The Passion of the Christ (sometimes referred to as The Passion) is a 2004 American film directed by Mel Gibson and starring Jim Caviezel as Jesus Christ. It depicts the Passion of Jesus largely according to the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It also draws on other devotional writings, such as those disputably attributed to Anne Catherine Emmerich.
The film covers the final 12 hours of Jesus’ life, beginning with the Agony in the Garden and ending with a brief depiction of his resurrection. Flashbacks of Jesus as a child and as a young man with his mother, giving the Sermon on the Mount, teaching the Twelve Apostles, and at the Last Supper are some of the images depicted. The dialogue is entirely in reconstructed Aramaic and Latin with vernacular subtitles.
The film was a major commercial hit, grossing in excess of $600 million during its theatrical release, becoming the highest grossing R-rated film of all time. The film has also been highly controversial and received mixed reviews, with some critics claiming that the extreme violence in the movie “obscures its message.” Catholic sources have questioned the authenticity of the non-biblical material the film drew on.
Before the film was even released, there were prominent criticisms of perceived anti-Semitic content in the movie. 20th Century Fox told New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind they had passed on distributing the film in response to a protest outside the News Corp. building. Hikind warned other movie companies that “they should not distribute this film. This is unhealthy for Jews all over the world.”
A joint committee of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Department of Inter-religious Affairs of the Anti-Defamation League obtained a version of the script before it was released in theaters. They released a statement, calling it:
“…one of the most troublesome texts, relative to anti-Semitic potential, that any of us had seen in twenty-five years. It must be emphasized that the main storyline presented Jesus as having been relentlessly pursued by an evil cabal of Jews, headed by the high priest Caiaphas, who finally blackmailed a weak-kneed Pilate into putting Jesus to death. This is precisely the storyline that fueled centuries of anti-Semitism within Christian societies. This is also a storyline rejected by the Roman Catholic Church at Vatican II in its document Nostra Aetate, and by nearly all mainline Protestant churches in parallel documents . . . . Unless this basic storyline has been altered by Mr. Gibson, a fringe Catholic who is building his own church in the Los Angeles area and who apparently accepts neither the teachings of Vatican II nor modern biblical scholarship, The Passion of the Christ retains a real potential for undermining the repudiation of classical Christian anti-Semitism by the churches in the last forty years.”
Conservative columnist Cal Thomas also tried to dispel the allegations of anti-Semitism, saying “To those in the Jewish community who worry that the film … might contain anti-Semitic elements, or encourage people to persecute Jews, fear not. The film does not indict Jews for the death of Jesus.” Two Orthodox Jews, Rabbi Daniel Lapin and conservative talk-show host and author Michael Medved, also vocally rejected claims that the film is anti-Semitic. They have noted the film’s many sympathetic portrayals of Jews: Simon of Cyrene (who helps Jesus carry the cross), Mary Magdalene, the Virgin Mary, St. Peter, St. John, Veronica (who wipes Jesus’ face and offers him water), and several Jewish priests who protest Jesus’ arrest during Caiaphas’s trial of Jesus.