After reading so many articles about the alleged “anti-Semitic” content within Mel Gibson’s “Passion” I decided to go see the film and judge it for myself.

My interest to date regarding the controversial movie has been the cultural phenomenon it has created and the fringe schismatic so-called “Traditional Catholic” group Gibson comes from.

After Easter the theater was almost empty.

Sitting through “Passion” isn’t easy; it’s a bit slow and the action is somewhat redundant. Unlike previous religious movies such as The Ten Commandments or The Robe this is “a film so narrowly focused as to be inaccessible for all but the devout,” as a LA Times critic wrote.

And “the devout” seems to be essentially evangelical Christians largely from Baptist, Pentecostal and non-denominational fundamentalist churches, who have defended Gibson’s movie.

But back to the issue of anti-Semitism.

There is no getting around the way Jews are portrayed in this movie, and it’s not pretty. Negative stereotypes abound and as the old adage says, “if it quacks like a duck and it walks like a duck, it just might be a duck.”

Gibson’s movie looks and sounds anti-Semitic based on key scenes and dialog, but somehow the director and his boosters want everyone to believe it’s not.

However, as many have observed outside the religious fervor the film has generated, you cannot escape the artistic license Gibson took regarding both his screenplay and direction. The dialog and scenes portray Jewish leaders in an evil conspiracy out to get Jesus and the Jewish mob thirsty for his blood.

Meanwhile Pontius Pilate and his spouse are given more than enough wiggle room to get off the hook.

Mrs. Pilate even tearfully brings Mary towels as an apparent act of contrition, even though according to Mel’s script she tried to save Jesus’ life.

Of course none of this dialog exists in the New Testament, which removes the basis for the frequently offered apology that somehow Mel’s just following scripture.

And given Gibson’s background of being raised by an anti-Semitic father amidst Jewish conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial, it seems reasonable to suspect that environment influenced him.

Mel Gibson has never directly and explicitly repudiated his father’s teachings, no matter how repugnant.

The director’s supporters want us to think he is just a loyal son, but watching the movie you can’t help but think that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

“Passion” certainly earns every bit of its R rating through its constant and brutal bloodshed. Mary even has a scene mopping up her son’s blood. James Caviezel who plays Jesus spends most of his time being beaten, bleeding, falling down and writhing in agony.

All the while the Jews are overwhelmingly either happily watching Jesus suffer, pelting him with rocks or egging the Romans on. There is an occasional benevolent Hebrew, but this device only serves to punctuate the ongoing polemic.

The constant focus on Mary is interesting. That emphasis in Catholicism has often upset Protestants, especially evangelicals. But this time they seem willing to suffer through Gibson’s fascination with the mother of Jesus as long as it serves their agenda.

According to a recent poll one third of the Americans who have seen “Passion” believe the Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus reported Religion News Service.

“Generally, there is a correlation between seeing the movie, and expressing an intention to see it, with holding the view that Jews were responsible for Christ’s death,” pollsters said. And that “people who are drawn to this movie may be predisposed to this opinion more than others.”

This comes as no surprise to many Jews who have often been troubled by evangelical Christian sentiments. It is this religious community that spends millions of dollars annually funding groups like “Jews for Jesus” that target Jews for conversion.

Not surprisingly “Jews for Jesus,” which was founded by a Baptist minister, strongly endorsed “Passion” reported Agape Press.

More moderate “mainline” Protestants and Roman Catholics don’t agree with such missionary efforts and instead prefer building bridges to the Jewish community through mutual acceptance and ecumenical dialog.

This is probably why Mel Gibson sought out evangelicals in his marketing strategy, sensing correctly that they would not object to his portrayal of Jews.

“Passion” seems to resonate with those who harbor certain sentiments about Jews and thus it’s not a shock that the film has done well in Muslim countries reported Salon.

Mel’s message about Jews has made angry Arabs happy that believe in Jewish conspiracies.

Note: Rick Ross is a former member of the National Committee for Interreligious Affairs of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, a large denomination of Judaism.


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