Thursday, August 03, 2006

Jimmy Akin on Whether Or Not The Passion of the Christ Was Anti-Semetic --
Read this for a calm, well-reasoned response to Mel Gibson's recent troubles. One excerpt:

I've never been a Mel Gibson fan, and I don't follow his work closely. The movie of his that stands out most in my mind, of course, is The Passion of the Christ, which was subject to numerous charges of anti-Semitism when (and especially before) it came out. After seeing the movie, I felt that many of these charges were unfounded, which was a view affirmed by many in the Jewish community, including Michael Medved.

Nevertheless, I also felt that there was one element in the film in particular that was subject to criticism on this score: the film's treatment of the high priest Caiaphas.

Gibson created a portrait of Pontius Pilate that was sympathetic and nuanced, and the film cried out for him to do the same thing for Caiaphas. Indeed, the Gospel of John gives one all the fodder one would need to portray Caiaphas in a sympathetic light, given his fear (chronicled in John 11) that if Jesus wasn't put to death that he would become a revolutionary Messianic leader that would start a war with the Romans and cause the Romans to invade and kill massive numbers of Jewish people.

Given the fact that the gospels also portray Pilate as having ambivalent feelings about the crucifixion, the blindingly obvious artistic choice was to portray them both sympathetically, with both feeling that they had to do what they did regarding Jesus for reasons that the viewer could understand. In other words, the tragedy should have been one of "Father, forgive them for the know not what they do" in the cases of both men.

Gibson delivered that for Pilate and utterly ignored it for Caiaphas, who simply comes across as a fanatic in the film.

At the time I said (in conversations with film critic Steven Greydanus) that this artistic blindspot on Gibson's part could be due either to an anti-Semitic tendency or due to the random blindspots that all artists suffer from. Given Gibson's disavowals of anti-Semitism and his involvement of Jewish individuals in the project (casting a Jewish woman as the Mother of God is no small thing if you're an anti-Semite), I hoped to be able to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one, but in light of his recent anti-Semitic tirade, I have to re-evaluate.

It now looks probable to me that the blindspot was due to his anti-Semitic tendencies.

While I still consider The Passion of the Christ to be an extraordinary film, I now find it tainted in this respect.

I also will have to view Gibson's future projects in light of what is now known.

All of which makes me sad.
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