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
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.