Volume 73, Number 44 | March 3 - 9, 2004

koch on film

“The Passion of the Christ” (-)

This movie is very well done. It details the last 12 hours of Jesus’ (James Caviezel) life after he was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate (Hristo Shopov) and the High Priest Caiaphas (Mattia Sbragia).

There were only two classes in Jerusalem in 30 A.D. - the occupying Roman soldiers and the subjugated Jews living in their ancient land, now a province of Rome, governed by the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. Jesus is accused of blasphemy against the Jewish faith and of sedition against Roman rule. Pontius Pilate is depicted as unwilling to sentence Jesus to death but ultimately does so only to placate the Jewish mob. Jesus is scourged, flayed and crucified by sadistic Roman soldiers and suffers enormous pain on the cross for six hours.

Out of this tragic event, the charge of deicide has been leveled against Jews by anti-Semites for almost 2000 years. The accusation has lead to pogroms and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews, not counting the additional six million killed at Hitler’s command before and during World War II.

In 1965, the Second Vatican Council, called by Pope John XXIII, stated: “What was perpetrated against (the Lord) in His Passion cannot be imputed either to all the Jewish people of that time or the Jewish people of our time. …Accordingly, all must be careful that nothing is taught about this matter in preaching or in catechizing that fails to agree with the truth of the Gospel and the Spirit of Christ.”

That declaration was reaffirmed in 1986 by the current pope, John Paul II, when he said, “No ancestral or collective blame can be imputed to the Jews as a people for what happened in Christ’s Passion: not indiscriminately to the Jews of that time, nor to those who came afterwards, nor to those of today.”

Mel Gibson’s own schismatic view of Catholicism does not recognize the legitimacy of Vatican II nor the authority of the Pope to denounce and eliminate the charge of deicide. His movie expresses his beliefs.

Television host Charlie Rose recently held a forum on the film. One of his guests, journalist and author Christopher Hitchens, summed up his view of the movie, and I agree with him. He said:

“Well, Mel Gibson has made it easy for us in this speculation. He’s a member of a whacko schismatic sect that rejects the authority of the pope and specifically rejects the findings of the Second Vatican Council, one of the most important of which was the lifting after centuries of the condemnation of the Jewish people for what was once called deicide, for the murder of Christ.

“His father is never happier than when talking about the absence of any evidence for the Holocaust, shall I put it. And Mel Gibson repeatedly says that his father has never told him a lie. And when asked who his sources for the film are, Mr. Gibson doesn’t just mention the gospels. He mentions the 19th century German nun Anne Catherine Emmerich, whose evidence against the Jewish people was that they used Christian blood, the blood of Christian babies, to be exact, to make matzos at Passover time. The film, is, incidentally, set at Passover time.

“I think most people will be proof against the nastiness and stupidity of this film. I don’t think it will be anti-Semitic in effect, because I think it’s boring and it’s sadistic and it’s lurid in equal measure, but I think it is quite definitely fascistic in intention, and fascistic in its aesthetic, and I hope that no one watching this spends their own money to go and see the film.”

People who are not anti-Semitic will not become Jew haters as a result of seeing “The Passion of the Christ.” On the other hand, anti-Semites will leave the theater more virulent in their feelings against Jews. That would be particularly true in Europe and Asia where Jews are already victims of violence. The Chief Rabbi of Paris has urged Jewish children not to wear their yarmulkes which identify them as Jews and have caused them to be assaulted by French Muslims on the way to school. He suggested they wear baseball caps.

On a recent television interview, Mel Gibson said that he was not anti-Semitic. Indeed, he said he loved the Jews and prayed for us. Why he prays for us he did not say. I would prefer that he pray for forgiveness for what he’s done, and for the starving children in Africa.

During this week’s Academy Awards show, the deaths of film artists occurring in the last year were noted. Leni Riefenstahl, who wrote, produced and directed “Triumph of the Will” was mentioned. The objective of her film was to create a worldwide sense of the invincibility of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. She succeeded. After the defeat of Hitler in World War II, Leni denied she was a Nazi or anti-Semitic. No one I know believed her. I propose that a new Academy Award be established in her name and that Mel Gibson be its first recipient.

- Ed Koch


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