November 14, 2019 — Oberammergau, Germany
An Academic Advisory Group, established by American Jewish Committee (AJC) to engage constructively with Oberammergau Passion Play leadership, visited the German village this week to discuss the 2020 production.
The group was organized to recommend, through ongoing dialogue, pathways by which the play’s leadership can further advance a decades-long process to rid the play of any lingering anti-Jewish tropes. In March, the Academic Advisory Group conducted a full-day consultation with the play’s leadership in New Jersey. The site visit this week in Oberammergau enabled a review of costumes and set designs, in addition to script language.
First performed in 1634, the Oberammergau Passion Play was long notorious as a genre exemplar that perpetuated classic Christian accusations against Jews, particularly the deicide charge; promoted Christianity as superseding Judaism; and portrayed Jews in costume and in word as greedy, bloodthirsty, devilish, and legalistic.
With the promulgation of Nostra Aetate and other Christian documents that transformed Christian understanding of Jews and Judaism, and under pressure from Jewish organizations in the post-Holocaust era, change came to Oberammergau, albeit slowly.
Modifications accelerated dramatically under the leadership of Christian Stückl, a four-time director of the decennial play that is seen by a half million people and emulated by Passion Plays around the world. In addition to ridding the play of many of the most flagrant anti-Jewish abuses, Stückl introduced a Jewish Jesus who teaches Torah, pursues social justice, and leads his community in prayer.
The Academic Advisory Group is led by Rabbi Noam Marans, AJC’s Director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations, and includes experts in Christian-Jewish relations, New Testament studies, German-Jewish relations, and the Oberammergau Passion Play. In addition to Marans, the Advisory Group’s members are: Rabbi Dr. David Fine, Temple Israel, Ridgewood, New Jersey and Abraham Geiger College, Berlin, Germany; Rev. Dr. Peter Pettit, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Davenport, Iowa and emeritus director, Muhlenberg College Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding; Dr. Adele Reinhartz, University of Ottawa; and Rabbi Dr. David Sandmel, Director of Interreligious Engagement, ADL.
The Academic Advisory Group is committed to constructive engagement with Stückl and his team, with a focus on historically accurate portrayals of Roman and Jewish leadership and power in the first century C.E., and elimination of any lingering negative characterizations of Jews and Judaism, which should no longer be part of 21st century Christian representations.
“We have found a receptive partner in Christian Stückl and plan to advise him as he continues to direct an Oberammergau Passion Play transformation,” said Marans. “We will share our constructive criticisms, as appropriate.”
In advance of the 2020 play, AJC launched a dynamic website, https://www.ajc.org/OberammergauPassionPlay, that introduces visitors to a Christian-Jewish relations perspective on the play, answers frequently asked questions, and houses diverse resources on the subject.