Thursday, June 09, 2005

Fredriksen on the Passion again

Helenann Hartley and Michael Pahl (and I think Jim West too but I can't find the link) comment on this article about a lecture given by Paula Fredriksen touching on The Passion of the Christ:

New Testament scholar compares the ‘Jesus of Hollywood’ to the historical one
By Kendall Madden

There's nothing new in the piece, especially if you have read others of Fredriksen's pieces on The Passion, e.g. The Gospel According to Gibson: Mad Mel, New Republic Online, July 25, 2003, and History, Hollywood, and the Bible: Some Thoughts on Gibson’s Passion, SBL Forum, and Pain Principle, in New Republic Online, February 27, 2004. There's one element I'd like to comment on again, though:
"Gibson may genuinely believe that what he has presented in his film is the same as history, but the claim itself is demonstrably false," she said. "Gibson, in his script, picked and chose from among all four Gospels—an element here, an instance there—creating from his montage a fifth 'gospel' that has never existed."
There are two questionable elements (to me) in this line of criticism. The first is the idea that Gibson has claimed historical accuracy for the film. As I have commented before (e.g. in my article in the Corley and Webb (ed.) book), it is possible that this is the case, but if so, I've not been able to find a single documented example. (See further my post Historical Accuracy of the Passion of the Christ). The second is the surprising way in which Fredriksen, along with other NT scholars have criticized the film's harmonizing approach, something that is entirely to be expected in the Jesus film tradition. Again, for more detail, see my article previously mentioned, or an old blog post, The harmonizing tradition in Jesus films.


Matthew Page said...

Mark, I wrote a preview article for the film about 18 months ago, which quoted a few sources for Gibson's claims to historical accuracy. you can find it at I think one of the main sources was from the Independent, although for some reason I've not quoted the article title only the date, author and publication. Hope that helps. I think you might find other links on the long previewing thread at, although it might take a bit of searching for.

Anonymous said...

The Independent essay by Andrew Gumbel is filled with quotes plucked out of context. The original source of the quote is an interview with Zenit, in which Gibson claims other Jesus movies a) were historically inaccurate OR b) featured actors with bad hair. He then says, "I'm telling the story as the Bible tells it."

It's possible to achieve verisimilitude without being historically accurate. For example, in the movie Braveheart, the muddy, earth-toned Scottish costumes did not seem out of place even though 13th century Scots did not wear kilts. Unlike with Brigadoon, movie-goers could suspend their disbelief and "travel back in time" because the props and costumes felt real. And a particular emotional response is ultimately more crucial to film than its factual accuracy.