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July 04, 2003 - Image 156

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-07-04

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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on death ofiesus hits the screen.

JOE BERKOFSKY
Jewish Telegraphic Agency

New York

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O

he ghosts of virulently anti-
Semitic nuns may haunt
Mel Gibson's new film
about Jesus' final days,
some Catholic and Jewish scholars are
warning.
The growing hype concerns charges
that The Passion blames Jews for Jesus'
death. Gibson denies any anti-Semitic
intent, and little attention has focused
on the sources for his screenplay.
Scholars — some of whom have seen
an early version of the script — fear it
relies partly on the teachings of a 19th-
century nun who blamed Jews collec-
tively for the crucifixion of Jesus.
These theologians also warn that the
movie may splice the New Testament's
multiple gospels about Jesus into a cin-
ematically sharpened, but distorted,
anti-Jewish passion play.
"Mel Gibson ought to take special
care because the people he is relying
on" for the movie's narrative "are peo-
ple who are very antagonistic toward
Jews," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean
and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal
Center in Los Angeles.
The Anti-Defamation League last
week also endorsed a highly critical
report by some of these scholars based
on a pirated, early version of the script.
Media focus on the film increased
after the New York Times published a
lengthy article earlier this year about
Gibson's fundamentalist Catholic sect,
which rejects the Vatican's authority
and its modern-day reforms.
Gibson has issued a single statement
saying, "Neither I nor my film are
anti-Semitic." A spokesman this week
dismissed the pre-release criticism.
"Just getting rabbis and priests and
whomever to just guess on the issue —
they don't really know what they're
talking about," said Gibson's
spokesman, Alan Nierob.
At the heart of the controversy lies
the question of Gibson's intent, and
the issue of which sources he is using
to shape the film's narrative.

Now editing the film, Gibson said
two weeks ago that the movie "con-
forms to the narratives of Christ's pas-
sion and death found in the four
Gospels of the New Testament."
But some reports contradict that.
Several experts on Catholic-Jewish
issues said one source of inspiration for
the film seems to be Sister Anne
Catherine Emmerich, a mystic in the
late 1700s and early 1800s who saw
visions of Jews with "hooked noses,"
Hier said.
According to a 1976 biography of
Emmerich by the Rev. C. E.
Schmoeger, Emmerich described one
vision of an "old Jewess Meyr" who
admitted "that Jews in our country and
elsewhere strangled Christian children
and used their blood for all sorts of
suspicious and diabolical practices."
A March article about the film in the
Wall StreetJournah written by
Raymond Arroyo, said the movie also
is based on a 17th-century nun, Mary
of Agreda, whom critics say also is
anti-Semitic.
One of those critics is Philip
Cunningham, a Boston College theol-
ogy professor and executive director of
the college's Center for Christian-
Jewish Learning.
Cunningham was on a nine-mem-
ber, ad-hoc panel of Christian and
Jewish scholars that the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops and
the ADL organized to review an early
version of The Passion screenplay.
Their assessment provoked Gibson to
threaten a lawsuit. The Conference of
Bishops later backtracked, claiming it
did not authorize or review the report.
One concern for Cunningham is
that an Italian Web site that claims to
be an unofficial site for The Passion
says the film "is based upon the diaries
of St. Anne Catherine Emmerich."
'Any kind of drama based on such a
work would be fraught with peril in
terms of anti-Semitic sentiments," and
would violate current church teaching,
Cunningham said.
Emmerich's diary includes images of
servants of the high priest bribing fel-
low Jews to demand Jesus' death, pay-

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