"The Passion of The Christ,” which has attained blockbuster status since it opened Ash Wednesday, is causing some people of faith to take a fresh look at their beliefs and try to make sense of the conflicting emotions the movie raises.
On the one hand and generally speaking, Christians are deeply affected by the gruesome death of the man they view as their Savior; on the other, Jews are troubled by what they see as Gibson’s intent to overlook their persecution under Roman rule and to cast them collectively as Christ-killers.
In Columbia, about 40 Baptists and Jews recently gathered in a cozy room at First Baptist Church to discuss “The Passion.” The members of First Baptist and Beth Shalom Synagogue shared pizza and soda and, in an atmosphere of fellowship, broached hot-button issues — such as how director Mel Gibson portrayed the Jews.
Before the discussion, the Baptists, along with Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Yossi Feintuch and a few synagogue members, attended a showing of the movie. The other Jewish participants in the discussion had either seen the film or have so far opted to not see it.
Feintuch, who leads a congregation of 150 families, said the film made him think of “the untold sufferings the Jewish people have endured since the Crusades, because of charges of Deocide (killing Christ).”
“Hatred for the Jews has often been predicated on the blood curse,” Feintuch said. The blood curse refers to an account in the Gospels in which the Jews are described as crying, “His (Jesus’) blood be on us and our children.” (Matthew 27:25, Revised English Version).
Feintuch said that during the film, the “blood curse” was spoken
by the high priest in Aramaic — although it was not translated into English for subtitles. The London Guardian newspaper reported last month that upon seeing the screenplay, Jewish experts asked Gibson to remove the blood curse in its entirety but he agreed to remove only the related subtitles.
Pat Hutchinson of First Baptist said she did not cast blame on the Jews because some Christians have done terrible things to other Christians. Hutchinson said the movie prompted her to look within herself, to picture herself as a Roman or a Jew.
However, Glenn Radtke, a member of the synagogue, said he thought that as a whole Romans were portrayed in a much more positive light than the Jews.
Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who gave the official order for Crucifixion, was portrayed “as peace-loving man, who washed his hands (of responsibility) and was giving Jesus a drink.” In fact, Feintuch said, Pilate was so ruthless with the Jews of Judea that he was later recalled by Rome. “He was too cruel even for Rome,” he said.
The Rev. John Baker of First Baptist said Jesus, as “the King of the Jews,” was viewed as a rival by authorities. “Rome killed Jesus, not the Jews,” said Baker.
It is important to “keep in mind who were the oppressors and the oppressed,” Feintuch said.
Casey Goodman, a Unitarian who works at the synagogue, said that when Christians saw how horrific Christ’s death was in the film, it would help them have a better understanding of the Gospel — which she said would be a good thing.
Jim Krueger, who attends the synagogue, said that by spotlighting the cross of Christ, attention was drawn from the thousands of Jews crucified by the Romans. It was “as though their passion and death, which is just as heinous, should be ignored,” Krueger said.
Maja Hill, who wore a gold Star of David around her neck and described herself as both Jewish and Christian, said she understood where both religions were coming from and she was “hearing the cry of both people.” The Christians want recognition for the suffering of Christ and the Jews want attention to be paid to the suffering of the Jewish people, Hill said.
Hill said that the focus on the film should be “how Christ forgave, and how we do that in his name.”
Feintuch said that while many Christians have the attitude, “Abba (father God), forgive,” other people, in Europe and the Middle East especially, would take the film differently — as a call against the Jews.
In Feintuch’s view, America is a planet unto itself in terms of its treatment and view of Jews — a far cry, from his perspective, from Europe’s anti-Semitism.
Hill said that some good is coming out of the film — as evidenced in the discussion that night — because it has created an “urgency for Jews and Christians to talk and deal with history.”
“That has nothing to do with Gibson” and everything to do with God, she said.
“(The film) is good because we did come together to understand each other — not to change, but help each other,” said Claire Self of the synagogue. Many in the group said they thought the best part of the film was the discussion it prompted afterward.
However, no one seemed to think — as demonstrated by many comments and subsequent murmurs of approval — that “the Gospel according to Gibson” should be taught in churches.
“Gibson pulled from all four (Gospels in the Bible) into one story and left some details out and added extra Biblical stuff,” said Baker. For example, he said, Gibson depicted a devil lurking around Jesus during the film, but no such character was blatantly depicted during the last 12 hours of his life in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.
The two congregations have had a relationship for about six years: Beth Shalom holds events such as the celebration of the High Holy Days — Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur — at the First Baptist Church because of its need for a larger space for those events. Members of Beth Shalom’s Sisterhood express their gratitude by bringing an array of homemade treats and cider to First Baptist’s Christmas Eve service every year.
“I feel at home with my Baptist friends,” said Feintuch, who expressed his “profound gratitude to John (Baker) for the invitation to do this in the only Judeo-Christian country on the Earth.”