The International Writers Magazine James Campion's REALITY
DEBATE OF "PASSION" PART I
Film Art, Anti-Semitism and Gospel Lore
Editors Note: The following is part one of a two-part series
on the social impact of Mel Gibsons "The Passion of The
Christ", the charges of anti-Semitism therein, and its New
Testament sources, while the second segment will concentrate on
the film after the author attends a screening this week.
Jesus of Nazareth, the peasant artisan from ancient Palestine turned
social and spiritual radical, turned miraculous healer, turned martyred
rebel, and finally turned religious icon gets dragged from the altar
and into the news with the release of "The Passion of the Christ",
a Mel Gibson-produced-directed epic. The film is getting free publicity
because of its alleged "controversial" depiction of the arrest,
trial and subsequent murder of the impoverished first-century Jewish
radical cum messiah. Controversial because of what some deem its subliminal,
others its overt anti-Semitic stance. But how much of it is warranted?
To merely make art about religious subject matter is to seduce controversy.
This is fact. From DaVinci to Scorsese, the list is long, and the results
Having released my own "controversial" book, "Trailing
Jesus" (Published 11/02) I understand all too well the impossibility
of escaping belief systems based on cultural traditions, familial binds
and unyielding devotion. This is true of any faith in any era, and for
some this is good. But just as true is espousing one true faith in a
world of several - in this case three mega-popular monotheistic faiths
- managing to propagate an ignominious history of bating, bashing and
violence between them.
I may have humbly sparked much of my own engaging discussion under the
radar this past year, but Gibson, super-celebrity, comes to the party
with some baggage.
Gibson, an Oscar-winning filmmaker in his own right, is a self-proclaimed
Traditionalist Catholic, an ultra-conservative sect of a multi-billion
dollar industry that harkens its tenets back to the Middle Ages. His
asides about being moved by God to produce what he deems is the definitive
artistic expression of The Passion of Christ not withstanding, Gibsons
vociferously opinionated father has gained him a mound of negative publicity.
Hutton Gibson is an oft-quoted lunatic bigot with virulent stances on
everything from Holocaust denial to Pope smearing.
This explosive combination of religious fanaticism and noisy prejudice
has caused raucous mouthpieces for the Jewish Anti-Defamation League
to charge the explicit violence in Gibsons film - the protagonist
being beaten to a bloody pulp and executed replete with cheering on
by the predominantly Jewish populace of the period and orchestrated
by its leadership - to be a form of rampant Jew-bashing during a time
ripe with anti-Semitic rumblings in Eastern Europe and the whole of
the vastly radical Islamic world.
On the surface it looks like more religious kooks using preconceptions
to attack the work, not unlike the tumult over 1988 Martin Scorsese
mediocre film version of Nikos Kazantzakis brilliant novel, "The
Last Temptation of Christ", wherein the fictitious depiction of
Jesus is seen making babies with Mary Magdalene. Back then Christian
protestors were having fits over the irreverence given to their Lord,
wherein now they laud what many critics have described as "gruesome"
scenes of the Christs suffering and crucifixion. (Even the Pope
has checked in with a thumbs up). But the subtext of the ADLs
argument is well founded, because in a way Gibson had no choice in creating
an anti-Semitic depiction of this story no matter what his belief or
For almost 2000 years, at least roughly 1700 years since the Roman Empire
gave Christianity its stamp of approval, the hazily constructed events
leading up to and surrounding the death of Jesus of Nazareth has given
the perpetuators of genocide a nicely formed excuse: The Jews, leadership
and populace, killed Jesus. The Romans were in charge and could have
done something if not so utterly duped by those evils plotters, but
dropped the ball. Until the last half-century or so this nonsense was
not officially denounced by major sects of Christianity, and in some
circles exists today - leading to some of the most heinous crimes rendered
by humankind But, again, how much of it origins ring true? Lets
step back for a moment and massage the parameters of the volatile climate
that inexorably follows the legacy of this Jesus of Nazareth wherever
it has tread for the past two thousand years.
Heres what we know of what modern Biblical scholars are willing
to accept as history from the Jesus story:
A peasant artisan (most likely a mason) named Yeshua or Yeshu (Hebrew
moniker meaning salvation) from the rebelliously volatile region of
the Galilee in the Roman province of Judea gained the fanatical allegiance
of mostly vagabonds, miscreants and the terminally infirmed with a mystical
healing power and an engaging philosophy that grew to dangerous numbers
around the thirtieth year of the first century. He was by all accounts
a Jew, and knew well his cultures customs and beliefs. During
the Passover holiday of that spring, he stomped into the crowded corridors
of the King Herods Holy Temple in the hub of ancient Jerusalem,
challenged the religious political order, pronounced himself some sort
of omniscient authority and wrecked the place. Religious leaders at
the time, the Sanhedrin, a corrupted and fractured congress of Jewish
cultural affairs, and the Roman power-base, Pontius Pilate, the murderous
prefect of Judea felt this behavior inexcusable in the wildly incendiary
ambiance of a culture celebrating its independence from Egyptian slavery
while under the oppressive yoke of a ruling empire.
As a result, Jesus of Nazareth was crucified - a popular mode of execution
the bloodthirsty Romans borrowed from the equally insidious Assyrians
- by order of the state. The fact is the Jewish culture of antiquity
had no evidence of using crucifixion as a means of any kind of punishment.
They were partial to stoning.
is dead, and thirty years pass with much rumor and innuendo - both glowingly
positive and horribly pejorative - between warring Jewish faiths: one
that believed somehow that the slain Jesus of Nazareth was the promised
Messiah of scripture, and the other that wished to wait a little longer
for something more tangible. In other words, sans a couple of gentiles
and Samaritans, the whole philosophical battle was between Jews: those
who didnt deem Jesus the Anointed One or Christ, and those who
Later in the century and beyond, four sources of the life, teachings,
doings and death of Jesus of Nazareth emerged as pillars of what was
then the burgeoning Christian faith. Dubbed gospels from the Greek (the
language in which they were written) meaning "good news",
they were sonnets, frameworks, and commentary directed toward ancient
communities about the meaning of religious oppression and political
ruin. Mark (read some forty years after the death of Jesus), Matthew
and Luke (read some fifty or sixty years later) and John (over a century
later) are in essence arguments between ancient Jewish sects about the
priority of the Christ. But when added to the Bible, fused with the
global power structure of Rome and worshipped as the immutable Word
of God they are something else.
Here Jesus Christ becomes the sacrificial lamb of the world, borrowed
from the ancient practice of sacrificing innocent farm animals as an
elixir to societal and familial sin. His cause is just, his death and
purported resurrection seals the deal. Those who come aboard gain the
fruits of the sacrifice. The rest are doomed.
The irony of Gibsons ambitious undertaking and the IDLs
protest is laughable in its wake, and its time someone copped to it.
If Jesus of Nazareth were alive today he would likely march into the
Vatican scream and yell, trash the place and, speaking for the source
of the universe, call the Pope a fraud. He wouldnt be executed
for that today, but Im sure the penalty, cheered on by Catholics,
would not be pleasant.
Because you see its difficult pinning this story down neatly,
and impossible to encapsulate 2000 years of insanity and misrepresentation
in 1,300 words or a two-hour film. But simply, having based an organized
religious system on a man who despised the whole idea is nuts, dangerous
and downright confusing to us, and will be for some time to come.
Hey, I dare you to try and figure a convicted soul whose core philosophy
is "love your enemy", gets murdered by those enemies, ends
up being worshipped by the descendents of said enemies, and come out
© James Campion Feb 22nd 2004
THE GIBSON FILM IN THIS MESS -Passion Review
Previously by James Campion on Hackwriters
Play - Mel Gibson's blockbuster
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