Dr. Michael Cook on Some Jewish Reactions to Mel Gibson' s film,
"The Passion of the Christ"
Some Jewish Reactions to Mel Gibson's, "The Passion
of the Christ"
Jews generally affirm Mel Gibson's right of artistic license. They
also realize that many Christians will experience his controversial
film differently from the way many Jews will view it. To foster
mutual understanding, the following explains why some Jews feel
discomfited or will find the film objectionable:
 In significant departure from Gospel testimony, Mr. Gibson
draws heavily on mystical visions by a nineteenth century German
nun (Anne Catherine Emmerich). The pervasive tenor of his movie
as well as aspects of his personal theology -- and above all many
scenes where Jesus is tortured by Jews and where other characters
are assigned anti-Semitic actions or expletives -- all of these
are directly and demonstrably inspired by this nun (who had no expertise
in first century history). (The
Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ)
 While Mr. Gibson has often praised his production as the most
historically reliable ever made, he knows little of, or ignores,
a century of recent Christian New Testament scholarship concerning
what led to Jesus' death, and has restricted his consultants to
those similarly disposed.
 Mr. Gibson's powerful influence could have the effect of undercutting
four decades of advances in Christian-Jewish relations, an arena
in which our community prides itself. (Already, the film has polarized
some who otherwise used to engage in friendly and relaxed discourse
with one another.)
 Mr. Gibson refuses to take seriously enough the historical
cause-and-effect relationship between European Passion plays and
ensuing trauma, even death, literally to countless Jews. Hitler
himself used the Oberammergau Passion Play (in Bavaria) to indoctrinate
Nazis as to why Jews as a people had to be exterminated. The Holocaust
alone (whose Jewish dimensions Mr. Gibson has seemed reluctant fully
to accept) explains why Passion plays are so "radioactive"
for the Jewish psyche.
 The movie radiates the potential of jeopardizing the welfare
of Jews abroad, where images consistent with, even duplicative of,
some of those in Mr. Gibson's film have been customarily appropriated
and readily employed as vehicles for conveying anti-Semitism.
 DVDs of the film, in video chains, libraries, as well as Christian
religious school curricula, could poison the minds of some Christians
(especially children) toward Jews of Jesus' time, if not also toward
Jews of today and tomorrow.
 Mr. Gibson's "over-the-top" fascination with torture
(also aided by ideas drawn from Emmerich) likewise reinforces the
very "unchristian" values and vile violence pervading
our secular culture -- by which so many Christians claim to feel
assaulted today (which aversion many Jews likewise share).
 The rage and name-calling already generated by the film are
inconsistent with the dawning of the Jewish Kingdom of God so ardently
anticipated by Jesus through his own (Pharisaic) parables.
Nonetheless, the Jewish community remains committed to the pursuit
of wholesome interfaith relations, and hopes that heartfelt dialogue
over this film may somehow yet engender new progress toward mutual
understanding and toward the Messianic Age conceptualized and bequeathed
to the world by Jewish tradition.
This statement is prepared by Michael J. Cook, Ph.D., Sol &
Arlene Bronstein Professor of Judaeo-Christian Studies, Hebrew Union
College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati. It reflects his
sense of the stance of most Jews in communities he has addressed,
but does not necessarily bear the official approval of Jewish communities
where it is distributed.