Prager on “The Passion”

A thoughtful, balanced article by Dennis Prager about “The Passion.” Unlike many other establishment conservatives who have praised the film in the highest terms, Prager, who says he’s the first Jew invited by Mel Gibson to preview “The Passion,” is troubled by the movie, yet still defends it. The main problem is that Jesus’ Jewish enemies are pictured as cruel, sadistic, and manipulative, a portrayal that in the past was often used as a pretext for torturing and murdering Jews. But, as Prager perceptively states,

[W]hat Jews need to understand is that most American Christians watching this film do not see “the Jews” as the villains in the passion story historically, let alone today. First, most American Christians—Catholic and Protestant—believe that a sinning humanity killed Jesus, not “the Jews.” Second, they know that Christ’s entire purpose was to come to this world and to be killed for humanity’s sins. To the Christian, God made it happen, not the Jews or the Romans… Third, a Christian who hates Jews today for what he believes some Jews did 2,000 years ago only reflects on the low moral, intellectual and religious state of that Christian.

Excellent points, all. However, we also need to remember that millions of the people viewing this film will not be American Christians, will not understand that the Jews in the Gospel represent sinful man in his resistance to God, will not understand that God made it happen, and will have a low moral, intellectual and religious state. Therefore the concerns that some Jews have expressed about the feelings this movie may trigger cannot be lightly dismissed, especially in this period of massively heightened Jew-hatred and accommodation to Jew-hatred all over the world.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 28, 2003 04:21 PM | Send

Mr. Auster makes some valid points of concern here that should be addressed.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that movie is only capturing a very small (though powerfully significant) point in time that could hardly allow the larger context to be fully in view. The fact is that the Jewish leaders responsible for his arrest, illegal trial, and ultimately his Crucifixion for the most WERE “cruel, sadistic, and manipulative.” Just reread the Lord’s condemnation of the Pharisees! (“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation…”)

But what could easily be missed in all this is that God chose Israel with a purpose, knowing in advance how that purpose would be carried out, that He loves Israel with an undying love, that Israel remains an integral part of His future plans, and that Israel yet awaits full redemption and forgiveness.

“And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.” (Zech 12:10)

Numerous Old Testament prophesies were fulfilled on the day He was crucified, but what of the others that tell of His taking his place on the Throne of David forever? What of the blessings that will flow to all the world from out of Israel?

A full recognition of the entirety of the Word of God on this matter is vital to our understanding of the Jewish role in God’s plan. And it’s essential to recognize that their failure under the Law represents the failure of ALL of us: “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that EVERY mouth may be stopped, and ALL THE WORLD may become guilty before God” (Rom 3:19)

Anybody who feels they could have handled the demands of the Mosaic Law better than they, step forward! The fact that they could not means only that the rest of us would have no chance at all. Their failure only underscores that we all need a Saviour.

But there’s a difficulty here too, and that is in the recognition that Biblical prophecy concerning Israel at the end times indicates that her circumstances, following her national rebirth, are going to get much worse before her redemption is accomplished. The evidence of imminent fulfilment of this increases daily. As one here noted last year “…the forces of a second Holocaust are gathering for the kill.”

Posted by: Joel LeFevre on October 28, 2003 9:01 PM

A troubling comment from a Jewish correspondent:

“Dennis is correct on this, as usual. My point about the film has always been that the Arab and Muslim world will use it today as more propaganda against Israel and the Jews. Just wait and see that it will become the required school film to watch in k-12 throughout the Arab/Muslim world.

“This was my problem with Mel Gibson. That he did not understand the poor timing of the film is pathetic.”

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 29, 2003 4:17 AM

Frankly I think that the points being raised here are far, far, off-base. I am surprised that someone like Mr. Auster has allowed himself to be influenced by the rabid anti-Christian nuttery being displayed by Gibson’s attackers. It boils down to the idea that the gospel accounts of the central event of the Christian faith should be suppressed in our popular culture.

While I think that the Christian defenses of Gibson are enough, I wish to point out that some Jews (fewer than I would like) do still have their heads screwed on straight. Daniel Lapin, a Rabbi, stands out especially:

I know that I am not being moderate with my words here, but I cannot find any moderation in myself for this issue. Those afraid of a realistic film portrayal of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death are placing themselves with the suicide wing of the Western culture warriors.

Posted by: Thrasymachus on October 29, 2003 5:07 AM

Thrasy’s comments are truly dumb and truly offensive. There is absolutely nothing in my commentary on Prager’s article and on the movie that reflects the influence or thinking of the “rabid anti-Christian nuttery” of Gibson’s attackers. There is nothing in my remarks that is attacking the legitimacy of the Gospel account of the Passion or its central place in the life of the Church. If Thrasymachus would read with his mind instead of his emotions, he would see that my own critical thoughts about the possible impact of the movie emerged after I had summed up Prager’s intelligent, pro-Christian refutation of the anti-Gibson argument. That refutation assumed a civilized, American Christian audience, and I agreed with Prager’s point that such people would understand the movie in the correct context. But then the thought occurred that the worldwide audience of the movie consists of a lot more than Americans, that the world is in fact filled with Jew haters and that concerns about the impact of this UNPRECEDENTLY GRAPHIC DEPICTION IN A MASS ENTERTAINMENT MEDIUM of Jesus’ torture and death, egged on by evil Jews, are not something to be “lightly dismissed” in today’s world. And THAT was my bottom line: that such concerns are not to be “lightly dismissed.” I did not call for the suppression of the movie. I did not remotely suggest that Gibson is anti-Jewish. Yet Thrasy lumps me with the Anti-Defamation League and acts as if I am attacking the Gospels and the Church.

I think the point of my correspondent is well taken, that this movie could well become a staple in the Muslim world, used to stir up anti-Jewish hatred. Does Thrasymachus deny that possibility? Does he deny the fact that at times in the past the Good Friday service was indeed used to whip up mobs against Jews? Is it anti-Christian—is it Western suicide—to acknowledge these historical realities?

Thrasy’s bottom line is that any criticisms of or concerns about this movie are a betrayal of Christianity. If that remains his position, then he is seeking to forbid legitimate discussion.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 29, 2003 5:51 AM

1) “This movie could well become a staple in the Muslim world, used to stir up anti-Jewish hatred.”

Yes I deny that. The idea is silly. Jesus is hardly an important figure in the Muslim world. Despite what amounts to a favorable mention in the Koran, there is little respect for him among Muslims. They have better propaganda to watch.

And if does become wildly popular in the Muslim world, I would rejoice, and hail Gibson as the greatest Christian missionary since Paul. Not that I believe it to be possible. You can be sure that Gibson’s movie will be as illegal to distribute as Bibles are in most Muslim countries.

2) “Does he deny the fact that at times in the past the Good Friday service was indeed used to whip up mobs against Jews?”

Surely, this cannot be meant as an attack on the Good Friday service? I have heard that argument, but only from the anti-Christian Left before. It ignores the added savage non-Christian language that was always used as the main factor to whip up the mobs. No account, even from Gibson’s worst detractors, accuses him of anything similar.

So unless Mr. Auster has any criticism that Gibson’s movie goes beyond a realistic depiction of the Gospel accounts – indeed, the kind I see in pageants every year here in New Mexico – I cannot see where he is coming from.

Posted by: Thrasymachus on October 29, 2003 6:33 AM

I suppose the Thrasymachus would also deny that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a document created by a Christian government by the way) is a big hit in the Arab world. The problem here is that Thrasy treats “The Passion” as though it were identical to Christianity itself. From which it follows that my concluding that concerns about the impact of this movie should not be “lightly dismissed” is an attack on Christianity itself, and I am in the same class as a Foxman or a Dershowitz.

Read the Prager article again, which is really excellent. He talks about how Jews and Christians see two different things when they look at this movie (and the surrounding controversy), and how each group needs to understand the other’s concerns.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 29, 2003 9:28 AM


To some degree I’m going to have to side with Thrasymachus, here. To claim that ‘The Passion’ will foment anti-Semitism in the Arab world that wasn’t already there is vastly overstating the impact of a single media input. It’s akin to those who blame their children’s violent behavior on a violent movie, as if their children weren’t violent to start.

Palestinians are already hopelessly violent and anti-Semitic. They’ll view Gibson’s film as reaffirming their views, I’m certain, but that’s only because they held them so fanatically to begin with. However, I think it’s absurd to claim that violence will occur that would not have occurred otherwise due to the film’s release, and that being the case, raising ‘concerns’ about ‘stirring up anti-Jewish hatred’ are more than a little ill-placed.

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on October 29, 2003 2:15 PM

The position most of us have expressed here previously on this movie is to rightly defend it and rebut some of the more callous criticisms about it. So what exactly is wrong with raising the question here about how the movie might be received or exploited for propaganda value?

Trying to examine some thoughtful concerns about the movie and understand where they’re coming from isn’t going to do us any damage. And the fact that anti-Semitism is endemic in the Mohammedan world doesn’t automatically discount any concerns about how they might misuse this film as part of their ongoing campaign of hatred.

A film like this can be used to further a constructive dialogue and discussion, and it can be used for less constructive purposes. Nothing unhealthy about examining the implications of one or the other, and to consider ways to encourage the former over the latter.

Posted by: Joel LeFevre on October 29, 2003 2:28 PM

Good points by Mr. Courreges. However, I think he misstates the disagreement between Thrasymachus and me. This discussion began with Thrasy’s overblown remark that my statements of concern about “The Passion” were tantamount to Western and Christian suicide. That’s what the disagreement was principally about, not about whether this movie might trigger violence. I did not say the movie would lead to violence. I said this movie could reasonably be expected to feed Jew-hatred among certain elements of the population, including but not limited to Muslims, and that considering the unprecedented level of anti-Semitism in the world right now, Jews in particular have a right to have qualms about that. Prager expressed qualms and discomfort about the movie, not a desire to censure it. Yet some Christians are in such a defensive mode (and Prager expresses sympathy for why this is so), that they see any criticism of “The Passion” as an attack on Christianity.

When a billion Muslims either want you dead or support the people who want you dead, the fact that this movie probably cannot worsen the Muslim anti-Semitism that already exists is hardly a comfort to the Jews.

This is not a performance of the Passion of St. Matthew in a church, even one accompanied by denunciations of the Jews. This is not a Passion play performed in a village green. This is not Ben Hur or The Greatest Story Ever Told. This is a mass entertainment, special effects movie that portrays the crucifixion in unprecedentedly graphic and gruesome terms, which the Gospels DO NOT DO. The Gospels don’t even tell us what Jesus looked like, let alone provide on a giant movie screen a blow by blow account of each tearing of his flesh. Christians should have some understanding of the tremors that Jews feel at that prospect.

That is not to justify the evil haters of Christianity on the secular Jewish left who seek to destroy the Church. But at the same time, Christians who deny the past Christian persecution of Jews and who completely dismiss any concerns that Jews may have about this movie, are not being honest.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 29, 2003 4:45 PM

I thought that Prager’s article was very thoughtful and did an excellent job of explaining why there are uneasy feelings among Jews. That said, the claim that this film will be shown in Muslim countries is quite far-fetched. A more disturbing (and plausible) possibility for its mis-use can be found in Latin America, where anti-Semitic feeling is considerably stronger than in the US, especially among the proponents of “liberation theology.” Mr. Gibson has been quite adamant in his statements that the film is not to be mis-interpreted in this way, which should go far in addressing the very reasonable concerns of a sympathetic critic like Dennis Prager, who is nothing at all like Foxman and his ilk.

Posted by: Carl on October 29, 2003 7:27 PM

Ok, it won’t be shown to Muslims, but to Latin Americans and Hispanic immigrants in the U.S., among whom there has been, as has been frequently noted recently, increasing anti-Semitism.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 29, 2003 7:57 PM

It is ridiculous and un-true to say that Muslims have no respect for their prophet and messenger Jesus Christ (Peace be upon him P.U). The name Jesus (P.U) is mentioned more than any prophet’s name in the Quran. To be a Muslim you have to believe in Jesus Christ (P.U) , his message of peace and the bible as it was reviled to him. Please go and read the Quran to determine the real story of Jesus (P.U) and his message of peace. Please note that Phrophet Mohamed (P.U) led all prophets including Jesus (P.U.) in a prayer in Jerusalem in the night of Assra and Merage. The Mel Gibson movie “the passion” does not prorate the real story of Jesus Christ (P.U) as it was reviled in the Holy Quarn. Jesus Christ’s story (P.U) in the Quran is a story of peace and love which is missing in Palestine, the middle east the rest of the world.

Posted by: Assed on February 25, 2004 12:31 AM

Moslems are always boasting of how “We don’t reject Judaism and Christianity, we respect them, because we regard Abraham and Jesus etc. as prophets.” This is false. The Moslems do not honor the Israelite and Christian revelations; rather, they _incorporate_ them into Islam, turning Abraham, Jesus, etc. into Moslem prophets. They thus _eliminate_ Judaism and Christianity as Judaism and Christianity and turn them into something else.

This fits the overall totalitarian nature of Islam, which must by its very nature and mission take over everything that exists.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on February 25, 2004 12:52 AM

Lawrence Auster wrote:

Moslems are always boasting of how “We don’t reject Judaism and Christianity, we respect them, because we regard Abraham and Jesus etc. as prophets.” This is false. The Moslems do not honor the Israelite and Christian revelations; rather, they _incorporate_ them into Islam, turning Abraham, Jesus, etc. into Moslem prophets. They thus _eliminate_ Judaism and Christianity as Judaism and Christianity and turn them into something else.

This fits the overall totalitarian nature of Islam, which must by its very nature and mission take over everything that exists.

Mr. Auster, instead of expending so much energy propagating a false understanding of Islam, it would be much better if you simply tried, and I mean just tried a little to understand Islam and the Quran. On the face of it, without a proper understanding of the meanings in the Quran, it is very easy misinterpret, especially by those who are looking to misintepret the Quran for personal or political agenda. Just as an example, your claim that Muslims turn Abraham, Jesus etc. into a Muslim prophets makes it sound like you are trying prove that Islam is a totalitarian religion. If you bothered to investigate, you would understand that Quran states the same message that came to Abraham and Jesus. The only difference is that the Quran hasn’t been adulterated by mankind, unlike the Torah and the Gospels. Going back to my point about the Quran conveying the same message as that of Abraham and Jesus. Assume for a minute that is true. By extension, that would mean that Judaism, Christianity and Islam are the same religion with the same principles and beliefs. If Judaism today, or Christianity today reflected the original messages conveyed by Abraham and Jesus, Muslims would have no problems being called Jews or Christians. That is because Muslims are concerned first and foremost with following the letter of the law when it comes to the Quran, the unadulterated message of God. We also believe that every child born, whether he or she be to Christian parents,or Jewish parents, or Hindu parents, they are Muslims at birth. It is only when they have been taught the wrong message or let’s say distorted message of God, that they take on a relgious denomination of one type or the other. It is precisely because Abraham and Jesus conveyed the same message as Prophet Mohammad, that they are called Muslims. At the end of the day, please try not to get hung up on the nomenclature used to refer to the prophets. Understand instead that we as Muslims are more concerned about following the one and only true message, which by virtue of being the ‘ONE’ message, was (and is for all intents) common and identical to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In short the message was all of mankind, not just for the Jews, or Christians, or Muslims.

Posted by: Ziad on February 25, 2004 4:32 PM

It is a true fact that Islam is based on the teaching of the Jesus (P.U) and past prophets mentioned in the bible and Torah. However, through the control of the media, the Zionist movement in the west is trying their damn hard to mislead Christians to believe that Muslims do not believe in Jesus and that Islam is an alien religion. Through history, Jewish and Christian communities (people of the book as they are referred to in the Holy Quran) were respected and protected within the larger Muslim community. Having over one billion Muslims (and growing) in the world makes one stop, think and investigate the true message of Islam which is love, fairness, kindness, tolerance and peace. Please stop the bigotry, lies and hatred.

Posted by: Assed on February 25, 2004 10:52 PM
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