I attended the movie reviewers' screening of "The Passion" in Dallas on February 19. With my trusty notepad in hand, I took my seat. I had seen a preliminary version of the film in July. This was the final cut. Now there was music and full sound. There were new scenes and others I had seen months before were missing. My task was to make notes in the dark theater and keep tabs of where the film reflected in the Bible accounts and where it diverged from them.

The movie has scenes of three broad types: (1) biblical scenes, (2) scenes which directly quote scripture, and (3) several scenes not in the Bible. This is not entirely surprising as one can read the passion accounts in 10-20 minutes, while the film is almost exactly two hours long. It almost films the crucifixion in real time, as the biblical accounts suggest Jesus' time on the cross took about six hours (Mark 15:25, 33). It was inevitable once one makes the artistic decision to transfer a written text to visual imagery and do the crucifixion in near real time that some scenes are added.

The following chart tries to detail in sequence the scenes of the movie. Biblical scenes or quotes are noted with a summary name and passage. The film also has flashbacks into Jesus' ministry and/or the Old Testament. There are over seventy elements that are biblical or biblical flashbacks. These scenes, quotations, and flashbacks are also noted with passages. The scenes that are not biblical are also noted. These scenes (framed in pale pink) bear an asterisk so they easily can be spotted.

These additions are of various types and also carry artistic touches. For example, at one point when Jesus is first being beaten, Mary awakens as if from a nightmare sensing Jesus' pain. There is no scene like this in Scripture, but what she quotes, "Why is this night unlike any other night?" is a question that is a part of Jewish liturgy of the Passover, which is the season during which Jesus was crucified. This does help set the Passover context of the events.

Many non-biblical scenes involve two characters, Mary the mother of Jesus, from whose point of view much of the story is told, and the "evil" character that lurks through various scenes in various ways, adding a foreboding tone to the film. This figure's presence is a way artistically to portray something the Gospel accounts suggest but do not put into many explicit scenes, namely that the Passion was part of a cosmic battle for humanity. Three hints of this in Scripture are Judas' journey into the night as he betrays Jesus (John 13:30), Luke's statement that Satan entered into Judas' heart (Luke 22:3), and Jesus' reference at his trial before the Jewish leadership that this was the hour of darkness (Luke 22:53). The film handles this idea visually rather than by means of such explicit references through this character. Several scenes that are added are Jews defending Jesus: a Jew at Jesus' trial before the leaders, the Jewish girl with water, Simon of Cyrene's defense of Jesus, and the observer who notes Jesus is praying for his persecutors.

There are other scenes or elements that are wrong. These include a Jewish crowd gathered as Jesus is brought for trial to the Jewish leadership at a location that looks like it is at the temple rather that at a meeting room or the home of the chief priestly family where no large crowd would have been gathered. Also incorrect is the depiction of nails going through the hands rather than the wrists to the cross, and the use of Latin rather than Greek with Aramaic. It is also curious why the thieves in the film were not scourged, as that often accompanied all crucifixion.

Some complain about the violence of the film. It is unrelenting. It is also the case that crucifixion was a horrific death, so horrific that Romans citizens were protected from suffering it. Little is said in scripture about crucifixion, as someone on the first century would have known what its reputation was. People today have no idea how brutal it was. The movie tries to get at this through the beating with rods, scourging with metal or bone tipped whips, as well as the hanging from the cross itself, all horrible elements of such a death. My sense is that the violence overreaches, but the tone of it, almost in real time, is on the right track. Crucifixion was a painful, horrible death designed to discourage others from acting against the Roman state.

Scene-by-Scene "Passion" Reference Guide »

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