Thursday, January 22, 2004

ORLANDO, Fla. — Christian leaders at a conference for pastors, who this week viewed actor and producer Mel Gibson’s biblical epic “The Passion of the Christ,” yesterday said the film is not anti-Semitic but its violence can be difficult to watch.

The R-rated film depicts Satan in physical form, standing alongside Jewish leaders after they condemn Christ to a bloody beating by Roman soldiers.

“What impressed me throughout the movie is that neither Jewish nor Gentile people put Jesus on the cross,” said John Maxwell, chairman of the Global Pastors Network, a group that staged the three-day “Beyond All Limits 2” pastors’ conference at Calvary Assembly of God in an Orlando suburb.

“I will never forget the scene of Jesus voluntarily crawling to and placing Himself on the cross,” he said yesterday.

The two-hour movie was shown to 5,000 pastors under heavy security. Participants also had to sign mandatory confidentiality agreements.

Two Jewish leaders who slipped into the preview, posing as members of “the Church of truth” in Brooklyn, N.Y., said their worst fears were realized.

“There are two guilty parties in this film: Jews and sadistic Roman soldiers,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “And at various points, the Romans have some compassion on [Jesus] but not so the Jews, except for the Jew forced to carry His cross.”

He added, “I walked away shocked that what it does is reinforce the classic medieval notion that the Jews killed Christ.”

Alan Nierob, a spokesman for Icon Productions, Mr. Gibson’s film company, said that “We respect anyone’s right to freedom of expression after viewing this work in progress and expect the same in return.”

The violent nature of the film, which includes a lengthy flogging scene by Roman soldiers, left others feeling conflicted.

“Frankly, it made me kind of sick,” one Fort Lauderdale, Fla., pastor confided, “but I didn’t think it was anti-Semitic.”

The Rev. Dale Bronner of Austell, Ga., said the film will not make Christians think Jews are to blame for the crucifixion.

“What took Jesus to the cross was the sins of humanity,” he said. “We’d never blame the Jews; we love them and Jesus did, too.”

The other Jewish leader who got into the preview, Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, ADL’s consultant for interfaith relations, said, “The image projected in the film is [that] Pilate is a coward controlled by the high priest Caiaphas. … We’re arguing whether this is a historically accurate presentation.”

Particularly at issue, the two said, is the line quoting Luke 27:25, “Let His blood be on us and our children.” The crowd before Pilate who are asked which prisoner to release, Jesus or Barrabas, shout this line in the film version shown on Tuesday.

In past ages, this line was used to persecute Jews. Icon Productions said this version was still a “rough cut.”

The Rev. Gary Chapman, an author and pastor from Winston Salem, N.C., agreed the line could be problematic.

“I didn’t sense any anti-Semitism from the film itself or that sentence,” he said, “but I could see how that could be interpreted that way by Jewish people.”

Last spring, a group of Catholic and Jewish scholars criticized the film for possible anti-Semitic inferences, based on a pirated manuscript they had obtained.

Since then, Mr. Gibson has marketed the film to evangelical Christian groups to create a grass-roots support for the movie, which is in Aramaic and Latin with English subtitles.

Among elements likely to attract attention when the film reaches wider audiences is Mr. Gibson’s decision to have Satan personified by a pale, human figure that appears periodically. The Satan figure appears alongside Jewish authorities but not by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, who actually sentences Jesus to death.

The scourging of Christ by sadistic Roman soldiers at the bequest of Pilate was largely responsible for the film’s R-rating.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide

Sponsored Stories