New Testament seen as anti-Semitic
Some Jews and Christians suggest that the New Testament itself is anti-Semitic. So concerned are some over the continuing impact of historical interpretation that an October 2001 article in the Jewish magazine, Moment, asked, "Can Christianity be purged of anti-Semitism without changing the Gospels?"
While most people dismiss that idea, some Catholic scholars say the Gospels' human origins and historical context need to be emphasized more for regular churchgoers. Others researching the historical Jesus assert that the Romans, not Jews, killed him for political reasons.
Paul Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, suggests the pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other - from blaming all Jews to claiming no Jews were involved. "That's wrong, too," he says. The final responsibility lay in Rome's hands, but historical sources support the Gospel narrative that some Jewish leaders were involved in the prosecution.
"Flavius Josephus is one of the sources, and in fact, he reports a similar event, when Jesus' half-brother was brought before the Sanhedrin in AD 62," Dr. Maier adds. "In that case, they stoned him without waiting for the Roman governor to arrive."
The way out of interpretations that provoke anti-Semitism, he says, is to point out that "a tremendous number of Jews never turned against Jesus during Holy Week," as Luke reports.
It also helps to clarify that the Gospel use of the phrase "the Jews" referred to Jesus' Jewish opponents, not all Jews. It was a common construction of writing of the time, Maier says.
Hard labor of changing stereotypes
Jewish groups have labored for decades, however, to change negative stereotypes that persist in passion plays, showing that official church teachings haven't been thoroughly spread. They're concerned, for example, that a survey shows that American Catholics who have come from Latin America still tend to believe the charge of deicide. Prominent Protestants have voiced similar beliefs.
"I've worked with mayors, directors, and stage managers, and through consultation with religious leaders and scholars over the past 30 years, they've removed a lot of the Jewish stereotypes," says Rabbi James Rudin, senior interreligious adviser for the American Jewish Committee.
"It's not just the text," he emphasizes. "It's the staging, the music, and costumes that say right away, 'This is the bad guy.'"
In recent years, passion plays have drawn busloads in towns around the United States, such as Eureka Springs, Ark.; Lake Wales, Fla.; Union City, N.J.; and the Black Hills of S.D. And Jewish and Christian leaders have taken pains to offer guidelines via the Internet to local churches for their productions.
But a powerful dramatic film by the Hollywood megastar promises to have global impact, many feel. "Given that this is radioactive material - that's the only way I can describe it - I'm urging Mr. Gibson to follow what others have done and consult prior to release," Rabbi Rudin says.
Thursday, July 10, 2003
THE CONTROVERSY OVER MEL GIBSON'S THE PASSION is covered in an informative and well-balanced article in the Christian Science Monitor today. An excerpt: