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Saturday, May 31, 2003

I'm now planning on seeing the movie about seven times.

"The movie" being Mel Gibson's "Passion," which has received plenty of criticism from people whose opinions I tend to value inversely. This is not to deny that anti-Semitism is a serious problem and needs to be hammered at every opportunity. Disturbingly, it looks like it's starting to make a comeback. However, it is a long way from those important points to finding in an as-yet unseen film a remake of "The Eternal Jew," for pete's sake.

Take, for example, the tedious James Carroll (please!). [Rimshot.] The Boston Globe columnist wails about the

literal reading of the Biblical accounts of Christ's passion. According to Carroll, "Even a faithful repetition of the Gospel stories of the death of Jesus can do damage exactly because those sacred texts themselves carry the virus of Jew hatred."

Jimmy One-Note continues his children's crusade to empty Catholicism of all meaning and rid it of anything else that could possibly give offense. Apparently Jimmy took one too many whacks to the head from those mean ruler-wielding nuns back in grade school.

You must understand: Carroll's answer is to literally purge the Gospels of anything "anti-Semitic" (broadly defined) though the use of "critical biblical scholarship." As in removing the texts from the Bible entirely. He's got a point, though: as I was scanning this verse in John's Gospel recently, I was suddenly infected by the SAHJ (Severe Acute Hatred of Jews) Virus and felt an overpowering urge to start my own pogrom. Mercifully, however, I passed out before I could do anything and woke up later, admittedly coated in my own spittle-foam, but otherwise much calmer.

Moving from the infantile to the idiotic, the USCCB's Ad Hoc Committee Most Frequently Referred To With Disclaimers also got into the act, issuing an 18 page "ecumenical" finger-wagging at Mr. Gibson. It was a very ecumenical gathering:

The ad hoc scholar's group that produced the report was assembled by Eugene Fisher of the bishops' conference and Rabbi Eugene Korn of the Anti-Defamation League, and comprised a mix of nine Jewish and Christian academics. One of the signers, Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt University describes herself as "a Yankee Jewish feminist ... with a commitment to exposing and expunging anti-Jewish, sexist and heterosexist theologies."

What do you expect me to do with that? I mean, really. It's satire-proof. It fisks itself. How can I top that?
Fortunately (?), there's more:

The group's report, dated May 2, criticized everything from the size of the cross used for the crucifixion scene, to the languages spoken, to poor character development.

Apparently the USCCB now employs two film-reviewing bodies. Hand-wringers by day, film critics by night. "As an example of poor character development, the Ad Hoc Committee offered the example of Monica Bellucci's Mary Magdalen. The committee found her character's redeemed piety to be unbelievable without an intensive and unflinching exploration of her past sinful behavior. Especially the sweatier, jigglier sins. And come on--Jim Caviezel as Jesus? That was the role Harvey Fierstein was born to play."

The document's central complaint, however, is that "a graphic movie presentation of the crucifixion could reawaken the very anti-Semitic attitudes that we have devoted our careers to combating."

The era of SC (Spiritual Correctness) has officially arrived. Ah, the perils of "graphic movie presentations of the Crucifixion." This phenomenon explains why people of the Jewish persuasion stay indoors in communities where Zeffirelli's "Jesus of Nazareth" is available for rental. Or the same happens whenever that CBS "Jesus" film featuring Jeremy Sisto (anyone else remember that one? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?) happens to be playing. "Crusade Fever: Catch It!" Consider how much better it is for Jews in Europe, where they don't show Jesus movies. Uh....

The report takes issue with director Gibson's decision to focus on Christ's passion rather than presenting a broader vision of "the ministry of Jesus, of his preaching and teaching about God's reign, his distinctive table companionship, his mediation of God's gracious mercy."

Er, I hate to bring this up, but the movie's called "Passion." "Whaddaya mean I can't get another Schlitz after 'last call'? This is bull---!"

A shocking omission. The movie also fails to explore the economic challenges confronting carpenters in first century Israel, nor does it examine the impact of aqueducts on Hebrew peasant life. Tsk, tsk--how unrealistic. Moreover, we have an SC Alert: "God's reign." Can't call it "kingdom"--that might offend the easily-aggrieved amongst the distaff.

This points up the essential problem of trying to present Christ in a nice, SC, "ecumenical" way. About all you can agree on is the following: Jesus: good speaking voice; ate with everybody; nice to hookers, kids and the differently-abled.

The report furthermore disapproves of the film's treatment of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' passion as historical facts. According to the signers, Gibson disregards exegetical theories that the Evangelists' accounts represent later efforts of the Christian community to "shift responsibility from Pilate onto Jewish figures," and accuses the script of utilizing the four distinct passion narratives "without regard for their apologetic and polemical features."

Oh, dear God [sound of head pounding repeatedly against top of computer desk]. Critical biblical scholarship, the preferred tool of those bent on making Jesus as inoffensive and irrelevant as possible, rises up in all its hydra-headed glory. Oh, the horror: Mel disregards the "assured results of critical scholarship." Maybe he did this because the "assured results" tend to change by the hour or with the tweed-wearer currently "assuring" us. Why not annotate the film with the "assured results" of the Jesus Seminar, who undoubtedly agree wholeheartedly with the concerns of the Ad Hoc Disclaimer Committee? After all, certain "exegetical theories" make the same arguments about Jesus' miracles, the Nativity and the Resurrection, don't they? "Such accounts are the product of a Stage III tradition formulated by the early Christian community reading its experiences back into blah blah yadda yadda next stop: agnosticism." Applying them here would leave us with: "Jesus--good speaking voice; ate with everybody..."

Applying one (or more) but not the others sounds a lot like special pleading to me. Hence, a good idea to ignore all of them, methinks.

I'll let the Archbishop of Baltimore have the last word on the Committee (as his job description now requires) and its ruminations:

Cardinal William Keeler, the U.S. bishops' moderator for Catholic-Jewish relations, was quick to point out that the committee's findings did not represent a formal position of the bishops' conference.

The rest of the article is worthwhile, and has helpful statements from the Jesuit (!) who translated the script, Abp. Chaput and others. Enjoy.

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