Gibson to Delete a Scene in 'Passion'

By Sharon Waxman
February 4, 2004
Mew York Times
Posted on 2/3/04 at FreeRepublic.Com - "A Conservative News Forum" by AgThorn

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 3 — Mel Gibson, responding to focus groups as much as to protests by Jewish critics, has decided to delete a controversial scene about Jews from his film, "The Passion of the Christ," a close associate said today.

A scene in the film, in which the Jewish high priest Caiaphas calls down a kind of curse on the Jewish people by declaring of the Crucifixion, "His blood be on us and on our children," will not be in the movie's final version, said the Gibson associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The passage had been included in some versions of the film that were shown before select groups, mostly of priests and ministers.

"It didn't work in the focus screenings," the associate said. "Maybe it was thought to be too hurtful, or taken not in the way it was intended. It has been used terribly over the years."

Jewish leaders had warned that the passage from Matthew 27:25 was the historic source for many of the charges of deicide and Jews' collective guilt in the death of Jesus.

Mr. Gibson's decision to remove the scene could indicate that he was being responsive to concerns of Jewish groups that the film will fuel anti-Semitism. Mr. Gibson was the co-writer, director, producer and financier of the $25 million film, which will be released in more than 2,000 theaters on Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday.

Mr. Gibson also responded to a letter from Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who had requested a meeting and asked Mr. Gibson to consider a postscript that would "implore your viewers to not let the movie turn some toward a passion of hatred."

Mr. Gibson did not respond to those requests directly, writing only: "I hope and I pray that you will join me in setting an example for all of our brethren; that the truest path to follow, the only path, is that of respect and, most importantly, that of love for each other despite our differences."

Mr. Foxman responded in turn on Monday that "your words do not mitigate our concerns about the potential consequences of your film — to fuel and legitimize anti-Semitism."

This reporter was shown a two-hour version of the R-rated movie this week. The film features agonizing passages as Jesus, played by Jim Caviezel, is mercilessly beaten by Jewish and then Roman guards, and jeered and hounded by a Jewish mob on his way to his Crucifixion. It is unclear how close this version is to Mr. Gibson's final film.

In this version, the Roman leader Pontius Pilate is depicted as being reluctant to harm Jesus, who Pilate's wife warns is holy. Largely to mollify a restive Jewish mob outside his window, Pilate agrees to a severe lashing and scourging of Jesus, but the crowd and the high priest demand more.

Pilate says in Latin: "Ecce homo" — "Behold the man" — displaying the broken and bleeding Jesus to the crowd. But the high priest insists, in Aramaic, "Crucify him." Pilate responds, "Isn't this enough?" The mob roars, "No," and only then does the Roman leader agree to the Crucifixion.

Because passion plays historically preceded outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence in Europe, the film passage is a particularly sensitive matter with Jewish groups at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise in parts of Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

But Mr. Gibson further raised hackles among Jewish leaders in an exclusive interview by the writer Peggy Noonan published in the March issue of Reader's Digest.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, accused Mr. Gibson of insensitivity when he compared Jewish suffering in the Holocaust to that of millions of others who died in the war.

Ms. Noonan, a former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, asked Mr. Gibson about his father, a conservative Catholic who was quoted in a New York Times Magazine article last March as denying that Holocaust took place. Mr. Gibson answered that he loved his father. Ms. Noonan insisted: "You're going to have to go on record. The Holocaust happened, right?"

Mr. Gibson responded: "I have friends and parents of friends who have numbers on their arms. The guy who taught me Spanish was a Holocaust survivor. He worked in a concentration camp in France. Yes of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In the Ukraine several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century 20 million people died in the Soviet Union."

In a letter to Mr. Gibson, Rabbi Hier wrote: "We are not engaging in competitive martyrdom, but in historical truth. To describe Jewish suffering during the Holocaust as `some of them were Jews in concentration camps' is an afterthought that feeds right into the hands of Holocaust deniers and revisionists."

Mr. Gibson's spokesman, Alan Nierob, denied that the director was looking to further inflame those leaders.

"There's no doubt in my mind that not only does he know the Holocaust and acknowledge it, he has shed tears over it, with me," he said.

Rabbi Hier responded that Mr. Gibson missed a chance to reduce the tension with Jewish groups. "I think he was lobbed an easy question. He could've used the occasion to take us on a different road, instead he marginalized the Holocaust, he diluted its significance, and it's a lie," he said. "Either he is very ignorant of sensitivities in Jewish communities of riling survivors, those who have lost loved ones, or he is doing it deliberately."

Mr. Foxman also protested Mr. Gibson's remark on the Holocaust. "At the very least it was ignorant, at the very most its insensitive. And you know what? He doesn't get that either. He doesn't begin to understand the difference between dying in a famine and people being cremated solely for what they are."

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