Thursday, September 16, 2004

Theologians urge caution over Passion DVD

Beliefnet today carries this story:

Christian Leaders Urge Caution on 'Passion' DVD Release
By Kevin Eckstrom
A statement signed by 97 theologians, pastors and other church officials said the "visually powerful portrayal" of the death of Jesus in Gibson's film includes "numerous explicitly anti-Jewish elements that we consider an affront to the gospel."

"It encourages misunderstanding of the role of Jews and their leaders in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus' death; it includes gratuitous anti-Jewish portrayals; and its promotion by Christians has largely ignored the pain and concern of the Jewish community about the film," the statement said.

The statement was coordinated by John Merkle, a professor of theology at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University in Minnesota, and Peter Pettit, director of the Institute for Christian-Jewish Understanding at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa. . . .

. . . . They also had strong words for their Christian colleagues. "We ... find it lamentable that Christian leaders so easily pass over its anti-Jewish character in favor of what they perceive to be its positive aspects," the signers said.

Notable signers included Harvey Cox and Karen King of Harvard Divinity School, Mary Boys of Union Theological Seminary, former Swedish Lutheran Bishop Krister Stendahl and the Rev. John Pawlikowski, director of the Bernardin Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
Without wanting to sound facetious, I am surprised that only 97 signatories could be found. When I surveyed scholarly reaction to the film, I was amazed by the number of those who reacted negatively to the film, certainly the vast majority of those Biblical scholars who commented in public. I'd be interested to see the full text of this statement, but my concern would be that sweeping generalizations of the kind quoted above actually discourage a critical engagement with the strengths and weaknesses of the film, instead encouraging a descent into caricature that can only limit what the signatories are presumably hoping to achieve.

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