Our scholarly panel's "agenda" was hardly sinister: We were concerned with biblically fidelity, historical accuracy, and the avoidance of anti-Semitism. While I have not seen Mr. Gibson's film, I have seen a script that has anti-Jewish components. Here are three examples that are already part of media coverage:

 

  • Jesus' cross is manufactured in the Temple. this unbiblical and a-historical scene is analogous to asserting that the ovens of Auschwitz were constructed in the Vatican itself under the watchful eyes of Pius XII.
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  • The Roman governor Pilate--who, like all Roman governors of Judea, had the authority to appoint Jewish high priests--is intimidated and manipulated by a luxuriously garbed priest Caiaphas. Analogy: Those poor Nazi occupiers of mid-20th century Rome could not resist Vatican pressure to rid the city of Jews.
  • The problem with lumping all first-century Jewish leaders together is illustrated in Linda Chavez's August 6th CNSNews.com commentary. She said, among other things, that "Christ's death on the cross may have been ordered by Pontius Pilate at the urging of the Pharisee Caiaphas--following the judgment of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious court that judged Jesus guilty of blasphemy..." Any "New Testament 101" student knows that Caiaphas was not a Pharisee; he was, rather, part of the priestly aristocracy in league with Rome. That the Pharisees are the group who give rise to Rabbinic Judaism and ultimately the Judaism of today only makes her mistake worse. As for Pilate, he could not possibly have cared less about blasphemy: he executes Jesus as a political threat, the presumed "King of the Jews" as the inscription on the cross reads.

     

  • Jews repeatedly and spontaneously torture Jesus, whereas the Romans need Satan's prompting. This is tantamount to saying that "the Jews" in Dachau tortured fellow Jews just because they felt like it, whereas the Nazis needed supernatural incitement.
  • After questioning our panel's motives, Mr. Medved referred to the Gibson camp's charge that we used a "stolen" script. Indeed, Mr. Gibson's backers have consistently accused this committee of being underhanded and immoral: first, they claim, we obtained the script illegally. This is wrong: Gibson's company, Icon Productions, knew we had it, and Mr. Gibson personally expressed interest in hearing our views.

    Then, they accused us of leaking the confidential report. Now, anyone with even an ounce of logic should see the problem: the only way the report could fall under the category of confidential would be if it were part of an agreement with Icon productions. They are the ones who requested confidentiality--which, of course, means that they knew we had the script. Finally, we at least were faithful to that agreement. The notice that the script had anti-Semitic elements was first made public not by the ad hoc committee or the ADL, but by Mr. Gibson and his associates, who went on record as denying the charge. Of course, it was they who made the charge public in the first place.

    As a filmmaker, Mr. Gibson knows that intention does not always determine result: a scene intended to be funny can fall flat; an anticipated blockbuster can flop. So too, a film that aspires to promote Christian faith can also easily promote anti-Judaism. How will Mr. Gibson's 'Passion' play before audiences with culturally ingrained anti-Jewish views, such as Orthodox Christians in much of Eastern Europe, or Muslims in Syria? (In 2001, President Assad commented publicly to Pope John Paul II that "the Jews" not only killed Jesus but also attempted to kill Muhammad.) While a number of conservative Catholics and evangelicals who have seen the film--Mr. Gibson is has been quite selective in choosing audiences--insist it has no anti-Jewish material, how would their own children respond if asked, "In the movie, who killed Jesus?" or "Did the Jews in the film seem very interested in money?" Every single response may be benign, but why take the chance?

    Granted, one cannot always tell when anti-Semitic stereotypes are in play. Yet I do wonder... On July 24, after seeing a screening of the film, the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, commented: "In the current global clash of civilizations, I'm surprised that some Jewish leaders would protest a movie portraying the final hours of Christ's life. There is a great deal of pressure on Israel right now, and Christians seem to be a major source of support for Israel. For the Jewish leaders to risk alienating 2 billion Christians over a movie seems shortsighted." The implied threat is all too clear.