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Last Updated: Friday, 26 March, 2004, 15:41 GMT
How faithful is Gibson's Passion?
by The Revd Dr Andrew Goddard
Tutor in Christian Ethics, Wycliffe Hall, Oxford

Mel Gibson directing Jim Caviezel in The Passion
Passion director Mel Gibson - how close has he stuck to the Gospels?
As The Passion of The Christ goes on general release in the UK, BBC News Online looks at how closely the film stays faithful to the Biblical version of the momentous events surrounding Jesus' final hours.

"When did you last sense this atmosphere on leaving a cinema?" a friend asked.

Mel Gibson's graphic portrayal of Jesus' last hours assaults you on every level - visually, aurally, emotionally and spiritually.

An African American spiritual asks: "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?"

After watching you feel you can answer "yes" and, in the song's words, "it causes me to tremble". A dramatically different response from Always Look On The Bright Side of Life.


Any film based on written accounts raises questions. "She should have slapped him", my son said indignantly on seeing Hermione hit Draco in the latest Harry Potter trailer.

When the text is the Bible and there are four different gospel accounts, those questions are even more difficult.

Gibson is respectful and, though selective, faithful to those accounts and the Bible's message of Christ's redeeming love.

Yes, there is much artistic licence. Some of this uses biblical imagery, as when Jesus crushes the serpent in the garden. Most doesn't, although a lot uses later Christian devotional traditions, notably the stations of the cross.

A scene from The Passion of The Christ
The film graphically portrays the brutal last hours of Jesus's life

The most questionable aspect of Gibson's interpretation is its gore. Blood is everywhere.

The film's centre-piece is not the crucifixion (on which the New Testament concentrates) but the flogging. This is something threatened, but not enacted in Luke's gospel and noted simply in one word by the other gospel writers.

The sadism of the soldiers and our voyeurism in watching (if we can) is deeply disturbing. Not just because it's historically plausible but because Christians from Nazi Germany to Pinochet's Chile have effectively been there and done that to fellow humans.

By following John's gospel and bringing the scourged Christ back before the Jewish leaders, the film stresses their hard-heartedness.

As in Scripture, the political elite - not the Jewish people as a whole - are the focus. Jesus is clearly Jewish - praying Psalms in the garden and suffering anti-semitic taunts.

The most questionable aspect of Gibson's interpretation is gore. Blood is everywhere

He also explicitly prays on the cross for forgiveness, even for the high priest. So I didn't find it anti-Semitic.

Far from inciting violence, the lurid portrayal of brutality - overwhelmingly at Roman hands - will hopefully re-sensitize us to its horrors.

At the very least we will question what we do to those who are different or who threaten us.

Rediscovering the Gospel

As a Christian it leaves me thinking what it means to say that we did this to God, that God has been there and done this, as the film's opening quotation from the prophet Isaiah explains, for me.

Powerful films have strange effects. Two days ago my son queued for three hours to meet The Lord of the Rings' Gollum, played by Andy Serkis. I don't expect queues at churches this Easter.

But many who see the film will want to read the book and rediscover the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke or John rather than according to Mel.

If they then meet the one who re-entered human history still bearing the wounds of his cross, despite my reservations, I'll be glad the film was made.

The BBC's David Sillito
"The huge US box office success has been down to a large part to support from Christian churches"

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