Saturday, March 28, 2009


It's been five years now since Mel Gibson's The Passion was released. Many people, both Jews and Christians, were upset at what he did in that film. In Hollywood too, there was plenty of anger at the anti-Jewish sentiment in this film. But for all the talk and controversy at the time, where has there been any response in a movie to his treatment of this subject? Not only have Hollywood filmmakers been silent, there has been nothing from any independent filmmaker. Not one film has appeared on the scene to counter the images Gibson gave us. Why is that?

I think the main reason is that no one is sure what would constitute a response. Everyone seems to feel that Gibson told the traditional story but gave it a little extra spin. A response to him would be what? The same story but toned down in its negativity and violence? Hollywood has made these films already. So what else is there to do?

The problem is that no one knows how to approach the evidence in a fresh way. We have all been blinded by centuries of tradition and scholarship that keeps repeating the same old story in slightly varied forms. The characters of the priests, Pharisees, Judas, Barabbas, and more have been drilled into our heads over and over again. Genuine historical Jesus studies does not exist yet. What we get in historical Jesus scholarship is really just a constantly repeated Passion play. There is no other way to see it as far as anyone is concerned. There is no fresh look at the evidence, so a truly new film is not a possibility. Everyone is stuck and perhaps that is what Gibson's film revealed more than anything else.

It is not just my own work that has been suppressed. It is also the works of Haim Cohn and William Klassen. In a rational world, Cohn's 1971 book on the death of Jesus would have sparked a debate. Mainstream scholars made sure that would not happen. Klassen's book on Judas has also been largely ignored, even though a majority of scholars admit that he is right that betray is a mistranslation of the Greek word paradidomi. They just ignore all the other evidence he discussed and they steadfastly deny that a mistranslation should have any effect on our historical opinion of what happened.

We are stuck because we want to be stuck. That is the goal of historical Jesus scholarship. There is no academic freedom of dissent allowed in this field. And so filmmakers of all sorts have no idea what to do. Debate has been forbidden. The Passion play goes on. No new movie, just a loop of old film endlessly replayed.

Leon Zitzer

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