Gibson Film Challenges Christian-Jewish Relations

February 12, 2004

February 12, 2004 -  New York - The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson's soon-to-be released film about the last 12 hours of Jesus' life, could represent a disturbing setback to the remarkable achievements in Christian-Jewish relations over the past 40 years, the American Jewish Committee reiterated today.
AJC's interreligious experts viewed the film last month and emerged deeply troubled by its anti-Jewish elements and potential for polarization among people of different faiths.

David Elcott, U.S. director of interreligious affairs, and Rabbi James Rudin, senior interreligious advisor, have been traveling across the U.S. this week to discuss the film at interfaith forums.

"The film reasserts offensive stereotypes about Jews that Catholic and Protestant leaders have overwhelmingly rejected," said Elcott, who was invited to see the movie as a guest of Willow Creek Church in Illinois.

"The movie undermines the sense of community that has existed between Jews and Christians for decades in its unnecessary and destructive imagery of Jews. This film makes it more important than ever for like-minded Christians and Jews to reassert their dedication to promoting interfaith harmony, the hallmark of U.S. religious life," he added.

Foremost among problems with the Gibson film is the inclusion of verse 27:25 from Matthew, the verse that blames Jews for Jesus' death and was repudiated by Vatican II in 1965. The deicide charge was not present in an earlier version of the film, viewed by Rabbi Rudin. "AJC sincerely hopes Gibson follows through on reports that he will remove this verse before the film is released on February 25," Rudin said.

"The presentation of alleged culpability of Jews - and their 'primary responsibility' for the crucifixion of Jesus - has been the core problem of all Passion Plays since their inception during the Middle Ages," he added.

For nearly 100 years, AJC has pioneered the advancement of interreligious mutual understanding and cooperation, and has played a central role in deepening Christian-Jewish relations since Vatican II. "No organization I know in this city, in this country, in this world, has done more to improve Christian-Jewish relations than the American Jewish Committee," said the late Cardinal John Cardinal O'Connor, Archbishop of New York.


Contact: Kenneth Bandler (212) 891-6771

        Lisa Fingeret Roth (212) 891-1385

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