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 Gibson and His Enemies 

February 19, 2004

According to a verse in the Book of Proverbs, I believe (though, being a Catholic, I can’t find it), “There is no such thing as bad publicity.”

Thanks in large part to vitriolic protests by Jewish groups, Mel Gibson’s forthcoming film The Passion of the Christ will surely be a stupendously popular movie. Jewish-owned media have given it enormous pre-release advertising — hostile, to be sure, but free of charge.

Gibson risked more than $20 million of his own money on the film, filling out the spare Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion with vivid details. As many who have seen it attest, it’s very hard to watch. Unlike most films, it makes violence horribly ugly and repulsive. To watch even a terrible criminal crucified — a routine Roman punishment — would sicken most modern viewers. But to see a re-creation of Christ’s torture and death is far worse for Christian audiences, who can only see in it what their own sins did to their Savior.

I saw a screening of it in November. When the film ended, the small audience sat in appalled silence for several minutes. And this is the reported reaction at every screening.

The notion that The Passion (as it was then called) could inspire hatred, let alone violence, against Jews, or anyone else, is hysterical. It’s perhaps the most violent film ever made, precisely because it shows how hideous violence really is.

But Gibson isn’t the only one who is getting free publicity. Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League is getting it too, as he makes the wild accusation, in countless interviews and newspaper columns, that the film will cause “anti-Semitism.”

Well, maybe it will — if you equate “anti-Semitism” with Christianity, which seems to be the implication. According to many Jewish writers, even the Gospels are anti-Semitic, as was the entire Christian tradition until the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Some, like Hyam Maccoby, actually blame Christianity for Hitler and the Holocaust.

[Breaker quote: Did Christ teach hate?]But why stop with the Gospels? If the entire religion centered on hostility to the Jews, why not blame the founder himself? Foxman and his ilk never explain why they exempt Jesus from the accusation. But if all his early followers and their successors were anti-Semitic for two millennia, this calls for an explanation.

According to the Talmud and other authoritative Jewish writings, Jesus was a “bastard” and “sorcerer” who deserved his death and is now in hell, “boiling in excrement.” These lurid writings, which date from centuries after the Crucifixion, are disgusting to a degree that might shock Larry Flynt.

Foxman never mentions these “religious” texts. Would he object to a film about Jesus based on them?

Such obscene smears bear out Christ’s own prediction that he and his disciples would be hated by the world. So have the innumerable Christian martyrs even to our own time, some of whom are still being persecuted from the Sudan to China.

Nobody today actively hates anyone else from that period, not even such horrifying tyrants as Nero and Caligula. But after 2,000 years, the gentle Savior, Jesus Christ, is still hated. That is one perverse testimony to the power of his message — and of the Gospels that bear it.

A watered-down or distorted image of Jesus, as in Martin Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ, doesn’t move the Foxmans of this world to fury. Nobody would bother crucifying Scorsese’s bland Jesus, who could excite neither hatred nor devotion, let alone change even the secular world forever.

If Gibson’s film can be faulted for anything, it may be for failing to show how popular Jesus was among the ordinary Jews of Jerusalem, who had wildly welcomed him only days before his murder. This popularity, the Gospels tell us, was the reason both the Jewish and Roman authorities feared him and decided to try him at night, in secret.

Not that Gibson’s enemies would applaud him for showing the adoring crowd greeting Christ on Palm Sunday. That might offend them worse than the vicious crowd he does show.

One can only marvel at the almost lunatic self-absorption of those who feel victimized by The Passion of the Christ. This film is not about them, any more than it’s about the Roman Empire. It’s about the Son of God.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2004 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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