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Jewish leader labels The Passion of Christ 'Mel's gospel'

Story by: Jack Foley

WITH less than a week to go before its US release, The Passion of the Christ has been labelled as being based on ‘Mel’s gospel’ rather than Rome’s gospel, by one of the world’s most prominent Jewish leaders.

In an interview with Reuters Television, Abraham Foxman, the US director of the Anti-Defamation League, an independent Jewish pressure group, criticised the film for portraying Jews as blood-thirsty and vengeful.

And he reiterated concerns that the film could inflame anti-Semitism and set back Jewish-Catholic dialogue, by noting that the film is not only based on gospel accounts, but also on the visions of a 19th Century mystical nun.

He went on to challenge director, Mel Gibson, to add a post-script to the film, informing audiences that it should not be seen as anti-Jewish.

Foxman refrained from criticising the film too harshly, however, stating that Gibson was entitled, as an artist, to make it, but he did chastise the star for ‘promoting it as the gospel truth’.

The comments, made in Rome, follow first reviews of the film, which has been labelled as extremely violent and harrowing viewing. The first UK notice, in The Daily Telegraph, went as far as to say that it could court the attention of the anti-violence brigade.

And they are sure to heighten interest still further, ahead of the US release, on Ash Wednesday, and the UK release, on March 12.

Foxman, who has spoken with several Vatican officials in the build-up to the film, has also urged them to instruct bishops around the world to issue statements informing their followers that the film is purely an artistic work and not the definitive version of events.

"That would be an important message to vaccinate against what I believe may be the result of this film. This film shows the Jews as bloodthirsty throughout, vengeful, angry and the Romans (as people) who really don't want to do it (kill Christ)," he said.

And he claims the film, which depicts the last 12 hours of Christ’s life, betrays a landmark Second Vatican Council statement, made in 1965, which repudiated the concept of collective Jewish guilt for his death.

"I would hope that the Vatican and the Catholic Church would stand up to defend its teachings…," he added. "If the Church reminds those viewers of its interpretation of history, its interpretation of the Gospel, its understanding of Biblical will act in a large measure to inoculate against the possibility of anti-Semitism."

Gibson, however, has continued to maintain that his film is in no way anti-Semitic and has repeatedly defended it against many of the criticisms - even though he admitted to being surprised at the level of intensity the debate has reached.

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