Ideas About Christ's Death Surveyed Growing Minority: Jews Responsible

By Alan Cooperman
April 3, 2004

The percentage of Americans who say Jews were responsible for Christ's death is rising, particularly among blacks and young people, according to a nationwide poll taken since the release of Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ."

The poll released yesterday by the Pew Research Center in Washington is the first statistical evidence that the movie's box-office success may be associated with an increase in anti-Jewish feeling, although social scientists cautioned that cause and effect are not clear.

In the March 17 to 21 telephone survey of 1,703 randomly selected adults, 26 percent said Jews were responsible for Christ's death, up from 19 percent in an ABC News poll that asked the same question in 1997.

The increase was especially pronounced among two groups. The portion of people younger than 30 who say Jews were responsible for killing Jesus has approximately tripled, from 10 percent in 1997 to 34 percent today. The portion of African Americans who hold that view has doubled, from 21 percent to 42 percent.

Pew pollster Andrew Kohut noted that the survey's question -- "Do you feel the Jews were responsible for Christ's death or not?" -- is a potential indicator or "marker" of anti-Jewish sentiment but not a clear demonstration of it.

Many Christians believe that Jewish leaders in Jerusalem urged Roman authorities to crucify Jesus but that all of humanity, not today's Jewish population, carries enduring guilt. An ABC News/Prime Time poll, released Feb. 15, found that 8 percent of Americans thought that "all Jews today" bear responsibility for Christ's death, while 80 percent rejected that view.

"Does this poll necessarily mean there is a rise in anti-Semitism, or will be?" Kohut asked. "Those are different issues, but it's certainly not a good sign that a growing number of people think this. How bad it is and what it will grow into are still things to be found out."

Pew research director Michael Dimock said there are several possible reasons why African Americans and people younger than 30 are more likely to say Jews were responsible.

"Historically, you often find that blacks and young people give somewhat higher 'unfavorable' ratings to Jews than the general public does. In addition, blacks tend to be more religious and more likely to say the Bible should be taken literally," Dimock said. "So I wouldn't attribute it all to anti-Semitism. I think there are a lot of other factors there."

The Pew poll found a statistical link between Gibson's movie and belief that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. But the correlation is not simply that a relatively large proportion of those who have seen the movie -- 36 percent -- hold Jews responsible. That view is also somewhat more common among those who plan to see the movie -- 29 percent -- than in the general public.

Thus, researchers said, it is unclear whether the movie and its attendant publicity are causing a change in attitudes, reflecting a change, or both.

Despite predictions that the movie would spark violence against Jews, the Anti-Defamation League reported in March that the number of anti-Semitic incidents across the country in 2003 remained the same as in 2002.

Moreover, some previous opinion surveys have indicated that "The Passion of the Christ" is improving, not harming, Christian-Jewish relations. In a March 5 to March 9 survey of 1,003 adults nationwide, San Francisco-based pollster Gary Tobin found that 83 percent said the film had no impact on their view of contemporary Jews. Two percent said the movie had made them "more likely" to blame Jews, but 9 percent said it had made them less likely to do so.

"The film and, perhaps even more, the discussions about the film are having something of a positive effect, which is good news," Tobin concluded.

While attitudes toward Jewish responsibility are changing, the Pew poll found that Americans' views of the Crucifixion generally are not. Forty percent say the Bible is the literal word of God, about the same proportion as in 1996. Ninety-two percent believe that Jesus died on the cross, and 83 percent believe that Jesus rose from the dead -- both essentially unchanged since 1997.

2004 The Washington Post Company

Responses to this article by some of my Christian friends-

From: Deke Barker
Date: Mon, Apr 5 2004
Subject: Holding Jews Responsible


In 1997, 19% of the public believed that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. Today it is 26%, with most of the gain coming from people under 30 and African Americans. In both cases, conservative Xianity is likely to be the common factor.

The most interesting statistic is that 36% of the people who have already attended the film believe that Jews were responsible, and 29% of those who plan to attend the film believe that Jews were responsible. That's interesting, but hardly surprising. Conservative Xians have always been far more likely to have anti-Semitic attitudes -- Israel and Armageddon notwithstanding -- than non-Xians and moderate and liberal Xians. That's why I find the film (as described by people who thought it was great) and its P R and marketing to be at best *HORRIBLY* insensitive. It targeted precisely that audience most likely to possess anti-Semitic attitudes, and it did so in a way most likely to provoke a reaction from Jewish, moderate Catholic, and mainline Protestant leaders.

While I will retain a halfway-open mind until it is released on video and I see it, my current thinking is that Gibson and the film are flat-out anti-Semitic. OTOH, as the article notes, there is no way to tell if the film's impact is resulting in (or will result in) increased anti-Semitism. For that, we would have needed a series of surveys over the last two years. ("Before and after" surveys wouldn't be sufficient, as I suspect many people had their minds made up long before they saw the film, merely beca use of the marketing and the nature of the publicity surrounding it, and the consequent reaction from Jews and others.)

From: Deke Barker
Date: Mon, 5 Apr 5 2004
Subject: Holding Jews Responsible


A thought, generated by the last sentence in my previous message:

"Before and after" surveys wouldn't be sufficient, as I suspect many people had their minds made up long before they saw the film, merely because of the marketing and the nature of the publicity surrounding it, and the consequent reaction from Jews and others.


1. Craft an issue so that it is certain to upset your ideological opponents.

2. Craft your message in terms of upholding your ideological principles and fighting your evil ideological opponents.

3. Stay the hell away from the details, since you already know that the issue is contrary to the best interests of your "base".

And if it can work in politics, it can work in motion pictures:

1. Find a legitimate historical topic which, with a little dramatic license, can be used against your target. Uganda under Idi Amin if you want to attack African-Americans. Japan in the 1930s or Cambodia in the late 1970s and 1980s if you want to attack Orientals. Any Latin American dictatorship prior to 1985 or so if you want to attack Hispanics. Socialists in the 1920s, liberal pacifists in the late 1930s and 1940s, or the hippie subculture in the 1960s if you want to attack the left. The crucifixion of J esus if you want to attack Jews. And so on.

2. Release information about your film that is certain to generate concern among your opponents.

3. At the same time, go on TV and express surprise and heartfelt dismay at the attacks your opponents are launching at you, in spite of the fact that they have never seen your film. Ignore the fact that no attacks have occurred yet, because you know they will after people read about the film and this interview. And few people will notice that you announced your "sadness" about the "attacks" before there were any attacks.

4. Do targeted marketing to the groups most likely to be influenced by the film. Deny all others the right to see it.

5. The goal: Convince people that they *MUST* see it and they *MUST* find it worthy if they are to be true to their sacred beliefs, race, ethnicity, gender, gender preference, socio-economic class, or ideology. In effect, cause them to enter the theater already knowing how they will react to the film.

From: Deke Barker
Date: Mon, 6 Apr 5 2004
Subject: Holding Jews Responsible

... try reading 50 years of polling by myriad survey research groups that all say the same thing: The targets of Gibson's marketing are *FAR* more likely to have anti-Semitic sentiments than the rest of the public. Or maybe they could listen to Jews and other (non-fundamentalist) Xians, who immediately saw the dangers. Or maybe they should listen to the Bible scholars who can put GMt (especially) into perspective, a perspective that Gibson seems to have missed.

OTOH, this is not a group of people who are big on facts that conflict with their preconceptions, so many that is asking too much.

From: King Solomon []
Date: Tue, Apr 6 2004
Subject: Holding Jews Responsible

Since the showing of THE PASSION in the US, incidence of people claiming Jews killed Jesus has gone up.

From: Grace Harris
Date: Tue, Apr 6 2004
Subject: Holding Jews Responsible

Shlo, do you have any statistical documentation of this?

From: Deke Barker
Date: Mon, 6 Apr 5 2004
Subject: Holding Jews Responsible


One sees the same thing in Germany and France. When the werewolves come out of the closet, more people start speaking up.

But who let the werewolves out of the closet? And what is stopping Gibson from creating more werewolves?

*THOSE* are the concerns of Jews and others. *SURE*, conscientious conservative Xians like you and Jim and Scott *ARE* more conscious of the issue, of the need to express your belief that all humanity was responsible. And if "Passion" didn't exist, you would still believe the same, but you wouldn't have seen the need to mention it, or at least not so often.

The problem is that "PASSION" may *ALSO* have caused many viewers to have a more negative attitude toward Jews, viewers that already were much more likely than the average American to hold such attitudes. And naturally, these people will deny that they are anti-Semitic, and they'll *CERTAINLY* deny that "Passion" inflamed their anti-Semitism. What else would you expect?

From: King Solomon []
Date: Mon, Apr 6 2004
Subject: Holding Jews Responsible

I only know what I read. I refer you to the message that Deke forwarded. Else - go to my website - see the PASSION link - and read the articles down at the bottom of the menu.

From: Grace Harris
Date: Mon, Apr 6 2004
Subject: Holding Jews Responsible

And I only know what I've heard, via Dennis [Prager], whom we both respect. Dennis' stats say that due to the DIALOGUE which ensued due to the controversy over the movie, more people were actually affirming that Jews were NOT responsible for the death of Christ. Dennis stated that the one thing which the movie seemed to be accomplishing was a strengthening of Christianity -- but a Christianity which affirmed, as Mel Gibson said, that anti-semitism is a sin, and that humans killed Christ.

Deke Barker is a member of the church of The Disciples Of Christ.

Grace Harris converted to Roman Catholicism over ten years ago.

Contact us at ~ CLICK HERE

Return To The Passion Essays Index

Return To The Essay Index

Return To The Literary Index

Return To The Site Index Page

Email Shlomoh