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Wednesday, September 03, 2003

You know, I was thinking: It's been approximately forever since I've blogged something about Mel Gibson and The Passion...


Some new Gibsonia dropped right into my lap! A writer at Chronicles drops the hammer on Paula Fredriksen and reveals some surprisingly disingenuous arguments advanced by the Professor.

[Disclaimer: I am not by any stretch of the imagination a fan of Chronicles or the Rockford Institute as a general rule, nor does it represent my views on politics or religion, except where expressly indicated. The obsessions of so-called "paleoconservatives" grow darker and less coherent by the year, and the general site should be browsed with caution. Consider yourself warned. For my money, David Frum's methodical eviseration of the Rockford Institute (among a legion of others) remains mandatory reading. However, this writer seems mercifully free of these problems, and the article should be judged on its merits.]

Strident and overbearing in parts (and I should know), it's a very valuable dissection of Fredriksen's views. Frankly, he had me at "Fredriksen—endowed with the charism of infallibility that comes with tenure..." Here's a big nugget:

Fredriksen tries to conceal the radical nature of the attack on Passion by appealing to history: “the historical fact behind the Passion narratives—Jesus’s death on a cross—points primarily to a Roman agenda.” But Fredriksen did not always regard as self-evident the conclusions she now draws from the manner of Jesus’ death. In her Introduction to From Jesus to Christ, Fredriksen wrote that she once believed that “shortly after arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus became the target of fatal priestly hostility, which ultimately leads him to Pilate, and the cross.” By upsetting the money-changers, “he moved himself into the cross-hairs of the priests.” As that Introduction also shows, it wasn’t until Fredriksen walked around Jerusalem and saw how really, really big the Temple was that she concluded that no one would have even noticed Jesus and the money-changers. From this “insight,” Fredriksen ultimately concluded what she now presents as the unassailable truth that must be enforced against errant filmmakers: Pilate, not the chief priests, is the one who really wanted Jesus dead. For those of us who recognize papal but not professorial infallibility, Fredriksen’s “insight” seems a slender reed on which to both overthrow the Gospels and decide who gets branded an “antisemite”—the equivalent of “anathema sit” in today’s age of mandatory “tolerance.”

Fredriksen’s attack on Gibson is also disingenuous because—unless her views have dramatically changed—it paints a misleading portrait of what she believes. From her agitation over Gibson’s alleged lack of fidelity to history, one would assume that Fredriksen would want historicity in movies about Jesus. Not so. In a 1998 interview in the Boston Globe magazine, she gushed, “I loved The Last Temptation of Christ, the movie. I’ve shown it in my theology class, because it’s such a tormented construction about what bothers 20th century people, using Jesus as a screen on which to project those things.” Now, it’s harder to get further from history than Scorsese’s blasphemous, silly, and now mostly forgotten film, but since Scorsese, unlike Gibson, isn’t an adherent of “traditionalist theology,” he passes Fredriksen’s litmus test.

He also presents some quotes from a Boston Globe interview of Prof. Fredriksen. Here's the link, lest you think he has misrepresented her stated views. Further, he also takes some swipes at the rest of the scholar-assailants of the film, and references a work signed by the Catholic contingent.
The referenced statement can be found here. Again, the writer got his ducks in a row.

At the risk of reopening the "Reflections" tempest, paragraphs 6-8 of the statement are the most troubling, and echo the most offensive and erroneous portions of the since-revoked "Reflections" document. Numbers 1, 2 and 5 beg for nuance and clarification, where they aren't incomprehensible--e.g., paragraph 5's assumption that use of the O-word in "OT" will turn Christians into incipient Marcionites is condescendingly silly. Further, the use of terms like "Shared Testament" and "Hebrew Bible", at least as far as the Catholics and Orthodox are concerned, is flat out wrong. After all, we don't exactly "share" Sirach, Baruch, Wisdom, the additions to Esther, etc. Moreover, I don't know how a faithful Jewish believer could be thrilled with the term "First Testament." In any event, it provides a valuable window into the minds of certain Catholic scholars, their willingness to alter the faith, and that "Reflections" was hardly a one-off thing: this is a major, long-term project. Expect much, much more of the same.

Again, the article's worth a read. Just avoid the mines at the rest of the site.

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