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Thread: The Passion of the Christ

  1. #46
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    New light on old subject

    I listened with great interest today to John Dominic Crossan, Biblical scholar and authority on the crucifixion. I would highly recommend anyone who is remotely interested in this subject to check out the following.

    Go to NPR.com; click on the left side link to Fresh Air; when that page comes up, click on the left side link to "Today's Program" (this being thursday, April 1st and this is no joke). You will need one of the players (like Windows Media or Real Player) to listen. Crossan completely debunks the entire crucifixion process, including the resurrection (an integral part of christianity). His knowledge is astounding. I found the program quite enlightening.
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  2. #47
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    John Crossan is certainly an eminent and learned scholar in New Testament Studies, though also a very idiosyncratic one too. He is a member of the Jesus Seminar, a group of intellectuals, which incidentally includes director Paul Verhoeven, who have as one of their major programs the goal of discovering the "historical" Jesus. This group is well-known for their process of deciding authentic sayings of Jesus with beads in a bag. As is true of any scholar, but particularly true of the Jesus Seminar, there is a definite, noticeable ideological grid that informs their work and people should become aware of that grid in order to assess their work and contributions. Ideology is always a part of any research; no research is value-free.

    Personally, I disagree with Crossan's particular views on the resurrection. He speciously dates some canonical and non-canonical Gospels at substantially different times than a majority of scholars in the field. These decisions seem more to reflect his own idiosyncracies rather than an argument of evidence. Also, I believe he, and the Jesus Seminar, place far too much weight on the Gospel of Thomas. These points lead him, in my opinion, to reach some false conclusions. In his books, articles, public lectures, and television appearances, he fashions an interesting counter-story to the crucifixition and resurrection that rests on considerably less evidence than the Christian story rests; it is complete conjecture albeit conjecture of the most educated and erudite kind, but still in the final analysis conjecture. It is noteworthy that all the Jesus scholars that take part in the Jesus Seminar and have written books on the "historical" Jesus have completely different accounts!

    The resurrection as an historical event rests on some pretty substantial proofs, which I have yet to see a scholar who denies the resurrection adequately address, including Crossan:

    (1) Textual support - The resurrection is documented in at least three independent text traditions, which were all likely written in the 1st century: the Letters of Paul (especially 1 Corinthinians), the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and the Gospel of John. In addition to these major textual sources, there are many more that mention the resurrection but they are likely derivative and dependent on at least one of these three earlier traditions. As any historian, particularly of the ancient world, can attest, there are few events that have left us with such a wealth of documentation. Three independent sources also provides a very good number to be able to measure and evaluate the ideological tendencies of each and the possible exaggerations or embellishments made by each. The textual evidence, when analyzed as dispassionately as possible, is remarkably solid. Certainly, there are events presented as "fact" in many ANE and Classical history textbooks that rely on less textual evidence that is just as, if not more so, a product of religious/political propaganda or ideology, e.g. events mentioned in the Assyrian annals, Babylonian chronicles, or the classical historiography of Herodotus, Thucydides, and others.

    (2) The Socio-Religious Phenomenon of the Development of Christianity - Unlike any other major religion, Christianity claims that its tenets are based on a historical person who claimed to be God. Christianity also makes the unique assertion that this person died and then rose to life. Although some mystery religions of the Hellenistic world have loosely analogous traditions, it is important to note that none of these religions were based on historical personages nor did these mystery religions survive beyond, at most, a few centuries. On the other hand, Christianity not only survived, it thrived for three centuries before it became the official religion of Constantine's Roman Empire. It is hard to account for the rise of Christianity, given its distinctive claims, if no resurrection occurred. The martyrdom of many of the historical witnesses to the resurrection on account of their refusal to deny the event and the trans-Mediterranean, trans-cultural, trans-class growth of Christianity are compelling and unique socio-religious phenomena. Also, it is worth noting, admittedly as an argument from silence, that the claims could have been easily refuted but no Roman or Jewish source, even when these sources address the "problem" of Christianity or specifically the person of Jesus, does so in any significant way.

    (3) Historical Witness, including Contemporary Witness, to Appearances of Jesus - Although I'm not presently aware of any scientific, psychological, or sociological study that attempts to catalogue and evaluate the history of alleged appearances of Jesus (and so I don't claim this point to be on par with the first two points or in any way an authoritative, definitive point), there is considerable anecdotal evidence that this has taken place throughout history, right up to the present day. While some might want to immediately appeal to Elvis sightings as a parallel phenomenon, I have a sense that the appearances of Jesus probably have a considerably more impressive and thus reliable genealogy. From my reading and interactions, I have noticed that these claims originate from persons in nearly every social class, people who originally were believers as well as people who claim that they were members of other religions (including nominal affiliations, atheists, and agnostics) prior to the appearance, and persons from nearly every part of the world in urban as well as rural settings. Some appearances have been alleged to occur not only to individuals but also groups. As with many disciples of Jesus in the 1st century, some of the people who have claimed to have witnessed an appearance of Jesus have died as a result of that conviction. I personally know one person (whom I trust) who claims to have seen and spoken with Jesus: my brother-in-law's twin brother, a man I have no reason to doubt and who attributes his conversion to this appearance.

    Of course, all this said, no proof can exist that would decisively *prove* the resurrection, short of an appearance of Jesus to a universal audience. But, as historical events go, the resurrection is on fairly solid ground; there is little more that one could expect to have as proof. Cinemabon, if you are willing to consider the pro-resurrection argument from a point of view as skilled and erudite as Crossan's, I would suggest reading the scholarly work of Raymond Brown, The Death of the Messiah, and N.T. Wright, Jesus and The Victory of God. Neither book is perfect but than is there a perfect book? Both books however are wonderfully written, thoughtfully argued, balanced, and take on among other scholars, Crossan and the Jesus Seminar.
    Last edited by anduril; 04-01-2004 at 07:59 PM.
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  3. #48
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    One more thing about the Jesus Seminar scholars that is important to point out... their research begins with the a priori assumption that miracles do not happen and therefore the resurrection can not have occured. In other words, they reject the possibility of the resurrection before they even start the debate. But, as soon as the possibility of miracles is admitted, then one must necessarily admit at least the possibility of the resurrection. Miracles, however, are by definition unverifiable and, as such, they can only ever be documented, nothing more.
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    There's a spirituality in films, even if it's not one which can supplant faith
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  4. #49
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    Crossan's comments in the NPR interview on Mel's movie are spot on. I agree with him wholeheartedly. I quite enjoyed listening to that interview; there's some personal information about him in there that I had only vaguely known about. Thanks for the heads up.
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    There's a spirituality in films, even if it's not one which can supplant faith
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  5. #50
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    I wouldn't begin to refute your arguements as they are just too extensive and probably inappropriate for this forum on FILM! (Obviously, there are others who have strong opinions on religion as well, and not just Mr. Crossan!) However, I would advice readers of this ongoing mish-mash to keep an open mind. What scholars consider truth one year has often been disputed the next when new proof arrives on the scene (i.e. a little theory called evolution!). As we begin to learn more about the time when Jesus lived, it becomes apparent that we are just plain uninformed about what life was like in Palestine where he lived. I would also be so bold to add that the Bible is not journalism but a historic representation of religion based on symbolism. There are inherent dangers when anyone takes writing meant to teach and converts it into "truth", as many scholars will also agree. I, too, studied philosophy and religion at college. However, my instructor warned us on the very first day, that if we believe the Bible was the factual account of actual events as they occurred, we might as well close our books and take another class. Religion is based on the passions that men (and women) feel about God. Everyone feels that only their religious point of view is the most correct, or else why would we have wars based on religion that go back to the beginning of mankind?

    Our purpose here is a forum for film and film criticism, not philosophy about whether Christ existed, or could walk on water, or even float away into the clouds where "Heaven" was supposed to exist. Our purpose, or at least I thought our purpose, was to express our views on film. I for one, cannot stand a filmmaker who exploits a book like the Bible and claims to have a great passion for its work. But I guess he is the one who is laughing all the way to the bank.
    Colige suspectos semper habitos

  6. #51
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    I more or less agree with alot of what you've written... though, I have a slightly different perspective on some of the conclusions. On the matter of how to read the Bible, I've discussed this in the Bible Questions thread in the Lounge at some length. On the matter of scholarly knowledge, knowledge doesn't change that drastically that frequently cinemabon... scholars are always learning but the contours of our knowledge have not changed so significantly, especially in biblical studies, as to make the present consensus on the "historical" Jesus, e.g., that radically different from past consensus nor are we so completely ignorant of what life was like in Palestine. Even though Crossan and I, e.g., have some very different views on the resurrection, we would actually agree about a lot. The study of history, while not a science, is still possible and still productive.

    Incidentally, I'd point out that you introduced the "non-film topic" by bringing up Crossan and his refutation of the resurrection. I simply responded to what you had written. In any case, I don't think it is inappropriate to discuss the philosophical or religious topics that relate to a film in these threads. If film has value, it is in large part due to its ability to provoke such discussion.
    Last edited by anduril; 04-06-2004 at 11:06 AM.
    http://anduril.ca/movies/

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  7. #52
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    Here is my review

    PASSION OF THE CHRIST

    In times of great change, people's religious beliefs often become polarized, veering toward either extreme fundamentalism or very personal experience. Over the past few decades, a spiritual movement has arisen that encourages people to look inward for truth rather than relying on external authorities. Now Mel Gibson has countered with the Passion of the Christ, a powerful but bombastic film that restates, in excessively graphic terms, fundamentalist Christian beliefs about how the death of Jesus atoned for the sins of mankind. The film chronicles the accusation of blasphemy from the Jewish high priests to the trial overseen by Roman governor Pontius Pilate and Jesus' eventual crucifixion at the hands of the Romans at Golgotha, while restricting the message of his teachings to a few unconvincing sound bites. We are shown, in explicit detail, Jesus being whipped, scourged, mocked, spat on, getting spikes driven through his hands and feet, and left to die on the cross. Use of the original tongues of Aramaic and Latin add realism, while special effects such as female demons, satanic children, and a sinister figure screaming at the heavens lend a dark and surreal touch, but seem strangely out of place.

    The film opens in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus (James Caviezel) is praying alone, fearful of what he knows is his fate. A black-coated Satan hovers around tempting him to surrender while his disciples have fallen asleep and Judas (Luca Lionello) collects his thirty pieces of silver from the temple guards. The film heats up when Jesus is arrested and hauled before the Sanhedrin High Priest Caiaphas (Mattia Sbragia) to stand trial for blasphemy. In the crowd are Jesus' supporters, including John (Hristo Jivkov), Mary Magdalen (Monica Bellucci) and Mary, beautifully performed by Maia Morgenstern. In touching sequences, the relationship between mother and son is shown in flashbacks from the time Jesus was a child to the present when she runs to help Jesus as he slumps to the ground.

    Unfortunately, every character other than Jesus and his followers is portrayed as bloodthirsty, hysterical, and corrupt, with the exception of Pontius Pilate (Hristo Naumov Shopov) who is depicted, contrary to biblical accounts, as a suffering saint, perplexed and shocked by the crowd's brutality. Whether or not the film is overtly antisemitic is questionable, but passion plays have for centuries reinforced the notion of collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus, and have created a climate for antisemitic acts. At the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1988, bishops issued recommendations urging producers not to show "a teeming mob" calling for Jesus' death. These recommendations are violated in Passion of the Christ, which shows a vacillating Pilate giving in to a bloodthirsty Jewish mob demanding Jesus' crucifixion.

    This is followed by ten minutes of exaggerated blood-soaked violence, as Jesus is tied to a post, whipped with a stick, then sadistically flayed again with a whip that has metal barbs at each end, his flesh torn out by the hooks. When he is finally nailed to the cross in slow motion hammer strokes, we breathe a sigh of relief because emotional numbness has taken over and we know the end is close. Gibson self-servingly describes his film as "the most authentic and biblically accurate film about Jesus' death," and says that he used excessive violence to help us to better understand the sacrifice Jesus made for humanity. This completely ignores the fact that the biblical accounts of the trial are contradictory and do not contain details of the punishment except to say that Jesus was "scourged."

    Whether it "is as it was," or as it never was and never will be, I found Passion to be heavy handed, emotionally draining, and lacking in spiritual feeling. Caviezel's performance is lacking in presence and conviction. Jesus spoke with clarity and eloquence about man's unbreakable connection to his creator, and saw the potential for humanity to live the truth without guilt. In the Beatitudes, Jesus blesses those who hunger and thirst after justice. His intended result was not to incite anger but to enhance our capacity for love and forgiveness. If the purpose of Gibson's film is to stun audiences and encode images deep in our psyche, he has succeeded, yet his legacy may be to damage interfaith relationships and our view of religion as a way of bringing people together.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  8. #53
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    Response to Horard Schumann's review

    I agree with your reading of the movie and would describe it very much the same way; in fact I have (http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?t=267). It would be a shame if James Cazievel's performance lacks conviction because he apparently is a passionate "fire and brimstone" Catholic (whatever precisely that means) and his shared beliefs with Gibson are obviously one of the main reasons why he is in the role of Jesus Christ. It may be that it's simply impossible for Cazievel to have "presence" under the brutal circumstances of the way the movie is staged and shot. He seems to have produced a heroic physical effort, and suffered a dislocated shoulder during the filmiing, I seem to recall. The role was an ordeal. I recommend to anyone seeing the gentler, more truly "Christian" cinematic version, Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Il vangelo secondo Matteo" (Gospel According to Saint Mathew) from 1964 in black and white and otherwise restrained from gore and excess. It's a bit odd; Pasolini's movies always are. But his use of post-neorealist methods lends a simplicity and authenticity to the production that is very touching. Have you ever seen the bumper sticker, "How would Jesus drive?" Well what would Jesus drive? Would he drive a Mercedes SUV with supercharger and 4-wheel drive like Gibson's film, or would he drive a little 1960's Citroen 4C? I think the latter.

    I have been told by an friend who's a Catholic priest in Istanbul that Pilate is a saint in the Armenian church; for, obviously, his attempt to prevent Jesus from being killed; and my clerical friend points out that Pilate is not as negative a figure in the Christian tradition as some of us have been led to believe. I think anduril may have given information on this earlier. The good father also has told me that Gethsemene is traditionally linked with the Garden of Eden, hence the logic of having evil snakes present.

    I agree that Maia Morgenstern is excellent, though I find the flashbacks sketchy and sentimental.

    YOu describe the role the movie is likely to play and the general philosophical and religious issues very well, as is usual in your writing. In my case this movie has only heightened my sense of the combativeness of the three major monotheistic religions and put me off sympathizing with any of them, for the moment anyway. It's really been a huge turnoff, and in that sense it has had the powerful effect it seeks, but the wrong one.

    One can't certainly avoid getting extensively involved in theological issues in discussing any film on this topic, and we have done so. But we shouldn't ever forget that this is a movie and can be judged on how it suceeds as one. In that essential context the cheesy quality of the subsidiary characters, many of whom appear to be standard-issue Cinecittą heavies, is ultimately damning to the quality of the movie, despite all Mel Gibson's personal millions spent. I can think of a lot of ways he could have spent his money better to accomplish Christian goals.

  9. #54
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    Beautifully written

    Your reviews and comments are so intelligent and well thought out that it doesn't leave me with much to add. I personally don't subscribe to any organized religion but, to paraphrase a prominent rabbi, I have a Jewish soul, a Sufi heart, and a Buddhist mind. Besides my wife is a Catholic.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  10. #55
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    Thank you, Sir. May we meet in Sufi heaven.

  11. #56
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    The Passion of the Christ

    It was totally life changing for me! It was very touching! I am very religious & I thought it was great. The graphics were very well done! Perfect!

  12. #57
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    Graphics? You mean the images, the visuals?

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