Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The actor who played Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ” is drawing on his knowledge of that film’s Aramaic language and his image as Christ for his latest role — using Jesus’ words to ask Missouri voters to oppose a stem-cell research measure on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Actor Jim Caviezel opens the political ad with a brief statement in Aramaic, the common tongue of biblical-era Palestine and the language of Mel Gibson’s blockbuster movie, saying: “Le-bar nash be-neshak.”

Bill Fulco, the Loyola Marymount professor who translated Mr. Gibson’s script for “Passion” and coached the actors on the ancient language, told The Washington Times yesterday the phrase means: “You betray the Son of Man with a kiss,” a reference to Judas’ betraying Christ and a phrase used in the Greek of Luke’s Gospel.

Cathy Cleaver Ruse, a spokeswoman for Missourians Against Human Cloning, which produced the ad, said the group had Mr. Caviezel say the Aramaic phrase in a contemporary setting but without subtitles “to make the ad a little more intriguing.”

When presented with Mr. Fulco’s translation, which was confirmed by several other Aramaic scholars, the group agreed to release the exact translation exclusively to The Times.

“It means ‘You betray me with a kiss,’ which means Amendment Two is a betrayal because it is deceptive,” Ms. Ruse said. “It promises one thing and delivers another.”

Tom Schreiner, a professor of New Testament interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said yesterday Mr. Caviezel is implying the amendment may seem “loving and kind” to its supporters, but when read closely, it is “actually a betrayal.”

Nathan Jastram, a biblical scholar from Concordia University in Wisconsin, agreed, saying it implies “murder is being planned under the guise of compassion.”

“Just as Judas betrayed Jesus to death while testifying with a kiss that he was his friend, so stem-cell researchers are causing the death of embryos while testifying to the public that they are searching for ways to promote life,” he said.

The 60-second ad, scheduled for airing during the World Series game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers last night, also features Cardinals pitcher Jeff Suppan and former St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner. It has been played more than 160,000 times on since its release Tuesday night to the media.

Mr. Suppan and Mr. Warner say voters shouldn’t be “tricked.” Mr. Caviezel finishes out the ad, this time in English: “You know now. Don’t do it. Vote No on Two.”

Mr. Suppan and Mr. Caviezel are both Roman Catholics; Mr. Warner is an evangelical.

The ad was produced in response to Michael J. Fox, the Parkinson’s-afflicted actor who asks voters in a television ad to choose pro-stem cell research candidate Democrat Claire McCaskill on Nov. 7.

“What you do in Missouri matters to millions of Americans. Americans like me,” Mr. Fox says in the ad, which has been played more than 1 million times on YouTube.

Conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh suggested Mr. Fox was deliberately not taking his medication to enhance his symptoms for the benefit of the camera, something Mr. Fox has acknowledged doing in the past. Mr. Limbaugh has since apologized, but he is standing by his criticism of the Fox ad as misleading.

The celebrity back-and-forth on Missouri’s stem-cell measure is the latest chapter in what has been a long debate involving Mrs. McCaskill and incumbent Republican Sen. Jim Talent, who opposes the ballot initiative.

Most polls show the ballot measure, which needs a simple majority to pass, with a strong lead. Ms. Ruse said the ad will run statewide with an aim to educate the many undecided voters in the final 12 days before the election.

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of the National Synagogue in Washington said he finds the Caviezel ad “distasteful.”

“There’s another religious approach that embraces research on stem cells because it saves lives,” he said. “There should be a discussion about that.”

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