Commentary: The Passion of the Christ

By Sarah Bryan Miller
St Louis Post Dispatch
February, 2004

From: Carl Fortunato
Date: Wed, Feb 25 2004
Subject: The Passion

After withholding my judgement for what feels like several months, I have decided NOT go see the Gibson Movie. Here is a review written by a friend of mine who writes for a St. Louis newspaper:

Commentary: Too much violence, not enough scholarship

Commentary: The Passion of the Christ

Mel Gibson demonstrated his violent streak before "The Passion of the Christ," in films like "Braveheart," which he directed, and "The Patriot." But "The Passion" starts with Jesus in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and never lets up, from a beating on the way to the Temple to nails being pounded graphically through flesh. Pornographic in its violence, "The Passion" is not for the squeamish.

The movie's hype machine has made much of the director's commitment to scholarship and the biblical accounts of Jesus' suffering and death. In fact, it's light on scholarship and heavy on nonbiblical materials -especially when it comes to showing pain, which should have won it an NC-17 rating for violence.

Gibson filmed in Latin and Aramaic. The press notes call Aramaic "the lingua franca of its time, the language of education and trade spoken the world over, rather like English is today." But the language of the first-century eastern Roman Empire was Koine Greek, spread by the armies of Alexander the Great and spoken almost universally; it is the language in which the New Testament is written. Aramaic, which is related to Hebrew, was the language of the Jews and their neighbors. Latin would hardly have figured at all.

Much material has been added to the Gospel accounts. Some additions flesh out the story dramatically; some give a bigger role to the Virgin Mary. Some unnecessarily amplify the scenes of torture. Some make no sense, like a rioting crowd at the secret nighttime trial held by the Temple authorities. And some must have made sense only to Gibson, like the sexually ambiguous Satan who slithers through many scenes, at one point clutching a demonic baby, or the pressurized fountain that erupts from Jesus' side when it is pierced by a soldier's lance.

Scourging and crucifixion were a horrible business. But here the camera lingers lovingly on Christ's body being turned into hamburger with the skin torn off and ribs exposed during his scourging, zooms in on blood dripping through the nail holes on his hands to the ground, focuses on the crown of thorns as it is crushed into Jesus' head.

And although this is an essential part of the Christian story of redemption, it is only a part of it. The Passion is short on context, giving too little reason for the Temple authorities' insistence on Jesus' death. The handful of romantically lit flashbacks don't do it.

One problem with filming the Gospels is that they all contain many ambiguous statements, statements that can be interpreted in more than one way. But the act of committing them to film commits the viewer to understanding them as the director does. This is particularly problematic when it comes to such questions as who was at fault for Jesus' death. Gibson seems to be blaming Caiaphas, the high priest, but the concerns of Jews who fear a resumption of the "Christ killer" libel are not unfounded.

Will "The Passion" bring its viewers to faith in Christ? It's possible. I am a Christian, and I found myself more revolted than inspired by its excesses of blood and pain.

Critic Sarah Bryan Miller
Phone: 314-340-8249

This article temporarily available at:,+not+enough+scholarship

From: Deke Barker
Date: Wed, Feb 25 2004
Subject: RE: The Passion


I copied the file and uploaded it again. Some parts of your text had disappeared.

This thing about the languages and Gibson's claimed "commitment to scholarship" is getting amusing. The press release called Aramaic the "lingua franca of its time"? And as Ms. Miller noted, how about Latin? Even the Roman soldiers and Roman officials would have spoken Greek most of the time, certainly on public occasions, assuming they wanted to be understood.

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

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

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