Saturday, April 24, 2004

Jim Davila reviews The Passion of the Christ

On Paleojudaica, Jim Davila has some interesting and insightful comments on The Passion of the Christ:

REVIEW of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ

Jim comments that "Speaking of Greek, it's strange that the sign on the cross only had the Latin inscription and one in Aramaic", which contrasts with John 19.20 which mentions Greek too. Jim suspects "some pre-Vatican II, pro-Latin Mass agenda here". This is an interesting point -- the lack of Greek in the film as a whole is sharply focused in this context where John 19.20 is clearly the source. It has me wondering how other Jesus films deal with the titulus. One of the difficulties it presents is that it can make the titutuls pretty big. Jesus of Nazareth (dir. Franco Zeffirelli, 1977) certainly has the full Johannine titulus with Greek, Latin and Hebrew but I am struggling to think of any other Jesus films that do. Here is a link to a picture of the cross with the full titulus from Jesus of Nazareth:

Jesus of Nazareth: cross with titulus

I would imagine that the recent Gospel of John (dir. Philip Saville, 2003) must have it, but I don't specifically remembering noticing it. I'll check.

Jim also comments:
I don't believe that anyone could take that amount of flogging and then get up again and walk for any distance, let alone do so carrying a heavy cross. Jesus would have gone into shock during or just after the flogging and would not have been of much use after that. Given the level of sanitation, nutrition, and medical care at the time, he probably would have died from the flogging alone.
The one thing I wonder here is over Josephus' description of Jesus ben Ananias in War 6.5.11, someone who was whipped under the Roman procurator Albinus until his bones were laid bare and yet who still, apparently, survives this appalling torture. Of course Josephus' description might well be exaggerated, but I do not think it implausible that the scourging of Jesus could have contributed to his relatively quick death on the cross (cf. also Jim's comment to this effect). The evangelists do not agree on whether it was three hours or six, but either way this is relatively speedy by the standards of ancient crucifixions, and apparently quicker than the death of the two robbers or brigands whose legs had to be broken according to John.

I agree with Jim about the level of realism and share the feeling over the comparison with, say, the second season of 24 (which was, nevertheless, great television). The comment that "At least The Passion didn't involve that kind of cartoon violence" contrasts a bit with Paul Flesher's "Mel's Jesus: A 'Real Man' or Just a Toon?".

Jim's remarks that "The crucifixion scene in the movie is physically impossible" seem pretty well founded and are worth reading; I had not thought about the pull of the hands on the nails and the looseness of the tieing, which I had not noticed. On the latter, compare the picture of the crucifixion in Jesus of Nazareth above, also pretty loose tieing of the ropes along with crucifixion through the palms.

I thought Jim's comments on the alleged anti-Semitism fairly balanced; I have written on this in a little more detail now in an article on Bible and Interpretation. As I also comment there, I could not agree more with Jim's "wish [that] he had worked with an advisory team of specialists". And finally, I think Jim's suggestion that the Satan in the film resembled the grim reaper in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey makes more sense than Bruce Chilton's absurd suggestion of Dr Evil and mini-me from Austin Powers (see blog entry on).

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