Jesus of Hollywood

Reinhartz, Adele
March 2004
New Republic;3/8/2004, Vol. 230 Issue 8, p26
The author places the recently released film, "The Passion of the Christ," in the context of other cinematic representations of the crucifixion of Christ. Observers of the controversy over Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ would be forgiven for believing that this is the first film ever to treat the last twelve hours of Jesus's life, but in the century or more since the birth of cinema, the betrayal, the trials, the condemnation, and the death of Jesus have been brought to life on the screen in well over a hundred films. Nor does Gibson's film mark the first occasion that Jewish leaders and other public figures have raised their voices in protest against the potential anti-Semitism of a film rendition of Jesus's Passion. Most movies about Jesus explicitly claim to be faithful to the Gospels. But if they are to be true to this claim, they will necessarily convey the same message that is embedded in the Gospel accounts: that while Pilate officially signed the crucifixion order, it was the Jews who held, and perhaps still hold, moral responsibility for Jesus's death. So where does Mel Gibson fit in? Like most of the Jesus films, it draws from all four Gospels.But there are some ways in which Gibson's film diverges from the pack. Its characters speak Aramaic, Hebrew, and Latin. More important, the main theme is Jesus's suffering. The details of this violence far exceed the literary depictions in the Gospels; they are the expression of Gibson's own imagination of what mattered most in the scene. If the question is, do these films help to perpetuate certain beliefs and stereotypes that have been implicated in anti-Semitism, then the answer must be yes, Gibson's film included.


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