Society: Movie “Passion of the Christ”


>> Cops: ‘Passion’ Prompts Man to Confess Murder (FN, 040326)

Open letter on ‘The Passion of the Christ’ (WorldNetDaily, 040206)

Big Turnout for ‘Passion’ Opening (FN, 040225)

Koppel Tackles The Passion: Jesus, Jews, and the year’s most controversial film (NRO, 040224)

Big Turnout for ‘Passion’ Opening (FN, 040225)

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST by Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 040224)

Unparalleled Passion: Theology and revolutionary filmmaking (NRO, 040225)

Passion Changes Everything: Box-office reverberations (NRO, 040225)

Caught in the Crossfire: Gibson and his movie (NRO, 040225)

Brutal Passion: Jesus on the big screen (NRO, 040225)

The Dividers: The Passion’s critics fail (NRO, 040225)

Brother Gibson’s Passion: I went from the theater to the Gospels (NRO, 040225)

A Movie and Its Meaning: Mel Gibson’s Passion is for all time (NRO, 040225)

Mel Gibson, Feminist: One of the truths in The Passion of Christ (NRO, 040225)

A Vicious, Anti-Semitic Film: Produced by Syria, not Mel Gibson (NRO, 040225)

The Passion Of The Liberal (Ann Coulter, 040303)

‘The Passion’ Tops Box Office For Third Week (FN, 040314)

The Importance of the Passion: Some critics just don’t get it (NRO, 040227)

Violence to Scripture? Viewing The Passion (NRO, 040227)

‘Passion’ Poised to Continue Reign (FN, 040301)

Popcorn and Passion (WS, 040308)

‘Passion’ to Be Released on DVD in August (FN, 040510)

Passions: We’re all holding our breath on this one (WS, 040223)

Violent film lovers suddenly sensitive (WorldNetDaily, 040225)

Dobson: Liberal media can’t stomach ‘Passion’ (WorldNetDaily, 040206)

Report: ‘Passion’ to omit ‘anti-Semitic’ scene (WorldNetDaily, 040204)

Gibson: I was ‘spiritually bankrupt’ (WorldNetDaily, 040131)

Gibson insists pope commented on ‘Passion’ (WorldNetDaily, 040123)

Is pope passionate about Gibson film? (WorldNetDaily, 040122)

The pope approves of ‘The Passion’ (WorldNetDaily, 031217)

Billy Graham screens ‘The Passion of the Christ’ (WorldNetDaily, 031126)

Lightning strikes ‘Jesus’ on film set (WorldNetDaily, 031023)

Mel Gibson’s passion for ‘The Passion’ (WorldNetDaily, 030708)

In defense of Mel Gibson (WorldNetDaily, 030829)

The sins of the father (WorldNetDaily, 030910)

Mel Gibson guided by faith (WorldNetDaily, 030629)

Mel Gibson working with Jewish leaders (WorldNetDaily, 030814)

Gibson discusses film with James Dobson (WorldNetDaily, 040220)

‘Passion’ Filming Takes a Toll on Jim Caviezel (FN, 040217)

More Power To Mel Gibson “The Passion” Is An Act Of Faith, Not Bigotry (WorldNetDaily, 040226)

Unequal Treatment: The Da Vinci Code vs. The Passion (NRO, 040302)





>> Cops: ‘Passion’ Prompts Man to Confess Murder (FN, 040326)


HOUSTON — Texas officials are crediting “The Passion of the Christ” with helping to solve a crime.


A Houston detective says a man who saw the movie and then talked to a spiritual adviser has confessed to murdering a woman. A coroner had ruled the pregnant woman’s death by hanging a suicide.


The woman’s body was found in her apartment southwest of Houston in January. The detective says all physical evidence pointed to suicide.


He says the perpetrator “was very, very meticulous,” wearing gloves and leaving none of his own DNA behind. Officials say the pregnancy appears to be the motive -- with the perpetrator believing he was the father.


The detective says suspect Dan Leach apparently felt that “to have redemption he would have to confess his sin and do his time.” The 21-year-old faces up to life in prison if convicted.




Open letter on ‘The Passion of the Christ’ (WorldNetDaily, 040206)


By Dr. James Dobson


Dear Friends:


It isn’t often that I find myself speaking favorably about a modern movie, but there is a film being released this month that I believe is among the most powerful and important ever made. I’m talking about “The Passion of the Christ,” a dramatic recounting of our Savior’s final hours on earth, including His crucifixion and resurrection.


You’ve probably already heard something about this movie, as it has received a great deal of press (much of it negative) in recent months. I’ll address the controversy surrounding “The Passion of the Christ” in a moment, but first some general information. The film has been directed by one of the most prominent and well-known movie stars of our time, Mel Gibson (in addition to appearing in countless Hollywood blockbusters, Mr. Gibson directed and starred in the Oscar-winning Scottish epic “Braveheart”). According to NewMarket Films, the company releasing “The Passion of the Christ” here in the U.S., the script was “adapted from a composite account of the Passion assembled from the four biblical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”


The movie is designed to provide an authentic representation of the events surrounding Christ’s death. All of the characters in the film speak the original languages heard at the time, including Aramaic and Latin. (In the early stages of production, Mr. Gibson intended to release the film without subtitles. However, at the urging of many who saw early screenings of “The Passion of the Christ,” English subtitles have been added.) In the U.S. and Canada, the movie is being released on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25, which signifies the beginning of Lent.


I had the privilege of viewing a “rough cut” of the movie last summer during a writing trip to California, and again in September. I can say that, in addition to being faithful to the essentials of the biblical account, it is easily the most heart-wrenching, powerful portrayal of Christ’s suffering that I have ever seen. Shirley and I were deeply moved by the stark depiction of the brutality and humiliation that Jesus endured on our behalf. Other preview screenings have had a similar effect, leaving audience members either weeping openly or hushed in reverent silence.


Mel Gibson also traveled to Focus on the Family headquarters last year to show an early version of “The Passion of the Christ” to several members of our executive staff. After seeing the film, our ministry president, Don Hodel, and executive vice president, Del Tackett, (Shirley and I were out of town at the time) issued statements praising the movie for its historical accuracy and its powerful portrayal of Christ’s sacrifice. Gibson himself has said that, in making the movie, “I wanted to bring you there and I wanted to be true to the Gospels.”


Mr. Gibson’s earnest desire to accurately portray Christ’s suffering for humankind – and to share that pivotal moment in history with a mass audience – is tremendously refreshing to me. He has gone to great lengths to ensure that the movie will encourage, rather than offend, the millions of Christians around the world for whom the death and resurrection of Jesus hold such profound meaning. Indeed, over the past year, he has shown footage to numerous Christian and Jewish leaders around the country, not for the purpose of promotion, but to solicit their feedback.


When Mr. Gibson brought his movie to Focus headquarters last year, it was clear that he was genuinely interested in our opinions and respectful of our views. He could easily have sent one of his representatives here to show the film and request our endorsement. Rather, he appeared personally, without any fanfare, in order to address any questions and concerns we might have had.


A devout Catholic, Mel Gibson has repeatedly emphasized the fact that he felt called by God to bring “The Passion of the Christ” to the big screen. During one interview, he said, “I’m not a preacher, and I’m not a pastor. But I really feel my career was leading me to make this [movie]. The Holy Ghost was working through me on this film, and I was just directing traffic. I hope the film has the power to evangelize ... Everyone who worked on this movie was changed. There were agnostics and Muslims on set converting to Christianity.” When was the last time you heard a major Hollywood star make a statement of such magnitude?


Apparently, however, the idea of a movie that accurately portrays the death and resurrection of Christ and that “has the power to evangelize” is more than certain members of the liberal media establishment can stomach. As a result, “The Passion of the Christ,” throughout its production, has been the source of great controversy. More specifically, the movie – and Mel Gibson himself – have been mercilessly dogged by liberal commentators hurling unfair criticism and baseless allegations of anti-Semitism.


The reasoning proffered by many of these cultural elitists is that the movie’s characterization of the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day and its depiction of the angry mob calling for His crucifixion could lead viewers to the conclusion that the Jews were exclusively responsible for killing Christ. “The Passion of the Christ,” they somberly intone, could therefore be a catalyst for renewed outbreaks of anti-Jewish sentiment around the world.


Despite repeated assurances from Mr. Gibson that his film does not seek to malign Jews – or any other group – the attacks have come fast and furious. That “The Passion of the Christ” endeavors to remain true to the Gospel accounts is no excuse in the minds of those who wish Mel Gibson and his movie would just go away.


Columnist James Carroll of the Boston Globe, a subsidiary of the New York Times, went so far as to suggest that “Even a faithful repetition of the Gospel stories of the death of Jesus can do damage exactly because those sacred texts themselves carry the virus of Jew hatred.” Does Mr. Carroll really expect readers to believe that the Gospels – written by Jews about a Jewish Messiah and His Jewish disciples – are anti-Semitic? His assertion is so ridiculous and foolish as to be laughable.


Among Mel Gibson’s liberal critics, New York Times columnist Frank Rich has been one of the most vocal and vitriolic. In one particularly nasty diatribe, Rich characterized Gibson as a “Jew-baiter” and endeavored to malign the actor’s elderly father, who has absolutely no connection to the movie whatsoever. Mr. Rich suggested that Gibson was “sowing religious conflict” by not inviting a sufficient number of Jews to attend preview screenings of the movie. (As you may know, Mr. Rich has a long and illustrious record of disdain for everyone and everything that fails to live up to his “enlightened” liberal ideals. In recent years, he has referred to yours truly as “The Godzilla of the Right” and compared me to Ku Klux Klan member David Duke, endeavored to link conservative Christians with the Oklahoma City bombing and Promise Keepers with the militia movement, and blamed the Family Research Council for the death of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard.) Rich is rabidly anti-Christian in almost every context.


In my estimation, the liberal backlash against “The Passion of the Christ” is incredibly significant. Shaky charges of “anti-Semitism” are really just a smokescreen. I believe the real problem the liberal establishment has with this movie is that it has the audacity to portray Christ as He really was – not only as a historical figure, but as the Savior of mankind. That is an offense to the postmodern sensibilities of our morally relativistic culture. The fact that Mel Gibson actually hopes to use his movie as a vehicle for evangelism only adds fuel to the fire.


Columnist David Limbaugh put it best when he said:


How ironic that when a movie producer takes artistic license with historical events, he is lionized as artistic, creative and brilliant, but when another takes special care to be true to the real-life story, he is vilified ... The moral is that if you want the popular culture to laud your work on Christ, make sure it either depicts Him as a homosexual or as an everyday sinner with no particular redeeming value (literally). In our post-Christian culture, criticism of the blasphemous “The Last Temptation of Christ” is celebrated, and “The Passion [of the Christ]” is condemned.


Stated another way, criticism of “The Last Temptation of Christ” brought angry protests of “censorship” from Hollywood and the media, whereas objections to “The Passion of the Christ” are considered entirely valid. This is yet another example of a powerful double standard.


In one sense, I suppose we should not be surprised when the true story of Christ – whether depicted on film or declared from the pulpit – creates controversy. The Apostle Paul reminds us that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18). There is no denying that there is a spiritual element to the uproar surrounding “The Passion of the Christ,” as well.


Mel Gibson seemed to recognize this himself when, in a recent interview, he described the controversy over his movie as evidence of “big realms that are warring and battling.”


In another interview, he noted that one of his primary motivations in making the movie was precisely “to show that turmoil around [Jesus] politically and with religious leaders and the people, all because He is Who He is ... This is not a Christian vs. Jewish thing. ‘[Jesus] came into the world, and it knew him not.’ Looking at Christ’s crucifixion, I look first at my own culpability in that.”


Indeed, many Jewish viewers who have seen the movie paint a picture that stands in stark contrast to the alarmist posturing of Frank Rich and his cronies. David Horowitz has noted that “there is no finger pointing at Jews in the film, and it is unsustainable to suggest that this will provoke Christians into violence against Jews.” Alan Sereboff, a Jewish screenwriter who has previously worked with Gibson’s company, said, “As a Jew I left the movie feeling a greater sense of friendship and closeness to my Christian brothers and sisters than I ever thought imaginable.” And noted movie critic and radio host Michael Medved has called “The Passion of the Christ” “by far the most moving, substantive, and artistically successful adaptation of biblical material ever attempted by Hollywood.”


Praise from Christian viewers has been equally effusive. Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan said of the movie: “I came away reassured. It is a moving film, and what it moves you to is tears, and thought ... It leaves you indicting yourself: It leaves you wondering about what your part in that agonizing drama would have been back then, and what your part is today.” Billy Graham, who described himself as having been “moved to tears” by the film, said: “After watching “The Passion of the Christ,” I feel as if I have actually been there ... The film is faithful to the Bible’s teaching that we are all responsible for Jesus’ death, because we have all sinned.”


WorldNetDaily columnist Joseph Farah echoed those sentiments and explained why the liberal media’s charges of “anti-Semitism” are without merit: “Followers of Jesus believe we are all responsible – all human beings, alive, dead or yet to be born – for crucifying Jesus ... He bore our sins and they were nailed to that tree the day He died. We don’t blame anyone but ourselves. To do so would miss out on the grace He offered with His shed blood.”


Having shared a few of the details concerning “The Passion of the Christ,” may I now encourage you to take the time to go see the movie when it is released on the 25th of this month? As Christians, we often decry the immoral films that Hollywood routinely releases, and rightly so. However, in addition to avoiding movies that are immoral or otherwise disparaging of Christianity, we must do everything we can to support those rare films that, like “The Passion of the Christ,” are both edifying and uplifting.


For years, Hollywood executives have justified their constant barrage of sex-and-debauchery-soaked movies by saying, “We’re only releasing what the public wants to see!” Many movie industry executives refuse to admit that there is a viable audience for stories and characters that extol biblical virtues. “The Passion of the Christ” presents us with a powerful opportunity to prove them wrong.


In the competitive entertainment market, a movie’s opening weekend is widely considered to be the measure of success or failure. If a film fails to draw strong numbers during its first few days of release, it is generally considered a “flop.” Therefore, I want to encourage you to consider seeing “The Passion of the Christ” either on its opening day, or soon thereafter. (For information on advance ticket sales and group tickets, you can visit the official movie website at


Don’t wait for the film to run its course in theaters or to be released on DVD. You have a couple of extra days to choose from, as “The Passion of the Christ” is being released on a Wednesday, whereas most films open on Fridays. If you can’t see the movie on opening day, I hope you’ll consider seeing it sometime between Thursday (the 26th) and Sunday (the 29th). If “The Passion of the Christ” does big business during this period, the entertainment industry might finally begin to get the message that audiences are hungry for movies that offer more than the typical Hollywood diet of blasphemy and obscenity.




Before closing, I want to offer a few words of clarification on two matters related to Mel Gibson’s film. First, although accurate to the biblical account, you need to know that “The Passion of the Christ” is excruciatingly violent in its depiction of our Savior’s scourging and crucifixion. As such, it is wholly inappropriate for young children.


In any other context, I could not in good conscience recommend a movie containing this degree of violent content. However, in this case, the violence is intended not to titillate or entertain, but to emphasize the reality of the unspeakable suffering that our Savior endured on our behalf. Christian recording artist Christy Nockels of Watermark, put the violent nature of the film in perspective by saying, “It is extremely graphic, but through each scene my heart kept taking me back to Isaiah 53:5: ‘By His stripes we are healed.’” Speaking personally, I was deeply affected by a single thought while watching the movie: I did this to Jesus.


Second, I’m aware that many of my readers may have some questions about Mel Gibson himself. On the one hand, he has appeared in a number of films containing content that many Christians would find offensive. On the other, his staunch adherence to Catholic beliefs and doctrines might be upsetting to those who come from a more evangelical and Protestant persuasion. Please know that, in discussing this project, I am not offering a blanket endorsement of either Mr. Gibson’s personal beliefs or his past work. I can only say that, when it comes to “The Passion of the Christ,” I believe it has the potential to dramatically impact Christian viewers and, even more importantly, change the lives of the many unsaved audience members who could potentially be drawn to it.


There are no specific references to unique Catholic doctrine in the film – it is a straightforward depiction of what both Protestants and Catholics agree is the single most important event in human history. The movie simply endeavors to show audiences, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “nothing ... except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2).


Whether you decide to see “The Passion of the Christ” or not, with Easter on the horizon, I hope that you will take some time in the coming weeks to reflect on Christ’s death and resurrection and to consider the inestimable significance that those events hold in the lives of those of us who claim Him as King. He paid the penalty for our sins so that we might be reconciled with our Father in Heaven. The prophet Isaiah captured the magnitude of that moment most eloquently:


He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:3-5


And now, 2,000 years after His earthly life – in the age of movies and satellites and the Internet – the Suffering Servant beckons to us still. To those who hear and respond to His call, He offers the promise of grace, forgiveness, restoration and a glorious eternity. That is Good News, indeed!




James C. Dobson, Ph.D.

Founder and Chairman

Focus On The Family




Big Turnout for ‘Passion’ Opening (FN, 040225)


NEW YORK — Mel Gibson is set to find out just how passionate Americans are about “The Passion of the Christ,” his controversial new film which opens across the nation today, Ash Wednesday.


Many of the 2,800 theaters showing the film report that today’s showings are sold out and some theaters held early-morning screenings.


In the Dallas suburb of Plano, an estimated 6,000 people filled all 20 auditoriums at a Cinemark theater to watch the film. All the tickets had been bought and donated by a local churchgoer.


“It’s about faith, love, hope and forgiveness ... These are good, valuable messages to send out there,” Gibson told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly in an interview.


But critics — including several newspaper and online film reviewers — have said “The Passion of the Christ” is too violent and some accused it of being anti-Semitic.


Those concerns, however, did not discourage many theatergoers.


“I hope everybody sees it with an open mind,” said Rick Pierce, 53, a Baptist who sipped coffee and chewed on a breakfast burrito at the Plano theater before the first showing.


Elsewhere across the nation, some couldn’t wait for morning screenings. More than 100 people watched the midnight showing at the ArcLight Cinemas in Los Angeles.


“I’m in shock. I’m physically weak. I’m emotional,” said Joseph Camerieri, a 39-year-old paralegal student from Los Angeles who was trying to hold back tears after seeing the film.


“I think if you’re a Christian it will increase your faith tenfold in what Christ has done for you. If you’re not a Christian, you’ll probably treat others with more love.”


In the central Pennsylvania community of Bellefonte, about 50 people attended a showing after midnight. Viewers groaned as Jesus was nailed to the cross, and muffled cries could be heard during more than an hour of Jesus’ torture, crucifixion and death. In the end, as Jesus rises from the grave, some in the audience quietly celebrated.


“To me, that was the important part,” said Aaron Tucker, an English major at Penn State. “I’m like, ‘Oh, victory!’ There’s more to this movie than just the violence. It’s about triumph.”


In Plano, Arch Bonnema, a financial planner, reserved the entire Cinemark Tinseltown 20 theater, spending $42,000 of his own money on tickets.


“When you see the sacrifice that Jesus made, it makes you feel like, I have to do something better with my life,” said Bonnema, 50, a lifelong Christian inspired to act after seeing a special screening of the movie.


Popcorn and soft drinks remained on the concession menu — but theater managers bet that most early morning moviegoers would rather choose breakfast pastries and orange juice.


A cadre of ministers were on hand to reach out to moviegoers.


“Not to preach a sermon,” said the Rev. Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist where Bonnema is a member and president of the Southern Baptist Convention, “but to sum up the message and meaning of the cross. ... We anticipate that there will be a tremendous outpouring of God’s favor on this movie.”


Funded and directed by Gibson, the film has received decidedly mixed reviews from critics. Some have praised Gibson’s total commitment to his subject: The Oscar-winning filmmaker says the movie is both an attempt to faithfully render the Gospels and a personal vision. Others see it as excessively bloody, obsessed with cruelty and unfair in its portrayal of Jews.


But following months of hype, curiosity about the movie is almost insatiable.


After seeing “The Passion” a few months ago, Bonnema called his wife, Sherry, and told her, “Honey, we’ve got to get as many people as we can to see this film because it’s changed my life.”


With her blessing, he approached Cinemark about reserving a single auditorium. Theater officials told him that would be fine, but he would need to do so before regular operating hours.


“If it’s before hours, aren’t all of them empty?” Bonnema recalled asking. “So I called my wife back and said, ‘What do you think about getting 6,000 seats?’”


She agreed, even though she hadn’t seen the film herself.


The Bonnemas gave 3,000 tickets to their church and 1,000 to the Dallas Theological Seminary.


That left them with 2,000 — but not for long.


“I put out an e-mail to friends in the Dallas-Fort Worth area,” Arch Bonnema said. “In three days, I had 23,000 requests.”


Ordinarily, showing the same movie on 20 screens would be impossible because of a lack of prints, said Terrell Falk, spokeswoman for Plano-based Cinemark USA, which owns about 300 theaters in 33 states.


But in this case, Cinemark made special arrangements to borrow prints from its other area theaters.


“We’ll show it early in the morning, then take them to the other theaters,” Falk said.




Koppel Tackles The Passion: Jesus, Jews, and the year’s most controversial film (NRO, 040224)


Is Mel Gibson’s new film anti-Semitic?


The media is obsessed with the question. Diane Sawyer asked Gibson point blank on national television if he’s an anti-Semite. A Newsweek cover story, “Who Killed Jesus?” called The Passion of the Christ a “powerful but troubling new movie” based on “Christian narratives” that have “long fueled the fires of anti-Semitism.” New York Times columnist Frank Rich accused Gibson of promoting his film “by baiting Jews.”


Several leading American Jewish organizations are driving the debate. Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League simultaneously says Gibson is not anti-Semitic, then accuses Gibson of “classic anti-Semitism.” He says the film “unambiguously portrays Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob as the ones responsible for the decision to crucify Jesus” and warns it “could fuel the hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism that many responsible churches have worked hard to repudiate.” David Elcott of the American Jewish Congress said The Passion “reasserts offensive stereotypes about Jews” and “undermines the sense of community that has existed between Jews and Christians for decades in its unnecessary and destructive imagery of Jews.”


Tonight, ABC’s Ted Koppel — who is Jewish and whose wife is Catholic — tackles the controversy for a Nightline special (Channel 7 in Washington, 11:35 P.M. EST). Monday night, my wife and I and five others from McLean Bible Church watched a sneak preview of The Passion with Koppel at the Regal Cinema in Sterling, Virginia. We were interviewed by Koppel for about an hour afterwards about our perspective on the film and the debate surrounding it. Nightline also separately taped interviews with a number of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish leaders for the program.


Koppel’s team contacted McLean last week after learning the church rented ten local movie theaters to show The Passion on 40 screens over four nights. Members have purchased 11,300 tickets, primarily to bring non-Christian family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Each showing is followed by a five-minute talk by one of the church’s pastors explaining how to become a Christian and inviting people to a three week Bible study called “Personalizing The Passion.” Also of interest to the Nightline team: McLean’s senior pastor Lon Solomon was raised Jewish and is on the board of Jews for Jesus. Of the 8,000 Washingtonians who typically attend one of McLean’s eight weekend services, some 200 are from a Jewish background, including two of us interviewed by Koppel last night.


The Passion is a tough film to watch, and an even tougher film to be interviewed about immediately following. Tension builds from the first images. Gibson takes viewers on one of the most brutal and emotionally exhausting cinematic rides of their lives, earning his “R” rating along the way. The evil is real and palpable. The film is awash in blood. Lynn and I have three sons, and another baby on the way. We were in tears seeing Mary watch the endless, senseless torture and execution of her oldest son. And I think it’s fair to say all seven of us appreciated all the time it took for the Nightline crew to wire us up for sound, adjust the lights, position the three television cameras, and work out the technical details for the interview. We all felt like we’d had the oxygen sucked out of us and we needed a few minutes to gather our thoughts.


Koppel, to his credit, was a reporter, not a tabloid talk-show host. He made no effort to sensationalize his interview. Indeed, he’d just seen the film for the first time himself, sitting side by side with us, and he let us begin by talking about our first impressions of the film. But soon he got to the central question of the night, and of the entire debate. Let me paraphrase his question, best as I can remember it. Now, two of you are Jewish converts to Christianity. Were you disturbed by what you saw, especially in that room when Jesus was dragged before the Sanhedrin and the Jewish priests were condemning Jesus to die? I mean, they were portrayed as a pretty nasty, pretty ugly bunch.


Fairfax County Supervisor Stu Mendelsohn, a Jewish believer in Jesus for the past eleven years, answered first. He was not disturbed by the scene to which Koppel referred, nor did he see the film as anti-Semitic. Yes, there were some Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus, but Mendelsohn noted there were others who thought the trial was a travesty and tried to defend Jesus. He pointed out that throughout the film (as well in the New Testament accounts) Jews — as well as Romans — had sharply different reactions to Jesus and what was happening to him. All of us agreed the Romans had the final say in the execution of Jesus, and Roman brutality couldn’t have been more graphically presented.


My reaction was a little bit different. As I told Koppel, my father was raised Orthodox Jewish in Brooklyn as a first-generation American. His parents and grandparents escaped out of a brutal wave of anti-Semitism in Russia around 1905 when the Czar was wiping out town after town of Jews. By God’s grace, his family got out of Minsk. By God’s grace, they didn’t settle in Poland, or Austria, or Germany. They got to Ellis Island and found religious freedom here in the U.S. My father (and mother) became believers in Jesus as the Messiah in 1973, when I was six. It took me until I was 17 until I wrestled it all out for myself, and became a believer as well. Thus, I’m sympathetic both to the Gospel and to the Gibson story line.


The Passion is not anti-Semitic, and I told Koppel that point blank. But that said, I also told him I understand the concerns Jews have that the film could be used by anti-Semites to justify their hatred and attacks. Horrible things have been done to Jews by people claiming to be followers of Christ while disobeying Jesus’ command that his followers love their neighbors as themselves. It is critical at this moment in Church history that we not turn a blind eye to that history, but be sensitive to Jewish fears and outspoken about the true message of the Gospel, one of forgiveness and reconciliation.


One of the things I find so powerful about Gibson’s film is that it presents Jesus as the Jewish Savior of the world. Jesus was Jewish. His parents were Jewish. His followers were Jewish. Most of the crowds listening to him preach were Jewish. Jesus said “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). Jesus said he was the Jewish Messiah (John 4:25-26). When the Romans drove the nails into his hands in the Gibson film, Jesus (played by James Caviezel) says, “Father, forgive them.” When the Jewish High Priest tells Jesus to come down from the cross and thus prove to be the Messiah, Jesus again cries out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).


Koppel and I talked about how the Apostle Paul was himself a Jewish leader who persecuted Christians until he came to the realization that Jesus really is the Messiah. Paul went on to command the church at Rome specifically to be compassionate towards the Jews. “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” he wrote in Romans 1:16, “because it is the power of salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” Paul reiterated Jesus’ point that salvation is from the Jews in Romans, chapter nine. Indeed, Paul specifically warned the church at Rome not to get arrogant, or to think that God has cursed the Jewish people. “Did God reject his people? By no means! God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew,” he wrote in Romans, chapter eleven. He conceded that many Jews don’t yet understand that Jesus is the Messiah, but added: “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all!”


How will Nightline finally present the controversy over The Passion, and how much of the interview with the seven of us from McLean Bible Church will make it on the air tonight? We shall see. But Lynn and I drove home from our evening with Ted Koppel last night struck anew by how important this national debate is. It is time for Christians to make it clear to our Jewish neighbors: We are all responsible for Jesus’ death. The real question is: How do we respond to the news that He rose again three days later?


— Joel C. Rosenberg is the New York Times best-selling author of The Last Jihad and The Last Days, and a former senior aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharanksy.




Big Turnout for ‘Passion’ Opening (FN, 040225)


NEW YORK — Mel Gibson is set to find out just how passionate Americans are about “The Passion of the Christ,” his controversial new film which opens across the nation today, Ash Wednesday.


Many of the 2,800 theaters showing the film report that today’s showings are sold out and some theaters held early-morning screenings.


In the Dallas suburb of Plano, an estimated 6,000 people filled all 20 auditoriums at a Cinemark theater to watch the film. All the tickets had been bought and donated by a local churchgoer.


“It’s about faith, love, hope and forgiveness ... These are good, valuable messages to send out there,” Gibson told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly in an interview.


But critics — including several newspaper and online film reviewers — have said “The Passion of the Christ” is too violent and some accused it of being anti-Semitic.


Those concerns, however, did not discourage many theatergoers.


“I hope everybody sees it with an open mind,” said Rick Pierce, 53, a Baptist who sipped coffee and chewed on a breakfast burrito at the Plano theater before the first showing.


Elsewhere across the nation, some couldn’t wait for morning screenings. More than 100 people watched the midnight showing at the ArcLight Cinemas in Los Angeles.


“I’m in shock. I’m physically weak. I’m emotional,” said Joseph Camerieri, a 39-year-old paralegal student from Los Angeles who was trying to hold back tears after seeing the film.


“I think if you’re a Christian it will increase your faith tenfold in what Christ has done for you. If you’re not a Christian, you’ll probably treat others with more love.”


In the central Pennsylvania community of Bellefonte, about 50 people attended a showing after midnight. Viewers groaned as Jesus was nailed to the cross, and muffled cries could be heard during more than an hour of Jesus’ torture, crucifixion and death. In the end, as Jesus rises from the grave, some in the audience quietly celebrated.


“To me, that was the important part,” said Aaron Tucker, an English major at Penn State. “I’m like, ‘Oh, victory!’ There’s more to this movie than just the violence. It’s about triumph.”


In Plano, Arch Bonnema, a financial planner, reserved the entire Cinemark Tinseltown 20 theater, spending $42,000 of his own money on tickets.


“When you see the sacrifice that Jesus made, it makes you feel like, I have to do something better with my life,” said Bonnema, 50, a lifelong Christian inspired to act after seeing a special screening of the movie.


Popcorn and soft drinks remained on the concession menu — but theater managers bet that most early morning moviegoers would rather choose breakfast pastries and orange juice.


A cadre of ministers were on hand to reach out to moviegoers.


“Not to preach a sermon,” said the Rev. Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist where Bonnema is a member and president of the Southern Baptist Convention, “but to sum up the message and meaning of the cross. ... We anticipate that there will be a tremendous outpouring of God’s favor on this movie.”


Funded and directed by Gibson, the film has received decidedly mixed reviews from critics. Some have praised Gibson’s total commitment to his subject: The Oscar-winning filmmaker says the movie is both an attempt to faithfully render the Gospels and a personal vision. Others see it as excessively bloody, obsessed with cruelty and unfair in its portrayal of Jews.


But following months of hype, curiosity about the movie is almost insatiable.


After seeing “The Passion” a few months ago, Bonnema called his wife, Sherry, and told her, “Honey, we’ve got to get as many people as we can to see this film because it’s changed my life.”


With her blessing, he approached Cinemark about reserving a single auditorium. Theater officials told him that would be fine, but he would need to do so before regular operating hours.


“If it’s before hours, aren’t all of them empty?” Bonnema recalled asking. “So I called my wife back and said, ‘What do you think about getting 6,000 seats?’”


She agreed, even though she hadn’t seen the film herself.


The Bonnemas gave 3,000 tickets to their church and 1,000 to the Dallas Theological Seminary.


That left them with 2,000 — but not for long.


“I put out an e-mail to friends in the Dallas-Fort Worth area,” Arch Bonnema said. “In three days, I had 23,000 requests.”


Ordinarily, showing the same movie on 20 screens would be impossible because of a lack of prints, said Terrell Falk, spokeswoman for Plano-based Cinemark USA, which owns about 300 theaters in 33 states.


But in this case, Cinemark made special arrangements to borrow prints from its other area theaters.


“We’ll show it early in the morning, then take them to the other theaters,” Falk said.




THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST by Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 040224)


/ **** (R)


February 24, 2004


Jesus, the Christ: James Caviezel

Mary: Maia Morgenstern

Mary Magdalene: Monica Bellucci

Pontius Pilate: Hristo Shopov

Caiaphas: Mattia Sbragia

Judas: Luca Lionello

Claudia: Claudia Gerini

Gesmas: Francesco Cabras

Satan: Rosalinda Celentano


Newmarket Films presents a film directed by Mel Gibson. Written by Gibson and Benedict Fitzgerald. Running time: 126 minutes. Rated R (for sequences of graphic violence). Opening Wednesday at local theaters, but selected locations will start screening the movie at midnight Tuesday.




If ever there was a film with the correct title, that film is Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” Although the word passion has become mixed up with romance, its Latin origins refer to suffering and pain; later Christian theology broadened that to include Christ’s love for mankind, which made him willing to suffer and die for us.


The movie is 126 minutes long, and I would guess that at least 100 of those minutes, maybe more, are concerned specifically and graphically with the details of the torture and death of Jesus. This is the most violent film I have ever seen.


I prefer to evaluate a film on the basis of what it intends to do, not on what I think it should have done. It is clear that Mel Gibson wanted to make graphic and inescapable the price that Jesus paid (as Christians believe) when he died for our sins. Anyone raised as a Catholic will be familiar with the stops along the way; the screenplay is inspired not so much by the Gospels as by the 14 Stations of the Cross. As an altar boy, serving during the Stations on Friday nights in Lent, I was encouraged to meditate on Christ’s suffering, and I remember the chants as the priest led the way from one station to another:


At the Cross, her station keeping ...


Stood the mournful Mother weeping ...


Close to Jesus to the last.


For we altar boys, this was not necessarily a deep spiritual experience. Christ suffered, Christ died, Christ rose again, we were redeemed, and let’s hope we can get home in time to watch the Illinois basketball game on TV. What Gibson has provided for me, for the first time in my life, is a visceral idea of what the Passion consisted of. That his film is superficial in terms of the surrounding message -- that we get only a few passing references to the teachings of Jesus -- is, I suppose, not the point. This is not a sermon or a homily, but a visualization of the central event in the Christian religion. Take it or leave it.


David Ansen, a critic I respect, finds in Newsweek that Gibson has gone too far. “The relentless gore is self-defeating,” he writes. “Instead of being moved by Christ’s suffering or awed by his sacrifice, I felt abused by a filmmaker intent on punishing an audience, for who knows what sins.”


This is a completely valid response to the film, and I quote Ansen because I suspect he speaks for many audience members, who will enter the theater in a devout or spiritual mood and emerge deeply disturbed. You must be prepared for whippings, flayings, beatings, the crunch of bones, the agony of screams, the cruelty of the sadistic centurions, the rivulets of blood that crisscross every inch of Jesus’ body. Some will leave before the end.


This is not a Passion like any other ever filmed. Perhaps that is the best reason for it. I grew up on those pious Hollywood biblical epics of the 1950s, which looked like holy cards brought to life. I remember my grin when Time magazine noted that Jeffrey Hunter, starring as Christ in “King of Kings” (1961), had shaved his armpits. (Not Hunter’s fault; the film’s Crucifixion scene had to be re-shot because preview audiences objected to Jesus’ hairy chest.)


If it does nothing else, Gibson’s film will break the tradition of turning Jesus and his disciples into neat, clean, well-barbered middle-class businessmen. They were poor men in a poor land. I debated Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” with commentator Michael Medved before an audience from a Christian college, and was told by an audience member that the characters were filthy and needed haircuts.


The Middle East in biblical times was a Jewish community occupied against its will by the Roman Empire, and the message of Jesus was equally threatening to both sides: to the Romans, because he was a revolutionary, and to the establishment of Jewish priests, because he preached a new covenant and threatened the status quo.


In the movie’s scenes showing Jesus being condemned to death, the two main players are Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, and Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest. Both men want to keep the lid on, and while neither is especially eager to see Jesus crucified, they live in a harsh time when such a man is dangerous.


Pilate is seen going through his well-known doubts before finally washing his hands of the matter and turning Jesus over to the priests, but Caiaphas, who also had doubts, is not seen as sympathetically. The critic Steven D. Greydanus, in a useful analysis of the film, writes: “The film omits the canonical line from John’s gospel in which Caiaphas argues that it is better for one man to die for the people [so] that the nation be saved.


“Had Gibson retained this line, perhaps giving Caiaphas a measure of the inner conflict he gave to Pilate, it could have underscored the similarities between Caiaphas and Pilate and helped defuse the issue of anti-Semitism.”


This scene and others might justifiably be cited by anyone concerned that the movie contains anti-Semitism. My own feeling is that Gibson’s film is not anti-Semitic, but reflects a range of behavior on the part of its Jewish characters, on balance favorably. The Jews who seem to desire Jesus’ death are in the priesthood, and have political as well as theological reasons for acting; like today’s Catholic bishops who were slow to condemn abusive priests, Protestant TV preachers who confuse religion with politics, or Muslim clerics who are silent on terrorism, they have an investment in their positions and authority. The other Jews seen in the film are viewed positively; Simon helps Jesus to carry the cross, Veronica brings a cloth to wipe his face, Jews in the crowd cry out against his torture.


A reasonable person, I believe, will reflect that in this story set in a Jewish land, there are many characters with many motives, some good, some not, each one representing himself, none representing his religion. The story involves a Jew who tried no less than to replace the established religion and set himself up as the Messiah. He was understandably greeted with a jaundiced eye by the Jewish establishment while at the same time finding his support, his disciples and the founders of his church entirely among his fellow Jews. The libel that the Jews “killed Christ” involves a willful misreading of testament and teaching: Jesus was made man and came to Earth in order to suffer and die in reparation for our sins. No race, no man, no priest, no governor, no executioner killed Jesus; he died by God’s will to fulfill his purpose, and with our sins we all killed him. That some Christian churches have historically been guilty of the sin of anti-Semitism is undeniable, but in committing it they violated their own beliefs.


This discussion will seem beside the point for readers who want to know about the movie, not the theology. But “The Passion of the Christ,” more than any other film I can recall, depends upon theological considerations. Gibson has not made a movie that anyone would call “commercial,” and if it grosses millions, that will not be because anyone was entertained. It is a personal message movie of the most radical kind, attempting to re-create events of personal urgency to Gibson. The filmmaker has put his artistry and fortune at the service of his conviction and belief, and that doesn’t happen often.


Is the film “good” or “great?” I imagine each person’s reaction (visceral, theological, artistic) will differ. I was moved by the depth of feeling, by the skill of the actors and technicians, by their desire to see this project through no matter what. To discuss individual performances, such as James Caviezel’s heroic depiction of the ordeal, is almost beside the point. This isn’t a movie about performances, although it has powerful ones, or about technique, although it is awesome, or about cinematography (although Caleb Deschanel paints with an artist’s eye), or music (although John Debney supports the content without distracting from it).


It is a film about an idea. An idea that it is necessary to fully comprehend the Passion if Christianity is to make any sense. Gibson has communicated his idea with a singleminded urgency. Many will disagree. Some will agree, but be horrified by the graphic treatment. I myself am no longer religious in the sense that a long-ago altar boy thought he should be, but I can respond to the power of belief whether I agree or not, and when I find it in a film, I must respect it.


Note: I said the film is the most violent I have ever seen. It will probably be the most violent you have ever seen. This is not a criticism but an observation; the film is unsuitable for younger viewers, but works powerfully for those who can endure it. The MPAA’s R rating is definitive proof that the organization either will never give the NC-17 rating for violence alone, or was intimidated by the subject matter. If it had been anyone other than Jesus up on that cross, I have a feeling that NC-17 would have been automatic.




The Passion of The Christ (Christianity Today, 040225)

Lethal Suffering: The Passion underlines Christ’s humanity like no film before.


The Passion of The Christ may be the most artistically and commercially ambitious feature film about Jesus to come out of Hollywood since the 1960s. It is certainly the most devout, though at first it seems odd that Mel Gibson should be the one to produce, write, and direct a film about the Prince of Peace.


From the buddy-cop Lethal Weapon franchise to revisionist epics like The Patriot, Gibson has specialized in playing violent action heroes who take bloody revenge for the deaths of their wives, children, and girlfriends. In Braveheart, the 1995 film for which he won the Best Director Oscar, Gibson kept the fatal wounds inflicted on William Wallace and his wife just out of frame, to spare his audience the full brutality suffered by these heroes, but he reveled in the gory details with which Wallace executed his personal enemies.


In some ways, The Passion seems like a repudiation of much of his career to date: last year, Gibson, a traditionalist Catholic whose faith has surfaced in recent films like Signs and We Were Soldiers, told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly he wanted to promote faith, hope, love, and especially forgiveness through this film. But The Passion also dwells, at considerable length, on the physical pain inflicted on Jesus. Has Gibson found a way to baptize, as it were, the sadistic or masochistic impulses of his other films? Is it possible he is indulging himself under the cover of religious piety?


At times it does seem so. Much has been made of The Passion’s adherence to Scripture, but in the rough cut shown to pastors and ministry leaders a month before the film’s release, it was clear that Gibson often goes beyond the text. Jesus, played with inspiring sincerity by James Caviezel (Frequency, The Thin Red Line), is not even out of Gethsemane yet when the Temple guards knock him about and hang him over a bridge by his chains, swelling shut his right eye. During scenes like this, you cannot help wondering whether Gibson, as the one who conceived and directed all this simulated torture, is more complicit in the horrors on display than he would like to admit.


Yet Gibson does exercise restraint at crucial moments. The flogging of Jesus may go on and on—and Jesus himself seems to encourage it when he pulls himself up and stands defiantly erect after the first round of beatings—but as several characters begin to find the violence so unbearable that they have to look away, so does Gibson: His camera follows Jesus’ mother Mary (Maia Morgenstern) as she retreats to another room, where she tries to cope with the cries of pain that she can still hear.


The film’s violence has been defended as a sign of its historical realism and biblical accuracy, but one of the more striking and impressive things about The Passion is just how much artistic license it takes with its source material. Gibson erroneously identifies Mary Magdalene (The Matrix Reloaded’s Monica Bellucci) with the woman caught in adultery, and his depiction of the Crucifixion owes more to medieval art than modern scholarship. Taking their cue from historians and archaeologists, nearly every film and miniseries produced since the 1970s—including Campus Crusade’s Jesus film and The Visual Bible’s recent Gospel of John—has depicted Jesus carrying only a crossbeam, being nailed through his wrists, being crucified naked, or some combination thereof. Gibson rejects all of these details, though he does, oddly, have the thieves carry crossbeams, while Jesus carries his full cross.


Gibson does embrace at least one welcome form of realism by emphasizing the Jewishness of Jesus and his followers. Caviezel has been made up to look more Semitic, and the first time we see Mary, as she senses that something terrible is about to happen to her son, she recites a line that comes straight from the Passover seder: “Why is this night different from every other night?”


In addition, when Simon of Cyrene (Jarreth Merz)—who becomes a significant supporting character deeply moved by his contact with Jesus—is forced to carry the cross, one of the soldiers practically spits the word Jew at him, thus stirring our sympathies for this oppressed people.


Details like these may not satisfy some of the film’s critics, who have said, with some justification, that it tends to divide the Jewish people into those who follow Christ and those who have him killed, with only the briefest of nods to those who might be neutral. And while the Roman soldiers may be unrelenting brutes, Gibson does cast a positive light on the Roman authorities, who chastise both the Jews and their own soldiers for their bloodlust. Pontius Pilate (Hristo Shopov), whose brutality and religious insensitivity are mentioned not only by secular historians but also in Luke’s gospel, is virtually let off the hook. He comes off as an innocent pawn who tries to do the right thing until the mob forces his hand.


The real villain in Gibson’s film, however, is no mere human. Satan (Rosalinda Celentano) is depicted here as a bald, pale, androgynous figure who lurks in the crowds and taunts Jesus at every turn—and it is in his bold, haunting, and audacious depiction of Satan that Gibson’s vision turns truly surreal.


In Gethsemane, Satan prods Jesus to doubt his Father and sends a snake slithering his way, which Jesus quickly crushes underfoot. Later, Satan mocks Jesus’ mother in a bizarre parody of Marian iconography that could have come from David Lynch; Satan is also absolutely ruthless with Judas (Luca Lionello), who is driven to suicide by seemingly demonic beasts and children. And—who knows?—Satan may even be behind the crow that pecks out the eyes of the crucified thief who mocks Jesus.


But Gibson’s creativity is not limited to graphic depictions of evil; he also makes brilliant use of flashbacks to draw us into the mind of Christ. Most movies about Jesus have protected his divinity by treating him objectively, as someone to be observed and talked about, but not as someone with whom we can identify. More recent productions like Martin Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ and the CBS miniseries Jesus have tried to humanize Jesus by treating him more subjectively—we see his dreams, we hear his thoughts in voiceover, and we get inside his head the same way we do with many other movie characters.


Where those films failed, partly because they demystified Jesus so thoroughly that he seemed to lose his divine authority, Gibson succeeds, by shooting much of the film from Jesus’ own point of view and by using flashbacks to create the impression that we are being drawn into the flow of Jesus’ own memories. When Jesus sees a man with carpentry tools, he thinks of his days as a carpenter; when he sees the street filled with people shouting at him, he thinks of his Triumphal Entry a few days before; when he sees Golgotha, he thinks of the sermon he gave on another mountain in which he told his followers to love their enemies.


By giving us the feeling of experiencing Jesus’ thoughts, and by making us privy to the prayers Jesus offers up as he submits to the will of his Father, The Passion draws us toward Christ’s full humanity like no film before.


For all that is praiseworthy in this film, it is still somewhat unsatisfying. Indeed, the flashback structure itself is part of the problem. In Scripture and in much of Christian tradition, the death of Christ is placed within the context of his life and Resurrection, but Gibson’s film reverses that by placing small bits of Jesus’ life within the overwhelming context of his death. As full of faith as The Passion is, it never gets beyond its raw and prolonged depiction of human and demonic cruelty; after vividly depicting the suffering and grief and despair of Jesus’ followers for two hours, the film forgets all about them, while reducing the Resurrection to a couple of special effects tacked on to the end.


Watching The Passion is like experiencing a woman’s labor pains—but never witnessing the joy that makes the pain worth it all.


Talk About It   Discussion starters

1. Many say the film might be anti-Semitic. Which scenes might be especially disturbing to a Jewish viewer, and why? How does the film address the Jewishness of Jesus and his followers?


2. Why is Satan portrayed so prominently? Why is he (or she) portrayed as an androgynous figure? How is Satan portrayed in Scripture? Why do you think the film shows demons but no angels (see Luke 22:43 and Matthew 28:2)?


3. How does the violence in the film compare to the violence described in the Gospels? Does the film go too far? Not far enough? What do we learn by seeing the violence in such graphic detail? How does it compare to the violence in, say, war movies like Saving Private Ryan?


4. Jesus tells Peter that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Is it always wrong to fight back? Can you believe in forgiveness and still enjoy movies about revenge, including earlier Mel Gibson movies like Braveheart and The Patriot? How?


Note: For full-length Bible studies on The Passion of The Christ, click here.


The Family Corner   For parents to consider

The film is rated R for its graphic violence. This is not a film for children, and parents should probably see it first even before taking teens. Jesus is beaten by the Temple guards while leaving Gethsemane, and his eye is swollen shut for most of the rest of the film. The scourging sequence—in which sadistic Roman soldiers first strike Jesus with canes, then rip out chunks of his flesh with their cat-o’-nine-tails—is especially long and brutal, and very difficult to watch. The soldiers also flog Jesus and Simon of Cyrene repeatedly as they carry the cross to Golgotha. Satan and a number of demons make several grotesque appearances, and a crow pecks out the eye of one of the thieves crucified next to Jesus.




Unparalleled Passion: Theology and revolutionary filmmaking (NRO, 040225)


Our cultural Jesus, Stephen Prothero argues in his just released book, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon, is an “other-directed” personality type, eager to please whatever constituency will have him. Instead of the man of sorrows bearing a cross, we have the smiling, winking “Buddy Christ” who gives America a big thumbs-up in the 1999 film Dogma. The latest entry in the Jesus genre — Mel Gibson’s controversial and stunning The Passion of the Christ — hits theaters today, on Ash Wednesday. In its style and themes, Gibson’s depiction of the last twelve hours of the life of Jesus of Nazareth is a complete revolution of the genre. The Passion casts out the demon of sentimentality that has always haunted Hollywood films about Christ.


“Cheesy epics” with “corny” acting and “bad hair or really bad music” is the way Gibson describes classical Hollywood depictions of the life of Jesus. By contrast, The Passion of the Christ, in Aramaic and Latin with scenes of such intense violence that it has received an R-rating, is unlike anything in the history of American film. Indeed, it is even something of a departure from the Gospel accounts of Christ’s passion, which are remarkably restrained and laconic in their depiction of the precise details of his suffering. We are told that he was scourged, mocked with a crown of thorns, forced to carry a cross, and then crucified. Even most traditional icons of Christ crucified or Michelangelo’s Pieta, which depicts Mary holding her dead son’s body, provoke a sense of awe at their beauty, not the horror that makes us want to look away.


In The Passion’s parallel scene to the Pieta, Mary’s face is smudged with blood. Christ’s body is blood soaked and battered, with swollen eyes and gaping wounds where his flesh has been torn away. The scenes of Christ’s scourging, with the Romans’ making use of multiple implements of torture, and the crucifixion itself, with the blood dripping from the nails as they pierce flesh and wood, are emotionally wrenching on a scale rarely experienced even in contemporary Hollywood where blood sport is the order of the day.


But The Passion does not wallow in violence. Instead, it hearkens back to another tradition of engaging the Gospels, one that attempts to provide a sense of what it was like to be with Christ on the way of the cross (via dolorosa). The tradition of meditation on Christ’s passion and death crystallizes in St. Ignatius of Loyola’s 16th-century manual, The Spiritual Exercises. Founder of the Jesuit order, Ignatius counsels use of the imagination to place oneself in the setting of the Gospel stories, to see and hear the events and voices, and to be moved in appropriate ways. “In the Passion,” he writes, “the proper thing to ask for is grief with Christ suffering, a broken heart with Christ heartbroken, tears and deep suffering because of the great suffering that Christ endured for me.”


Reports from early screenings of The Passion indicate that viewers have been moved in precisely these ways. The success of the film hinges on its ability to move us beyond revulsion to ponder who this man is who endures suffering in this way, to ask a version of the question a tempting Satan puts to Jesus in the opening of the film, “Who is your Father? Who are you?” To deepen our appreciation of the mystery of this itinerant Jewish teacher, the film makes effective use of flashbacks. Particularly moving is one of Mary’s flashbacks; as she witnesses Jesus collapse with a thud under the weight of the cross, she recalls a moment when she anxiously rushed to comfort the child Jesus after a fall. Indeed, Gibson manages to curtail and humanize our torment over Jesus’ afflictions by repeatedly turning our attention to Mary’s love and grief. Maia Morgenstern’s performance as Mary is sure and deft; when she first catches sight of Jesus once he has been taken into custody, she remarks with knowing dread, “It has begun. So be it.”


Gibson’s Passion will undoubtedly be seen as the anti-Last Temptation of Christ, an equally controversial film. Martin Scorese’s film came under fire for stressing Christ’s humanity to the detriment of his divinity. Gibson is clearly not interested in speculation about whether Christ fantasized about an alternative life, one in which he might wed Mary Magdalene and so forth. But Gibson does not give us an otherworldly Jesus either. As Jesus, Jim Caviezel embodies a range and depth of human emotion never before captured in films about the life of Christ. This is a fully human Christ, whose divinity, except in a couple notable scenes, remains veiled behind the suffering humanity. In his depiction of the sorrowful Christ of the cross, Gibson’s portrayal calls to mind Pascal’s marveling at the Gospel descriptions of Christ:


Why do they make him weak in his agony? The same St. Luke describes the death of St. Stephen more heroically than that of Jesus. They make him capable of fear before death had become inevitable and then absolutely steadfast. But when he is so distressed it is when he distresses himself; when men distress him he is steadfast (Pascal, Pensees, #316).


But Christ is not just a victim, a passive, pliable soul. In the opening scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ is already weary, by turns despondent and frenetic with fear. As he prays, Satan appears to taunt him and lure him into despair. The androgynous demon insists that “no one man can bear” the sins of mankind. “No one, never.” As the demon queries skeptically, “Who is your father? Who are you?,” a snake slithers toward Jesus and begins to wrap itself around him. A silent stillness on the screen is shattered by the sound of a loud thump, as Jesus stomps on the snake. Jesus is at once afflicted and resolved, fully conscious of his mission. At one point on the path of the cross, Christ pauses for a moment with Mary. As she stares into his bruised and battered face, he says quietly but confidently, “Behold, I make all things new.”


Of course, the theological and artistic merits of the film remain under a cloud because of charges that the film is anti-Semitic. Despite the progress that has been made in Jewish-Christian relations during the current papacy, the tragic history of Christian anti-Semitism is undeniable. Indeed, medieval Passion Plays occasioned attacks on Jews and Hitler was a fan of the Passion Play at Oberammergau, which he praised for its convincing portrayal of the “menace of Jewry,” although it is interesting that the character Hitler finds most admirable in the Passion Play is not Jesus, but Pilate. Is Gibson’s version anti-Semitic? Gibson clearly does not want to convey the notion that the Jews are especially responsible for the death of Christ. Indeed, the very Jewishness, not just of the Pharisees, but also of Jesus, Mary, and the disciples — a point underscored by Gibson’s risky insistence on using the very languages Jews spoke in ancient Palestine — implies that the divide over Jesus is a divide within Judaism, not between Judaism and something utterly separate from it.


Despite his protestations of historical/scriptural accuracy, Gibson is engaging in an imaginative reconstruction of Jesus’ life. But it is often the case that he sharpens, rather than dulls, the theological issues. In the trial scene, Gibson hearkens back to John, chapter 6, where Jesus’ insistence on the connection between eternal life and eating his flesh offends many and causes the first serious rupture among his followers. This nicely foreshadows Gibson’s framing of the crucifixion itself as a sacrifice that is continued in the sacrament of the Eucharist. If in some cases, Gibson’s additions paint the Jews in a less than favorable light, in other cases the result is a more complex depiction of the Jews. In this very trial, Jewish officials are depicted as not fully unified in opposition to Jesus. One objects to the trial as a “travesty” and another suggests that not all the members of the Council have been consulted. Moreover, Jesus himself is addressed as a rabbi.


In the public debate over the film, it is often difficult to sort out legitimate objections to the film from worries over Gibson or his father’s religious and political views. Gibson has not helped himself in all of his interview answers. Gibson has now removed a line from the Gospel of Matthew, traditionally known as the “blood curse,” in which, immediately after Pilate washes his hands and proclaims himself innocent of the blood of Jesus, the Jewish crowd exclaims, “Let his blood be on us and on our children.” The line would distract from the film’s consistent message of universal guilt and the universal offer of salvation.


This message is precisely what underlies Gibson’s seemingly inordinate fascination with blood. There is blood everywhere, covering Christ’s face, dripping from his body, splattering on those who torture him, smeared on Mary’s face, dripping from the nail as it pierces the wood of the cross. Indeed, the most sustained series of flashbacks begin just as the crucifixion begins. Gibson repeatedly returns us to the Last Supper and foreshadows the sacrifice of the Mass; at the climactic moment of the film, Gibson underscores the link between the bloody sacrifice of Calvalry and unbloody sacrifice of the Mass. The film makes amply clear that the blood of Christ is not simply on the Jews but on everyone. In a remarkable act of public self-accusation, Gibson himself appears in the film as an executioner, hammering a nail through Jesus’ hand.


Scenes such as these inspire not so much a detached desire for retribution toward Christ’s executioners as a sorrowful identification with them. They also account for the film’s R rating. Unlike most Hollywood R-rated films, which appeal to the salacious or violent fantasies of adolescents, The Passion is truly an adult film, intended not to present Jesus-lite, but to depict the agonizing final hours of a man who, in the words of the film’s epigraph from the Jewish prophet Isaiah, was willingly “crushed for our offenses.”


— Thomas S. Hibbs is distinguished professor of ethics and culture at Baylor University and a contributor to NRO.




Passion Changes Everything: Box-office reverberations (NRO, 040225)


We are hearing anecdotal evidence from around the country that a massive audience is developing for The Passion of the Christ consisting of, in some cases, traditionalist Christians who have not been to a theater in decades.


In the suburbs of Seattle, Washington, an 85-year old retired aerospace worker who rarely attends movies and whose last foray to the Cineplex was to watch the Omega Code five years ago is ready for a return visit.


In Dallas, a 78-year-old social worker who last visited a movie theater in 1985 is also eagerly anticipating her return to her local theater.


And in the suburbs of St. Louis a 70-year-old teacher who has never — never — been inside of a movie theater is making her plans to attend her first movie ever — Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.


Why? Because for the first time in history and in a manner and scale only hinted at by films like The Omega Code and Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie, a film has finally emerged that has five key ingredients: Star power, mainstream credibility, controversy, wide simultaneous release and deep resonance with traditionalist Christians.


When the dust settles after March 1, many of the rules of the filmmaking business may need revisions. For the first time, the industry will realize the profits that have been forfeited over the years by creating films that were out of sync with the interests of the citizens of the red states. In a post-Passion world, whoever figures out as Gibson apparently has, how to consistently tell stories that appeal to the heartland will be the beneficiary of the wellspring of affection Gibson’s film has generated among people traditionally hostile to Hollywood.


Some felt that the 1988 film The Last Temptation Of Christ taught the filmmaking community that controversial and divisive topics shouldn’t be addressed by filmmakers, but the opposite appears to be true. As the response to Gibson’s film is proving, controversy alone sells a certain number of tickets, but the nature of the controversy and the quality of the film itself is crucial to widespread success. Scorsese’s film was so deeply offensive to the values of the heartland that one Christian leader tried to buy the print so he could destroy it. Gibson’s is so widely lauded by the same groups that it may be difficult to buy a ticket opening week.


The film business will continue with or without the evangelical Christian audience that will be coming out in massive numbers this week, but if the desire is for profits, this constituency which makes up roughly 40 percent of the U.S. population is ignored at the film business’s own peril.


While early box-office estimates have predicted a $30 million opening, these surveys are misleading for they focus on traditional filmgoers. What the surveyors have missed is a massive tidal wave of fundamentalist and evangelical Christians and traditionalist Catholics, some of whom don’t ordinarily attend films. It is quite possible that rather than a $30 million opening that is forecasted, we may instead be looking at a five-day opening weekend north of $70 million.


This would of course be uncharted territory and an opening of the magnitude that we are seeing may fundamentally reshape the nature of the movie business when the final numbers come in. When and if that happens, the rush will be on to find out how to keep this audience coming back.


— Ralph Winter is the producer of X-Men I & II, The Planet of the Apes, and Hangman’s Curse. Mark Joseph is the author of the forthcoming The Passion of Mel Gibson: The Story Behind the Most Controversial Film In Hollywood History.




Caught in the Crossfire: Gibson and his movie (NRO, 040225)


It seems odd that today’s self-appointed arbiters of public morality are eager to canonize sodomy as a fundamental human right, and to defend the display of a dung-smeared Madonna at public expense as a heroic exercise of First Amendment rights, while condemning Mel Gibson’s literal portrayal of the Gospels as beyond the pale of acceptable social behavior. It is enough to lead one to believe that, to these critics, it is God Himself — at least, a personal God who places any particular requirements on moral behavior or, worse yet, religious practice — who is the enemy. The only God acceptable to them would be an amorphous one with no religious or moral preferences, and the only acceptable religion one that asserts no claim to objective truth. Unfortunately Christianity fails both of these tests, and thus so do Mel Gibson and his movie.


Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ commits a litany of unforgivable sins. It accepts the Gospel accounts of the death of Jesus at face value, rejecting the “demythologizing” reinterpretations that have become the pseudo-dogma of the past several decades, thus incurring the wrath of a bevy of doctorate-wielding modern theologians (some of whom, to the shame of the Catholic Church, are on its payroll). It incorporates scenes from the mystical visions of Catholic saints, as though they might actually have historical value and not be simply the delusional hallucinations of pious psychopaths. Compounding the offense is Gibson’s apparent belief that God played a role in his making the movie, as though God Himself might have an interest in the Gospel being preached “to all nations,” and that Gibson’s artistic decisions might have had some help from the Holy Spirit. Gibson’s unapologetic admission that he understands Church dogma as it has been understood for most of the past 20 centuries of Christianity, rather than according to the more recent post-Vatican II interpretations, has only added fuel to the fire.


Since Gibson’s foes would have a hard time claiming the moral high ground on the basis of their opposition to Christianity itself, they have had to resort to an always-convenient tactic in attacking Christianity — the accusation of anti-Semitism. This weapon can be trotted out perpetually, because there is — let’s face it — something intrinsically opposed to Judaism at the very heart of Christian faith. It is not the belief that there is anything defective or inferior about the Jewish race; that is hardly sustainable, given that, according to Christianity, when God Himself took human flesh, he chose to take the flesh of a Jew. Not only was the incarnate God Jewish, but so was — at least in the Catholic faith — the only perfect creature God ever made: the Blessed Virgin Mary. No, Christian doctrine cannot be held to teach the inferiority of the Jewish race; if anything, it is in greater danger of teaching its superiority. But it is precisely because Christianity teaches that Jesus came as the Jewish Messiah to the Jewish people that the religion implies that Judaism is in fundamental error in its rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. The “Christian” theologians who have taken the lead in attacking the film — many of them leaders in the “Jewish-Christian” dialogue — have generally made their careers by sidestepping this dilemma by asserting either that Jesus was simply a great moral and ethical teacher, a Rabbi among Rabbis, whose later disciples conferred divine status on him (a view that is by definition non-Christian); or that Jesus introduced Christianity as a way for non-Jews to enter the Jewish covenant but never intended for Jews to become Christian, an interpretation which is contradicted throughout the Gospels. In either case, in their minds, “Gospel Truth” is bunk.


Hence, the attacks against the movie rest on the claim that its literal acceptance of the Gospels makes it unhistorical and anti-Semitic. This supposed anti-Semitism is produced not by the Gospels themselves, but by the false separation of Christianity from Judaism that is part of the modernist spin. Because upon honest examination, it becomes clear that it is not only most of the villains in the Gospels who are Jews, but also all of the heroes, starting with Jesus and his apostles; Caiaphas was no more a Jew than John the beloved disciple.


Our culture pretends that Judaism and Christianity are two separate but equal religions, with equal validity. But that is intrinsically illogical — one or the other must be wrong. They are one and the same faith, separated only by the matter of whether or not Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and the religious consequences stemming from that fact. Yet mention of this point must be avoided at all costs, under the current rules of our politically correct culture, for it implies that either Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and all of today’s Jews are mistaken, or that Jesus was not, in which case Christianity is a grotesque and idolatrous error.


Poor Mel. He finds himself on the front lines, abandoned by those who should be his allies, and getting it from both sides of the “Jewish-Christian” dialogue, as well as from anyone else infuriated with Christianity for any reason. I for one pray that he has absorbed more than a little of the spirits of those two famous characters he played, Braveheart and Mad Max. He’ll need it.


— Roy Schoeman is author of, most recently, Salvation is from the Jews: The Role of Judaism in Salvation History from Abraham to the Second Coming. More information can be found at and the Ignatius Press website.




Brutal Passion: Jesus on the big screen (NRO, 040225)


A few weeks ago, my wife took our seven-year-old son John Paul to the movie theater. When he saw a marquee announcing the movie The Gospel of John, he noticed that it was rated PG-13. “That can’t be,” he said with incredulity. “The Bible is not PG-13.” Michelle had to explain to him that the Bible was not only G, but that it was PG-13, as well as R. I would add that there are a few spots that are even NC-17.


The Good Book is filled with betrayal, greed, lust, murder, sex, and excruciating violence. As parents, we edit, censor, and sanitize to wisely respect age-appropriateness. Nevertheless, this interaction was a great opportunity to remember that our faith was born out of blood, sweat and tears — far more gritty than a Thomas Kinkade painting or a Precious Moments nativity scene. In our contemporary culture, however, our crosses are studded with diamonds instead of splinters.


Perhaps that is why my son may not be the only one who is surprised by the PG-13 rating. The Gospel of John is a $20 million movie that was produced by the American Bible Society as a verse-by-verse dramatic portrayal of the New Testament book. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and even garnered positive reviews from unlikely media outlets. “Though I approached The Gospel of John with some trepidation, I’ve now seen the film twice and consider it to be an extraordinary achievement,” wrote Scott Foundas in the avant-garde LA Weekly. “Extraordinary for the way it casts its oft-told events in such a fresh light that they do not seem so familiar at all.”


The film has successfully been able to avoid controversy, let alone being labeled as anti-Semitic, for two very good reasons. First of all, the executive producer, producer, and director are all Jewish. The second, and perhaps more important reason, is that the movie is never going to produce the kind of cultural fireworks that will have tongues wagging with Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ — perhaps the most-debated (before being seen) film in the history of cinema.


It is impossible to be unaware of the media attention devoted to The Passion. Is the film anti-Semitic? Will it incite violence against Jews? Did Pope John Paul II say, “It is as it was”? Who speaks Aramaic anymore? Why in heaven’s name would Gibson pour $25 million of his own money to focus in on the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ? Why does it have to be so gruesomely violent?


Gibson and his movie have been under a flurry of ferocious attacks from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The New Yorker. These broadsides have been fueled by the Anti-Defamation League and a handful of liberal Catholic and Protestant theologians.


“When violence breaks out,” Paula Fredriksen breathlessly declared in a hyperventilated article for The New Republic, “Mel Gibson will have a much higher authority than professors and bishops to answer to.” In the article “Mad Mel,” Fredriksen, a professor at Boston University, went on to dismiss the movie she had not seen as an “anti-historical, anti-intellectual, anti-Semitic film about the crucifixion.” This judgment was based on the fact that she simply does not believe that the New Testament is reliable. End of story.


In their coverage of The Passion, the predictably contrarian website turned to the Rev. Mark Stanger, one of the pastors at the trendy Grace Cathedral, an Episcopal church in San Francisco. “100 percent Hollywood trash,” is how he described it. What was his advice to moviegoers? “I’d say don’t bother. I think it’s a big bore. I think a 5-year-old who has to get cancer surgery and radiation and chemotherapy suffers more than Jesus suffered; I think that a kid in the Gaza Strip who steps on a land mine and loses two limbs suffers more; I think a battered wife with no resources suffers more; I think people without medical care dying of AIDS in Africa suffer more than Jesus did that day. I mean, I don’t want to take away from that, but this preoccupation with the intensity of the suffering, I think, has no theological or spiritual value.”


Good grief, say whatever you want about The Passion, but calling it a bore is nothing more than fever-swamp ruminations.



I saw the movie in the boardroom of Gibson’s Icon Productions last November with a handful of rock musicians and artists. For a group who makes their living with microphones and electric guitars, they were stone silent at the end of the film. We all were. This is definitely not a date movie; it is a think flick. You need a cup of herbal tea and a handful of those aromatherapy candles to chill out and process afterward.


Church folks should be warned, this is not your typical family-friendly “Christian” movie such as Chariots of Fire or The Ten Commandments. The Passion is the most brutal movie you will probably ever see. People will be sobbing in the theaters or running out to get sick in the lobby.


This is the Sunday-school flannel-board lesson for a generation that grew up on violent video games, skipped church, and stood in line to watch Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Volume 1 — a gratuitously bloody movie with no redemptive purpose. The Passion has an unmistakable gothic and art house feel, with touches of the ghoulish and grotesque. There is one unforgettable scene of Mary, the mother of Jesus, kissing her son’s bloody feet as he dangles from the cross. She then turns around and looks into the camera with his blood on her lips.


Is there too much gore and violence in The Passion? Probably. It made me turn my head. I just kept whispering, “Dear Jesus,” to myself throughout many of the scenes. It is the most sadistic and simultaneously holy thing I have seen.


This is not the kind of movie that you merely watch, it is one you experience. Think back to when you first saw the movie Roots on TV — seeing a white man whip a black man’s back. It wreaks havoc on your gut. All of the high-school history lessons about the Civil War changed in a dimension of your comprehension — moving from your head to your heart.


It is painful to watch as Jesus stumbles through the Via Dolorosa — the path of pain — on his way to Golgotha, as his beloved mother watches helplessly from the sidelines, flashing back in her memory to a time when she could still cradle her son in her arms. As Jesus is nailed to the cross, you know you will never view communion the same way again. The same could be said for the way you conceive of Mary (Maia Morgenstern) or Satan (Rosalinda Celentano — say goodbye to the red cape and pitchfork caricature).



As our group talked with Gibson after watching the movie, it was very clear that he was most vexed about the charges of anti-Semitism leveled against the movie. He spoke of venting his frustrations on his spiritual counselor, who simply would remind him that Jesus turned the other cheek. “I am good 8 out of 10 days,” he joked, referring to the cheek turning.


As to the movie, you could not help but watch it through the prism of the accusations. You looked at every character to see if he were unfairly called upon to portray an anti-Semitic stereotype or if a disproportionate amount of blame was laid upon one person or group. Ironically, Maia Morgenstern, who plays Mary, is the Jewish daughter of a Holocaust survivor. Furthermore, the only appearance that Gibson makes in the movie is when his hands are seen driving the nails into Jesus on the cross — simultaneously driving home the point of his own culpability in the death of Christ.


“There is absolutely nothing anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish about Mel Gibson’s film,” said Augustine Di Noia, a theologian at the Vatican. “What happens in the film is that each of the main characters contributes in some way to Jesus’ fate: Judas betrays him; the Sanhedrin accuses him; the disciples abandon him; the crowd mocks him; the Roman soldiers scourge, brutalize, and finally crucify him; and the devil, somehow, is behind the whole action.”


From my perspective, the film makes it clear that there were righteous and unrighteous Jewish and Roman leaders who played a part in the drama unfolded around the crucifixion of Jesus. It is fair to say that anyone leaving the movie theater with anti-Semitic fervor would have to be deranged and morally warped — or they didn’t watch it.


According to Jim Caviezel, who plays Jesus, Gibson would say, “Maia, tell me about your [Jewish] traditions. Is this O.K. to do?” Part of the frustration surrounding the accusations against the movie is that it was meant to be “very Semitic,” according to Caviezel. “Instead of having an Aryan, blue-eyed Jesus, [Gibson] wanted to have a very Semitic Jesus,” Caviezel told Newsweek. “Our faith is grounded in our Jewish tradition. We believe we’re from the House of David. We believe we’re from the House of Abraham, so we cannot hate our own. That crowd standing before Pontius Pilate screaming for the head of Christ in no way convicts an entire race for the death of Jesus Christ any more than the actions of Mussolini condemn all Italians, or the heinous actions of Stalin condemn all Russians. We’re all culpable in the death of Christ. My sins put him up there. Yours did. That’s what this story is about.”


Christian leaders might find it wise to defend The Passion as well as use this controversy in order to speak out clearly against the heinous and lingering sin of anti-Semitism. “Of course, even the most responsible, well-intentioned movie treatment of the last hours of Jesus will provoke concern in the Jewish community, because so many millions of Jews have suffered and died over the centuries due to Gospel-based charges that they are ‘Christ killers,’” writes Michael Medved, the popular movie reviewer and Orthodox Jew, in USA Today. “But the fact that persecutors and bigots have distorted teachings of the New Testament for their own cruel purposes doesn’t mean that those Gospel texts, sacred to all Christians, must be scrapped, revised or ignored in a serious work of cinema.”


The accusation of anti-Semitism has been an unjust albatross around Gibson’s neck. “To be certain, neither I nor my film are anti-Semitic,” he said in a statement published in Variety. “Anti-Semitism is not only contrary to my personal beliefs; it is also contrary to the core message of my movie...[which is] meant to inspire, not offend. 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. “If the intense scrutiny during my 25 years in public life revealed I had ever persecuted or discriminated against anyone based on race or creed, I would be all too willing to make amends. But there is no such record.”


“I have always believed in God,” Gibson told us. “From age 15 to 35, I was a hell raiser. In many ways, I still am,” he said jokingly. He then went on to tell us that he had “come to a difficult point in my life and meditating on Christ’s sufferings, on his passion, got me through it.” Christ’s passion became his obsession — and ultimately a healing balm.


“I’m not a preacher and I’m not a pastor. But I really feel my career was leading me to make this,” Gibson has said. “The Holy Ghost was working through me on this film, and I was just directing traffic. I hope the film has the power to evangelize.”


That should not be a problem. I have been a Christian for 20 years and after seeing The Passion I wanted to sign up all over again.


— Steve Beard is the creator of Thunderstruck.Org and a contributing author to Spiritual Journeys: How Faith Has Influenced Twelve Music Icons.




The Dividers: The Passion’s critics fail (NRO, 040225)


Two weeks before Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ flashed onto movie screens, online ticket merchants reported that up to half their total sales were for advance purchases for The Passion of the Christ. One Dallas multiplex reserved all 20 of its screens for The Passion.


That said, I am neither a prophet nor a movie critic. I am merely an Orthodox rabbi using ancient Jewish wisdom to make three predictions about The Passion.


First: Mel Gibson and Icon Productions will make a great deal of money. Those distributors who surrendered to pressure from Jewish organizations and passed on The Passion will be kicking themselves, while Newmarket Films will laugh all the way to the bank. Theater owners are going to love this film.


Second: The Passion will become famous as the most serious and substantive Biblical movie ever made. It will be one of the most talked-about entertainment events in history.


My third prediction is that the faith of millions of Christians will become more fervent as The Passion uplifts and inspires them. The Passion will propel vast numbers of unreligious Americans to embrace Christianity. The movie will one day be seen as a harbinger of America’s third great religious reawakening.


Those Jewish organizations that have squandered both time and money futilely protesting The Passion, ostensibly in order to prevent pogroms in Pittsburgh, can hardly be proud of their performance. They failed at everything they attempted. They were hoping to ruin Gibson rather than enrich him. They were hoping to suppress The Passion rather than promote it. Finally, they were hoping to help Jews rather than harm them.


In this, they have failed miserably. By selectively unleashing their fury only on wholesome entertainment that depicts Christianity in a positive light, these critics have triggered anger, hurt, and resentment. Hosting the Toward Tradition radio show and speaking before many audiences nationwide, I enjoy extensive communication with Christian America, and what I hear is troubling. Fearful of attracting the ire of Jewish organizations quick to hurl the “anti-Semite” epithet, some Christians are reluctant to speak out. One can bludgeon resentful people into silence, but behind closed doors, emotions continue to simmer.


I consider it crucially important for Christians to know that not all Jews are in agreement with their self-appointed spokesmen. Most American Jews, experiencing warm and gracious interactions each day with their Christian fellow citizens, would feel awkward trying to explain why so many Jewish organizations seem focused on an agenda hostile to Judeo-Christian values. Many individual Jews have shared with me their embarrassment over the fact that groups ostensibly representing them attack The Passion but are silent about depraved entertainment that encourages killing cops and brutalizing women. Citing artistic freedom, Jewish groups helped protect sacrilegious exhibits such as the anti-Christian feces extravaganza presented by the Brooklyn Museum of Art four years ago. One can hardly blame Christians for assuming that Jews feel artistic freedom is important only when exercised by those hostile toward Christianity.


But this is not how all Jews feel. In audiences around America, I am encountering bitterness toward Jewish organizations that insist that belief in the New Testament is de facto evidence of anti-Semitism. Christians heard Jewish leaders denouncing Gibson for making a movie that follows Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion long before any of them had even seen the movie. Furthermore, Christians are hurt that Jewish groups are presuming to teach them what Christian Scripture “really means.” They hear figures like the rabbi I debated on The O’Reilly Factor last September, who said: “We have a responsibility as Jews, as thinking Jews, as people of theology, to respond to our Christian brothers and to engage them, be it Protestants, be it Catholics, and say, look, this is not your history, this is not your theology, this does not represent what you believe in.”


This man happens to be a respected rabbi, and a good one, but he too has bought into the preposterous proposition that Jews will reeducate Christians about Christian theology and history. Is it any wonder that this astonishing arrogance spurs bitterness?


Many Christians who, with good reason, have considered themselves to be Jews’ best (and perhaps only) friends also feel resentment toward Jews who believe that The Passion reveals startling new information about the Crucifixion. They are incredulous at Jews who think that exposure to the Gospels in visual form will instantly transform the most philo-Semitic gentiles in history into snarling, Jew-hating predators.


Christians are baffled by Jews who don’t understand that President George Washington, who knew and revered every word of the Gospels, was still able to write that oft-quoted, beautiful letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, offering friendship and full participation in America to the Jewish community.


One of the directors of the American Jewish Committee recently warned that The Passion “could undermine the sense of community between Christians and Jews that’s going on in this country. We’re not allowing the film to do that.” No sir, it isn’t the film that threatens that sense of community: The arrogant and intemperate responses of some Jewish organizations are responsible for that.


Today, a hateful danger threatens all Americans, both Jews and Christians. Many of the men and women fighting that peril on the frontlines find great support in their Christian faith. It is strange that Jewish organizations, purporting to protect Jews, think that insulting allies is the preferred way to carry out that mandate.


— Radio talk show host Rabbi Daniel Lapin is president of Toward Tradition.




Brother Gibson’s Passion: I went from the theater to the Gospels (NRO, 040225)


Since I am not Buddhist, I feel the respect due to the beliefs of others but very little personal awe when I read of Buddha, so I suppose that something similar must be in play when those who are not Christian hear of Jesus Christ.


Since, however, I am a Christian, the passion and death of Jesus Christ fill me with awe, wonder, and love. Odd as it may seem, Jesus is a daily part of my interior monologue — that frequent, almost permanent inner prayer that any believer has with his or her God. For me, Jesus Christ is One with the Creator of the stars and sun and moon, Architect of the whole universe, including all the enormous cold silence of the galaxies, and all the wondrous poetry, music, heroism, beauty and mind that we encounter here on tiny, fragile earth. I know that He is One with His Father. He is the Word in whom, and with whom, and by whom were made all the things that have been made.


To devout Jews and Muslims such assertions must reek of blasphemy. There is only one God, and that Holy One is too great to be imagined in human form, too transcendent to be spoken of except by indirection.


In this light, Jesus Christ is already a figure of contradiction, before one even turns to his life, suffering, and death. To some, all-holy. To others, a blasphemer and perhaps a megalomaniac, calling himself the Son of God. A poseur.


The centerpiece of the drama of the life and death of Jesus Christ, whose approximate date of birth has given the West its central point of Time for designating the years Before and After, is of course that crossroads city of the three great monotheistic religions of Abraham, Jerusalem itself, nestled in the hills of ancient Judea.


And Jerusalem has become in this late February week of the year 2004 A.D. the city toward which millions of eyes will be turning as the new blockbuster film of Mel Gibson The Passion of the Christ opens across the United States on Ash Wednesday.


In Washington, D.C., my assistant (seeking tickets for himself and some friends) learned of a man who had bought out a 350-seat theater in advance, and who was worried that he might not be able to sell all those tickets. My assistant called to order the tickets he wanted, and then was told that there were already nearly 1,000 requests for those tickets. So the original purchaser bought out another theater for the opening, and was now seeking a third.


In some ways, nonetheless, 2004 may be one of the worst possible years for a film of the Passion to appear. A very ugly anti-Semitism has been erupting like multiple boils at many places on the planet at once. Anti-Semitic passion and ugly violence have been appearing in old Europe at a pitch hardly seen since before World War II. Arab media have been spreading teachings of hate and hostility, directed not only at the Jewish nation, but also at times toward the Jewish religion. Anyone who remembers from the annals of the last four centuries the evils that sometimes erupted after “Passion Plays” in Germany, Poland, and elsewhere can scarcely maintain a high comfort level as the movie opens.



Still, as one of those few thousands of Americans who have been privileged to attend an advance screening of one of the various rough cuts of the Gibson film in its progress toward completion during the last seven months, I can testify that, for serious Christians at least, the film occasions an overpowering religious experience of quiet, peace, and brotherly outreach. For this Lord for whom we have such tender love, and to whom our lives and deaths are committed, and Who internally unites all of us since He first appeared, and down all the ages until He will come again in judgment, appears here before our eyes on the large screen undergoing almost unendurable lashings, and falls, and mockery, and finally a suffocating death, at the hands of the rough, joking Roman soldiers. He dies with the love and forgiveness he preached from the beginning.


Of course, we have known about this all our lives. Every crucifix in every church, and around our necks, and on the green grass graves row upon row in the cemeteries, announces it. The Nicene Creed which is recited at every Sunday Mass intones the solemn words: “...born of the Virgin Mary...for our sins He was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered, died, and was buried.” The passion and death of Jesus Christ, and his resurrection on the third day thereafter, is at the very heart of the Christian faith. It is all so historical, so enfleshed, so tied to real places such as the Mount of Olives, the winding way of the cross, and Golgotha. So precisely dated. So well attested to by historical records.


And, of course, for those who stand outside the Christian faith, the story of Christ is all somewhat preposterous, perhaps even pathetic. Yet there it is, athwart history, pregnant with inner power. That historians have seen the roughly computed date of the birth of Christ as a kind of axial point in the subsequent human story has a certain plausibility, even inevitability.


And yet how are Judaism and Christianity related? What has Judaism to do with Jesus Christ?


There is an important asymmetry between Jewish and Christian faiths. Christians must of necessity accept the essential truth of Judaism, for without Judaism Christianity does not make sense in its own terms. The Catholic worship service, the Mass, is a rite whose backbone is the sacrifice of Abraham, Melchisedech, and the Passover Seder. It is replete with prayers taken from the Jewish liturgy. The daily Office of the Hours that spreads that central worship over the whole day, from Matins before dawn until Vespers at twilight, is composed by a measure of some seventy to eighty percent of Jewish prayers, most notably (but not only) the Psalms.


By contrast, Jewish faith is not at all dependent on Christian faith. It may (or may not) have respect for Christian faith, the faith (as it were) of a problematic daughter, and it can scarcely avoid judging Christian faith to be seriously erroneous. One of my Jewish friends chides me that Christianity is “far too optimistic” about man, far too unrealistic about so many things...Pretty perhaps, but not really, he says, a livable faith.


On the positive side, some Jewish writers have given Christianity credit for having made the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob known all around the world. By its great missionary impulse, they note, Christianity has added a certain worldwide historical strength to the cultural inspiration of Judaism. Today, for instance, Jews worldwide number under 20 million, while Christians number well over two billion, a full third of the world population. Yet the whole world tends to pair Christianity and Judaism, as in some mysterious destiny fatefully intertwined.


We are in fact, blessedly, linked forevermore. For Christians, it is very good — it is even essential — that until the end of time there should always be a vital Jewish religious community, alive with intellect and knowledge and wisdom, for without such a community from whom to be nourished, we could never come to understand accurately our own earliest and deepest heritage. Spiritually, it might be that Jews could get along quite well without Christians; but the reverse is not true.



I have never sat in the presence of a religious film with anything like the power of The Passion. At the end of it, I wanted to weep, and to be silent, and to commune with my God, on whom my sins had heaped such afflictions. From the opening scene, it is clear that God’s Will governs the last twelve hours of Christ’s suffering and death, and that He is called, not by his own will, but his Father’s, to die for my sins. I am not certain how the filmmaker achieved this effect, but from the opening instant I felt personally drawn into recognition of my own responsibility for what was to come. Perhaps the impenetrability of the ancient Aramaic language, which put me in a zone of timelessness and culturelessness, and the sudden alarming appearance of the serpentine presence and power of evil. This drama goes far beyond one time, one place, one people; it is situated in the soul of each of us, where a war is being fought out.


No matter how many times I had heard the Passion story recited aloud (and every year in every Catholic Church two of the gospels — Saint John’s on Good Friday and one of the other three in rotation on Palm Sunday — are read aloud), and no matter how many crucifixes I had prayed before, or statues of Jesus after the scourging, or with the crown of thorns causing blood to flow down his forehead; despite all this familiarity, no form of art can compare with the cinema for its power to make one live through real human stories in so total and immediate a way. For the first time, I felt really inside Christ’s suffering, enduring with him, or more exactly enduring like those who loved him then, forced like his mother to be witnesses. I now knew, as never before, the duration of his excruciating pain. Unlike a painting, cinema gives us the pain-filled passage of time.


It was as if, of anything that any human being had ever been asked by his Creator to suffer, Christ was taking on his full share, as much as one human could possibly endure. I have never been able to bear lashings shown on camera, hearing the whips strike flesh. In this film, it was often well beyond my capacity to keep my eyes open, without turning away in unbearable pain. Never has cinema shown such a lashing as this, while the Roman soldiers take their time, their pleasure, and exhibit their jesting professional skill in selecting various configurations of flesh-ripping lash.


When I reached home after the theater, I got out my New Testament, and read again each of the four accounts in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Gibson had not been able to record everything, and he had had to make choices among the accounts. He had had to imagine for himself how best to choose standpoints so as most intimately and powerfully to bring witnesses such as ourselves into the action. I was surprised by how faithful to text after text the film I had just seen had been. Gibson’s is not a fastidious historian’s account — not a film by National Geographic or even by the (increasingly unreliable) History Channel. It is an artist’s rendering. A great artist’s rendering. It brings to mind every great painting of the event one has ever seen. It makes one reach for Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion.


The Passion of the Christ is a wondrously wrought work of art, a kind of prayer all its own. It achieves what I would have thought impossible. It makes one forget art, and think of the Lord and his suffering and one’s own sins. It brings one to awe for one’s fellow man, fellow sufferer, fellow weakling. And it brings one to one’s knees.


I know from talking to many others that this is not merely an autobiographical reaction, but a very common one. Perhaps it will only be so for Christians, or work only for Christians who already share a certain felt unity in Christ. For Christians, for certain, this film moves to a realm beyond words. Silence is what one craves at the end. Silence. Awe. Gratitude. A desire to follow the First and Greatest Commandment, and also the Second (as Jesus summed them up the Ten):


Love the Lord thy God with thy whole soul, thy whole mind, thy whole self.


Love thy neighbor as thyself.


There is, of course, an old saying: “No good deed goes unpunished.” It is part of the wisdom of Judaism and Christianity, hard-won, to recognize that one inner conversion, even during an intense experience, does not a lifetime make. The mountain one is led up during this one viewing of a powerful film must be scaled again and again, on more prosaic, less nourishing days.


One of the sins I was led to consciousness of during this screening is the sin of Christians against Jews. One could see forming here the historic separation between Christians and Jews. And yet the sins of Christians that followed upon this separation — the accusations of “Christ-killer” — horribly missed the whole point of Christ’s death. They added immeasurably to the sufferings of the Christ. They are an indescribable betrayal and disgrace. They are also, for a Catholic, doctrinally untenable.


If we do not love and care for one another, the immense suffering of Jesus — which as if for the first time is borne into our senses by this film — is in vain.


— Michael Novak is the winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize for progress in religion and the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute. Novak’s own website is This piece was first written for the Jerusalem Post and is reprinted with permission.




A Movie and Its Meaning: Mel Gibson’s Passion is for all time (NRO, 040225)


EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the March 8, 2004, issue of National Review.


By the fifteenth minute of The Passion of the Christ, Jesus’s right eye has swollen nearly shut. It stays that way for the next two hours. It is a brutal, almost unbearably brutal, movie. From the very beginning in the Garden of Gethsemane, the punches are real. The violence is not cool or “balletic.” The movie is not, in that sense, a Mel Gibson movie. If it is true that movies make their money at the concession stands, he has been even more daring than we thought. This is not a movie that will sell popcorn. Nor is it a movie that is guaranteed to appeal to the most common American styles of piety. This is a country where Easter is more popular than Good Friday, and Christmas more popular than either. The Resurrection comes at the end of this movie, but it seemed to pass by in a half minute.


Leaving an advance screening of the movie, I ran into a college classmate I had not seen in years. She works for a mass-market pop-culture magazine. “It’s hard to get beyond the ultraviolence,” she said. “It’s obscene.” I nodded. She was right. That’s the point: What we did to Christ was obscene.


If your reactions are like mine, you will be outraged when Christ is mocked and spat on. You will tear up when He looks upon Peter denying Him and when Mary runs to comfort Him when He falls on the way to the cross. You will find it hard to watch the scourging of His flesh, His blood spattering His tormentors. You will want to close your eyes as the stakes are driven in. For Christians, it is triply painful: seeing such brutality inflicted on any man; seeing it inflicted on the only sinless man, our precious Lord; knowing that we are responsible for it. But we also know that He can redeem even that awful scene, even the scene of the worst crime ever committed. It is a bloody movie. But His blood is life. Lest we forget, the movie has Him tell us so in a flashback to the Last Supper.


I had not wanted to dwell on the question of anti-Semitism in writing about The Passion because the subject of the movie is infinitely more important than the political controversy surrounding it. But the two are connected (as we shall see). Also, in the day since I have seen it, the first question of almost everyone to whom I have talked about it—Catholics, for the most part—has been whether the charges of anti-Semitism have any basis.


Let me start by saying that the apprehensions of the critics were understandable, and not just invented. They were understandable given the historical role of passion plays in fostering anti-Semitism. They were understandable given what we know, or think we know, about the Gibson family’s schismatic Catholicism and about the mystical writers who influenced the movie. And Gibson’s own recent comments about the Holocaust—acknowledging that it happened but seeming to downplay it as a wartime atrocity—were not reassuring either.


The movie is not at all anti-Semitic. In the film, some Jewish leaders want Christ killed and some do not. Some are decent and some indecent, as is also true of the Romans. Some followers of Christ betray the Lord—chiefly the men, as in the Gospels. Some, chiefly the women but also John, stay by His side.


Will the movie nonetheless encourage anti-Semitic outrages at a time when they already seem to be on the rise? Lunatics will find their evidence in voices in the air. Will it support a premise in the logic of anti-Semitism? The question is misconceived. Anti-Semitism is not a logic.


In the unlikely event that French Islamists or American neo-Nazis need cinematic sanction for their hatred, they will not find it here. A central message of the movie, with which all its other truths are bound up, is that we are all of us guilty for the crucifixion: Every sinful act of man—including every act of hatred against Jews—pounds the nail deeper. (Even some recent defenses of the Catholic Church have made it sound as though the idea that all of us, and not just “the Jews,” are to blame was an innovation of the 1960s. Actually it was always the church’s teaching, although the Second Vatican Council may have revived and deepened it.) Another is that mankind’s futile and monstrous search for scapegoats finds its end in the Lamb of God.


Some reviewers have already complained that the movie whitewashes Pontius Pilate and puts too much blame on the Jewish leaders. They say that it overemphasizes the religious, and underemphasizes the political, motives for the crucifixion. But only a very unreflective person would not understand why Jewish leaders saw Jesus as a blasphemer. And even such a person will be able to see that Christ’s most vicious mockers and torturers are Romans, not Jews. There is also the figure of Satan, who appears several times in the movie and is clearly not a Jewish leader.


Gibson made dramatic choices regarding Pilate that not everyone will find satisfactory. But I did not take the sympathetic portrayal of Pilate to mitigate his guilt. I took its pedagogic purpose to be to invite us to imagine that the worst evil ever could have been committed by a man who seems like a nice guy. To have sympathy for someone is to imagine ourselves in his place. That is what we are meant to do here. We are nice people. Could we have done something like this? Yes. We did. To make Pilate an ogre would be to defeat this point entirely. Should Pilate be forgiven, whatever his motives? Should the Jewish leaders? Should we? That is not a question that I can answer. But it may be worth noting—it is not the least significant comment in the movie—that Jesus Christ asks His Father to forgive His killers.


After anti-Semitism, the question I have been asked most often is how well the movie was done. Does it “work”? That’s a question that can be understood in several ways. The tale is told well and gruesomely. The spoken language of the movie—Aramaic, Hebrew, and Latin—conveys a sense of historicity, while the subtitles make the events comprehensible (within the limits of language to make these particular events comprehensible) and are not distracting. The casting is excellent. The decision not to use any big-name stars was obviously right. The only one who appears is Gibson, whose hand drives the first nail into the cross. I am not so sure about the creepily androgynous devil, who reminds me a little of one of the evil counselors in Star Wars, or maybe Battlestar Galactica. (Or perhaps the evil-counselor archetype is based on Satan.) No gesture is wasted.


People always want to know whether the movie is faithful to the book, or in this case the Book. The answer is yes. There are some elements of pious Catholic tradition that appear in the movie—notably Veronica’s veil. I doubt most Protestants will object, since these elements contradict neither the letter nor spirit of Scripture (which is why it can be in the pious tradition).


There is some defensible artistic license. The movie starts with our story in progress. To set the theme, Satan appears at the beginning of the movie in the garden seeking to fill Jesus with doubt. Can one man take on the full burden of all sin? Judas, committing suicide, shows his answer to be no. Jesus says yes.


The nails are driven into His hands, when His wrists would have been more historically accurate. Christ carries the whole cross, not just the crossbeam. These are also defensible choices, if not the ones I would have wanted.


The movie is not comprehensive. We do not hear all seven of Jesus’s last words, which I regret. The descent into Hell is not depicted, although the devil does make a final appearance when Jesus is taken down from the cross. I could not tell whether Satan was shrieking in pain or delight—whether the frenzy was that of imagined victory or final defeat—and perhaps that is just as well. I recalled then the sadism of the guards as they perverted some of the greatest gifts God has given us: joy, laughter, fun.


How Catholic is the movie? Very. But it is not Catholic in a way that excludes Protestants. The film’s Marian devotion is a devotion to the Lord through His mother. (Scrawled on my notepad: “This is what the beauty of holiness would look like.”) She is the counterpart to Lucifer: the faithful servant versus the faithless one. In recent years there has been much discussion of “evangelicals and Catholics together.” There has been joint political action and joint theological reflection. In the popular culture, this movie appears to be the most significant moment of such togetherness yet. Other Christians need not feel excluded by the movie, but it is among these two groups that its most enthusiastic fans have already been found. If the film is truly a “success,” one way it will be a success is in drawing evangelicals and Catholics together where they should most be together: in Christ. Both groups should pray that they are drawn, together, to Christ, by Christ.


Some of my friends have asked me whether I thought the movie would make non-Christians reconsider their faiths or unfaiths. It is not beyond the Lord’s power to reach people’s hearts in this way. But I suspect that Christ crucified will remain folly to the Greeks. The movie may make Christianity seem more, rather than less, alien and strange. As powerful as I believe this movie is, I have no doubt that there will be those who choose to mock it. There are Christophobes among us; and these are not people for whom the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. They are people who, for various reasons, some of them understandable, all of them sad, are alarmed by any sign of increased Christian vigor.


The mood in which Christians should watch the movie, in which they can hardly help being as they watch it, is penitential. They should be careful to avoid the temptation to make of this movie more than it is. I have heard that people who run into Jim Caviezel on the street have tried to touch him. But Caviezel is not the Lord Jesus Christ. To watch the movie is not to receive a sacrament. Mel Gibson’s Passion is not Christ’s Passion. You can mock the first without mocking the second, although you can also of course mock both.


What I hope is that the movie will help to effect a deeper conversion of the already converted. I walked out of the theater into the cold sunlight and pot smoke of a Manhattan sidewalk. If we leave this film reminded that this world is not our home but only a way station, then Gibson will have done a mighty work for the Lord. We will remember that He is being crucified, and doing His saving work, every day, every moment, as I write, as you read.




Mel Gibson, Feminist: One of the truths in The Passion of Christ (NRO, 040225)


Mel Gibson might be my favorite feminist. If he’s not number one on my list, he’s pretty close, in competition with Pope John Paul II.


As you probably suspect, I don’t have in mind the usual definition of “feminism.” I can guarantee you there’ll be no fawning Ms. magazine cover story on Gibson (or JPII).


But give me a few minutes to fawn a little.


I, like others, have now seen an in-progress version of Gibson’s remarkable film. There is so much to be said and that will be said about the movie. Folks who get turned off by nonsensical talk that it is anti-Semitic will miss an unparalleled movie experience. But what they’ll also miss is Mel Gibson, the feminist.


If you want to understand — and celebrate — women, Gibson’s Passion of Christ, which will be released Ash Wednesday, is a good place to turn. Consider, for example, a scene that has Mary standing on the sidelines after walking a little bit away from the place where her son is being brutally beaten. She’s getting beyond the point of being able to take the unbearable pain, but she is slowly gathering her strength, her faith — and is even able to comfort Mary Magdalene, a friend.


Lending a hand of friendship to Christ’s mother is a very unlikely sister: Claudia, the wife of Pontius Pilate. Claudia isn’t happy with her husband’s general situation, and she’s not keen on his putting Jesus of Nazareth to death. We know what Pilate chooses in the end, but Claudia does her darnedest to guide him. She is a decent character, who bears her own crosses and evinces nobility throughout. When Mary is at one her hardest moments, it is Claudia who walks over and hands towels to her, which she soon uses to wipe up the precious blood of her son.


Mary feels pain acutely. Mother and son help one another. In another poignant scene, she is starting to lose it again, standing in an alleyway, not knowing if she can do anything for her son. At this point, there’s a beautiful flashback to Christ’s childhood, in which he falls down and his mother does what is only natural: She runs to him. The movie flashes forward again as Mary does likewise, running to her 33-year-old son. With the gentlest touch, Jesus gives his mother strength, even though he’s a bloody mess in indescribable pain-all of which he bears with the kind of grace only divinity can provide.


I don’t think many self-described feminists would agree, but there is something unique about women, and Gibson’s movie captures it perfectly in Mary, Mary Magdalene, Veronica (who voluntarily wipes Christ’s face along his arduous road to Calvary), and Claudia. He shows a real understanding of the depth of women’s feeling and the unique role that follows from it: that of giving support and guidance. This understanding of femininity cannot be missed — and should be noted and valued. It’s something the likes of a Susan B. Anthony understood, though modern-day feminists would rather we forget it.


This understanding is nothing new to Christians. Christ suffered for the evil in the world so that our souls might be eternally saved. To do that, he needed to live as a man — and he needed a mother, not just as means by which to be born, but also as a loving collaborator in mankind’s salvation.


Christian women — especially Catholics — know what pop culture thinks of their role: subservient; unworthy; barefoot and pregnant; seen but not heard. Consider, in contrast, the words of the current pope: “In transforming culture so that it supports life, women occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a ‘new feminism’ which rejects the temptation of imitating models of ‘male domination,’ in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation.” Mel Gibson gets that genius.


Archbishop Charles Chaput of the archdiocese of Denver gets it too. After watching The Passion, he said, “The reason the secular world hates films like The Passion of Christ is because they persuade the heart with the logic of love. The reason the secular world seeks to reinvent or reinterpret Mary is because she’s dangerous. She’s the model of mature human character — a human being who co-creates a new world not through power, but through unselfish love, faith in God, and the rejection of power.” He continued, “The genius of every woman is to love; to protect and nourish the lives entrusted to her; and to support the full development of life in others. It’s the same whether you’re a mother, or a consecrated religious, or a woman who lives the single vocation.” The Passion shows this genius in honesty, respect, and admiration.


There are more things going on in The Passion of Christ than one can possibly grasp in one viewing-many with the potential for changing one’s image of the Gospel, at minimum. It is the sheer un-P.C., frank retelling of a story central to the existence of a majority of the planet-one in which divinely designed women play no small role. No wonder folks have resorted to convenient distractions instead of talking about the actual, multifaceted, countercultural aspects of the movie.


In a day when “Take Your Rosaries Off My Ovaries” is an often-heard chorus in mainstream abortion debates, Mel Gibson’s understanding of women and his articulation of their unique mission could have remarkable repercussions. This new — or old, inasmuch as it is natural and commonsensical — kind of feminism, a focus on the different contributions of men and women and the different ways they live their missions, should make us all rethink how we live and love.




A Vicious, Anti-Semitic Film: Produced by Syria, not Mel Gibson (NRO, 040225)


Israeli Cabinet Minister Natan Sharansky went to Berlin in January to show German, French and other European officials excerpts of a vicious, anti-Semitic film.


With all the media attacks on Mel Gibson and his new film, you might think Sharansky showed excerpts of The Passion of the Christ. He did not. Sharansky, for whom I briefly worked in 2000, wanted European officials to see a real anti-Semitic film. So he showed them excerpts of Al-Shatat (“The Diaspora”), a $5.1 million, 30-part “mini-series” produced by Syrian television. It was broadcast during Ramadan last year by Al-Mansar, Hezbollah’s satellite television network. The film is “a Syrian TV series recording the criminal history of Zionism,” according to a November 11, 2003 report in the Syria Times.


Episode Twenty of Al-Shatat — which aired last November — depicts a classic anti-Semitic blood libel. A Rabbi, played by an Arab actor, directs a member of his synagogue to help him:


1) kidnap the son of his Christian neighbor;

2) bring the boy to the synagogue;

3) slit the boy’s throat;

4) drain the boy’s blood into a basin;

5) use the blood to make Passover matzoh bread;

6) serve the matzoh to the members of the synagogue.


In Episode Six of the Syrian film, a group of rabbis and other Jews in a Romanian ghetto gather to torture and kill a man found guilty of marrying a non-Jewish woman. As the man screams in agony, the head rabbi instructs his fellow Jews: “You hold his nose shut. You, open his mouth with tongs. You pour lead into his mouth. You cut off his ears. You stab his body with a knife before the lead kills him. This is a sacred Talmudic court; if any of you fails in his mission I will try you just like this criminal.” The men follow the Rabbi’s orders.


Sharansky and I met in Washington on February 5, fresh from his trip to Berlin. He told me the European officials he met with initially hemmed and hawed over whether anti-Semitism is really on the rise, or posing a serious threat of any kind — that is, until he showed them video clips of the Syrian film. Then the debate stopped, and everyone in the room sat in stunned silence.


Sharansky then directed me to the Middle East Media Research Institute. There, I found English-language reports about the film, translated excerpts of key scenes, as well as several graphic video clips. Let me warn you. Some of the images are so brutal, so cruel, so evil you should not watch them anywhere near children. You may not want to watch them at all. But you should.


Anti-Semitism in Europe, for example, is not only on the rise, it’s almost as bad as it was in the 1930s during the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, says Ambassador Rockwell Schnabel, the U.S. envoy to the European Union. Foreign Policy magazine, published by the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, notes that “not since Kristallnacht, the Nazi-led pogrom against German Jews in 1938, have so many European synagogues and Jewish schools been desecrated.” A recent report in Le Soir of Brussels described a Belgium-Israel football game on January 28, 2004, at which Muslim fans cried out “Jews to the gas chamber!” “Death to Jews!” and “Strangle the Jews!” France’s chief Rabbi warns Jewish men in France not to wear their yarmulkes in public to avoid being targets of anti-Jewish attacks. The evidence is mounting. Most of the verbal and physical attacks on Jews worldwide are being driven by Islamic extremists, not by evangelicals or Catholics.


So what? Attacks against any group based on their ethnic identity and/or religious belief is repugnant to Americans and represents a threat to the foundations of Western Judeo-Christian society. Anti-Semitism is a particularly malignant social disease. Left unchecked — as it was in the 1930s — it metastasizes and triggers attacks on other groups until no one is safe. Americans need to be aware of what Sharanksy calls the “new anti-Semitism,” and specifically aware of this Syrian film. Anyone who makes his living as a writer or film-maker understands the power of a narrative to shape hearts and minds; thus it’s important to know what a truly anti-Semitic film looks like. Because The Passion of the Christ is not one, and the Syrian-Hezbollah film most certainly is. The Passion is brutal. It’s graphic. As a story of hope and redemption, it’s also one of the most moving and important films ever to come out of Hollywood, worthy of multiple Oscars. But it’s not anti-Jewish, as Maia Morgenstern — the Romanian actress who plays “Mary” in Gibson’s film, and whose grandfather died in Auschwitz — attests.


Those Jewish leaders attacking The Passion are thus making a serious strategic error. They’re crying wolf, and hurting their own cause by pointing to anti-Semitism where it doesn’t exist and thus distracting attention from real and rising evils where they do. Moreover, by attacking a film in which a Jewish person is portrayed as the Savior of all mankind, they’re needlessly insulting and alienating millions of Bible-believing Christians, the very people most supportive of the right of all Jews — and the Jewish state of Israel — to exist in peace and security.


— Joel C. Rosenberg is the New York Times best-selling author of The Last Jihad and The Last Days, and a former senior aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky.




The Passion Of The Liberal (Ann Coulter, 040303)


IN THE DOZENS and dozens of panic-stricken articles the New York Times has run on Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” the unavoidable conclusion is that liberals haven’t the vaguest idea what Christianity is. The Times may have loopy ideas about a lot of things, but at least when they write about gay bathhouses and abortion clinics, you get the sense they know what they’re talking about.


But Christianity just doesn’t ring a bell. The religion that has transformed Western civilization for two millennia is a blank slate for liberals. Their closest reference point is “conservative Christians,” meaning people you’re not supposed to hire. And these are the people who carp about George Bush’s alleged lack of “intellectual curiosity.”


The most amazing complaint, championed by the Times and repeated by all the know-nothing secularists on television, is that Gibson insisted on “rubbing our faces in the grisly reality of Jesus’ death.” The Times was irked that Gibson “relentlessly focused on the savagery of Jesus’ final hours” – at the expense of showing us the Happy Jesus. Yes, Gibson’s movie is crying out for a car chase, a sex scene or maybe a wise-cracking orangutan.


The Times ought to send one of its crack investigative reporters to St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 3 p.m. on Good Friday before leaping to the conclusion that “The Passion” is Gibson’s idiosyncratic take on Christianity. In a standard ritual, Christians routinely eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus Christ, aka “the Lamb of God.” The really serious Catholics do that blood- and flesh-eating thing every day, the sickos. The Times has just discovered the tip of a 2,000-year-old iceberg.


But the loony-left is testy with Gibson for spending so much time on Jesus’ suffering and death while giving “short shrift to Jesus’ ministry and ideas” – as another Times reviewer put it. According to liberals, the message of Jesus, which somehow Gibson missed, is something along the lines of “be nice to people” (which to them means “raise taxes on the productive”).


You don’t need a religion like Christianity, which is a rather large and complex endeavor, in order to flag that message. All you need is a moron driving around in a Volvo with a bumper sticker that says “be nice to people.” Being nice to people is, in fact, one of the incidental tenets of Christianity (as opposed to other religions whose tenets are more along the lines of “kill everyone who doesn’t smell bad and doesn’t answer to the name Mohammed”). But to call it the “message” of Jesus requires ... well, the brain of Maureen Dowd.


In fact, Jesus’ distinctive message was: People are sinful and need to be redeemed, and this is your lucky day because I’m here to redeem you even though you don’t deserve it, and I have to get the crap kicked out of me to do it. That is the reason He is called “Christ the Redeemer” rather than “Christ the Moron Driving Around in a Volvo With a ‘Be Nice to People’ Bumper Sticker on It.”


The other complaint from the know-nothing crowd is that “The Passion” will inspire anti-Semitic violence. If nothing else comes out of this movie, at least we finally have liberals on record opposing anti-Semitic violence. Perhaps they should broach that topic with their Muslim friends.


One Times review of “The Passion” said: “To be a Christian is to face the responsibility for one’s own most treasured sacred texts being used to justify the deaths of innocents.” At best, this is like blaming Jodie Foster for the shooting of Ronald Reagan. But the reviewer somberly warned that a Christian should “not take the risk that one’s life or work might contribute to the continuation of a horror.” So the only thing Christians can do is shut up about their religion. (And no more Jodie Foster movies!)

By contrast, in the weeks after 9-11, the Times was rushing to assure its readers that “prominent Islamic scholars and theologians in the West say unequivocally that nothing in Islam countenances the Sept. 11 actions.” (That’s if you set aside Muhammad’s many specific instructions to kill non-believers whenever possible.) Times columnists repeatedly extolled “the great majority of peaceful Muslims.” Only a religion with millions of practitioners trying to kill Americans and Jews is axiomatically described as “peaceful” by liberals.


As I understand it, the dangerous religion is the one whose messiah instructs: “[I]f one strikes thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” and “Love your enemies ... do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you.” The peaceful religion instructs: “Slay the enemy where you find him.” (Surah 9:92).


Imitating the ostrich-like posture of certain German Jews who ignored the growing danger during Hitler’s rise to power, today’s liberals are deliberately blind to the real threats of violence that surround us. Their narcissistic self-image requires absolute solicitude toward angry savages plotting acts of terrorism. The only people who scare them are the ones who worship a Jew.




‘The Passion’ Tops Box Office For Third Week (FN, 040314)


LOS ANGELES — “The Passion of the Christ” was the top film for a third straight weekend, taking in $31.7 million and pushing its total beyond a quarter of a billion dollars.


Mel Gibson’s dramatization of Christ’s final hours climbed to $264 million in the United States and Canada after 19 days in theaters, according to studio estimates Sunday.


With solid receipts expected through Easter on April 11, “The Passion” is on track to gross between $350 million and $400 million, said Rob Schwartz, head of distribution for Newmarket Films, which handled the release.


That would put it on par with “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” which took in another $2.05 million over the weekend to push its total to $371.2 million.


Johnny Depp’s psychological horror tale “Secret Window,” based on a Stephen King story about an author accused of plagiarism by a stalker, debuted in second place with $19 million.


The weekend’s other two big releases had so-so openings. Frankie Muniz’s spy caper “Agent Cody Banks: Destination London” was No. 5 with $8 million, barely half the $14.1 million opening weekend of “Agent Cody Banks” last year.


Premiering in narrower release, David Mamet’s military thriller “Spartan,” starring Val Kilmer, finished in 10th place with $2 million.


“The Passion” lifted Hollywood to its third-straight uptick in revenues after a long slump in January and February. The top 12 movies grossed $104.1 million, up 15 percent from the same weekend last year.


Before “The Passion” opened, Hollywood revenue was running 7 percent behind last year’s. Revenues now are 3 to 4 percent ahead of 2003’s, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.


“‘The Passion’ has single-handedly made what was turning out to be a pretty lousy year into a really good year so far,” Dergarabedian said.


Playing in 3,221 theaters, “The Passion” averaged $9,830 a cinema, a huge number for a movie in its third weekend. “Secret Window” averaged $6,296 in 3,018 theaters, “Agent Cody Banks” did $2,691 in 2,973 cinemas and “Spartan” averaged $2,440 in 832 locations.


Starring Jim Caviezel as Christ, “The Passion” continues to draw well among church groups that helped make it a religious blockbuster, but the film is packing in much broader audiences, said Newmarket’s Schwartz.


“It’s a large cross-section of America,” Schwartz said. “It’s not just church groups going at this point. It’s way beyond that.”


Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore’s romantic comedy “50 First Dates” had a $5.3 million weekend and pushed its total to $106.6 million, following “The Passion” as the second movie released in 2004 to cross the $100 million mark.




The Importance of the Passion: Some critics just don’t get it (NRO, 040227)


I try to avoid commenting on those things I know nothing about, so I should start by stating that I have not yet seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. And yet, some of the commentary provoked by the film’s release is rather puzzling.


For instance, the Hollywood Reporter review:


The problem with focusing narrowly on the “passion” of Christ — meaning the suffering and ultimate redemption in the final moments of Jesus’ life — instead of his ministry, in which he preached love of God and mankind, is that the context for these events is lost. The Crucifixion was not only the culmination of several years of religious teachings but the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to die for the sins of mankind.... If only Gibson had chosen to highlight spiritual truth rather than physical realism.


Newsweek’s review was little better:


I have no doubt that Mel Gibson loves Jesus. From the evidence of “The Passion of the Christ,” however, what he seems to love as much is the cinematic depiction of flayed, severed, swollen, scarred flesh and rivulets of spilled blood, the crack of bashed bones and the groans of someone enduring the ultimate physical agony.... The film that has been getting rapturous advance raves from evangelical Christians turns out to be an R-rated inspirational movie no child can, or should, see. To these secular eyes at least, Gibson’s movie is more likely to inspire nightmares than devotion.


At least David Ansen, author of the Newsweek review, admitted he is a non-believer; this helps us to understand his bemusement. He concludes his review by admitting “Instead of being moved by Christ’s suffering, or awed by his sacrifice, I felt abused by a filmmaker intent on punishing an audience, for who knows what sins. Others may well find a strong spirituality in ‘The Passion’ — I can’t pretend to know what this movie looks like to a believer — but it was Gibson’s fury, not his faith, that left a deep, abiding aftertaste.”


And that, for Christians, is precisely the point. The Passion is supposed to be punishing; the death of Christ on the cross is, for Christians, supposed to leave “a deep, abiding aftertaste.” It is supposed to remind us of the intense physical pain which Christ suffered on our behalf, the price he paid for our sins. It is not simply that Christ became man and died, but that He died in an extraordinarily painful and gruesome fashion. That was the price necessary to redeem God’s prodigal children.


This physical realism is the spiritual truth. “We preach Christ crucified,” wrote Paul to the Corinthians, “unto the Jews a stumbling block, unto the Greeks, foolishness.” A real sense of the suffering endured by Christ in the hours leading up to His death on the cross is the key to understanding the mystery of the Incarnation. St. Thomas Aquinas quotes St. Gregory on the matter: “There would have been no advantage in His having been born for us unless we had profited by His Redemption.” The gulf we place between ourselves and God through sin is bridged only by that intense physical agony Gibson depicts and is taken to task for depicting.


The Hollywood Reporter also takes umbrage with the movie’s focus on this agony to the exclusion of Jesus message of “love of God and mankind.” But without this agony, Jesus would be no more than another prophet, perhaps no more than a provocative moral teacher in the manner of Confucius, Socrates, and Buddha. The death and resurrection of Jesus are the fundamental events of the Christian faith. The moral teachings that came before cannot be understood without reference to the Passion. But more than that, the Passion is the exemplar of what it means to love: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”


As a Catholic, I find it uncomfortable to talk about my faith. To speak about theological matters is fine; to discuss scholastic philosophy, easy enough. But to reveal something about my own religious experiences is difficult — so it should probably be done.


One of the most moving religious experiences I ever had occurred in San Antonio last Easter. On Good Friday, the (largely Hispanic) San Fernando cathedral holds a rather unique Passion play. A member of the congregation plays the part of Christ, and along the way from a city park to the cathedral, he carries a cross and is flogged by those playing the guards. At the conclusion, the cross is raised and the crucifixion staged. I have no doubt the scenes in The Passion of the Christ are grittier, bloodier, and more intense than those of the simple procession in San Antonio. But the message is the same: This is what the Son of God went through because of my sins.


Those unacquainted with the Gospel may find such graphic depictions disturbing, even “sadomasochistic,” as the New York Times puts it. But Christians ought to find them all the more disturbing. The Scandalum Crucis is something with which believers in every age are forced to struggle. To miss the scandal of the Cross is to miss the central meaning of the Passion, to glide blindly past the mystery of the Incarnation and remain ignorant of the central event of human history.


— Kevin Cherry is an NRO contributor.




Violence to Scripture? Viewing The Passion (NRO, 040227)


“He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”


Those words from the Apostles’ Creed are what Mel Gibson’s new film, The Passion of the Christ, is all about. Especially the suffering. As such, it is an appalling and difficult film for many Christians to endure, and it must make unbelievers and those of other faiths very uncomfortable indeed. For the violence portrayed in this film is done toward a man whom Christians cannot but see as utterly innocent of any crime whatever, and whom unbelievers must just as surely view as innocent of any crime worth punishing. For what is the problem with a man claiming to be God if there is no God anyway, or if we are all gods, or if God is merely a distant presence who started the world up and subsequently left it to go its own way? No one deserves the kind of punishment meted out to this puzzling but quite obviously benevolent soul.


That, of course, is exactly the point Gibson is making. Moreover, and equally importantly, he makes it perfectly clear exactly who is responsible for this suffering. We are. All of us. Every human being who ever lived, Gibson’s film maintains, is responsible for this suffering. Jesus Christ (portrayed impressively by Jim Caviezel) tells his disciples at the beginning of the film, in the Garden of Gethsemane, that they cannot go where he is about to go. He alone, we know, will step forward to pay the price for sin. He alone will suffer for the world’s rejection of their Creator and of the Savior he sent. He alone qualifies, for he alone is without sin.


This is, however, by no means an ethereal story, in the hands of the passionate director of Braveheart and guiding force behind The Patriot. In dramatizing the last day of the earthly life of Jesus as a man, Gibson typically includes another major character in each important sequence, to establish a point of view for the audience. Often this is Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Maia Morgenstern’s depiction of her is duly sensitive, sophisticated, and compelling. The audience easily shares her sympathy for her son and her horror at what is done to him. Another character often included is Satan, evocatively portrayed by Rosalinda Celentano. The androgynous, seedy, rotting Adversary continues to tempt and taunt Jesus throughout the film.


These two females provide an evident, and perhaps too obvious, contrast of responses to the reality of the Christ. In doing so, they bring the matter back to the viewer, to the choice of how each of us will respond to the life and temporary death of Jesus. This makes the film much more than a simple theater of cruelty.


It is, in fact, the central point of the film. Audience members interviewed about this film have noted that the brutality toward Jesus rather stunned them, and most critics have felt compelled to stress their discomfort with the amount of violence in the film. Roger Ebert exemplified this opinion well in his Chicago Sun-Times review of the picture, characterizing The Passion of the Christ as the most violent film he had ever seen.


With all due respect to a daily critic’s occasional need to resort to hyperbole, that is simply a ridiculous statement. I have seen plenty of films more violent than this one, and I’m certain that Ebert has also.


What I have not seen, however, is a motion picture in which the violence is shown so intimately and is so sympathetic toward the victim of the brutality.


Nor, of course, have I ever seen a film in which cruelty of this severity is inflicted on an individual who claims to be the only truly innocent person who ever walked the earth, and indeed one who openly stated that he was sent from God to teach us what our Creator expected of us not only in our actions but in the inmost recesses of our hearts, and who set out to practice exactly what he preached (which was clearly impossible for a mere human being, which, of course, he himself argued that he was not, being both man and God), and whose life and statements all indicate that he was exactly who and what he said he was. Nor have I seen a portrait of such incredible violence done to one who claimed, quite plausibly given the assumptions behind the character so depicted, that the suffering he would undergo was a direct result of the viewer’s own obstinacy and selfishness.


No, that is something I have not seen before; and that, I think, is what so profoundly disturbs both audiences and critics about The Passion of the Christ. We are implicated in the violence. We are not just viewers of this brutality; we are the very cause of it. Gibson makes this point cinematically by having the bloody, scourged, innocent Son of God often tumble toward the camera, lurching toward the viewer, bringing his agony directly to us.


Yes, the film is violent, terribly so. Pilate has Jesus caned, followed by an appalling scourging (which the script is careful to establish went far beyond the bounds of what the procurator intended). The scourging ends only when a Roman officer scolds the soldiers for their excessive brutality. The soldiers then take Jesus indoors and fashion a crown of thorns for him, which they crush down on his head forcefully, a moment of utterly astonishing cruelty and sadism which vividly and powerfully recreates the event the Gospels recount. The soldiers then continue whipping him while he sits in the dungeon, enjoying themselves immensely.


As Jesus subsequently stands with Pilate before the people, his body is covered with ghastly welts and open wounds inflicted by the vicious beatings. Blood drips from all over him. His condition is truly horrifying to see, and upon seeing him so mistreated, we cannot but feel some small portion of his misery. And Gibson refuses to cut away from him while others debate his fate, forcing us to confront the facts before us.


Nonetheless, rather less of the film is taken up with the violence and brutality toward the Christ than many critics are suggesting. During the atrocious flogging by the Roman guards, for example, the director cuts away from Jesus to Mary, and he follows her through the courtyard and concentrates on her reactions and experiences while we hear the lashes striking home in the background. He certainly leaves the scene of the beating not a moment too soon for most audience members, but he could, after all, have stayed to show the entire thing. Yet he did not. Moreover, during the scenes of torment he cuts away several times to flashbacks that connect aspects of Christ’s suffering to moments of his life that once again draw the viewer to consider his own unrighteousness and consequent complicity in the suffering.


The same effect is created by the many shots in which Jesus is seen from the point of view of the mob. The viewer is part of that crowd, as responsible as they are. This aspect of the visualization, by the way, should be a more than sufficient response to those who have claimed that the film blames a particular group of people for the death of the Christ. It clearly establishes, in both dialogue and visuals, that we are all responsible for Christ’s suffering and death.


The treatment of Simon the Cyrene also contributes to this effect. Simon goes from initially being concerned about his own reputation, as we would be and indeed almost always are, imploring the crowd to remember that he is innocent of any crime and is being forced to carry the cross. Soon, however, he becomes the only reasonably effective protector of Jesus, demanding that the guards stop whipping their prisoner or Simon will refuse to carry the cross any farther. They assent, to get the journey over with as quickly as possible. We would like to think that we would do the same.


All of these elements interrupt the viewer’s witnessing of the violence toward Jesus, and all contribute to the film’s effect of placing the responsibility for this suffering squarely on each member of the audience.


In addition, Jesus asks God the Father more than once to forgive his tormentors. If he can endure this unimaginable suffering and still not call down fire from Heaven, can we not at least be strong enough to watch it in a movie? The notion that we are too weak even to see a recreation of what Jesus managed actually to endure, and which he underwent without enmity toward his tormentors, is in fact utterly grotesque and fundamentally insulting in the lack of fortitude it assumes of us.


Hence, one could perhaps be forgiven for wondering about certain critics’ likely motives in so “warning” potential audiences without sufficiently stressing the reason for this violence. Certainly they cannot wish to spare people the very experience of complicity in Christ’s suffering that Gibson takes such pains to establish, can they? For that is the likely effect of their warnings — that some people will avoid the film as too intense. The Passion of the Christ is forceful indeed, and that power makes the film undeniably difficult to endure, but such intensity in films is precisely what these very same critics are usually most likely to praise.


The only potentially useful argument remaining against the aesthetic of this film, then, is that the violence simply does not fit the story. I should argue quite the contrary. The violence in The Passion of the Christ is entirely effective and perfectly appropriate. I shall never read or hear the Biblical passages regarding the scourging of Jesus without recalling these images which vividly show how truly horrendous it must have been.


As Gibson’s dramatization makes clear, Pilate felt forced to make the scourging as dreadful as possible, because he wanted to spare the man’s life while still satisfying the blood lust of the enormous, unruly mob of locals within his very gates who were baying for this enigmatic prophet’s hide. This is a highly plausible interpretation of the scripture text. That the Roman soldiers who inflict the punishment go far beyond Pilate’s orders in an orgy of sadistic joy is a consequence of the madness that has been set loose in the City of Peace, and it, too, is a reasonable inference from the scriptural account.


Certainly the treatment of Jesus in The Passion of the Christ is almost unbearably brutal to watch, as it surely was in reality, but Gibson does not allow the depiction of it ever to decay to the level of mere spectacle. The joy that the Christ’s tormentors take in inflicting pain on him is not something any reasonable human being can share, and is in fact a further indictment of the viewer: if we are responsible for his torment, we are guilty of all of it, for none of it was just. Not one bit.


There are, moreover, positive moments in the film. An important one is the portrayal of Jesus astounding willingness to forgive his enemies even on the point of death and after suffering stupendous agony he did not deserve in the slightest. In addition, some of the visuals are startling in their beauty, inspired by medieval paintings redolent of great piety and faith. The overhead shot of Jesus as he expires on the cross is achingly beautiful, surely as close as mere cinema can come to being appropriate to the moment.


There are other hauntingly lovely images. After Jesus dies, a single tear from Heaven, falling to earth, creates the upheaval that rends the temple veil in two. It is a beautiful and moving moment. Gibson then cuts to the temple, which the quake has rendered a jumble. Caiaphas looks horrified, and Gibson refrains from stating whether this is because of the damage to the temple, a fear that he will suffer injury in the earthquake, or a dawning awareness that he has led in the perpetration of a truly incomparable evil. One suspects that all three are true, which makes evident the complexity (and fairness) of Gibson’s representation of Caiaphas.


Finally, Gibson shows Jesus in the tomb, sitting beside the slab on which his burial cloths rest, as the resurrected Lord then rises and walks out of sight. Here the director briefly depicts the events mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed shortly after those that compose the bulk of the film: “On the third day, he rose again from the dead.” The scene is inspiring and something of a relief, but it is quite brief.


Some critics and audience members have wondered why Gibson chose to give so little attention to this part of the story, but I think the answer should be perfectly obvious to anyone who wishes to see it. Certainly there is much more to say about the life of Christ than Gibson’s film manages to express. And we are perfectly free to watch other movies that capture these matters with appropriate reverence and artistry. I should strongly recommend that we all do so, and I rather suspect that Mel Gibson would agree. And frankly, I have found many of these films to be much more enjoyable than the one currently under discussion.


But that kind of thing is not what Mel Gibson set out to create. His film is utterly single-minded and resolute.


It is dreadful. It is difficult to watch. We do not want to see it. We should not want to see it. We cannot want to see it. And that, again, is exactly Gibson’s point. There is a reason that we do not want to see this. We do not want to accept our complicity in this horror. We do not want to accept responsibility for it. We just want to be left alone.


This film is meant to be like the spikes that are so vividly and horrifyingly driven into the Christ’s hands and feet as he is fastened to the cross. As Gibson portrays the scene, blood spurts up horrifyingly from Jesus palms, just as it surely must have done two millennia ago. The Passion of the Christ is as pointed as those spikes. It does one thing. It implicates the viewer in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ nearly 2,000 years ago, and it does so with undeniable power.


— S. T. Karnick is editor in chief of American Outlook magazine, published by the Hudson Institute, and an NRO contributor.




‘Passion’ Poised to Continue Reign (FN, 040301)


LOS ANGELES — After opening with an astonishing $125.2 million over five days, Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” is positioned to get even bigger as the Christian season of Lent leads up to Easter on April 11.


The box-office total announced Monday by distributor Newmarket Films pushed “The Passion” past “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” ($124.1 million) for biggest debut ever by a film opening on a Wednesday — Ash Wednesday, in this case.


The total was almost $8 million more than Newmarket first estimated, because far more people turned out Sunday to see Gibson’s grisly crucifixion recreation than originally predicted.


“I think we’ll see strong bookings leading up to Easter, and I would anticipate Easter would be a huge weekend,” said Bruce Davey, Gibson’s partner at his film company, Icon Productions.


The movie, which stars Jim Caviezel as Christ, has deeply divided religious communities. Church groups have bought out entire theaters for screenings, while some Jewish and Christian leaders say “The Passion” could revive the notion that Jews were collectively responsible for Christ’s death.


The film played strongly among all age and ethnic groups and in every region of the country, especially in some Bible belt and heartland cities such as Dallas, Houston and Oklahoma City, said Rob Schwartz, head of distribution for Newmarket. Gibson hired the independent outfit to put “The Passion” in theaters after Hollywood studios shied away.


“The Passion” ultimately could take in between $300 million and $350 million in the United States and Canada alone, Schwartz said.


The movie also opened in Australia and New Zealand on Ash Wednesday and is gradually debuting worldwide. Through March and April, “The Passion” will open in such countries as Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Mexico and most of South America.


Religious-themed movies usually play to modest audiences. Recent ones such as “The Omega Code” or “Left Behind” essentially preach to the choir, and their Christian trappings hold little interest for mainstream audiences.


The religious epic once was a solid subgenre in old Hollywood, with “The Ten Commandments and “Ben-Hur” the most successful of the lot. But such religion-rooted films had the same goal as any other studio movie — to present a spectacle that would sell tickets, wowing audiences without provoking them.


Gibson’s “The Passion,” however, embodies the most basic definition of the independent film. Though its $25 million budget (paid entirely by Gibson) is far larger than most indies, “The Passion” is a personal vision offered up without the slightest concession to mainstream tastes or box-office commerce.


“This is one man’s vision, his interpretation of what he reads in the Gospels and how they impact his own life,” said the Rev. Stephen Bauman, a Methodist minister and board member of the Partnership of Faith, an interfaith group of Christians, Jews and Muslims in Manhattan. “He’s entitled to his vision, but we shouldn’t receive this vision as the same thing as the Gospel.”


The film succeeded through Gibson’s brilliant marketing strategy. He sold his vision from the ground up by selectively screening the movie for like-minded church leaders, who spread the buzz to congregations nationwide.


When some Jewish and Christian groups complained that the movie could foster anti-Semitism, Gibson largely stepped back and let the debate rage.


It probably was a blessing in disguise for Gibson that Hollywood would not touch the film. Conventional studio marketing never could have provided the free ride of publicity “The Passion” received from all the headlines and media commentary.


“You’ve got to have the madness to step outside the system, and he did,” said Peter Bardazzi, director of new media development at New York University, who saw “The Passion” on opening day. “I won’t say it’s a work of art myself, this movie, but he caused more controversy outside the system than anyone has in the last 20 years.”


Because “The Passion” was a personal quest by Gibson, Hollywood observers doubt big studios will jump on the bandwagon with their own religious sagas.


“I hate to underestimate Hollywood’s ability to imitate, but I kind of think that these executives realize that there is a unique alignment of the stars with this picture,” said Kim Masters, an entertainment correspondent for National Public Radio. “I think Mel could easily decide to do more of these, and he would be guaranteed a certain return. But not necessarily on this level.”




Popcorn and Passion (WS, 040308)


From the March 8, 2004 issue: In which two moviegoers conduct their own interfaith dialogue.


AT LAST WEEK’S OPENING OF Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” I never expected actually to see Jesus. Yet there he was, carnival-barking on the Connecticut Avenue sidewalk outside the Avalon Theatre in Washington, D.C. He stood out in his long brown hair and tunic. “Blessed are the merciful--go vegetarian!” he cried. But something wasn’t right. It might have been the disciple carrying the “For Christ’s sake, go veg” sign. Or maybe it was the mouth-hole on his beard riding up over his nose that gave him away as a PETA impostor. “Are you having trouble there?” I asked, motioning to his beard-wig. “I am,” he said, “but not as much trouble as the animals.”


One could hardly fault Fake Jesus for exploiting “The Passion”--he’s merely the latest in a long line. Observing their 11th Commandment--Thou Shalt Not Waste a Marketing Tie-in--Christian merchandisers have cranked out everything from Bibles with the cinematic Jesus, James Caviezel, on the cover, to pewter nail pendants. The going joke among secular editorialists is what’s next, Jesus action figures? But seasoned evangelicals like me know that those are old news. You can already get them at, including one that comes with “Ninja-Messiah throwing nails” and a “killer-cross” pump-action shotgun.


Across the interfaith aisle, Jewish groups have been shameless in their own way. For the better part of a year, everyone from the Anti-Defamation League to the Simon Wiesenthal Center has cast anti-Semitic aspersions on Gibson. Exercised over Gibson’s depiction of the Jewish high priests in his mostly faithful rendering of the four gospels, most of them have done so before seeing the film. In both the gospels and Gibson’s depiction, the priests are the catalysts behind Jesus’ crucifixion, even though the ambivalent and wormy Roman procurator Pontius Pilate actually puts Him to death. Gibson’s critics claim that the Jews will again be blamed for deicide, which has historically led to violence. The ADL’s Abe Foxman has said, hyperbolically, that Gibson’s telling of Christianity’s central narrative is a “setback to more than 40 years of Jewish-Christian relations.”


Gibson has responded that these critics don’t have a problem with his film, so much as with the book it was adapted from. The narrative necessarily implicates Jews and Romans, since there weren’t many Norwegians around at the time. But plenty of Jews come off well--Jesus and Mary for instance. Gibson has also infused his film with secondary sympathetic Jewish portraits, by turning into minor heroes characters such as Simon of Cyrene, who was enlisted to help Jesus carry the cross, but who didn’t rate a speaking part in the gospels. And thoughtful Christians have pointed out that it is heresy to assign blame for who crucified Christ, since we all did, which was the entire point of His willing, redemptive sacrifice. (Gibson drives this home by depicting his own hand pounding the spikes into Jesus’.)


But there are other important concerns in the Avalon Theatre on opening night, such as what to eat? Attending what is perhaps the most violent non-snuff film ever made, it seems inappropriate to down a greasy tub of popcorn while watching our Lord and Savior get tortured for two hours. (When I voiced this concern, a colleague slipped me a “Bible Bar,” which contains “the seven foods of Deuteronomy,” such as figs and pomegranates.) When I buy a Diet Coke, the concessions girl tells me business is way down for the aforementioned reason. But it doesn’t bother Norm Linsky, happily munching popcorn in the lobby. “A movie without popcorn is not a movie,” Linsky says, unapologetically.


I shake Linsky’s hand, and introduce myself. “I’m a journalist,” I say. “I’m a Jew,” he responds, mentioning that he’s also executive director of a cardiologists’ association. We take our seats together, and fall into an easy rapport. Linsky seems to be enjoying the sound and fury. Outside, in line, he tells me, he conversed with a “group of church ladies” with Ash-Wednesday smudges on their foreheads, who were talking about PETA Jesus. He told them it made him want a cheeseburger. “Yeah, with mushrooms,” they said. They didn’t know he was Jewish (“don’t ask, don’t tell,” he says), but they were saying “very kind, lovely things” like, “We don’t blame the Jews.” We talk about how the theater had received a phone threat--purportedly from an angry Jewish guy who was outraged that the theater’s Jewish manager chose to show “The Passion.” In the back of the theater, two cops are present, perhaps to make sure the Jews and Christians don’t turn into the Jets and Sharks, what with all the talk of anti-Semitic overtones, or perhaps just to guard against the phone bully. “Don’t worry,” offers Norm, in the event of a Jewish uprising. “You’re with me. You’ll be okay.”


Norm, who loves Gibson’s “Mad Max” movies, though “I suspect this will be different,” religiously attends synagogue, and tells me his son was scandalized that he would come to see this movie. But Norm was tired of talk-show gasbags telling him what he should think. He came here like he occasionally goes to Christian churches on safari, not to have meaningful religious experiences outside his own faith tradition, but “just to know.”


We watch “The Passion” together, as Jesus gets slapped and beaten and scourged until his body is transformed from solid to liquid, with loose bunches of skin hanging as if from a reptile trying to molt. We watch His mother, of Hail Mary/lawn statue fame, become a flesh-and-blood mother, unable to help her helpless boy, who’s being tortured, as she’s tortured herself by the knowledge that He’s not helpless at all, that His death is by choice. Norm Linsky and I sit there in the dark, our senses overwhelmed at the sheer viciousness and brutality, and watch Jesus die for our sins. Or, as Norm would probably prefer, we watch Jesus die for my sins.


When the lights come up, I’m pretty much speechless. Norm isn’t. “Whoa! Mel did a good job, glad I saw it for myself.” The depiction of the Jewish priests, he says, is “no big deal”--even though he thinks they looked like they were from “a bad dinner-theater production of the ‘Merchant of Venice’” (the Romans came off as Nazi caricatures from a World War II movie, he adds). Norm whispers that he has a prediction: “There’s not gonna be any rioting in the streets tonight. Get a life, people, it’s just a movie. And a good one.” Norm’s glad he came, he says, because this has people “talking about some core issues about belief.” It has him talking “to the church ladies out in line,” and “a fine reporter from a fine magazine, as opposed to me going to a mindless movie where people are blowing stuff up for the hell of it.”


Norm’s right, sort of. We stick around for a theater-sponsored interfaith panel discussion between clergy. It sounds like the setup to a bad joke: A Lutheran, a Catholic, two Baptists, and a rabbi walk into a movie theater. . . . The panel is moderated by Rev. Clark Lobenstine, a Presbyterian minister from the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, who specializes in endeavors like “interfaith dialoguing” and “fostering mutual understanding.” Lobenstine is ideal for the job. He is timid and inoffensive and wears his sensitivity credentials proudly, as evidenced by his canvas, public-television-pledge-drive tote bag (he’s a presidential club member).


He intones that in 25 years of dialogues, this is the most difficult thing he’s done, which would seem odd, since Christ’s crucifixion, historically speaking, is a cow that’s been out of the stable for a good 2,000 years. The rabbi, feeling slightly outnumbered at one point, offers that the New Testament gives his ilk “the willies,” but the rest of the panel takes care not to throw theological elbows or, for the most part, discuss Jesus very much at all (the Baptists, being Baptists, try to sneak in a few J-bombs and salvation themes, but without much vigor).


If the clergy seem to prefer their religion toothless, the audience bares its fangs. While I’d hoped people would discuss the implications of what Christ’s death on the cross meant or didn’t mean to them, most just want to elbow Him aside and climb up on the cross themselves. One grievance group after another airs its concerns. A Lutheran minister thinks the Romans got shafted in the picture, and an elderly woman who worked with concentration camp survivors reads from her speech decrying the film as anti-Semitic, one she’d obviously written before she’d even seen it. A female Disciple of Christ minister in a zebra-skin kufi wanted to know why there weren’t more faiths represented on the panel to drive home the “message of the multicultural church, praise God!” and why Simon of Cyrene wasn’t portrayed by an African. Sitting there listening, I was unsure if we’d just watched “The Passion” or “Rashomon.”


The only real interfaith dialogue I hear all night occurs between me and Norm Linsky. We clearly communicate an uncomfortable truth, but a truth nonetheless, which brings us to mutual understanding (Lobenstine would be proud). Norm understands that I believe that Messiah-wise, he is waiting for a train that has already left the station. And that when the Messiah comes round again, it’s not going to be to conduct nerf-bat interfaith dialogues. I understand that Norm believes that I believe in Santa Claus, albeit, one with nail-prints in His hands.


“We will always disagree,” I say. “Agreed,” he agrees. There is no enmity in this dawning. Just an understanding of sorts, to be agreeable in our disagreement, without apology that what we profess as mattering most to us, actually should. And Norm understands, I think, that despite his rejection of that which I find most sacred, I will love him anyway, or at least like him a lot since we just met, because the God I hold sacred commanded me to, and because it’s easy in Norm’s case, since he offered me popcorn, even though I was all set with my Bible Bar.


On the way out, I play the part of the dutiful evangelical anyway, and ask Norm if, after watching the movie, he has any desire to switch teams. He smiles, and claps me on the shoulder while handing me a card. “I think I’m sticking with the senior circuit,” he says, nodding at the curtained screen, “but I have new respect for the junior circuit.”


Matt Labash is senior writer at The Weekly Standard.




‘Passion’ to Be Released on DVD in August (FN, 040510)


LOS ANGELES  — Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” will be released on DVD on Aug. 31.


The actor-director’s company, Icon Productions, announced Monday that it has partnered with 20th Century Fox for the home-video distribution.


Gibson’s company couldn’t persuade any of the major Hollywood studios to distribute the movie, which was released in theaters on Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday on the Roman Catholic calendar. It became the year’s biggest blockbuster so far, earning a place among the top 10 highest-grossing movies of all time with more than $368 million at the North American box office.




Passions: We’re all holding our breath on this one (WS, 040223)


ONE OF LENNY BRUCE’S most famous bits--and this is a very loose paraphrase--concerned Jewish guilt for the crucifixion. “Folks,” he would say wearily, “I’ve gotta be honest. We did it. And I’m real sorry. But we did it. I just found the proof in our attic. Turns out it was my Uncle Lou.”


Funny bit. A little hard to chew on coming out so soon after the liberation of the concentration camps some people say never existed, but it’s a funny bit.


Well, folks, as Betty Davis said in one of her movies, buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.


The opening, reception, run, box office, and--most importantly--the aftermath of “The Passion of the Christ” are shaping up to be very nearly as powerful as the original was two thousand years ago.


At least this has to be the first movie in Hollywood history that can’t be ruined by revealing the end. Can you imagine someone that stupid? “Oh, man, why’d you tell me? See, that’s why I don’t read the reviews.” Come to think of it, it’s almost a miracle (so to speak) that the thing wasn’t Hollywood-ized. “Can you make the ending more upbeat? You know, maybe a ‘buddy-movie.’”


Of course, as you probably know, it’s not a Hollywood movie at all. Mel Gibson paid for the whole thing out of his own kick to the tune of thirty million bucks, which is a snappy little tune. It’s not much by movie standards, where the budgets of “Waterworld” and “Titanic” and many others are regularly, well, titanic. Still, thirty million dollars is a pretty big check for one guy to write, no matter who he is. (“Is it okay if I post-date it? We just got new carpeting put in, and I want to make sure there’s enough in the account to cover it. It’s always everything at once, huh?”) What I’m getting at is that even the richest people in the world don’t just plunk chunks of dough down like that unless they’re powerfully committed to something.


Like God and faith. Now, I haven’t seen the movie, and I don’t know Mel Gibson. Likewise, I’ll bet ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine-percent-or-so of you haven’t seen it and don’t know Mel Gibson, either. But this hasn’t stopped us all from thinking, reading, and talking about it, has it?


Well, it shouldn’t. Here’s my take: I’m glad he did it; but I’m a little afraid.


Afraid of what? I don’t know. Pogroms? No. Riots? No. Then what? I don’t know. Then why am I afraid?


I don’t know.


I’VE ALWAYS LIKED GIBSON’S MOVIES. He’s a terrific actor and director. (In fact, if Jesus had had a lighthearted, ironic side-kick, I would’ve been on the phone every day to get it. After all, I’ve got a head start on the Aramaic with my Hebrew. Ah, well, maybe the sequel.)


I’m not the biggest fan of action movies, in fact I can’t watch them at all since September 11, when the real heroes took over. But Mel’s stuff was always better than the rest. His characters started out tough and alienated, haunted and long-suffering, hurt and rigid, but they always grew to be selfless, caring, affectionate, and heroic.


And when I heard, a few years ago, that he was also religious? I liked him even more. After all, so am I.


Plus, remember, this is a guy who could crook his finger at any woman in the world, and she would follow him. But he doesn’t. How many men could say the same if they had the power? So far, he and I are the only ones.


OKAY, I guess we might as well jump to the sixty-four thousand dollar question: Did “The Jews” kill Jesus? Well, first of all, if they did, the whole nefarious scheme doesn’t seem to have worked out quite the way they planned, does it? In fact, just a few years after the skullduggery, those wily Christ-killers were shattered and scattered to the four corners of the Earth, where they spent the next two thousand delightful years getting blamed for every nosebleed and crop-failure in the village and constantly, repeatedly, neverendingly, being tortured and murdered in the most horrible ways imaginable.


(Say, wait a minute. Kind of sounds like what happens to the guy in the movie, doesn’t it?)


And let’s not forget the “wow” finish sixty years ago, and the “Always-leave-’em-wanting-more” encore today on every bus in Jerusalem. Like yesterday.


Well, I think it’s enough. It’s not for me to say, of course, it’s for God. But I think it’s enough. Or, as we Jews might say colloquially, “Enough, already.”


Look, folks: Jesus was a Jew, a rabbi, in fact. His parents were Jews. The disciples were Jews. The first ten thousand Christians were Jews. More. Now, in the most important ways Jesus was the Son of Man, and is part of every culture and race. But he was a Jew, and if his hair was fuzzy, it was probably Eliot Gould-fuzzy, not Justin Timberlake-fuzzy, because, again, HE WAS A JEW.


Exactly what shade and shape were the Jews at that time? Who knows? But it’s a fair bet that Mary and Joseph looked more like Debra Winger and Adam Sandler than Meg Ryan and Brad Pitt, don’t you think?


JESUS KNEW he had to suffer and die on the cross. He wasn’t alone, by the way. Two hundred and fifty thousand other Jews were crucified by the Romans in the same period. (Probably not according to Mel’s father, but still . . .) Yet out of all the victims of this astonishing cruelty, Jesus Christ was the only one who rose and became God to two billion people, unless you count Miramax.


It was all planned by God, including the path of the rest of the Jews. After all, if the people of Judea hadn’t stayed Jewish, how could they have been reborn again in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel? Yes, Jesus was a Jew, and everyone in his life was a Jew. In fact, the only ones in his life who weren’t Jews were the guys in the togas and helmets who slew him so horribly.


Maybe it’s not a coincidence that Mel Gibson was moved to make this film at a time in the world when so much is divided by good and bad. Maybe the passions around “The Passion” will heal us all and move us forward more into the light. We’ll all know soon enough.


Should “The Jews” be blamed for what guys named Pilate and Caiaphas did so long ago? The question’s actually moot: We already have been. The question is, what will happen now?


Every Christian is my brother and sister in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. I am shoulder to shoulder with every Christian who believes the United States is and should always be A Light Unto The Nations, and who believes the same about that other, older, much smaller, and much maligned Light Unto The Nations.


I hope Mel Gibson’s movie will be cleansing and strengthening. It’ll also make a ton of dough, but I don’t think he cares about that.


I’m afraid of bad people doing bad things, but I guess they always have anyway. I’m hopeful that all true Christians and Jews will use this to look deep into their hearts and fully line up with the same God.


Larry Miller is a contributing humorist to The Daily Standard and a writer, actor, and comedian living in Los Angeles.




Violent film lovers suddenly sensitive (WorldNetDaily, 040225)


Critics who praised decapitations in ‘Gladiator’ blast Gibson movie


Many reviewers of Mel Gibson’s film are displaying a “New Puritanism,” condemning “The Passion of the Christ” for being too violent while lauding other violent films, charged a Catholic leader.


“Having failed to tag the movie as anti-Semitic, those who hate everything about Mel’s masterpiece are trying to convince the public not to see it because it’s too violent,” says Catholic League president William Donohue.


“Alas, there is a New Puritanism in the land,” he said. “Violence has now joined cigarettes as the new taboo.”


Gibson’s controversial film about the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life opens today.


Donohue points to New York Daily News reporter Jami Bernard, who voted the “super-violent” film “Gladiator” the best picture of 2000, but brands Gibson’s film “a compendium of tortures that would horrify the regulars at an S&M club.”


Yet, Donahue says, Bernard is “a big fan of the Marquis de Sade – the pervert who wrote the book on S&M – and that is why she liked ‘Quills.’”


Reviewer Peter Rainer, the Catholic leader noted, also condemns “Passion” for delving into “the realm of sadomasochism,” yet commended director Steven Spielberg for the “gentleness” he brought to the bloody war hit “Saving Private Ryan.”


Richard Corliss of Time, he noted, thinks the only people who will be drawn to Gibson’s film are those “who can stand to be grossed out as they are edified.”


Yet, said Donahue, Corliss called the “body halvings, decapitations, [and] unhandings” of “Gladiator” a “pleasure that we get to watch.”


Critics praised violence by ‘Gladiator’ Russell Crowe (courtesy Universal Studios)


Newsweek’s David Ansen says “The Passion” will “inspire nightmares,” though he hails as “a must-see” movie a film about incest, “The Dreamers.”


David Denby of the New Yorker cites “The Passion” as being so violent it “falls into the danger of altering Jesus’ message of love into one of hate.”


Says Donahue: “This is the same guy who said of ‘Schindler’s List’ that ‘the violence [is] neither exaggerated nor minimized.”


“The New Puritans will not win this one,” Donahue said. “The public does not share their deep-seated aversion to religion nor their phony pacifism.”


A New York Times review today by A.O. Scott says Gibson “has constructed an unnerving and painful spectacle that is also, in the end, a depressing one.”


The review says, “It is disheartening to see a film made with evident and abundant religious conviction that is at the same time so utterly lacking in grace.”


“What makes the movie so grim and ugly is Gibson’s inability to think beyond the conventional logic of movie narrative,” charges the critique.


In a scathing review in the Boston Globe, James Carroll says the subject of the film is the “sick love of physical abuse, engaged in for power.”


“‘The Passion of the Christ’ by Mel Gibson is an obscene movie,” says Carroll to open his critique. “It will incite contempt for Jews. It is a blasphemous insult to the memory of Jesus Christ. It is an icon of religious violence.”


David Edelstein, film critic for says: “This is a two-hour-and-six-minute snuff movie — The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre — that thinks it’s an act of faith.”


He concludes with: “Gibson’s Jesus reminded me of the Terminator — he could be the Christianator — heading out into the world to spread the bloody news. Next stop: the Crusades.”


In contrast to these reviews, the many Protestant and Catholic leaders who have screened rough cuts of the film over the past several months have praised it as the most powerful cinematic treatment of the subject they have ever seen.




Dobson: Liberal media can’t stomach ‘Passion’ (WorldNetDaily, 040206)


Real problem is film’s ‘audacity’ to show Christ as ‘Savior of mankind’


Family advocate James Dobson is urging Christians to see Mel Gibson’s controversial film “The Passion of the Christ,” calling it “easily the most heart-wrenching, powerful portrayal of Christ’s suffering that I have ever seen.”


In a yet-to-be distributed letter to supporters obtained by WorldNetDaily, Dobson said it’s not alleged anti-Semitism, but the film’s faithfulness to the biblical account that truly underlies opposition in the mainstream media.


“Apparently,” writes Dobson, who has seen a rough cut of the film twice, “the idea of a movie that accurately portrays the death and resurrection of Christ and that ‘has the power to evangelize’ is more than certain members of the liberal media establishment can stomach.”


Dobson is founder and chairman of Colorado-based Focus on the Family and host of a daily radio program that reaches an estimated 8.9 million listeners each week.


Characterizing commentators’ allegations as unfair and baseless, Dobson dismisses assertions the film could be a catalyst for renewed outbreaks of anti-Jewish sentiment around the world.


He chastises New York Times columnist Frank Rich for “one particularly nasty diatribe” in which the writer called Gibson a “Jew baiter.”


Dobson writes “Rich has a long and illustrious record of disdain for everyone and everything that fails to live up to his ‘enlightened’ liberal ideals,” noting “he has referred to yours truly as ‘The Godzilla of the Right’ and compared me to Ku Klux Klan member David Duke … .”


However, the evangelical leader regards the “liberal backlash” as extremely significant, calling the charges of “anti-Semitism” merely a “smokescreen.”


“I believe that the real problem the liberal establishment has with this movie is that it has the audacity to portray Christ as He really was – not only as an historical figure, but as the Savior of mankind,” he says.


“That is an offense to the postmodern sensibilities of our morally relativistic culture,” he continues. “The fact that Mel Gibson actually hopes to use his movie as a vehicle for evangelism only adds fuel to the fire.”


Dobson concludes his letter encouraging supporters to see “Passion,” particularly during the first few days of its release, Feb. 25, the time period during which the industry gauges whether a film will be a success.


“As Christians, we often decry the immoral films that Hollywood routinely releases, and rightly so,” he says. “However, in addition to avoiding movies that are immoral or otherwise disparaging of Christianity, we must do everything we can to support those rare films that, like ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ are both edifying and uplifting.”


Focus on the Family rarely endorses efforts and projects outside the organization, but has made an exception in this case, said the group’s vice president for media relations, Paul Hetrick.


Hetrick said not only is his group endorsing “Passion,” but it is promoting the film as well.


In his letter, Dobson says when Gibson brought the film to Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs last year, “it was clear that he was genuinely interested in our opinions and respectful of our views.”


“He could easily have sent one of his representatives here to show the film and request our endorsement,” Dobson says. “Rather, he appeared personally, without any fanfare, in order to address any questions and concerns we might have had.”




Report: ‘Passion’ to omit ‘anti-Semitic’ scene (WorldNetDaily, 040204)


Jewish high priest says ‘His blood be on us and on our children’


Amid criticism from Jewish groups, Mel Gibson has removed a controversial scene from his film “The Passion of the Christ.”


In the section, the Jewish high priest Caiaphas says of Jesus as he is about to be crucified, “His blood be on us and on our children.”


The scene will not be in the movie’s final version, according to a Gibson associate who spoke to the New York Times on condition of anonymity.


“It didn’t work in the focus screenings,” the associate told the Times. “Maybe it was thought to be too hurtful, or taken not in the way it was intended. It has been used terribly over the years.”


The scene has been included in a number of versions of the film Gibson has shown to carefully selected groups, including ministers.


In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 27, it is not Caiaphas who utters “Let his blood be on us,” but a crowd that gathered after the Jewish “chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death,” bound him and handed him over to Pilate, the Roman governor.


Verses 22-25 in the New International Version read:


22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!”


23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”


24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”


25 All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”


The reported alteration of the film comes after groups such as the Anti-Defamation League criticized the producer for failing to address the concerns of the Jewish community.


In a Jan. 30 letter, Gibson asked ADL national director Abraham Foxman to join him in “setting an example for all our brethren,” by following the path of respect and “love for each other despite our differences.”


Gibson wrote: “You are a man of integrity and a man of faith and I do not take your concerns lightly.”


Foxman said he welcomed the letter’s “expression of faith” and call for “mutual respect,” but wrote in his reply Monday he was disappointed Gibson had not taken steps to ensure audiences don’t hold Jews accountable for Jesus’ death.


“Your words do not mitigate our concerns about the potential consequences of your film, ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ to fuel and legitimize anti-Semitism,” Foxman wrote, according to the Jerusalem Post.


Prominent church leaders, such as Protestant evangelist Billy Graham, have praised the film, and many have contended its message is that everyone is responsible for the death of Jesus.


A number of Jewish and Christian groups, however, have planned lecture series and interfaith events in an effort to ensure the film does not fuel anti-Semitism.


The woman who plays Mary in the film is the daughter of Holocaust survivors but says she does not consider the film anti-Semitic.


Maia Morgenstern told the Associated Press yesterday if the film has a message it’s more about how people can be manipulated by their leaders.


“Mel Gibson is an artist, a director. He never imposed his religious convictions on anyone,” Morgenstern told the AP.


The film is scheduled to be released in more than 2,000 theaters on Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday. Gibson was the $25 million film’s co-writer, director, producer and financier.


The Times said Gibson’s exclusive interview with writer Peggy Noonan published in the March issue of Reader’s Digest has raised further controversy among Jewish leaders.


Rabbi Marvin Hier, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said Gibson’s comparison of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust with millions of others who died in the war was insensitive.


Gibson’s father has been accused of questioning the attempted extermination of all Jews by Hitler, and Noonan asked Gibson to state on the record whether he believed the Holocaust happened.


“I have friends and parents of friends who have numbers on their arms,” Gibson responded. “The guy who taught me Spanish was a Holocaust survivor. He worked in a concentration camp in France. Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In the Ukraine, several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century, 20 million people died in the Soviet Union.”


Hier reacted to the comments with a letter to Gibson.


“We are not engaging in competitive martyrdom, but in historical truth,” the rabbi said. “To describe Jewish suffering during the Holocaust as ‘some of them were Jews in concentration camps’ is an afterthought that feeds right into the hands of Holocaust deniers and revisionists.”


The Times said Gibson’s spokesman, Alan Nierob, denied the director was trying to further inflame the Jewish leaders.


“There’s no doubt in my mind that not only does he know the Holocaust and acknowledge it, he has shed tears over it, with me,” Nierob told the paper.


Hier said Gibson missed a chance to reduce the tension with Jewish groups.


“I think he was lobbed an easy question,” he said. “He could’ve used the occasion to take us on a different road, instead he marginalized the Holocaust, he diluted its significance, and it’s a lie,” he said. “Either he is very ignorant of sensitivities in Jewish communities of riling survivors, those who have lost loved ones, or he is doing it deliberately.”


Foxman also was upset by the remarks on the Holocaust.


“At the very least it was ignorant, at the very most it’s insensitive,” he said. “And you know what? He doesn’t get that either. He doesn’t begin to understand the difference between dying in a famine and people being cremated solely for what they are.”




Gibson: I was ‘spiritually bankrupt’ (WorldNetDaily, 040131)


‘Passion’ producer opens up as film generates unprecedented buzz


Mel Gibson says his upcoming controversial film “The Passion of the Christ” has become a strong force in his life after years of living as a “monster” and “spiritually bankrupt” in the thralls of success.


The producer and director spoke with conservative Catholic columnist Peggy Noonan in an interview to be published in the March issue of Reader’s Digest.


Amid accusations of anti-Semitism against him and his father, Noonan asked Gibson to state on the record whether he believed the Holocaust happened, the New York Post reported.


“I have friends and parents of friends who have numbers on their arms,” he said. “The guy who taught me Spanish was a Holocaust survivor. He worked in a concentration camp in France. Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In the Ukraine, several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century, 20 million people died in the Soviet Union.”


Gibson’s father has been accused of questioning the attempted extermination of all Jews by Hitler.


The actor said of his father: “My dad taught me my faith, and I believe what he taught me. The man never lied to me in his life.”


Gibson admitted, according to the Post, his spiritual life is “nowhere complete yet. I’m still so full of flaws.”


In the interview, the New York paper said, he spoke of his passion for the new film, the gospel and what he wants to do next – “something light and funny, and nobody’ll be angry at me!”


Noonan asked him: “Give me the headline you want to see on the biggest paper in America the day after ‘The Passion’ opens.”


Gibson: “War Ends.”


Big buzz


Meanwhile, Jewish leaders continue to lambaste the film as a dangerous slur that could ruin interfaith relations for decades.


Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, who posed as a pastor to see a private screening, said Gibson “didn’t miss any chance to malign Jews.”


But already, church groups are snapping up tickets in unprecedented numbers and planning private showings.


“This is really the highest demand we have seen this far in advance for group sales,” Dick Westerling of Regal Entertainment, a major chain, told the New York Daily News.


The New York-based Catholic League bought 1,200 tickets at $9.75 apiece and will make them available to members for $5.


“We could probably sell 10,000 of these tickets,” Catholic League President William Donohue told the Daily News. “The reason I’m subsidizing it is to make a point – it’s important to see this movie. And it’s to drive Mel’s critics crazy.”


Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., where Gibson hosted the first large-scale screening for pastors in early January, has purchased 18,000 tickets at seven theaters for the first two days the film is out, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.


The Evangelical Free Church of Naperville, Ill., near Chicago, which has bought more than 1,000 tickets, already has been showing a trailer for “The Passion” at services, the Chicago paper said. The church plans to host a discussion with biblical scholars Feb. 29 and a six-week series of small-group studies about the film beginning in March, said Rick Pierson, pastor of spiritual life transformation.


Pierson told the Sun-Times church leaders are encouraging members to buy tickets for friends as well as themselves.


“In the kind of world we live in today, people need to come to grips with the reality of who [Jesus] is and why he did offer his life for them as individuals,” he said.


At Wheaton Bible Church in suburban Chicago two members have offered to buy out two screenings of “The Passion” at a local theater.


John Mitchell, the church’s pastor of evangelism, said: “We’re getting involved in this way because we believe that Mel Gibson’s movie … will cause people to ask the most important question of life, which is, ‘What was Jesus doing on that cross?’”




Gibson insists pope commented on ‘Passion’ (WorldNetDaily, 040123)


Says Vatican gave OK to publicize ‘It is as it was’ despite denials


Despite denials by the Vatican, director Mel Gibson insists he has permission to publicize a favorable review by the pope of his controversial film “The Passion of the Christ.”


“We received written permission to publicize the pope’s comment on the film, ‘It is as it was,’” said spokesman Alan Nierob. “Unless we receive an official indication to the contrary, we will continue to stand by the statement.”


The Vatican has confirmed Pope John Paul II has seen the film, a target of fierce criticism by some Jewish groups, but says the pontiff has made no official comments on it.


Joaquín Navarro-Valls, director of the Vatican’s press office said in a statement issued yesterday, “After having consulted with the personal secretary of the Holy Father, Archbishop [Stanislau] Dziwisz, I confirm that the Holy Father had the opportunity to see the film ‘The Passion of the Christ.’”


But he added it is “a common practice of the Holy Father not to express public opinions on artistic works, opinions that are always open to different evaluations of aesthetic character.”


Nierob’s statement said, “We have had and continue to have friendly and open communication with the Vatican,” noting both Dziwisz and Navarro-Valls “have been very supportive of this project.”


As WorldNetDaily reported, last month Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan quoted the film’s co-producer, Steve McEveety, as saying the pope viewed the film in his private quarters and afterward gave a five-word review: “It is as it was.”


The quote, Noonan wrote, was passed on to McEveety by Dziwisz. The story about the quote was corroborated by the National Catholic Reporter and Reuters.


This week, however, Catholic News Service ran a story quoting Dziwisz as saying the pope “told no one his opinion of this film.”


“I said clearly to McEveety and [assistant director Jan] Michelini that the Holy Father made no declaration,” the archbishop said, according to the Catholic news service Zenit.


Zenit reported McEveety gave Dziwisz a copy of the film in DVD format on Dec. 5 so the Pope could see it.


Other Holy See officials have viewed the film and expressed approval, including Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, and Dominican Father Augustine Di Noia, undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.


Meanwhile, Gibson’s film, which portrays the last 12 hours of Christ’s life and the resurrection, was screened for a conference of 5,000 pastors in Orlando, Fla., Wednesday night.


“I think this work can change things,” Gibson told the pastors before the film began, reported the Washington Times. The filmmaker hopes the pastors will help build anticipation for the film, which opens on 2,000 screens Feb. 25.


Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League in New York, said he posed as a pastor to gain entry to the Orlando screening.


Foxman, and Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, who also viewed the film, said yesterday they found it anti-Semitic and incendiary in its depiction of the role of the Jews in Jesus’s death, the New York Times reported.




Is pope passionate about Gibson film? (WorldNetDaily, 040122)


Trans-Atlantic e-mails stir controversy over validity of ‘It is as it was’ quote


The intrigue surrounding a reported quote by Pope John Paul II praising Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” heightened today as the columnist who first reported the papal utterance shared new information about the controversy.


As WorldNetDaily reported, last month, writing in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan quoted the film’s co-producer, Steve McEveety, as saying the pope viewed the film in his private quarters and afterward gave a five-word review: “It is as it was.”


The quote, Noonan wrote, was passed on to McEveety by the pope’s close friend and secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz. The story about the quote was corroborated by the National Catholic Reporter and Reuters.


This week, however, Catholic News Service ran a story quoting Dziwisz as saying the pope “told no one his opinion of this film.”


“I said clearly to McEveety and [assistant director Jan] Michelini that the Holy Father made no declaration,” the archbishop said, according to the news service.


In her current column, Noonan tells how she received news of the quote directly from McEveety, who says the pope’s longtime official spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, told him he could use the papal quote when discussing the film.


Noonan writes she later confirmed via e-mail with Navarro-Valls that the quote was authentic:


“… I e-mailed Dr. Navarro Valls at the Vatican telling him I wanted to write a piece for OpinionJournal and asking him about the quote. I didn’t hear back and sent another: ‘Dr. Navarro Valles [sic], my deadline is in two hours and I do hope you’ll let me know if there is anything on the pope’s reaction beyond “It is as it was” – wonderful words, and I know you have already been in touch with Steve about them, but I would greatly appreciate it if there’s anything you could add regarding general Vatican feeling on the film, any further comment from the Holy Father, etc. Best, Peggy Noonan.’


“I got a response. ‘Dear Peggy, I don’t have for now any other comment on this. I [sic] anything is said in the future I will send it to you. Greetings, J. Navarro-Valls.’”


Continues Noonan: “When questions surfaced challenging the quote, Mr. McEveety e-mailed Dr. Navarro-Valls and asked for his help. He answered by e-mail advising Mr. McEveety not to worry, to use the phrase ‘It is as it was,’ and to repeat those words ‘again and again and again.’ Mr. McEveety sent me a copy of the e-mail.”


The columnist reports, however, Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News queried Navarro-Valls by e-mail about how the Vatican could now deny the quote after the spokesman had encouraged its use. According to Noonan, Dreher received an e-mail back from Navarro-Valls saying the previous e-mails from him “were not authentic.”


“The return address on Dr. Navarro-Valls’s e-mail to Rod Dreher was the same as the one on his e-mails to me,” wrote Noonan. “We did some checking on Dr. Navarro-Valls’s e-mail to me of Dec. 17. It was sent via an e-mail server in the Vatican’s domain, and the IP address belongs to a Vatican computer.


“I have not yet had a response from Dr. Navarro-Valls, but hope to. I have also written to Steve McEveety and asked if he has any response to Dr. Navarro-Valls’ assertion that what Steve said were e-mails from Dr. Navarro-Valls were in fact not authentic.”


Navarro-Valls today released a statement that mentioned the film but did not specifically address the alleged quote.


“It is the Holy Father’s custom not to express public judgments on artistic works, judgments which are always open to diverse evaluations of an aesthetic nature,” he said.


Inside the Vatican, an independent periodical coving the Catholic state, pointed out Navarro-Valls’ statement “stops short of saying ‘John Paul II did not say “It is as it was” after viewing the film.’


“Thus, the statement, which evidently is attempted to clarify a very confused situation, leaves unclear the most important question, which people are now asking all around the world: Did or did not the pope say, after viewing the film on Dec. 5 and 6, 2003: ‘It is as it was’?”


Besides reporting on the recent comments of Dziwisz, Catholic News Service recently posted on its website a story highlighting the mixed messages that often emanate from the Vatican.


“Particularly in recent months, it seems that Vatican officials are not always working from the same script. On issues as diverse as events in Iraq and the morality of condom use, the universal church seems to be speaking with more than one voice,” the news service reported.


Meanwhile, Gibson’s film, which portrays the last 12 hours of Christ’s life and the resurrection, was screened for a conference of 5,000 pastors in Orlando, Fla., last night.


“I think this work can change things,” Gibson told the pastors before the film began, reported the Washington Times. The filmmaker hopes the pastors will help build anticipation for the film, which opens on 2,000 screens Feb. 25.




The pope approves of ‘The Passion’ (WorldNetDaily, 031217)


John Paul II’s response after viewing Mel Gibson film: ‘It is as it was’


Pope John Paul II has commented on Mel Gibson’s controversial film “The Passion of the Christ” after viewing it, saying simply, “It is as it was.”


According to a column by Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal, the pope watched a DVD copy of the movie the weekend before last on a TV in his private quarters, accompanied by his closest friend, Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz.


Noonan says Dziwisz shared the pope’s five-word review with the film’s co-producer Steve McEveety.


The film, which chronicles the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life and his resurrection, has been the target of charges of anti-Semitism, mostly by commentators who have not seen the movie.


As WorldNetDaily reported last week, other Vatican officials screened the movie and came away impressed, insisting it is theologically accurate and not anti-Semitic.


“There is absolutely nothing anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish about Mel Gibson’s film,” said Dominican Father Augustine Di Noia, undersecretary of the doctrinal congregation.


Noonan says McEveety, who had flown to Rome uninvited to show the film to as many Vatican officials as he could, gave the DVD to Dziwisz on Dec. 5.


“[The pope] had to watch it late in the evening,” McEveety told the columnist. “He’s pretty well booked. But he really wanted to see it.”


Wrote Noonan, “The film, the holy father felt, tells the story the way the story happened. A week later Mr. McEveety was marveling at what he felt was the oracular quality of the statement. ‘Five words. Eleven letters.’”


McEveety told Noonan: “I was kind of relieved – it’s a scary thing. But Billy Graham saw it and was very supportive, and now JPII. The amazing thing is they’re in agreement on the film.”


Noonan concluded her column:


“It is a film that leaves the viewer indicting not Jews and not Romans and not cynical bureaucrats. It leaves you indicting yourself: it leaves you wondering about what your part in that agonizing drama would have been back then, and what your part is today.


“I’m glad the holy father chose to see it; I’m glad he has spoken; I’m glad his judgment was, ‘It is as it was.’ If this ends the controversy, or quells it, and I believe it should, that would be a beautiful gift to everyone this holiday season.”


As WorldNetDaily reported, “The Passion of the Christ” is scheduled to open on Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent.




Billy Graham screens ‘The Passion of the Christ’ (WorldNetDaily, 031126)


Evangelist calls Mel Gibson film ‘ faithful to the Bible’s teaching’


Renowned evangelist Billy Graham has screened Mel Gibson’s new film “The Passion of the Christ” and says the movie moved him “to tears.”


“I have often wondered what it must have been like to be a bystander during those last hours before Jesus’ death,” Graham said in a statement released from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. “After watching ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ I feel as if I have actually been there. I was moved to tears. I doubt if there has ever been a more graphic and moving presentation of Jesus’ death and resurrection – which Christians believe are the most important events in human history.


“The film is faithful to the Bible’s teaching that we are all responsible for Jesus’ death, because we have all sinned,” Graham continued. “It is our sins that caused His death, not any particular group. No one who views this film’s compelling imagery will ever be the same.”


The comment about who is to blame for Jesus’ death was a reference to some critics who claim the film is anti-Semitic because, they feel, it blames Jews for the execution.


Gibson has consistently denied the film is anti-Semitism and has insisted his movie is based strictly on the biblical accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection.


According to the statement from Graham’s organization, Gibson came to see the 85-year-old evangelist twice, before and after he screened the film. Graham says he became convinced of Gibson’s “deep sincerity and great desire” that the motion picture be used to bring a new emphasis on the events that occurred two millennia ago.


Actor Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in the film, reportedly joined in those meetings.




Lightning strikes ‘Jesus’ on film set (WorldNetDaily, 031023)


But actor portraying Christ in Mel Gibson’s upcoming film miraculously escapes injury


As if there wasn’t already enough electricity surrounding Mel Gibson’s upcoming film on the death of Christ, the actor portraying Jesus was struck by lightning during filming – but miraculously escaped without injury.


Both actor Jim Caviezel, who portrays Jesus in “The Passion of Christ,” and assistant director Jan Michelini were struck by lightning while on a remote Italian location several hours from Rome, reports VLife, a supplement to Variety publications, in its October issue. Neither was injured. According to an Associated Press report, the main bolt hit Caviezel while one of its forks hit Michelini’s umbrella.


“I’m about a hundred feet away from them,” producer Steve McEveety said, according to AP, “when I glance over and see lightning coming out of Caviezel’s ears.”


What’s more, lightning does strike twice. This was the second time lightning has struck the “Passion” set in Italy. In fact, Michelini has earned the nickname of “Lightning Boy” after a previous strike while filming in Italy. According to AP, he suffered light burns to his fingertips resulting from a lightning strike while filming on a hilltop in the Italian town of Matera.


The film, recently renamed “The Passion of Christ,” has been the center of controversy and media attention due to claims by some organizations and individuals that the movie –depicting the last 12 hours in Christ’s life – might inflame anti-Semitism by implying Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death. Some religious leaders who actually have viewed a rough cut of the final product, however, call it the most powerful film about Christ ever made.


Recently, Gibson signed a deal with Newmarket to handle U.S. distribution for “The Passion of Christ.” Gibson sources told WorldNetDaily Gibson’s Icon Productions is planning a release timed with Ash Wednesday, which next year falls on Feb. 25.


Icon is distributing “Passion” itself in the UK and Australia, where it already has its own distributing operations, according to Variety.


Gibson so far has invested $25 million on the film. With dialogue in Latin and Aramaic in the interests of maximum authenticity, the movie will be subtitled, although Gibson’s original plans called for no subtitles.




Mel Gibson’s passion for ‘The Passion’ (WorldNetDaily, 030708)


How ironic that when a movie producer takes artistic license with historical events, he is lionized as artistic, creative and brilliant, but when another takes special care to be true to the real-life story, he is vilified.


Actor-producer Mel Gibson is discovering these truths the hard way as he is having difficulty finding a United States studio or distributor for his upcoming film, “The Passion,” which depicts the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus Christ. Gibson co-wrote the script and financed, directed and produced the movie.


For the script, he and his co-author relied on the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, as well as the diaries of St. Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824) and Mary of Agreda’s “The City of God.”


Gibson doesn’t want this to be like other “sterilized religious epic[s]. I’m trying to access the story on a very personal level and trying to be very real about it.” So committed to realistically portraying what many would consider the most important half-day in the history of the universe, Gibson even shot the film in the Aramaic language of the period. In response to objections that viewers will not be able to understand that language, Gibson said, “Hopefully, I’ll be able to transcend the language barriers with my visual storytelling; if I fail, I fail, but at least it’ll be a monumental failure.”


To further ensure the accuracy of the work, Gibson has enlisted the counsel of pastors and theologians, and has received rave reviews. Don Hodel, president of Focus on the Family, said, “I was very impressed. The movie is historically and theologically accurate.” Ted Haggard, pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., and president of the National Evangelical Association, glowed: “It conveys, more accurately than any other film, who Jesus was.”


During the filming, Gibson, a devout Catholic, attended Mass every morning because “we had to be squeaky clean just working on this.” From Gibson’s perspective, this movie is not about Mel Gibson. It’s bigger than he is.


“I’m not a preacher, and I’m not a pastor,” he said. “But I really feel my career was leading me to make this. The Holy Ghost was working through me on this film, and I was just directing traffic. I hope the film has the power to evangelize.”


Even before the release of the movie, scheduled for March 2004, Gibson is getting his wish. “Everyone who worked on this movie was changed. There were agnostics and Muslims on set converting to Christianity… [and] people being healed of diseases.”


Gibson wants people to understand through the movie, if they don’t already, the incalculable influence Christ has had on the world. And he grasps that Christ is controversial precisely because of Who He is – God incarnate. “And that’s the point of my film really, to show all that turmoil around him politically and with religious leaders and the people, all because He is Who He is.”


Gibson is beginning to experience first hand just how controversial Christ is. Critics have not only speciously challenged the movie’s authenticity, but have charged that it is disparaging to Jews, which Gibson vehemently denies. “This is not a Christian vs. Jewish thing. ‘[Jesus] came into the world, and it knew him not.’ Looking at Christ’s crucifixion, I look first at my own culpability in that.”


Jesuit Father William J. Fulco, who translated the script into Aramaic and Latin, said he saw no hint of anti-Semitism in the movie. Fulco added, “I would be aghast at any suggestion that Mel is anti-Semitic.”


Nevertheless, certain groups and some in the mainstream press have been very critical of Gibson’s “Passion.” The New York Post’s Andrea Peyser chided him: “There is still time, Mel, to tell the truth.” Boston Globe columnist James Carroll denounced Gibson’s literal reading of the biblical accounts. “Even a faithful repetition of the Gospel stories of the death of Jesus can do damage exactly because those sacred texts themselves carry the virus of Jew hatred,” wrote Carroll. A group of Jewish and Christian academics has issued an 18-page report slamming all aspects of the film, including its undue emphasis on Christ’s passion rather than “a broader vision.” The report disapproves of the movie’s treatment of Christ’s passion as historical fact.


The moral is that if you want the popular culture to laud your work on Christ, make sure it either depicts Him as a homosexual or as an everyday sinner with no particular redeeming value (literally). In our anti-Christian culture, the blasphemous “The Last Temptation of Christ” is celebrated, and “The Passion” is condemned. But if this movie continues to affect people the way it is now, no amount of cultural opposition will suppress its force and its positive impact on lives everywhere. Mel Gibson is a model of faith and courage.




In defense of Mel Gibson (WorldNetDaily, 030829)


by Cynthia Grenier


Nominally, we are supposed to be this Christian country, although even a glancing look over some of the media’s recent treatment of religious themes in popular culture does make you wonder. Right now, Mel Gibson’s getting it in the neck for, as Time Magazine of Sept. 1 refers to it, his “eccentric film project” – the “eccentric” project being of course, “The Passion,” the filmed recounting of the last day in the life of Jesus Christ.


You get the feeling from the venomous tone of many of the articles written so far about the Gibson film (a number in the New York Times), many of those writing can’t forgive him his Christian fervor, and his conservatism, which rather indeed sets him apart from many of his fellows in Hollywood. So they’re having something of a field day, nailing him for “anti-Semitism,” getting real picky about details such as whether the Roman soldiers spoke Latin or Greek in the Holy Land in Christ’s day. People magazine after running a cute picture of him frolicking on the beach at Malibu with his youngest child (of seven) devotes two pretty nippy pages to him and “The Passion.”


Since when has anyone been given to such incredibly petty nitpicking over anything in any Hollywood production, I ask you? It’s simply: “We’re out to get Gibson.” I like best the biblical scholar who found the film – judging from film clips – as too graphically violent. What else is a crucifixion other than graphic and violent, I would like to know?


Of course, I don’t recollect anyone calling George Stevens’ “The Greatest Story Ever Told” eccentric, back in 1965. Mind you, having a six-foot blond, blue-eyed Swede (Max Von Sydow, wonderful actor though he is) as the young Jewish preacher of the Gospels was a bit of a stretch, and the casting of John Wayne as the Roman centurion did come in for some gentle mockery, but still no one dreamed of calling that biblical project “eccentric.”


The cast of Stevens’ film was about as all-star as you could get in those days: Charlton Heston, Sidney Poitier, John Wayne, Carroll Baker, Shelley Winters, Jose Ferrer, Telly Savalas and Claude Rains. Leonard Maltin in his annual compendium rates it three and half stars, referring to “some of the most spectacular scenes ever filmed,” although he did find John Wayne as the centurion supervising the crucifixion a little hard to take.


Four years earlier, Nicolas Ray, who gave the world “Rebel Without a Cause” and made James Dean the icon he remains to this day, had turned his hand to “King of Kings” with Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus, which provoked some wags in the trade to call it “I Was a Teen-Age Jesus.” Still, Maltin giving it two and a half stars deemed it “intelligently told and beautifully filmed, full of deeply moving moments.” Orson Welles lent his sonorous God-like tones to the voiceover. No talk of “eccentric” here.


The following year, the Italian director-poet Pier Paolo Pasolini made “The Gospel According to Saint Matthew” in black and white with non-professionals as his cast. Although a Marxist himself, he treated the text with dignity and simplicity, dedicating his film to Pope John XXIII. The film was received with respect and critical acclaim in Europe and the States.


Then, too, a few years later in 1973 we had “Jesus Christ Superstar,” filmed by Norman Jewison from the Tim Rice / Andrew Lloyd Webber Broadway musical success. It may well be the only film on the life of Christ to have actually been filmed on his native land. I covered part of the shoot in Israel for the Los Angeles Times. Let me tell you: It was a very eerie experience indeed to be strolling across the desert hills by the Dead Sea beside a young man clad in the robes of Jesus. The actor, Tim Neeley, was somewhat overawed by the role he was playing, I remember, and that he couldn’t quite adjust to his mates on the set treating him with special reverence every day.


I think we can safely say Richard Corliss, Time writer and film reviewer, is not overly concerned with giving Gibson the most perfectly balanced of treatments. Incidentally he chooses to end his piece with a clumsy dig equating “The Passion” with “Gigli,” a cheap shot if there ever was one. Corliss refers to films like “The Last Temptation of Christ” and “Priest” (who even knew that was made?) as having grossed less than $10 million at the box office, as if blaming Gibson for his lack of business sense. There is every reason to think Gibson in his personal life is a genuinely devout man, and when he says he wants his film to spread Christ’s message of love and brotherhood, we might just allow him credit until we actually see the film on the screen.


Incidentally, although Mr. Corliss refers to the film being released later this year, Gibson and his associates have stated firmly their plan is to open it on Ash Wednesday. I mean, with all due respect, who’s going to want to take the family to see a movie about the crucifixion after Christmas dinner? Whereas Easter?




The sins of the father (WorldNetDaily, 030910)


by Joseph Farah


Mel Gibson is getting a lot of heat for some inflammatory remarks he made about New York Times columnist Frank Rich.


In case you missed it, Gibson said: “I want to kill him. I want his intestines on a stick. I want to kill his dog.”


What set off Gibson?


An attack on his father.


An unwarranted, unjustified smear of his father in the New York Times, which touts itself – despite an abysmal track record of errors, fraud and distortion – as the “newspaper of record.”


What would you say if someone attacked your father in the New York Times? How would you feel about a columnist hiding behind the facade of credibility offered by what once was the most prestigious journalism institution in the world? How do you think you might respond if someone insulted your mother or father?


That’s the way this latest development in the controversy surrounding the release of Gibson’s “The Passion” must be viewed.


Personally, when I read Gibson’s remarks, I laughed out loud.


Clearly this was not a threat. Gibson was making his profound anger known. He wasn’t challenging Rich to a duel. He wasn’t putting a contract out on his life. He wasn’t encouraging anyone else to do any harm to the columnist.


He was reacting in a predictable style to someone who can’t or won’t fight fair.


Fighting fair would mean if Rich has a beef with Mel Gibson, he takes it up with Mel Gibson, not his father.


I don’t think I would react much differently than Mel Gibson under similar circumstances.


The truth is that Frank Rich is one of the most despicable creatures currently working in journalism – and there are lots of them.


It was Frank Rich who “outed” David Brock in the pages of the New York Times. Now, had a journalist who agreed with Frank Rich or done work he approved of been exposed as a closet homosexual by anyone else, Rich and his colleagues would be screaming about it. They would be calling it “McCarthyism.” They would be preparing the masses for witch hunts.


But Frank Rich lives by different rules.


Back in 1999, he also wrote Matt Drudge’s professional “obituary” when the Internet scribe was fired by Fox News Channel.


It was a typically vicious hit piece. But Drudge is still standing – much to Rich’s dismay.


Frank Rich is an ideological zealot working in the “mainstream” media and masquerading as a responsible, mainstream journalist. Instead, he’s a coward with an agenda.


Mel Gibson sees that.


He may not have articulated it so well.


He may have overstated his feelings.


He may have hurt his cause with some people on the fence about his film.


Nevertheless, what he said is perfectly understandable under the circumstances.


Frank Rich’s attack on Gibson’s father were indeed fighting words. They were provocative. It was the kind of attack that gets your butt kicked on the schoolyard.


Furthermore, Mel Gibson’s “passion” is what makes him Mel Gibson. It’s what makes him such a fine artist. It’s what makes him such a fine filmmaker.


I was struck at how those inflammatory words sounded just like they might have been exhorted by William Wallace in “Braveheart.” It was almost as if Gibson was playing one of his over-the-top characters.


But think about this: Frank Rich sat down and wrote that scathing attack on Mel Gibson’s father. He thought about it. He took his time. He calculated its effect. And he published it in the bloody New York Times.


I think I might be tempted to kill his dog, too.




Mel Gibson guided by faith (WorldNetDaily, 030629)


Director builds church, credits Holy Ghost for new movie


Mel Gibson, who has built a $4 million church in Southern California so his family can attend Catholic Mass in a traditionalist setting, credits the Holy Ghost for his latest movie project.


The actor-producer-director says he attended Mass every morning while shooting his new movie, “The Passion,” because “we had to be squeaky clean just working on this.”


The film, which Gibson directs, stars James Caviezel as Jesus during the last 12 hours of his life and Monica Bellucci as Mary Magdalene. The $25 million production was shot in the Aramaic language of the time.


Gibson said his Christian faith inspired the film for which he is still looking for a distributor.


“I’m not a preacher, and I’m not a pastor,” the 47-year-old director-actor said. “But I really feel my career was leading me to make this. The Holy Ghost was working through me on this film, and I was just directing traffic. I hope the film has the power to evangelize.”


Gibson said the film “was a strange mixture of the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, along with this incredible ease. Everyone who worked on this movie was changed. There were agnostics and Muslims on set converting to Christianity.”


Gibson recently completed the building of a church, the Holy Family Chapel in Agoura Hills, Calif. It was built as a place of worship for Gibson’s large family and about 70 fellow Catholic traditionalists, who have turned their backs on the modern-day church.


It opened for services several weeks ago, just as controversy over Gibson’s latest film raged among Catholic and Jewish scholars.


The actor even threatened a lawsuit against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Jewish-run Anti-Defamation League over a report they sent to his film company slamming the script for its depiction of Jews.


But this week, a select audience of church leaders praised Gibson after seeing excerpts from the film.




Mel Gibson working with Jewish leaders (WorldNetDaily, 030814)


ADL rep screens ‘The Passion,’ breaks confidentiality agreement


By Joseph Farah


Faced with rising criticism of his unreleased movie, “The Passion,” by the Anti-Defamation League, Mel Gibson is working with other Jewish leaders to “develop a strategy alongside this film to build bridges of understanding between various faith communities,” says a statement by his marketing and media representatives released to some 300 people who have seen the film by special invitation.


The move comes after Gibson’s Icon Pictures invited representatives of the ADL to screen the film – one the organization had criticized heavily before seeing the film about the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus. Despite signing confidentiality agreements restricting media comments on the film, the ADL sent out a press release condemning the movie once again following the screening – this time actually based on the film’s content itself.


“The film unambiguously portrays Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob as the ones responsible for the decision to crucify Jesus,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director. “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.”


Icon Pictures plans to use the controversy stoked by the movie to foster a better dialogue between Christians and Jews.


“In addition to reframing the picture about the current controversy, this is to inform you about a forthcoming emphasis, called ‘The Jewish Initiative,’ which was begun in a meeting in Washington last week,” said the statement by Gibson’s marketing team. “Icon Productions has engaged leaders of the Jewish community to develop a strategy alongside this film to build bridges of understanding between various faith communities. While the details are still coming into focus, this effort was born out of Mel Gibson’s longstanding desire that this film will foster dialogue, discussion and debate, rather than division, derision and defamation.”


Gibson’s team has been stunned and taken aback by the anti-Semitism allegations.


“Everyone associated with this project – especially Mr. Gibson – share the ADL’s concerns about anti-Semitism and religious extremism in any form, and have been careful that there are no such implications in this movie,” says the statement. “As you are aware from your own experience, consider:


* “‘The Passion’ does not seek to place blame, but rather to tell the positive and transforming story of faith, love, hope and forgiveness of a sacrifice willingly given. The film depicts Romans and Jews who are both sympathetic to Jesus as well as involved in his crucifixion, consistent with ancient, historical accounts on both sides of the question.


* “No one who has seen ‘The Passion’ has indicated the film caused them to be angry with those who sought Jesus’ death. Rather, they are caught up in their own identification of the sufferings of Jesus – that he did that for ‘me,’ and that ‘my sins’ are what put Him there. The emotion is one of mourning, not anger, and a lingering desire to let more people know who Jesus was, rather than seek revenge.


* “It is obvious in the movie that the character depicting the devil floats in and out of all the intense scenes of scourging and crucifixion, and the Bible is clear Jesus’ death was part of God’s divine plan for the redemption of mankind.


* “The issue is not, ‘Who killed Jesus?’ but rather, ‘Who will be identified with the new life, love, hope and forgiveness He offers?’”


Gibson’s team fears the film is being misunderstood before it is ever seen by the general public.


“This film is not about anti-Semitism or any other form of discrimination or hatred,” said the film team’s statement. “It is about what Jesus suffered, and why – to bear the sin of all humanity – told through the eyes of a Christian artist in the medium he knows best. That is not anti-Semitic; it is pro-humanity. It is not just history; it is ‘His Story.’”




Gibson discusses film with James Dobson (WorldNetDaily, 040220)


‘Focus’ founder says it ‘created in me an even greater love for Jesus’


In his only radio interview about his soon-to-be released film, Mel Gibson told Focus on the Family founder James Dobson the controversy surrounding “The Passion of the Christ,” has been difficult on him and his family but not unexpected.


“I felt the sting of these things; I think they’re unfair,” Gibson said in reference to charges he and his film are anti-Semitic.


“But if you’re going to deal with the Passion, you’re going to take some hits,” the filmmaker said.


In the conversation, which will air Monday on the Focus on the Family broadcast, Dobson told Gibson he found the film “deeply disturbing and shocking and at the same time a powerful witness to the price paid by Jesus Christ for you and me.”


“It left me with a sense of guilt and responsibility,” said Dobson, who has seen a rough cut of the film twice. “I did this to Him. I’m part of the curse of sin that was laid upon Him.”


The film opens Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25, in more than 2,800 theaters nationwide.


Gibson admitted to Dobson the R-rated film covering the last 12 hours of the life of Christ is graphic.


But the scenes of Jesus’ scourging and crucifixion were depicted that way for a reason, Gibson said.


“It’s hard to watch, but somehow it’s inspiring,” he explained. “There’s something about the experience of it, the violence of it, the humiliations and the torture of it [that] relays the enormity of the sacrifice.”


Gibson insists he harbors no hatred toward Jews over the circumstances of Jesus’ death.


“It’s really obvious from the first frames of the film that [Jesus’ death is] a pre-ordained and divine plan,” he said. “That means the Almighty had this all figured out to put into effect at this time with his son.”


Dobson said the personal impact was powerful.


“It created in me an even greater love for Jesus Christ,” he said. “I don’t know how that is possible, but that’s what it did.”


As WorldNetDaily reported, Dobson has urged Christians to see Gibson’s film, calling it “easily the most heart-wrenching, powerful portrayal of Christ’s suffering that I have ever seen.”


In a letter to supporters he said it’s not alleged anti-Semitism, but the film’s faithfulness to the biblical account that truly underlies opposition in the mainstream media.


“Apparently,” wrote Dobson “the idea of a movie that accurately portrays the death and resurrection of Christ and that ‘has the power to evangelize’ is more than certain members of the liberal media establishment can stomach.”




‘Passion’ Filming Takes a Toll on Jim Caviezel (FN, 040217)


NEW YORK — When actor Jim Caviezel was called in for the audition, he was told it was for a surfing movie.


“Then Mel Gibson walked into the room and started talking to me about the Gospels,” recalls Caviezel.


“I said to him, ‘You want me to play Jesus?’ and he said, ‘You’ve got it.’ “


Caviezel leapt at the chance to work with the Oscar-winning director, but in filming the controversial “The Passion of the Christ,” which hits screens next week, the actor got more than he bargained for.


During the shooting of the film, which depicts the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus, as he’s beaten, tortured and crucified, the 35-year-old actor dislocated his shoulder, battled hypothermia, suffered a lung infection and pneumonia, endured eight-hour makeup sessions that left him with severe headaches and skin infections - and was struck by lightning.


But Caviezel - who, like Gibson, is a devout conservative Catholic - insists he never regretted taking the role.


“This is the greatest part I’ve ever had,” he says. “I felt like it would be ridiculous not to work with a guy like Mel Gibson.”


His toughest task wasn’t struggling with his lines in Aramaic and Latin - Gibson finally changed his mind and agreed to subtitle the film - but coping with a ferocious physical toll.


“The physical part was horrendous,” says Caviezel, who starred in “High Crimes,” “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “Frequency.”


“You are going to work every day with only one eye functioning which gives you headaches.


“They’ve got these thorns they tie on your head as hard as they can, and then there’s a cross to carry that weighs 150 pounds. It feels like 600 pounds as the day goes on.


“Later they stick you up on a cross in 25-degree temperatures with 30-knot winds.”


Most of Caviezel’s crippling injuries were the result of planned scenes of torture - but not all.


“We were preparing to shoot the Sermon on the Mount and three seconds before, I was hit by lightning. I knew it was going to happen,” he says.


“People started screaming and they said I had fire on both sides of my head and a light around me.


“I had locked eyes with people and it was very eerie because they made a weird sound - the kind of sound people made when they saw the jet plane run into the World Trade Center.


“It was a sickening feeling.”


Critics have blasted Gibson for writing, directing and personally financing a $25 million film that they say lays blame for Jesus’ crucifixion squarely with Jewish leaders.


But Caviezel vigorously defends the director.


“If he’d said, ‘Hey, I’m going to make an anti-Semitic film, would you like to join me?’ I wouldn’t have been part of a film like that,” he says.


“That would have been a lie to my faith as well as a mortal sin. What would have been the purpose of making it? I wouldn’t have cared who the director was.”


He insists the anti-Semitic charges leveled against Gibson are unjustified.


“The sad thing about it all is that I’m the most Semitic-looking Jesus in history - Mel didn’t want a blue-eyed, blonde Aryan Christ on the cross,” he says.


“The gal that plays Mary [actress Maia Morgenstern] is Jewish and her parents were in the Holocaust. Talk to her. There are Romanian and Jewish actors in this film who say unequivocally that this film is not anti-Semitic.”


Romanian actress Morgenstern recently rejected the notion that the film would fuel anti-Semitism, telling the AP: “Mel Gibson is an artist, a director. He never imposed his religious convictions on anyone.”


Despite the furor - which he says Gibson warned him may end his career - Caviezel says he has no regrets about taking the role.


“I’m not saying that no one is going to do something stupid out there after seeing this film,” he concedes.


“You can take anything and make something bad of it. In this film, you’ve got three different types of people: indifferent people, sympathetic people and people who don’t give a rat’s ass about God and couldn’t care less.


“That’s the way it is in the world.”




More Power To Mel Gibson “The Passion” Is An Act Of Faith, Not Bigotry (WorldNetDaily, 040226)


By Don Feder


Is Mel Gibson the intellectual heir of The Black Hundred (the notorious progromists of Czarist Russia) or is he merely indifferent to the fact that his cinematic project will “fuel and legitimize anti-Semitism?”


Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ” is scheduled to open in 2,000 theaters nationwide on Ash Wednesday, February 25.


From the outset, controversy has dogged the popular actor’s $25-million project based on the Gospels’ account of the final 12 hours in the life of Jesus. In one scene, deleted from the final cut of the film, the High Priest Caiaphas says of the condemned Jesus, “His blood be on us and our children.”


This incensed Abraham Foxman -- national director of The Anti-Defamation League and the film’s most scathing critic. A movie Christian leaders are hailing as the greatest religious work of art since the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel “can fuel, trigger, stimulate, induce, rationalize, legitimize anti-Semitism,” warned the kosher Chicken Little.


Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a man I respect far more than Foxman, has been nearly as censorious.


Writing in The Boston Globe, James Carroll (one of those “Catholic scholars” whose stock in trade is denying the essence of Catholicism) claims, “Even a faithful repetition of the Gospel stories of the death of Jesus can do damage exactly because those sacred texts themselves carry the virus of Jew-hatred.” Which raises an intriguing question: How can a text both be sacred and carry the seeds of anti-Semitism?


Besides the deleted “his blood be on us” scene, Foxman charges the movie, in Aramaic and Latin with English subtitles, “unambiguously portrays Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob as the ones responsible for the decision to crucify Jesus.” But it also unambiguously portrays Jesus, his mother (played by the daughter of Holocaust survivors), his disciples and his followers as Jewish.


Prominent Christians have come to the film’s defense. Evangelist Billy Graham says he was “moved to tears” at a private screening. The Crystal Cathedral’s Robert Schuller calls it a “powerful masterpiece.”


The film has been shown at the Vatican to rave reviews. James Dobson, whose Focus on the Family radio show reaches an estimated 9 million listeners each week, says “The Passion” is “easily the most heart-wrenching, powerful portrayal of Christ’s suffering that I have ever seen.”


Farther Augustine Di Noia, an under-secretary of the Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, declares, “Speaking as a Catholic theologian, I would be bound to condemn anti-Semitism or anti-Judaism in any recounting of the passion and death of Christ – and not just because of the terrible harm that has been done to Jewish people on these grounds, but also because…this represents a profound misreading of the passion narratives.”


Di Noia goes on to express what I believe to be the true Christian perspective -- that humanity itself is responsible for Christ’s suffering and death, and not just those involved in his trial and execution.


“It is always a serious misreading of the passion stories in the Gospel either to try to assign blame to one character or group in the story, or, more fatefully, to try to exempt oneself from blame,” says Di Noia. “The trouble with the last move is that, if I am not one of the blameworthy, then how can I be among those who share in the benefits of the cross?”


Critics have a serious problem. The script of Gibson’s movie comes directly – almost word for word -- from New Testament sources. If “The Passion” fuels, legitimizes and rationalizes Jew-hatred, then so does the Christian Bible.


At least Foxman has the intellectual honesty to follow his argument to its logical conclusion. “You know, the Gospels, if taken literally, can be very damaging, in the same way if you take the Old Testament literally,” the ADL leader observes. By the way, Abe, your Bible isn’t called the Old Testament but the Torah, and – yes – there still are some Jews who take it quite literally, including the parts that make you uncomfortable.


So, if not literally, how are Christians to interpret their Scriptures – metaphorically, symbolically, allegorically? Why can’t a Christian (one of the few in Hollywood) make a movie about his faith, which is true to his faith, without provoking charges of bigotry or insensitivity?


There’s a major flaw in the reasoning of Foxman and Friends. If the movie and the Gospels on which it’s based are anti-Semitic, then why are those Christians most faithful to the New Testament among the strongest supporters of Israel?


Most evangelical Christians are fervent defenders of the Jewish state. A decade ago, the term Christian Zionist was an oxymoron. Today, Christian Zionists outnumber their Jewish counterparts. Their organizations include Christians Israel Public Action Campaign, Christians for Israel, Religious Roundtable, Battalion of Deborah, Friends of Israel, Bridges for Peace, International Christian Zionist Center, International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem and National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel.


In October, 2002, the Christian Coalition – an organization whose founder was once reviled by Foxman – held a massive rally in support of Israel, which drew more than 10,000 to Washington, DC. I know, because I helped to organize it.


Christian fervor for Israel is based on the type of biblical literalism that Foxman considers a conduit to anti-Semitism. The evangelical perspective on Zion is also unambiguous: God gave the land to the Jews. God’s promises are eternal. End of story.


Christian philo-Semitism goes beyond support for Israel. The most forceful opponents of the new anti-Semitism, which festers throughout the Islamic world and has spread to Europe, include Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, Alan Keyes, Dr. Dobson, Joe Farah, Elwood McQuaid, Jan Willem Van der Hoeven, Janet Parshall, Earl Cox, Christian Coalition President Roberta Combs and D. James Kennedy.


They believe the same Bible which teaches that Jesus is their savior also tells them to honor and defend the Jewish people. This is a far cry from the Christianity of the Middle Ages.


The idea that “The Passion” is going to excite an American Kristallnacht is truly twisted.


Today, organized Anti-Semitism is almost exclusively a Moslem phenomenon. Hatred of Jews thrives in mosques and madrashes. It’s propagated by Islamic religious authorities, from mullahs to ayatollahs.


At last year’s Organization of the Islamic Conference summit, Mahathir Mohamad, then-prime minister of Malaysia, delivered an anti-Semitic rant that would have done Goebbels proud. Egyptian television produced a 41-part dramatization of the Czarist fraud “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.” When John Paul II visited Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, the latter lectured the pope on the wickedness of the Jews, how they “corrupt all religions.” Only in the Middle East is the Medieval Blood Libel (the obscene belief that Jews use the blood of non-Jews in their rituals) still taken seriously.


A Jew can’t live in Saudi Arabia or own land in Jordan. The Saudis are particularly energetic in financing the anti-Jewish internationale. The schools they build from Indonesia to America teach Jewish conspiracy theories and the other intellectual baggage of anti-Semitism.


The Palestinian Authority has spent the past decade inculcating a virulent Jew hatred in the young. Suicide bombers don’t just happen; they are shaped and formed in a controlled environment.


Across Europe, mobs of Moslem youth burn synagogues, attack Jewish day schools and beat Jews in the streets. None of this is the result of reading the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 27.


In this world war, Christians are the natural allies of the Jewish people. Why insult them by condemning a tribute to their faith?


As a Jew, I take anti-Semitism very seriously. I was born the year after World War II ended. I’ve chocked with emotion while walking through Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. I look at the faces in the faded photographs and think: That could have been my aged mother. The children being herded into the gas chambers could have been mine. In a sense, they were.


As a columnist, I spent nearly 20 years exposing Nation of Islam fascism, Moslem fundamentalism and the anti-Semitism (in the guise of anti-Zionism) spreading on our college campuses.


Jesus isn’t part of my religion. With all due respect to my Christian friends – who are legion – I do not believe that Jesus was God incarnate. (In the words of The Shema, I believe God is One.) I respect those who believe otherwise, as I hope they respect beliefs of mine with which they disagree.


Still, while disagreeing about His nature, Christians and Jews worship the same God. We share a moral code going back to Sinai, as well as the moral teachings of patriarchs and prophets.


I have been humbled by the acts of loving kindness I’ve seen Christians perform.


If all of this weren’t enough, the same forces which would pull down the Cross also seek to smash the Star of David and trample the Torah under their bloody boots. If Christians and Jews do not unite in the face of this international jihad – and make common cause with Hindus and Buddhists as well – we are all lost.


With the raw sewage being pumped out of the open cesspool that calls itself a creative community – songs the celebrate rape and the degradation of women, films that glorify violence and legitimize perversion and sexual anarchy – it’s ironic that some have chosen to attack a film that dramatizes sacrifice and redemption.


More power to Mel, say I. It’s rare to see a man with such power and influence willing to stand up for his faith in the face of a hostile culture. Instead of opposing him, Jews should be looking for someone like him willing to propagate the wisdom, beauty and truth of Judaism.




Unequal Treatment: The Da Vinci Code vs. The Passion (NRO, 040302)


There is a double standard when it comes to reviewing controversial depictions of the life of Jesus. In the view of the media elite, those portrayals that raise questions about the Christian Bible or Catholic doctrine are generally applauded as courageous works of genius, while those that reinforce Christian teachings or purport to portray a literal rendering of the Gospels are viewed as backwards or intolerant.


Witness the controversy over Mel Gibson’s new film The Passion of the Christ, released last week in theaters across the country. Much ink has already been spilled to condemn the film about Jesus’ final hours on earth. Frank Rich of the New York Times has written that the movie aims to “bait Jews” and “sow religious conflict;” James Carroll of the Boston Globe has referred to the movie as “obscene,” “a lie,” and “an icon of religious violence;” other media outlets have described the film as “ideologically driven” (Newsday), “deeply polarizing” (Entertainment Weekly), and “devious” as well as “probably anti-Semitic” (Palm Beach Post). A Newsweek cover story takes factual aim at the movie, and credits the charges of anti-Semitism leveled against the movie and its producer.


But the attempt to blacklist Passion began long before its release. Indeed, before even seeing the film or reading the final screenplay, opponents of Gibson’s religiously inspired film launched a preemptive strike, urging major Hollywood studios not to distribute the film and denouncing it in newspapers across the country.


Much of the hysteria surrounding the movie is based on Gibson’s graphic portrayal of the death of Jesus, which, critics fear, will lead to increased anti-Semitism and the revival of charges that Jews are Christ-killers. Owing to these fears, critics have gone to great lengths to label the movie as inaccurate. But, according to critics, it is not just false, it is false to the point of being delusional — one reviewer even referred to the movie as “the wacky perspective of a wacko Catholic” (S.C.’s State). These sentiments were later echoed by Andy Rooney, who also called Mel Gibson a “wacko.”


Whether the film is a faithful recreation of the Evangelists’ accounts, I cannot say. Indeed, I have not yet seen the film, and I certainly have no expertise on the Christian Bible or the history of the time period in which Jesus lived. As one who has followed the controversy surrounding this film, however, I can say that the blacklisting of this film has occurred for one reason and one reason only: because Mel Gibson is a religious and devoted Catholic who has attempted to use his craft for purposes of evangelization. And, as many religious people have already come to realize, public professions of faith are often scoffed at by the liberal elite.


To understand the double standard, one need only compare the attacks on Gibson with the virtual anointing of Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code. For those who have been living under a rock for the past year, The Da Vinci Code is a Grisham-like thriller that portrays the Catholic Church (and, indeed, all of Christianity) as conspiring to conceal the “truth” about Jesus — that he was a mere mortal who, contrary to biblical accounts, married and fathered children. According to the book, early Christians understood this about Jesus and, as a way of honoring his alleged wife and co-prophet, incorporated practices of “goddess worship” into their religious rituals. In an effort to consolidate its own power and to prevent women from gaining social and political influence, the Church is alleged to have created the myth of Jesus Christ as divine and banned any practices honoring the female prophet. From that time forward, the Church has been so desperate to hide the “truth” about Jesus that it regularly resorts to murder, theft, and widescale repression — particularly of women — to prevent its revelation.


Brown’s book is, of course, fiction, but it purports to be historically and theologically based. To most believing Catholics (and, indeed, many other Christians), the theories espoused in Brown’s novel are nothing short of blasphemous. But, putting aside the theological and historical authenticity of the book, Brown’s portrayal of Catholic teachings and the Church as an institution reinforce the perverse stereotype of Catholicism as a bizarre cult. Those who know little about the Church or its teachings will come away from the novel with the impression that Catholic teachings in general, and the modern Church in particular, are inherently oppressive and misogynistic. Those already predisposed to distrust the Church will find that the book’s jibes at the Vatican are easily plugged into their pre-existing paradigm of the Church as corrupt and archaic.


Yet, despite the novel’s potential to foment anti-Catholic prejudice, the mainstream media has embraced The Da Vinci Code with glowing reviews that create the false impression that Brown’s work is factually based. Indeed, it has been described as “pure genius” (Nelson DeMille), a “masterpiece” (Library Journal), “fascinating history” (San Francisco Chronicle), “a spellbinding re-examination of 2,000 years of religious history” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution), “a delightful display of erudition” (Boston Globe), “extremely smart” (Chicago Tribune). Time even dedicated a cover story to unearthing historical support for Brown’s views. ABC News broadcast an hour-long special based on the book that featured interviews with Dan Brown, without explaining that Brown is a novelist, not an historian.


Certainly the concerns of Catholic groups that widespread acceptance of The Da Vinci Code will increase anti-Catholic prejudice are as valid as those of the organized Jewish community who fear an anti-Semitic backlash as a result of The Passion of the Christ. But while critics of Gibson’s movie are given center stage in the mainstream media, critics of Brown’s novel are regarded as paranoid and given little credence.


Of course, neither The Passion of the Christ nor The Da Vinci Code should escape exacting criticism. The media should be careful, however, not to tip the scales in favor of one group’s concerns at the expense of another.


— Jennifer C. Braceras is a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.




Documentary tracks Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion’ miracles

Sick are healed, murderer confesses, atheists find God on stunning DVD

Posted: November 5, 2004

1:00 a.m. Eastern


© 2004


Not only has Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ” powerfully affected the faith of millions of viewers, but according to a new documentary by an Emmy-award-winning news veteran, it has also been instrumental in bringing about real miracles.


“Changed Lives: Miracles of The Passion” is a 1-hour program that captures, in their own words, people’s inspiring and documented accounts of relationships restored, diseases healed, the dead resurrected, atheists coming to faith and even a confession to murder.


“It is truly unprecedented the way God has used ‘The Passion’ to bring healing, reconciliation and peace to people across the nation and around the globe,” says Executive Producer Jody Eldred.


An Emmy-winning cameraman, director and writer, Eldred has directed and shot hundreds of documentaries and news reports for ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and BBC, as well as segments for “20/20,” “Primetime Live,” “Good Morning America,” “Dateline NBC,” “48 Hours” and others, and works closely with Diane Sawyer and Peter Jennings.


Eldred took a personal leap of faith when he decided to produce a documentary about “The Passion of the Christ’s” true impact on the hearts of viewers. Since it was completed, “Changed Lives: Miracles of the Passion” has received high acclaim wherever it has been shown.


“Here’s powerful and poignant evidence of how God has used Mel Gibson’s movie to change lives in remarkable ways,” said Lee Strobel, author of “The Case for Christ” and “The Case for a Creator.” And Jack W. Hayford, pastor of the Los Angeles-based Church On The Way, said, “To view this documentary is to have verified that ‘The Passion’ is more than a moment’s movie. It’s a living encounter – a movement, that moves hearts toward God, souls toward Christ, and lives toward transformation.”


Best of all, “Changed Lives: Miracles of the Passion” is being made available at a very low price – only $14.95 – so that everyone can afford a copy of this remarkable DVD. (At that price, it also makes a perfect gift for those on your holiday shopping list. The “Miracles” DVD ships with 24 hours of your order.)


So don’t miss out on these profoundly inspirational messages of hope and redemption. Enjoy them, be uplifted by them, and share them with your friends and loved ones.