There's a scene in which one of the thieves on the cross is punished through nature, if you will, for mocking Jesus. That's not biblical.
There's a scene during which the cross is set up for the crucifixion. It's very vivid, but it doesn't have a biblical detail connected to it. It has to do with the way in which Jesus is placed on the cross, and something that happens in the midst of that process.
I would raise questions about those five points. Having said that, I don't think any of these points significantly undercuts the biblical core of the film.
The debate is not about the film. It's a debate about the biblical portrait of these events. The film places the blame on a conspiracy of sorts --the Jewish leadership's influence leading Pilate to make the decision. The Romans actually come out as far more brutal.
Is it historically accurate that Romans at that time would have whipped a man that much?
Yes. Ancient writers talk about how gruesome a death crucifixion is, how brutal it is. It's so brutal that Roman citizens are not allowed to experience it. There's a tradition that has the whipping of at least 39 lashes beforehand-leather whips with steel-tipped points. You're not only whipped, you get a wrapping effect-a pull.
Would the Romans have actually come up with something like a crown of thorns?
Some things are traditionally associated with crucifixion. Other things may have been the result of peculiar circumstances. With Jesus, you're getting a crown of thorns as mocking. I don't think it's out of character for the Romans. Part of the point of the exercise was to make an example of the person.
The example would be "Don't come in and cleanse the temple"?
Yes, and "Don't disturb the peace in this way. We will stop you."
All you get in Matthew is the summary that she had this dream and she told Pilate not to do anything to Jesus. Here's how I'm trying to evaluate the film: 1) Is this coming directly from the Bible? 2) Is this filling in something the Bible suggests but doesn't give us a lot of detail, and does the fill-in match the direction and tone of the Bible? Generally speaking, the answer is yes.
There are four or five snippets in two hours of film, probably not equaling two minutes of the entire thing.
You've been an eloquent defender of the film. Given what's going on in the world-such as the clash between Islam and the West--does it make sense to produce a film like this now?
The protest is skewing and framing the way in which people will see the film. People are viewing it as a Jewish-Christian statement. That's not the film. At no point in the entire time when I was watching the film was I getting angry at what people were doing to Jesus. The reaction I had watching the film was this suffering he's going through is terrible--but I also understood, seen theologically, that the reason he was suffering was because of a problem humanity had. Not because of a problem Jews or Romans had, but because of a problem humanity had.
Did the film frame it that way theologically?
The film is so focused on what Jesus is going through, with the cause of it coming from such a variety of angles. If you think through who the "bad guys" are in the film-if you want to put it in those terms-the Jewish leadership to a degree are the bad guys, the Romans are certainly the bad guys, but the major bad guy figure is this lurking devil in the background, who at key points shows up. This is a theologically-framed statement of what the gospels are about: a huge conflict between God and the forces of evil, in which Jesus was in the vortex, and got crucified in the process. He did it on our behalf.
It's a film that is pro-humanity. It's a film about forgiveness, about what God did through Jesus.
One viewer suggested that if you didn't know much about Christianity or Jesus-the backstory, Jesus' preaching and healing-the movie might give you a weird impression of the religion, as if it's all about Jesus getting beaten up.
Conceivably--although I don't think that's how people will react to the film. They will see the story and will ask the question, "What got us to this point?"
The subject of the film is what Jesus goes through, not who did it to him. In saying that, it causes us to think through "Why has this man's story had such an impact on our culture and history?" This story is a very important part of that overall impact. The film does go through to the resurrection. There's a five-minute stretch at the end: it has a stone rolled away, an empty tomb.
So you didn't think there's so much emphasis on violence that it masks the other things Jesus stands for?
It's a very violent death. The film can't get away from the violence-it's in the nature of the event. Having said that, the judgment about when you've portrayed enough to make the point-I don't think I have enough artistic experience to make that judgment, other than to say that the overall power of what is portrayed comes across very effectively.