| Mel Gibson at a media conference last year in Rome, where he announced he would direct The Passion. (Reuters)
Mel Gibson’s controversial film The Passion, which will include a brutal depiction of the Crucifixion and Christ’s final 12 hours, has been condemned by influential Catholic and Jewish groups in America for its alleged anti-Semitism and extreme violence.
Religious scholars who have read the script believe that it leans too heavily on an 18th-century book of Catholic mysticism that paints Jews in a particularly harsh light.
The book, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ by St Anne Catherine Emmerich, suggests that Jews organised “blood money” for the Crucifixion — paying people to clamour for Jesus’s death to sway Pontius Pilate — and that His cross was constructed on the orders of the Jewish high priest.
The scholars are alarmed that The Passion — which has been funded by Gibson, a devout Catholic, to the tune of $25 million — will portray Jews as responsible not only for Christ’s Crucifixion, but also for the extremes of His torment.
They fear that the film will be a modern version of traditional Passion plays, which in medieval times popularised the doctrine of Jews as “Christ-killers”.
Passion plays were often performed during Lent, and were accused of prompting pogroms against Jewish communities in Christian Europe.
Last week, the Anti-Defamation League, one of America’s most powerful Jewish organisations, which guards against anti-Semitism, refused to mute its concerns despite warnings from lawyers acting for Gibson.
“We are not withdrawing from the conclusions of the inter-faith scholars who studied the script and raised serious objections,” said Abraham Foxman, director of the league. “This film could well be released with objectionable elements that would promote anti-Semitism.”
The scholars are also critical of the levels of violence in The Passion, which is to be released next year. Stills from the set show the actor Jim Caviezel, who plays Jesus, dripping with blood after being flagellated.
Asked during an interview on American television last week whether his version of the story might particularly upset Jews, Gibson said: “It’s not meant to. I think it’s meant to tell the truth. I want to be as truthful as possible. So that really anyone who transgresses has to look at their own part or look at their own culpability.”
During filming, Gibson told a Italian interviewer that it was inevitable that the Jews would be portrayed as being responsible for Christ’s death.
“It’s true that, as the Bible says, ‘He came into His own and His own received Him not’. I can’t hide that,” he said.
Concern over The Passion began to grow when Gibson’s Icon production company sent scripts to the scholars’ committee formed by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Anti-Defamation League. The passages that concerned both sets of scholars, which appeared to have been inspired by The Dolorous Passion, include one in which servants of the high priest pay Jesus’s crucifiers to nail Him to the cross.
In another scene, Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea who sanctioned the Crucifixion, criticises the high priests for torturing Jesus, and suggests that they are thirsting for His blood.
While the Conference of Catholic Bishops has promised Gibson that it will not comment publicly on the film until it is released, the four Catholic scholars on the panel refuse to join in the pledge.