Mel Gibson's new film The Passion is drawing wide criticism from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). An ADL representative who saw a private screening of the movie at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, said "The Passion will fuel hatred, bigotry and anti-semitism by reinforcing the notion of collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus". Abraham Foxman, ADL National Director reinforced these sentiments saying, "the film unambiguously portrays Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob as the ones responsible for the decision to crucify Jesus". Rabbi Eugene Korn, ADL Director of Interfaith Affairs said the film contained several dangerous teachings that Christians and Jews had worked for years to counter.
Gibson, a Catholic by birth, will release his movie made in Latin language by July next year. According to his office the movie is based on the New Testament and reproduces accurately verses from the New Testament. Anti-semitism is as bad as Anti-Islamic or anti-Christian rhetoric. Hatred and religious bigotry are wrong and they must be fought hard by people of conscience. However, the criticism that the ADL has launched recently refers to a much bigger problem related with the interpretation of scriptures attributed to the divine. The Old and New Testaments are described as divine scriptures by devout Christians. The two scriptures contain several references to Jews that may be termed anti-semitic from the point of view of ADL. How should such verses be interpreted and who should interpret them are some of the issues that need to be answered? If the inclusion of such verses in a movie is wrong from the Jewish perspective, certainly their readings in churches and synagogues may be considered a bigger wrong.
Following references to Jews in the Old Testament raise concerns as they may be considered anti-semitic.
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment. Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers. And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.
But the other Jews that were in the king's provinces gathered themselves together, and stood for their lives, and had rest from their enemies, and slew of their foes seventy and five thousand, but they laid not their hands on the prey,
For the Jews that were in Shushan gathered themselves together on the fourteenth day also of the month Adar, and slew three hundred men at Shushan; but on the prey they laid not their hand.
And the king said unto Esther the queen, The Jews have slain and destroyed five hundred men in Shushan the palace, and the ten sons of Haman; what have they done in the rest of the king's provinces? now what is thy petition? and it shall be granted thee: or what is thy request further? and it shall be done.
Thus the Jews smote all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, and slaughter, and destruction, and did what they would unto those that hated them.
And in Shushan the palace the Jews slew and destroyed five hundred men.
Wherein was written, It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel: for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king, according to these words.
Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem, building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations.
These verses may be interpreted by many as a source of justification for violence against enemies. They project Jews as a violent people and can be used to promote hatred against others. Are they anti-semitic?
Regarding the controversy surrounding Mel Gibson's movie, the following verses deserve an authentic interpretation:
And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.
Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.
After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.
These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.
Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.
The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.
His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?
The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.
And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.
Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him:
But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming.
And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead.
But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.
But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people.
And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.
Then the high priest and the chief of the Jews informed him against Paul, and besought him,
For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me.
And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together: and when they were come together, he said unto them, Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.
Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:
But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.
Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.
These verses project Jews in a very negative manner. Gibson claims that he has used the New Testament to accurately portray the life of Jesus. If he is wrong, then one must also admit that the New Testament is not very kind towards Jews as it presents them in a very controversial manner. Regardless of the authenticity of these verses, the fact is that they are repeated in churches and home all over the world everyday. ADL has raised a bigger issue that deserve fuller debate. One must ask Christian and Jewish scholars to clarify the position on these issues. The controversy surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus has already claimed millions of lives in the last 2000 years. It deserves an honest discussion both by Jews and Christians. Muslims on the other hand rely on their scriptures to understand the issue related with the crucifixion of Jesus. The Quran clearly absolves Jews from the act of crucifixion and declares, neither they crucified him nor they killed him. Perhaps it is time that life of Jesus is seen not only in the light of Old and New Testaments but also in the light of the Quran as well. This might help the two-thirds of the humanity to view Jesus in the perspective that is more realistic and accurate. Otherwise the controversy looming his last days on earth will create more hatred and bigotry.
Dr. Aslam Abdullah is the Editor of the Minaret magazine which is a monthly publication from Los Angeles, California. All biblical quotes were taken from Kings James version. The newer biblical translations omit some of these references.
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