A great deal of discussion is taking place on the airways, Internet, and in print. What does our reference desk say?
Emails have been arriving in the Bella Library Sciences box asking about Mel Gibson's new movie, The Passion of the Christ, which is about the last twelve hours of Jesus' life. It's scheduled to be released on Ash Wednesday 2004. Let me address some of the questions in a general way.
At the conference I just attended this movie was addressed several times. The conference was at the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education. Naturally, a film that has been been the center of Anti-Semitic accusations and discussion was of interest to us.
Three of our keynote speakers were asked by the US Conference Catholic Bishops' Office to review the script sent to Eugene Fisher. Dr. Fisher is one of 10 persons Pope John Paul II selected to be consulters to the Holy See on Ecumenical affairs. The scholars selected by Dr. Fisher were Dr. Phil Cunningham of Boston College, Dr. Mary C. Boys of Union Theological Seminary, and Fr. John Pawlikowski, OSM, of Catholic Theological Union.
Part of the problem, with the script reviewed, was that it is not based solely on the Gospels. It also used portions of the writings of Anne Catherine Emmerich, a 19th-century German stigmatist and mystic. Emmerich’s diaries of her visions and her account of the crucifixion depict Jews as killing Christian children and using their blood for rituals. This is part of the "blood-libel" that has sparked Anti-Judaism and Anti-Semitism for centuries. Gibson has stated that he carries a relic of Emmerich with him.
A reliance on Emmerich's writings raises questions of what will be depicted in the film. Hopefully the problems with the original script have been corrected. There was a scene in which Jesus was thrown from a bridge by Jewish officials. I pray that this was not filmed, or has been removed in the editing. I'll hold final judgment until I see the film.
There are legitimate concerns for all Christians that cannot be swept away with accusations of hyper-sensitivity. For example I, as a Catholic, fully believe that you cannot get to Easter without going through Good Friday. But, redemption is not based upon the amount of pain that Jesus suffered. Redemption is brought about by his freely taking upon our sins and dying for us. Focusing solely on the violence of Jesus' death can be negative. One concern expressed by the Catholic theologians was that Easter is merely a footnote in the original script.
Danae Dobson, daughter of Dr. James Dobson, commented that the actors are unknowns. My husband would argue that Monica Belluci is hardly an unknown actor. She is a well known Italian actress and had a recurring role in two Matrix films.
The final version of the film has yet to be seen. A complete judgment cannot be made until then. It's important to note that not all concerns are based upon political correctness or paranoia.