'You Can't Whitewash the Events of the Bible'

Mel Gibson's movie 'The Passion' is faithful to scripture, and that's why critics are angry, says a Bible scholar.

BY: Interview with Darrell Bock

New Testament scholar Darrell Bock recently spoke with Beliefnet about Mel Gibson's film "The Passion," which dramatizes the last hours of Jesus. Critics--including Catholic biblical scholars and the Anti-Defamation League--have raised concerns about the movie's historicity and its portrayal of Jewish authorities. Bock saw a rough cut of the film in late August.

What is your analysis of the controversy over "Passion"?

The controversy is not about the film. It's about the content--the biblical portrait of the Passion. The gospel accounts agree that the Jewish leadership with Pilate are ultimately responsible for Jesus' death. They agree that Pilate had the technical final decision. But they also suggest that Pilate's sensitivities would not have risen to the level they did had it not been for the relationship and influence of the Jewish leadership.

It's not an attempt to blame all Jews. It's an attempt to historically explain what put Jesus on the cross. Jesus was put on the cross for what was fundamentally a dispute with Judaism about who he was, according to the biblical portrait.

What you have going on with some of the scholarship is a reflection of a kind of critical/skeptical reading of the biblical accounts. These people are claiming to be historical critics and being very careful about the history on one hand, but they're also reading these accounts very skeptically on the other.

There's another kind of conservatism that claims not to be quite so skeptical about the quality of the accounts. Those people, the second group-critical, not skeptical-would look at this film and say "I think it's fundamentally biblical." I think I heard a quote from someone yesterday, a Catholic, who said, "If this film really were anti-Semitic, I'd complain about it but I won't because basically it's fundamentally biblical."

If you're going to understand the discussion going on between Christianity and Judaism over the centuries, you


to understand the biblical portrait of these events. You can't whitewash them. You can't go around it. This has been the debate that has existed between Christianity and Judaism for centuries. It's a difficult discussion, but it's a



I actually think some of the protesting is reaching such a level that it risks exacerbating the problem rather than helping it. The suggestion I heard on TV that "this is going to lead to violence against Jews" risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not because of the film, but because of the reaction to the film.

The film is about the biblical portrayal of the difference between what became Christianity--which emerged out of Judaism-and Judaism. It's a dispute among Jews. Judaism has a strong history of disputes. You can read the Old Testament prophets, and Israel doesn't come out smelling like a rose. So this kind of religious confrontation is part of the first-century world, and it's actually been part of the biblical world. It's a world that is a little bit foreign to the modern world in that what we


to have is a level of tolerance in engaging each other. But sometimes that can be disingenuous, because we wash over what may be real differences in how we see things.

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