Mel, Meet Irineos

[M]ost folks still don't understand what all the fuss is about. So, let's try to be as candid as possible in trying to clarify the potential problems revolving around this sensitive and painful subject.

Gerald A. Honigman

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Diane Sawyer interviewed Mel Gibson about his new film on ABC recently. It was a fairly balanced interview, so any initial fears of a whitewash were put to rest.

But most folks still don't understand what all the fuss is about. So, let's try to be as candid as possible in trying to clarify the potential problems revolving around this sensitive and painful subject.

Are you ready?

"Why do you not hear the words I tell you? It is because you are your father the Devil, and you do your father's deeds." Thus, allegedly, spoke Jesus to the Jews ? not just Pharisees, Priests, etc. ? but to Jews who refused to acknowledge the god-in-the flesh Logos, as John saw Jesus.

After the fall of Jerusalem and the death or dispersion of Jesus' Judean followers, during Judea's revolts for freedom against its Roman conquerors, Paul's ideas and interpretations of a Jesus whom he never knew triumphed.

There were many reasons for this. Certainly, one had to do with a need for the nascent Christian community to quickly dissociate itself from any connection to the Jews and their revolt against the Empire. It was dangerous enough that Jesus had been executed as a rebel against Rome. So that had to be explained away fast.

The first Gospel, Mark ? written in Rome just around the time of the Roman conquest of Judea, Samaria and Gaza ? took care of this problem with the doctrine of the "Pacific Christ." Yet, there is much evidence that Jesus did not simply ignore his people's worldly plight this way. All was not simply to be relegated to a "Heavenly Jerusalem." There has been lots written about this subject by historians of all religious persuasions, by people who truly care about what was actually going on in Judea when Jesus walked Planet Earth.

For an imperfect analogy, picture a revolt by Lithuania against the Soviet Union in its heyday of power, or what it was like to be a partisan resisting the Nazis. Or how the latter would treat any leader preaching support for the coming of a kingdom other than their own during turbulent times.

While the Hebrew Bible, a.k.a. "the Old Testament", can often be discussed, debated, analyzed, etc., attempts to do likewise with the New Testament often run into a roadblock. While scholars may engage in such discussions, rarely does this trickle down to the average church-going Christian.

What comes next is not meant to be an assault on Christianity or to show disrespect to my Christian friends. It is simply an answer to Christianity's libels against Jews who are likely to be subjected to yet more of these problems in a few weeks. In years past, when we tried to answer, we were frequently murdered for our attempts. Visit churches around the world today and you will find statues of a symbolic Jewess with a blindfold covering her eyes - deaf and blind to "the truth" a la John. Those same churches have paintings of Jews stabbing the Host, trying to kill Jesus yet "again." Chaucer's Canterbury Tales tells the story of Little Hugh of Lincoln, whom the Jews caught, killed and bled to prepare their Passover matzoh, or whatever. These are just a few of many religiously-inspired examples of Jew-hatred.

Regardless of how you spin the Gospel of John's words, the masses knew what he meant. One of the first pictures of a Jew in Europe was entitled, "Aaron, Son of the Devil."

Hundreds of years later, Michelangelo placed Devil's horns on his famous sculpture of Moses. It is estimated that such "religious" teaching led to the death of millions of Jews prior to the Holocaust. Name the problem, it was the Jews' fault, be it the plague ("they poisoned the wells"), the economy, disease, drought, defeat in war, etc. Massacres, forced conversions, expulsions, demonization, inquisitions, dehumanization, ghettoization, and the like ? culminating in the Holocaust ? were the legacy of such religious enlightenment. The road to Auschwitz was carefully paved by religious teachings.

And then there's the Gospel of Matthew's version wherein, among other things, Matthew has the Jews gladly taking the blame themselves for Jesus' death: "May his blood be upon us and our children."

Thus were justified the frequent calamities that befell Jews over the centuries, in the eyes of many a follower of Jesus. The very same folks who were most often the perpetrators of those atrocities as well.

Mel Gibson has stated that he originally wanted the blood guilt quote in the film, but is now having second thoughts. In a previous interview, he alleged that if he included it, the Jews would be out to get him.

Poor Mel... Victim of another Jewish conspiracy.

Mel's movie, The Passion, graphically puts on film the problems of the age-old passion plays. In the wake of the latter, those same quotes mentioned above (as well as others) were put into the mouths of blood-thirsty Jews seeking to kill Jesus. And massacres of the "god killers" frequently followed in their wakes.

Wouldn't it be nice if Christians could just get their own theology straight? I thought they believed it was preordained in Heaven that Jesus would die to redeem a sinful world incapable of doing so by itself? That's Paul's teaching, after all; a Jew raised outside of Judea in a Hellenistic world and likely schooled in a philosophy that saw the material world as being hopelessly unredeemable by itself. Given Christianity's problems with getting its own theology straight, it is even more understandable that it refuses to look at these issues through an objective historian's eyes.

But theology and history are frequently not synonymous.

Not only do the Gospels differ among themselves about some very important details, but all Christian doctrines were subjected to the approval of Rome ? the very executioners of Jesus, as well as thousands of other Jews whom they perceived as "trouble makers" ? after the emperor Constantine converted and the Council of Nicaea was convened in 325 C.E.

Versions of Jesus' life ? and interpretations of what that life meant ? that differed from that approved by Rome were banned and destroyed. Judea rose in revolt for its freedom at least two major times against the Empire. Roman historians such as Tacitus and Dio Cassius had plenty to say about this, as did the Roman-sponsored historian, Josephus. What was it like to be a Jew or Jewish leader under such oppressive conditions?

These issues never seem to bother those who simply portray Jews as the villains in the Gospels.

Would they have advised French or Greek partisans in World War II to "render unto Caesar", and settle just for a "Heavenly Jerusalem", forsaking their own worldly freedom? Would they have advised those who dreamed of breaking the yoke of Soviet bondage to do likewise?

And thus, the problem with Mel Gibson's movie.

By all accounts, it is a vivid, graphic portrayal of the events that led to the crucifixion of Jesus and has the Jews ? on screen ? playing their "god killer" role as proclaimed by the Roman-approved Christian canon and doctrine. None of the above context is provided by Gibson in his film. He admitted this in the ABC interview and claimed that it wasn't his job to do so.

Regardless of higher expectations for how the movie will be received, as with John's "Devil Jews," there is plenty of reason to believe that the masses will simply be given even more powerful ammunition to add to their anti-Semitic arsenal.

Now let's turn to a troublesome mix.

In a related development, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Irineos has recently been approved as Patriarch of Jerusalem. Letters from him to Arafat have contained, among other gems, the following:

"You are aware of the... disgust... all the Holy Sepulcher fathers feel for the descendants of the crucifiers of our Lord Jesus... crucifiers of your people... Jewish conquerors of the Holy Land of Palestine."

So, here's where anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism meet - not that there really was much of a difference for most folks anyway. Israel has simply become the Jew of the Nations, frequently treated as none others are and subjected to double standards and hypocrisy even by the "enlightened."

After Auschwitz, it's not politically correct ? at least in many Western circles ? to be an anti-Semite.
Enter anti-Zionism. This is not to say that one must approve of every Israeli policy, but much of the critique of Israel is blatantly unfair.

Ironically, that's how the assimilated Theodore Herzl's vision of Israel reborn emerged in the first place.
Der Judenstat ? The Jewish State ? was written as a result of his covering the infamous Dreyfus Trial in France. It was the rabid anti-Semitism of the "enlightened" segments of society, as well as the peasantry, that convinced people like Theodore Herzl, Leo Pinsker (Autoemancipation), and others that there was no hope other than Zion restored.

Intentional or not, at a time when anti-Semitism is once again on the rise around the world, Mel Gibson ? the scion of Holocaust-denying anti-Semites, while denying to be one himself ? will likely be pouring yet more fuel onto the fires of hatred when his film officially debuts on Ash Wednesday. The date was, ironically, to honor the Christian "Prince of Peace."