Don't fire till you see the whites of their Post-It notes! I must take a moment and address all the current stupidity surrounding Mel Gibson’s The Passion. Mr. Metzler and Mr. D’Arcy have both recently brought the matter to my attention.

The Passion is a movie, funded, co-written and directed by Mel Gibson, about the death of Jesus Christ, performed entirely in Aramaic with English subtitles. Gibson is looking to have the film shown in major theatres around Easter 2004, but is having difficulty locating a distributor for the film. The problem is that many misguided people fear it promotes antisemitism by depicting the Jews as responsible for Christ’s death.

As an example, in the NPR report cited above, a Catholic nun named Mary Boyce describes a specific scene in the film:

“…as the guard drags him [Jesus] down the steps, his head bangs against a stone—it’s very gruesome—and one of the directions says Jesus is reduced to kind of a bloody mass, and Caiaphas, the high priest, his eyes are described as being shiny with breathless excitement.”

Well now, that’s not entirely unreasonable. Here’s a fellow who has publicly called you a whitewashed grave, has said that you prey upon widows’ houses, and whom you sincerely believe is a sorcerer leading the nation to destruction. Wouldn’t you be glad to see him dead?

For my own good I’d better say that I personally have nothing against Jews. I have a bone to pick with people on both sides who fail to see the obvious. The question is not whether the film promotes antisemitism. The question is whether the film depicts the events of history as they actually happened. Did the Romans just decide to throw in another execution that day? Not according to Josephus.

“…Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross…”

Of course, whether deicide is a justification for genocide is a totally seperate matter. But don’t scuttle the film because it is historically accurate.

I’m not sure which is more depressing, the fact that critics deplore the film because the actual events of history may fuel antisemitism, or the fact that Icon Productions defends it by claiming that “in no way does [Gibson’s] faith…blame the Jews for the death of Christ.” Where is their spine? It’s not a question of blame. It happened. Get over it.

And, why should non-Christians care whether the Jews killed Jesus? What is Jesus to them but a teacher like Ghandi or Confucius? The non-Christians have no stake in this debate. But then, neither do Christians, who purport to believe that the sins of mankind necessitated the sacrificial killing of the Messiah. Doesn’t that make us all guilty? Wouldn’t it also make the Jews, in a sense, the agents of our salvation? No one has any rational basis for antisemitism on the basis of so-called deicide. But that doesn’t mean we should attempt to rewrite history. You must admit that, even in the blandest, most secular sense, the Jews were the villians in this episode, just as the British were in executing William Wallace. Leave the film alone.

Additional Reading

The Pity Of It All

A history of the Jews in Europe. Where most books of this kind start in the 1920s, this one begins in the 1740s. Excellent reading, if you have the time, and only marginally related to the central topic of this article.

Modern Spelling Conventions

While we are on the topic of things sacred, I have to get something off my chest regarding the modern spelling of divine references. It has become popular to spell anything referring to God with a capital letter, including pronouns “Him,” “the One Who,” etc. Now, I write “God” and “Lord” with capitals, but this additional capitalization of pronouns I dismiss as a fad.

Miss Blair, our revered communications teacher at the Academy, adjured us always to capitalize anything referring to God, and also admitted she had no idea why the translators of the King James Bible did not do so. Well, I should think the answer is obvious: the translators didn’t do it because it wasn’t in the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. Both languages’ alphabets have ways of distinguishing case, and the original authors of the Bible obviously did not choose to use them except when naming God directly. When our contemporaries invent faddish new spelling conventions beyond what the original authors felt necessary, what they are really saying is, “Look at me, how very reverent I am.” It’s almost the typographical equivalent of the hand-washing traditions of the Pharisees.

— JD

“Pereant, inquit, qui ante nos nostra dixerunt.”
[Confound those who have said our bright remarks before us.]
—Aelius Donatus