Review of Mel Gibson's Passion
By Shelomo Alfassa, Executive Director of the
International Society for Sephardic Progress
8 Adar 5764 - 1 March 2004
Mel Gibson's film opens with white letters across a black background, a corrupted and erroneous translation of Isaiah 53:8, "He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities. By his stripes we are healed." The correct translation of Isaiah 53:8 is, "As a result of the transgression of my people, they were afflicted." Notice the correct translation is plural, they, not He. The Hebrew word for "they" appears over 40 times in the original version of Isaiah, but the Christians have purposefully mistranslated it, to fit their purpose. This is nothing surprising, as a Christian 4th century Bishop named Gregory had introduced this idea of lying-he wrote, "A little jargon is all that is necessary to impose on the people. The less they comprehend, the more they admire."
The camera opens with Jesus and some of his followers in a dark shady garden, Jesus is crying and surrounded by his men who are comforting him. A sudden shatter of the darkness is interrupted by hook noses Jews with dark circles under their eyes, dressed in warrior gear, who proceed to savagely beat Jesus to the ground. A particular theme of the film, is while Jesus is being trampled, the filmmaker cuts away to "Dream" sequences, where you see a healthy viral Jesus doing all the things which are typically associated with him. As Jesus is being beaten in the garden, he dreams he was with Mary. In the dream he had just completed building what can only be described as a modern dining room table, one which looks as if it came from Sears. He finishes it, drinks some water, and giggles with Mary (who calls him Yeshua) and--flash, the dream ends, and he is starting to look like bloody pulp, as the Jews continue to beat him in that dark misty garden.
A group of Sadducee Kohanim, the Jewish Priests make their way to the beating site, see Jesus, and have him brought to their courtyard, a stone structure surround by high walls. It's dark outside, and in the courtyard, the Kohanim are questioning the chained Jesus. As they do this, the Jewish peasant onlookers are shouting at Jesus, taunting him, and spitting on him. The Jewish leaders are depicted as men with hook noses, scraggly beards, full lips and dark saggy eyes, physical attributes taken right from the 'Stuermer Books', the 1938 Nazi children's manuals on 'how to recognize a Jew.' As the Kohanim interrogate Jesus, Judas Iscariot is cowering in a corner, and is being taunted by little Jewish children who somehow morph into demons-only to then revert back to children. Soon after Judas runs into the desert where hangs himself from a tree. What is not surprising, is that Mel Gibson presents the courtyard of the Kohanim as a dirty filthy place, a disgusting unclean area where men and women mingle, where the Kohanim mingle with the lowly of paupers.
Jesus is then dragged in chains by the Sadducees (Jews) to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea standing on a raised platform above the Kohanim. The Roman yells down to the Jews, "Do you always punish before you judge?" The shifty eyed Kohanim are sharply dressed in what look like some sort of dark royal vestiges, standing shoulder to shoulder among an immense crowd of women, children and men dressed in rags. The crowd of ragged Jews shouts, crucify him! crucify him! crucify him! Pilate was reluctant to condemn Jesus, and said he will be turned over to King Herod (the Roman Jewish puppet leader) for his consideration. Herod was depicted as an fat, hook nosed Jew, who wanted nothing to do with Jesus. As a matter of fact, all the Jewish leaders looked fat, while the Romans looked lean and trim.
Jesus is then given back to Pontius Pilate and presented to the Jews again. The Kohanim are shouting on the top of their voices, crucify him! The crowd of Jews erupts into a fervor, all blaring, crucify him! crucify him! The Romans give the Jews a choice. They say they release one person a year, and they can let the Jew known as Barabbas (a murder) go, or they can let Jesus go. The Jews elect to let Barabbas go free, and chant to crucify Jesus. Barabbas is set free into the crowd, and the Kohanim tell the Romans that Jesus was a blasphemer, because he proclaimed himself the Mashiach (Messiah). The Jewish crowd again starts chanting, crucify him! crucify him!
The Romans say they will punish Jesus, but this only angered the Jews who continued screaming for his death. The Romans drag Jesus into a courtyard where they handcuff him to a concrete post and hammer him with sticks, whips and sharp metal hooks in a most brutal manner. While Jesus' blood is sprayed across the face of his torturers, and while he moans in agony, Mel Gibson has placed the Sadducee Kohanim standing right there watching-along with Mary, Jesus' supposed mother. With no unusual expression on their face, they watch the beating. As they watch, a demon slips mysteriously (but purposefully) through the crowd of the Kohanim. This is one of the most virulent examples of anti-Semitism in the movie, a deed which implies the Kohanim, and thus all Jews, are evil.
After a good long beating, the nearly dead and bloody Jesus is dragged out to the raised platform next to Pontius Pilate who says to the Jews, "Is this not enough?" to which the hook nosed Jewish leader says, crucify him! The Roman leader then washes his own hands in a vessel of water in front of everyone (a symbolic gesture indicating he is not to be considered the one who made the decision), then says to his men, do as they [the Jews] wish. Upon hearing this the crowd of Jews explodes in cheers. They spit on Jesus, and again resume their mantra, crucify him! Pontius Pilate is seen as an innocent pawn who tries to do the right thing until a mob of Jews force him.
Next scene is Jesus carrying a large wooden cross up a very long series of steps in Jerusalem. The 40 minutes of him dragging the cross is nothing more than one long beating scene which Mel Gibson created into an orgy of carnage. During the plight of dragging the cross, Jesus is continually spit on, pelted with stones and screamed at by Jews. As Jesus is thrash upon by the Romans, the camera cuts to a scene of a Kohan riding in the lead of the procession on an ass. After a while, the attitudes shifted. An almost dead Jesus continued to drag the cross, but for every Roman that looked at Jesus with a bit of remorse, there were two Jews who looked at him with scorn. Though some of the lay people in the city streets seemed to scream for and in support of Jesus, the film depicted a large amount of Jews being whipped into submission by the Romans for attempting to stone him.
While Jews screamed for his death in a mountain top circus-like atmosphere, the Romans put him on a cross, driving nails through his hands and legs. As the cross is erected upright, the Romans governor looks on with regret at the bloody near-death man. The film flashes back to a dream sequence, a flashback to his sermon on the Mount of Olives where Jesus proselytizes prospective followers. Earlier he had a flashback about the Roman Catholic usage's of bread and wine as representations of his body and soul. In this scene Jesus calls the New Testament the "Brit Hadasha" (a term missionaries use to make the New Testament sound Jewish!). These flashbacks throughout the movie could be titled "missionary tactics" because each one serves just such a purpose. They add nothing to the film, but could be considered excellent missionary platforms.
As Jesus languishes on the cross, the Kohan tells him, if you are the Mashiach, get yourself down from that cross, then proceeds to scornfully laugh at him. Mary of course is watching all this, weeping from just out of view. She helps get the Romans to give Jesus some water, then kisses Jesus' feet. At this point the Roman soldiers are looking up at Jesus in awe, while the Kohan is shown with his back to Jesus, riding down the hill on his ass.
The film ends with Jesus on the cross, and a Roman spearing him in the side. As he is speared, blood and water come out of him, and the Roman who speared him bows down as in homage to his victim. Suddenly the sky gets dark, and an earthquake occurs. The camera brings you back to Jerusalem, where the courtyard of the Jews is heavily damaged, and the Kohanim are shown screaming in sadness and anger. The film cuts back to Jesus who screams, then the camera pulls back fast to a demon screaming. From a Christian perspective, it seems the Kohanim are screaming because they have been defeated by Jesus. The demon screams because he has been defeated by Jesus as well. The film then goes to the next and final scene, that of a perfectly healed Jesus sitting in a cave, next to an empty body bag, the only scars on him are the nail holes in his hands.
This movie is a putrid attempt at demonstrating the Christian story of the crucifixion. The movie was not even based on the facts as written in the Christian Bible, but a combination of Christian stories all rolled up into a story of bloodbath and a story of blame. Stereotypes are employed, the fat Jew with his dark face and hook nose, the Roman with his excellent physique and large nostrils, and the Anglo looking Jesus, too tall for living in Judea 2000 years ago, a man with a perfectly straight nose and beautiful eyes. Mel Gibson used rabid exaggeration and bloodlust to develop this film. His over development of the story, using larger-than-life action sequences amplifying the Jewish hatred from a subjective viewpoint has help him succeed in making the worst anti-Jewish propaganda film since Adolph Hitler was in office.
"Pharisees" were mentioned in the film's subtitles, but the "Sadducees" were never mentioned. Sadducees were largely of the rich priestly nobility, and would have had control during this time period. During the brief periods of greater political independence from Rome, they had control of the Temple, and functioned as rulers of the Jewish community. Even during the puppet regime of King Herod members of the Sadduceans tended to ally themselves with the Roman royalty much more than the Pharisees. Sadducees were traditionalists, to whom the complex of religious and administrative machinery centred on the Temple had more significance than messianic, apocalyptic, or prophetic statements which might endanger the status quo. The Pharisees, on the other hand, whose leaders were on the whole learned scribes, regarded the interpretation of the Torah as an ongoing activity, and its understanding by the masses of the people a priority.
The International Society for Sephardic Progress is a leading Sephardic Jewish advocacy agency in the United States. We were founded in the spirit of the Sephardic immigrants who came from the Ottoman Empire (Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Balkans) in the early 20th century. ISFSP functions as a leading agency producing high quality Jewish educational projects, and is an advocate for Jewish causes.