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Jesus and Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ

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  • Loren Rosson
    List members -- I was chatting off-list with Bob Webb who suggested I post my recent review of his book about Gibson s passion film to the list (which appears
    Message 1 of 151 , Oct 4, 2004
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      List members --

      I was chatting off-list with Bob Webb who suggested I
      post my recent review of his book about Gibson's
      passion film to the list (which appears on amazon).
      It's a good book, well-presented, and for the most
      part keeps both history and artistry in view.

      Loren Rosson III
      Nashua NH


      Jesus and Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ
      (edited by Kathleen E. Corley and Robert L. Webb)

      This is a good book for anyone interested in how Mel
      Gibson's film relates to the Jesus of history, and the
      editors generally take the right approach: "We should
      not impose what we want Gibson to do with his movie
      but rather seek to understand, appreciate, and
      critique what he has done." Aside from one contributor
      (Crossan), the twelve authors do a fairly good job of

      The first part presents two overviews of the film
      written by John Dominic Crossan and Mark Goodacre.
      Differences in tone, reason, and sanity cannot be
      overstated. Crossan's is a sanctimonious indictment
      and hard to take seriously, with preposterous
      overstatements found on every page: "If this film is
      not anti-Semitic, no such film can ever be made." In
      fact the film is no more anti-Semitic than the
      gospels, and considerably less so than Matthew and
      John. "Any Christian who accepts the Emmerich-Gibson
      theology of vicarious atonement is trapped in support
      of pornographic sadism." While the violence is extreme
      and the gore a blood-bath, neither is gratuitous. The
      subject matter demands them. Pornography encourages
      the viewer to want more, and the film does precisely
      the opposite. In effect Crossan serves as the foil
      against which Goodacre radiates sound judgment. The
      latter's essay is easily the book's finest:
      well-organized, well-written, explaining why the film
      can offer a powerful vision to Christians and
      non-Christians alike.

      The second part is half the book and deals with
      particular subjects: the flashbacks (Robert Webb), the
      character of Judas (Scot McKnight), the figure of
      Satan (Mark Allan Powell), Mary and the women
      (Kathleen Corley), the Jewish leaders (Alan Segal),
      the Romans (Helen Bond), the trials of Jesus (Glenna
      Jackson), and the procession/crucifixion (Craig

      Webb thinks the flashbacks are key to comprehending
      Gibson's vision: "without them the film would be a
      pointless gore-fest". I disagree. The flashbacks are
      unnecessary and distractive given the film's focus.
      And Jesus' passion isn't pointless; the context is
      supplied by familiarity with the gospel stories. I
      agree, however, with Webb's conclusion that Gibson's
      use of the flashbacks is "problematic and inadequate",
      not only because they insufficiently communicate the
      significance of Jesus, but because the viewer's own
      image of Jesus can provide all the framework one
      needs. Gibson's snapshots are too brief and
      superficial. In any case, Webb's individual
      commentaries on the flashbacks are helpful.

      McKnight explains why Judas' betrayal and suicide is
      likely historical, while his demonization in the film
      is mythological though dramatically effective. Powell
      argues that the androgynous and alluring figure of
      Satan, while not exactly true to the gospels (let
      alone history), is a well-used and convincing
      representation of evil. Corley corrects Gibson's
      association of Mary Magdalene with the adulteress of
      Jn 8, and opines that both Marys should have been in
      the flashbacks with the disciples -- since
      historically they were disciples too.

      Segal's objections are fair and considered (unlike
      those of Crossan) but misplaced. He believes the film
      is anti-Semitic for portraying the Jewish leaders
      under Satan's sway. Historically the priesthood had
      very good reasons for having Jesus arrested: he was
      stirring up crowds during passover, and he acted
      against the temple. Messianic movements (of which
      there were a variety) and threats against the temple
      could easily get one killed in Jesus' day, and these
      would certainly account for an historical passion more
      than any mythological reason owing to Satanic
      influence. Segal is obviously right. But Gibson's film
      is Catholic myth according to Emmerich, not history
      according to E.P. Sanders and Paula Fredriksen.
      Controversial as it is, Satan's power over the Jewish
      leaders must be understood as foreordained in the
      context of this myth: "They act as the chosen people
      prepared by their whole history to carry out the
      ironic rejection of God, even as they defend his name.
      They persecute Jesus out of a righteousness given over
      to Satan for the time being, so that the battle Christ
      fights alone can be most intense: it is against his
      own." (Glenn Arbery, film critic)

      Bond explains why the film's portrayal of Pilate is a
      blend of history, gospel apology, and artistic
      imagination: the real Pilate would have been callously
      indifferent to Jesus and killed him without second
      thought. Jackson observes many historical problems
      with the film's (and gospels') trial scenes. Evans
      gives a superb analysis of the relationship between
      the historical procession, the gospel route, and the
      medieval stations of the cross before turning to the
      crucifixion and what this terror entailed in the time
      of Jesus. He notes in conclusion that the early
      Christians would have been puzzled by Gibson's focus
      on passion instead of resurrection -- since Jesus'
      suffering and death was important as a prelude to the
      more climactic vindication by God.

      The third part wraps up with contributions from W.
      Barnes Tatum, David Goa, and Robert Webb, who discuss
      the artistry of the film. Finally, editors Webb and
      Corley conclude that while Gibson's use of a
      harmonizing trajectory with the four gospels can be
      fairly expected (as in most Jesus films), his use of
      Emmerich is problematic on levels of both history and
      theology. That Emmerich is unreliable history is a
      given. That her theology is problematic amounts to a
      subjective claim which cannot be resolved by editorial
      appeals to modern sensibilities such as: "In a world
      where violence is seen as the answer to social and
      political problems, and where violence is glorified in
      various media, to suggest that God requires equally
      extreme violence for the salvation of humankind, is,
      to say the least, problematic." (Corley/Webb) This is
      an inadequate response to the question of divine
      retribution. Still, the editors have done an
      invaluable job of providing a useful handbook for
      those wanting to know where history ends and myth
      begins in Gibson's film.

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    • Rikk Watts
      Already on it Tks Bob.
      Message 151 of 151 , Oct 8, 2004
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        Already on it

        Tks Bob.

        On 8/10/04 5:30 AM, "Bob Webb" <webb.bob@...> wrote:

        > Mark and Rikk,
        > You should probably do it soon. Volume 1 had alrady gone out of print, but I
        > convinced Continuum to re-print it so that libraries would be able to
        > purchase the complete run of the journal. I think they may not have
        > reprinted enough.
        > Bob Webb.
        >>> our library doesn't yet take JSHJ (sorry, Bob! I'm
        >>> making moves to rectify this).
        >> Me too! Just this very day in fact...
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