What I notice from the media coverage of this controversy is that once again "the Jews" are being blamed--only this time "the Jews" are a scholarly panel and "the truth" is a Hollywood script.
The media have minimized the Catholic scholars' participation and emphasized the Jews'. They've also downplayed the fact that the panel was convened by a Catholic group. Some examples:
* "The Washington Post" (July 7) speaks of criticism by "Catholic scholars at the Anti-Defamation League" (emphasis mine).
* "The Christian Science Monitor" (July 10) speaks of the "ADL and an ad hoc group of Jewish and Catholic scholars"(note the order).
* The Catholic news agency "Zenit" (30 May 2003) reports: "The ad hoc scholar's group... comprised a mix of nine Jewish and Christian academics [note again the order]. One of the signers, Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt University, describes herself as 'a Yankee Jewish feminist.'" The description comes from my website, but the article uses it mockingly; I am, by the way, both the only group member described and the only member with a clearly Jewish name.
Next, the media deemed this committee untrustworthy. The Wall Street Journal (7/25) insinuated the scholarly committee members "have an agenda" and repeated Michael Medved's accusation in the July 22 USA Today that the committee went "beyond honest evaluation of the film's aesthetic or theological substance." (Mr. Medved, incidentally, also focuses on the ADL--not a joint committee convened by Catholic bishops--issuing "critical statements" about the script.)
Our scholarly panel's "agenda" was hardly sinister: We were concerned with biblically fidelity, historical accuracy, and the avoidance of anti-Semitism. While I have not seen Mr. Gibson's film, I have seen a script that has anti-Jewish components. Here are three examples that are already part of media coverage:
* Jesus' cross is manufactured in the Temple. This unbiblical and a-historical scene is analogous to asserting that the ovens of Auschwitz were constructed in the Vatican itself under the watchful eyes of Pius XII.
* The Roman governor Pilate--who, like all Roman governors of Judea, had the authority to appoint Jewish high priests--is intimidated and manipulated by a luxuriously garbed priest Caiaphas. Analogy: Those poor Nazi occupiers of mid-20th century Rome could not resist Vatican pressure to rid the city of Jews.
The problem with lumping all first-century Jewish leaders together is illustrated in Linda Chavez's August 6th CNSNews.com commentary. She said, among other things, that "Christ's death on the cross may have been ordered by Pontius Pilate at the urging of the Pharisee Caiaphas--following the judgment of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious court that judged Jesus guilty of blasphemy..." Any "New Testament 101" student knows that Caiaphas was not a Pharisee; he was, rather, part of the priestly aristocracy in league with Rome. That the Pharisees are the group who give rise to Rabbinic Judaism and ultimately the Judaism of today only makes her mistake worse. As for Pilate, he could not possibly have cared less about blasphemy: he executes Jesus as a political threat, the presumed "King of the Jews" as the inscription on the cross reads.
* Jews repeatedly and spontaneously torture Jesus, whereas the Romans need Satan's prompting. This is tantamount to saying that "the Jews" in Dachau tortured fellow Jews just because they felt like it, whereas the Nazis needed supernatural incitement.
I hadn't seen these details of the movie before -- they are really quite appalling. Gibson and his production are certainly being disingenuous in claiming that this movie intends to follow the historical record strictly!