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Today's Reprise—No, Really, Some Of His Best Friends Are Jews...
Submitted by James S. Valliant on Wed, 2006-08-02 05:29
I realize that this has nothing to do with Objectivism, but I thought I’d share my thoughts on Mel Gibson’s recent arrest.
In light of the loony conspiracy theory and viciously anti-Semitic remark for which the internationally renowned actor-director is now frantically apologizing, perhaps it’s also time to re-evaluate the controversy surrounding his film, The Passion of the Christ.
When it was released, you will recall, Gibson was criticized in certain quarters for being anti-Semitic. Why?
In the history of Hollywood Bible epics, certain conventions have been adhered to that cannot be found in the Bible itself, but which are the product of American tolerance, concerns about offending the Jewish audience, and, after World War II, keener post-Holocaust sensitivities. Thus, certain phrases and images from the New Testament’s account of the life of Christ are generally omitted.
Take what is probably the most infamous example: when Pilate, the Roman governor declares Jesus to be innocent, he decides to give the Jewish people a chance to redeem Jesus from death. He presents another arrestee, a truly violent man, and asks the Jewish crowd in attendance who he should release, Jesus or the violent man? The crowd responds by demanding the execution of Jesus.
According to the Gospel of Matthew’s version of these events, Pilate’s wife believed Jesus to be a “righteous man,” and Pilate even knew that the Jewish leadership had demanded Jesus’ execution “out of envy.” (Matt. 27:11-26.) The Jewish priests and elders had somehow persuaded the Jews to demand the death of Jesus and the release of the other prisoner.
They apparently succeeded beyond their best hopes. Three times Pilate questioned the crowd’s decision, according to Matthew. And each time the crowd was relentless. Pilate asked, “Why? What evil has he done?” Nonplused by the reasonable inquiry, the crowd “only shouted the louder, ‘crucify him!’” Pilate then declared, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. Look to it yourselves.” The crowd, eager to accept the full responsibility, it seems, responded, “Let his blood be upon us and on our children!”
C. B. DeMille never depicted this kind of material. Nor did any of his Hollywood successors in the Bible epic business. That is, until, Gibson.
For Gibson, fidelity to the New Testament was the key to a genuine Jesus-snuff-film. In order to insulate himself from the inevitable critics, he would film the story in Aramaic! “Authenticity,” when it comes to the Bible, can never be attacked, right?
When the Jewish critics of his film nonetheless pointed out as early as the advanced screenings that the material most offensive to Jews was still there in the film – for example, in Gibson’s movie, it is the High Priest who announces his acceptance of the guilt for Jesus’s death, not the crowd, but the line is still there – what was the notoriously conservative Catholic’s defense: “I was just being faithful to the Bible’s account. How can the New Testament be anti-Semitic?” (In the final theatrically released version of the film, by way of compromise, the actor still says the line, in Aramaic, of course – it’s just that Gibson doesn’t translate it in the subtitles.)
Even Christians who had been made to squirm by The Passion could not see the flaw in Gibson’s logic here. Of course, the New Testament isn’t bigoted. There simply CAN BE no anti-Semitism in the original source of all love, charity, and goodwill to all, which we call the Christian Bible.
Let me submit that Christian anti-Semitism for the last two millennia has been no accident – any more than Gibson’s approach to Bible story-telling was an accident.
In other words, the New Testament is anti-Semitic.
To this simple observation of fact, Christian apologists angrily respond that this is absurd. After all, “Jesus was a Jew.”
Of course, Jesus was a pretty poor Jew by both contemporary standards and the standards of his own day. Jesus was a critic of Kosher diet – since it’s what comes “out of our bodies” that defiles, not what we “put into our body.” Jesus was a critic of the laws against working on the Sabbath – since it was “made for man” and not “man for the Sabbath.” Jesus said of a presumably uncircumcised Roman centurion, no less, that his “faith” exceeded that of any of the “sons of Israel.”
As Jesus makes clear, the entire Jewish establishment of his day was utterly corrupt. His debating foils are inevitably, “the priests,” the “scribes,” the “Sadducees,” and/or the “Pharisees,” i.e., all of the religious authorities of the Jews, and, it is not hard to see why they would have been such harsh critics of Jesus – even prior to Jesus’ physical attack on the operations at the Jerusalem temple.
Passover, the Jewish holiday Christ seems to have observed, is transformed by him into the mass or communion of Christianity, while for St. Paul, something like Yom Kippur is superfluous after the “atonement” of Christ’s sacrifice. Chanukah, being mostly a celebration of Jewish nationalism, will simply vanish from the Christian calendar.
Bear in mind that Matthew is considered by scholars to be the most “Jewish” of the Gospels, e.g., everything is said to be a “fulfillment” of Jewish “scriptures” in that evangelist’s work. On the other hand, Luke-Acts has a distinctly gentile orientation, as many scholars have observed, and Matthew’s anti-Semitism is mild in comparison to John’s. St. Paul would rip into the Mosaic Law – specifically, circumcision and Kosher diet – in a way even more fierce than Christ of the Gospels.
It wasn’t just on religious matters that Jesus was opposed to Judaism, but on political ones. Not only did Jesus apparently prefer a Roman army officer to any of his fellow Jews – and at a time when the Jews were preparing for open warfare with the Roman Empire – but, he advocated paying taxes to Rome. Indeed, the sort of submission Jesus called for was amazing. If a Roman took your coat, Jesus advised giving your shirt, as well. If required by Rome to walk one mile, go an extra mile, too. If a Roman strikes you on one side of the face, offer the other cheek, as well.
To his contemporary Jewish rebels and zealots, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and “Love your enemies.”
Fundamentally, Jesus wants to end the special claim the Jews have to the worship of Jehovah – many will come and “sit at Abraham’s table,” and His disciples are to spread the good word to “all nations of the earth.” So much for Jewish Exceptionalism.
Now, in light of the fact that it is one of Jesus’ own followers, one “Judas,” who betrays him (all of the disciples are depicted as dolts and Peter, numero uno among them, denies Jesus three times when Christ could’ve most used a friend), and in light of the role of the Sanhedrin in convicting Jesus in a midnight kangaroo court proceeding – of religious offenses against the Jews – and in light of the entire episode at Pilate’s house – which can only be seen as an attempt to exculpate the Roman authorities, one must wonder if, in fact, Jesus can even be called a “Jew” in any meaningful sense. According to the Bible, to a man, they were his enemies.
On more than one occasion in the Gospels, Jesus declared that his earthly family isn’t his “true” family, after all – that prophets are always rejected by their own people (?) – that Jerusalem has been particularly harsh on its holy men (?) – and that the entire generation of Jews He lives among are cursed and rotten (!)
Even if we are forced to classify the Jesus of the Gospels as some kind of “Jew,” Christ can hardly be said to have been a fan of First Century Judaism, or, indeed, the Mosaic Law as such.
Remember that the century of Christ would see the bloody Jewish War with the Roman Empire (66-73AD) fought, as the historian Josephus tells us, because of Jewish messianic prophecies and religious zealotry. If his accounts of Masada and the Sicarii fanatics are any indication, nationalistic Jews of that era would have made al-Qaeda look like a bunch of agnostics. So extraordinary were Jesus’ pronouncements for a First Century Jew, one begins to suspect that the New Testament is a form of Roman political propaganda.
In any event, the statements and deeds of Jesus are hardly in sympathy with any sort of Judaism, religiously or politically.
With gusto, Jesus’ followers picked up the lead Christ had given them, according to the New Testament. St. Paul made a central theme of his whole message the idea that the death of Christ itself had liberated Christians from adherence to the Mosaic Law. Paul makes clear in the early chapters of his Epistle to the Galatians – as does the author of Acts of the Apostles – that his ideological foes are “the Jews.”
The author of Matthew’s gospel, as we have already seen, seemed eager to place the blame for Christ’s death squarely on the shoulders of these same “Jews,” while simultaneously taking pains to have Jesus praise a Roman soldier above all contemporary Jews.
And, it didn’t stop with the authors of the Christian Bible, either. St. Eusebius, who wrote in the early 300’s AD with the Emperor Constantine’s blessing, was certain that the Jewish defeat at the hands of the Romans in that First Century rebellion was no less than their punishment for having killed Jesus.
He would not to be the last.
Pogroms, expulsions, Crusader violence, ghettos, and gang-violence, century after century, committed by pious men who had read the Bible with care, were no accidents – they were just a few of its expressions. The climax of all of this in the Holocaust – only sixty years ago in a “civilized” European country – was also no accident. In fact, it is only a small step from Matthew’s Jews accepting “the blood of Christ” for themselves –and their children – to the position of the pious Church Fathers like Eusebius.
Of course, contemporary Christianity in the English-speaking world is not anti-Semitic – certainly not like the “old days” – as evidenced, among other things, by American Christians’ support for Israel. The benevolence of any Christians towards Jews has been a long time coming, however, and it is a far more abstract argument to say that the New Testament argues benevolence toward Jews.
Thus, Gibson cannot be called a hypocrite, at the very least. He was by no means the first, and he will hardly be the last, to find this stuff in the Gospels. And it doesn’t take a doctorate in theology or divinity to see what Gibson was doing.
Now, we know that he meant it.
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