Did 'The Passion' Fulfill Its Promise?

They said the movie might convert millions, wreck Jewish-Christian relations, ruin Mel. Which predictions came true?

A year ago, Mel Gibson's much anticipated, highly feared and loudly lauded film "The Passion of the Christ" debuted nationwide. And while the film was predicted to usher in everything from a massive Christian revival to an epidemic of anti-Semitism, only one forecast has come entirely true--Mel Gibson and his company, Icon Productions, made a fortune, taking in $370 million for a movie that cost only $30 million to make.

"My prediction was that it would die in the box office after a week," said the Rev. Richard Blake, a professor of film at Boston College who unfavorably reviewed the film for America magazine. "But it became a crusade in the culture wars."

That crusade continues as pundits, scholars and pastors look back at the predictions they and others made to see if Gibson's "Passion" lived up to their own.

By far, the most serious charge laid against "The Passion" was the belief of many people that it was anti-Semitic. Before the film was released, both Jews and Christians who had either seen the film in secret previews or read a leaked copy of the script felt that Gibson placed the blame for Jesus' murder at the feet of the Jews--a charge they had long ago been cleared of by history and by the Catholic church.


Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, was a prominent voice in charging that the film would lead to anti-Semitism. As early as August 2003, Foxman wrote, "The film unambiguously portrays Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob as the ones responsible for the decision to crucify Jesus. We are deeply concerned that the film ...could fuel the hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism that many responsible churches have worked hard to repudiate."

The ADL also commissioned a


in December 2003 that found one in four Americans believed the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus (an ABC/Primetime poll conducted about the same time found the number as less than 1 in 10).

So, has the movie led to more widespread, more ingrained anti-Semitism? "We still don't know," Foxman says. "We have not gone out to test attitudes. It is a little too early in terms of how it may have impacted attitudes towards Jews."

But that doesn't mean the film is cleared where anti-Semitism is concerned. In fact, some say there is more to be concerned about now that it will be available for home viewing by anyone, especially children and teenagers, who may not have the background and experience necessary to understand the film's presentation of Jews in context.

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