Jesus and Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ: The Film, The Gospels, and the Claims of History

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Jesus and Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ: The Film, The Gospels, and the Claims of History

  1. Review

    The showing of Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of The Christ was a major cultural event. Millions of people crowded theaters to see it. Many clergy, especially Evangelical and Catholic, urged people to view the film. It was discussed in the media and evaluated by Biblical scholars in publications and on web sites. The editors of this book have assembled fourteen essays by an international group of scholars to help readers engage the issue of the historical accuracy of the portrayal of the passion of Jesus judged by the portrayal in the four Gospels.

    The book is divided into three parts. In Part 1, two authors offer an overall view of their responses to the movie. The first essay provides an analysis of the film for its historical accuracy and the question of its anti-Semitism. The author finds the film almost totally inaccurate historically. He states that about 5 percent of the film comes from the Gospels, 80 percent from the Dolorous Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, written by a nineteenth century nun and mystic, Ann Catherine Emmerich and 15 percent from Gibson. Emmerich’s book, according to the author, is based on a theology of “expiatory satisfaction or vicarious atonement,” which he deplores. Moreover, although there are brief flashbacks in the film of what Jesus said and did, there is no sense that his death was the consequence of his life. His conclusion is that the film depicts a savage God. He also details his charge that the film is anti-Semitic.

    The second essay explores what the author considers to be reactions and overreaction to the film. Although he thinks that Gibson made a mistake not to consult an advisory committee of scholars before he began his filming, he is not concerned about the historical accuracy of the film, because it is an “artistic expression” in the genre of previous Jesus films. He thinks that the flashbacks of the pre-Passion Jesus were adequate and deplores the fact that many critics over reacted to the violence of the crucifixion of Jesus. He also explains why he thinks the charge that the film is anti-Semitic has been exaggerated. He concludes his essay, writing, “Some apparently leave the cinema wanting to repent of their sins; others cannot find a good word to say about it.”

    In Part 2, eight chapters are devoted to evaluating the historical accuracy of particular plots and characterizations in the film. These include the twelve flashbacks in The Passion, the betrayal of Jesus and the death of Judas, Satan and the demons, Mary, the mother of Jesus and other women characters. the Jewish leaders, Pontus Pilate and the Romans, the trials of Jesus and the procession and the crucifixion. In general, the authors conclude that the plots and characterizations do not reflect the Gospels or history and some are artistic creations.

    Part 3, composed of three chapters, explores the artistic dimensions of the film and the influence of sources other than the Gospels. One author appreciates The Passion as “an art form and storytelling medium” in the tradition and “succession of Jesus films.” He states that when he views a Jesus film he asks himself the question “to what extent is it not only artistically interesting, but literally sensitive to the Gospel sources, historically probable and theologically satisfying? Using these criteria, he expresses his appreciation for Gibson’s commitment to his artistic vision, but finds the film “theologically problematic, historically unlikely, and literally uncritical.” Another author sees the film as based on “Counter-Reformation theology and sensibility, the emphasis on human suffering and degradation, the infatuation with human passions and the flesh.” The third author examines the influence of book by Ann Catherine Emmerich on the film and finds that it cannot be overstated. He suggests that the film could have been titled Emmerich’s Dolorous Passion of the Christ.

    The editors, in a concluding chapter, highlight the work of the authors. They emphasize that the film is ‘not accurate to either the Gospels or to history.” They share a final reflection: “In a world where violence is seen as the answer to social and political problems, and where violence is glorified in various media – whether the latest action movie or computer game to the nightly news on television, – to suggest that God requires equally extreme violence for the salvation of humankind, is, to say the least, problematic.”

or, use the form below to post a comment or a review!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>