Deke Barker's Response To My Review Of The Movie

February 29, 2004

From: Deke Barker
Date: Sun, Feb 29, 2004
Subject: THE PASSION - Response to Shlomoh's review


Thanks very much. Your review gave me a much clearer picture of what "Passion" is like than anything else I've read.

Some initial comments on history:

*IF* Jesus was participating in some sort of rebellion against legitimate Jewish authorities, don't you think at least *SOME* hint would have survived beyond the statements in the NT about scourging the money-changers? It would have been an ideal anti-Xian argument for the rabbis. And yet, outside of the NT itself, there is *NO* substantive data suggesting that Jesus did anything whatsoever that could be construed as a revolt against the authorities. That suggests to me that your claims that Jesus was involved in revolutionary activities lack any substance. *IF* there was an incident at the Temple as described in the NT, it was apparently not regarded as especially significant by subsequent Jewish interpreters.

Admittedly, this whole scenario troubles me. Not just your scenario, but the NT's as well. What did Jesus do at the Temple? If it was significant, why is there nothing in Jewish tradition? Given Jesus' later fame (or infamy), why has this incident disappeared except in the gospels? If it was not significant, why is it in the gospels? Did it really happen? (I suspect it did; it's too tied with early tradition not to have taken place.) If it did happen, why didn't people *AT THE TIME* make a bigger deal of it? If the Gospels suppressed unflattering or inconvenient aspects of the situation -- very possible -- why didn't the rabbis mention them?

Yes, the Temple incident could easily have been the precipitating event for Jesus' arrest. And maybe it was. But if it was, one is inclined to think that it was merely a convenient excuse. Much like arresting a Martin Luther King for marching, tossing him in jail for a couple of days, then giving him on OR release, except that there was no release.

This whole issue troubles me because the data just doesn't fit together. *IF* there was a "smoking gun" (the Temple incident), why didn't the rabbis point it out and expand upon it? If there was no smoking gun, why does it appear to be an early tradition? Early traditions can be checked against people's memories.

One possible explanation is that Jesus *DID* act as described in the gospels, and that his actions were viewed positively by the people. If no immediate action was taken against him, perhaps that was because he had a point that people recognized, and the leaders saw nothing to gain from emphasizing it. OTOH, if his actions were popular and not suppressed, then the Jewish leadership (the oligarchs, not the average rabbis) could be in a bind. The Temple was a source both of power and revenue. So they arrested Jesus, started the ball rolling, and either couldn't or didn't want to stop it.

Alas, this is nothing but barely-informed speculation. But it does fit with the data that we have -- and don't have -- in hand.

From: King Solomon
Sent: Wednesday, February 29, 2004
Subject: THE PASSION - Response to Shlomoh's review

Did you mean you already saw the movie?

From: Deke Barker
Sent: Wednesday, February 29, 2004
Subject: THE PASSION - Response to Shlomoh's review

No. Sorry. I was referring to the half-dozen or so reviews I've read. I obviously wasn't clear enough, since I certainly didn't want to leave the impression that I was offering my own first-hand observations. I was just commenting on some of the examples mentioned by the reviewers and the panelists. I have no intention of seeing Passion, unless it becomes so controversial or influential that I *HAVE* to see it to form my own judgment.

I have never watched a "Jesus" movie and have no intention of doing so, other than "Last Temptation", which I have on tape but have never watched. I'm a big fan of von Sydow, he's often been called the "best" Jesus, but I have never even seen "The Greatest Story... "

I don't think I have ever seen a film based on the Bible that was "true" to a critical understanding of the Bible, either historically or theologically. I doubt if thoughtful interpretation of the Bible has been attempted, other than by people who are Biblically illiterate in the first place (Gibson?). Everything I've seen and heard about is either pure Hollywood or the pious equivalent of those pious apocryphal fantasies like the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (not to be confused with the Gnostic/Xian Gospel of Thomas found at Nag Hammadi).

IMO, the best "religious" films are allegorical works like Bergman's "Virgin Spring", "Wild Strawberries", and "Seventh Seal". I think there have been some other good films that have used Biblical stories but placed them in a different context, much like Kurosawa's "samurai" interpretations of Shakespeare.

From: Carl Fortunato
Sent: Sunday, February 29, 2004
Subject: THE PASSION - Response to Shlomoh's review

Admittedly, this whole scenario troubles me. Not just your scenario, but the NT's as well. What did Jesus do at the Temple? Have you ever seen E.P. Sanders'* contention that Jesus in the temple was acting in the role of a traditional prophet, who often took symbolic action to demonstrate their prophecies?

This contention is that Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple - the claim that he said HE would destroy the temple is the major charge mentioned in the Gospels. And his action in the temple was a symbolic demonstration of the prophecy.

Anyhow, Sanders believes that Jesus prediction of temple destruction was what was regarded as a threat by the Jewish authorities - that his prediction of the destruction was somehow seen as a statement that he would have something to do with that destruction. And his actions IN the temple played to the high priests and Roman greatest fear of a riot in Jerusalem during the passover.

From: Deke Barker
Sent: Wednesday, February 29, 2004
Subject: THE PASSION - Response to Shlomoh's review


I've read some Sanders. I like him, but I find some of his judgments less convincing than I might. OTOH, his attitude toward the incident is really just the harsher side of what I suggested. And it's just as likely, maybe more so.

But the basic problem remains, *IF* the incident occurred:

If it occurred and had any real significance beyond the moment, why is there no real mention of the incident in Jewish literature? Why is the NT mention so fleeting?

I know it's a bit difficult to argue that the relative "silence" indicates it wasn't a big deal, 1st century Palestine being almost unknown to history, in spite of its importance to at least two great religions. Still, there were good theological and evangelical for Xians to use the incident, equally good reasons for the rabbis to use it in opposition to Xians. And yet neither seems to be the case.

NOTE: The "preponderance of the evidence" easily supports the incident as being factual, but that evidence isn't quite "clear and convincing", much less "beyond a reasonable doubt".

*E.P. Sanders - Arts and Sciences Professor of Religion at Duke University. He has written extensively about Jesus and the early Christians [Shlomoh]

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

Carl Fortunato is an Episcopalian who attends the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, where he is on the Vestry and where you may see him swinging smoke if you ever drop by on a Sunday. See his vestry website at

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