Monday, February 23, 2004

Jesus Is Not Nuetral

The Press Speaks:
Jesus Scholars Find Fault in Gibson's 'Passion'

By Megan Goldin

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Mel Gibson (news)'s portrayal of the final 12 hours of Jesus in his film "The Passion of the Christ" has been hailed as the gospel truth by some believers, but many scholars complain that it is riddled with historical errors.

Their complaints range from inaccuracies about hairstyles and clothes to a lack of gospel context in the film which has raised a furor among Jewish groups who fear its graphic depiction of the crucifixion will fan anti-Jewish violence.

Gibson, who has denied the film is anti-Semitic, has said he consulted scholars, theologians, priests and spiritual writers before scripting the film with the aim of making Jesus's agony during the crucifixion appear as realistic as possible.

Many Christians see the film as bringing them closer to their religion. Evangelical preacher Billy Graham called the film "a lifetime of sermons in one movie."

Gibson, a traditionalist Catholic, was so determined to make the $25 million film which he funded himself that he had his characters speak in Latin and Aramaic.

Experts say this was his first mistake as Greek was the language spoken in Jerusalem during Jesus's time, along with Aramaic and some Hebrew spoken by Jews.

"Jesus talking to (Pontius) Pilate and Pilate to Jesus in Latin!" exclaimed John Dominic Crossan, a professor of religious studies at the Chicago-based Roman Catholic De Paul University. "I mean in your dreams. It would have been Greek."

Latin was reserved for official decrees or used by the elite. Most Roman centurions in the Holy Land spoke Greek rather than Latin, historians and archaeologists told Reuters.

The mistakes, experts say, didn't stop with the wrong language, which Crossan -- who speaks Latin -- said was so badly pronounced in the film that it was almost incomprehensible.

"He has a long-haired Jesus...Jesus didn't have long hair," said physical anthropologist Joe Zias, who has studied hundreds of skeletons found in archaeological digs in Jerusalem. "Jewish men back in antiquity did not have long hair."

"The Jewish texts ridiculed long hair as something Roman or Greek," said New York University's Lawrence Schiffman.

Along with extensive writings from the period, experts also point to a frieze on Rome's Arch of Titus, erected after Jerusalem was captured in AD 70 to celebrate the victory, which shows Jewish men with short hair taken into captivity.

Erroneous depictions of Jesus in Western art have often misled film makers in their portrayal of Jesus, experts said.


For some scholars the errors go beyond language or hairstyles.

They say the heart of the problem is the film's script which interweaves the literal interpretation of four sometimes contradictory gospel accounts of Jesus' last 12 hours with the visions of a controversial 19th century nun.

"This is my version of what happened, according to the gospels and what I wanted to show," Gibson told the U.S. television network ABC this month.

But Crossan complained that the lack of historical context was the movie's "basic flaw."

The film begins not when Jesus enters Jerusalem to the exuberant welcome of thousands of Jews but rather at night in a garden on the eve of the crucifixion when he is arrested by the Romans after being betrayed by Judas.

"Why did they need a traitor? Why did they need the night? Why didn't they grab him in the daytime?" Crossan asked.

"Because they did not want a riot," he said, explaining that Jesus was immensely popular among his fellow Jews, which is why the high priests and Romans felt threatened by him.

Those details, Crossan said, were absent in the film.

"The lack of context is the most devastating thing for anyone who says it (the film) is faithful to the gospels because the gospels have the context," he told Reuters.

One of the most controversial aspects of the film is its portrayal of Pilate reluctantly sentencing Jesus to crucifixion under pressure from a bullying mob and conniving Jewish priests.

Scholars acknowledge the scene is faithful to the gospels, but some experts say a historical perspective is imperative.

"It is important to see the historical context. Not only for the sake of being true to history but for the sake of being true to the gospel passages themselves," said Father Michael McGarry, rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem.

The gospels, he said, were written many years after the crucifixion at a time when the early Christians felt it would be politically wise to "soften Pontius Pilate as a way of placating" the Romans who ruled over them.

"Pontius Pilate was a very cruel and brutal man. And he wouldn't care two winks about executing another Jew. He had killed so many before him," said McGarry, who said he had not seen the film and was commenting only on the history of the time.


Crucifixion was a common punishment meted out by the Romans to rebellious Jews during Jesus's time. The Romans crucified so many Jews, said Zias, that "eventually they ran out of crosses and they ran out of space."

The depiction of the crucifixion was the part of the film most riddled with errors for Zias, who studied the skeleton of a crucified Jewish man from Jesus's time -- the only remains ever found of a crucified victim from antiquity.

Zias said Jesus would not have carried the entire cross to the crucifixion as vertical beams were kept permanently in place by the ever efficient Romans.

"Nobody was physically able to carry the thing (the entire cross).It weighed about 350 pounds," Zias said. "He (Jesus) carried the cross-beam, maximum."

Nor would Jesus have worn a loin-cloth in the crucifixion as did actor James Caviezel who portrayed him in the film.

"Crucifixion was a form of state terror. They humiliated the crucified victim. Everybody was naked. Men, women and children," Zias said.

Jesus, he added, would have been tied or nailed to the cross through the wrists, not the hands as shown in the film.

"You cannot crucify a person through the hands because there is nothing there but skin and muscle. It will tear."

Brushing off criticism of inaccuracies, Gibson has said he found contradictory opinions among the experts he consulted.

"Since the experts canceled each other out, I was thrown back on my own resources to weigh the different arguments and decide for myself," Gibson said in one interview.

Jasper Speaks:
Today I went to Cinemagic in Saco, ME and purchased my advanced tickets to Mel Gibson's "The Passion Of The Christ". It made me realize again why I have difficulty living in a state who's state line welcome signs should read, "Welcome To Maine --- Turn back Your Clocks 15 Years". It was nearly impossible to get tickets for this movie online. Only one place within a reasonable distance of our home had them available. The time that the movie was showing didn't work for us so I called CInemagic and asked them if I could come in and buy an advanced ticket. I told them the day and time I wanted. They said sure. Now of course they don't participate in internet ordering of any type (see the above welcome slogan), so I went in person today to pick then up.

When I arrived I told the manager of the theater that I wanted to purchase tickets to the Wednesday at 4:00PM showing. He looked on his screen and replied, "I haven't put that showtime in just yet could you come back in a half an hour or so?" Again, see the previous welcome slogan. So I decided to give him some time and I purchased a ticket to see Welcome To Mooseport. It ended up being a benign hour and a half that was not so hard to sit through. It is set in Maine but obviously the writers had at the most only visited here. There were several inconsistencies like no Maine accents, no one complaining that the "president" was "from away", and a black person actually living in a small northern Maine community.

Anyway, when I went to get the tickets the girl behind the counter informed me for sure that not only was the 4: show on Wednesday not in the computer but that the internet site where I found my information was not one they have anything to do with maintaining. See the slogan again if you don't get it yet.

In the end (and yes I do plan on getting to the rebuttal to the press) I got tickets to the 7:00PM show. I will go and see for myself what the movie is really all about.

Tonight on local news they interviewed some "religious leaders" who had just seen a preview of the movie (at Cinemagic no less). Funny how the only people they could get to speak to them were those who found the film offensive. It was a Rabbi who said, "It was just too brutal. I don't know why Christians want us to believe that a loving God would do this to His 'only begotten son'." The Rabbi was quite sarcastic in nature. The other guy they interview was a United Church of Christ minister who said he thought it was too graphic. Hello??? Crucifixion is pretty brutal!

But my response to the press article above is one of not shock but overwhelming distaste for how some of the press is handling this. They are quoting scholars froma slanted viewpoint. Sure they mention Billy Graham (I guess to get some "Heavenly brownie points" just in case they are wrong and there is a Heaven). But the other scholars they found were only people who diagree witht he history surrounding the film. I find it interesting that there was a lack of any scholar who believes that the film could be correct. Does there seem to be a slant against the film?

I will admit there were a couple of aspects (like the fact that they drove the nails in his hands and not his wrists) that are valids. However, the heart of this article has nothing to do with historical inaccuracies. It is just another in the long line of articles that prove one unifying point. Jesus is controversial.

We as a society can embrace God but not His son. We can be "touched by an angel" or can watch a teenage get assignments from a grey non-threatening God every Friday night. But try and bring in Jesus and it is another story. Why? To quote Solomon there is nothing new under the sun. Jesus was controversial at the time He lived. Duh --- that is why He was killed. But what the world cannot seem to get is that Christ's death was truly the crowing moment of God's display of love for all mankind. It took a horrible, painful moment for God's grace to be presented to us. It took something bad to give us the ultimate good.

Jesus claimed to be God Himself in human form. I have chosen to believe that claim. If you believe those words, then you must believe that all He said was true. He is the only way to Heaven. He is the promised redeemer of first the Jewish nation and second all mankind. Watering down the gospel detail by saying things like the writers were trying to pacify the Roman rulers of the day is ludicrous. Where is there any true support to that allegation? Did Reuters ask their "experts" to show this proof of the inaccuracies that they claim exist in this movie? No. Why not? Well it wasn't to save space on the internet. It was because the "evidence" does not exist. It is fabricated to soothe a sinful world's heart. If Jesus is not who He claims to be, then we do not have to answer to His other claims. The world wants to find their own happiness and their own "path" to Heaven. Jesus offers one way and one way alone. Through Him. This article does not reflect true scholarship but does reflect the sin nature of man. This nature of self first is as old as humanity itself. There is nothing new under the sun. The current controversy over this man, Jesus, is the same ole controversy people have been imbralled in since time began. But you won't see that fact appear in Rueters. That is why you should always come hear Jasper speak.

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