Tuesday, April 06, 2004

More on The Passion of the Christ and anti-Semitism

Thanks to Gail Dawson for the link to this article from the Washington Post:

Ideas About Christ's Death Surveyed
Growing Minority: Jews Responsible
By Alan Cooperman
The poll released yesterday by the Pew Research Center in Washington is the first statistical evidence that the movie's box-office success may be associated with an increase in anti-Jewish feeling, although social scientists cautioned that cause and effect are not clear.

In the March 17 to 21 telephone survey of 1,703 randomly selected adults, 26 percent said Jews were responsible for Christ's death, up from 19 percent in an ABC News poll that asked the same question in 1997.
I would want to add that it is not just that "cause and effect are not clear". It is also impossible to view the film without knowledge of the controversy that surrounds it, a controversy that has tended to pose the question in stark and often very unhelpful ways. And I am afraid that the question posed in this statistical survey is as good as useless:
"Do you feel the Jews were responsible for Christ's death or not?"
What New Testament scholar would even be able to answer such a question? One would need to know, "What do you mean by 'the Jews'?" Some Jews, many Jews, Judeans, inhabitants of Jerusalem in the first century, some Judean leaders, the High Priest, his sanhedrin or council? What do you mean by "responsible for"? Primarily responsible? Played a part in? Many New Testament scholars, perhaps the majority, think that Caiaphas, for example, may well have had some involvement in the events leading to Jesus' crucifixion; how would they answer that question? In other words, this statistical survey seems to me to be unhelpful. However, the Washington Post article itself adds:
. . . . . Thus, researchers said, it is unclear whether the movie and its attendant publicity are causing a change in attitudes, reflecting a change, or both.

Despite predictions that the movie would spark violence against Jews, the Anti-Defamation League reported in March that the number of anti-Semitic incidents across the country in 2003 remained the same as in 2002.

Moreover, some previous opinion surveys have indicated that "The Passion of the Christ" is improving, not harming, Christian-Jewish relations. In a March 5 to March 9 survey of 1,003 adults nationwide, San Francisco-based pollster Gary Tobin found that 83 percent said the film had no impact on their view of contemporary Jews. Two percent said the movie had made them "more likely" to blame Jews, but 9 percent said it had made them less likely to do so.

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