Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Cintra on "The Passion"

One of my faves at Salon, the sexy and super-talented Cintra Wilson, interviews her friend, the Rev. Mark Stanger, who saw a screening of "The Passion" hosted by Mel Gibson himself.

This is Salon "premium content," so I won't be linking to it, but I suggest you go read the article. One thing to note is that Stanger's views represent, more or less, mainstream biblical scholarship (Stanger himself is mainstream Episcopalian), while Gibson's views are more in line with those of the frothing Christian conservatives and their inbred version of "scholarship." Some choice passages:

Cintra Wilson: This film is being touted as the most factual representation of the crucifixion possible; Mel Gibson has called it the most authentic and biblically accurate film about Jesus' death.

Mark Stanger: It's absolutely not.

CW: The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each give different views of the crucifixion.

MS: Mel Gibson in his remarks after the film took a potshot at contemporary biblical scholarship -- he called scholars "revisionists" who think the gospel writers had agendas. They absolutely did have agendas. It's hard to know if [the film is] historically accurate, because Gospel writers were not trying to do an eyewitness report -- they were producing theological, practical documents of faith to answer questions that were appearing in their communities a half-generation and a generation after the death of Jesus. So it was as if the gospel writers themselves were movie makers. They were trying to interpret things in a way that their people could understand it. They're works of art, theological works, not eyewitness reports. But even a CNN eyewitness report has an agenda.

CW: So, Mel Gibson seems to be arguing that the gospels are factual documents.

MS: Exactly. And that all of the references to the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament, were proof of fulfillment of prophe[c]y, whereas it's most likely that in order to make sense of the events surrounding Jesus' death, the gospel writers searched the Hebrew scriptures to find things.

Folks, like it or not, this is where legitimate biblical scholarship currently stands. Very few Bible scholars, except those from extremely partisan camps, take seriously the idea that the New Testament scriptural accounts somehow represent an actual "fulfillment of prophecy." What you're seeing in the scriptures is hindsight reinterpretation and symbolic narrative. Any shithead can stand up after the fact and say, "See? It happened just as predicted!"

But try explaining that to a fundamentalist.

CW: So, after the crucifixion, writers of the New Testament were looking back at the Old Testament and finding connective threads to make sense of what they were writing?

MS: Yes, exactly, the way anybody looks into their own faith tradition to make sense of traumatic events in their own life. Also, some of these [New Testament authors and their communities] were already being persecuted themselves for their beliefs. So, the way to make sense of that is to show Jesus as a model of patience under suffering. One of the ways [Gibson] tries to produce an air of authenticity in the film is to have the principals speaking Aramaic, the dialect of Hebrew that Jesus would have spoken, and the Roman soldiers and Pilate speaking Latin.

But very chillingly, in the interview after the showing, Mel Gibson said the reason that he had [his cast] speaking those original languages -- and I didn't misinterpret him, because he told a long story to illustrate it -- he said, "If I was doing a film about very fierce, horrible, nasty Vikings coming to invade a town, and had them on their ship with their awful weapons, and they came pouring off the ship ready to slaughter -- to have them speak English wouldn't be menacing enough."


Go read the rest, folks. Mel, you're wacked. And God help me, I'll still be watching your films.

One last snippet from the good Reverend:

I think a 5-year-old who has to get cancer surgery and radiation and chemotherapy suffers more than Jesus suffered; I think that a kid in the Gaza Strip who steps on a land mine and loses two limbs suffers more; I think a battered wife with no resources suffers more; I think people without medical care dying of AIDS in Africa suffer more than Jesus did that day. I mean, I don't want to take away from that, but this preoccupation with the intensity of the suffering, I think, has no theological or spiritual value.

Recent stuff related to this subject:

1. "The Passion" and religious pluralism.
2. A further pluralism wrinkle.

UPDATE: Check out the Salon letters to the editor in response to Cintra's article (again, no links to "premium" content).


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