The Passions of Mel Gibson

by Polar Levine for popCULTmedia, February 16, 2004

The Pope has/has not reviewed Mel Gibson's new opus THE PASSION and the world is finally about to view the final day of Jesus' life on earth "as it really was"... or at least it was thought to have been in the Middle Ages back when the aristocracy boiled humans alive for the entertainment of their guests.


Fox passed on its first-right-of-refusal option to distribute Mel Gibson's controversal film focusing on the crucifixion of Jesus. Unlike the Murdoch Empire's other creative offerings in the world of entertainment and infotainment, the Gibson opus apparently lacked sufficient fairness and balance for The Big Man's taste (Rupert's, that is). The director's radical Catholic reading of the event depicts the ancient Church view that the Jews were responsible for the crucifixion of their lord. Even the Catholic Church has, at least for public relations purposes, let go of its anti-semitic spin on the execution.

The controversy, of course, centers on the film's veracity concerning the role of the Jewish community in the crucifixion. Considering the director has toiled to create the most accurate cinematic representation of a book generally classified as a work of non-fiction, the food fight is sure to be quite a cartoon if the movie ever encounters a commercial screen.

In all that I've read about this controversy, everybody is debating the role of "the Jews" as though there were a couple dozen Jews in the Middle East who all lived -- you know -- over there in that house where the Jews lived. And, as the local oppressed minority, they used their influence over the Roman power elite to bust that rascal Jesus.

Nobody's talking about which Jews. The region was chock full o' Jews. They were all over the place and most of them probably never heard of Jesus. There were Jewish carpenters (like Jesus himself), fishermen, merchants, farmers, musicians, rabbis, thugs, janitors, hookers, waiters, freedom fighters (or terrorists... depending), rich fat guys, poor skinny guys, gay guys 'n gals, babes, spinsters, ultra-orthodox, secular, rural, educated, uneducated, urban and cosmopolitan. Some were avid followers of Jesus and some wished he'd stop rocking the damn boat which was hurting business and making the cops irritable.

For some reason, I wasn't invited to the screening so I never got to see exactly who "the Jews" were who would do such a thing to a fellow Jew. Apparently "the Jews" were depicted as a huge angry mob of Jews. Probably poorly groomed Jews at that.

I'd expected that the prolonged and highly graphic gore-fest that the film is purported to feature would merit somewhere between X and NC-17. But apparently it slid by with an R rating. Will the next Columbine-like atrocity be fueled by the movie's fetishized violence, kicking off another round of right-wing Hollywood bashing?

God began developing the script with the New Testament's co-authors a few decades after the death of his alleged "son." For the next two or three centuries the nascent Christian church (still Jewish in the earlier period) was quite literally fighting for its life, victimized by Roman anti-Christian and anti-Jewish blood-lust. By pandering to Rome's never-ending discomfort with its "Jewish problem," the ghost-writers of the gospels proclaimed the Jews to be an all-purpose nuisance, not to mention the killers of Jesus. With this wedge strategy, the Church was highly successful in its lobbying to gain favor with the Romans. The rest, as they say, is history.

A full-blooded Jewish rabbi, in an era of brutal oppression of Jews under Roman hegemony, Jesus administered to the usual objects of rabbinical preaching -- other Jews. Ironically, the Christians of the day never attended the sermons of Jesus. They went to Christian churches which existed, like the Christians themselves, in only one place -- the future.

Jesus was a hero to his ever-growing flock and was widely considered to be the much prophesied messiah -- the Delivered One who would wage a successful military offensive against the evil-doing oppressors -- in this case, the Romans. The messiah prophecy was not then connected to a spiritual yearning, but to a very material liberation from a hated oppressor. Jesus became a major problem for the Sanhedrin -- the government- sanctioned Jewish judicial and ecclesiastical council serving the Jewish community. That august body feared for its own legitimacy and employment in the face of the rising star from Galilee, a town reputed to be a breeding ground of Jewish militancy. In fairness, it must be stated that in its capacity as the official leadership of "the Jews," the Sanhedrin was also fearful of Roman retribution against the entire Jewish population as a consequence of the fuss being kicked up by Jesus and his followers, "the Jews."

Jesus was a major irritant to conservative Jewish sects like the Pharisees who were too exclusionary and dogma-bound for his liking. In contrast, the radical rabbi promoted a theology of repentance, forgiveness and generosity of spirit toward the unfortunate, the poor, the stupid and the serial sinner. He was also testy about the business of currency-exchange in and around the temple during the holy days and would bust up the stores in an ungentlemanly way. This would not have gone down any better with today's free-marketeers than it did with the big city business class of his day.

Though he enjoyed wetting his whistle with a fine glass of wine and realistically postulated that the poor are here to stay, he was a bane to the self-righteous and preferred the simple life of hard work and meditation to one of conspicuous consumption and rampant fornication. His probable connections with militant Jewish liberation elements, combined with his threat to upstage the region's more manageable Jewish elements alarmed Roman authorities, who -- with the help of these Jewish conservatives (A.K.A. "the Jews") -- brought down the troublesome priest. This was a cause of much lamenting by the great multitude who considered Jesus to be the messiah -- the savior of "the Jews".

Now, I can not say without qualification that my understanding of the Jesus story, based on much reading over the years, is in every way accurate. The jury still seems to be out on virtually all of the details pertaining to that period beginning with his birth through, and including, the time of his death and post-death -- right down to such trifles as his skin tone, hair texture and date of birth. Some scholars are now even claiming that the Jesus we speak of never actually existed -- that the Jesus of the bible and the bumper sticker was actually a fictional composite of many travelling prophets named Jesus (a common name at that time and place) over the course of a century. That really complicates my story here. Who would you believe? You have those wild and crazy scholars who say he never existed. You have Mel Gibson, Pat Robertson, the ex-Cardinal Law, the Gush Emunim and me to choose from.

While the film was still in preproduction, Gibson had allowed only right-wing Christian leaders and culturati to view his film plus a few Jewish biblical scholars. And they had been unanimously lavish in their praise. Except for the Jewish biblical scholars. As for the rest of us -- we'll have to wait awhile. But I think we can predict, in many cases, what the responses will be: those who believe that Jesus flew up to heaven after his death, that the earth is 10,000 years old and that Jesus' mother was impregnated by god, Herself -- will probably think the film is an accurate and beautiful portrayal of the real-life crucifixion of Jesus. Those who believe that god wants women evicted from their homes during their monthly "curse" and god doesn't want us to use umbrellas on rainy Saturdays -- will probably think the movie really stinks and is likely to cause a global pogram against "the Jews."

Oy, mine kop. Der mensch trakht un Gott lahkht.



Polar Levine, Editor,