Mel Gibson Movie 'The Passion' Blames Jews for the Death of Christ
Part 2: Analysis
When these rumors first began circulating in March 2003, virtually all the allegations they contained, including those pertinent to the content of Mel Gibson's upcoming movie The Passion were based entirely on conjecture and hearsay. No one had yet seen the film, which is still in post-production as of this writing and won't be released until 2004. Apart from a few generalities, such as the fact that the film deals with the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ's life and was enacted entirely in Latin and Aramaic, few details about the production were known to the public until recently.On August 8, 2003, a rough cut of The Passion was screened in Houston for an audience of religious leaders and media pundits, most of whom expressed strong feelings about the film after viewing it, though there were varying opinions on the matter of its alleged anti-Semitic content. In the event, the testimony of people who have actually seen The Passion is now available to us, and I will survey their comments momentarily.
On the charge that Mel Gibson is personally anti-Semitic:
The early hooplah surrounding "The Passion," inspired by a speculative article concerning Gibson's religious views in the March 9, 2003 edition of New York Times Magazine, stemmed in part from the fact that the actor/director is an avowed "Catholic traditionalist" who subscribes to a very conservative, pre-Vatican II form of Catholicism, and in part from a series of brazenly revisionist remarks uttered publicly by Gibson's 84-year-old father, also a Catholic traditionalist, who has claimed, among other things, that the Pope is illegitimate, that the liberalization of the Church was the result of a Masonic-Jewish conspiracy, and that six million Jews did not perish in the Holocaust.
Unless the article misquoted him, Hutton Gibson did, in fact, say those things. But even its author admits that it remains an "open question" to what extent Mel Gibson shares his father's farther-out beliefs. An elder of the church to which both Gibsons belong said, "He doesn't go along with a lot of what his dad says." In short, the charge that Mel Gibson himself holds anti-Semitic views remains unsupported by any public evidence to date, has been denied by him and would appear to amount to little more than a case of "guilt by association."
Mel Gibson himself inadvertently clarified the issue when was pulled over for drunk driving on July 28, 2006 and regaled the arresting officer with profanity, threats, and slurs, including, "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. Are you a Jew?"
He later issued an apology to "everyone in the Jewish community," saying, "There is no excuse, nor should there be any tolerance, for anyone who thinks or expresses any kind of anti-Semitic remark. Please know from my heart I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot. Hatred of any kind goes against my faith."
Friends were quoted defending Gibson, saying he's a "different person" when under the influence of alcohol which only begs the question, which of those persons is the real Mel Gibson?
On the charge that 'The Passion' is anti-Semitic:
When it first surfaced in March 2003, the email claiming that Gibson's movie blames the death of Jesus Christ on the Jews was based solely on a paraphrased statement by another Catholic traditionalist (and "friend of the Gibson family") named Gary Giuffre. Here is the relevant passage from New York Times Magazine:
"It will graphically portray the intense suffering of Christ, perhaps as no film has done before." Most important, he says, the film will lay the blame for the death of Christ where it belongs which some traditionalists believe means the Jewish authorities who presided over his trial and delivered him to the Romans to be crucified.
The critical sentence in the passage isn't a direct quote and could hardly be more oblique. Only the first half "Most important, he says, the film will lay the blame for the death of Christ where it belongs" is attributed to Giuffre. The rest "which some traditionalists believe means the Jewish authorities who presided over his trial..." is a vague generalization and fails to communicate clearly whether even Giuffre himself holds this belief, let alone Mel Gibson. On this ham-fisted attempt at exposition the controversy was born.
In June 2003 a group of scholars who read an early draft of the screenplay renewed the charges of anti-Semitism, but it wasn't until private screenings of a rough cut of "The Passion" took place in July and August 2003 that anyone apart from the filmmakers themselves could say for certain what the film contains.
Among the previewers was a representative of the Anti-Defamation League, which, on the basis of the screening, immediately issued a press release stating: "We are deeply concerned that the film, if released in its present form, will fuel the hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism that many responsible churches have worked hard to repudiate." Among the group's specific charges were: the film portrays Jews as "forcing" the decision to execute Jesus Christ, thus "assuming responsibility" for the crucifixion; the film relies on "sinister medieval stereotypes" of Jews; it contains historical errors; it relies on an "anti-Jewish" account by a 19th century nun which distorts and over-simplifies history; it portrays faithful Jews as "enemies of God and the locus of evil."
That assessment was not unanimous, however. Another viewer, conservative columnist David Horowitz, stated that in his opinion "The Passion" is not anti-Semitic at all, and that, while it is not an attempt to portray the historical Jesus, it is "faithful to the Gospels" "and therefore the Pharisees are Jesus' enemies and they and their flock do call for Jesus' death (and why wouldn't they, since Jesus was a threat to their authority and their beliefs?)"
Mel Gibson speaks:
For his part, and for what it's worth, Mel Gibson flatly denies all charges of anti-Semitism. "To be certain, neither I nor my film is anti-Semitic," he said in a June 16, 2003 statement (see update above). "'The Passion' is a movie meant to inspire not offend," he continued. "My intention in bringing it to the screen is to create a lasting work of art and engender serious thought among audiences of diverse faith backgrounds."
Sources and further reading:
ADL Concerned Mel Gibson's 'Passion' Will Fuel Anti-Semitism
Anti-Defamation League press release, 11 August 2003
David Horowitz on Mel Gibson's Passion
NewsMax.com, 1 August 2003
Mel Gibson Defends 'The Passion'
Associated Press, 16 June 2003
Critics Jittery Over Mel's 'Passion'
LA Times (by way of The Age), 10 May 2003
Belucci Defends 'Passion'
SciFi Wire, 9 May 2003
Scripting the Scriptures
The Forward, 2 May 2003
Is the Pope Catholic... Enough?
New York Times Magazine, 9 March 2003
Last updated: 08/21/06