Anti-Semitism in Mel Gibson's Movie, The Passion: Is the Bible Anti-Semitic?
by Rich Deem


The claim has been made that Mel Gibson's Movie, The Passion of the Christ, is anti-Semitic, since it blames the Jews as being responsible for the death of Jesus. It turns out that the movie, The Passion, is quite faithful to the biblical narrative, so, ultimately, the attack is really an attack upon the New Testament.

Does it matter who is to blame?

Rabbis and other Jewish groups have claimed that anti-Semitism in The Passion might lead to a renewal of attacks on Jews for "killing the Christ." There is historic precedence for this concern. During the Middle Ages, "Christians" killed Jews, citing their role in the death of Jesus. Many of Hitler's minions attempted to justify the killing Jews as a way to "purify the Christian race," although it doesn't seem likely that Hitler was a Christian. However, evil men often use religion to justify their immoral actions.

Who really killed Jesus?

Although critics claim that both the movie and the New Testament blame the Jews for the death of Jesus, it is clear from both sources that Jesus was executed by the Romans. In fact, The Passion portrays the Romans as being far more cruel than the Jews, since they actually enjoyed torturing Jesus, whereas the religious leaders were often seen cringing at the violence. Does the sadistic torture of Jesus portrayed in the New Testament make it anti-Roman? Is a movie about the Holocaust anti-German because it says the Germans killed millions of Jews?

If one uses this criteria to determine anti-Semitism, then the Old Testament itself is clearly anti-Semitic, since it claims that the Jewish people themselves killed other prophets of God on a regular basis.1

Does the New Testament blame all the Jews for the death of Jesus? Jesus Himself was Jewish, so one could never make a valid case for "us vs. them." All the original disciples (followers) of Jesus were Jewish. One of them (Judas) betrayed Jesus, but the others said they would follow Him even to their own deaths.2

Although Jesus was compassionate to the poor, the lame, and those who repented of their sins, He had little sympathy for hypocrisy. Many of the religious leaders of Jesus' day liked the limelight, but cared little for the things of God. So, when Jesus, the upstart, told them what God really required of them, they resented that He was telling them what to do. They tried to trap Him with trick questions in order to neutralize His following among the people.3 When His answers outfoxed them, they yearned to kill Him because of the humiliation they had suffered in front of their own people. Maybe Jesus' answers hit too close to home for some of His modern day critics?

Even though the Jewish leaders were implicated as the masterminds behind Jesus' arrest and Roman trial, not all the Jewish leaders were so depicted. In the movie, some of the Jewish religious leaders were shown objecting to the illegal arrest and trial of Jesus. In the New Testament, John cites Nicodemus, a leader among the Pharisees, who secretly came to Jesus to ask theological questions,4 and later brought the spices used in His burial.5 In addition, Joseph of Arimathea, a rich ruler, had become a disciple and provided the tomb in which Jesus was laid.6

The religious elite were not the only ones implicated in the sentencing of Jesus. A crowd had gathered at the Praetorium where Pontius Pilate was questioning Jesus.7 When asked what should be done with Jesus, the crowd's answer was "Crucify Him!"8

The New Testament places blame much more broadly than just at the feet of the Jews. The New Testament says that Jesus died as the sacrificial lamb of God for the sins of the entire world.9 Therefore, all of us are guilty of the blood of Jesus. Mel Gibson understood this well, performing the cameo role of the arm that nailed Jesus to the cross in the The Passion.

Who deserves the blame?

What would have happened if I had been in the crowd the fateful day the sentence was handed down? Would I have just stood there silently and watched as events unfolded? Or would I have been one of the ones shouting "Crucify him!" It's a scary thought. I admit it - I am the guilty one.

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The Passion of the Christ


References Top of page

  1. "Has it not been told to my master what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the LORD, that I hid a hundred prophets of the LORD by fifties in a cave, and provided them with bread and water? (1 Kings 18:13)
    "But they became disobedient and rebelled against Thee, And cast Thy law behind their backs And killed Thy prophets who had admonished them So that they might return to Thee, And they committed great blasphemies. (Nehemiah 9:26)
    Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people and said to them, "Thus God has said, 'Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He has also forsaken you.'" So they conspired against him and at the command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the LORD. (2 Chronicles 24:20-21)
  2. Peter said to Him, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You." All the disciples said the same thing too. (Matthew 26:35)
  3. Then the Pharisees went and counseled together how they might trap Him in what He said. (Matthew 22:15)
    And they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Him, in order to trap Him in a statement. (Mark 12:13)
  4. Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Him by night, and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." (John 3:1-2)
  5. And Nicodemus came also, who had first come to Him by night; bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. (John 19:39)
  6. And when it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given over to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away. (Matthew 27:57-60)
    Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. (Mark 15:43)
    And behold, a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man (he had not consented to their plan and action), a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God; this man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. (Luke 23:50-52)
    And after these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. He came therefore, and took away His body. (John 19:38)
  7. Pilate therefore entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus, and said to Him, "Are You the King of the Jews?" (John 18:33)
  8. And answering again, Pilate was saying to them, "Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?" And they shouted back, "Crucify Him!" But Pilate was saying to them, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify Him!" (Mark 15:12-14)
  9. The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)
    For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; (1 Peter 3:18)
    It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. (1 Timothy 1:15)
Last Modified August 13, 2004


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