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Crucifying Mel Gibson
by Alan Caruba
21 August 2003Mel Gibson

If one believes that Jesus was the Son of God who died to take on the sins of mankind, what the Jews reportedly did is of no importance whatever.

Recently the Anti-Defamation League's national director, Abraham Foxman, had some unkind words for Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion, a film that depicts the last twelve hours of the life of Jesus. This movie won't even be released until 2004, but Gibson is showing it in rough cut to various audiences. Latin and Aramaic are the languages of the film, but my guess is that, thanks to some judicious dubbing, Jesus will be speaking English by the time it hits the big screen.

Latin dominated the era in which Jesus lived because it was the language of the Romans whose empire practiced extortion, i.e., taxation, once its legions had conquered someplace like Israel. Being a Roman citizen was a privilege reserved to a few and most people in their empire were slaves. They didn't like the Romans, nor did indigenous folk like the Jews.

Some historians, while acknowledging the fine work of barbarian tribes like the Visogoths and Vandals, attribute part of the downfall of Rome to the enormous expense and effort required to keep the Jews under their iron grip. Pontius Pilate was not sent to rule Israel because he was Mr. Nice Guy. He routinely crucified anyone who disputed Rome's rule. Nobody debated capital punishment in those days.

Israel was such a pain the emperor Hadrian tried to erase its name by changing it to Palestine, referencing the Philistines. The forefathers of today's Arabs who currently lay claim to the land were busy worshipping a Moon god called Allah hundreds of years before Mohammed came along and picked him out of the crowd of local pagan gods.

Gibson, a devout Catholic who belongs to a group within the Church that adheres to strict Biblical interpretation and rejects many of the changes that have taken place in recent times, has poured his own money and talent into the film. In an August 11 statement, the ADL states that it "unambiguously portrays Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob as the ones responsible for the decision to crucify Jesus." This, worries the ADL, will unleash anti-Semitism.

In the interest of full disclosure, way back in the days of the Civil Rights struggle, I briefly worked for the ADL. And I do mean briefly. Even as a callow youth, I found myself disenchanted with the organization, though it must be said it did keep track of some very unpleasant people who gratuitously hated not only Jews, but Blacks, Catholics and probably people who were not their immediate kinfolk.

There are, I'm told, some people who still speak ill of the Jews, but I suspect that only the Hebrew knights of the ADL really care any more. The truth is American Jews have melted into the vast tapestry of the population. Their children are quite likely to marry out of the faith and, for many, explaining why their kids get gifts Christmas morning is mostly answered with a shrug.

Experience demonstrates that Jews have a right to worry about anything that might instruct or inflame hate toward them. Despite heroic efforts to secure peace with the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians, the suicide terror bombings continue. The world takes note, but most particularly, Jews everywhere in the world take note.

Jesus was a Jew and so were all of his apostles. When he preached, he preached to Jews. Most theologians agree that, were it not for Saul of Tarsus, an unusual combination of Jew and Roman citizen, there probably wouldn't be a religion called Christianity. Jews had already been around for well over a thousand years by then and, while they hoped a messiah would show up, getting nailed to a Roman cross pretty much limited one's options. A practical people, they found it hard to believe, as Saul preached in their synagogues, that Jesus was the Son of God. According to the Gospel accounts, they routinely ran Saul/Paul out of town.

It is a source of constant amazement to those who are not Christian that so many Christians seem to miss the main point of their faith. If one believes that Jesus was the Son of God who died to take on the sins of mankind, what the Jews reportedly did is of no importance whatever. Here's the equation: no Jesus, no crucifixion, no Christianity. All involved, therefore, had to be acting out the will of God. Even the Pope would tell you that.

As Gene Edward Veith writes in the August 16 edition of World Magazine, "The blame game, though, completely misses the point…according to Christianity, Christ's crucifixion is one of the best things to ever happen…the importance of the cross is that with His sufferings, Jesus atoned for the sin of sinners from 'all tribes and peoples and languages.' Pulling onto Him all the punishment that they deserve so that they can have free forgiveness and everlasting life."

The Gospel accounts of those last hours reflect the politics of the time when they were written. The nascent Christian church was trying to gain followers during the final years of the Roman Empire and there's little doubt the writers found it convenient to shift the blame away from the Romans who did the judging, scourging, and killing of Jesus. It is a bit too convenient that the name of the most famed betrayer in history is "Judas."

Will Mel Gibson's film foster anti-Semitism? As far as I can tell, the Jews who saw the film or read the script came away convinced it casts Jews in a bad light and, given Gibson's theology, it probably does. A group of friends to whom I posed this question quickly began to discuss the film's potential at the box office instead. There's your answer. For many, probably the majority, the "issue" wasn't even worth contemplating

Alan Caruba is the author of Warning Signs, published by Merril Press. His weekly commentaries are posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center.

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