Mel Gibson's movie about the crucifixion of Christ isn't expected to be in theaters until just before Easter, 2004, but The Passion is already being panned by theological critics who say it's anti-Semitic.
Since most of these critics haven't actually seen the film, resurrecting one of organized religion's oldest and most agonizing disputes seems decidedly unfair. Why not wait until the movie comes out before writing the reviews?
The film was controversial from the get-go simply because Jews had been depicted by the Roman Catholic Church until fairly recently as “Christ killers.” And Mr. Gibson belongs to a Catholic splinter group that rejects Vatican II reforms, which stated that Jews share no collective responsibility for the death of Christ.
Mr. Gibson, who financed the film with $25 million of his own money, co-wrote the script and directed it, but he does not have an acting part. He denies being anti-Semitic, although his father, Hutton Gibson, has been quoted in the media as claiming the Holocaust never happened.
With such a background, Catholic and Jewish critics seized on a leaked copy of an early version of the script to brand the film anti-Semitic.
“The thrust of the story line was that this terrible cabal of Jews was just out to get Jesus and did everything they could to kill him,” Father John Pawlikowski, director of the Catholic-Jewish Studies Program at the University of Chicago, told the Los Angeles Times.
On the other side, Michael Medved, the conservative film critic and talk-show host, who is Jewish, saw a rough cut of the movie and deemed it “the finest Hollywood adaptation ever of a biblical story.
“Some of the bad guys are Jewish, some of the really bad guys are Roman, and virtually all of the good guys are Jewish,” he said. “It's a shame the whole question of anti-Semitism hangs over the movie.”
Moreover, with dialog entirely in Latin and Aramaic, the language of Jesus' era, the film has little chance to be a box-office smash.
In any case, the film should be allowed to rise or fall on its merits as an artistic work and not become a victim of political correctness.