Of Libel And Blood Libel

The cover article of a recent Entertainment Weekly caught my eye. It was about Gibson's Passion film, and whether his career would survive the accusations of anti-semitism. (You can find my initial speculation about the film in my 30 July post).

Since I first heard about the film and all the outcry about it being racist, I have been curious about what, if anything, the accusation of anti-semitism was based upon. Apparently, it has to do with the fact that Gibson and Fitzgerald develop the character of Caiaphas as the main antagonist (which is certainly historically accurate). The EW article says that there is some debate about whether Caiaphas will utter the "blood libel" in the final cut, referencing Matthew 27:25.

Now there are several things seriously wrong here. First of all, in actual fact, it is not only Caiaphas who spoke those words, but "all the people," that is, the crowd who had gathered to demand that the governor allow the execution. Perhaps the film takes license and puts the phrase in the mouth of Caiaphas alone.

Second, and most importantly, the words "His blood be on us and on our children" is NOT the anti-semitic blood libel! So here's a little history lesson for you.

Very similarly to the way the pagan Romans accused early Christians of ritually killing children and cannibalizing them in sexual orgies... around the mid-12th century Jews were falsely accused of using the blood of Christian children in Passover matzoh. Ironically, the libel was started by a Jewish "convert" to Christianity named Theobald (of Cambridge).

In any case, that the crowd accepted responsibility for killing Jesus is not in any way anti-semitic. You must understand that the Old Testament is loaded with the history of how we, God's people, persecuted and murdered our own prophets, one after the other. And, by way of comparison, can you imagine anyone seriously complaining that the portrayal of the death of Socrates in a play or film was anti-hellenic ?! This is the level of absurdity such outcries of anti-semitism and blood libel against the historical account of Christ's passion have achieved.

Of course, many so-called Christians have persecuted Jewish people and sought to justify themselves by appealing to the fact that their ancestors "killed Jesus by the hands of lawless men," yet not believing the Scriptures that He was also "delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God." The Messiah Himself told us that "No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again" (Acts 2:23 and John 10:18).

Unfortunately, no artistic portrayal, however historically accurate, will ever cause unbelievers to understand what the atonement was all about.* On the contrary, such films tend to compound popular confusion. So it's best to prepare oneself to do some preaching in order to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." Proclamation of God's Word is the only hope.

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