A Jesuit priest working with Mel Gibson on his controversial film about the last hours of Jesus’ life says Jews need not worry about being portrayed as Christ-killers.
Father William J. Fulco, a professor of ancient Mediterranean studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, says he is "intimately familiar" with the script of Gibson’s upcoming, self-financed movie "The Passion" and there is "no hint" of the deicide charge that Jews were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus.
"The Jewish community portrayed in the film consists of people both sympathetic to Jesus and hostile to him, just as the Roman community is portrayed," Fulco wrote in an e-mail being circulated this week among Jewish and Catholic interfaith leaders. "Indeed, if anyone does not come off well in this film it is the Roman community and governing establishment."
Some interfaith experts are very concerned about the movie’s potential impact because of Gibson’s religious views: he is a fundamentalist Catholic who apparently believes in a literalist reading of the New Testament’s anti-Jewish passages: interpretations no longer accepted by the Vatican. Gibson has warned that Jews may not like his "true" version.
But Fulco says he has reviewed two documents (from the Anti-Defamation League and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) which recommend how to accurately dramatize Jesus’ final hours without repeating anti-Jewish concepts from the Gospels.
"I can assure you with great confidence that ‘The Passion’… is totally in accord with these documents. In no way do I experience it as offensive to Jews or anyone else," wrote Fulco, who translated Gibson’s script into Aramaic and Latin, the languages the actors will be speaking, as well as providing subtitles.
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But two Jewish interfaith experts say Fulco’s assurances are too little too late.
"I’m very fearful," says Rabbi James Rudin, senior interreligious adviser for the American Jewish Committee. "Passion plays are always radioactive material and a movie by Mel Gibson is super charged. What we really need is a team of interreligious inspectors to go in and look at the script."
He noted that when Dreamworks filmed the animated film about Moses, "Prince of Egypt," dozens of religion experts were consulted beforehand. "Gibson didn’t do that and it’s not enough for one person to read guidelines," he said, referring to Fulco.
ADL interfaith director Dr. Eugene Korn said: "We really need to see more evidence. This is a nuclear issue for Jews internally, and externally for Jewish-Catholic relations. We can’t wait until it comes out to see it."
Bishops’ conference expert Dr. Eugene Fisher said he was heartened by Fulco’s comments and he would try to assemble an interfaith team to review the film, which is in post-production, as soon as possible.