What is the Real Issue?
| Dr Daniel Juster, Director |

The drum beat of criticism against Mel Gibson and his film The Passion of the Christ has echoed in the media for months. Interestingly enough, this criticism was given before some of the critics even saw the film. That prejudice against the Messiah Jesus and the Gospel itself is fueling this negative criticism seems certain. The hypocrisy of Hollywood is amazing. First they criticize the film for being unnecessarily violent. What hypocrisy for Hollywood people to say this! Then they laughed at Gibson for losing 25 million dollars of his own money to make the film. Now they are critical of Gibson for profiting from the movie. At the point of writing, the movie has grossed 300 million. What has drawn millions to the theaters? Here are the facts.

  1. The film gives a powerful portrayal of the suffering of our Lord in the last day of his life. It is painfully realistic. Yet none can possibly portray the depth of His soul suffering for our sins.

  2. The film is most meaningful to believers by far and will be a means of witness through believers' interaction with unbelievers. This is because the events of the last day of Yeshua's life are given their meaning in a larger interpretive context in the Bible. This context is readily in the mind of the believer but not the unbeliever.

  3. The response to this film shows how much spiritual hunger there is in the larger public. By no means are all the viewers born-again believers. Many are not.

  4. The film is not anti-Semitic since both the good guys and the bad guys are Jews. Only one figure is negatively called "Jew" and he is portrayed heroically. That was Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross. It is clear that Yeshua, the disciples, Mary, Simon Peter and other followers are Jewish.

  5. There is artistic liberty. The Gospels do not say that Yeshua was beaten as severely as portrayed in the movie, but it is possible. We know that the Romans did this sometimes. We have no knowledge that the High Priest witnessed the scourging. This could be seen as overdone. The portrayal of the Sanhedrin leaders who were involved in seeking the crucifixion of Yeshua was terribly negative. However, the portrayal of such leaders (most of whom were Sadducees) is also negative to the extreme in the Talmud. There are also Catholic traditions in the film, such as the interaction on the Via Delorosa when Veronica ministered to Yeshua.

The Flip Side

I believe that the making of this film is overwhelmingly positive. Yet as a Messianic Jew, I must say that I am concerned with the large chorus of Jewish leaders (and there are some exceptions) who claim that this film is anti-Semitic and will increase anti-Semitism. The response to this claim is seen in the response of the French to not show this film in their theaters. Israeli theaters have decided not to show it as well. Many Jewish people see this film as anti-Semitic. How should we respond to this claim? 

Some Christians have been enraged by this claim and have defended the film without kindness and tact. The stance of the Jewish leadership, however, is a crucial matter which most supporters of the film have failed to understand.

First of all, the film is somewhat tainted by the fact that Mel Gibson's father holds anti-Semitic views. His father believes in a Jewish conspiracy and is also a denier of the reality of the Holocaust. Gibson, who is not anti-Semitic, will not speak against his father. He is torn between his desire to follow the command to honor his father and to disassociate himself from anti-Semitism. His only response is to say that this movie is about love and we are to love all human beings and this includes Jewish people. Hatred and anti-Semitism according to Gibson are contrary to the Gospel.

I am reminded of one of our colleagues who was trained in anti-Semitism by his grandfather. He made it clear that he repudiated such views. I believe that this is the right stand and honouring one's father takes second place to disassociating from gross sin.

"The response of the Jewish leadership, however, is a crucial matter which most supporters of the film have failed to understand."

Secondly, the perception of this film is primarily a matter of historic experience. Jewish people have a long memory. They have learned about the Crusades of the 12th century which targeted Jews, killed, pillaged, and burned synagogues on the way to the promised land. In addition, Crusaders rounded up the Jerusalem Jewish community and burned them alive in their synagogue. This was because they were portrayed as Christ killers (deicide) and thus deserving persecution. Then came the Inquisition and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain at the end of the 15th century. Then came centuries of pogroms. Crowds were whipped into a frenzy by governments to beat and kill Jews in Russia, Poland, Rumania and Moldova culminating in the worst pograms in the 19th century. Lastly came the Holocaust. Every Jew knows this history as if it was a liturgical litany. Crusades, Inquisition, Pogroms and Holocaust. In this context, the Jews experienced beatings and even death after passion plays in Europe in which the Jews were portrayed as devils. The plays re-enacted the last day of the life of Yeshua! This history produces an interpretive framework where the following axiom can be asserted. Any portrayal of Jewish people in a negative light in a Christian context, even if another group of Jews is portrayed in a positive light, will be perceived by the Jewish community as anti-Semitic. This is the heart of the matter.

This key axiom leads to the right response of Christians. It is not to argue against Jewish people. It is rather to say, "I understand why you see this film as anti-Semitic. I do not believe it is, but I want you to know that I repent of the terrible history of Christianity with regard to the Jewish people and repudiate every act of anti-Semitism in that history as contrary to everything for which Yeshua stood. I am terribly ashamed of this part of our corporate history." Only such a response will open doors to the message of The Passion of the Christ. It is a message of God's great love for all, even to suffering the horror of the sacrifice of his Son, the Messiah. This is the message of His great love and the costly sacrifice that procured our salvation.

By Daniel Juster


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17:43 19May04 Les Szabo -
Ditto to everything you mentioned above. I would like to add that "The Passion" was the most pro-Judaic movie I have ever seen. Gibson had Yeshua and his talmidim speak the language of the day, Aramaic. When Jesus' name was addressed as Yeshua, and Peter as Kefa, I felt like I was reading out of David Stern's Complete Jewish Bible. Also, the backflashes that Gibson had Yeshua reflect on in his younger days growing up as a carpenter, and as a boy, further give credence and artistic validity to the Jewishness of the movie. I wish I could've seen the movie more than once. When it comes out on DVD, the furtherance of the Jewishness of the film, will be furthered.
In regards to the Anti-Semiticness of the film, I like what radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh said when the film came out. He said, "How Anti-Semitic can this film be? There weren't any rock-throwing Palestinians in the movie. Not to mention the fact that all Jews living at that time valued the validity of the historicity of the Jewish culture. All of the land of Israel was occupied as Palestine." Don't worry. The Lord has used and will continue to use this film for the evangelization of one New Man.

06:18 20May04 Suzy Chalfant -
In regard to this article, I saw last night where it is now "cool" to be associated with Christ. They are cashing in on this current wave of popularity and marketing The Christ! ...I just hope that HE gets some of the money. HA HA Blessings and love to you all, you are in my prayers.

10:09 24May04 David Pyles -
Last night, Ash Wednesday, the opening night, and my birthday, I saw the movie, and it was, in fact, a movie. I can differentiate between the movie version portrayal of Yeshua (Jesus) and the real thing, even after seeing the movie. I did endure the movie, and it had a very emotional effect on me (to have such a vivid image of what our L-rd went through for our sins.. it's literally overwhelming, but necessary, I think). Even so, I can not say that I felt it was inspired, or of the spirit, but the only basis I have for saying that is due to me not experiencing a move of the Ruach (Spirit) while I viewed it. I did shed many tears, throughout the movie, but they were emotionally inspired, not spiritually so.
The movie did seem to move a little slow at times, and I feel there was perhaps too much emphasis placed on Yeshua's physical trials, and not enough placed on His spiritual triumph. Also, through the use of flashbacks, some of the scriptures concerning Yeshua's teachings were shared, but I feel the flashbacks could have been much more numerous, as there is more power in the words He spoke, than in viewing the physical trauma He endured for our sins at such length. Perhaps I expected a little more than what I received, and there were some things in the movie that I didn't understand (like Satan's presence at certain places in the movie that I don't recall the scriptures ever recording. Either Mel Gibson did impart a little artistic license, or these accounts are Catholic in nature). Either way, if you don't expect the movie to follow EXACTLY the gospel you are use to, then you won't be disappointed. I felt this movie was rated properly.. no one under 17 allowed. It IS graphic, but when you learn what it was really like for Him to be hit with a "Cat O' 9 Tails" whip, and then you realize how many times He was hit with it, you have a further understanding of what He endured for you and me.
The movie did seem to portray the Roman leadership as sympathetic and appalled in the Jewish mobs bloodlust for the death of Yeshua, while the Roman soldiers were portrayed as down right evil. I don't think the Romans cared too much one way or the other, to be honest with you. Pilate was just fulfilling the wish of the small Jewish mob, that normally would have stoned Yeshua for blasphemy if they were allowed to carry out a murder sentence, which they were not. Any Roman beneath Pilate's chain of command I would have expected to simply be carrying out orders.
I did not sense an Anti-Semetic tone to the movie at all. In the trial of Yeshua, several San Hedrin council members protest the trial, and it is mentioned that many of the council are not present, to suggest an un-balanced court, with the known supporters of Yeshua left purposefully uninformed of the trial. Also, the size of the mob is obviously small compared to the Jewish population, it was prophesied that the Messiah would be slain at the hands of His own people, and the account is historically accurate.
There are many other little critiques and praises I could give the movie, and I do suggest seeing it, very much so. Perhaps my little "review" will better prepare you for what to expect as well as what NOT to expect, if you plan on seeing it, and maybe that lack of expectation may make the movie more enjoyable for you. At least I would hope so.
David Aron Ben Yacov

14:34 10Jun04 Anonymous -
I am a Christian and I maintain a likeminded view to the posters here. I think the primary reason why Judaism has vigourosly fought the film is because of the media frenzy.
It is obvious that Judaism has canonized its persecutions throughout the centuries; but as a Calvinist, I do not believe that even they are legitimate, since (as Calvinism teaches) nothing happens outside the will of G-d. In Luke, Yeshua said that Gentiles would trample on Jerusalem "until the the fullness of the Gentiles". It can be easily inferred from this and other verses (having to do with the Islands putting their faith in the Messiah) that these persecutions were inevitable based on their rejection of Yeshua.
That in mind, the church's persecution of the Jewish people was not righteous, but still the will of G-d, as was the case with Assyria, Egypt, Persia, etc.
In perspective, I don't believe anything we can say will appease the Jewish community. It was the Almighty who decided to judge the nation of Israel in ancient times, as well as modern times.
Catholic/"Apostolic" Orthodox Churches were responsible for the politically sanctioned massacres of the past. Blaming the bulwark of modern believers for this act is ridiculous. It's akin to blaming the Reform Synagogue for the actions of some Ultra Orthodox Hasidim. Sweeping judgements are irresponsible and I don't see why building bridges must always become a game of shame.

08:18 27Jul04 Ruth Campbell -
Thank you for this very nicely written article and the actual response of Mel Gibson, which I believe was well said. Though he does not wish to disrespect his father, he should not (nor should we) forget that Jesus said you must not be afraid to go against your family, to follow Him. It is a higher calling than the tribal call of family. I am afraid to see the movie merely because I heard it is very graphic, and I cannot tolerate watching suffering. I can imagine it. Also, I cannot bear the collective shame of my people, in wanting Jesus to die, due to their Orthodox traditions. I believe that whether or not the story happened exactly the way it was told by John and others in the New Testament (and Norman Mailer's novel, "The Gospel According to the Son," follows pretty much the same story line) I believe that, well, if that's the way it was, then that's the way it was.

03:38 09Sep04 Pastor Ezekial Omukaya -
Dear Servant of God Daniel, I thank my God what you're doing in His Kingdom. I'm so excited too. I comment it and ask to read more from your ministry. Let me share from you within your heart. God Bless you.