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Thursday, March 25, 2004

'Christian Century' on 'The Passion.'

One of my Harvard Divinity School classmates writes an insightful article about Mel Gibson's Passion for the Christian Century (which, still caught in the 20th century, doesn't really put anything on-line). At HDS, Matt Boulton wrote and staged some marvelous dramatizations, including a Passion play that presented the voice of each evangelist in overlapping and sometimes contradictory ways rather than trying to boil them all down into one. It also explicitly acknowledged modern biblical scholarship by adding a scholar to the cast of characters, speaking sometimes as yet another overlapping voice. (His version of the Passion will be performed at Andover-Newton Theological School next week.)

In "The Problem with The Passion," he identifies a key bit of hypocrisy in Gibson's claim to biblical fidelity while acknowledging some of what Gibson gets right:

Gibson has both the will and the ingenuity to imagine an extrabiblical scene in which Pilate and his wife, Claudia, privately confer. The troubled procurator laments how imperial life, with its endless cycle of repression and rebellion, pulls him into shadows where "truth" is obscure. The scene invites us to understand Pilate as a man caught up in the larger, rougher forces of his time.

All this raises the question: couldn't Gibson have done the same for Caiaphas? There are good biblical and historical grounds for doing so. The biblical grounds are found in John 11. There, immediately after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, "the chief priests and the Pharisees" call a meeting of the Sanhedrin and ask, "What are we to do? . . . If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation."

Pilate has his troubled tale to tell, but so do the members of the Sanhedrin, and their fears about the Roman threat to their temple and to their people — which they are, after all, charged to protect — form the basis of Caiaphas's proposal: "It is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed."

Gibson fails to include this episode in his film, and he also fails to imagine a scene that elaborates on it, as he does in the case of Pilate. So Caiaphas's circumstances, fears and motives remain obscure; in him, we can only see the blank face of evil.

("The problem with The Passion," Matthew Myer Boulton, Christian Century 3.23.04, 18-20)

Incidentally, I also meant to call attention to Commonweal film critic Richard Alleva's review of The Passion, "Tortuous" (3.12.04). Alleva faults the film for dramatic failures, but praises its success as ritual.

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 25 March 2004 at 10:09 PM

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