Wednesday, March 31, 2004

New URL for Classical Greek Fonts and Utilities

I've adjusted the URL for Matthew Robinson's Classical Greek Fonts and Utilities on my Greek fonts page. Thanks to Wim Pelt for flagging up that the old URL was dead.

Currents in Theology and Mission

Another addition to my Journals page is:

Currents in Theology and Mission

The full text of volumes from 2002-3 is freely available at the Find Articles web site. There are several articles of interest and ultimately I would like to link to them individually on the NT Gateway. However, given the recent disappearance of articles from, especially all those from Harvard Theological Review, I am a little loathe to do this at the moment -- and there are many other articles awaiting indexing which may be more stable. But here are some hightlights, with thanks once again to Holger Szesnat. Apologies for the partial references (no pp. numbers etc.)

E. R. Kalin, Romans 1:26-27 and Homosexuality, Currents in Theology and Mission (December 2003)

L. Maloney, Mark and Mystery, Currents in Theology and Mission (December 2003)

M. A. Powell, Binding and Loosing: A Paradigm for Ethical Discernment from the Gospel of Matthew, Currents in Theology and Mission (December 2003)

H. C. Waetjen, The Trust of Abraham and the Trust of Jesus Christ:
Romans 1:17
, Currents in Theology and Mission (December 2003)

Orion Center Reorganisation

Thanks to Holger Szesnat for pointing out this useful reorganisation of the Orion site and specifically its Symposia author index which provides easy access to lots of useful articles:

Orion Center Author Index


I have updated the links to Semeia on my Journals page. Full on-line versions free to all users of issues 79-81 and 83-91 (PDF) are available on the SBL site at a new location:

Semeia: An Experimental Journal for Biblical Criticism

The page also features a link to the book series that now replaces the journal, Semeia Studies.

Thanks to Holger Szesnat for the new URL and the information that those volumes are free.

The Passion of the Christ -- the debate

BBC Manchester and Online are holding a live debate about The Passion of the Christ tonight at 22:00--01:00 BST and you can join in. Details here:

The Passion of the Christ - The Debate
You can join Mike Shaft and guests for a special BBC GMR debate about the film The Passion of the Christ on Wednesday 31st March. You'll also be able to listen online and join our special live chatroom for the duration of the programme.

The list of contributors looks very interesting:
Our discussion panels will include the following guests:

The Right Reverend Terence Brain - Bishop of Salford
Professor Elaine Graham from the department of Theology, Manchester University
Jean-Claude Bragard, Executive Producer in BBC Religion & Ethics. Produced and directed Son of God, BBC 1 2001
Rabbi Brian Fox from the Menorah Synagogue in Sharston
Councillor Afzal Khan, Muslim Council of Great Britain
Professor Ram Gokal from Manchester’s Hindu Community
Rev’d Roger Sutton, Chair of RUN, Reaching the Unchurched Network and Senior Pastor at Altrincham Baptist Church
Matt Wilson from The Message
Andrew Graystone, Religious Broadcaster
Robin Gamble, Canon Evangelist for the Manchester Diocese

With contributions from:

Rev’d Sarah Foster Clark, Curate for the Rivington and Horwich Benefice
Murray Watts, Screen Writer for the 2000 animation film The Miracle Maker
Stephen Goddard from the Ship-of-Fools website
‘Flic Vic’ Luke Walton (Rev’d)
Rev’d Mandy Hodgson, Team vicar at St Luke’s, Benchill
Mani Raja from Manchester Buddhist Centre
Rev’d Eric Delve, St Luke’s Maidstone
Rev’d Steve Williams, St Gabriel’s Prestwich, and Chaplain to the Bishop of Manchester.
Denis Blackledge, Parish Priest, Sacred Heart Church, Blackpool

Interfaith dialogue on The Passion

Here's one for American readers, from the Religion Press Release Service:


Contact: Elizabeth Rumble
MacMillan Communications
(212) 473-4442

NEW YORK, March 30 - "Light On: Gibson's Passion," an original television presentation, examines how Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion of the Christ," has profoundly affected Americans and American culture since its controversial premiere last month. The one-hour special, produced for Faith & Values Media by Lightworks Producing Group, brings together biblical scholars, religious leaders and moviegoers representing diverse faith traditions. The program airs Sunday, April 4 at 6 a.m. ET/PT (rebroadcast at 12 noon ET/PT) on Hallmark Channel.

"In recent weeks we've seen how `The Passion' has shaken up society, with nearly every faith organization and media outlet offering criticism of or praise for the film. Faith & Values Media wanted to bring together thoughtful scholars and other commentators to take a deeper look at the implications this discourse will have on American society now and down the road," said Edward J. Murray, president and chief executive officer of Faith & Values Media.

Leading the discussion from New York City, and corresponding with biblical experts in Nashville and St. Louis, is Mary Alice Williams, an Emmy Award-winning journalist who reports for WCBS Radio, and has previously worked with CNN, NBC and the Odyssey Channel. Sister Mary Boys, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Names and a professor of practical theology at Union Theological Seminary, and Amy Jill Levine, PhD., professor of New Testament studies at Vanderbilt University's Divinity School provide biblical insight to the roundtable discussion.

Randy Ingermanson, PhD. joins the interfaith dialogue from Nashville. An evangelical Christian and author of five books, Ingermanson wrote "Who Wrote the Bible Code? A Physicist Probes the Current Controversy." To provide a Jewish perspective, Rabbi Lynn Goldstein, president of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association, joins the discussion from St. Louis along with Father Gary Braun, chaplain of the Washington University in St. Louis. In addition, the Rev. A.R. Bernard, founder and pastor of the
Christian Cultural Center and Dr. David Benke, pastor of St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Brooklyn and president of the Atlantic District, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, address the implications "The Passion" fervor will have on the Christian community.

"At a time when national, cultural and global events have turned Americans' attention to more pointed religious discussions, Gibson's film provokes a worthwhile controversy which can lead to serious introspection and dialogue within, between, and among faith communities," said Murray. "'Light On: Gibson's Passion' highlights how the film has brought this dialogue to the forefront of society and provides a unique opportunity to hear this conversation."

Participants in NYC:

Mary Alice Williams, Emmy Award-winning journalist and reporter at WCBS Radio in New York City (Program Host)

The Rev. A.R. Bernard, founder and pastor, Christian Cultural Center

Sister Mary C. Boys, Sisters of the Holy Names and professor of practical theology at Union Theological Seminary

Dr. David Benke, pastor of St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Brooklyn and president of the Atlantic District, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod


The Rev. Sara Lamar-Sterling, associate pastor, Park Avenue United Methodist Church Glenda Adams, an Evangelical Christian Joel Ney, a Modern Orthodox Jew Kathyrn Shaughnessy, a Catholic, and Instructor of Philosophy, Institute of Religious Studies. Rose Molina Kornblau, a Pentecostal Sheldon Kornblau, a Messianic Jew

Participants in Nashville:

Dr. Amy Jill Levine, professor of New Testament Studies at the Divinity School, Vanderbilt University

Demetria Kalodimos, Emmy-Award Winning anchor and reporter, WSMV Nashville

Randy Ingermanson, Ph.D in physics and an evangelical Christian and author

Participants in St. Louis:
Rabbi Lynn Goldstein, president of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association

Father Gary Braun, chaplain of the Catholic Center at Washington University in St. Louis

About Faith & Values Media

Faith & Values Media is the nation's largest coalition of Jewish and Christian faith groups dedicated to media production, distribution and promotion. Its member association is made up of denominations, organizations and individuals, who encompass most of the recognized Jewish and Christian faith groups in the United States. Together, these faith groups have more than 200,000 congregations with 120 million congregants. (A list of member faith groups and organizations is available upon
request.) The programming services of Faith & Values Media are available on Hallmark Channel and on Faith & Values Media is a service of the National Interfaith Cable Coalition, Inc., established in 1987.

Manila Times review of The Passion of the Christ

A positive review in the Manila Times:

The passion of Mel Gibson
By Dennis Ladaw
Mel Gibson succeeds in conveying the ugliness of violence. We belong to a generation that’s become numb to violent crimes and Passion in a way makes us feel more sensitive to suffering and to people who have fallen victim to torture, terrorism and oppression. Hopefully, it would make others see the major world tragedies in a new light. The 9-11 attacks weren’t just mere headlines and the mass murder of six million Jews, along with other WWII atrocities, are more than just chapters of a history textbook. Ultimately Passion also gives us a new perspective on every crucifix we see from here on.
Also in the news, much more on the confessions getting made after people have seen the film. This is from the, but it's repeated in many places:

'Passion' Prompts Confessions To Bombings, Murder, Burglary

The Passion of the Christ -- One African American's View

Thanks to Charity Dell for sending this over and for permission to reproduce it here:
Everyone viewing THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST sees this film through a unique "lens"--our gender, religious upbringing--or lack of it--our ethnocultural heritage--combined with the accumulated collection of our personal experiences, shape the "lens" through which we perceive cinematic art. As an African-American Christian viewer of Mel Gibson's film, I must share what I saw, heard and felt when I and a friend attended a matinee showing of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST one Friday in Newark, New Jersey.

At the outset, everyone is drawn in to the movie's plot--immediately, you are "plunked down" in the Garden of Gethsemane and are "watching and praying", as it were, with Yeshua of Nazareth during His final hours. The theatre is completely quiet--except for a few muted voices here and there quoting remembered scripture--and people have neglected to bother with snack purchases and popcorn buckets.

The most riveting part of the film begins with the punishment of the young Jewish Rabbi at the hands of the Romans. Many of us literally FLINCHED in the seats when Yeshua was caned and whipped--and all around you were muffled, anguished cries of "Lord, have mercy!" and "Lord Jesus!"--the classic gut-wrenching phrases black people use to express shock, outrage and extreme horror. Men wept and attempted to stifle their sobs--one elderly black patron told me in the library in which I work* that he "was not religious at all", but that, while watching this movie, he started crying and his stomach got sick, and he literally could not bear to watch the first nail driven into the hand of Jesus: "I just HAD to turn my head away!" But he stated that "the film was good", and that the movie "essentially told the truth."

Descendants of slaves FULLY UNDERSTAND why Gibson's cameras show the instruments of torture and repression--whips and chains evoke powerful collective memories of the suffering of our African foremothers and forefathers HERE in this country at the hands of so-called "Christians." It wasn't so long ago that our great-grandparents literally bore the scars of slavery in their bodies--and the infamous cat o'nine tails was ALSO used on subjugated Africans by viscious, sadistic overseers who acted just like the Roman legionnaries and lictors depicted in the film.

One of the reasons people of color are responding so positively to THE PASSION OF CHRIST is due to Gibson's frank, realistic depiction of the horrors of scourging and crucifixion. The Yeshua of Nazareth depicted in this film shows a full range of emotions--He cries, laughs with His mother, stands up to angry religious authorities who want the adulteress stoned--but most of all, THIS Jesus experiences mental anguish and physical torture, is mocked by Herod and spit upon by the Roman soldiers and bears the full brunt of human hatred manifested in unspeakable brutality. In no other commercial movie venue is there ANY comparable depiction of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53--the "Man of sorrows" Who "hid not His face from shame and spitting", although "we hid as it were, our faces from Him...His visage was marred...yet it pleased Yahweh to bruise Him."

It is THIS Jesus--the JEWISH, biblical "Lamb of God"--not the "Pale Pitiful Mystical Robot-Poppet" of Hollywood's imagination--that African-Americans and Latinos recognize as "OUR Jesus"--the God Who let Himself be beaten, humiliated and crushed, Who felt the sting of violence under a harsh regime, Who suffered injustice and oppression, and Whose torn, lacerated flesh bore the marks of a savage, repressive empire bent on world conquest. Black Christians identify with the God Who becomes a "slave" during Passover, the Festival of Freedom--He is bought for 30 pieces of silver, the market value of a slave in first-century Israel--in order to free humanity from its captivity to sin and death. The honest, unsparing depiction of the harsh reality of Roman punishment "hits home and "rings true" for those whose lives are impacted daily by systemic injustice and senseless violence.

African-Americans immediately recognized the "Jesus" we've heard about in our Sunday Schools, Vacation Bible Schools and worship services, on the knees of our parents and grandparents and community elders--the "Jesus" of our prayer chants, our lined-out psalms and our spirituals and gospel anthems, Who inspired our slave ancestors with hope and gave us joy in the midst of sorrowful lives--and we have ALWAYS heard from our pulpits the message of discipleship--"NO CROSS, NO CROWN!"

Mel Gibson's artistic vision does not spare theatregoers the simply stated, awful truth of the "Apostle's Creed"--"He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead..." Black Christians find it easy to identify with the God Who endured unspeakable agony to redeem a sinful, evil world and reconcile humanity back to Yahweh our Father.

Hollywood is understandably "upset" with Mel Gibson for his "failure" to trivialize suffering and spare them the horrid truth of the ENORMOUS COST of humanity's redemption. For the last 25 years, the Movie Establishment was content to serve up a "saccharine slop of syrupy sweets" and sell these sentimental trifles as "biblical movies" to a jaded public. But then its collective little stomach "heaved" when scourging and crucifixion were accurately portrayed on film! We know from history that the backs of scourged victims were essentially reduced to raw hamburger meat and the internal organs, tendons, bones and muscles were frequently exposed--so Yeshua of Nazareth certainly looked far WORSE than anything imagined by the production company's make-up department!

The "Pampered Princes of Suburbia"--including "media pundits", "leading theologians" and "religious scholars"--who are all whining "Ooooooooh; it's just too bloody for meeee--I can't deal with all that mess and gore!!" ought to try seeing this movie--and the Messiah's suffering--through the eyes of those intimately acquainted with violence and degradation. Scourging and crucifixion cannot and should not be "sanitized, scrubbed clean and prettied-up" to charm the "comfortable folks" who want the movie to "prophesy unto us SMOOTH things!

Those of us deemed "marginal" by the media elites are NOT the ones complaining "there's just too much graphic, gratuitous violence"--Hollywood and the media moguls have not bothered to sample the opinions of black or Latino audiences--who are buying literal blocks of tickets and keeping the theatres filled with busloads and carloads of theatregoers! Nor are black and Latino viewers muttering "anti-semitic slogans" or "cursing all Italians" for "what the Romans did to Jesus"--most black and Latino Christians leave the cinema THINKING and quietly discussing all we have seen and felt.

Inasmuch as Mel Gibson's picture has illustrated the suffering of the biblical Yeshua of Nazareth--and has not shied away from showing that redemption was "bought with a price"--THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is destined to become a movie classic embraced by people of color who have suffered and can recognize the crushed Son of God Who was mistreated, and yet triumphed through it all.

"And let the church say, "AMEN!"
End of review.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Vermes and Wright on anti-Semitism

Thanks to Helenann Hartley for this link to Sunday Sequence which features a discussion of the Passion of the Christ and has 5-10 minute interviews with Tom Wright and Geza Vermes on the question of anti-Semitism in the New Testament. You can listen to the whole programm here (c. 50 minutes):

Sunday Sequence

Wright's interview is towards the beginning (clearly on the phone rather than in a studio) and then Vermes. Worth listening to; plenty of interest. Both are not keen on the term "anti-Semitism" and rightly prefer to use "anti-Judaism". They agree on little else although -- alas -- they are not given the chance to engage with each other. Vermes does comment on The Passion of the Christ but Bishop Tom does not. Come on, Tom, we want to know what you thought about the film!

BBC Religion and Ethics for Easter

BBC Religion and Ethics have provided a summary of their programming over the Easter period, which may be of interest to some, mainly UK readers:

Religion and Ethics: Easter Programmes

Passion of the Christ round-up

It's time for another Passion of the Christ round up. The Guardian reports on its UK success:

Passion crowns UK box office
Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was the No 1 film at the UK box office this weekend with a haul of just over £2m in three days.

Many screenings were sold out, with churches, as expected, buying up seats through block bookings. The film's total of £2,019, 803 also marked the highest opening for a subtitled film on these shores, defeating incumbent Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.
I must admit that it has surprised me. I haven't met many people who have been to see it and those who have have not liked it, but then few academics do like it. I'm unusual. Thanks to Helenann Hartley for a link to a similar story on BBC News here:

Passion wins zombie cinema battle

From here, I spotted a link I had previously missed to an article written by a former fellow-student from my Oxford days:

How faithful is Gibson's Passion?
by The Revd Dr Andrew Goddard
Tutor in Christian Ethics, Wycliffe Hall, Oxford
Far from inciting violence, the lurid portrayal of brutality - overwhelmingly at Roman hands - will hopefully re-sensitize us to its horrors.

At the very least we will question what we do to those who are different or who threaten us.
On Christianity Today, Frank Schaeffer explains why he is not going to see it -- he doesn't like the "celluloid Jesus":

Not This Easter, Mel
I haven't seen The Passion of The Christ, and I don't plan to. Here's why.
by Frank Schaeffer

Meanwhile on Christianity Today's weblog, a link to an extraordinary story from Norway:
They said The Passion of The Christ would provoke neo-Nazis, and they were right: in one case, it's provoking a neo-Nazi to confess to his sins and repent.

Johnny Olsen, whom the Oslo newspaper Aftenposten calls "one of Norway's most feared men," turned himself in to police on Saturday after watching the film.

"He said that it was the film that made him realize that he had to show his hand. He has been preoccupied with Christianity, guilt, punishment, atonement, suffering and conversion during the 10 years I have known him," Olsen's lawyer said. "It has been a long process but the Jesus film made the difference. Now he shows true regret and is ready to make amends."
The full story is here in Aftenposten Norway:

Confessed after seeing 'Passion'
Johnny Olsen, a notorious convicted killer and neo-Nazi, has confessed to two bombings in Oslo in the 90s. Olsen, 41, decided to purge his guilty conscience after viewing Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion of the Christ, newspaper Dagbladet reports

Back to BBC news, thanks again to Helenann Hartley again for this one from Saturday:

Brothers seek French Passion ban
Three Jewish brothers have gone to court seeking a ban on Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ in France.
In opposing the release of the film, the Benlolos submitted pages of quotes from US movie reviews, which the judge said would not be accepted as evidence.
And the outcome? In Monday's BBC News:

Judge rejects French Passion ban
A judge in France has rejected a request by three Jewish brothers to ban Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.
Claims of anti-Semitism stemmed from "a narrow view" of the film, she said.

"To make the death of Jesus into the major motivation of anti-Semitism that leads to secular persecutions against Jews would stem from a narrow view of Mel Gibson's film," said Judge Lagemi following a private screening of the film.
Thanks to David Mackinder for this link to a very negative review in the most recent (April 8) New York Review of Books. The first half of the article is about The Passion of the Christ:

God in the Hands of Angry Sinners
By Garry Wills
My wife and I had to stop glancing furtively at each other for fear we would burst out laughing. It had gone beyond sadism into the comic surreal, like an apocalyptic version of Swinburne's The Whipping Papers.

Gaff of the day: I was speaking at a sixth form day school in Birmingham today on "The sacred text in Christianity". As is my wont at the moment, I began topically by commenting on The Passion of the Christ, asking how many of the 160 or so students present had seen the film yet. A few tentative hands went up and I was taken aback that so few had seen it. One of the teachers kindly took me to one side later on and reminded me that that all of those present were lower sixth, 16-17 years old, and The Passion of the Christ has an 18 certificate.

Mark Chancey on The Passion of the Christ

Thanks to Mark Elliott for this latest on the Bible and Interpretation Essays on the Passion, now building up to a very valuable collection:

An Unacknowledged Passion
While most Christians are familiar with the stories in the Gospels of Jesus’ arrest, trial, torture, and crucifixion, they are less familiar with how those same stories have been used throughout history to justify not only anti-Jewish sentiment but, at times, violent persecution of Jews.
By Mark A. Chancey
Department of Religious Studies
Southern Methodist University
March 2004

Chancey's article is an excellent exposition of the appalling history of Christian anti-Semitism, aimed at those who are cannot understand the fuss about The Passion of the Christ. "Understanding why aspects of this movie could be seen as anti-Semitic," he says, "requires understanding the unfortunate role Christianity has played in the historical development of anti-Semitism." I am grateful for Chancey's careful tone -- he avoids the excessive and unhelpful rhetoric that some of the film's critics have used. It is also particularly useful to have a well presented summary of some of the worse episodes in Christian anti-Semitism. Chancey summarises:
It is within this larger context that the furor over Gibson’s movie must be understood. The types of anti-Jewish sentiments mentioned above are foreign to most American Christians today, most of whom who have never heard of “deicide,” “blood libel,” or the ad versos Judaeos tradition. Many Christian denominations have issued official statements repudiating the deicide charge and committing themselves to fighting anti-Semitism. The fact that so many Christians have not regarded Gibson’s movie as problematic is in many ways a sign of progress on this front: most Christians are not carrying anti-Semitism with them into the theater, and they are not finding it on the screen once they get there.
Perhaps because I am a born optimist, I find this last comment particularly encouraging. But Chancey goes on:
”Most” is not the same as “all,” however. If some people can read The DaVinci Code and then believe that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, it requires no stretch of the imagination to think that at least a few viewers will believe Gibson’s movie is an accurate portrayal of events. They will see Gibson’s whitewashing of Pilate and his vilification of the Jews, points on which the movie goes well beyond what we find in the Gospels, and walk out thinking about how vicious “those Jews” were. The anti-Semitic slur “Christ-killer,” though repeated less frequently now than in decades past, is still heard. The minority of viewers who already harbor anti-Semitic feelings may well walk away feeling validated, having just witnessed “the Jews” kill Jesus on the movie screen. Those who still hold to the view that all Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus, and the view does still circulate in some sectors of American Christianity; will find nothing but confirmation of that belief in this movie.
Now having made those positive comments about Chancey's article overall, there are some elements in this paragraph that I find a little troubling. The first is the use of the term "the Jews" in inverted commas. As I have commented previously, some care is necessary here. As is well known, the Fourth Gospel does repeatedly characterise a body it calls "the Jews" in a very negative fashion. But The Passion of the Christ, in spite of what one reads in some articles and reviews, never does this. Indeed the only time that the term "Jew" is used, it is used in positive contexts, with reference to Jesus and to Simon of Cyrene. So we need to be careful about importing terminology into the film that is not found there. It is because the issue of anti-Semitism is so important that we should strive for accuracy in commenting on this film (and not just this film, of course).

Chancey's comments on the film's relationship to the Gospels overstate the case. In the passage quoted above, he writes, "They will see Gibson’s whitewashing of Pilate and his vilification of the Jews, points on which the movie goes well beyond what we find in the Gospels, and walk out thinking about how vicious “those Jews” were." But does the film go "well beyond what we find in the Gospels" here? I don't think so. It pulls back considerably not only on John's language, already mentioned, but steers well clear of the possible implication in Luke that the Romans had little to do with Jesus' death. Lines that are spoken by the crowd(s) especially in Matthew are transferred solely to Caiaphas in the film. As I have frequently commented before, I wish that Gibson had taken more care here. In particular, I wish he had taken seriously the need for an advisory board of academics who would themselves be accountable. But I am also keen that when we discuss what is in the film we do so as accurately as possible. As scholars, it is important that we set the standard on these issues, and show both the film-makers and the media reporters how importantly we regard care, accuracy and fairness.

Jim Davila also comments in Paleojudaica.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Turin Shroud documentary

Channel 4 is showing a documentary on the Turin Shroud tonight at 9 pm, part of the Secrets of the Dead series:
Series in which forensic science is used to investigate history. The probity of the Turin Shroud, popularly believed to have covered the body of Christ, has long been subject to scrutiny. This programme reveals the latest developments in theories regarding its age following restoration work in 2002 by a Swiss textile expert.
The Channel 4 web site is also advertising a live chat with the producer/director Alex Hearle after the programme, 10 pm.

Update (23.53): watched this programme tonight. Didn't add much of interest. A textiles expert claimed that the stitching on the shroud was of a kind only found previously at Masada and never found in medieval relics, but that was covered in about five minutes and in insufficient detail. What I'd have liked to have seen something on would have been the Jerusalem shroud discovered by Shimon Gibson two years ago, which -- if I remember correctly -- contrasted radically with the Turin shroud. If there is anything new worth discussing, then that is it.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Iwan Russell-Jones on The Passion of the Christ

I was going to blog this article from Ship of Fools on Friday (see previous entry) but decided it needed to be dignified with its own separate posting, and it's had to wait for this weblog's weekend off:

According to Mel
The Passion of the Christ as seen by Iwan Russell-Jones

It is one of the best reviews I have seen; I have the feeling that he "gets" the film in a way that many reviewers seem not to, reviewers who on the whole have been unable to explain the film's massive public appeal. It's all worth reading, but here's an excerpt:
This is why the violence and the brutality are such an important and integral part of the film. Even as the blows rain down on Christ, the flashbacks remind us of his teaching: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, forgive. The torment, the sufferings, the cross of Christ, are all put in the context of a love that goes to any lengths, extraordinary lengths, to restore and heal. As a grief-stricken Mary tries to comfort him as he stumbles along the way, he tells her, "See, mother, I make all things new."

In Gibson's vision, Jesus, the apparent victim of the worst that the human race can dream up, becomes the victor, the one who through suffering conquers the powers of evil and death, and makes the love and forgiveness of God available to all. The cinematic realization of this vision, at the climax of The Passion of the Christ, is both moving and breath-taking.

Mel Gibson has created a remarkable film. There are images, ideas and words here that will linger long in the memory, and may even have the power to change our lives forever.
And at last someone else grasps the Simon of Cyrene material that I've been banging on about here:
But, crucially, the film itself pulls the rug out from under any form of anti-semitism. This occurs, very consciously, in the sequence involving Simon the Cyrene, who is pressed into helping Jesus carry his cross. When Simon cries out in protest against the viciousness of the Roman soldiers towards Jesus, they turn on him with contempt. "Let's go, Jew," one of them spits out. At this moment where Simon's compassion and humanity become apparent, Gibson has provided a deliberate and forceful reminder of his racial identity.
Quite right (though I remember the line as the single word "Jew"; will need to check this on my next viewing).

There's another less positive review on the same site:

According to Mel
The Passion of hte Christ as seen by Mark Stafford

One comment on his review:
We are given little or no context for these sufferings, we're not rooting for the cause or longing for a resolution, we just come slowly to the point of wanting to stand up and shout, "Leave him alone!", because there's only so much punishment you can watch being inflicted on one person.
But one of things that is so powerful about the Simon of Cyrene episode is that he stands up and shouts exactly this -- "Leave him alone!" We stand there with him, wanting to intervene, unable to be an idle bystander. The film draws us in; its story captures us.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Still more Passion

Thanks to Helenann Hartley for this one from BBC News:

Passion ignites world audiences
The Passion of the Christ, which has aroused controversy around the world, opens in UK cinemas on Friday

This article references one of my favourite web sites, Ship of Fools, so I have taken a look at their Passion coverage. The first article is a must-read:

Gory, Gory Hallelujah
Steve Tomkins on The Passion, violence in films and evangelical doublethink
Was it not a bit violent? Ah, yes, but, you see. "The violence is intended not to titillate or entertain, but to emphasize the reality of the unspeakable suffering that our Savior endured on our behalf." The assumption that no other violent films have a similarly serious purpose because they don't feature Jesus is breathtaking.
I was going to reference the next article on Ship of Fools here, but it is so good that it needs to be dignified with a blog entry of its own.

Neusner on the Passion

Thanks to Mark Elliott for this; Bible and Interpretation have added another article to their Passion of the Christ essays page:

A Judaic Reading of the Passion Narratives for Mel Gibson to Consider
A secular, juridical as opposed to a sacred, theological reading of the passion narratives: what is the difference?
Jacob Neusner

Passion of the Christ UK release today

The Passion of the Christ is released in the UK today. The film has prompted a discussion on BBC Radio FiveLive this morning, underway as I write. Some other recent news, with thanks to Helenann Hartley:

Head to head: The Passion
Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ, which is out in the UK on Friday, has provoked major religious disputes over its message and accuracy. BBC News Online gets views from the editors of Jewish and Catholic publications in the UK.

The first view is given by Ned Temko, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, and it features the now standard (but I think misguided) claim about the violence in the film, "an orgy of violence", "sado-pornography" and so on. The second view is given by Josephine Siedlecka, editor of Independent Catholic News and claims that the film is not anti-Semitic, a view only occasionally heard in the media; this is what she writes:
Jesus and Mary were, and are in the movie, Jewish and the same goes for Jesus' 12 apostles.

Gibson's beautifully-drawn character of Simon of Cyrene, who helps Jesus carry the cross, is also Jewish.

While some high priests condemn Jesus, Gibson also shows others walking away saying his trial is a sham.

Many Romans are also depicted as sadistic brutes. The one consistently evil character is the Devil - an androgynous figure never far from the screen.

At the end, we see it defeated, although this could have been more clearly spelt out.
I think I disagree with the last statement -- the extraordinary shot after Jesus' death of the devil cast to the pit of hell is, for me, a high point of the film. But while I think it is not very helpful in this context to point to the fact that Jesus and the Twelve were Jewish, it is good at last to see someone pointing to the way that the character of Simon of Cyrene is drawn. When I went to view the film for a second time this week, I looked out carefully for Johannine style characterisations of "the Jews" of the kind that some critics have levelled against the film (e.g. Julia Neuberger) and there are none -- not even a hint. Indeed the only character specifically characterised as "Jew" -- and I know I have made this point before but it is worth making again -- is Simon of Cyrene, one of the most sympathetic characters in the film.

Passion prompts murder confession
A Texas man has been prompted by Mel Gibson's Passion film to confess he killed his girlfriend, a police spokesman has said.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Guardian Review of the Passion of the Christ

I obviously spoke too soon earlier. Peter Bradshaw's review of The Passion of the Christ is published in this morning's Guardian and he does not have a good thing to say about it:

The Passion of the Christ
Peter Bradshaw
It's certainly ambitious and technically proficient, but only very moderately acted and turns out to be an incredibly obtuse piece of macho-masochism, overlooking Jesus's message of love and his human complexity in favour of a bizarre make-up bloodbath, turning his body into a gory lattice of latex weals, cosmetic stripes and prosthetic wounds which proclaim their lurid and ridiculous fakeness to the very heavens . . . .

. . . . . Gibson also has ridiculous devils and Satanic apparitions popping up all over the place, whose appearance he has plagiarised from The Omen and Don't Look Now. Is it too much to ask where the spiritual dimension has disappeared to? Where is the message of love, and hope? Where is the compelling poetry of moral grace? Does all of it have to be swept away in a tsunami of fake gore?

Gibson offers brief flashbacks to episodes like the Sermon on the Mount and the Last Supper, hinting in the most superficial way possible at what it has all been about in the first place - before we smartly return to Jesus's ongoing steak tartare nightmare, whose horror is repeatedly undermined with cutaway reaction shots of Mary (Maja Morgenstern) and Mary Magdalene (Monica Bellucci) doing their unvarying sorrow ing face to the accompaniment of syrupy-sad music.
But it seems to me that Bradshaw has missed the point of the flashbacks to episodes like the Last Supper and the Sermon on the Mount, which are to drive home repeatedly the very message Bradshaw does not find in the film, love of enemies, prayer for persecutors, laying down one's life for one's friends, forgiveness. The juxtaposition of this specifically chosen teaching with Jesus' own attitude to his suffering is one of the film's most memorable themes.

British New Testament Conference 2004

I am just sending out the invitation for the British New Testament Conference 2004. If you are not on the mailing list, the invitation is also available here; and the booking form here. The conference this year will be the 25th anniversary of the society and it is hosted by the University of Edinburgh. For details, see the British New Testament Society web site.

A Birmingham chaplain's view on The Passion of the Christ

Thanks to Michael Pahl for this very negative reaction to The Passion of the Christ from a fellow Brummie:

Scandalous travesty of the gospels
The Rev. Stephen Barton, Chaplain to Birmingham Women's Hospital, emerged from the cinema feeling sick and angry.

This quotation will give you and idea of the tone of the review:
Many scenes are stereotypical “Jesus film” stock. There is a flashback to the sermon on the mount, which for me recalled The Life of Brian, but the best Brian moment was the release of Barabbas (again, dubious historically), as the latter’s glee is truly comic.

The other “joke” in the film is in a flashback to Jesus in his workshop turning out a three foot high table. Mary asks who it’s for. “A rich man” says, Jesus, his eye, like Gibson’s firmly on the market. “Must be a tall man” says Mary and she doubts whether anyone will every want such a thing. “It’ll catch on,” says Jesus.

It’s incredibly unfunny, and also racist. Still in Asia most people use low tables or none for eating. But here is Hollywood’s Christ, Founder of Western Civilisation.
Well I thought that scene both funny and delightful (and the line is actually Mary's, "It will never catch on"). To call this scene racist is a serious overreaction, to say the least. It is also not clear to me why the Sermon on the Mount scene would recall Life of Brian. There is nothing in that scene's composition or content that I found reminiscent of the famous scene from Brian.

The Independent asks British viewers what they think

And today's Independent asks a handful of viewers what they they think of The Passion of the Christ:

'For some it will be an evangelistic experience, for others the film will simply be a violent story'
As 'The Passion of The Christ' opens in Britain, 'The Independent' asked a selection of film-goers if Mel Gibson's vivid account deserves its notoriety

One of the viewers, an eighteen your old student remarks, "The violence wasn't overdone; I'm part of the MTV generation, after all." One of the first times (the first time?) I have seen anyone saying that the violence was not overdone, which would I think be my own view. It is sometimes graphic but it is rarely gratuitous. Interestingly enough, another student interviewed feels the same way:
"One of the most redeeming features of the film is its attempt at authenticity. I realise it's obviously an interpretation and Mel Gibson's particular branch of Catholicism is quite obsessed with the physical sacrifices of Christ, but I didn't think the violence was gratuitous.

"It seemed to be more of a moral message, rather than trying to repulse. It seemed to try and convey, then as now, that violence was the lowest common language of man and that's what came across more than just the thrashing of Christ's body. The violence didn't seem to get in the way. More than anything else, the director conveys a moral message of humanity and perhaps that might convince people to look more closely at the Scriptures."
Could these radically different reactions to the violence in the film be related to the age of the viewer? I had a birthday this week, but am I still young enough to be reacting to this film in the same way that students are?

I am interested too with another of this person's comments, that "It was really enjoyable, but I kept thinking to myself I wish I had a better knowledge of the Scriptures as the narrative isn't strong." When I viewed the film for a second time this week, the lady selling me my nachos made the same remark. Asking me whether I knew anything about the Bible, she suggested I would enjoy it more if I did. She said that she did not know who all the characters were and what was going on, though she did say that she still found the film powerful.

Times review of The Passion of the Christ

Today's Times has a very positive review of The Passion of the Christ. Given Mark Kermode's positive review in The Observer, it's beginning to look like British film critics are giving something of a thumbs-up:

The Passion of the Christ
Mel Gibson’s epic of faith and gore stuns James Christopher
MEL GIBSON’S reconstruction of the Passion is the most controversial horror film Hollywood has made since The Exorcist. It is not for faint hearts. The biblical “facts” are hitched to scenes of such intense, visceral realism that you physically flinch from the cruelty. It’s almost impossible not to be moved by Jim Caviezel’s vulnerability as Christ, even if the idea that he is no “mere” man is never in doubt. From the moment he is betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is treated like a lump of meat.

It’s a mesmerising, monolithic performance. Caviezel drips with sweat from the first chilly minute, and staggers through most of the film with one eye permanently closed after having his face pulped by Jewish soldiers within seconds of his arrest. What gives his humiliation such unexpected authenticity is the Aramaic (spoken by the Hebrews) and “street Latin” (adopted by the Romans), even if it sounds like pure Orc to untutored ears . . . . .

. . . . . Claims that the film is anti-Semitic are wildly inappropriate. The mob is far more enamoured of the scent of blood than arguments about blasphemy. The Roman soldiers are drunk on sadism. In their blundering, anarchic enthusiasm, they almost kill Christ several times before they can get him up Calvary.

Perhaps Gibson leans too heavily on old horror-movie staples. One might query the eerie presence of Satan as a cowled and sexually ambiguous monklike figure who ghosts through the crowd with a look of amusement. But it’s a spicy, and fitting, piece of imagination, just like the maggot that wriggles from his left nostril to his right. The rabble of taunting children who hound Judas to his tree have their faces transfigured into devilish goblins. And a teardrop from Heaven hits the ground like a bomb when Caviezel, as Christ, finally expires. But they are modest indulgences in the awesome context . . . . .
In my view, the overall tone of this review, like Kermode's, is about right. It is interesting to hear both Christopher and Kermode describing it as a horror film.

More Passion, more!

BBC1's Breakfast News this morning had a feature on The Passion of the Christ presented by Tom Brook, the American film correspondent. And apparently the signs are that it's tough to get tickets for evening showings. (Tip for academics: use your next "research day" to get to an early bird showing -- they're cheaper too. Or take a group of students with you and then it's a "field trip".).

This article in The Independent reports on one strong reaction in France:

'Passion' is fascist propaganda: French film boss
By John Lichfield in Paris
Marin Karmitz, president of the MK2 group, said that he would not show the movie - a runaway box-office success in the United States - in any of his 10 cinemas.

In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, the newspaper of the American movie industry, M. Karmitz said: "I have always fought against fascism, notably through [the films I show]. For me, Passion is a film of fascist propaganda."
As often with the film's most vociferous critics, it is the violence that Karmitz objects to:
He accused the Australian-born director of not only presenting a distorted and anti-Semitic view of the New Testament story but also "turning violence and barbarity into a spectacle".

"For two hours, you see a man being tortured, nothing else," said M. Karmitz.

Although he is Jewish, he criticised Jewish lobbies in the US for focusing on the alleged anti-Semitic elements in the movie and not its "culture of violence". "Behind this Passion ... you can glimpse a whole internationale of religious fundamentalism, a martyrology based on violence, contempt for the body and hatred for [humanity]," he said.
The idea that you only see Jesus being tortured for two hours and "nothing else" is pretty inaccurate. In my own view, the violence in this film is often graphic but it is never gratuitous. As with other similar critics, I find the notion that the film condones "hatred" an extraordinary one given the film's obvious stress on the themes of love of enemies, prayer for persecutors and forgiveness under the most appalling circumstances. Given the film's relentless pressing of those themes, I am surprised that it has not been criticized for trying to hammer the point home too strongly. How often does one see it mentioned in the reviews?

The article reveals an interesting link too with Jesus of Nazareth:
The film is due to be released in 600 cinemas across France on 31 March by Quinta Distribution, a company owned by the Franco-Tunisian film producer Tarak Ben Ammar.

M. Ben Ammar, who produced Franco Zeffirelli's equally controversial Jesus of Nazareth in 1977 and Roberto Rossellini's The Messiah in 1975, has said the film is not racist or anti-Semitic . . . .

. . . . . M. Ben Ammar said: "I thought it was my duty as a Muslim who believes in Jesus, and because I was brought up to respect all three monotheist religions, to show this movie to the people of France and let them judge for themselves."
Jesus of Nazareth "equally controversial"? That's a serious overstatement.

On the links between Jesus films, Paul Schrader, script writer for The Last Temptation of Christ, has recently commented on The Passion. He didn't like it. This from Tuesday's Guardian:

Last Temptation writer: Mel's Passion is medieval
Xan Brooks
"Last Temptation was a very humanistic film in that it sees Christ's struggle as a human struggle," Schrader told the Guardian. "Gibson's film is very different. My guess is that Mel has a problem with the Enlightenment because his film really does go back to the visceral blood cult origins of Christianity, and the fervour it's created is more akin to a Gospel tent meeting than it is to a motion picture."

On the question of whether the film is anti-semitic, Schrader points out that the problem may be largely to do with the Gospels themselves. "The Gospels were rigged for political reasons from the get-go. They were written 30-40 years after the fact to curry favour with the Romans and separate the Christians from the Jews. So the Pharisees were made to seem much worse than they were and Pilate was shown to be more agonised." . . . . .

. . . . . As it happened, Schrader was working in an adjacent studio in Rome when Gibson was shooting The Passion of the Christ, and would often drop by to visit.

"It was at the time he was taking a lot of flak, and I mentioned what had happened with us and Last Temptation. I told him that it comes with the territory: you make a film about this subject matter, people are going to take it very personally. But he didn't follow up on that because I'm sure he was one of those people who subscribed to the Vatican's view of Last Temptation."

Bible Mysteries: Disciples

Thanks to Melisso Quero at the BBC for this update on the Bible Mysteries television series. The next episode is to air on BBC2 at 12.40 pm on Sunday 4 April (Palm Sunday); details here:

Bible Mysteries: The Disciples

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Happy birthday Paleojudaica

Jim Davila's Paleojudaica blog is a year old today (well, now yesterday). Many happy returns. I began reading Paleojudaica from the beginning and it was the direct catalyst for the creation of the NT Gateway blog several months later. Jim has put together an enjoyable retrospective with links to some of the most popular, interesting and recurrent postings. He also reflects on the blogging experience and has some interesting thoughts. This rule is particularly useful:
I've made a rule for myself that when I disagree with someone, I always try to imagine that I'm in the same room with the person, speaking to them face to face, when I compose the entry. That helps me keep to the point, stick to the facts, and avoid personal attacks.
That's something scholars in their criticisms of other scholars in printed work would do well to remember too. One of the things that I've found striking about blogging is that people actually read what you say and so you do become conscious of your audience. I've learnt that any remark I make here might well get read by one of the people whose work I am criticizing -- and that is a very helpful thing to have in your mind. My hope is that that consciousness will also improve the quality of one's published work.

Jim also suggests being wary of sarcasm, which does not work so well in the blogging realm. Agreed -- and also with humour generally one has to be careful. The only thing I'd add from my own experience is that one can get a little too self conscious if one is not careful and one of the keys to successful blogging is to be able to push postings out reasonably frequently in a relaxed enough way. I actually don't want to be spending a lot of time making sure that I've got this potential nuance or that possible reading exactly right. If I were to do that, I'd only ever be blogging and really would have no time for all the teaching and admin. I have to do, to say nothing of trying to eek out some time to research and write. So if people don't like what I write, they can send an email or post a comment. And it sometimes happens that I feel suitably chastened by something someone points out, e.g. I used an unfortunate turn of phrase a couple of weeks ago when commenting on The Passion of the Christ and I was pulled up on it.

Jim also mentions that he has learnt about the shoddy level of some journalism. Agreed. I very much like the way that Jim takes seriously the blogger's prerogative -- and especially the academic blogger's prerogative -- of calling journalists to account. Of course they make mistakes; we all do. The key question is whether they have the humility to correct them and learn from them.

Thanks, Jim, for some useful thoughts. And may Paleojudaica long continue to prosper.

Channel 4 programme on Gibson

Spotted a preview tonight for a programme on Mel Gibson and The Passion of the Christ on Sunday, 9 pm, Channel 4, Mel Gibson - God's Lethal Weapon.

Second Passion of the Christ death

News of another death while someone was viewing The Passion of the Christ. Thanks to Helenann Hartley for this link from BBC News:

Pastor dies at Passion screening
A Brazilian pastor has died during a screening of Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion of the Christ.
Jose Geraldo Soares, a 43-year-old Presbyterian, had booked a whole cinema to view the film with his congregation.

Halfway through, his wife noticed that he was no longer awake, and a doctor in the audience confirmed that he had suffered a heart attack.

Whither goest Mel?

This article from the Los Angeles Times is slightly off topic, as it were, but it may be of interest to some and has one or two great lines:

Whither goest Mel?
The success of "Passion" has made Gibson hotter than ever. Whether as actor or producer, he can pick from many roads.
"I give Gibson credit for using his resources to present his vision, which he has every right to express. But what dogs will be fed by Gibson's Last Supper? The movie is a two-hour primer on how to do a crucifixion, lacking layers and context, that caught the zeitgeist of the time. It was an egregious mistake for a person living in a multicultural society to present that effort to the world community."

A top major studio executive is equally upset by the "Passion" experience — although if his company signed a deal with Gibson, he "wouldn't fall on the sword," he conceded . . . .

. . . . . " 'The Passion' was made and marketed as Mel Gibson's," Guber said. "He was the true star of the film. His name gave the movie momentum. If Yuki Fiduki was the director, it would have lasted 10 minutes in the theaters. We don't know yet if we have a new market on our hands or merely an anomaly."

Re-release Brian!

Here's news to brighten up everyone's day. Monty Python's Life of Brian is to be re-released in the USA (and let's hope elsewhere too) to celebrate its twenty-five year anniversary. Thanks to Helenann Hartley for this link:

Python film to challenge Passion
Monty Python's film The Life of Brian is to return to US cinemas next month following the success of The Passion of the Christ.
The Biblical satire will be re-released in Los Angeles, New York and other US cities to mark its 25th anniversary.

Adverts will challenge Mel Gibson's blockbuster with the lines "Mel or Monty?", "The Passion or the Python?" . . . .

. . . . . Rainbow president Henry Jaglom said: "We decided this is an important time to re-release this film, to provide some counter-programming to The Passion."

He said the surviving members of the Monty Python comedy team "all agreed this was a good time" to bring back the film and would help promote it.

Mr Jaglom, whose partner John Goldstone produced the original film, said trailers for the comedy would start to appear in cinemas on Good Friday.
And the news also appears in today's Guardian:

Life of Brian comes back to bait Mel
Dan Glaister in Los Angeles

And this articles features some favourite lines from the film. The fact that the mere quotation of a handful of lines can raise a smile is a testimony to its greatness.

Jesus film quiz

The Guardian has a nice Jesus films quiz to celebrate the arrival in the UK of The Passion of the Christ:

Christ in the Movies
Christ in the movies
As The Passion of the Christ unshrouds itself in British cinemas, cast an eye back over the sometimes divine, sometimes profane Jesus movies of yore. Are you blessed or are you cursed? The answer is but ten commanding questions away

It's actually quite tough. I scored 7 out of 10 and ended up in limbo.

Hypotyposeis and Synoptic Problem web page

Stephen Carlson informs me that his Hypotyposeis blog and Synoptic Problem web page will be down for a few days but due to return on April 1. We all look forward to their return!

Passion of the Christ UK previews from today

The Passion of the Christ begins two days of preview screenings in the UK today ahead of its national release on Friday:

The Passion of the Christ UK and Republic of Ireland

Monday, March 22, 2004

Review of Biblical Literature latest

Latest SBL Review of Biblical Literature reviews (I'm listing the NT ones):

van Aarde, Andries
Fatherless in Galilee: Jesus as a Child of God
Reviewed by Lincoln Blumell

Green, Gene L.
The Letter to the Thessalonians
Reviewed by Demetrius K. Williams

Patte, Daniel and Eugene TeSelle, eds.
Engaging Augustine on Romans: Self, Context, and Theology in Interpretation
Reviewed by David Parris

Schröter, Jens and Ralph Brucker, eds.
Der historische Jesus: Tendenzen und Perspektiven der gegenwärtigen Forschung
Reviewed by Andries Gideon van Aarde

Vouga, François
Une théologie du Nouveau Testament
Reviewed by James E. West

Beliefnet's Passion material goes "premium"

I'm sorry to see tonight that Beliefnet have removed a lot of the material from their excellent site about The Passion of the Christ and have pushed it into "premium" content which one has to pay for. This includes things I've often mentioned here, like the Crossan and Witherington Scholarly Smackdown and the very useful Scene by Scene guide. I am sure they have to make ends meet -- we can't all be spare time blogoholic enthusiasts, I suppose, providing everything for free. But it's still a shame when one has useful, freely available material on the net that then "goes premium". I remain intrigued by the Amazon experiment, according to which those texts that are freely available in their entirety are said to be the ones that also sell the most.

The Passion: They know not what they watch

Thanks to David Mackinder for the link to this well-written article on The Passion of the Christ from the Chronicle of Higher Education

'The Passion': They Know Not What They Watch

I'd love to comment a little on this but my time is massively limited at the moment. But it's worth reading for some interesting comments on how the film parallels John's Gospel in setting up an insider / outsider contrast.

Update (24 March): thanks to Whit Stodghill (comments below) and Andrew Mills for pointing out that this has now gone premium too. Can't even find it in the Google cache.

University email and web back again

My university email address is now working again and the university web sites all appear to be back on-line.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Mark Nanos on The Passion of the Christ

And here's one not to miss. Thanks to Mark Nanos for sending this over:

The Missing Logic that Threatens the Jewish Other: [PDF]
A Review of The Passion of the Christ
Mark D. Nanos

Comments in due course.

Still more reviews

In a comment to an earlier post, Darko points out that the Rotten Tomatoes site has over 200 reviews of The Passion of the Christ:

The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Laksamana article on The Passion

An interesting and provocative piece today on The Passion of the Christ in The Politics and Economics Portal, with the now all-too-predictable title:

The Gospel According to Mel Gibson
Globalvision News Network - By Gabriel Ash
The Jewish leaders wanted Jesus dead because he was immensely popular and could ignite a rebellion; the Bible says so (although Gibson doesn't). Historians give the absent context. The Jewish leaders at the time were Roman puppets; (not unlike the Arab leaders of the modern Middle East) they maintained their position by collaborating with the Roman exploitation of their people. That is why Jesus' challenge was so attractive to the Jewish masses, and a real threat to the priestly leadership. Of course, that would have made Jesus as much a threat to Rome as he was to the High Priest; it is highly unlikely that Pilate would need a lot of prodding to execute a popular and charismatic rabble rouser. But the Gospel writers chose to de-emphasize Roman culpability. Writing after the destruction of the Temple, their audience was no longer Jewish. They did not want to call the wrath of Rome upon them, and they wanted their message to be appealing to Romans. They chose cooperation over confrontation with the empire, wise politics in retrospect.

With this background in mind, let's return to the story as it is. Pilate is given the best possible treatment in Gibson's film; the pro-imperial bias of the Gospel writers is enhanced and expanded with Gibson's own inventions. There is no criticism in the film of the colonial setting itself. On the contrary, Gibson goes out of his way to portray the nobility of spirit of Pilate and his wife. They are somber, almost ascetic. They don't share in the bloodlust of the "natives." Pilate criticizes the Jewish leaders for their lack of "due process" (not in the Bible). Gibson even invents an embarrassing philosophical discussion between Pilate and his wife about the nature of truth. They are not corrupt and hedonistic like the native puppet king Herod, represented in a scene that seems to be a homage to Fellini. On the contrary, their compassion is on display: Pilate offers Jesus water; his wife gives Mary some white linen to wipe Jesus' blood (both details are not in the Bible.)

Birmingham email and web down

My Birmingham email address appears to be down along with all the Birmingham University web sites. If you need to get in touch, please use my blogines email address (but don't add this to your address book because it changes regularly).

Passion of the Christ Reviews

IMDb now has an absolutely massive list of reviews for The Passion of the Christ, at the moment 156 and counting. These are collected from sites external to IMDb, from newspapers etc.:

External Reviews for The Passion of the Christ

More Passion news

Thanks to Helenann Hartley for this from CNN:

Spielberg: Won't comment on 'Passion'
First person he'll talk to will be Gibson

LOS ANGELES, California (Hollywood Reporter) -- Declaring himself "too smart to answer a question like that," Steven Spielberg on Wednesday deftly sidestepped the controversy surrounding fellow filmmaker Mel Gibson's box office smash, "The Passion of the Christ," which has been accused of anti-Semitism.
And from BBC News, another report on the possibility that Gibson will film something on the Maccabees:

Gibson to film Jewish 'Western'
Mel Gibson looks set to provoke further antipathy among the Jewish community with plans to make a film about the story behind the festival of Hanukkah.

Sunday programme on The Passion of the Christ

Sunday this morning (BBC Radio 4) kicked off with a short discussion of The Passion of the Christ ahead of its UK release this week. Two Catholics are brought in to discuss it, Father Peter Malone and Peter Stanford, the first of whom loved it and the second of whom did not. Peter Malone makes the useful point about the value of the flashback scenes during the crucifixion. Listen here:

The Passion Debate

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Katha Pollitt article on The Passion of the Christ

On Paleojudaica, Jim Davila comments on the "Mel Gibson as holocaust denier meme" in the following article:

The Protocols of Mel Gibson
Katha Pollitt

Jim rightly remarks on the inaccuracy of charging Gibson with holocaust denial in the light of his Diane Sawyer interview (and I would add, the Peggy Noonan one too), but adds that otherwise "Pollit has a lot of criticisms of the movie that are correct", commenting that she has an "understanding of the movie that otherwise is supported with some good arguments". I am not inclined to agree here. The lack of careful attention to the source material exhibited in the accusation of holocaust denial seems to me to typify the article as a whole. In the main it is so marked with polemic, caricature and abuse that it is difficult to assess any of its potentially more insightful comments. The title alone should put one on one's guard, but one's confidence is not increased by the idea that using a woman to play Satan is "a nice touch of misogyny" (given that the most positive roles also played by women). While there is much talk of villains who "look Semitic", there is no mention of the fact that the main support (Mary) is played by a Jew, so that the article tacitly reinforces the very racial stereotyping that it is attempting to counter.

A further inaccuracy is the statement that the scourging of Jesus only occurs in three of the Gospels (it is in all four). And there is some nonsense about the scourging being a "ten-minute homoerotic sadistic extravaganza". Like the frequent but equally misleading charge that this material is pornographic, the notion that it is "homoerotic" I find simply baffling.

This is a very poor piece of journalism.

Mamet, a Rabbi, a Vicar and a Priest on The Passion of the Christ

Yesterday's Guardian has a piece on The Passion of the Christ ahead of its UK release next week:

Passion players
Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ finally hits our screens next week. If you want to worship, go to church, not the movies, says David Mamet - while three clerics reveal their reactions to the film

Mamet's piece is a bit too clever for my liking and ends up getting so involved that it says little about the film. You can tell that he is pleased with his line about "communion with the divine" being "better celebrated with the traditional bread and wine than with popcorn and Coca-Cola".

The three clerics mentioned in the subtitle are Rabbi Julia Neuberger, Dr Graham Kings, vicar and Father Kit Cunningham. One hated it, one loved it, one had mixed feelings. I am a bit troubled about a comment made by Neuberger:
There is no doubt that the Jews are presented in an overwhelmingly negative way. Caiaphas, the high priest, is a pompous ass. He - and the other priests - are depicted as fat and overdressed, in contrast with the thin and simply attired Jesus and his followers. The crowd of Jews is given Jesus back after the obscenely vicious scene of the scourging - and it is then that "the Jews" bay for Jesus's blood. They ask for him to be crucified - Pilate, who gave in to the Jews before, unwillingly, gives in again to satisfy their blood lust. This is a highly selective and dangerous reading of the Gospels.
Neuberger is right about the overwhelmingly negative depiction of Caiaphas but her use of "the Jews" here in quotation marks strikes me as quite inappropriate. Now it is possible that I missed it, but I did not notice any group in the film specifically characterised as "the Jews" in this way, yet Neuberger makes this into a quotation. Indeed, as I have pointed out before, the only character I remember being specifically characterised as "Jew" was Simon of Cyrene, undoubtedly the most sympathetic character in the film after Jesus and the Marys. I do think that Gibson could have taken more care to avoid elements that have led to the anti-Semitism charge, e.g. by getting some more historical consultants on board, but there is no way that one can have a serious discussion if one is importing elements into the film that are not there (again, subject to correction if I have remembered wrongly).

Livius -- Articles on Ancient History

Thanks to Holger Szesnat for pointing out this excellent site:

Livius - Articles on Ancient History
By Jona Lendering

This is a series of clear, illustrated, hyperlinked articles on the ancient world. Includes massive section on Ancient Judaea including articles on Jewish Wars, Messiah and more. I have added a link on my Ancient World page.

Passion Plays and the Passion

Christian History has a piece on the the medieval Passion plays and how an understanding of them informs one's appreciation of The Passion of the Christ:

The Ageless Drama of the Passion
Watching Gibson's film, we are transported 600 years back in time to a medieval art form.
By Jennifer Trafton

Friday, March 19, 2004

Jerusalem Post essay on Who Killed Jesus?

Thanks to Gail Dawson for this one from the Jerusalem Post, which I am noting a little belatedly -- it's a week old -- butr I didn't want it to pass without drawing attention to it because interesting:

Essay: Who killed Jesus? Boring
There is something absurd in the Jewish eagerness, manifested once again in the clamor surrounding Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, to prove that "we" didn't kill Jesus. Honestly, it wasn't us, it was the Romans! We simply turned him in. This kind of plea-bargaining is not only demeaning and historically questionable, it is also unreflectingly accepting of the premise of traditional Christian theology that it really matters who killed Jesus because there is a collective responsibility for his death that damns the people of its perpetrators forever . . . . .

. . . . . Abba! I can read that a hundred times and still get a chill down my spine. The Aramaic word handed down to the authors of the Gospels as that used by Jesus to pray to his Father in heaven still means "father" in the colloquial Hebrew we speak every day in Israel. There is an intimacy and a tenderness in that colloquialism, uttered in prayer by no known rabbi of Jesus's time, that only a Hebrew speaker can savor.

I suppose this is merely to make what has become by now - though for thousands of years it was not - a commonplace observation: that the story of Jesus is a Jewish story, set in a Jewish world with Jewish characters and Jewish themes and Jewish preoccupations. Pontius Pilate is the only non-Jew in it. Its final chapters are not about how the "son of God" was killed by the Jewish people. They are about how some Jews helped to kill another Jew who had Jewish disciples and Jewish loyalties and Jewish thoughts and a Jewish message meant for Jews. The fact that by the time the Gospel stories were written, the message in question, or rather, a garbled version of it, was being addressed mainly to non-Jews does not obscure this . . . . .

. . . . . What's to be proud of is Jesus himself. Only Judaism could have produced such an extraordinary character.

London Institute for Contemporary Christianity Event

Thanks to David Mackinder for this link:

Passion Play
Monday 05 of April, 2004 at 6.45pm - A special evening to discuss the significance of Mel's film, hosted by Jason Gardner

Cost: £6 at the door. Starting at 6.45pm for 7.00pm, doors open from 6.30pm. To book please contact Nicola on 020 7399 9555 or email

Held at The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, St Peter's, Vere Street, London, W1G 0DQ
Mel Gibson's stirring re-creation of the last 12 hours of Jesus' life has ignited much discussion amongst film critics and theologians alike, but does The Passion of the Christ present a flawed or fair account of the nature and life of Jesus? What does the way in which the media and the Church have handled the film's success tell us about the future of Christ's image in the public eye? And can we gain from Gibson's focus on the crucifixion an understanding of the work of the Cross that speaks to today's world?

Four panellists with distinctive perspectives will be reflecting on these and other issues raised by the film before inviting questions from the floor. Dr John McDade, Jesuit Priest and Principal of Heythrop College will be discussing the particularly Catholic aspects of the film's theology; Nev Pierce, film critic for the BBC will look at how the UK and US media differed in their response to Mel Gibson and his film; Anna Robbins, lecturer in Theology and Contemporary Culture at the London School of Theology, will explore whether the Church's various strategies for using the film is likely to help or hinder Christian engagement with the world at large. Baptist Minister Dr Steve Nolan, whose PHD examined film theory and liturgy, will compare Gibson's 'incarnation' of the Christ to Jesus' previous outings on celluloid. Chairing the event will be LICC Youth Culture researcher Jason Gardner.

The Passion of the Christ opens on general release Friday 26th of March. Use the Cinema Search at to find out where it's on at a cinema near you during or after the release week.

LICC's Director, Mark Greene, reflects on Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ.
Click here to read his review.

ReJesus on the Passion

To coincide with the UK release of The Passion of the Christ, the reJesus web site has set up some materials:

Expressions: The Passion Movie

This will not be of a lot of interest to academics; its primary purpose is as a guide for those who are interested in the film or who have seen the film but who do not know a lot about the New Testament and Christianity.

Passion of the Christ UK release

Although the official UK release of The Passion of the Christ is listed for March 26 (Friday), a quick glance around local cinemas confirms that the release date is actually March 24 (Wednesday). There is a new UK and Ireland web site for the film here:

The Passion of the Christ -- A Mel Gibson Film -- Official UK and Ireland Movie web site

Passion of the Christ round-up

On Germany's reaction to the film ahead of its release there later this week, this BBC News story (thanks to Helenann Hartley and Bible and Interpretation for the link):

Germany wary of Passion reaction
German Jewish leaders and church officials have warned that The Passion of the Christ may stir up anti-Semitism when it opens in the country.
. . . . . "The anti-Semites will only have their views on Jews confirmed," said Salomon Korn, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

German Protestant leader Wolfgang Huber said the film did not put Christ's suffering into proper perspective . . . .

. . . . German Catholic leaders called the film problematic, and the German Bishops' Conference said: "We urgently warn against using the suffering of Jesus as an instrument for anti-Semitism."

Salomon Korn said the film was a "sado-masochist orgy of violence" laden with "kitsch", while Wolfgang Huber described the film's violence as "intolerable".
Thanks to David Mackinder for this one in the New Republic Online:

Gibson's Offering

Meanwhile the money keeps rolling in, and the film has not even been released yet in many countries. This also linked on Bible and Interpretation; it is an article from the Washington Post:

Mel's New Testament Profits
Gibson Could Earn $500 Million From His Leap of Faith
By Anne Thompson
Because he provided the money behind the movie himself, Gibson stands to make several hundred million dollars. After just 21/2 weeks, "The Passion" has already earned a spot among the top 25 all-time domestic blockbusters, with $267.7 million through Monday, and beat "My Big Fat Greek Wedding's" record as the most successful independent release ever. This weekend, the gory religious epic will likely pass "The Matrix Reloaded's" $281 million gross to become the best-grossing R-rated movie of all time.
The piece ends by speculating on what Gibson will do with his millions and notes the possibility that he will make a film on the Maccabees, also reported elsewhere on the web and noted by Jim Davila in Paleojudaica.

And in the Guardian Unlimited, this extraordinary story:

Mel's Passion too much for Georgia couple
The theological implications of The Passion of the Christ proved too much for one God-fearing American couple last weekend when what began as a discussion on the content of Mel Gibson's movie ended with Georgia natives Sean and Melissa Davidson spending a night in police cells, each charged with battery.

Latest "Scholarly Smackdown", Witherington

Ben Witherington III's response has now been added in Round 5 of the Scholarly Smackdown on The Passion of the Christ:

Round 5: Ben Witherington III

It remains interesting because Witherington is obviously no great fan of the film, so it is not as if we have Crossan anti- the film and Witherington pro. Their divisions are tending to relate more to why they have problems with it, Crossan largely because of its theology, its alleged anti-Semitism and its violence, Witherington because of its relative lack of fidelity to Scripture. Witherington agrees with Crossan's comments on the depiction of Pilate in the film and makes the useful point that without anything like Luke 13.1 there is no context for the portrayal. He prefers Rod Steiger's portrayal in Jesus of Nazareth.

Unfortunately, Witherington does not engage with Crossan's interesting material about the origins of the Passion Narrative during the reign of Herod Agrippa and makes one of those all-too-easy scholarly put-downs (smackdowns?!), that it is "an undue amount of pure speculation without historical foundation". I don't think that Crossan's remarks can be so lightly thrown aside. They are based on Gerd Theissen's excellent study of the Passion Narrative and represent, as far as I can see, something of a shift in Crossan's own view, which had previously seen very little of the Passion narrative as having an historical origin. They deserve more attention than that, especially if one of the points of the exchange is to demonstrate how the process of academic dialogue should take place. One of the things I like to try to discourage students to do is to use the throw-away one-liner as a substitute for engaging with one's critics.

Witherington concludes by commenting on the familiar theme of the scourging of Jesus:
So let me be plain—I think there are some real and troubling historical distortions in this movie. The one that bothers me perhaps the most is that each Gospel account devotes exactly one verse to the flagellation of Jesus; they do not emphasize it or highlight the fact. It's almost mentioned in passing. The enormous amplification of this to an unbearable extent in the movie is way beyond what poetic license should allow. For me, this is especially egregious since it is not the flagellation that produces the atonement for sins, but rather the death of Christ on the cross. In the movie, this somehow manages to be less gruesome than the flagellation. It seems an odd strategy to amplify the violence beyond biblical proportions in order to exalt the Prince of Peace!
Similar comments have been made in the reviews. All I can say of my experience of the film is that I did not find the crucifixion any less gruesome than the scourging scene and the comment puzzles me. I found the crucifixion itself far and away the most emotional part of the film. I also do not feel completely at ease with the language about what "produces the atonement for sins". Witherington is right that the Gospel writers place no emphasis on the scourging, though I can't help wondering whether the lack of detail is because readers are expected to have some idea of what this would have meant, in a culture in which fear of persecution was a reality.

Finally, Witherington and / or Beliefnet need to spell-check these messages before uploading. (I know, I can talk, but bear in mind that a daily blog takes much more writing time than a weekly email and it's just me -- no editor).

Blogwatch: Textweek's Passion links

On the Textweek weblog, Jenee Woodard announces that she has put together the following very useful compendium of links:

"The Passion of the Christ" Mel Gibson Movie - Articles, Study Guides, & Opinions

I have added a link to this on my The Passion of the Christ page.

Jerome Murphy O'Connor, Paul: His Story

Oxford University Press have just released this new book:

Paul - His Story
Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, Professor of New Testament at the Ecole Biblique et Archéologique Francaise, Jerusalem

Price: £16.99 (Hardback)
Publication date: 18 March 2004
276 pages, 2 maps, 216mm x 138mm

An imaginative, engaging, and short biography of Saint Paul. Jerome Murphy-O'Connor's disciplined imagination, nourished by a lifetime of research, shapes numerous textual, historical, and archaeological details into a colourful and enjoyable story of which Paul is the flawed but undefeated hero. Paul's travels and mission are put into a plausible biographical context. New insights into his personality are shown to provide a key to understanding his theological ideas. As a result, the Apostle comes to life as a complex, intensely human individual.

Readership: Ideal for anyone who wants a short and enjoyable account of Paul's life, psychology, travels, mission, and theological ideas. People interested in the development of Christianity, the early Church, or the historical basis of the Bible. Students in religion, theology, biblical studies, and ancient history.

1 The Early Years
2 Conversion and its Consequences
3 Apprenticeship in Antioch
4 A Journey into Europe
5 South to Achaia
6 Antioch and Jerusalem
7 The First Year in Ephesus
8 The Second Year in Ephesus
9 Conversations with Corinth
10 Macedonia and Illyricum
11 Farewell to the East
12 The Final Years

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Whose Passion? Media, Faith & Controversy video (concluded)

Thanks to David Mackinder for this one:

Whose Passion? Media, Faith & Controversy
Wednesday, March 3, 2004
5:00 pm
Taper Hall Room 101
Join Diane Winston, USC Annenberg’s Knight Chair in Media and Religion for a provocative discussion with a panel of experts to discuss Mel Gibson’s new film, The Passion of the Christ. Joining Prof. Winston for the discussion is Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic and USC Annenberg adjunct professor; Benedict Fitzgerald, co-screenwriter of The Passion of the Christ, Richard Fox, USC history professor and author of Jesus in America: Personal Savior, Cultural Hero, National Obsession, Barbara Nicolosi, executive director of Act One, Inc., and William Fulco, NEH Chair in Ancient Mediterranean Studies at Loyola Marymount University who served as the on-set filming consultant for the film . . . . . .

Watch the video

It's over an hour long and is fascinating viewing. The first main speaker is Benedict Fitzgerald, co-screen-writer who uses up most of his time reading out a review and does not use his time as well as one might have hoped. Next up is Richard Wightman Fox, author of Jesus in America, who makes lots of interesting points, e.g. he notes that the mirror of the anti-Semitism debate happened with Cecil B. de Mille's The King of Kings. That would certainly be something worth hearing more about. He talks a little about the fact that American evangelicals have, on the whole, loved this very Catholic film and speculates on the reasons. One of the reasons he offers is that the film gives evangelicals the opportunity to lay to rest once for all the memory of The Last Temptation of Christ and, to a lesser extent, Jesus Christ Superstar. In The Passion of the Christ there is no sexual fantasy about Mary Magdalene and no close friendship with Judas. A very interesting point.

The next contributor is Barbara Nicolosi who is also well worth hearing. She relates a story about a viewing she attended with Mel Gibson and some Church leaders. Afterwards one evangelical pastor pressed Gibson on the scene of Satan with the ugly baby. Where was this in the Bible? he wanted to know. Gibson replies that it's in there somewhere. Pressed further on what it's doing in the film, Gibson replies that he "Thought it was really creepy". Still dissatisfied, the pastor presses Gibson further: What was the source of this incident? Gibson replies, "I guess I just pulled it out of my ass". Nicolosi uses this to reflect on the way that an artist works. This is art, not documentary, and the interpretation of the events is indistinguishable from the narration of those events. (I am paraphrasing, of course, and not transcribing.)

William J. Fulco, S. J. is up next and his contribution is really engaging -- it's the first time I have seen him in action. Would that we could hear more of his defence of the film against its critics. He says that he is taken aback by many of the reviews of the film, especially those from the New York Times and the LA Times, which seem to miss the spiritual dimension to the film. He says that he has seen the film forty times because of having to watch the languages through the editing process and he reveals that he has cried every one of those forty times. He reflects on the way that people react to this film -- they seem either to love it or hate it. He thinks that this is because it is so "in your face". It is difficult to be neutral about it. He also relays an interesting story about his pushing Mel Gibson concerning the resurrection. He suggests to Gibson that the ending is problematic -- they need more depiction of the resurrection. At first Gibson is interested and wants to talk about it some more. The next time he sees him, he asks what they are going to do about the problem with the ending, but Gibson replies "What problem?" and Fulco realises that he is just the translator.

Kenneth Turan from the LA Times is the final speaker before the questions and offers a profound contrast to the others. He actually comes across very Eeyore. He does not want to be there, he repeats over and over again that he found the film and the controversy surrounding it really depressing and he talks about the hate mail that he has received. He says that he has never seen a reaction like this to any other film since he has begun reviewing and he finds it very depressing.

In the Question and Answer session (starts about 52 minutes in), a questioner brings up the question of Catherine Emmerich's contribution to the screenplay, so frequently discussed in the pre-publicity and publicity surrounding the film. Fulco and Fitzgerald both answer. Fulco says that Gibson "was not influenced by her ideology or anti-Semitism" but was looking for ideas. If one used soley the Biblical text, one would have a five-minute movie. He agrees that Emmerich has anti-Semitic stuff, he describes it as "God awful", says that it has nothing to do with the movie and describes it as a "canard" to bring in her position. Fitzgerald (who spent two years writing the script with Gibson) then comes in with the striking claim that "She had practically no influence whatsoever on any of this." He says that "She was, in some respects, the supplier of a couple of ideas, but these were not anti-Semitic ideas; they were ideas about how to treat Claudia Proclea (sic), who was the wife of Pilate." He adds that there are other texts about this character too. (I must admit that I am ignorant of these. Note: the Beliefnet breakdown also references Mary of Agreda's "City of God".)

At the same point, Richard Wightman Fox draws an interesting contrast between the way that Gibson portrays the scourging and the way that it was done in From the Manger to the Cross (1912), in which the viewer's attention is directed to the Roman soldier doing the scourging who is eventually too tired himself to go on. Fox feels that there are artistic ways of showing the scourging without turning it on the viewer to hurt the viewer.

There is another question about Gibson's father, his attitude to Vatican II and so on, and it is acknowledged by Fulco and Fitzgerald that Gibson's father has crazy views.

On the discussion of anti-Semitism, Barbara Nicolosi submits that The Last Temptation of Christ is more anti-Semitic than this film, but Richard Fox counters by saying that Scorsese set the standard for how to depict Caiaphas responsibly -- he dug deep to make sure that he did not use any non-Biblical racial stereotype.