Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ
Despite the rebuke of Jewish and Christian communities in our culture today, Jews and Christians have faced a thickening wall of inter-faith tension for quite a while; it is an issue our society does not often bring to the forefront among popular current events. However, the release of Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, not only drew out the results of this tension among Jewish and Christian communities, but also reinforced those age-old tensions in our society. Various Christian denominations have responded by bringing attention to their respective condemnations of anti-Semitism, and stressing the importance of inter-faith tranquility between Jews and Christians, bringing to light the common elements of the two faiths while respectfully acknowledging the differences.
These concerns, addressed hitherto, do not just come from biased faith communities 4, but from objective sources as well, concerned merely with the preservation of peaceful relations among several groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). While the ADL has admitted it cannot and will likely never have any evidence by which to accuse Mr. Gibson of being an anti-Semite, it does fear effects of the film on strengthening current waves of anti-Semitism, as well as creating an inaccurate image among impressionable observers unfamiliar with Jewish or Christian theological teachings 1. Mr. Gibson has, wittingly or unwittingly, reinforced these tensions by following the film up with a harsh branding of all non-Christians as followers of Satan, a message that Jewish and Christian leaders alike fear could become the demise of inter-faith relations among Jews and Christians around the globe, as Dr. David Elcott, the U.S. Director of Inter-religious Affairs on the American Jewish Committee, cynically acknowledges 6.
However, while Mr. Gibson’s film has stirred these feelings, they are far from young; misinterpretations of religious scriptures have influenced historic interpretations of religious beliefs and events. As outlined in the Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion, a publication of the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs (BCEIA) of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, early generations of Christianity tended to focus on the immediate involvement of Jews in Jesus’ crucifixion, ignoring both the prominent members of the Jewish community that opposed his crucifixion, such as Nicodemus, and the manipulation of the Jewish populous by Jesus’ opponents. Furthermore, these depictions have also failed to acknowledge diversity among the Jewish community, which would have created strong accord between Jesus and Jews on some of his concerns, aside from the strong majority of the Jewish populous that remained uninfluenced by Jesus’ opponents, and opposed his death 2.
These interpretations have been impressionable enough to foment widespread mainstream...