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ADL Statement on Mel Gibson's 'The Passion'

New York, NY, June 24, 2003 ... Throughout history Christian dramatizations of the passion, i.e. the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, have fomented anti-Semitic attitudes and violence against the Jewish people. During the past forty years the Roman Catholic and most Protestant churches have issued pastoral and scholarly documents that interpret the death and resurrection of Jesus in their historical and theological contexts. These churches repudiate the teachings that gave rise to Christian accusations that Jews were "Christ killers." They make clear that correct Christian readings and applications of the New Testament must avoid provoking or reinforcing anti-Semitic attitudes and behavior.

In light of the numerous media accounts of Mel Gibson's upcoming film, "The Passion," the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) joined with the Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in April, 2003 to assemble Jewish and Catholic scholars to evaluate an early version of the movie's screenplay (the names of the committee's nine scholars appear below). Both offices were in communication with representatives of ICON Productions, including Mel Gibson himself, who indicated their willingness to consider the scholars' suggestions.

ADL thanks the scholars for their work and ADL fully stands behind their report. The committee unanimously agreed that the screenplay reviewed was replete with objectionable elements that would promote anti-Semitism.

Based upon the scholars' analysis of the screenplay, ADL has serious concerns regarding the Mr. Gibson's "The Passion" and asks:
  • Will the final version of The Passion continue to portray Jews as blood-thirsty, sadistic and money-hungry enemies of Jesus?
  • Will it correct the unambiguous depiction of Jews as the ones responsible for the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus? Will it show the power of the rule of imperial Rome-including its frequent use of crucifixion-in first-century Palestine?
  • Will the film reject exploiting New Testament passages selectively to weave a narrative that does injustice to the gospels, that oversimplifies history, and that is hostile to Jews and Judaism?
  • Will it live up to its promise "to tell the truth?" To do so, the final product must rid itself of fictitious non-scriptural elements (e.g. the high priest's control of Pontius Pilate, the cross built in the Temple at the direction of Jewish religious officials, excessive violence, Jews physically abusing Jesus before the crucifixion, Jews paying "blood money" for the crucifixion), all of which form an inescapably negative picture of Jewish society and leadership.
  • Will it portray Jews and the Temple as the locus of evil?

ADL also welcomes the statement issued on June 17 by the four Catholic academicians in the group that can be found here. This statement explains the complex issues regarding dramatizing the passion in terms of official Roman Catholic teaching, and provides sound guidance for evaluating any presentation of the crucifixion.

For filmmakers to do justice to the biblical accounts of the passion, they must complement their artistic vision with sound scholarship, which includes knowledge of how the passion accounts have been used historically to disparage and attack Jews and Judaism. Absent such scholarly and theological understanding, productions such as "The Passion" could likely falsify history and fuel the animus of those who hate Jews.

Specific recommendations to remedy the numerous anti-Semitic elements in the script have been conveyed to Mr. Gibson's ICON Productions. Mr. Gibson has said that his film is not anti-Semitic. We hope that is the case. ADL stands ready to advise ICON Productions constructively regarding The Passion to ensure that the final production is devoid of anti-Semitic slander.

(The Ad Hoc Scholars Committee consisted of Dr. Mary C. Boys, SNJM Skinner & McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology, Union Theological Seminary, New York; Dr. Michael J. Cook, Sol & Arlene Bronstein Professor of Judeo-Christian Studies, Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati; Dr. Philip A. Cunningham, Executive Director, Adjunct Professor of Theology, Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College; Dr. Eugene J. Fisher. Associate Director, Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Dr. Paula Fredriksen, Aurelio Professor of Scripture, Boston University;Rev. Dr. Lawrence E. Frizzell, Director, Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies, Seton Hall University, East Orange, NJ; Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn, Director, Office of Interfaith Affairs, Anti-Defamation League; Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies, Vanderbilt University, Nashville; Dr. John T. Pawlikowski, OSM Prof. of Social Ethics, Catholic-Jewish Studies Director, Catholic Theological Union, Chicago).

Related Materials:

Passion Plays in History and Theology
ADL Letter to Mel Gibson

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.

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2003 Anti-Defamation League