Indeed, the similarities between evangelical Christians and orthodox Jews are striking. When I am in the company of evangelical Christians, I immediately feel at home.
It is therefore with a heavy heart that I watch the developments surrounding Mel Gibson's upcoming film, The Passion of the Christ. I truly fear that this film may serve to hinder the increasing intimacy that has begun between Christians and Jews. To be sure, my evangelical friends tell me that they do not blame the Jews for the death of Christ, and that Jesus willingly submitted his life so that humanity might be saved from sin. But this evangelical reading is a version of the Crucifixion portrayed in the Gospel of John, where Jesus is control of the entire Passion narrative. The version that Mel Gibson seems to have highlighted-based on every serious review of the film I have read-is that contained in the Synoptic Gospels, and especially that of Matthew, where the Jews are portrayed as being the principal agitators for the murder of Christ, goading the reluctant Romans into the act of deicide.
Elsewhere, I have written how this narrative requires elucidation and should not be taken at face value, not only because it is deeply offensive to Jews-Jesus was, after all, one of us-but because it is historically implausible. Pontius Pilate was the cruelest proconsul the Romans ever sent to Judea and he regularly slaughtered thousands of Jews-particularly those who, like Jesus, challenged Roman authority-without even the semblance of a trial.
But even if my evangelical colleagues are correct, and Christians will harbor no ill feeling after seeing the film's graphic portrayal of the Jews calling for Jesus' death, I fear that Jews themselves will begin to pull back from their close relationship with Christians, feeling that the terrible lie that we killed the Christian god is being perpetuated.
Can Christians understand just how painful it is for Jews to be accused of having murdered (from a Christian perspective) the source of all goodness, the divinity? Can my Christian brothers and sisters understand the deep pain we feel-committed as we have been for more than three thousand years toward a moral and ethical lifestyle-when we are portrayed as reveling in sadistic delight as the Romans savagely beat Jesus?
Aside from the accusation being deeply offensive and insulting, there is the far more serious issue of how it has led to the slaughter of literally millions of Jews for the past two millennia. Consider the following from a book of Catholic essays, "On the Jewish Problem" (cited in "Is the New Testament Anti-Semitic?"): "The mystery of Israel is a bloody mystery. Perhaps it is necessary for Israel to kill their god whom they failed to recognize. But since blood mysteriously invoked blood, does it not perhaps belong to the charity of Christians to let the horrors of pogroms compensate, in the hidden balance of the divine intention, for the unbearable horrors of the crucifixion?"
Or the words of 17th-century French orator and Bishop Jacques-Benigne Bossuet: "I hear the Jews crying out, `His blood fall on us and our children.' There it shall be, a cursed race! Your prayer will be answered more than amply. His blood will pursue you and your last offspring until the Lord, grown tired of his vengeance, will remember, at the end of time, your miserable remnants."
Or more recently the story of Rabbi Michael Dov-Ber Weissmandel, who in 1955 approached the papal nuncio for help in stopping the extermination of Slovakian Jews. The Catholic Archbishop replied, "There is no innocent blood of Jewish children in the world. All Jewish blood is guilty. You have to die. This is the punishment that has been awaiting you because of that sin [the death of Jesus]." ["Faith After the Holocaust," Eliezer Berkovits, Ktav, 1973]
I fear that since many Christian organizations are now passionately promoting "The Passion" as an evangelical tool, it will increase the feeling on the part of my Jewish brethren that Christians are not our friends. I have spent my entire rabbinical career battling Jewish insularity and the deep distrust toward Christians that two thousand years of anti-Semitism have understandably engendered among some Jews. Is the support of this film really worth all of us going back to square one?