Once the script was written (in English), Gibson brought in a Jesuit scholar who specializes in Aramaic and Latin — the Rev. William Fulco of Loyola Marymount University — to translate. Fulco also offered technical advice and occasionally served as chaplain for the cast and crew.This article from newsobserver.com of January 21 fills in a little more:
Fulco became aware of Gibson's more conservative views, but the priest says it never bothered him.
"My viewpoint is that the church is a very big tree in which many colorful birds make their nests. And Mel is a pretty colorful bird."
TERRY MATTINGLY: The passion of Mel Gibson
Jesuits rarely receive frantic calls from Hollywood megastars rushing to finish movies that are causing media firestorms. But the Rev. William Fulco is getting used to it, as Mel Gibson completes his cathartic epic, "The Passion of the Christ."The latter comments echo Crossan's (previous blog entry).
While mixing dialogue the other day, Gibson hit a scene in which a man standing at a door lacked something to say. The director needed a line - right now. Fulco's first question was unique to this project: Was this character supposed to speak Latin or first-century Aramaic? "Mel said the camera was not on the speaker's face, so we did not need to synchronize what he said with the movements of his mouth," said Fulco, who translated the screenplay into the two ancient languages, with English subtitles.
"The character needed to say something in Aramaic in the ballpark of, 'What do you want?' So I had him say in rather colloquial early Aramaic, 'MAH? MAH BA'EH?' That is literally, 'What? What wanting?'" That worked.
It has been nearly two years since Fulco answered the telephone and heard a strange voice blurt out: "Hey, Padre! It's Mel!" Gibson's proposal was unusual, but fit the Jesuit's skills as a professor of ancient Mediterranean studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Fulco began digging into Hebrew texts seeking the roots of the now-dead Aramaic language, while simultaneously exploring dialects such as Syriac spoken today in tiny Christian enclaves in Iran, Syria and Turkey.
He also stepped into heated academic debates between those who favor a more Italian-friendly Latin and those who reject this approach.
"I'm getting hate mail about Latin pronunciations," said Fulco. "On guy wrote who was angry about what he called 'these ecclesiastical bastardizations' of the Latin. Not only was he going to boycott the movie, he said he was going to call his high-school Latin teacher and tell her to boycott the movie as well. ... I have to keep reminding people: This is not a documentary. We had to make artistic choices."