Saturday, February 28, 2004

The Passion continues to provoke charges of anti-Semitism. Webster's defines anti-Semitism as "hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group." Now I haven't seen the film myself, but however it portrays Jews from two millennia ago, can we really infer any message from the film about Jews in general? Consider another movie Gibson was involved in, The Patriot. The British forces of the Revolutionary War are portrayed very negatively. Does that mean the film is "anti-British"? And if The Patriot had provoked somebody to trash a British-owned store, would anyone have faulted the film?

Generally, the way historical films wrong groups is by slandering them by distorting history. I doubt The Passion treats the Jews of Jesus's day worse than the Scriptures do. Consider Matthew 27:24-26 (NIV):
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!" All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!" Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
Supposedly Gibson originally had this exchange in The Passion, but bowed to pressure and removed it. This is understandable, for "Let his blood be on us and on our children!" could be used by the ignorant as an excuse to mistreat present-day Jews.

Most Christians, including myself, believe in the divine inspiration of Scripture, so how do we interpret this verse? Is Jesus' blood on today's Jews? There is no easy answer like "God let them off the hook." Consider what Jesus says in Luke 23:27-28, while he was walking his last steps before his crucifixion:
A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children."
What is Jesus talking about? Let's go back a few chapters, to something Jesus said as he approached the city that would crucify him. Jesus clearly said that the Jews would be judged for rejecting him (Luke 19:41-44):
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."
That's a pretty bleak prophecy. But today's Jews shouldn't worry about it. Nor should today's enemies of Jews take this prophecy as their mandate. Why? The prophecy has already been fulfilled. Jesus himself placed time bounds on his prophecy. He repeatedly said that his generation would be punished for rejecting him. Here is one of Jesus' many recorded rebukes of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:33-36):
You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.
Jesus kept his promise. About forty years after his death (and resurrection), the Jews rebelled against Rome, and they lost very badly. The Romans indeed built embankments and encircled Jerusalem. The city endured a horrible siege before the Romans finally destroyed it. The magnificent temple was completely destroyed, but for what is now known as the Wailing Wall. (As an aside, I note that I find Jesus' correct prediction of Jerusalem's destruction an especially compelling piece of evidence that Christian apologists should use more often.)

As a people, the Jews rejected Jesus long ago, and as a people, they were judged for this long ago. Anti-Semitism has no rightful place in Christianity. And it never has; recall that the first Christians were Jews. (On the other hand, there's a certain religion that predicts its adherents will one day conquer the world and make all Christians and Jews, unless they convert, into second-class citizens called Dhimmis....)

By the way, if you want to watch a good film adaptation of the entire Gospel, you can't do better than Jesus of Nazareth.

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