'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


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We're learning that lesson now in our culture with Islam. So we better learn how to talk directly about these things, instead of pretending these differences don't exist.

What is your involvement with the movie?

[In late July,] I was contacted by someone connected with the movie. They were interested in my taking a look at the content of the film. I saw a screening in the afternoon of the same day the screening was held in Houston, where the Anti-Defamation League was present. There were about 45 people--arts people, film, and religious leaders as well.

It's somewhat unprecedented to get all this reaction to a film that actually hasn't been seen by very many people. It's still a rough cut, and they're still deciding what scenes should go in, what scenes should come out.

Were there any Jewish scholars at the Dallas screening?

No. All Christians of various sorts as far as I know, or arts and film people.

Any liberal Christians?

My guess would be no. I didn't know everyone who was there, but the bulk of people I saw would have been evangelical or Roman Catholic.

What was your overall impression?

It's a very, very powerful film. I was watching the film for accuracy, while also understanding the nature of the film-it's about the last 12 hours of Jesus' life and it's based on a narrative that weaves together various Gospel accounts. There are parts where the filmmakers had to figure out "How do we actually visualize the presence of Satan?"--that kind of thing.

That's interesting. How did they visualize Satan?

There was an androgynous character-if you look at the trailer, you'll see her. She's hooded--you don't know it's a woman until the very end of the film. It's one of the surprises of the film. This figure lurks in and out of the film in certain scenes. She roams the crowd, watching what's going on. It's a very well-done, artistically.

Are you aware that it's the devil as you watch?

At first, you probably aren't entirely aware of who it is. As it continues, you get a sense of who this is. There's no dialogue. She may whisper some things at certain points, maybe in the Gethsemane scene, but she really says very little.

Biblical allusions are woven through it. You're not just getting the Gospels, you're getting a biblical portrait. In the Gethsemane scene, -there's Jesus stepping on the head of a snake, which is an allusion to Genesis 3. And there are other allusions designed to pull in other texts and biblical imagery alongside the actual gospel story.

"The reason he was suffering was not because of a problem Jews or Romans had, but because of a problem humanity had."

While I was watching, at certain points I could say, "That's Mark 14--I can tell you what passage that is." At other points, they're filling time between events. I think it's done with a reasonable amount of artistic imagination.

What do you make of the dispute involving the use of work by the medieval Catholic visionary, Sister Emmerich? Her writing includes a mystic vision of the cross being built in the Jewish Temple. Apparently that scene has been removed from the movie?

I don't know if it's been removed--it's been discussed. I've not only seen the movie, I've seen the report [of the

Catholic-Jewish scholars' group

]. That was one of [their] complaints, that this scene was happening in the Temple at night. There was a huge crowd associated with this initial trial scene.

I spent a year researching the historicity of the Jewish examination of Jesus and wrote a monograph on it. I don't believe it's a trial scene; it's more like a grand jury investigation. The Jewish high priests were trying to gather information to take to Pilate. They were seeking a political charge, because if they get a political charge and Rome agrees to Jesus' guilt, they're protected.

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