Friday, February 20, 2004

Two more Passion articles: Caron, Crossan, Zias

There is so much on The Passion of the Christ over the last couple of days -- literally dozens and dozens of articles and opinion pieces -- that I will just select a couple that have drawn my interest. This one was recommended by Zeba Crook on Xtalk:

Our cross to bear
Mel Gibson's movie is anti-Jewish, theologically flawed and historically dubious, says Roman Catholic priest GERALD CARON

Father Gerald Caron is a professor of biblical studies at the Atlantic School of Theology, Halifax and his article is informed and very interesting. Caron is convinced that the film is anti-Jewish but goes on:
This aspect of the film, however, is overshadowed by another issue that I had not expected to find: the gory depiction of the scourging of Jesus. The theology that underlies this depiction makes me shudder. What takes up no more than a few sentences in Luke (22: 63-65 and 23: 22) and half a sentence in John 19: 1 -- Matthew and Mark do not speak of flogging, only of mocking -- unfolds during more than 30 minutes of horrific and disgusting scenes of torture. By comparison, the Crucifixion comes almost as an anti-climax . . . .

. . . . . It is as if the more blood there is, the easier one will be convinced of the love of God. It is this emphasis on the blood and suffering of Jesus that I find so disturbing. The fact that God would require Jesus to pay such a price "for our sins" may say a lot about how Mel perceives our humanity, but what picture of God are we left with -- a loving Creator or a sadistic destroyer?

It is not the quantity of blood and suffering that has redeemed us, but Jesus's death -- crowning a life of "service" as Mark says in 10: 45. It was Jesus's dream of God's reign that led him to the cross -- not the other way round.

It trivializes Jesus's sacrifice to offer such a spectacle of Jesus's Passion and death totally disconnected from his message and life mission . . . . .
Caron also comments on the care necessary with thinking of the film as a particularly accurate historical portrayal, pointing out that there are major roles in the film for Mary the mother of Jesus, who only appears in the passion of John. "Where on earth did Mel get so much information about Jesus's mother?" He also asks about the role given to Satan and the depiction of Judas.

On his Petros Baptist Church Blog, Jim West draws attention to this piece in Mercury News based on interviews with Joe Zias and John Dominic Crossan:

Scholars: Crucifixion portrayal inaccurate

This deals with some of the issues I've been mentioning here about filmic depictions of the crucifixion, and especially the contrast with The Gospel of John, which -- I am suggesting -- was dependent on some of Zias's work in its crucifixion scene:
. . . . . . "If you suspended people by their hands and left their feet free you would kill them within an hour," Zias said. "If you suspended them in a way they couldn't exhale they'd be dead within minutes."

Zias said the question of whether Jesus was nailed to the cross or simply tied to it remains a mystery. "There is no evidence whatsoever he was nailed," he said. "The Gospels say he was crucified and leave it at that."
Well John does also mention nails in the hands (John 20.25-27) which probably makes "no evidence whatsoever" a little too strong.
Zias criticized "The Passion of Christ" for accepting the standard version of three nails being used. He said experiments on cadavers carried out by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages have shown that people hanging with nails through their hands will fall to the ground within a relatively short time, pulled by gravity.

The Gospels suggest it took Jesus three to six hours to die.

"All this is Crucifixion 101," Zias said. "People who study these things understand them. But Gibson ignored them in his film."
I am delighted, though, to see New Testament scholars in the limelight day after day! Suddenly people are listening to what they are saying.

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