The Passion Revisited

The Passion is a quite a controversial film so i thought i would weigh in with a few comments. As I mentioned before, I believe the Passion is a good movie, but a few things bothered me. First of all I was sad that when they came to arrest Jesus they negected the part where the guards were knocked to the ground out of fear.

[Jn 18:4] Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” [5] “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) [6] When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. [7] Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” [8] “I told you that I am he,” Jesus answered. “If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” — NIV

If you want, you can see this scene in the Gospel of John that came out last year in theaters and is now on DVD. A few of the other “signs” of Christ’s authority were a bit “underdone” i my opinion. I think that the actions of Christ against the backdrop of such “signs” as the sky going black led some people to agree with the one thief and the centurion watching the crucifixion:

[Lk 23:47] The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” — NIV God seems to like to have a few people that see and can attest to the Truth amid the normal sea of people blinded to it.

I also thought Mel’s Catholic influence was pretty oblivious. Mary (the Virgin) had a prominant role in the picture and almost possessed special powers. I was glad when she was depicked as hesitant and then motherly — which restored much of her human qualities. I also like the ironic statement of Simon from Cyrene (Mt 27:32) who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross: “Just rememeber that I am an innocent man forced to carry the cross of a criminal”.

Finally the 2 hot button topics of the movie. First the anti-semitism claim about the movie. This is ludicrous. A) Historically: The Jews and the Romans did kill Christ, but Jesus prayed for their forgiveness: [Lk 23:34] Jesus said “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” And since he was the one wronged, i don’t believe his followers can claim any greivence — nor did they as the Jews were only Christians until Paul came along. B) Rationally: Jews killing another Jew anti-semitic? It’s just plain silly.

Secondly, the violence – specifically the scourging. I completely agree that the scourging was excessive, over the top, and beyond what actually happend 2000 years ago. But I think that this was done on purpose and I’ll tell you why. As I mentioned before the point of this movie was the emotional response to the happenings of the cross. Unfortunately the modern audience has little experience with crucifixion and while it is one of the worst ways that you can possibly die – it is difficult visually to portray this. When someone is crucified, they actually die of suffication. A more detailed account is outlined below:

Religious iconography of crucifixion scenes often misrepresents some of the details. For one thing, victims were usually stripped naked. More significantly, the nails are driven through the wrists, not the hands, because the weight of the victim’s body would shred the hands and allow the victim to fall off the cross maimed but not dead. Usually, the nails were reinforced by lengths of rope tying the arms to the cross. The feet were similarly pierced just below the ankles.

While you might think that the pain and blood loss associated with this process would be the cause of death, that is not the case, a fact which will become important in some of the subsequent discussion.

The cause of death in most crucifixions is actually suffocation. The victim has enough stability where the feet are nailed down to hold his body up (most victims were males). When the victim relaxes his legs and sags, the weight of his body drags the chest and shoulders down, hyperextending the arms and preventing him from breathing.

Despite the hopelessness of his plight and the excruciating pain caused by every movement, the human body is hard-wired to draw breath by whatever means necessary, even when it doesn’t make sense (which is why you can’t kill yourself by holding your breath).

Therefore, when the crucifixion victim sags and can’t breathe, a virtually undeniable instinct causes them to straighten their legs in order to draw a breath. This causes excruciating pain. The process then repeats. Done properly, it can take days for a crucifixion victim to die.

The Romans popularized (if that’s the word) crucifixion by the time of Christ as a punishment for rebellious slaves, political criminals and really, really bad guys. Crucifixion was particularly effective in sending a message to seditious populations concerning the likely fate of those who [mess] with authority.

In Jerusalem around the time of Christ, the population was particularly seditious and the governor, Pontius Pilate, was a particularly bloodthirsty guy by many accounts. This resulted in a fair number of crucifixions, which took place on a very visible hill overlooking the city, Calvary. Victims were required to carry their crosses through the city to Calvary, just to make sure no one missed the point. —

Unable to accurrately portray this brutal death, I believe the flogging was extended to still arrive at an appropriate emotional response in the audience. One other comment on this: the Romans were actually quite skilled at beating someone within an inch of their life.