The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Friday, February 27, 2004

Is The Passion of Christ anti-Semitic? My initial reaction is that these charges are specious. Christianity is a universal religion; it proselytizes to all, regardless of race/ethnicity. Yet the birth of God as man, and his murder and resurrection, had to occur at one specific place and time. I don't believe that it is essential to Christian theology that the son of God was named "Jesus" and was crucified by Jews and Romans in the year 33 A.D. He could have been named "Joseph", and been executed by Seleucid Greeks in the year 200 B.C. The Jewish leaders who agitated for Jesus' execution did so not as Jews, but as evil politicians. (And anyway, practically everybody in power in the first century anywhere in the world was pretty damned unsavory.)

On the other hand, the Gospels appear to take pains to excuse Romans and indict powerful Jews. This is true in the account of the crucifixion -- Pontius was willing to free Jesus, but the Jewish crowd liked Barabbas better. Pontius was not sure whether he should condemn Jesus, and sent him back to the Hebrew prelates. Also note the treatment of Romans vs. Jews elsewhere in the Gospels: Jesus overthrows the moneychangers' tables in the Temple, but when it comes to the Romans and their desire for money, well, give unto Caesar what is Caesar's. I don't think that the Gospel writers were anti-Semitic. But they did have to blame someone for Jesus' death, and in the late first century A.D. it was a lot safer to anger Jews than Romans.

And if Gibson goes beyond the Gospels in blaming Jews and exculpating Romans, as some have charged, then maybe "anti-Semitic" is a just characterization. (Especially since Gibson has little to fear from Emperor Trajan.)

But even if you grant that The Passion depicts Jews unfairly, let us maintain a sense of proportion. Gibson's treatment of Jews could not come close to the repulsiveness of this:

WASHINGTON (AP) Rep. Anthony Weiner, a frequent critic of United States policy toward Saudi Arabia, said Thursday that the Middle East country's new visa policy outlined on a tourist Web site should be quickly condemned by American officials.

The Web site, promoting a new Saudi program to offer tourist visas to encourage more foreign visitors, lists four groups not entitled to tourist visas, including "Jewish People."

The Saudi government has traditionally only issued travel visas for employment, Hajj pilgrimages, and other visits with official sanction.

In addition to Jews, the Web site by the Supreme Commission for Tourism also says it will refuse visas to anyone with an Israeli passport or a passport that has an Israeli stamp.

The Mercury News prominently featured a review of The Passion on its website this week. Here is the teaser that you see on the Merc web page:

Film critic Glenn Lovell says "Twisted" is a predictable, completely unsuspenseful time-killer that benefits only from its San Francisco locations while Mel Gibson's excruciating "The Passion of the Christ" is guilty of anti-Semitism.

The Saudi story appears nowhere on the Merc's website.



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