Passions over The Passion

Judging by what people who aren’t Abe Foxman have taken away from Mel Gibson’s new movie, it seems to me it would better serve peace and understanding if Foxman would drop his campaign against The Passion of the Christ. The events surrounding the death of Christ are central to Christianity. To the extent the Gospels show the Jewish authorities and the people of Jerusalem in a bad light they’re no different from any number of passages in the Old Testament. To the extent they stand for a basic opposition between Christianity and post-Resurrection Judaism that’s accurate too, and it’s just something we have to recognize and live with. If non-Christians want to cultivate good relations they shouldn’t complain when someone presents the Gospel events in a straightforward way, letting the heros and villains be the heros and villains, as long as the evident intent is to say what Christianity is rather than what something else is.

It’s comforting to fight the last war or the war before that. It makes the characters and plot line obvious, and it becomes very easy to cast yourself as the hero. Nonethless, if I were a Jew worried about Jewish survival and well-being, I wouldn’t be concerned about Passion Plays. There are much more troubling things afoot today, radical Islam and advanced liberalism for example. How would Foxman respond if European Muslims demanded a veto over Passover celebrations? Such a demand might actually get some traction in the years to come. After all, all the stuff about oppression shows the Egyptians in a bad light, and it’s hardly PC to commemorate the death of thousands upon thousands of Egyptian children or the beginning of a movement ultimately directed toward occupation of Palestine through the extermination of its inhabitants. So why, in a PC and multicultural environment, should Passover be allowed?

When men differ, tolerance is the best hope for peace. Tolerance that is not stealth totalitarianism does not dissolve fundamental conflicts because it has no right to change fundamental views. It looks for practical ways in which men, with the fundamental beliefs they have, can live together. It appears that Abe Foxman is not doing that, and is thereby showing himself an enemy of tolerance.

4 thoughts on “Passions over The Passion”

  1. You may be right about the
    You may be right about the movie displaying the Gospel in a “straightforward” way, but the most essential straightforward element seems missing. Where is the Resurrection in Gibson’s movie? Without the Resurrection, his movie suffers from the same “blasphemy” for which people have attacked “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Without the Resurrection, the story is incomplete and perhaps even anti-salvific.

    But an interesting post you make….

  2. Like most people I haven’t
    Like most people I haven’t seen the movie, but my understanding is that it ends with the empty tomb, which implies the Resurrection.

    Be that as it may, you don’t have to tell every part of the story at the same time. The Stations of the Cross don’t include the Resurrection, and it’s my impression that the same is true of passion plays.

  3. What struck me by the latest
    What struck me by the latest ADL statement was that it seems to blames Christianity for all Western anti-semitism.

    “Our concern is that “The Passion of The Christ” could fuel latent anti-Semitism that exists in the hearts of those people who hold Jews responsible for the death of Jesus, which has always been the source of Western anti-Semitism. ”

    That’s a really broad brush he paints with and he allows no room for economic envy, nationalism, twisted Darwinism, etc.

  4. I gather Mr. Kalb makes his
    I gather Mr. Kalb makes his prediction about Passover more in the manner of a whimsical illustration than of a serious prediction. Yet it’s worth pointing out that the movement against Passover that he imagines has already existed for many years in a mild form among liberal Jews themselves—Passover celebrations that get away from the ten plagues and the punishing God and the exodus and the chosen people and all that, and emphasize modern notions of freedom, tolerance and equality. Moreover, since the Seder is a private service performed in homes over the dinner table, I doubt it would become a matter of public controversy the way, say, The Passion has become.

    The larger target of liberals is the Torah itself, with its wiping out of entire peoples so that the Israelites can take possession of Canaan. But again, Reform and Conservative Jews have already done the work of re-interpreting the Biblical accounts and stripping them of both their pragmatic and their divine meaning, so that there’s not a lot of destruction left for outside protesters to do.

    Personally I’ve never had any objection to the bloody aspects of the Torah. To me (who am speaking in the capacity of a reader of the Bible and not of a follower of the Jewish religion), the book is a revelation of truth, in which God says to man, I will lead you out from this lower, false existence you are in, this life of slavery to the lower self, and set you in a place where you can live a true life under me. But for you to live in that true life, the lower elements that stand between you and God must be overcome. To present this revelation of God in the form of this tremendous drama of God leading the Israelites out from bondage in Egypt and into a new land prepared by God especially for them gives the Torah an emotional impact unique among all the books in the world.

    While even some orthodox Jews are troubled by the genocidal elements on the pragmatic level of the narrative, to me that is not a problem. I see the Torah as expressing the truth of God’s relationship with man, not as any kind of endorsement of human violence against other humans. And when I say that, I am not reducing the warlike aspects of the Torah to mere symbolism or allegory. Those are not the categories in which men in ancient days thought. The Bible is a revelation of God.


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