Via Media

Via Media


Passions

posted by awelborn

First the anti-Semitism.

I can very well see, very easily and sympathetically see how someone attuned to such matters could find much in the film to critique on this level. I don’t think that every critique of the film’s treatment of Jewish leadership is equivalent to a critique of the Gospels on this score. “Well, he’s just filming what’s in the Gospels.”

No.

What is not clear in this film is the Sanhedrin’s motivation. It seems to me (and maybe I missed something) that two conflicts are conflated in the film: Jesus’ ongoing conflicts with the Pharisees, and then the conflicts in Jerusalem with the Temple leadership. It was not the former that got him crucified, (only John mentions Pharisees has having anything to do with the arrest of Jesus) it was the latter, and the driving force in that was political – fear that if a popular movement arose around Jesus as messiah, the Romans would brutally put it down. There is absolutely no sense of this in Gibson’s film, at least as far as I could discern, and that is a crucial, unfortunate omission.

So while I do think that there’s been some manufactured hand-wringing about this aspect of this film, there are good reasons for finding flaws in the treatment of the material, because on this point, it just doesn’t give the full picture.



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Annie

posted March 1, 2004 at 8:55 am


“…and the driving force in that was political – fear that if a popular movement arose around Jesus as messiah, the Romans would brutally put it down.”
I don’t disagree with this statement/theory on the motivation of the Sanhedrin, but I would like to know the historical basis for saying this. Is it an educated conjecture about their motive? Based on,,,what? Josephus?
I would also like to know why the Gospels say that the Jewish leadership could not carry out the death penalty; the “woman caught in adultery” is about to be stoned and St. Stephen was stoned not long after Christ’s death. So could they or couldn’t they?



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Liam

posted March 1, 2004 at 9:00 am


Btw,
Jack Miles attests that the much disputed passage of Matthew — let His blood be upon us — which many critics have assumed still remained in the audio track after the deletion of the subtitles — is in fact not in the audio track.
http://www.beliefnet.com/story/140/story_14086.html



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amy

posted March 1, 2004 at 9:09 am


Annie, it’s in the Gospels. When you take in the Passion accounts in all four gospels, the dynamic is clear. Read John 11:45-53, which, incidentally is the Gospel Gibson supposedly was most dependent on. Then read Mt 26:1-5, Mk 14:1-2, Luke 22:1-2, in the context of the preceding chapters in each gospel – Jesus activities in Jerusalem. He deeply critiqued certain Temple practices, he taught in the Temple, had been greeted as the Messiah upon his entrance into Jerusalem and was gaining followers. As John very explicitly states, the Temple authorities feared his popularity, not simply because it threatened them, but because it would rouse the interest of the Romans.



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Gerard E.

posted March 1, 2004 at 9:15 am


This possible confusion is the only place in which a flashback could have been added for clarification. Perhaps Jesus’ debate with the religious authorities about The Bread Of Life. Or His fury in driving the street vendors from the Temple. The Pharisees and scribes weren’t eager to crucify Him just to pass the time.



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Gerard E.

posted March 1, 2004 at 9:16 am


This possible confusion is the only place in which a flashback could have been added for clarification. Perhaps Jesus’ debate with the religious authorities about The Bread Of Life. Or His fury in driving the street vendors from the Temple. The Pharisees and scribes weren’t eager to crucify Him just to pass the time.



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Kevin Miller

posted March 1, 2004 at 9:18 am


I’m not sure, Amy. I think there are a fair number of places in the Gospels where the Pharisees, due to their ongoing conflict with Jesus, want to take measures to have him put to death (see, e.g., Mk 3:6). I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that’s part of why the Sadducees were against him also. Plus, Jesus did appear to the latter to be in conflict with the Temple – not merely to pose the risk of stirring up a popular movement that would bring down Roman wrath. I think one should be careful about trying to oversimplify the question of “Why’d they kill him?,” as I think tends to happen with claims to the effect that it was only the Sadducees, only for political reasons, etc.
Especially since – why downplay the Johannine witness (especially since it’s also the main source for the “Sadducees wanted to avert Roman wrath” view – i.e., should one be trying to ‘have it both ways’ vis-a-vis the historicity of John)?



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Annie

posted March 1, 2004 at 9:35 am


Thank you for the references, Amy. It is persuasive.
Clearly they did not regard Him as sent by God, otherwise they would not have wanted to kill Him. Or would they?
How many times in our own lives do we want to get away from the responsibilities and consequences of truly believing Christ is God? It forces you out of a complacent, comfortable state, in much the same way that the Messiah would disrupt the status and comfort the Pharisees and Saducees enjoyed in their time.



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amy

posted March 1, 2004 at 9:36 am


Am I downplaying the Johannine witness, Kevin? No – the opposite. I’m saying that it’s odd that if Gibson is so centered on John, that he doesn’t use this aspect of the conflict in the film, when it is actually most explicit in John.
And Gerard’s right. It could have been very easily fixed.
And while, of course, this ongoing conflict with the Pharisees had its own role in the decision of the Temple authorities, I would suggest that the gospels are pretty clear that the increase in tension, the hardened determination to see Jesus killed came as he made his mark in Jerusalem, and his words and actions presented more and more of a challenge to Temple authority, and that their motives were a mixture of religious offense and fear of Roman reaction to a popular movement rising around a purported messiah.
It’s not either/or. From the gospel accounts, it’s obviously both. I just don’t understand why Gibson chose to essentially ignore the political pressures from the Temple side, when doing so would probably have mitigated much of the criticism he’s received.



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Elaine

posted March 1, 2004 at 10:03 am


It’s been a few days since I saw the movie, but I thought the political angle – he’s a troublemaker, might cause a rebellion – came up in the scenes with Caiphas and Pilate. Am I mis-remembering?



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Mark H

posted March 1, 2004 at 10:20 am


I guess I can sympathize with those who might misunderstand the motivations in the movie; I cannot imagine going into this movie with less knowledge of the Gospels than I had.
However, I’d defend Mel’s decision for the following reasons:
First, I think he did give a sense of the political realities in all the dealings between the Romans and the Jews. Pilate’s ‘indecision monologoues’ in particular made it clear to me that he knew he would and could crush the Jews if they crossed the line; and for purely selfish reasons (trouble with Ceaser,) he did not want to see that happen. So, Pilate put up with their bluster but the soldiers didn’t hesitate to bust a few heads now and then.
Second, would the film really have portrayed any Jews in a better light if it played up their conscious decision to kill this man (for _whatever_ reason) because they didn’t recognize him as God? I would suggest that it was a charitable omission on Mel’s part.
Third, it seems to me that Mel included most of Jesus’s lines from the Gospels that indicate that this course of action was intended. “I have the power to lay [my life] down; and I have the power to take it up again;” “…my subjects would be fighting for me…” etc.
And most importantly for me (but probably missed by many;) The first scene with Mary and Mary(?) speaking the lines from the Passover ritual: (paraphrased) ‘Why is this night different from other nights?…’ This was not a murder; it was a sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb, and an incredible act of love toward me by God.



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amy

posted March 1, 2004 at 10:26 am


Elaine, you’re right, but all I’m saying is that it would have been helpful and truer to the Scriptures if this aspect of the motivation had been made clear from the beginning – when the arrest is being set up, etc..



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al

posted March 1, 2004 at 10:35 am


First of all, which reflects better on the Sanhedrin: That due to the “Hardening of the Hearts” described in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, they believed Jesus guilty of blasphemy and put him to death (as the Talmud and Maimondes affirm would be appropriate, and as they tried to do on a number of occasions) in conscience, or that they manipulated the evidence regarding Jesus’s guilt so as to eliminate a political rival, and perpetuate a collusive relationship with their oppressors?
I found the film to be appropriately vague about the composition of motives leading to the death sentence. Elaborating on the political machinations which may have surrounded the sentence does far more to assign motives of venality to the Sanhedrin. And buys into the Marxist/Historicist rewriting of all history in terms of class and political struggle.



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Tom

posted March 1, 2004 at 10:38 am


Elaine,
I might be misremembering along with you, but I thought one or more of Pilate’s conversations–and some of Caiaphas’s comments in front of Pilate–emphasized the concern that a major Jewish uprising was brewing and that Rome would have to intervene. I thought the movie nicely though subtly brought out the reinforcing incentives that both Pilate and Caiaphas had for keeping Rome out of this conflict.
I think Amy’s comments fall under the “lack of context” critique. Most movies depicting an historical event are much harder to follow if you don’t already know the underlying history.



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James Kabala

posted March 1, 2004 at 1:56 pm


I agree that there should have been portrayal of Caiaphas’s motivation. In contrast to the frequent portrayal (not only by Gibson, but in many adaptations) of a malevolent Caiaphas and a well-meaning but weak Pilate, I think that the two men were actually quite similar. Both men seem to have acted not out of natural bloodthirstiness, but due to fear of unrest. Caiaphas fears a Roman crackdown on the people if Jesus continues to preach; Pilate fears an uprising by the people against the Romans if Jesus is set free. I agree with Al that this is not necessarily a better portrayal of Caiaphas than than Gibson’s “motiveless malignancy”, but under current circumstances it might reduce criticism.



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James Kabala

posted March 1, 2004 at 1:56 pm


I agree that there should have been portrayal of Caiaphas’s motivation. In contrast to the frequent portrayal (not only by Gibson, but in many adaptations) of a malevolent Caiaphas and a well-meaning but weak Pilate, I think that the two men were actually quite similar. Both men seem to have acted not out of natural bloodthirstiness, but due to fear of unrest. Caiaphas fears a Roman crackdown on the people if Jesus continues to preach; Pilate fears an uprising by the people against the Romans if Jesus is set free. I agree with Al that this is not necessarily a better portrayal of Caiaphas than than Gibson’s “motiveless malignancy”, but under current circumstances it might reduce criticism.



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Mark H

posted March 1, 2004 at 2:54 pm


The more I read this thread, the more I agree with al (and Mel) that the film drew an appropriate line at its portrayal of the political machinations involved.
Further development of the political background would have opened up the risk of handing over too much authorship of the events to men. This was done according to God’s plan, not men’s. As was pointed out repeatedly in the film, Jesus could have saved himself if it had been His will. God acted in His chosen time, using the political landscape that existed. The film acknowledges that landscape without allowing it to dictate the events, irrespective of God’s plan.



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William Rudolph

posted March 1, 2004 at 6:30 pm


I too thought the political dimension was present, and it was clear that the Sanhedrin wanted him out of the way to maintain their power, including tamping down the radicals of their day, the zealots, in order to maintain their power.
I’m also a little tired of anti-semitism allegations for any criticism of any Jewish individual at any time in history. To say these guys were willing to sacrifice an “outsider” to protect their state-granted power does not in any way assert that all Jewish people at all times did the same or seek to do so today, and is certainly not unique to Jews.



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