Mel Gibson Has a Right to His View of History

Culture Watch

Mr. Kashatus teaches history at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is a writer for the History News Service.

When I was in graduate school, my dissertation adviser returned an early draft of my thesis -- a treatment of how Quaker theology influenced the origins of public schooling in Philadelphia -- and remarked: "You're religious! What else is wrong with your thinking?"

While my passion to defend my Quaker faith was admirable, my bank account wasn't. So I yielded to his demand to abandon my own interpretation and adopt his in order to secure my doctorate. Only those who are truly committed to their religious faith can understand the pain of that decision.

Mel Gibson is paying a similar price for his just-released movie, The Passion of the Christ. His most vocal critics are Jewish leaders who view his work as anti-Semitic and they are taking their case to the court of public opinion.

Passion is Gibson's interpretation of the final 12 hours of the life of Jesus. The film quickly earned the wrath of interfaith leaders who read the script and saw an early cut of the movie, which lays sole responsibility for the crucifixion on the Jews -- not just the high priests, but all Jews for all time. Responsibility for Jesus' death, they argue, was shared with the Romans. Moreover, they say that blanket condemnation of the Jews was rejected by the Vatican four decades ago.

Especially offensive to Jewish leaders is a scene in which Caiaphas, a high priest, delivers a curse on the Jews for condemning Jesus to crucifixion, saying: "His blood be on us, and on our children." Although the passage is a direct quotation from the Gospel of Matthew (27:25-26) and the cast speaks only in Aramaic and Latin, Gibson, yielding to the criticism, removed the quotation's offensive subtitle from the film.

Gibson may not possess the credentials of a historian, but his right to interpret the life of Jesus as he understands it is not debatable.

Some may argue that Gibson, an ultraconservative Catholic, falls victim to the same error that has befallen many believers who try to interpret the life of Jesus -- the inability to reconcile the legend of the Christ with the critical methods of inquiry and historical evidence that fail to support it. In other words, their work lacks historical objectivity.

Those who criticize Gibson, however, ignore the fact that history is an interpretation and that believers as well as non-believers have not a only a right, but a responsibility, to write it. Films that are based on historical figures and events are also interpretations of those who write the screenplay. While an interpretation of the past must be supported by historical documentation, it also reflects the understanding and views of the individual who wrote it.

Gibson, who has been accused of the single-mindedness of a fundamentalist, might have easily fallen victim to Paul's statement to the Philippians that it doesn't matter how or why the teachings of Jesus are spread, as long as they were gaining the attention of others. Such a statement places little emphasis on the accuracy and documentary evidence that must substantiate a historical interpretation.

This is not the case with Gibson, whose interpretation of Jesus is based on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as well as on accounts and interpretations by other saints, nuns, and religious scholars. He has been a serious student of the scriptures for most of his adult life and has gone to great lengths to portray the environmental context of ancient Rome and the Hebrew culture in his film.

Why can't the critics take him at his word when Gibson insists that his intention in bringing Passion to the screen is "to create a lasting work of art and engender serious thought among audiences of diverse faith backgrounds." Indeed, films, as much as historical monographs, can be powerful educational vehicles that reveal truth in matters of human affairs and force us to go beyond the political correctness of our contemporary society.

At the same time, historians like filmmakers respect the intelligence of their audiences enough to know that their work is, indeed, an individual's interpretation of history and not the definitive treatment of it. My experience with religion has taught me that man can only arrive at part of the truth; only God possesses an understanding of the whole truth.

It might be well, then, to view Passion as a part of a truth that brings us closer to each other, no matter what our faith, by learning about how Jews and Christians interpret the life of Jesus.

Perhaps, in the process, we can become closer to a common God.

This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.

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andy mahan - 9/18/2006

With all due respect “The Passion of the Christ” was concerning only the final 12 hours of Jesus' life on earth. Your post indicates that you have never read the Bible much less are acquainted with those 12 hours. I find this to be the case almost unfailingly that those that discredit the movie have never read the Bible. Detractors often talk of historical inaccuracies but can never cite any, only suspicions.

As for Herod, my frame of reference did not suggest to me that Herod was a homosexual. He did appear to have feminine mannerisms though. But that does not necessarily mean he is engaging in sex with other men.

Paul Noonan - 3/6/2004

The film presents Herod Antipas as a homosexual, or at least as a man with homosexual leanings. Does anyone know if there is a historical basis for this?

Paul Noonan - 3/6/2004

I saw the film today. It was better than I expected, but still (in my view) seriously flawed. Pilate is presented as a three dimensional character (even if the actor playing him made me think of Mussolini at times - it's a good thing he didn't give the Roman salute to his troops) whereas Caiaphas has the depth of the villian in a James Bond film. He just wants Jesus dead and he hardly seems serious in his complaints about Jesus' supposed "blasphemy".

The worst aspect of the film is what I would call the "horror film cliches". After his betrayal of Jesus, Judas gets a quick look at a "demon" that looks like it comes from a routine "B" horror movie. Later some children tormenting him appear demonic in his eyes, again more like what you'd expect in a horror movie. Worse yet, we later see Satan walking through the crowd carrying "Rosemary's baby" (if you've seen "The Passion" you know what I mean) and after Jesus' death there is a brief shot of Satan howling on a "blasted heath".

The historical recreation of the Crucifixion leaves some things to be desired. The two criminals crucified with Jesus carry only the crossbeams of their crosses to Golgotha (which everthing I can find on the subject says was the actual practice in crucifixions) while Jesus carries an entire cross. No reason is given for the difference. Also, the two criminals obviously have not been scourged; everyone who was crucified -not just Jesus- was scourged first.

On the plus side the violence, while more than I thought necessary for dramatic purposes, was not quite as bad as some reviews had led me to expect. On the other hand I wouldn't bring a child to this (I've heard of parents bringing children as young as 10, though no one in the audience I saw it with looked younger than 14 or so). I'd also suggest skipping the popcorn or candy, you're not going to want to be eating while you watch this.

The acting as a whole is quite good, especially as the actors are performing in languages they don't speak -presumably they memorized their lines phonetically. The direction is strong, and the cinematography is more than adequate.

Dan A Fox - 3/6/2004

Historically when the Passion play was completed, the anti-semitism was shown in violence agents Jews (I am speaking of thousands of years ago). There is a book I would suggest reading - "The Culture of Fear". What I am getting to is this:
Yes the Jews killed Jesus, that does not seem to be an issue, but the media is making a story where one does not exist. Example - There was a recent interview (CNN) with Steven Spielberg where he was asked about the anti-semitism in the movie. Taken with other news accounts and interviews I have been trying to research the anti-semitism due to the movie. I cannot find any.
Yes the Jews was very aware of the power of this movie, but are Christians doing any damage to the Jewish community? This issue seems to straight out of "The Culture of Fear".
Anyway, are Christians really so much into a knee-jerk reaction as to go after the Jews?

Derek Charles Catsam - 3/4/2004

Andrew Sullivan is a conservative. He proudly claims himself to be so. You are not the gatekeeper on that issue either.
Lots of good Christians have seen the movie and not likes it (Greeg easterbrook, to wit). Suffice it to say that one's Christianity should not be based on Mel Gibson's theology. You are not the gatekeeper on this issue.
Funny how someone like you who has been so quick to call others antisemites when it fits your political cause now suddenly repels when people with as many bona fides as you on the issue make the call when you don't agree.
This is not about me or the other critics, much as you make it. Your last two paragraphs are indicative of the ad hominem quality of your debating skills in neraly all of your posts. All of us who are critical of the movie have been explicit that it is not about us, it is about our critical reading of the film. grownups would be willing to understand this. Instead you are too busy trying to decide who is a conservative, who is a Christian and who is an antisemite. Forgive me if David Battle is not the final word on these issues in my mind.
No one who was calling the Reagan biopic "slanderous" on HNN had actually seen the movie. It was not slanderous. Typical overwrought prose. One can crityicize movies, historical figures, etc. without being slanderous or personal. Again, you just aren't willing to see the difference.

David C Battle - 3/4/2004

It's not debate you liberals offer, and legitimate criticism, if you call people anti-semites, and the Gospels anti-semitic, and slanderous. You can not do that and then hide behind words like "debate", and act all surprised at the "hysterical" response. You call someone anti-semitic, and insult the Gospels by calling them slanderous, and you'll get what you dished out and more.

You say that observers disagree about the gratuitousness of the violence in the passion. Those same observers that lavished movies like Gladiotor with Oscars and praise. They didn't mind the decapitations, severed limbs and torsos, etc. Isn't it interesting that the first movie in 30 years to treat Jesus seriously suddenly makes liberals squeamish about violence? I think it is. Can you name me another movie that has made the liberals squeamish about violence? Does any come to mind? Just ONE. Of course not Catsam.

And you cite Andrew Sullivan, criticizer of The Passion, as a "conservative"? Are you insane?

You say that conservatives are hypocrites because they attacked the Reagan byopic, because it was a slander piece. Are you therefore saying that The Passion is a slander piece and should be attacked (or "critiqued") for the same reason?

Who did The Passion slander? Was it Jews? Hooknosed Jews around every corner was it? Or was it the Romans, who are basically the ones who beat Jesus to a bloody pulp in Gibson's movie. Who did it slander? I don't see Italians making a stink about it. Caiphas and some priests? Did you not see all the Jews who helped Jesus? Did you not see the Jews carrying his burden for him? Risking injury to bring him water? Wiping blood from his face? Don't tell me Gibson slandered Jews just because YOU saw it that way.

My whole point is that YOU will see the movie as you see christianity--as hateful, oppressive, anti-semitic, fill in the blanks. The problem is YOU, not the movie, not Gibson.

And you and your type blame The Passion for causing division. No. It is YOU who are causing division, and seeing hooknosed Jews where there are none, and suddenly the sight of gore hurts your feelings. And you feel justified because conservatives like Walker Texas Ranger. What a joke.

David C Battle - 3/3/2004

One is quite simple: he does not claim to have interpreted the Scriptures; he claims to be telling it as it is.

Your respect for the Bible must be very deep indeed if you are avoiding the movie because Gibson "claims to be telling it as it is," but is merely an "interpreter."

You must be a truly devout christian indeed.

Michael Green - 3/3/2004

I have not seen this film, nor do I intend to. I have no quarrel with interpretation, but I do have a couple of problems with Mr. Gibson. One is quite simple: he does not claim to have interpreted the Scriptures; he claims to be telling it as it is. If we teach our students anything about history, it's that everything is open to interpretation and to know that what they are reading and hearing will be interpretive. Mr. Gibson doesn't see himself as an interpreter of the Bible.

The other is actually simpler and related to that point. If he has produced, as he claims, a factually accurate account of the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus, why is the film not 12 hours long?

Derek Charles Catsam - 3/3/2004

Oscar --
Wait a minute. Where was I intemperate in my post in response to what David has written? Don't take it upon yourself to play arbiter and ascribe to us equal resposibility here. You are not my editor and you are not my superior. Lay off.
David --
I'll try to parse through your post. And since Oscar will be making the accusation anyway, I may get a bit, well, intemperate. Again -- it is hypocrisy for you to decide which movies are gratuitous and which are not. You simply assert that the Passion . . . is not gratuitous, and yet there are certainly observers who disagree, left and right (Andrew Sullivan, Gregg Easterbrook -- if he's still reading I'd encourage Oscar to read easterblog and its take on the historical accuracy of Gibson's depiction) while there were those who defended the equally gratuitous violence in Natural Born Killers (which I though was a pretty meager, and yes, gratuitous movie. i simply never decided that others should or should not be allowed to see it.). It is hypocrisy when one thinks they are the final arbiter of what is gratuitous when others have pointed to the same exact movies as the accusers defend as being gratuitous themselves. get it? Probably not. In any case, Andrew Sullivan is conservative, and he has been critical. Further, it is precisely my point that in general conservatives are decrying criticism of the movie. So you are wrong on the facts, wrong on the interpretation. Good work, Bellisles.
Are liberals trying to get the movie shut down? No. What many are doing is being critical of it. Why does the door of criticism only open from your side? Who made you the gatekeeper?
I'm not squeamish at all. I simply see hypocrisy with conservatives trying to decide what I can watch and how, that a biopic on the Reagans is unacceptable but that Walker Texas Ranger is, that Passion of the Christ is historically accurate and that criticisms are tantamount to censorship. Walker Texas Ranger had the most violent scenes and acts by a factor of almost two when it was on tv -- you make my whole point with your dull accusation that I can't distinguish between them, as that is precisely what I was doing. I also mentioned Dirty Harry, but that did not quite fit in to your paradigm, now did it?
There was no antisemitism, eh? And yet many have seen it. I guess in addition to being the arbiter of what is gratuitous or not, you also are the arbiter of what is antisemetic, since you are always pretty quick to throw that label out too. I often agree with you, but you can't have it both ways. Sure, the ADL did not argue antisemitism, but so what? Check out Leon Wieseltier's article in the New Republic about it. The depictions of jews are ahistorical and ruthlessly negative. Maybe being anti-Jew isn't antisemetic in your mind any more, David. Hard to tell.
Apologize? For what? For your sloppy argumentation? For the hypocrisy of those who deign to determine just what sort of violence and to what ends is acceptable? For arguing against those who would shut down shows they have not seen but are certain they'll disagree with while accusing those who do not want the movie shut down but want to take issue with it of censorship?
Where is my hypocrisy? I am not trying to shut down debate at all. It is you who does that. Agenda? Coming from you that is like hearing one monkey tell another that its breath stinks. My only agenda is that this movie is not and should not be above criticism, and those who get hysterical when it is criticized reveal their hypocrisy.

David C Battle - 3/3/2004

"What I'm concerned about is that Jews who see this film will identify deeply with Jesus - the movie's heroic 'good guy' - and will dis-identify with their own G-d-given identity as the Jewish people." Excerpts from an Orthodox Union symposium.


Oscar Chamberlain - 3/3/2004

Can we stop the food fight?

Derek, to say that the crucifixion should not have been portrayed as this bloody because the Gospel does not portray it as bloody exhibits a faulty logic. The Roman's performed public execuation as a form of intimidation. While crucifixions were hardly daily affairs they were frequent and widespread enough that the contemporary audience for the Gospels would not have needed a graphic depiction to receive a graphic vision.

The knew what what crucifixion was, and they most certainly knew what a scourging was. Whatever one thinks of the movie, the violence in and of itself is not inaccurate.

David, chill out. There is no liberal conspiracy to deep-six this movie. Nor is there necessarily any hypocrisy in liberals (or anyone else) disliking the violence in the movie.

(By the way, not all liberals loved "Natural Born Killers." I tried watching it for 10 minutes once, and the sound and cinematograpy gave me a headache.)

There are simply many people, including a host of Christians, who are concerned that the violence is so intense that it outweighs the good news of the Gospel. There are others who find the portrayal of the Jews as reconfirming an ancient stereotype that motivated and excused the persecution of Jews.

Conclusion: You two disagree with each other. That's your right. But you might try to accord the opinions of others the respect that you feel denied.

David C Battle - 3/3/2004


what are you? a "communists"?

Johnny Ramburg - 3/3/2004

Gibson is circumspect on the subject, not referring to Concentration camp survivors without pointing out the enormous numbers of dead Russians or other allies. I don't think his refusal to say specifically "Yes, the Holocaust happened," is an accident. I personally liked Gibson more in The Year of Living Dangerously and Mad Max and wish that he would go back to movies that aren't so, well, fascist.

David C Battle - 3/3/2004

That's not true, if not an outright lie.

David C Battle - 3/3/2004

The violence in The Passion isn't gratuitous and for pleasure, as in the movies you cited, thus no "conservative" complaints about it. The violence was there for a reason, to show the suffering of Jesus and the sacrifice he made. This explains why "conservatives" aren't complaining about it.

Now that I've explained to you why "conservatives" aren't complaining about it, care to explain to me why "liberals" have are victims of this new-found squeamishness about the "gore"? Could it be political agenda? Funny how the movie Gladiator got all sorts of Oscars, and never a complaint from "liberals" about bodies cut in half, decapitations, limbs severed, etc.

I'll patiently wait for you to explain your new-found squeamishness.

Regarding TX Rangers, etc., do you seriously compare that to the gratuitous and violence in Natural Born Killers? Have you no ability to make such discriminations? That's odd, given "liberal" accusations about how "conservatives" see things in black and white, you show a remarkable inability to grasp subtlety and nuance--such as the difference in degrees violence, context vs gratuitousness, etc.

Let's face it, this isn't about violence, or even anti-semitism, because liberals ARENT opposed to violence, and even the ADL said the movie was not anti-semitic.

So apologize Derek.

When the anti-semitism charge fell flat on its face (because the movie had none), the accusations went from one day to the next to "extreme violence", "sadism", etc. blah blah blah. And you have the never to accuse somebody of hypocrisy. Don't make me laugh.

Hypocrisy, Agenda--both loud and clear from your side of the isle.

Derek Charles Catsam - 3/3/2004

David --
How about citing some of these "clueless" reviews. I've read some withering ones and some good ones. Many of the withering ones took serious issue with the antisemitism and ahistorical nature of the film. I thought many of those were quite good. As for the gore of it all, two points: 1)The only true historical record we can have of the crucifiction is from the gospels, which is nowhere near as gory as the film. 2)Funny how when over-the-top violence is used for the furtherence of particular political agendas, conservatives complain about critical emphasis of that gore, and yet when there is gore that does not agree with that agenda, conservative politicians get the knives out. Thus this movie or Dirty Harry or that lousy television show Walker: Texas Ranger = good, Natural Born Killers and their ilk = bad. And the hypocrisy goes on.
Oh, by the way, why, exactly, is it bad to have applied pressure to Gibson before this movie came out but it was ok to apply pressure to the tv network about the Reagan biopic? Yet more hypocrisy.

Ben H. Severance - 3/3/2004

A learned and polite response to my less than respectful line of questioning. When reading HNN commentary I all too often communicate out of emotion rather than through reason. I find that it is better to wait a day before engaging in on-line disputations.

Returning to the topic at hand, I still contend that Jews are a factional people. In the "classical" period, they were divided into Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, and Herodians (and Christians). Since the diaspora, the world has seen Hasidic Jews, Safardic Jews, Yiddish Jews etc.. And in the modern era, we have religious Zionists and secular Jews. Still, I am no authority on this subject, but in my own studies I've found that close examination reveals a disparate outlook for virtually every social group. Nevertheless, there is value in making generalizations. But enough, your point is well made.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/3/2004

Hmm. I could argue that Gibson was more successful at anti-semitism than at textual problematization. I could argue that the movie itself appears to deal with Jews directly while it does not directly address issues of source and interpretation. But I'm not going to bother.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/3/2004

There is wider, I believe, sectarian division within Christianity than within Judaism: only in the last half century have Jewish sects evolved to the point that they are beginning to not recognize each other's practices as legitimate.

Classical scholarship is scholarship of the "classical" period, traditionally understood to mean the Hellenic and Hellenistic Mediterranean civilizations.

And you're right about the dissertation, but that's beside the point: if he found a secular argument and focus, even on a sectarian topic, to be unacceptable, there were alternatives to "selling his soul" or whatever it was he did. I don't know the particulars either, but I do know that there are lots of graduate schools with a variety of secular and sectarian identities.

Johnny Ramburg - 3/2/2004

Mel Gibson, in a recent interview, refused to acknowledge that the Holocaust occurred. This makes him far worse than a "yahoo."

Ralph E. Luker - 3/2/2004

Mr. Battle, Do get the spelling of crucifixion right. You set yourself up by the mis-spell.

David C Battle - 3/2/2004

I saw the movie and it was great. The violence was extreme, but so was crucifiction. More impactful to me were the smaller moments, when Jesus spoke and interracted with those around him as he endured the pain, which made them all the more remarkable in the context of the punishment he was enduring. It was those small moments, and special artistic touches, the symbology recognizable only to devout believers, etc., which make this movie a work of art, and just a great movie.

Interestingly enough (but not surprisignly), the critics have overlooked all that (intentionally I believe) to focus on "the gore" and the "anti-semitism", etc. I don't ever remember reading as many shallow and clueless reviews--their agenda couldn't have been more clear.

But I'll bet the biggest 5-day opening in movie history must have them scrathing their heads, huh?

David C Battle - 3/2/2004

>>>"Well, if it was part of his purpose, he's keeping it a very closely held secret."

Even more "secret" is was Mel Gibson's purpose of "smearing Jews", but that doesn't stop such accusations now does it.

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/2/2004

There are things to admire about Gibson. There was apparently an organized effort to stigmatize the film before it was even edited, and thereby discourage its distribution. The major studios did indeed back off, but Gibson put up his own money.

What Gibson lacks, to a certain extent, is a critical attitude toward the sources. He has gone to great lengths to get the details right (and occasionally fails, as in the use of Church latin, and other things). He also occupies the unstable ground often held by Oliver Stone. Stone regularly promotes his films by saying they are true to history, and then when confronted, backtracks to the claim that it is a work of art, and represents Truth, rather than the truth.

A few examples. In the film as described by you (I haven't seen it), Gibson originally had (and perhaps only the subtitles were removed) Caiaphas pronounce the curse. But Matthew (27:25-26) has the crowd, rather than Caiaphas, pronounce the curse. Now I've been in my share of crowds in my life, and I've never heard a crowd spontaneously erupt in a complete sentence -- but maybe I'm being ahistorical, and giving too little credit to ancient crowds.

Scholars now believe that the gospel of Matthew was written toward the end of the first century AD, that Matthew was a Greek speaker, and second generation Christian, living in Antioch. The church in Antioch was under attack by, among others, Jews who resented the Christians (Greeks resented them too). Yet the church was primarily at that point looking to the Greeks for new membership, and wished not to implicate the Romans in the death of Jesus. Thus, the Jews are portrayed as the Other, and Pilate is portrayed as a neutral, when actually he was condemned to Rome by Philo for his wanton executions.

The Gospels are pregnant with anti-semitic potential, and can be saved from that charge by theological interpretation of the meaning of the crucifixion -- but that, apparently, is the weakest part of the film.

I'm glad Gibson put his thoughts to film, as secular forces in this world are only too eager to silence the religious, or portray them as yahoos. I wish he had made the film better, by greater emphasis on the theological meaning and by taking a critical view of the sources.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/2/2004

"he may have created a work of art that forces us to think about the relationship between fact and faith. Perhaps in the classroom we will have to confront directly the dissonance between revelation and fact because of this movie. If that was part of his purpose, then he has succeeded."

Well, if it was part of his purpose, he's keeping it a very closely held secret.

Oscar Chamberlain - 3/2/2004

If reports are correct, part of the problem with his portrayal of the Romans and the Jews is that he did not portray them accurately. Following the Gospel, he reduced Judaism to those who followed Jesus and those who persecuted him. Most Jews did neither.

Of course, for Gibson the Gospel is history in the most profound sense: it is the revealed word of God. As such it crowds out any other historical perspective, whether secular, Jewish, or another. He has augmented this with other teachings based on divine guidance.

And he has used "regular" history as well, when it does not contradict.

Gibson has a right to this, and he may have created a work of art that forces us to think about the relationship between fact and faith. Perhaps in the classroom we will have to confront directly the dissonance between revelation and fact because of this movie. If that was part of his purpose, then he has succeeded.

bill farrell - 3/2/2004

On one level, Gibson has the right to his interpretation, as does anyone else. However, if he is arguing that his film portrays what actually happened, i.e. that it it accurate history, then his view is subject to criticism, including questions about both his evidence and his use of that evidence. I would assume that Professor Kashatus has evidence supporting his view of the effect that Quaker theology had upon early public schooling in Philadelphia. (His professor's apparent refusal to deal with his evidence is/was a problem.)
Biblical scholarship is not my field, but my impression is that the current scholars who are most highly regarded within that specialty do not agree with his position. That merits some attention, as does Gibson's rejection both of their scholarship and the evidence upon which it relies. Again, Gibson is entitled to his faith, but faith is neither history nor scholarship. Historical claims are subject to historical critique and standards.
Also, I believe that Gibson claims to be Catholic, although he seems to reject Vatican II and the current Catholic take on both the Question of Responsibility for the Cruxifiction and how to portray it. Certainly, those contradictions are worth exploring. Conservative Catholics are more likely than liberal Catholics, at least today, to be supportive of Papal authority.
If his film is a work of Faith, then the audience is entitled to know what his faith is, i.e. what does Gibson believe and what actions and ethics flow from those beliefs.
That said, I have several questions.
First, how can his film be termed "fascist"? Usually, those regimes and movements allusively called fascist are hyper-nationalist or ethnically exclusive. I am not sure how this film promotes hper-nationalism as such. That is not to say that it is difficult to imagine Franco praising this film or even using it. Howver, that does not in itself make the film Phalangist. In today's (March 2, 2004) Washington Post, Richard Cohen argues that the film's, in his view, intense violence is fascistic. That is an interesting claim, but it may raise as many problems as it solves.
Second, Biblical scholars and historians of Roman Palestine seem to agree that the Roman Legions in Palestine would have spoken Greek, not Latin. However, at least some historians of the Roman military have argued -- perhaps on this website -- that the Legions in Jerusalem had been recruited in Italy and therefore spoke Latin. At first glance, this should be an easy question to answer. Are there disputes about the evidence? Do historians of the Roman military use evidence that Biblical scholars reject or vice versa?
Third, some critics have argued that Gibson's view of the Cruxifiction is late-medieval Europe, while at least one has asserted that the film embodies the viewpoint of the Counter-Reformation. This may be a disagreement about dates: there is alot of disagreement when the Middle Ages ended and the Renaissance began, but the Middle Ages were over when the Reformation started. What are the dates which these critics use? Do the imagery of Late Middle Age depictios of the Crixifiction overlap with those of the Counter-Refomation? If so, how?
I would be interested in any comments.

Ben H. Severance - 3/2/2004

Why the parenthetical after Christians "whatever that means"? Why not a similar one after you mention the Jews, who are hardly a uniform group? And what exactly is "classical scholarship" as opposed to just plain scholarship based on a careful study of primary sources and a thorough review of the historiography? Finally, why do you rebuke the writer for his theological focus in grad school? We don't know the context of that particular incident. Besides, I would expect an historian of the Quakers, or any other religious group, to understand the relevant theology in the same way I'd expect a student of the Russian Revolution to understand Marxist ideology without branding him a communist, or a student of the Klan to appreciate the notion of white supremacy without being branded a racist.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/1/2004

This article ended, logically speaking, in the third paragraph: "His most vocal critics are Jewish leaders who view his work as anti-Semitic and they are taking their case to the court of public opinion."

As it turns out, there's nothing wrong with appealing to public opinion, or having differing opinions on matters of interpretation. Jews are entitled to object to a movie that portrays them poorly and, most probably, ahistorically; classicists are entitled to object to a movie that claims "accuracy" but actually is based on particular religious interpretations and bad classical scholarship (the classicist over at Liberty and Power [] has noted some problems); movie reviewers are entitled to criticize a movie for unrelenting graphic violence; feminists are entitled to criticize a movie which casts Satan as a woman; etc., etc.

And yes, Christians (whatever that means) are entitled to see the movie and draw their own opinions and express them. Big deal.

As far as the intro is concerned, there's nothing wrong with a history Ph.D. being told to focus on historical, rather than theological, issues. If he wanted to study Quaker theology and history, there were probably other schools and other programs which would have been more than happy to accomodate him.