Home / News / LocalRSS Feed
Jews are not alone in concerns about The Passion
March 26th, 2004
Jews concerned about Mel Gibsons controversial film The Passion of the Christ can rejoice in the fact that for once we are not alone, said Rabbi Herman Schaalman Sunday.
Speaking to some 320 people, Christians and Jews, at Congregation Shalom, the Chicago rabbi said he has a realistic hope that the film, which many Jews feel foments anti-Semitism, will only reach a certain segment of the population, and that the voices of those [Christians] we had the joy and privilege to hear today will be an effective counterweight to the intent of this horrendous moving picture.
The voices he referred to were those of Rev. Steve Lampe, a Catholic priest and associate professor of biblical studies at St. Francis Seminary, and Rev. Steve Kuhl, a Lutheran minister and associate professor of systematic theology at the same institution.
They appeared with Schaalman in a discussion of The Passion of the Christ in the Context of Christian-Jewish Relations sponsored by Milwaukees Catholic-Jewish Conference, a program of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Jewish Council for Community Relations and the Wisconsin Council of Rabbis.
Lampe warned how the arts, particularly movies, can be more influential in shaping peoples images of religious events and stories than can sermons or scholarship.
Many people to this day, he said, think Moses looked like actor Charlton Heston in the film The Ten Commandments, and that Jesus looked like Jeffrey Hunter, who played him in The King of Kings (1961).
Lampe identified the sources on which Gibson based his script, including not only different and out-of-context parts of the Christian Bible but also his own imagination, previous portrayals of Jesus death and the visions of a 19th century nun who was possibly an anti-Semite.
While he does not believe Gibson is anti-Semitic and says the film does contain some positive Jewish characters, on the whole the portrayal of the Jewish community and Jewish religious leaders is negative beyond the biblical evidence, Lampe said.
Lampe also recapped the Catholic Churchs revisions of its teachings about Jesus death and about Jews and Judaism, but acknowledged that these teachings are not widely distributed among the Catholic laity.
Kuhl contended that The Passion has become a powerful symbol of the culture wars between secular liberalism and Christian conservatism, and the different sides in the controversy are seeing and ignoring different parts of the film.
In trying to look at the film from the perspective of the fear of God borne out as repentance, Kuhl said the film reflects nothing of the complexity of both the Christian Bibles accounts and of the cultural context revealed by modern scholarship.
Moreover, the massive, mindless, arbitrary, bloodthirsty tenor of the crowd looks all too much like the caricature of the Jews as presented in ancient passion plays, and that is exactly what recent Catholic and Lutheran documents about how to present the passion say needs to be avoided, he said.
Kuhl also pointed out that Gibsons film is engaged in an argument with the changes in Catholic rituals and teachings made by Vatican II; and that the films violence harkens back to a view of Jesus as a heroic sufferer an idea that Kuhl said can distance people from Jesus rather than help them identify with him.
Schaalman praised the last nearly 40 years of developments in Christian teachings Catholic and Protestant that have enabled Jews to have a radically different relationship with Christians and the Christian world than ever before.
And he expressed belief that Gibsons film is part of an attempt at least to slow down if not nullify these developments.
While it is difficult to gauge what the impact of the movie may be, Schaalman said Jews can learn how deeply the story affects and shapes the lives and worldviews of Christians.
And he said it is also necessary for Jews to become equally familiar with Judaisms teachings. Citing the Talmud story about Hillels response to a non-Jews request for a summary of Judaism (What is hateful to yourself, do not do to others. The rest is commentary. Go and study it.) Schaalman concluded, That is still a good Jewish program: Go and learn.