The Passion of St. Mel

One of the most heated arguments we’ve ever seen on this site took place when Gibson’s The Passion opened, and I criticized it as antisemitic pornography (though it has a lovely soundtrack). My worst fears about Gibson were confirmed with news of his arrest and his ensuing collapse into a gushing fountain of Jew hatred. Sad but not surprising, and I feel more than ever that this hatred was a dominating force behind his movie.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 39 Comments

Goddam Mel Gibson. Abusing police officers and spewing anti-semitic bile. Who the hell does he think he is, Cynthia McKinney?

July 30, 2006 @ 7:42 am | Comment

1.
“It was me that put him on the cross. It was my sins.”

- Mel Gibson when asked about whether Jews killed Jesus.

2. Mel Gibson’s movies have a common theme of torture, which is the dominant force in The Passion as well, so if it’s porn, The Passion is best described as S&M porn, not anti-semitic porn.

Given his remarks, it’s safe to assume he’s anti-semitic (and chauvinist: didn’t he call one of the officers “sugar-tits”?; and egotistical: he claimed to own Malibu), but it’s a bit of a leap from that to assuming that anti-semitism is a driving force in his movies.

July 30, 2006 @ 7:45 am | Comment

Regardless of whether anti-semitism was a “driving force” in his disgusting snuff-movie (which I did see on a pirate DVD, thus I’m qualified to comment), it certainly is fodder for antisemitic fantasies, insofar as it dwells on the sufferings of Jesus in almost total disregard of his teachings, and the problem with THA, is that dwelling on Jesus’ sufferings per se (again, when separated from his teachings) implies that his torture and execution was the central meaning of his life – which is INSEPARABLE FROM the 2,000 year old question of “who was guilty” for his torture and execution.

And the problem with THAT, in turn, is that whenever the question of “who killed Jesus” has arisen among Christians, all too often (not always, but all too often), the answer (an incorrect answer according to all mainstream Christian churches, as well as any intelligent reading of the Gospels and/or of history) has been “The Jews.”

More simply: Dwelling exclusively (and disproportionately) on the suffering and execution of Jesus, is INSEPARABLE from dwelling on WHY he was killed, and on WHO was responsible. And although Gibson is crazy, he ain’t stupid, and he knows this. He knew what he was doing.

Now, boo cited Gibson’s remark (a standard Roman Catholic one, I recognise) acknowledging that he, and “all sinners”, ie all Humans, share the guilt in Jesus’ death. However, I find that very disingenuous of Gibson, because that has been the official line of the Catholic Church for 2,000 years, but simply mouthing those words has NOT often been consistent with actual attitudes (and even worse, actual deeds) of Catholics (and of their Protestant successors/brethren who inherited the same legacy – not to mention the Russian Orthodox Christians who make the Catholic Church look like a bunch of Oskar Schindlers…if you think the Roman Catholics and Protestants have had a bad record of antisemitism, the Russians have been even worse…)

Yes, yes, Gibson correctly recited the official Catholic teaching, that ALL Humans – and not just Jews – share the guilt for Jesus’ crucifixion.
(And that is not just a modern reform of RC teaching – it does go back for at least 1,600 years, or more.) However, in practice, there has always been a parallel tradition in which some kind of ESPECIAL “guilt” has been attributed to the Jews. And Gibson knows that, and he’s being disingenuous in avoiding acknowledging it.

You see, the Catholic Church has always said that all Humans share in the guilt. But for a long time, it has also implied that some Humans, ie the Jews, are more guilty than others.

(Slight digression: This is one of many reasons why I have such high respect for the late Pope John Paul. I don’t agree with everything he said or did, but damn it, he was the first Pope in history, ever to apologise to the Jews. That alone has warranted calling him “John Paul The Great.”)

Anyway. Let me mention one very peculiar reason why I find Gibson’s snuff-film to be antisemitic: Because, it dwells pornographically on the torture and killing of a Jew. And I’m quite serious about that. I think there is a connection between a fascination with the death of Jesus, and antisemitism, partly BECAUSE Jesus was Jewish. I think the fact that Jesus was a Jew, is actually a major reason (and of course a very confused one) for many antisemites to enjoy dwelling on his death so much, to the exclusion of his (very Jewish) moral teachings. But of course that’s just my intuitive speculation.

Hm. Well obviously I haven’t covered all of my thoughts on this topic here, yet. But a few more notes to add – just for the benefit of any readers (including some of our Chinese friends) who might not know the history behind the death of Jesus:

1. Jesus was executed as a criminal, by the Roman government.

2. The Jewish religious authorities had absolutely no authority to crucify Jesus, as they were occupied and governed by Rome.

3. Crucifixion was never a Jewish punishment. It was a Roman one.

4. More simply: The government of Rome killed Jesus, because he was seen as a political threat to the Roman government.

5. The Gospel of Matthew emphasises the putative Jewish role in the death of Jesus, because the Gospel of Matthew was written for an audience of mostly Roman citizens. (Also, it was edited a number of times before its current version was adopted into the New Testament canon.) At the time, the Christians who were disseminating the Gospel of Matthew to Romans, were trying to avoid offending the sensibilities of Romans or their government. So they implied that “the Jews” were equally (or even more) responsible.

6. Then as dissension and mutual hostility grew between the Jews and Christians (who started out as a peculiar faction of Jews), the emphasis switched to attributing guilt to the Jews instead of to the Roman government. And of course this emphasis became all the more exaggerated after Christianity became the state religion of Rome.

7. You will find less hostility to”the Jews” in the Gospel of Luke, which was written by a close disciple of Saint Paul (who was Jewish, and a Roman citizen too.) The Gospel of Luke AND the Book of Acts were both authored by someone close to Saint Paul, thus they both have more of a Greek way of thinking (ie, Humanist and somewhat syncretic and aspiring to tolerance), and an ambivalence about the meaning of being “Jewish.”

8. And then the Gospel of John (my personal favourite) is very different from the other three.
The Gospel of John is the one most informed by the Hellenistic mystery cults – and thus the closest in spirit to the tolerant, cosmopolitan vision of which (in my opinion), Jesus was one of the best exemplars. :-)

Finally: Actually, it’s true that Jesus was not just any “typical” Jew, at least not a strict or “orthodox” one. But then, actually he WAS a “typical” Jew, because most Jews of his time and place were very cosmopolitan indeed, sharing a complicated collage of beliefs, including a lot of Greek (and otherwise Hellenistic) philosophy.
Jesus grew up around merchants (far more merchants than shepherds) and was almost certainly multi-lingual and mutli-literate, and he knew Greek as the lingua franca of Palestinian merchants of his milieu.

Thus: Was Jesus a “Jew” in the way most Jews define themselves today? No. But then, is ANY Jew a Jew in the way most Jews define themselves today? No. Get ten Jews together and you’ll have a thousand opinions. Thus, Jesus was very Jewish indeed, AND….

…here comes the punchline…

…so are all Christians. :-)

July 30, 2006 @ 8:55 am | Comment

PS, Richard, you must have known that you were just ASKING for a long, scholarly comment from me, when you started this thread. :-)

July 30, 2006 @ 8:56 am | Comment

I thought PASSION was a baaaad movie. Sort of like a religious horror flick (all those little Satanic demons popping up and the “God” POV special effects), with the snuff element as mentioned above. I had a free screening and wanted to see because it was such a topic of discussion, but I guess this shows the divide between religious and non-religious people on some level. I was sitting there, having tuned out on Jesus’ suffering during the 15 minutes long scourging scene, thinking things like, “huh – a person could actually live through that? I dunno…”

Meaniwhile, the group behind me was sobbing and mumbling, “Jesus!” in all sincerity. So what to me was a bad movie that in no way evoked any kind of religious sentiments was genuinely moving to them.

July 30, 2006 @ 11:29 am | Comment

Lisa,

Just as a scientific, medical matter, you are correct when you doubt whether any Human could live through what was done to “Jesus” in that movie.

In the old (British) Royal Navy, there was a good practical reason for limiting the number of lashes anyone could get. Because, anything more than around 12 lashes with a regular whip, could easily kill a man. (Actually, many sailors died from even fewer lashes. The weaker ones would die of heart failure after only a few lashes with a very simple whip.)

But in Gibson’s snuff movie, Jesus was whipped, not just with a regular whip, but a scourge with nails in it. (As Jesus probably DID suffer through, but not as many lashes as that movie showed.)

It…just…did…not…happen…like it was depicted in that movie. No Human, NO ONE, could have survived the whipping which was depicted in that pornographic snuff film.

Jesus was certainly whipped, but not like in that movie. Because, quite simply, IF Jesus had been whipped in the way Gibson depicted, then he would have been either dead or unconscious before he was crucified. And that would have negated the whole point of crucifixion as torture.

Yeah, YEAH, it’s true to say that Jesus died the most horrible death imaginable. But what Gibson depicted, was a pornographic and UNSCIENTIFIC (and unhistorical, and untrue) picture of what Jesus went through.

Jesus suffered horribly, but there is only so much that the Human body can take, and Gibson inflated it exponentially, just for sadistic pornographic jollies.

What a sick fuck, Gibson is.

July 30, 2006 @ 12:25 pm | Comment

PS, Lisa,

the different reactions to this sick piece of shit movie, are NOT between “religious” and “non-religious” people. As you know, I’m very religious, in an unorthodox way.

No one who has ever really loved or even simply admired Jesuscould ever react to that movie in any way other than revulsion.

That movie is a scandal for any Christians who love and/or try to follow Jesus, because it turns Jesus into a piece of meat, devoid of any moral teaching.

It is offensive to all true Muslims, who rever Jesus as the Second Greatest Prophet of all time.

It is (or should be) offensive to Jews, because it is a snuff-film about the torture and murder of a Jew.

It is offensive to all Humanists, of any religion or none, including atheists and agonstics, because it dwells upon the shaming and degradation of a Human Being.

And it is offensive to all true cinephiles (of whom I am one) because it’s just a shitty movie with no redeeming aesthetic or intellectual value whatsoever.

It’s porn. It’s shit. And Mel Gibson is a sick fuck.

July 30, 2006 @ 12:37 pm | Comment

That’s what I figured.

What was interesting to me, in a sort of detached way, is that the manner in which Gibson depicted Jesus’ sufferings had exactly the opposite effect on me…a couple minutes into that scene, I just shut down completely. I didn’t care and couldn’t take it seriously. That’s why to me it was really a bad piece of film-making. It was pretty much boring…

July 30, 2006 @ 12:43 pm | Comment

It’s impossible to talk about the sustained, almost orgiastic brutality in “The Passion” without mentioning the execution scene in “Braveheart”, to which it was a precursor.

July 30, 2006 @ 1:02 pm | Comment

…yep, Lisa, it was boring. Boring and untruthful, thus a scandal and an insult to Christianity.

Gibson’s movie was actually very hostile to Jesus, because it distracted attention away from what was truly interesting (and new) about Jesus.

Being nailed to a cross is significant, but in itself its not very original. What WAS original about Jesus, was some of the unprecedented aspects of his teaching:

“Love your enemy.” There was no precedent for that, in any culture in the whole world, in the time of Jesus. None.

(And if you think otherwise, then you have NO IDEA how cruel and merciless ALL, ALL of the ancient world was, before approximately 2,000 years ago. Many, or even most, of Jesus teachings were restatements of the highest philosophies of his time – but when he said, “love your enemy”, THAT was UNHEARD of, even by the Buddha and all Buddhists of those times…)

Some similar thoughts, yes, but never anything as radical and revolutionary as “love your enemy.” Yes you can argue for some similarities in the Bhagavad Gita – but the Gita never said “love your enemy”, not quite in the same way. And the First Buddha taught transcendence of conflicts, but he never said “love your enemy” in the same way that Jesus did.

Although, to be fair, Muhammed also understood the command, “love your enemy”, but then Muhammed acknowledged Jesus as a Prophet.

The Tao does not say anything quite like that. Neither did Confucius.

The teaching, “Love your enemy” is what distinguishes Jesus from all religious/moral teachers in the world, before his time and after.
I’m not saying that it proves that he was “God”, but I AM saying that it makes him unique. And so, regardless of whether you call him “man” or “God”, he was a true prophet, whose teachings led to a quantum leap in the morality of Humans.
And not just among so-called “Christians.” :-)

Hey, whatever you think he was, man or God or whatever, you gotta love Jesus, you gotta love the guy… :-)

July 30, 2006 @ 1:15 pm | Comment

PS, nausicaa, I agree 100 percent with your last comment.

July 30, 2006 @ 1:16 pm | Comment

Yeah. Definitely if you were going to that movie to learn something about what Jesus preached, you were going to come away completely baffled.

Which is another reason it was a bad movie – it didn’t really tell you why you should care about Jesus and his death.

July 30, 2006 @ 1:26 pm | Comment

Lisa, at the risk of sounding overly romantic, I’ll reply and say that the best reason to care about the life of Jesus, is because he loved life so much.
:-)

July 30, 2006 @ 2:11 pm | Comment

Which is another reason it was a bad movie – it didn’t really tell you why you should care about Jesus and his death.

OtherLisa, I have a feeling you might like Scorcese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ”. When it was made, it was raked over the coals for its inaccuracies, but it is superior fiction to “The Passion” in almost every way – most of all in its humanity.

July 30, 2006 @ 2:18 pm | Comment

nausicaa,

some of my Catholic friends and I loved “The Last Temptation of Christ” too. Including a friend of mine who is a Catholic Priest (and a notorious protester against nuclear weapons. I am a far less notorious one. :-)

July 30, 2006 @ 2:32 pm | Comment

PS, my favourite line from “The Last Temptation of Christ”. It’s based on a story from the Gospels. Jesus is at a wedding, in the company of some people of reputed bad morals, and some religious hypocrites take him to task for that, and Jesus replies:

“What do you think Heaven is like? It’s like a wedding. And everyone is invited.”

Including Communist pigs! :-)

July 30, 2006 @ 2:35 pm | Comment

PS, if anything I have written on this thread seems inconsistent with my way of cursing all enemies, then let me clarify: Jesus NEVER told us to HAVE NO enemies. Jesus said, “love your enemies”, which implies having enemies, and fighting against them.

Between me and my enemies, I’ll fight to the death, either literally or metaphorically. But the command to “love my enemies” is something else. cf, Chivalry (which European Christendom learned from our Muslim brothers, who, after all, call Jesus the Second Greatest Prophet… :-)

July 30, 2006 @ 2:42 pm | Comment

Ivan, you need to get with the gospel scholarship. For example:


7. You will find less hostility to”the Jews” in the Gospel of Luke, which was written by a close disciple of Saint Paul (who was Jewish, and a Roman citizen too.) The Gospel of Luke AND the Book of Acts were both authored by someone close to Saint Paul, thus they both have more of a Greek way of thinking (ie, Humanist and somewhat syncretic and aspiring to tolerance), and an ambivalence about the meaning of being “Jewish.”

The Gospel of Luke was not written by a close associate of Paul, but was written much later, at least sometime after 100, and probably even later than that. Luke depends on (1) Josephus Antiquities, written ~95 and (2) Mark. Ted Weeden, perhaps the pre-eminent Mark scholar, has just demonstrated that Mark depends on Josephus War and cannot be earlier than 85, and Luke depends on Mark. Whoever wrote Luke wrote sometime in the early second century, and cannot have been a disciple of Paul (there are massive contradictions between Luke/Acts and Paul’s letters, among other things). R. Helms has argued, I think persuasively, that the writer of Luke was a female. See Who Wrote the Gospels?

The teaching, “Love your enemy” is what distinguishes Jesus from all religious/moral teachers in the world, before his time and after.

Oh please. It was a commonplace in Cynic philosophy long before Jesus, as were most of sayings attributed to Jesus, and indeed, the entire style of situation–attack– riposte in the earliest gospel, Mark. See FG Downing’s work on Cynicism and Jesus, and also Burton Mack’s Who Wrote the New Testament?.

Michael

July 30, 2006 @ 6:04 pm | Comment

Michael, (first let me apologise to all other readers before I say this, but I have argued with Michael Turton before and I have absolutely ZERO, ZED, NO respect for his pretensions of being a biblical scholar):

Michael Turton, you are an ignoramus and an intellectual fraud, and I just can’t be bothered to engage with your nonsense, any more than I could be bothered to argue with people who believe that they have been captured by Extraterrestrials and taken onto UFOs.

Michael Turton, you have ZERO credibilty as any kind of biblical scholar, and I am not going to waste my time pretending that you are worth arguing with.

That’s all. Go and wank over your conspiracy theories and your ersatz “scholarship” for the rest of your life. Everything you say is nonsense, and you are an ignoramus about biblical history, you are the equivalent of those three said and lonely wankers “the lone gunmen” from the X-Files.

And now let me say to all of the other readers: NOT EVERYONE who makes an argument, deserves a response. It’s a waste of time to argue with insane people, or with ignorant people like Michael Turton.

End. I will not argue with Michael Turton, because arguing with him would be a waste of time, just like arguing with a drunken homeless psychotic at the Bus Station.

July 30, 2006 @ 6:31 pm | Comment

I haven’t seen the PASSION yet, but in regards to comments that nobody could have survived that kind of torture: according to Christians, wasn’t Jesus the son of God? or God himself? Surely a diety could withstand more tortures than a typical mortal, right? Just a thought.

July 30, 2006 @ 7:20 pm | Comment

Uh….

Can we disagree without “lunatics at the bus station” rhetoric?

July 30, 2006 @ 7:46 pm | Comment

I have to agree with Lisa.

Ivan, whether Michael’s wrong or right on this subject, he’s a frequent commenter and a welcome guest here. Let’s please treat one another with at least a modicum of civility. You can say you refuse to engage with someone without insulting them.

July 30, 2006 @ 7:51 pm | Comment

Goddam Mel Gibson. Abusing police officers and spewing anti-semitic bile. Who the hell does he think he is, Cynthia McKinney?

When did McKinney ever hurl antisemitic epithets, at the police or anyone else? I’m waiting.

July 30, 2006 @ 8:01 pm | Comment

Michael, (first let me apologise to all other readers before I say this, but I have argued with Michael Turton before and I have absolutely ZERO, ZED, NO respect for his pretensions of being a biblical scholar):

Ivan, it is entirely irrelevant what you think. The issue is that you assert things that mainstream scholars know to be false — such as the companion of Paul named Luke wrote the gospel that bears the name Luke. That position is held only by religious conservatives for religious reasons. I suggest that you check out any basic introductory text, such as Schnelle’s History and Theology of the New Testament Writings or the second volume of Koester’s History and Literature… or Ehrman’s Introduction to the New Testament.

A great online resource is Peter Kirby’s Early Christian Writings….

http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/luke.html

…where lots of arguments are listed. Some good introductions to Luke include the Anchor Bible Commentary volume and the Sacra Pagina Luke, both excellent. For a good guide to the kind of fiction techniques that underlie Luke/Acts, see Pervo’s Profit with Delight and Hock’s (ed) Ancient Fiction and Early Christian Narrative as well as MacDonald’s Mimesis and Intertextuality. Bowersock’s six lectures on ancient fiction is also very relevant to Acts.

I note that your reply does not consist of arguments based on data from the texts or arguments based on sound mainstream scholarship. It is simply a stream of consciousness insults. You evince an astounding lack of familiarity with modern New Testament scholarship.

As for my own familiarity with said scholarship, you can check out my commentary on Mark. You may not like my ideas, but no one can claim I am an ignoramus.

Michael

July 30, 2006 @ 8:53 pm | Comment

I haven’t seen Passion, but I did see Braveheart, and though I liked some parts of it (the music was beautiful, and Sophie Marceau looked stunning), it was rather too simplistic for my taste. Simplistic as in: Scots=Good, English=bad, and his first love must necessarily be his only love (said because he hallucinated about his betrothed in the execution scene while another woman was crying for him– is this another part of the “Oh, look, a Scottish girl is so much better than an English princess” thing? Dangit.) And the execution scene was focused on torture too– it was a bit overboard, in my opinion.

July 30, 2006 @ 9:40 pm | Comment

Coda: I grew out of “debating” with smug sophomoric wankers like Michael Turton as soon as I moved out of the college dormitory, which was, hm, exactly at the end of my sophomore year.

July 31, 2006 @ 12:17 am | Comment

PS, Michael Turton:

Your obsessive campaign against what you call “authoritarianism” wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that you’re a failed academic, ie someone whom the “authorities” held back from the status and prestige you thought you deserved, would it?

Would it have anything to do with the fact that you failed to get a PhD, and now you’re bitter and frustrated over having sunken so low as to become an EFL teacher, the academic equivalent of bottom feeders?

July 31, 2006 @ 1:20 am | Comment

PS, Michael Turton:

Your obsessive campaign against what you call “authoritarianism” wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that you’re a failed academic, ie someone whom the “authorities” held back from the status and prestige you thought you deserved, would it?

Would it have anything to do with the fact that you failed to get a PhD, and now you’re bitter and frustrated over having sunken so low as to become an EFL teacher, the academic equivalent of bottom feeders?

July 31, 2006 @ 1:21 am | Comment

The Bible is not really my area of research. But just out of interest, I have a few questions for Michael Turton.

Michael, Would it be fair to say that the authorship and dating of the Gospel of Luke is still a contentious issue? In other words, it is not really as clear cut as you have put it. There is indeed other “scholarship” on the issue. Would you agree?

Would it also be fair to say that much about who wrote the Gospel of Luke and when it was written depends on whether the Gospel took from Josephus Antiquities? There is as strong an argument for the case as there is against it.

Would it also be fair to say that the validity of the Josephus Antiquities hypothesis inevitably throws weight on the Gospel of Mark Priority theory?

You, as I understand, are a strong advocate of the Gospel of Mark Priority theory. Would this be the reason why you undermine other “scholarships” on the topic and brushed them off as “conservative”, outdated and unreliable?

In short, are you sure you are not just biased when you refute Ivan’s more “conservative” views on Luke, which didn’t support your Gospel of Mark Priority theory?

See, Michael, the Christian faith, as I understand it, doesn’t rely on knowing who write the Bible and when it was written. But your scholarship will not stand if the Gospel of Mark Priority theory is deemed invalid. Now you can see why I’m questioning your objectivity in this “academic” discussion.

July 31, 2006 @ 4:11 am | Comment

Ivan – stop the name-calling. It makes me want to skip your argument, and you know I’m your friend. And as Richard put it, Michael is a frequent commenter here and deserving of courtesy. You can disagree with his views all you want. But enough with the insults.

July 31, 2006 @ 10:24 am | Comment

psst, Ivan’s a giant blowhard, pass it on!

July 31, 2006 @ 12:38 pm | Comment

I. Give. Up.

July 31, 2006 @ 2:47 pm | Comment

Ivan, you only weaken your own credibility when you go after someone with such personal attacks. Please, listen to your friends: stick to the issues and avoid the ad hominems.

July 31, 2006 @ 6:07 pm | Comment

Ivan, good to see you’re still pissing people off. You had me worried.

July 31, 2006 @ 6:16 pm | Comment

I have been reading this site for half a year now, and in Ivan’s defence, Ive found him quite insightful and at times, hilarious.

and c’mon – who does not like an angry academic.

August 2, 2006 @ 7:26 am | Comment

Ivan is great. He just needs to be reined in now and then. He’s usually right, but we still have to be civil to one another.

August 2, 2006 @ 7:37 am | Comment

Thanks, Richard. And as the the old cowboy saying goes:

“Don’t shoot your mavericks, because a time will come when you’ll need a maverick to save your life.”

August 2, 2006 @ 2:09 pm | Comment

the film (Passion of Chr.) is just an artistic interpretation of the biblical events. so what’s all the fuss about? why do some jews feel offended?
i can’t understand it. but i can understand why lebanese are offended… and relatives of those innocent civilians who died under jewish bombs.
honestly, enough of milking history for sympathy.
jews are no more special then anybody else! i am losing respect for such hypocritical behavior.

August 2, 2006 @ 2:36 pm | Comment

Mel is a drunk bigot!

http://www.melhatesjews.com

August 6, 2006 @ 9:39 am | Comment

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