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Gibson gets positive about Passion
- Film gets glowing Jewish reviews

Mel Gibson has hit back at critics who claim that The Passion, his self-financed £16 million film about the death of Christ, is a deliberately anti-Semitic tract, by fielding positive reviews by Jewish writers.

Michael Medved, an orthodox Jew who is one of America’s best-known film reviewers, went on television yesterday to speak glowingly of Gibson, saying his film was by far the best adaptation of the Bible in Hollywood history. The writer David Horowitz called it “an awesome artefact and an overpowering work”. Their verdicts are in marked contrast to earlier views. A leaked copy of the script had led to claims that the film is a modern version of the medieval Passion plays, which portrayed Jews as “Christ killers” and stoked anti-Jewish violence.

The row over the film, which has yet to find a distributor, has unnerved Hollywood, with its many powerful Jewish film-makers, and led this week to ferocious criticism of the project in the New York Times, published by Arthur Schultzberger Jr. A select group of film and literary critics who have been shown a rough cut were required by Gibson to sign a confidentiality agreement, promising not to write or speak about the contents without permission, as the picture is not being released until next Easter. However, the columnist Cal Thomas, who is among those shown the film, said yesterday that the restriction had suddenly been lifted by Gibson, a devout Roman Catholic.

A panel of three Jewish and six Roman Catholic scholars, who studied the leaked document, concluded that Jews were presented by Gibson as “bloodthirsty, vengeful and money-hungry”. Frank Rich, of the New York Times, said: “Jews have already been libelled by Gibson’s politicised roll-out of his film”. Gibson has said that his movie will be true to the gospel account of the last hours of Jesus’ life.

But the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John books in the Bible differ greatly, presenting Rashomon-like accounts of the roles of the Romans and Jews in the Crucifixion. A committee of Bible scholars who read a version of the script said that it was not true to Scripture or Catholic teaching and that it badly twisted the role of Jewish leaders in Jesus’ death. The problem, the scholars said, was not that Gibson was anti-Semitic, but that his film could unintentionally incite anti-Semitic violence. One scholar in New York, said: “When we read the screenplay, our sense was, this wasn’t really something you could fix.

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