The classic work, “Constantine’s Sword” by James Carroll, documents the undeniable reality of Christian Anti-Semitism. Hatred and violence are consequences of Christian Anti-Semitism, not the source. The source is the demonizing of the Jewish people. This comes as no surprise since New Testament passages, such as John 8:44, refer to Jews as “children of the Devil.”
Is Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” anti-Semitic?
The movie may very well be anti-Semitic. However there is another issue. The movie, based on the New Testament, repudiates Judaism by claiming the Jews cannot get to heaven without believing in Jesus and it perpetuates the demonizing of the Jews. Many Christian scholars agree that this message sows the seeds for Jew-hatred.
The film clearly depicts Jews as an angry lynch mob that rejects Jesus and hands him over to the Romans for execution. Many of the Jewish leaders are portrayed with grotesque features reminiscent of the caricatures used in Nazi propaganda. The movie shows the devil moving among the Jewish crowd but not among the Romans. Compassionate Jewish children who approach a tormented Judas are transformed into demons.
Christian evangelist Rev. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, incorrectly claims that the movie is historically accurate. Herod and Pontius Pilate are portrayed as benevolent, conflicted and reluctant rulers who seem virtuous in comparison to Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest. This contradicts history. Further more, the Gospel of Matthew states that Herod the Great slaughtered all Jewish babies under the age of 2 in Bethlehem and the surrounding area, and Herod Antipas beheaded John the Baptist.
The movie portrays Caiaphas and the Jews as bloodthirsty, violent and motivated by power. It fails to acknowledge that at the time, there existed Jewish scholars of extraordinary spiritual and moral standing, who had valid theological justification for rejecting Jesus’ messianic claims. Specifically, he did not fulfill the authentic messianic requirements including bringing universal peace to the world (Isaiah 2:4).
The movie shows the Romans bowing to the demands of the Jews who chant incessantly for Jesus’ crucifixion. There is serious concern that when this movie is shown in other countries, it will resonate with an Arab population that accuses America of bowing to Jewish-Israeli pressure. Additionally, it is incorrect and irresponsible to imply that a Jewish court would turn a Jew over to the Romans for a non-Jewish form of execution because they lacked the authority to judge individuals accused of transgressing biblical law.
Did the Jews kill Jesus?
No, the Romans killed Jesus because his Messianic claims were seditious and challenged their authority. Furthermore, the New Testament states that the High Priest was a Sadducee not a Pharisee. The Pharisees, of whom modern-day Jews are descendants, were involved with spiritual matters. The Sadducees, puppets of the Roman Empire, turned Jesus in because he was fostering rebellion against the Romans and threatened their status-quo. The Sadducees true loyalties are revealed when Pilate asks “‘shall I crucify your King,’ and the chief priests answer, ‘we have no king but Caesar’” (John 19:15). The fact that the Romans charged Jesus as “King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37) indicates that Jesus was put to death for sedition.
What is the purpose of this film?
The film is a proselytizing tool that seeks to strengthen believers and convert non-believers. This is a concern for non-Christians and Jews already confronted by an avalanche of proselytizing campaigns. Based on the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, the message of “the suffering of Jesus Christ for the sins of mankind” is so central to the movie that Gibson begins the film by projecting it on the screen and has emblazoned it on marketing products that include witnessing cards and 2-inch nail pendants.
Isaiah 53 is one of the most distorted and mistranslated texts used by missionaries. Proselytizers use it as a proof that the suffering “Servant of God” is Jesus. However, throughout Jewish Scripture Israel is repeatedly called, in the singular, the “Servant of God” (see Isaiah 43:8). In fact, Isaiah states no less than 11 times in the chapters prior to 53 that the Servant of God is Israel.
When read correctly, Isaiah 53 clearly refers to the Jewish people being “bruised, crushed and as sheep brought to slaughter” at the hands of the nations of the world. These descriptions are used throughout Jewish Scripture to graphically describe the suffering of the Jewish people (see Psalm 44). The chapter concludes that when the Jewish people are redeemed, the nations will recognize and accept responsibility for the inordinate suffering and death of the Jews.
Isaiah 53 is also not speaking about vicarious atonement. This is an important point since, despite missionary misinterpretations about repentance, sacrifices and the Temple, the Torah teaches that each individual is capable of repenting directly to God without an intermediary.
Who has suffered more than any other man? Rev. Franklin Graham’s claim that “Jesus suffered more than any other man,” discounts the memory of millions of Jewish martyrs including hundreds-of-thousands of Jews crucified and hideously tortured to death by the Romans. Furthermore, during the destruction of Jerusalem Jewish women were so hungry they were forced to consume their own babies and more recently we have seen the wholesale massacre of Jews during the Pogroms, their brutal torture during the Spanish Inquisition and the unparalleled slaughter of six million Jews during the Holocaust.
Gibson’s portrayal of Jesus’ suffering pales in comparison to the suffering of the Jewish people. Isaiah’s prophecies have unfortunately been proven correct. Thankfully, Isaiah 53 also predicts the future glorious redemption of the Jewish people, a time when the nations of the world will be ashamed of their mistreatment of the Jews and we will behold the true messianic era when the world experiences peace, tranquility and a universal knowledge of God.
This article was written by Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz. He is the Founder and West Coast director of Jews for Judaism.