The Passion of The Christ: Who Is This Suffering Jewish Man?

Films on the life of Christ have surfaced regularly, often creating minor ripples in the West, while sometimes fomenting a massive spiritual outbreak in developing nations. Campus Crusade for Christ International (our parent organization) has distributed, in cooperation with more than 1,500 agencies and denominations, *the JESUS film to 236 nations in 848 languages. Similarly, Dayspring International's film on the life of Christ produced in India with Indian actors, has made film evangelism history as well. Last fall, Visual Bible International released a movingly immediate film, The Gospel of John, in theaters across North America to a muted but positive critical response and became a "surprising box office hit" ( Other recreations and dramatizations of the Gospels have made their splash and moved onto shelves.

No celluloid-based account of Christ, however, has created the whirlwind of controversy that Mel Gibson's, The Passion of The Christ has—save perhaps The Last Temptation of Christ, but negative response to that film arose from Christian quarters. Some Jewish (and a handful of liberal Christian) observers have objected to a supposedly anti-semitic tone and message in The Passion of The Christ. This charge surprises many, including actor and director Gibson himself. Much of the conversation, centered on the reaction of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and other critics, began far in advance of even preview screenings of the movie. In fact several critics, among them ADL President Abe Foxman, had still not seen the film at this writing, according to widely respected Jewish movie critic Michael Medved. Medved, along with evangelical-friendly Rabbi Daniel Lappin, have called the Jewish community to account for the unwarranted "hysteria" surrounding The Passion of The Christ. They also criticize what they see as the moral illegitimacy of those Jews who decry all things perceived as anti-Jewish but who have remained mute when Christians—Catholics, like Gibson—the kind of victimization by Hollywood that they now claim for themselves (see Crucifying Mel Gibson below). In fact, Gibson has made numerous attempts to include Jewish religious leaders in the process of reviewing and even rewriting the script.

However, this is not to imply that such fear of anti-semitism arises out of a vacuum or has been manufactured by overly sensitive Jewish religionists. In the words of  Larry Poland (see article below), "Over the centuries, no other ethnic group on the planet has been more consistently and viciously persecuted." And renditions of Christ's passion were, at times, used against Jews. Hitler leveraged the world-famous passion play at Oberammergau, Germany to rally popular opinion against the "Christ-killers." As Poland and others point out, an out-of-context reading of the Gospel of John can easily be misconstrued as blaming the entire ethnicity ("the Jews") for Christ's death, when in fact, along with some power-hungry Jewish religious leaders, the Romans were complicit in Jesus' death. More to the point, Christ claimed to lay down His own life only to "take it up again" in that same Gospel of John, and "no one takes it from Me," he added. The Jewish Messiah Himself didn't want the act held against the ones of all ethnicities who, to paraphrase, knew not what they did.

The clash of opinion has accomplished one important coup for the film: normally, it is rare for awareness of yet unreleased movies to top three to four percent. Public awareness of The Passion of The Christ recently surpassed 38 percent. The buzz is hard to miss. In our Special Focus, we seek to touch on:

Regardless of the controversy, deeper questions remain:

Please share this Special Focus with others and let us know your questions or opinions through LU-Feedback.

*JESUS, a historically accurate rendering of the entire Gospel of Luke has been viewed by an estimated 5.6 billion people and often results in acknowledgement of Christ as personal Savior and creation of new churches. Up-to-date statistics here:

—Leadership University Editor/Webmaster, Byron Barlowe


Featured Articles: Responses to Charge of Anti-Semitism in the Film The Passion of the Christ

Is The Passion of Jesus Anti-Semitic?
Larry W. Poland, Ph.D.
A heartfelt, well-informed and balanced view of the debate on The Passion of the Christ and its storyline by Hollywood and New York media insider Larry Poland, who personally knows many Jewish and Christian media professionals. In question and answer format, includes "Why would anyone think the portrayal of Jesus’ suffering might be anti-Jewish?", "Who, in fact, did kill Jesus?", "How could some Jewish people and some Christians differ so widely in the message they see in Mel Gibson’s film?" and more. Goes well beyond the controversy to the meaning behind the story.

Are the Passion and Easter Stories Really Anti-Semitic?
Ben Witherington III
In their original context, troubling verses found in the New Testament Gospels are seen to reflect a vigorous intra-Jewish debate, not first-century anti-Semitism.

Crucifying Mel Gibson
Michael Medved
Jewish movie critic Medved sets the record straight and challenges his fellow American Jews. "The Passion of the Christ is an audacious work of art that represents by far the most compelling cinematic adaptation of a Biblical story ever attempted in Hollywood. Opposition to the film is built on a combination of hysteria, misunderstandings, and sheer malice."

Jewish Jesus of History

Who was this Jesus who started a spiritual movement that thrives today on every continent with millions of followers around the world? We sample a few historical perspectives.

Jesus the Jew
Jonathan Went
Bible scholar Jonathan Went surveys the search for the "historical Jesus" and discusses the Jewishness of Jesus Christ.

Who Is Jesus? What Is His Passion?
Presentation of the life of Christ in many languages; companion to the compact disc (CD) of the same name. Contents include: Discover the passion of Christ; What were people saying before he was born? Why he died; What did he have to say about himself? Miracles he performed; How he's influenced the world and What this has to do with your life.

History and Timeline of Jesus
Jesus Institute
"Helping people of all cultural and spiritual backgrounds learn more about the person of Jesus." Contains timelines before during and after Jesus' earthly career, plus information the cultural context of His day and a brief life summary.

"Did Jesus Really Die on the Cross?"
Kundan Massey
One item of dispute between Muslims (and other skeptics) and Christians for centuries has been whether Jesus really died a death of crucifixion. Middle Easterner Kundan Massey discusses Qur'anic and biblical passages to point out that Christ did indeed experience a meaningful death, as prophecied, on a foreigner's cross.

LeadershipU Special Focus: Who is the True Jesus? Islamic & Christian Views
Edited by Byron Barlowe
The claim that Jesus is a Person of the Triune God as portrayed in the Bible is considered blasphemous by Islamic teaching. Even the claim of Christ's crucifixion is disputed by Muslims. Yet, Christians maintain the historical veracity of Jesus' claims to deity and the proof of an actual crucifixion and resurrection. In Islam, Jesus is revered, but not divine; God reveals information about Himself, not Himself as a knowable Person. These are significantly contrasting truth-claims. Which is the correct position, historically and theologically? Note: Unfortunately, the featured debate is temporarily not being streamed. We are working to address this - please check back in coming weeks.

Knowing God

Is there a God? Can God be known? Is Jesus necessary to knowing God? If Jesus is God and He suffered, what can suffering mean?

Especially for those who don't believe in God or in a higher being that (or who) can be known. Intriguing final installment in a series that strips down basic assumptions of existence to the simplest of terms in an effort to answer the question, "How has God become known to us?" Requires time to digest the philosphical implications put in everyday language.

Why Pick the God of the Bible?
Is there an ideal God? One who meets criteria that many of us would consider important for a God? Is it possible that the God described in the Bible is that God? If you are curious, read on...

The Artful Dodger: I'd like to know God, but why do I need Jesus?
Dr. Alan Scholes
Chapter 3 of Dr. Alan Scholes book, The Artful Dodger, the story of one skeptic's confrontation with Christian beliefs. This chapter examines the questions: "Why did Jesus die?" "Why should it make any difference to me?"

Looking for God: The Spiritual Quest of Generation X
Rick Wade
The atheism of modern times is becoming passe. Young people know there is a God; they just don't know who He is. This article introduces the God of the Bible.

What is Life@Large ?
Alliant Studios
Knowing God personally through His Son, Jesus Christ, is explained step-by-step in this Flash! presentation.

The Glory of His Discontent
Don Hudson
Hudson challenges believers to enter into suffering, reality, as God does. "I do not believe in a God who merely observes our tragedies with a cold reserve. I believe instead, that he is a God who participates in our sufferings while we participate in his suffering of the cross. Does heaven really cancel out the suffering of the moment? Should we use the future to remove us from the present, or should the future increase the yearning for the day of the Lord?"

The Imitation of Christ (from Book 2: The Interior Life)
Thomas à Kempis
Chapter title: "Few Love the Cross of Jesus." For five hundred years, this gentle book, filled with the spirit of the love of God, has brought understanding and comfort to millions of readers in over fifty languages, and provided them with a source of heart-felt personal prayer. These meditations on the life and teachings of Jesus, written in times even more troubled and dangerous than our own, have become second only to the Bible as a guide and inspiration. It is available in its entirety in a modern translation that retains the flavor of the traditional English translation.

The Imitation of Christ (from Book 4: An Invitation to the Holy Communion)
Thomas à Kempis
Chapter Title: "The Offering of Christ on the Cross; Our Offering." For five hundred years, this gentle book, filled with the spirit of the love of God, has brought understanding and comfort to millions of readers in over fifty languages, and provided them with a source of heart-felt personal prayer. These meditations on the life and teachings of Jesus, written in times even more troubled and dangerous than our own, have become second only to the Bible as a guide and inspiration. It is available in in its entirety in its entirety in a modern translation that retains the flavor of the traditional English translation.

Personal Stories of Some of Christ's Followers

Nothing speaks to our souls like the real-life stories of those who have experienced something spiritually transforming. Here are the stories of some, from former adherants to other religions to former homosexuals and others, who met a historical Person named Jesus Christ in this modern day.

Real Life:What It Is and Where to Find It
Various authors
Have you ever felt there must be something more to life? Have you wondered if you could move from a life of merely existing into a life with real purpose, fulfillment and acceptance? Here are some straightforward accounts that talk about real life and God's role in it.

Does Christianity Work?
Josh McDowell
I longed to be happy. I wanted to be one of the happiest people in the entire world. I also desired meaning in life. I was looking for answers to the questions: "Who am I?"; "Why in the world am I here?"; and "Where am I going?"

World Religions Index: Personal Pages
Personal stories from people who have experienced a wide variety of world religions and religious philosophies.

Stonewall Revisited Personal Pages
Various former homosexuals
The Stonewall riots live in the lore of the homosexual rights movement as a watershed. Here read the personal accounts of those who have "come out" of the gay lifestyle to find something - really Someone - better. and LeadershipU: Online Faculty Offices
Various believing professors
Who says smart people don't believe in Jesus? These several dozen professors represent multiple thousands who do. Read their stories (note: not all Faculty Offices contain a Personal Story, but all of these scholars profess faith in Christ).

Other Sites Explore the Passion
New site being updated constantly. Contains True or False section on Christ, discuss the movie (discussion board and live chat), experience the passion of christ and more. Reach out through The Passion of The Christ
New site containing these sections: materials, media, mentoring, prayer, interactive ministry, training events and more, including a discussion board for those ministering via the film.

Official Film Site: The Passion of The Christ
Newmarket Films / Icon Productions
The official site for the film directed by Mel Gibson, The Passion of the Christ. Commentators and critics are already speaking of the power of the film as "an experience," and several testified of quiet sobbing and stunned silence as the reaction.

The Passion of The Christ Materials
Materials for outreach available free of charge. "Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ will be one of the most influential films in history. Never before have the final hours of Christ's life been so vividly portrayed. Be a part of this monumental film release by ordering one of the officially licensed Fan Packs." Large group materials available, as well.