Saturday, May 01, 2004

Herod Antipas in The Passion of the Christ

I am intrigued by the portrayal of Antipas in The Passion of the Christ. What are the sources for this portrayal? Several have suggested that it is in large part derived from Jesus Christ Superstar. A review on Net Monster's Movie Reviews, for example, comments
So Gibson's portrayal of Herod as an overweight buffoon appears to be less based upon historical evidence than a direct crib from Jesus Christ Superstar. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice should sue.
Or see this review on Cool Stuff. That one scene is the source for the other is possible. Have a look at Antipas in another recent Jesus film, The Miracle Maker, in which the opening line of Herod's greeting has almost the same intonation as Herod's greeting in Superstar, "I've been waiting to see you . . . ." The depiction of Herod in that one song in Jesus Christ Superstar is so memorable that it cries out for imitation. But I can't think of any other elements in The Passion of the Christ that appear to be derived from Jesus Christ Superstar. The best analysis I have read of the scene is in Robert Gundry's The Burden of the Passion (see also previous comments):
The treatment of Herod Antipas, to whom Pilate sent Jesus and who sent Jesus back to Pilate, exhibits Gibson's artistry-and homework as well-at its most subtle and thorough. The drunken feast that Jesus' entry interrupts recalls the drunken feast at which the severed head of Jesus' forerunner, John the Baptist, was served to Herod on a platter. Herod's wife Herodias is present here as she was present there. But Herod wears a woman's wig and mascara. Why this womanish portrayal of him despite his heterosexual marriage? Well, it was Herodias who manipulated Herod against his will to have John the Baptist beheaded. To represent her dominance over Herod, Gibson makes him effeminate. There is more. On his way to Jerusalem some Pharisees had said to Jesus, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." But Jesus answered, "Go tell that fox for me, Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. . . . It is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem" (Luke 13:31-33). The Greek word behind "fox" is feminine, so that Jesus is calling Herod a vixen, a female fox-not an animal to be afraid of or to run away from. Gibson matches Herod to Jesus' slur.
An excellent analysis. I would add something I've just spotted from Emmerich's Dolorous Passion
He was seated on a pile of cushions, heaped together so as to form a species of throne, in a spacious hall, and surrounded by courtiers and warriors . . . .

. . . . . They all began at once to vociferate their accusations, to which Herod hardly listened, being intent solely on gratifying his curiosity by a close examination of Jesus, whom he had so often wished to see. But when he beheld him stripped of all clothing save the remnant of a mantle, scarcely able to stand, and his countenance totally disfigured from the blows he had received, and from the mud and missiles which the rabble had flung at his head, the luxurious and effeminate prince turned away in disgust . . . . (Emphasis added).
I am less inclined now to think that Superstar is the source for this depiction of Herod -- Emmerich alongside the Gospels, given Gundry's insights, are the more likely sources.

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