passion story. It is a blame that incites hatred and violence, and it is implicit in the development of Nazi propaganda against Jews. To interpret ‘The Passion of the Christ’ without taking account of this troubling history is irresponsible….
“It is a pornographic presentation of violence.”
Jewish Week (NY), February 27, 2004; “Mel Gibson’s Blood-Soaked Blame Game,” by George Robinson:
“The theology…despite Gibson’s protestations to the contrary and his apparent absolution by some Jewish leaders, is an appalling blend of medieval blood libel and Father Coughlin….
“Whatever that [Gibson’s] agenda may be, this much is definitely clear: Among the major motion-pictures recounting the Christ story, this is the only one that places almost all the blame for the death of Jesus on the Jews.”
New York Sun, February 27, 2004; “Pornographic Religion,” by Andrew Sullivan:
“In a word, it is pornography.
“By pornography, I mean the reduction of all human thought and feeling and personality to mere flesh. The centerpiece of the movie is an absolutely disgusting piece of sadism that has no real basis in any of the Gospels….That same psychotic sadism permeates the entire enterprise….
“I wouldn’t say that this movie is motivated by anti-Semitism. It’s motivated by psychotic sadomasochism. But Mr. Gibson does nothing to mitigate the dangerous anti-Semitic elements of the story and goes some way toward exaggerating and highlighting them.
“To my mind, that is also unforgivable. Anti-Semitism is the original sin of Christianity. Far from expiating it, this movie clearly enjoys taunting those Catholics, as well as Jews, who are determined to confront that legacy.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 27, 2004; “Mel Gibson’s Unredeeming Gospel of Pain,” by Tony Norman:
“As it stands, ‘The Passion of the Christ’ is a swirling miasma of torture devoid of serious character development or redemptive purpose. The film’s appeal to pain fetishists will be obvious, but most viewers will be justified in assuming that sado-masochism is at the heart of the gospel according to Mel.
“The movie has many good points, but they’re offset by oppressive meditations on sadism. Faith rooted in blood and guilt eventually conjures the god it deserves.”
Daily News (NY), February 25, 2004; “The Passion of the Christ,” by Jami Bernard:
“No child should see this movie. Even adults are at risk. Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ is the most virulently anti-Semitic movie made since the German propaganda films of World War II.
“The violence is grotesque, savage, and often fetishized in slo-mo….
“The movie is a compendium of tortures that would horrify the regulars at an S&M club….
“Religious intolerance has been used as an excuse for some of history’s worst atrocities. ‘The Passion of the Christ’ is a brutal, nasty film that demonizes Jews at an unfortunate time in history.”
Detroit Free Press, February 25, 2004; “Graphic film stirs tears for Jesus, fears for Jews,” by David Crumm:
“In portraying Jesus’ final hours, Gibson, a Catholic who disputes changes in his church since the 1960s, tramples on decades of interfaith relationships built by Catholic and Jewish leaders in the United States….
“This isn’t a movie in any traditional sense. It’s an invitation to post-traumatic stress and an attempt to evangelize moviegoers by stamping Jesus’ suffering face into our consciousness.”
Los Angeles Times, February 25, 2004; “‘Passion’ nurtures seeds of hatred,” Walter Reich, George Washington University: “‘Passion’ nurtures seeds of hatred,”
“What matters is whether the film will incite a significant number of people to hate Jews. And that, very effectively, it will do.
“How could it not? Many of its viewers will be believing Christians who, at excruciating length, in slow motion and repeatedly, will watch their Messiah—the gentle and forgiving Lord of love and peace—lashed, pierced, nailed to the cross. And those viewers will see the Jews as the people centrally responsible for that divine, ultimate and excruciating torment….
“Gibson says he wants the movie to lead people to a place of deeper faith. But for many it will lead to an inflamed, convulsed and abiding anger about Christ’s torments, aimed at the perfidious, treacherous, scheming, sadistic and evil Jews.
“If such anger at Jews had no history of murderous consequences, the film and its effects wouldn’t be of such concern. But it’s precisely that kind of anti-Semitic anger, provoked over the centuries by sermons and Passion plays, that has resulted in expulsions, inquisitions and pogroms. And it’s that kind of anger that became the seedbed in which the anti-Semitism that flourished in the last century, and the Holocaust it produced, took root….
“And at a time when for other reasons it [anti-Semitism] has been growing around the world, Gibson’s film—powerful as only film can be—could dangerously accelerate that growth, inciting passions to a degree and on a scale that only a perverted presentation of the Passion can incite.”
Philadelphia Daily News, February 25, 2004; “‘Passion’ nurtures seeds of hatred,” Walter Reich, George Washington University: “Film stirs dismay in modern-day scribe,” Ron Goldwyn:
“No one will storm from the metroplexes and launch a pogrom. But what will be the intangible effect on those who believe in Jesus’ divinity toward those who do not?”
Chicago Tribune, February 23, 2004; “Mel Gibson makes a war movie,” by Susan Thistlethwaite, president, Chicago Theological Seminary:
“The controversy that has preceded this film’s official opening has been over the selective portrayal of the Jewish synagogue leaders as ‘responsible’ for the death of Jesus. This is an interpretation as well, and a dangerous one in the current world climate of rising religious hatreds….
“The Roman soldiers are portrayed as brutal, but the slant of the film is to make the Jews culpable. This is an interpretive choice and a historically ignorant one….
“This film is not only dangerous for Jews; it is dangerous for Christians in today’s warring world to think Jesus is an action hero….
“It is also a sado-masochistic portrayal of the death of Jesus….
“The message is that the violence done to Jesus justifies violent retaliation.”
Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX), February 23, 2004; “Mel Gibson may not be anti-Semitic, but he’s not a very moral man,” by Christopher Kelly:
“Wearing a cloak of piety, Mel Gibson—who has been quoted as saying the Holy Spirit ‘was working through me on this film’—has fanned the flames of anti-Semitism into a marketing bonfire….And he’s done it by preying on Jewish people’s very legitimate fears that the film will reignite old prejudices that Jews were responsible for the death of Christ….
“Is ‘The Passion of the Christ’ anti-Semitic? That’s an argument that will likely carry on for decades. But this much cannot be disputed: Gibson’s actions thus far have been rooted in utter disdain for Jews….He turned the question of just how anti-Semitic the movie will be into a parlor game.
“Perhaps…being honest and forthright simply isn’t Gibson’s way. This is a man who has spent a career taking the low road, while holding the Bible out in front of him—a modern-day Elmer Gantry recast as a $20-million-a-movie superstar. He tells people how to live and then does a pretty lousy job of setting his own example. …
“Then there’s Mel Gibson the chauvinist, the man who has maintained that men and women are not equal….Then there is his unapologetic, unceasing homophobia….
“It’s a critic’s job to separate the art from the artist—to afford the artist at least that much respect; to judge a finished work solely on its own terms. Gibson has all but forfeited that privilege. You can’t invoke the Holy Spirit, you can’t hold your film up as the purest and most honest express [sic] of Jesus Christ’s story—and then not back it up with decent words, generous actions. Even if ‘The Passion of the Christ’ turns out to be the greatest rendering ever of the greatest story ever told, it will still mark a dark day for anyone who values humanity.”
Orlando Sentinel, February 22, 2004; “The Sin of ‘Passion,'” by John Dominic Crossan:
“As a former priest who has written extensively about the early days of Christianity, I found this intolerantly violent movie portrays God in a way at odds with the views of most Christians….
“But this film’s consistently visual violence raised for me not a problem of squeamishness but a question of conscience: When, if the action is sadistic, does its sustained enactment and viewing of Jesus’ death become pornographic?…
“All of this is not to say that the concern of both Jewish and Christian critics with the way ‘The Passion of The Christ’ portrays the Jews’ role in Jesus death should be ignored.
“There are major problems here as well, especially for those not aware of the history of the period….
“The God of this film is not a God of merciful compassion and loving forgiveness but a God of displaced punishment and vicarious retribution.
“If that were the character of God, this film would be the best argument ever developed for atheism. You would fear or dread, but why would you love or worship such a God?”
Orlando Sentinel, February 22, 2004; “Gibson’s ‘Passion’ is not the only truth,” by Myriam Marquez:
“Frankly, as a Roman Catholic (and not a very good one), I find the controversy about this film a subplot to a more sinister aspect of the culture wars that consume us today. Many Christians aren’t being honest.
“The controversy isn’t so much about who killed Jesus. It’s really about who’s perceived to run Hollywood, the media and other powerful American institutions. The Nazis pointed to the Jews as the ‘foreigners’ who controlled Germany’s economy. Today, a segment of American society blames secular Jews like Disney’s Michael Eisner for holding powerful positions in Hollywood and the New York-dominated media, and forcing immoral popular culture on the hinterlands.”
Dallas Morning News, February 21, 2004; “Why I won’t see ‘Passion,'” by Zsuzsanna Ozsvath:
“Sometimes, a tradition is so deeply ingrained in our culture, as is anti-Semitism, that we recognize its psychological, religious and societal manifestations from the structure in which it appears. We know its workings, and we know its consequences.
“Such is the case of the Passion plays and their most recent expression, Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ….
“Performed during Passion Week, the plays often were followed by processions of the villagers gathering for the Easter mass, preparing and carrying out pogroms against the Jews. In that way, thousands of Jews were hunted down and massacred over the centuries….
“And while I don’t think the showing of Mr. Gibson’s Passion play will be followed by pogroms here, I unfortunately can foresee its impact on audiences not only in Egypt, France and England but also in Hungary and Poland, where the flames of anti-Semitism already have consumed the lives of millions of Jews.”
Philadelphia Daily News, February 12, 2004; “Mel Gibson’s Mortal Sin?” by Michael Smerconish:
“Is Mel Gibson a Holocaust denier?
“I think that’s a fair question given a just-released excerpt from an interview with Gibson in an upcoming issue of Reader’s Digest….
“[On Gibson’s comments in Reader’s Digest] Wait a minute. At first blush that may sound OK. But go back and read it again. On closer inspection, it’s unacceptable if that is as far as it goes. It just might be a more cleverly disguised version of what his dad told the Times magazine….
“I’m anxious to see the movie, and have, until recently, been sympathetic to Mel Gibson in the context of concerns raised by people who largely have not seen the film and fear it is nothing more than a modern Passion Play. Now, I am not so sure my sympathy was warranted.
“I will see it —and, in the back of my mind, I’ll be wondering, like father like son?”
Newsday (NY), February 11, 2004; “Despite Mel Gibson, the Gospels Aren’t Gospel,” by Paul Ginnetty, director, Institute for the Study of Religion and Community Life, St. Joseph’s College, NY:
“Uncritical reading of John had for centuries fanned anti-Semitism among the naïve and the willfully ignorant. Despite cuts of some potentially offensive material, there remains concern that Gibson’s unsophisticated equating of text with accurate history could resuscitate such error. Were that to happen, recourse by Gibson to a glib defense of The-Bible-Made-Me-Do-It will be less than convincing.
“His blithe portrayal of biblical texts as uncomplicated history suggests an ideologically driven attempt to define any problematic elements of the film as being beyond criticism, cloaked in biblical inerrancy, Spirit-dictated history and his own piety.”
Los Angeles Times, February 4, 2004; “Critics debate ‘The Passion,’ Gibson evades the debate,” by Tim Rutten:
“Take, for example, the straightforward way in which those concerned with Mel Gibson’s soon-to-be-released movie, ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ continue to express their reservations and apprehensions, as compared with the filmmaker’s continued evasions concerning nearly every significant issue raised by the controversy.”
The Record (NJ), March 2, 2004:
“One could argue that life’s vilest acts of pornography are explicitly depicted acts of graphic violence….One could take thousands of biblical passages and convert each into a best-selling pornographic movie.
“Mel Gibson has out-martyred himself in the latest Jesus flick….I wish he had gutted prints of his ‘The Passion of the Christ’ movie.”
Newsday (NY), February 29, 2004:
“The problem with Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ is not the film itself, but the Gospel story on which it is based….
“The Gospel writers gave the Jesus story an anti-Jewish slant by describing him as persecuted at every turn by Jewish religious leaders and by putting the blame for his crucifixion on the Jews, not on the Romans who ordered his execution….
“Let’s hope this film does not set the clock back and unleash a new wave of anti-Semitism. One Holocaust is enough.”
Jewish Week (NY), February 27, 2004:
“It’s sad that Mel Gibson takes a single version (of many that exist) of the accounting of Christ’s last days as the only truth (as if he were there to verify this). Perhaps it is even more important at this time to get out the explanation of James Carroll (‘Constantine’s Sword’) as a way of countering Gibson’s account. People might then begin to see that historically blaming Jews for the death of a fellow Jew really doesn’t make sense. (Then again, they might also see that the reason for the shift of blame to the Jews will bring about some truths with which they may never be able to cope).”
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, January 29, 2004:
“Yes, we know that there are educated people of good faith who will internalize the play’s message. Who will protect us from the ignorant peasants who think that the play offers them license to kill Jews?
“The term…”anti-Jewish violence” in no way conveys the horrible slaughter of pogroms [that would be] brought on by this play.”
Variety, April 19, 2004; Salomon Korn, Vice President, Central Council of Jews, Germany:
“The anti-Semites will only have their views on Jews confirmed….[The film is a] sadomasochist orgy of violence [laden with] kitsch….”
Variety, April 19, 2004; Rabbi John Levi, president of the Australian Union for Progressive Judaism, Australia:
“I shudder to think of the effect the film will have on the uninitiated. Practically every piece of Jewish history was violated as the story was told.”
Variety, April 19, 2004; Gilbert Lewi, Delegation of Israeli-Argentinian Associations:
“‘You see images and stereotypes that we thought would never exist again after the Nazi era.’
“More worrying, he says is that some Christian groups are giving out free pirate copies of ‘The Passion’ and screening it in churches as an evangelizing and teaching tool.”
Detroit Free Press, April 12, 2004; Samantha Harrison-Stand, Executive Director, Temple Israel, Bay City, MI:
“‘It’s not [a local anti-Semitic preacher] that really frightens me. It’s the people who listen to him,’ Harrison-Stand, the synagogue’s executive director, said last month. ‘The people who will go to the movie theater, see “The Passion of the Christ,” and just crack and go out and do something crazy. That’s what I’m afraid of.'”
USA Today, April 3, 2004; Charlotte Knobloch, Vice President, Central Council of Jews, Germany:
“[The film’s] suggestive power…will give a further push to the current resurgence of anti-Semitism.”
Hollywood Reporter, March 23, 2004; Marin Karmitz, French Federation of Distributors:
“I refused to program the film in my network of theaters….I have always fought against fascism, notably through my exhibition activity. For me, ‘Passion’ is a film of fascist propaganda….
“Lastly, given the representation of the Jews, anti-Semitism is the third element of this fascist ideology….
“Behind this ‘Passion’…you can glimpse a whole internationale of religious fundamentalism, a martyrology based on violence, contempt for the body and hatred for the human element.”
Sun-Sentinel (FL), March 22, 2004; Rabbi Robert Silvers, Congregation B’Nai Israel, Boca Raton, FL:
“Congregation B’Nai Israel Rabbi Robert Silvers, who spoke on a panel along with Boys, said it’s unfortunate that a celebrity can use money to spread his own message. He likened the acceptance of the movie’s message to voting for an electoral candidate based on information gathered from commercials.
“‘How awful that now we’ll do that with religion,’ Silvers said. ‘Shame on us all if we don’t have the wherewithal to look into our own Bible, our own Scripture….Shame on us all if we don’t take the challenge of learning this for ourselves.'”
New York Post, March 18, 2004; Evan Thomas, Editor, Newsweek:
“‘It’s just really a snuff film…for those who like that sort of thing.’ Thomas, who admitted he hadn’t seen the picture, called it ‘ugly, long and historically inaccurate…everyone knows Pontius Pilate did the whole thing.”
The Virginian-Pilot, March 13, 2004; Rabbi Michael Panitz of Temple Israel, Norfolk, VA:
“The movie itself is filled with anti-Jewish stereotypes. The worst was the assistant chief priest, the fellow with the hook nose and the ugly gleam in his eye. That’s a stock figure going back to the medieval Passion play, repeated exactly in Nazi propaganda images and still used today in anti-Semitic cartoons.”
Forward (NY), March 13, 2004:
“The Justice Department is being urged to rule whether Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ constitutes a hate crime. An Internet petition by the Messiah Truth Project urges Attorney General John Ashcroft to determine whether the controversial movie about Jesus’ death violates hate-crime statutes because its portrayal of Jews amounts to ‘antisemitic diatribe.'”
Baltimore Jewish Times, March 12, 2004; Dr. Akiba Covitz, University of Richmond:
“‘I don’t think the Jewish groups that reacted [to ‘The Passion’] had a choice, given the Holocaust, and how people were silent for so long about creeping hate,’ said Dr. Akiba Covitz, a political scientist at the University of Richmond. ‘When you see something that runs even the risk of that, you have to act; your response has to be swift, it has to be almost extreme to get people to pay attention to the issue. Whether that contributes to Mel Gibson making more money is not relevant.'”
Baltimore Jewish Times, March 12, 2004; Stephen Silberfarb, Executive Director, Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas:
“Mel Gibson was Jew baiting—and we took the bait on his terms.”
U.S. News and World Report, March 8, 2004; James Carroll:
“It is a pornographic celebration of suffering.”
The Evangelist (Diocese of Albany, NY), March 23, 2004; Dr. Peter Zaas, Siena College:
“‘It’s rampant with anti-Semitic images….’
“Dr. Zaas said he doesn’t come from a religious tradition that values suffering as an act of piety, so he was offended by Mr. Gibson’s choice to focus so exclusively on Christ’s suffering during the Passion….
“‘I didn’t get anything from it except concern that someone was showing me these images on purpose: It was Mel Gibson crucifying Christ.'”
The Dialog (Diocese of Wilmington, DE), March 2, 2004; Rabbi Charles Klein, New York Board of Rabbis:
“Through our eyes, we saw something frightening. We saw the Jewish community portrayed as a ruthless mob.”
Peoria Journal Star, March 2, 2004; Rabbi Eugene Korn:
“This kind of interpretation of the passion has had a very toxic history. In the past, there has been violence against Jewish property and lives after production [sic] similar to this one.”
Baltimore Sun, February 28, 2004; John Dominic Crossan, professor emeritus, DePaul University:
“Anyone who handles this story must know they have to be terribly careful—I don’t mean politically correct. Out of this story has come 2,000 years of anti-Semitic pogroms.”
Indianapolis Star, February 28, 2004; The Rev. Ron Allen, professor of New Testament studies, Christian Theological Seminary (Disciples of Christ), Indianapolis:
“Its attack on Judaism is so destructive that it overpowers any other positive features….
“The damage done to the human community by this film’s brutal picture of Judaism may be more harmful than the good intended by the filmmakers. I have to say that I think people are better off not seeing this film.”
Sun-Sentinel (FL), February 28, 2004; Rabbi Sheldon Jay Harr, Temple Kol Ami, Plantation, FL:
“This movie has become an effective modern-day Passion Play. And Passion Plays have always pictured the Jews as bloodthirsty, satanic, hate-filled people.”
Sun-Sentinel (FL), February 28, 2004; Rabbi Geoffrey Botnick, Temple Torah, West Boynton Beach, FL:
“Some people will distort things from the movie, to serve their agenda. [The film] has the potential of changing the course of harmony between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 27, 2004; Kathleen M. O’Connor, Old Testament professor, Columbia Theological Seminary:
“I found the suffering so extreme as to be pornographic.”
Detroit Free Press, February 25, 2004; Rabbi Daniel Nevins, Adat Shalom Synagogue, Farmington Hills, MI:
“As a Jew seeing this, it feels like we’ve gone back to a medieval us-versus-them model.”
Newsday (NY), February 24, 2004; Dan Klores, independent filmmaker:
“[Those who engineered the publicity for ‘The Passion of the Christ’] ought to be ashamed of themselves. They have appealed to neo-facist [sic] Holocaust deniers. They sold out for money. They are thoroughly cynical people.”
Reuters, February 24, 2004; NY State Assemblyman Dov Hikind:
“I don’t have any doubt this film will cause anti-Semitism. I don’t have any doubt that this film will result in violence….
“I don’t know the purpose of the extent of violence. But why create hate? That’s what the movie does.
“Nobody says ‘dirty Jew’ in the movie, but boy is the movie clear.
“It really is a blood libel against Jews. Mel Gibson has done a tremendous disservice to the real message of Jesus, which is about love.”
Reuters, February 24, 2004; David Weprin, chairman, New York City Council Finance Committee:
“This is not the type of film we need in New York. It brings back ancient divisions.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 23, 2004; John Dominic Crossan, professor emeritus, DePaul University:
“John Dominic Crossan…said that accepting the view that God was ultimately responsible for Jesus’ final hours reinforces twisted theology.
“‘If you face the theology squarely, you’re dealing with a God who would not forgive people but would take it out on his own son,’ Crossan said. ‘While it might make you love Jesus, it would not make you love God. You’re dealing with someone who is close to a monster.'”
Boston Herald, February 22, 2004; Michael Bohnen, Jewish Council for Public Affairs:
“The Jewish community is not being paranoid here. There’s a 1,000-year history of Passion sermons, Passion plays, sparking demonstrations and pogroms.”
San Francisco Chronicle, February 22, 2004; Susan Bond, associate professor, Vanderbilt University Divinity School:
“My concern about it is the use of graphic violence and heart-wrenching emotional trauma to get people to follow Jesus. It seems to me enormously manipulative.”
San Francisco Chronicle, February 22, 2004; Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor, Tikkun:
“The Gibson film is at least as much an assault on Christian liberals and progressives as it is on Jews. I hope Christians will take the lead in organizing people of all faiths to leaflet every public showing of Gibson’s film with a message that runs counter to the anger at Jews that this film is likely to produce.”
Daily News (NY), February 21, 2004; Michael Evans, Jerusalem Prayer Team:
“I don’t take the position that it might incite violence against Jews. I say it will incite violence against Jews.”
San Jose Mercury News (CA), February 19, 2004; Bart Charlow, director, National Conference for Community and Justice:
“‘Our biggest fear is that Gibson is treading on ancient and very dangerous grounds that have provoked anti-Semitism for hundreds of years,’ said Bart Charlow….The movie could provide a rationale for everything from slurs to synagogue firebombings, from which the Bay Area has not been immune, he said.”
Boston Herald, February 18, 2004; Stephen Prothero, Boston University:
“‘The Gospels don’t glory in violence the way Mel Gibson does. There’s something perverse in turning the Bible into an action movie,’ he [Prothero] said, suggesting that ‘Mad Max Goes to Galilee’ would be ‘truth in advertising.'”
San Francisco Chronicle, February 17, 2004; Naomi Seidman, director, Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley:
“This movie is a representation of the New Testament, which is a nasty little document. It’s hard for Jews to read….
“You can’t just reproduce the hateful atmosphere in which the Gospels were written. You have to understand the polemics of the time. Angry people say nasty, hurtful things. The New Testament arises out of that environment.”
Los Angeles Times, February 11, 2004; Mike Evans, evangelical minister:
“I believe there is a serious crisis building here….Without an addition [a postscript to the film] of the kind we’re urging, this film will be used to fuel anti-Semitism around the world….
“I told Mr. Gibson that night that ‘I don’t want my savior to be used as a sword to injure Jewish people….’
“I don’t believe that Mel Gibson is an anti-Semite. I just don’t think he’s adequately researched the connection between this story, the account of Christ’s Passion, and Jew hatred through history. There’s no doubt that traditional Passion plays had a role in fueling hatred of Jews, including violence like the pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe. Today, there are people throughout the Muslim world teaching their children the same evil myths about Jews that Hitler used. They’re even doing it in schools.”
Philadelphia Inquirer, February 8, 2004; Burt Siegel, Jewish Community Relations Council, Philadelphia:
“[Gibson] serves up the resurrected message of deicide.”
CBS, “The Early Show,” January 26, 2004; Rene Syler (anchor):
“Some critics say it’s anti-Semitic because it blames Jews for the Crucifixion. In a TV interview Gibson does not deny it.”[To the extent that viewers accept Syler’s conclusion, they might think Gibson is a bigot; the comments she refers to are the following:
Gibson: “The film collectively blames humanity for the death of Jesus. Now there are no exemptions there. All right? I’m the first on the line for culpability—I did it. Christ died for all men, for all times.”
Arroyo: “Including the Jewish people?”
Gibson: “Yeah. They’re part of the human race….”]
Orlando Sentinel, January 23, 2004; Rabbi Aaron Rubinger, Congregation Ohev Shalom:
“Rabbi Aaron Rubinger of Congregation Ohev Shalom said ‘The Passion of The Christ’ was ‘cinematically very powerful,’ but it had the potential to become an ‘ecumenical suicide bomb….’
“‘[S]ome people will come away from this film with very powerfully negative feelings about Jews.'”
MSNBC “Scarborough Country,” December 8, 2004; Rabbi Schmuley Boteach:
“First of all, ‘The Passion of the Christ’ was an abomination for Christianity. It really should win the World Wrestling Federation Oscar for best movie. It’s a guy for two hours being kicked, beaten, his blood gushing everywhere. It’s just a diabolical, criminal, violent mess….It really is like Mohammed al-Zarqawi’s movies on the Internet where a guy gets his head chopped off. It’s gory. It’s ugly and it’s not inspiring….
“The reason why many Jews—I’m not among them—are fearful of Christianity is, they’re tired of Christians saying that we’re a bunch of Christ killers. They’re tired of the lie that we killed Jesus….
“Pontius Pilate killed Jesus. And the sin of Mel Gibson is the same sin of Michael Moore. They both whitewash tyrants. Michael Moore whitewashes Saddam Hussein, and Mel Gibson whitewashes Pontius Pilate, who was the Saddam Hussein of the ancient world. That’s why Jews are afraid of Christians.
“Slander is slander, whether it leads to violence or not. ‘The Passion of the Christ’ was historically fictitious, deeply libelous and slanderous movie portraying Jews killing one of their own. Jesus was an Orthodox Jew. He looked like me. He thought like me….
“Because my evangelical Christian brothers and sisters are desperate for any kind of wholesome, religious mainstream movie. And they’re so desperate, they’ll even take a violent, gory, bloody mess, which really looks like a World Wrestling Federation movie….”
MSNBC “Scarborough Country,” March 4, 2004; Rabbi Schmuley Boteach:
“On the contrary, this movie is perfectly in line with Hollywood. It is a violent movie. It’s about blood and gore. This movie is Christianity as the cult of death….
“The fact is, this movie is ultimate act, sadly, of Christian desperation. Christianity is a great world religion. Why does it need to be so desperate, akin to Janet Jackson flapping out a boob at the Super Bowl? Now we have Jesus needing to be skinned alive in order for people to go to church?
“This is a guilt trip….This isn’t a statement of devotion or faith. The statement is, Jesus suffered so much, how could you not believe in him now?”
MSNBC “Hardball,” March 4, 2004; Rev. Andrew Greeley:
“This is a movie about torture that’s being justified on the grounds that it is Jesus’ torture. I think it was sadomasochistic and pornographic.”
MSNBC “Hardball,” February 27, 2004; Christopher Hitchens:
“It’s more of an exercise in lurid sadomasochism, and it’s an awful appeal to superstition….
[When asked what in the film is worthy of condemnation]: “Well, it all depends on whether you like seeing handsome young men stripped and flayed alive over a long period of time. I don’t.
“I know that Mr. Gibson has had problems with homosexuals in the past for making extremely crude and nasty remarks about them. One almost wonders what his homoerotic temptations are.
“There’s no religion in the movie at all. There’s no—I’m not a Christian. But there’s no Christian precept. There’s no understanding of what their guy is supposed to have stood for.”
ABC “Nightline,” February 25, 2004; John Dominic Crossan, professor emeritus, DePaul University:
“My immediate reaction [to the film], actually, was extreme revulsion. I’ve been asked, yes, but what was your spiritual reaction? And I said, extreme revulsion is a spiritual reaction. I thought I’d be watching two hours of utter brutality. Possibly the way it was, of course, but still, I was watching it to the point I was wondering if this has become violent pornography.”
CNN “News from CNN,” February 25, 2004; David Denby, critic, The New Yorker:
“It’s extremely sadistic. And I don’t see in any way it could be called a spiritual experience.”
Fox News Channel “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren,” February 24, 2004; Jonathan Foreman, critic, New York Post:
“It’s so beyond the norm of even ordinarily violent movies….I thought it was not just gratuitous, but pornographic.”
Daily News (NY), March 1, 2004; unsigned editorial:
“Gibson has filled ‘The Passion’ with deeply troubling images. They present a world peopled almost exclusively by scheming Jewish priests and bloodthirsty Jewish mobs….
“Gibson even turns Jewish children into monsters, literally….
“Christians who are baffled by the anti-Semitic allegations—and, indeed, many are baffled—need to understand that passion plays depicting Jews as murderers were used for centuries to stoke hatred and violence. They should also try to watch ‘The Passion’ through eyes other than their own and judge for themselves whether its images are at odds with the church’s position.”
National Public Radio “Fresh Air,” February 25, 2004; David Edelstein, Slate.com columnist:
“What does this exercise in sadomasochism have to do with Christianity? I don’t know. I do know that Gibson is an angry man with a victimization complex.”