Skip to comments."Not peace but a sword" (Safire slams The Passion)
Posted on 02/29/2004 9:12:37 PM PST by churchillbuff
By WILLIAM SAFIRE
Published: March 1, 2004
Columnist Page: William Safire
WASHINGTON ...Mel Gibson's movie about the torture and agony of the final hours of Jesus is the bloodiest, most brutal example of sustained sadism ever presented on the screen.
...[snip] the bar against film violence has been radically lowered. Movie mayhem, long resisted by parents, has found its loophole; others in Hollywood will now find ways to top Gibson's blockbuster, to cater to voyeurs of violence and thereby to make bloodshed banal.
What are the dramatic purposes of this depiction of cruelty and pain? First, shock; the audience I sat in gasped at the first tearing of flesh. Next, pity at the sight of prolonged suffering. And finally, outrage: who was responsible for this cruel humiliation? What villain deserves to be punished?
Not Pontius Pilate, the Roman in charge; he and his kindly wife are sympathetic characters. Nor is King Herod shown to be at fault.
The villains at whom the audience's outrage is directed are the actors playing bloodthirsty rabbis and their rabid Jewish followers. This is the essence of the medieval "passion play," preserved in pre-Hitler Germany at Oberammergau, a source of the hatred of all Jews as "Christ killers."
Much of the hatred is based on a line in the Gospel of St. Matthew, after the Roman governor washes his hands of responsibility for ordering the death of Jesus, when the crowd cries, "His blood be on us, and on our children."
Though unreported in the Gospels of Mark, Luke or John, that line in Matthew embraced with furious glee by anti-Semites through the ages is right there in the New Testament. Gibson and his screenwriter didn't make it up, nor did they misrepresent the apostle's account of the Roman governor's queasiness at the injustice.
But biblical times are not these times. This inflammatory line in Matthew and the millenniums of persecution, scapegoating and ultimately mass murder that flowed partly from its malign repetition was finally addressed by the Catholic Church in the decades after the defeat of Naziism.
In 1965's historic Second Vatican Council, during the papacy of Paul VI, the church decided that while some Jewish leaders and their followers had pressed for the death of Jesus, "still, what happened in his passion cannot be charged against all Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today."
That was a sea change in the doctrinal interpretation of the Gospels, and the beginning of major interfaith progress.
However, a group of Catholics rejects that and other holdings of Vatican II. Mr. Gibson is reportedly aligned with that reactionary clique. (So is his father, an outspoken Holocaust-denier, but the son warns interviewers not to go there. I agree; the latest generation should not be held responsible for the sins of the fathers.)
In the skillful publicity run-up to the release of the movie, Gibson's agents said he agreed to remove that ancient self-curse from the screenplay. It's not in the subtitles I saw the other night, though it may still be in the Aramaic audio, in which case it will surely be translated in the versions overseas.
And there's the rub. At a moment when a wave of anti-Semitic violence is sweeping Europe and the Middle East, is religion well served by updating the Jew-baiting passion plays of Oberammergau on DVD? Is art served by presenting the ancient divisiveness in blood-streaming media to the widest audiences in the history of drama?
Matthew in 10:34 quotes Jesus uncharacteristically telling his apostles: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." You don't see that on Christmas cards and it's not in this film, but those words can be reinterpreted read today to mean that inner peace comes only after moral struggle.
The richness of Scripture is in its openness to interpretation answering humanity's current spiritual needs. That's where Gibson's medieval version of the suffering of Jesus, reveling in savagery to provoke outrage and cast blame, fails Christian and Jew today.
Has Safire ever before devoted a column to denouncing violence in Hollywood films?
First, the film isn't antisemitic. Second, I don't remember a Safire column denouncing the REAL anti-christian ridicule found in so many Hollywood movies. Maybe he's written such a column, help me out if you know of one.
I could not continue past here. Pilate is not a sympathetic character, he is a despicable coward who suspects the truth but is concerned that Caesar will kill him if he doesn't control the populace. So, what the hell, he was scheduled to crucify two other Jews, why not make it three?
If Safire doesn't see this, then there is little use in reading further. He has seen what he wanted to see, not what was before his eyes like so many others. Such is life.
Perhaps from the standpoint that Gibson showed him as a man, a military governor and not a savage, as portrayed in many stories.
It is un deniable that even knowing that Jesus was innocent, he had him flogged and crucified.
as to the rabid Jewish crowds, they were interspersed with well meaning Jews, some of who risked their very lives to stop the madness.
Sapphire did not see the same film that I did, or refuses to acknowledge the role that some few Jews played in the killing of one of their own. Also he misses the point that they were but few.
Planet Earth to dumass columnist!
This is precisely what i saw in the film!
Interpret those lines that way and you interpret them incorrectly. When you read these lines from Matthew there's nothing in there about inner peace and moral struggle. It's about giving up everything to follow Christ.
34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36 And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. 37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. 39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
Sorry, Safire, we know you would like the words of Christ to mean something else, but taken in context they have nothing to do with moral struggle.
'Fraid not, Bill. You must have dozed off before those sadistic Roman brutes showed up and slept 'til the end of the movie.
Sadism requires a sadist. Who is Safire calling a sadist? Safire is famous for being a wordsmith be he has inexcusably erred on this one. Nobody can say that anybody got sexual pleasure from this movie or the events depicted. Safire needs to stop torturing our language and put away the flagellum that is his tongue.
For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36 And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.
If the 3 most important things in real estate are "location, location, location," then the 3 most important aspect of scriptures is "context, context, context." God's words are plain and easy to understand. He meant it to be so.
Safire may interpret that as "moral struggle"--but he knows he is a phoney. Christ made it clear you could choose Him or reject him.
Safire chose the latter and now wants to justify it.
Does this mean we have to care what they say?
Pray for Safire!
Pray for Osoma Bin Laden for that matter.
Gods love is way beyond our understanding.
I'm sick and tired of this 'blood libel' business based on this line from Matthew. They SAID it. Period. That doesn't mean it's true. The said lots of things that aren't true.
Why would Safire think that further subtitling would be out of Gibson's control?
That line was removed some time ago, why would he think it still remained in the audio? It's not like that part is set in stone either.
Anyway, if he's so concerned he can just go call James Cavaziel, who speaks Aramaic, and ask him if it's in the final print or not. Yeesh.
The reality of interpreting Scripture for the believer is just a little different than what Safire might think.
Matthew 7:13-14 - "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few."
The answer to humanity's current spiritual needs is found explicitly in the Gospels. The Message hasn't changed for 2000 years.
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