Monday, April 12, 2004

Ched Myers on The Passion of the Christ

Over on Textweek Jenee Woodard notes this new article on Tikkun:

Why did they kill Jesus?
Ched Myers | 04.07.2004

For some reason the text in the article above has got a bit garbled -- letters missing and the like. But you can read a cleaner version on Ched Myers's own site here, though the choice of font colour and background on this one requires a bit more re-think:

Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ,” Anti-Semitism and the Gospel: Mark’s Trial Narrative as Political Parody

Like most other Biblical scholars and theologians, he hated it. Given that my own reaction is rather different from what has become the standard one among academics, I was interested in one element in his article, which confirmed to me something I have suspected about the academic reaction:
One of the many problems with Gibson’s film is that it weaves in strands from all four of our gospel versions (not to mention his own gratuitous additions). Attempts to “harmonize” what are four very different versions of the Jesus story have long been discredited because they give the editor such wide license to pick and choose. This effectively creates a “fifth” gospel—or in Gibson’s case, anti-gospel. The only way to unravel Gibson’s fabric is to examine each gospel separately, in order to see their different emphases and purposes.
If one of the bases for criticizing this film is that it harmonizes the Gospels, then the problem is not with this film but with all the Jesus films with the exception of Jesus (1979), The Gospel According to St Matthew, Matthew and The Gospel of John. Has the harmonizing of the Gospels "long been discredited"? Of course this is the case if one is doing serious historical critical scholarship on the Gospels, but it is not the case when it comes to producing dramatic reworkings of the Jesus story.

When one is looking at The Passion of the Christ it is important to analyze it as film and not as documentary. One of the questions that has been in my mind from the beginning of the controversy is how this film compares to others in the genre. One of the things that has been lacking in much of the critical reaction to the film has been any comparison between The Passion of the Christ and other Jesus films. What is it that is so peculiarly bad about this film as compared with, say, Jesus Christ Superstar or The Miracle Maker? For a properly critical case against this film to be sustained, one requires more sensitivity to the tradition from which it comes.

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