[saymaListserv] "The Passion of Christ" and How it affects Jews

free polazzo freepolazzo at comcast.net
Sat Feb 28 15:12:06 JEST 2004

Dear SAYMA Friends,

This discussion happened on the Atlanta Friends Meeting e mail list.   I 
wanted you to be "in the loop" on this important discussion about 
exclusivity in the Religious Society of Friends.  If you received this more 
than once, it is because you belong to more than one of the lists I use.




Hi Joe,

Thank you for your insightful message.    I'm sure Jesus was a lot darker 
than most people think.  So were most other Jews of that time.

While I haven't seen the movie, The Passion of Christ, (and won't) after 
reading 15 reviews about it and feel that I can comment on how it seems to 
received by the community at large.   How it is perceived by folks is as 
important to understand as is the "truth" about the movie.  The main 
concern I have about the movie is that many Jews and many Christians see 
the movie as condemning ALL Jews for the death of Jesus.

We should listen to them.

If People of Color complained about a movie being racist, would there be a 
big discussion among Quakers to decide if they were right or just 
paranoid?  I hope not.   Maybe there would be questions asked about why the 
movie is racist and then some reflection by the White people about what was 
said.     Perhaps there would be some thanks for the folks who were willing 
to try and bridge the gap between the disparate cultures.   That is one way 
to get to a peaceable kindom.

I think that Jewish people also need to have to have a voice, especially in 
a country where Christians dominate the religious landscape.  Even in a 
Quaker Meeting, where most are more accepting of the Light we all 
share.  Perhaps some personal history would help.

I was raised with the world telling me that I was responsible for the death 
of Jesus Christ.  While growing up in Brooklyn, NY.  I was chased and 
beaten by other children in my neighborhood because I was Jewish and 
therefore responsible for killing Jesus.  The children actually called us 
Christ killers while they were chasing us.   The "responsible" adults in 
the neighborhood were shocked.   But nobody was punished.    My twin 
brother and I learned to run fast.  We had to transfer our Boy Scout 
membership from the local troop which met in a church, to one four miles 
away which met in an synagogue.  That's because the boys who were chasing 
us were from our troop!

A Pope saying a few words in Rome decades ago hasn't really changed that 
world view, even today, judging by the news reports we get on the film's 
release.  Even some Quakers have trouble hearing that Jews don't wish to be 
blamed for the death of Christianity's Son of God (or is he God?-- I get 
confused about that).

When the Friends Song book was published by FGC, a group of Jewish Friends 
went to Central Committee and asked that "The Lord of the Dance" be removed 
from the book   Its a wonderful upbeat hymn about the Lord dancing, but 
that song also says that Jews killed Jesus.   We tried to explain how we 
have been treated thru the years because of this idea.  Of course a 
"committee" was formed.

Friends General Conference decided to keep the Lord of the Dance in the 
Songbook but WITH A FOOTNOTE to explain our concerns.  I ask, who reads 
footnotes in the back of the book, while singing a hymn?  Not I.   Do 
you?   What is going on here, Friends?

Is there room for religious diversity as well as skin color diversity in 
our Society?  Does the Light only speak to a select few or is there that of 
God in every person?



PS:     Rabbi Micheal Lerner has an article at: 

PSS:    The new issue of Tikkun Magazine (March/April 2004) has some good 
articles on the movie.  I recommend "Loosely Based on a True Story: The 
Passion of Jesus Christ in Verbal and Visual Medial".  by John Dominic 
Crossan, professor emeritus of Religious Studies at DePaul University who 
also wrote "Who Killed Jesus? Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the 
Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus (Harper SanFrancisco, 1995)

At 11:24 AM 2/27/2004 -0500, you wrote:
>   The television airwaves have been filled for the last several days with 
> a lot of back-and-forth about Mel Gibson's new film, 'The Passion of The 
> Christ.'  A great deal of debate centers around whether Gibson has 
> fashioned a broadside against Jewish people in the manner of the Medieval 
> anti-Semitic passion plays of old. There are plenty of rabbis arguing 
> with Christian ministers on just about any channel you might choose to 
> watch, so I'm going to leave that question to them for the time being.
>      My question is much simpler: Why would Mel Gibson make a movie about 
> people in the ancient Middle East and cast it with so many white people? 
> To look at the central actors in this film, you'd think Jesus did his 
> work near Manchester, New Hampshire instead of the Holy Land. The answer 
> to that question lies within the United States, the prime market for this 
> film. There are millions of Christians in America, some 25% of whom would 
> characterize themselves as evangelical. It stands to reason that this 
> film would do very well here, especially given the controversy that has 
> surrounded the content.
>      The whiteness of the cast, however, speaks to a decidedly 
> un-Christian truth that lies near the heart of this republic.  Simply 
> put, nailing a white Jesus Christ to the cross on film will generate a 
> far more emotional response from the American viewing public than the 
> crucifixion of a savior who actually looks like he is from the Middle East.
>      First, let's dispense with the idea that the white people who were 
> cast to play the most emotive characters - Jesus, Judas, and Mary 
> Magdalene - have anything to do with historical accuracy.  In truth, the 
> region where Jesus was born was, and remains, populated by brown-skinned 
> people.  The fact of Christ's non-whiteness is borne out in the 
> historical record, and in biblical scripture.  Right off the bat, the 
> Book of Matthew describes Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt to escape the 
> wrath of Herod.  Egypt is in Africa, and is populated by brown-skinned 
> people.  For my money, this would be the last place on earth I would go 
> to hide a white baby from an angry King.
>      The earliest renditions of Jesus, painted by the first Christians 
> called Essenes in the catacombs of Rome, depict a person with brown 
> skin.  During the time of Roman Emperor Justinian II, a gold coin 
> featuring an image of Jesus was minted. This coin, which today can be 
> seen in the British Museum, depicts a man with demonstrably non-white 
> features and tightly curled hair.   Finally, there is the Book of 
> Revelations, which bears out the crafting of the Essenes and the Roman 
> coin-makers by describing Jesus as having hair like wool, feet the color 
> of burnt brass, and who resembled jasper and sardine stones.  Jasper and 
> sardine stones are both brown, as is burnt brass.
>      The Jesus most familiar to Americans, the Jesus featured in Gibson's 
> film, looks like the front man for an alternative rock band out of 
> Minnesota.  Judas in this film is a shorter version of the same 
> phenomenon.  White skin, long straight brown hair, decidedly European 
> features - this is not the Jesus that preached revolution against the 
> Empire long ago.  This is the Jesus fashioned by Michelangelo five 
> centuries ago, who used his white cousin as the model for the savior.
>      The ugly truth which never even occurs to most Americans is that 
> Jesus looked a lot more like an Iraqi, like an Afghani, like a 
> Palestinian, like an Arab, than any of the paintings which grace the 
> walls of American churches from sea to shining sea.  This was an 
> uncomfortable fact before September 11.  After the attack, it became 
> almost a moral imperative to put as much distance between Americans and 
> people from the Middle East as possible.  Now, to suggest that Jesus 
> shared a genealogical heritage and physical similarity to the people 
> sitting in dog cages down in Guantanamo is to dance along the edge of treason.
>      George W. Bush calls himself Christian.  If you believe him, he is 
> on armchair-to-armchair relations with the Almighty, enjoying regular 
> conversations with He Is What He Is on everything from tax policy to 
> invasion plans.  Bush serves a unique dual role as both the Commander in 
> Chief and as high priest to the evangelical wing of American Christianity.
>      When Bush did his flight-suit strut across the aircraft carrier last 
> May, he proclaimed victory in biblical verse and sent a signal to those 
> evangelical Christians who see him as more than a man.  Bush, that day, 
> quoted Isaiah's passage from the Servant Songs about captives coming out 
> and slaves being free.  This is the same passage, as described in Luke 
> chapter 4, which Jesus used to announce his coming as the Son of 
> God.  "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing," said 
> Jesus.  Bush's use of this incredibly loaded passage speaks as much to 
> his messianic fantasies as it does to his status as evangelical 
> Christian-in-Chief.
>      Yet this is the same man who invades countries without cause and 
> consigns tens of thousands of innocents to explosive, burning 
> death.  This is the same man who pushes tax policies that further enrich 
> the wealthy while stripping funds and services from the neediest in this 
> nation.  This is the man who speaks the language of vengeance, of fear, 
> of violence.  This is the man whose entire moral existence flies in the 
> face of Christ's words from Luke, chapter 12, verse 15: "Take care to 
> guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not 
> consist of possessions."  Sadly, the skewed moral compass of George W. 
> Bush is shared by too many Americans who would call themselves Christian.
>      Possibly the most important words ever spoken by Jesus can be found 
> in Matthew, chapter 5, verses 38-45.  "You have heard that it was said, 
> 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,'" said Christ.  "But if any 
> one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if 
> any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as 
> well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 
> Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow 
> from you. You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor 
> and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for 
> those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in 
> heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends 
> rain on the just and on the unjust."
>      It is these words that condemn both Bush and the hands-off moral 
> attitude of too many American Christians.  Certainly, Jesus was no 
> fool.  In Luke, chapter 11, verse 21, he said, "When a strong man, fully 
> armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace."  Self-protection, 
> for person and nation, is both moral and intelligent.  But vengeance, 
> violence and hatred are not Christian.  Mercy, love and generosity are 
> the hallmarks of the teachings of Jesus.  If you are to call yourself 
> Christian, you must be for the poor and the weak, and against empire and 
> vengeance.  Period.
>      These simple attributes are all too absent in the American soul and 
> spirit.  Gibson's white Jesus is but one example of how far we have 
> strayed.  It is a safe bet that, had Gibson chosen a brown-skinned actor 
> to portray Jesus, his film would not find a connection in this 
> country.  Millions of Americans try to live by the teachings of Jesus, 
> and do so with success, but find themselves at odds with those who carry 
> the banner of Christianity.  This is a travesty.
>      Too many so-called Christians are blind to history, blind to the 
> actions of our nation, blind to the hypocrisy of our so-called leaders, 
> and the world bleeds because of it.  Too many so-called Christians are 
> people who would slaughter the savior to protect their power and 
> position.  Were Jesus alive today, he would probably nail himself to the 
> cross to get away from all these people who act like barbarians in His name.


"The greatest ally of injustice is silence" 
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