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Last Updated: Friday, 26 March, 2004, 08:31 GMT
Head to head: The Passion
Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ, which is out in the UK on Friday, has provoked major religious disputes over its message and accuracy. BBC News Online gets views from the editors of Jewish and Catholic publications in the UK.

By Ned Temko
Editor of the Jewish Chronicle

Rarely has a film been so hyped and so criticised before it was completed, much less shown, than Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

The Passion of the Christ
Gibson places virtually all responsibility for Christ's death on Jews
Ned Temko
Particularly in the light of well-publicised allegations that the film took an almost medieval anti-Jewish view of Christ's life and death, I went to London preview screening with more than a little apprehension.

Nothing, however, prepared me for how bad The Passion of the Christ was.

It is bad history. It ignores or traduces much of what we know about the political, social and religious context in which Christ lived and preached and died; and the context in which the Gospels, decades after Jesus' crucifixion, at a time of Roman political dominance, were written.

It is bad theology, at least in as much as it departs from mainstream Christianity's explicit rejection of the idea that the Jews bear collective blame for the crucifixion.

And it is bad cinema - an orgy of violence of a sort which I have never before seen on screen. Gibson's justification for this sado-pornography is that he did not want to sanitise Christ's death, and that Christ's final hours were hours of violence.

But good film-makers have always found a way to convey violence without revelling in it. Take, for example, Spielberg's Schindler's List.

Gibson clearly lacked the talent, the desire, or both to find a way of conveying much beyond violence in this film.

The Passion of the Christ
The huge progress made by the mainstream Christian churches and Jewish communities in interfaith understanding is threatened
Ned Temko
How extraordinary that a movie about a death which, in Christianity, is about much more than just death - one which is about hope, resurrection and redemption - should need an 18 rating.

In the first third of the film, Gibson places virtually all responsibility for Christ's death on Jews. Pontius Pilate is portrayed almost as a character from Friends, a likeable "new man" whom we even see chatting with his wife about the meaning of life after a hard day at the office.

This is a wilful disregard of what history tells us about a Roman tyrant who ordered Christ crucified, as he did hundreds of other Jews.

In the rest of the film, we are treated to a lashing-by-lashing, stone-by-stone, nail-by-nail view of a man literally being tortured to death.

My concern is that for at least some who see the film, its contextless and relentlessly violent version of Christ's death will supplant the more subtle, more powerful and far more spiritual story that emerges from a careful, caring reading of the scriptures.

In the process, the huge progress made by the mainstream Christian churches and Jewish communities in interfaith understanding is threatened to be set back.

But my hope remains that this fabric of interfaith relations will prove strong enough to provide a forceful and coherent response based on what we know about the historical Jesus, about Pontius Pilate and Roman rule, and about the time in which the Gospels were written.

By Josephine Siedlecka
Editor of Independent Catholic News

As a Catholic - familiar with the Good Friday services, and Stations of the Cross images on the walls of all our churches, I found Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ for the most part, faithful to the Gospels, very moving, and thought-provoking.

This is Gibson's personal meditation on the Way of the Cross, a brave project, wonderfully filmed. The brief flashbacks to Jesus' childhood and ministry provide much-needed relief to the excruciating depiction of his torture and crucifixion.

I loved the portrayal of the relationship between Jesus and Mary. It was fascinating to hear Aramaic for the first time and Latin.

However, the film censors have given it a Certificate 18 and I feel they were absolutely right to do so.

The Passion of the Christ
Many Romans are also depicted as sadistic brutes
Josephine Siedlecka
I found the violence hard to take and excessive. Each generation seems to bring out a new film on the Passion. I wonder what this one says about ours?

I did not find this film anti-Semitic.

Jesus and Mary are Jewish as are all the apostles. So is the beautifully-drawn character of Simon of Cyrene who helps Jesus carry the cross.

While some high priests condemn Jesus, other walk away saying his trial is a sham. Many Romans are also depicted as sadistic brutes.

The one consistently evil character is the Devil - an androgynous figure - never far from the screen. At the end we see it defeated, although I think this might have been more clearly spelt out.

The Passion of the Christ
The Resurrection, without which Christian faith means nothing, is depicted very briefly
Josephine Siedlecka
When Jesus died, Matthew 27:54 recorded: "When the centurion and those who were keeping watch over Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place they were terrified and said: "Truly this man was the Son of God!"

I didn't hear this in the film. The Resurrection, without which our faith means nothing, is depicted very briefly.

I hear some Christian groups see this film as an evangelical tool and are encouraging everyone to go to it. I don't think they are right.

People would be more impressed with us if we really tried harder to behave like Christians, trying to live the teachings of Jesus, rather than forcing them to see a film.

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