Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Robert Gundry on The Passion of the Christ

Robert Gundry has a very interesting letter in the current SBL Forum:

Letters to the Editor

The letter (more of a short article) is headed The Burden of the Passion and you will need to scroll down a little to read it. Although it is not mentioned by name, he is responding directly to Paula Fredriksen's article in the previous month's SBL Forum entitled History, Hollywood, and the Bible: Some Thoughts on Gibson's Passion. This much is clear from his reference to "scholars [who] accuse Gibson of reading the Gospels through the contra Iudaeos tradition". It is all worth reading, but a couple of excerpts anyway. On Pilate:
. . . . we also know from outside the New Testament that he yielded to Jewish pressure on at least one occasion earlier than Jesus' trial (Josephus, Antiquities 18.55-59; War 2.169-74). Pilate's position was precarious . . . . and Pilate himself had complaints lodged against him (Philo, Embassy 299-305; Josephus, Antiquities 18.85-89), the latter of which led to his own deposition. So he had reason to get the jitters and cave in. And since he did cave in despite his belief in Jesus' innocence . . . . he himself does not look innocent in the least.
On the violence:
In this light, the nearly interminable beating of Jesus does not have the look of gratuitous violence in the sadomasochistic mode. Not at all! Its very length and brutality are designed to test the ability of Jesus to carry "the whole burden of sin" and prove Satan wrong. Unbelievers may not like this theology. It may disgust them. But believers or not, reviewers only expose their theological insensitivity to call the violence inflicted on Jesus "gratuitous."
On Satan:
Satan has a comeuppance too. When Jesus dies having successfully borne the weight of the whole world's sin, Satan collapses on the site of Jesus' death-and shrieks. Why? Because that is what demons do when exorcised, when cast out. Shortly before his passion Jesus said, "Now is the prince of this world cast out." Exorcistic language if there ever was such! Satan has had his/her day; but thanks to Jesus' burden-bearing, that day is over.
I didn't think it was "the site of Jesus' death"; but I will have another look when I see it again next week. Also interesting is Gundry's interpretation of the portrayal of the effeminate Herod Antipas. Someone should encourage Gundry to write a full article developing some of his fascinating insights on the film, if they have not already done so.

Incidentally, on reading Fredriksen's article again, it looks like it was written before she saw the film. She refers explicitly only to material she viewed in the earlier version of the script that was read by the "ad hoc committee" and (twice) to the film's trailer. There is nothing in this article that would require knowledge of the film itself.

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