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The Passion of the Christ

When negativity towards the Jews is subtle.

There's another issue that became one of the news stories of 2004, bringing Christian issues to the forefront of everyday life. No it's not dodgy vicars, or paedophile priests, it was the launch of Mel Gibson's, The Passion of The Christ. Having attended the press launch I wrote an article for a couple of websites looking at the effect the film could have on the Jewish community. Here is an extract:

"The problem is one of context. The Jewish characters (apart from Jesus and his disciples) are continually angry at Jesus, but we are not told of their reasons in a way we can understand. A thorough reading of the Gospels would provide that context, but the film, concentrating on the final 12 hours of Jesus's ministry only gives us brief flashbacks to the remaining 3 years of his public life.

A reading of the Gospels would also show us other things. It would show us that the chief priests and the elders were responsible for the whole sorry episode, for their own reasons (Matthew 26:3-4, Matthew 27:20), and it was their manipulation of the Jewish crowd that gives the impression that all the Jews present were after his blood. We are not shown that in the film, instead we were shown the Jewish people mocking him, pushing him, pelting him with stones and demanding his death, right up to Golgotha.

Satan, a curiously androgynous character, makes an appearance at strategic points throughout the film, but it always seemed to be among the Jewish characters, rather than the Roman ones. It brings to mind the words in John 8:44, about "belonging to your father, the devil". Although this quote was clearly intended for the Jewish leadership, the inclusion of this scene acts to reinforce the negative view of Jews in general.

When Jesus says to Pilate, "the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin", He was clearly referring to Judas, but, instead we cut to the faces of the Jewish leaders, implying who the film-makers really hold responsible for the deeds of that day. In fact the only Jewish characters (apart from John and the Marys) who show any sympathy were some women, mostly dressed suspiciously in black, with a curious resemblance to Catholic nuns!

I would in no way recommend this film to Jewish unbelievers, for the reasons already stated. It could have been so different. If Gibson had only included Jesus's assertion in John 10:17-18, "The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life - only to take it up again. No-one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord," either at a prominent part of the action, or as text at the end of the film, then this would have spoken volumes about his desire for good relations between the Christian and Jewish communities. By not doing so, for all the good this film will do, it will only add to the curse of anti-Semitism that is again growing across the globe.

What Christians must realize is that, in the eyes of the Jewish community, this film just serves to reinforce their views on the Christian attitude to Jewish people. They see Christians raving about this film and they see the 'same old same old'. Despite all of their proclamations over recent years, they still hate us! A Christian watching the film is inclined to feel sympathy for Jesus and contempt for the Jews. For many Jews watching the film, it is the other way round. How many Jews will this entice into the Kingdom? Very few, I suspect."

The main point I was trying to make was not really about the film itself, but the insensitivity shown by the Christian Community to the Jewish community. The over-riding impression was that nothing must be allowed to get in the way of the gospel opportunities given by the film and there was even an implication, in some quarters, that all negativity shown to the film was of the devil!

Well, no revival came as a result of the film and the Jewish community have long memories.

Steve Maltz

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book Outcast Nation 

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