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Resources on the Mel Gibson movie, The Passion of the Christ

Note: During development the film's title went through several iterations.

Table of Contents

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Catholic Teaching Documents

  1. Excerpts from Roman Catholic Magisterial Teaching Documents on the Crucifixion
    Quotations from official Catholic documents that concern teaching, preaching, and dramatizing the story of the crucifixion of Jesus.
  2. [U.S.] Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion (1988)
    The full text of specific standards to be used in assessing whether dramatic presentations of the crucifixion conform to Roman Catholic teaching. 

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Resources on the Gospel Passion Narratives, Passion plays, etc.

  1. A Comparison of the Passion Narratives
    A chart that shows the differences and similarities among the four gospel passion narratives.  Unless it is simply a reenactment of one of them, any dramatization of the death of Jesus must select from among these options to construct a coherent narrative. Catholic teaching states that a combination of the individual gospels' "anti-Jewish" aspects is to be avoided.
  2. Raymond E. Brown, "The Death of Jesus and Anti-Semitism: Seeking Interfaith Understanding" (Catholic Update)
    In this essay written a few years before his death, one of the greatest American scripture scholars explores anti-Judaism in New Testament thought about the Passion of Christ. It exposes faulty interpretations of the passion narratives: as literal history or a product of Christian imagination and explains how the idea that "the Jews killed Jesus" took root.
  3. "The Passion of Jesus" by Ronald D. Witherup, S.S in Scripture from Scratch (St. Anthony Messenger Press, Feb. 2001).
    An article written for a congregational readership that describes the forces that shaped the composition of the four gospel passion narratives and then describes each gospel's perspective in turn.
  4. Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., "Who Killed Jesus?" in Scripture from Scratch (St. Anthony Messenger Press)
    Also written for a popular readership, Fr. Harrington, of Weston Jesuit School of Theology, answers the title question as follows: "Pontius Pilate, with cooperation from some Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, killed Jesus. What killed Jesus? On the historical level one can point to the sinful social structures of first-century Palestine and the spiral of violence that led Pilate to view Jesus as a dangerous Jewish rebel. On the theological level one can say that Jesus' death on the cross was the result of human sinfulness."
  5. Philip A. Cunningham, "Portraying the Passion: The Gospels, Christian Theologies of Judaism, and Antisemitism"
    From Boston College's FRONT ROW, this link accesses a streaming media version of a Powerpoint presentation given at Boston College. The Powerpoint slides may be downloaded and printed to augment the viewing of the program.  
  6. Elizabeth McNamer, "The Romans in Israel"in Scripture from Scratch (St. Anthony Messenger Press,  Nov. 2000)
    A fine overview of Roman presence in Judea that introduces some key characters and their interrelationships.
  7. Creighton University's Journal of Religion and Society's Special Issue on The Passion of the Christ
    • A collection of articles on various aspects of dramatizing the death of Jesus. Articles include:
    • "Is the New Testament Anti-Semitic?" Dennis Hamm, SJ, Creighton University
    • "Christ's Passion on Stage: The Traditional Melodrama of Deicide." Gordan R. Mork, Purdue University 
    • "Christian Anti-Semitism: Past History, Present Challenges," John T. Pawlikowski, OSM, Catholic Theological Union
    • "Passion-ate Moments in the Jesus Film Genre," Adele Reinhartz, Wilfrid Laurier University 
    • "Romans, Jews, and Greeks: The World of Jesus and the Disciples," Sidnie White Crawford, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
    • "The Arrest and Sentencing of Jesus: A Historical Reconstruction," Philip A. Cunningham, Boston College
    • "Gibson's Passion: A Case Study in Media Manipulation?" Mark Silk, Trinity College 
    • "Sectarian Catholicism and Mel Gibson," Michael Lawler, Creighton University
  8. Catholic Biblical Association seminar's study of passion narrative lections
    For sixteen years, the continuing seminar on Biblical Issues in Jewish-Christian Relations of the Catholic Biblical Association of America has explored and discussed scriptural and hermeneutical issues that impact relations between Christians and Jews and on the pastoral life of the Church. Three recent annual meetings were devoted to a study of the liturgical proclamation of the Gospel passion narratives during Holy Week. This link access the detailed results of this project, including analyses of the main issues and of each Gospel's presentation, together with suggested translations and lections.
  9. The Christian Teaching of Contempt for Jews and Judaism: A Primary Source Sampler
    Passion plays were one manifestation of the perennial teaching of contempt that Jews had been cursed by God for crucifying Jesus Christ. This page includes links to some primary source quotations that provide illustrations of this teaching down through the centuries. The teaching is among the things that Pope John Paul II prayer for God's forgiveness for as the third Christian millennium began in 2000. It also why Christians have a moral responsibility to tell the story of Jesus' death with accuracy.
  10. The Passion of the Christ: Jewish Dos and Don'ts 
    Suggestions from by J. Shawn Landres in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles on how Jews might respond to the publicity surrounding the release of the film. 
  11. The Passion Play - Union City
    An example of a passion play production that is sensitive to biblical and interfaith issues. This website contains useful information on a variety of topics. Note especially the section on antisemitism.
  12. logo-s1.gif (4391 bytes)Articles on The Passion of the Christ in America, The National Catholic Weekly
    America magazine has made available online several worthwhile essays on various aspects of The Passion controversy. The link above will access a contents page for the following items. Our thanks to the editors of America for their permission to link to their materials. 
    • Richard Blake, S.J., "Mel O'Drama: The Passion of the Christ," (America, Mar. 15, 2004)
    • John O'Malley, S.J., "A Movie, a Mystic, and a Spiritual Tradition: Anne Catherine Emmerich & the Passion of the Christ" (America, Mar. 15, 2004)
    • Lloyd Baugh, S.J., "Palestinian Braveheart" (America, Feb. 23, 2004)
    • Eugene J. Fisher, "The Bible, the Jews and the Passion" (America, Feb. 16, 2004)
    • Raymond E. Brown, "The Narratives of Jesus? Passion and Anti-Judaism" (America, April 1, 1995)
    • James Martin, S.J., "If Only Gibson had shown the death and the life," (Newsday, Feb. 25, 2004)
    • Review by Richard Leonard, S.J., Australian Catholic Film Office.

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Viewer's Guides for filmed or theatrical passion dramas

  1. Facts, Faith, and Film-Making: Jesus' Passion and Its Portrayal   (pdf easy-print version)
    A Study Guide for Viewers and Reviewers of Portrayals of Jesus' Passion prepared under the auspices of the Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations
  2. A Viewer's Guide to Contemporary Passion Plays 
    A viewer's guide prepared under the auspices of the Anti-Defamation League's Plains States Office, Creighton University, University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the Jewish Federation of Omaha. 

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Analytic reviews of The Passion of the Christ 

Note: Of the many reviews now appearing, these have been selected because they analyze the film methodically, theologically, or with reference to issues impacting on Christian-Jewish relations. 

  1. The Passion of the Christ: A Challenge to Catholic Teaching
    Center director Philip Cunningham describes the movie as projecting "a world in which demonic powers and evil, faithless humans blow by blow and wound by wound gradually destroy the body of Jesus of Nazareth." The review outlines the film's use of the four Gospels and of extra-biblical materials, especially the writings of Anne Catherine Emmerich. Scenes of relentless opposition to Jesus by the high priests suggest that Judaism itself is aligned with the dark forces that oppose Jesus, a notion reinforced by the destruction in the Temple at the film's end.
  2. The Lord's Passion Revisited
    Bishop Richard J. Sklba, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, commented on the movie in the "Herald of Hope" series of the Catholic Herald archdiocesan newspaper. A consultor to the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and possessing advanced degrees in scripture studies, he assesses the movie in terms of its artistic merit, fidelity to the Gospels and conformity with the church?s guidelines for dramatic representations of the Passion
  3. Jews, Christians and The Passion
    Orthodox rabbi and scholar David Berger assesses the film's impact on Christian-Jewish relations in this article published in Commentary. He examines the pre-release controversy, the film itself, and reactions to the movie after its Ash Wednesday debut. 
  4. Spiritual Romanticism Reigns: Mel Gibson's Passion Depends on a Selection of Living Pictures
    David Goa discusses the film in The Western Catholic Reporter in terms of images from Christian art, the Catholic liturgical year, and its potential for evangelization. He concludes by wondering "what those unfamiliar with the story and its context in Christ's Gospel of love will make of what appears to be a work of personal piety born of a struggle that must be horrendous."
  5. Movie Commentary: Two Archaeologists Comment on The Passion of the Christ
    Dr. Andrea Berlin and Dr. Jodi Magness have both seen The Passion of the Christ, and have authored a commentary on the film from an archaeological perspective that has been posted online under the auspices of the Archaeological Institute of America. They conclude: "As director of The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson was compelled to make narrative choices: when and where to start the story, what to emphasize, how to draw out each person?s essential characteristics. The end result is a movie that conveys a tremendous amount of pain and suffering, but also one that is, in many  major and minor respects, unmoored from documented realities."
  6. The Missing Logic that Threatens the Jewish Other: A Review of The Passion of the Christ 
    Mark D. Nanos, the Soebbling Visiting Scholar at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, comments upon the film as a Jewish scholar of the New Testament. He finds "that the movie did not make sense of the motivations of the Jewish?more accurately, Judean?leaders and crowds. The viewer must implicitly fill in the explanations, and here ... lies the perpetuation of elements of the story that can fuel anti-Jewishness."
  7. The Passion of the Christ: A Catholic Response
    The director of the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University, Lawrence E. Frizzell, assesses the movie in terms of general impressions, key personalities, and anti-Jewish motifs. He concludes that "any effort to make this film a 'teaching tool' for Christians will fall short in serious ways."
  8. An Analysis from a Christian Orthodox Perspective
    Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko, Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir Seminary, offers insights into the film in light of the Orthodox Christian faith and tradition. He states that the movie "hardly portrays the fullness and depth of Christ" but is "a monotonous and misleading exaggeration of one aspect of the scriptural Christ?s suffering and death to a distorting degree."
  9. A Visual Narrative: Is Mel Gibson's Passion a Gospel for Our Time?
    This essay by Deirdre Good, Prof. Good summarizes the general issues raised by the movie and concludes by asking, "What kind of god requires relentless suffering and torture culminating in an excruciating death? Is this in fact a Christian God? Is it not ironic that Protestants should flock to a movie whose vision is driven by extra scriptural material?"
  10. Review by Richard Leonard, S.J.
    Richard Leonard is the Director of the Australian Catholic Film Office. In this review he observes that The Passion of the Christ "interprets and selects material from its Gospel sources in a way that does not honour the original meaning or intention of the Gospels, and cannot be seen as the 'historically accurate' account of the first Good Friday, which the director has claimed it to be." In addition, "this film is obscenely brutal."
  11. PBS' Newshour Online Conversation about The Passion of the Christ.
    Robert Johnston of Fuller Theological Seminary and Philip Cunningham of the Boston College Center for Christian-Jewish Learning discuss the movie and answer viewers' questions about its religious, philosophical and artistic implications. The exchange illustrates contrasting Catholic and Evangelical perspectives. 
  12. Gibson's Polarizing Passion
    David Elcott, U.S. director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, finds the film very dualistic in its outlook. "The movie's fundamental point," he writes, is "not that Jesus was a great teacher or moral leader, but that the world is divided between those who believe and those who deny."
  13. Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ: Reaction and Commentary -  Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish 
    The Chicago Board of Rabbis and the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Center of Catholic Theological Union have published reactions to the film from a Jew and a Protestant who saw the film on Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2004 and a Catholic who was part of the team that assessed a shooting script. Their comments are preceded by a cover letter from the Executive Vice-President of the Chicago Board of Rabbis.  [Jan 27, 2004]
  14. "Hype vs. Hope: Some Reflections on Mel Gibson's Film on the Passion of Jesus"
    An analysis of the rough cut of the film by the Most Rev. Stefan Soroka, Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in U.S.A. and Archbishop of the Archeparchy of Philadelphia. [Sept. 2003]
  15. Ad Hoc Scholars Committee Analysis of the Shooting Script of The Passion
    In May 2003, a group of four Catholic and three Jewish scholars ­convened by specialists at the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Anti-Defamation League ­ submitted to Mel Gibson a confidential analysis of a shooting script of a film then called The Passion. Their work had been agreed to by Mr. Gibson, though he did not directly provide the script. Although the report has been circulated among some people to whom Mr. Gibson showed pre-release versions of the movie, the scholars group has not made its report public. Now that the film has opened, the group makes its report available for those who might be interested in comparing its findings to the finished film as just released.  Except for some added or dropped scenes, the final version of the film is, in most places, close or even identical to the script that the group read.  

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Statements on The Passion of the Christ

Note: Many individuals and groups have made statements about the film in terms of its presentation of Jewish characters or its theological perspectives.  Many statements have declared the film free of the potential to promote hostility to Jews, but frequently without any analysis of its theological perspectives or its use of the New Testament and extra-biblical materials. The statements selected for posting here either consider it biblically or theologically or reiterate Christian teachings on responsibility for the death of Jesus. 


  1. Dramatizing the Death of Jesus: Issues that Have Surfaced in Media Reports about the Upcoming Film, The Passion
    A statement by four Catholic professors who read a screenplay of the movie. It contains cautions about using extra-biblical materials, such as the writings of Anna Catherine Emmerich, in dramatizing the crucifixion, whose writings clearly shaped the composition of the screenplay, together with three explicit questions to ask in regard to any script's use of New Testament narratives.  [June 2003]
  2. Statement of the Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations [CCJR]
    Twenty-five centers or institutes in North America devoted to deepening Christian and Jewish understanding issued this call for widespread educational initiatives in January, 2004.
  3. Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relations: "Concerns and Recommendations in Anticipation of the Forthcoming Film"
    A statement that urges members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to become more knowledgeable about the complexities of the Gospel passion narratives.  [January 2004]
  4. Statement before Film's Release by the Bishop of San Jose: "Whatever The Passion Message, the Church Renounces Anti-Semitism"
    Most Rev. Patrick J. McGrath, the Catholic Bishop of San Jose, reminds his diocese that the Gospels "are not historical accounts of the historical events that they narrate. They are theological reflections upon the events that form the core of Christian faith and belief." He urges, "Catholics and all Christians in this Valley to renew the ties that bind us to our Jewish brothers and sisters, the first of God's Chosen People."
  5. Statement by Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati
    In a statement released on Feb. 25, Archbishop Pilarczyk advises that, "Like all works that claim to be worthy of consideration as art, The Passion of the Christ is an individual artist's interpretation and must be viewed as such." He notes that "the film adds some non-Gospel material to the narrative and omits other gospel material."
  6. Statement by the Christian-Jewish Dialogue in Montreal (CJDM)
    The Christian ­ Jewish Dialogue of Montreal is a group of representatives of different sponsoring organizations who meet on a regular basis in order to build and strengthen trust between Christian and Jewish communities. [Fran?ais]
  7. Statement by the United Church in Canada
    An ecumenical and interfaith statement of concern.
  8. Statement by International Council of Christians and Jews
    The ICCJ represents Jewish-Christian dialogue organizations in 32 countries. Its statement notes that the "film does not reflect the current theological and historical perspective of Jews and Judaism held by most Christian bodies, Roman Catholic and Protestant."
  9. Statement by Hans Ucko of the World Council of Churches
    The W.C.C.'s officer for Jewish-Christian relations and dialogue offers some cautions about conversations on The Passion of the Christ, including "beware when you hear Christians say, 'But what is said negatively about the Jews in the New Testament is not about the Jews, it?s about human beings, we are all like the Jews!' Isn?t it anti-Semitic to reduce 'being a Jew' to a negative example, which teaches Christians how not to behave?"
  10. Statement by Bishop Karl Lehmann of Mainz, Germany
    Bishop Lehmann, President of the German Bishops' Conference (Deutsche Bischofskonferenz), urges all to remember that "with regard to the Jews and all Jewish people the teaching of the gospel has to be accomplished according to the intercession for the Jews on Good Friday: may God preserve the Jews in loyalty to his covenant and in the love to his name. We earnestly warn all Christians/Catholics against any misconception of the passion of Jesus Christ."
  11. Statement by German Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant Leaders
    The head of the German Catholic Bishop's Conference Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the head of the Committee of Protestant Churches of Germany (EKD) Bishop Wolfgang Huber and the President of the Central Committee of the Jews in Germany Paul Spiegel have published a common statement, declaring, "Irrespective of the intention of the producers to create an anti-Semitic film or not there remains a great danger of misusing the whole picture for anti-Semitic propaganda." 
  12. Statements by the National Conference of the Bishops of France
    The website of the Catholic Bishops of France offers a special webpage of resources on The Passion of the Christ. Unofficial English translations of two items may be accessed at these links:
  1. National Catholic-Jewish Dialogue Warns Against Antisemitic Use of Gibson's Passion
    In a joint communiqu? issued after its April 2004 semi-annual meeting, the Consultation Committee of the National Council of Synagogues and the Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and interreligious Affairs warns that "the film?s depiction of the Temple leaders and its essentially ahistorical use of the Gospels could be twisted in an anti-Semitic way."
  2. A Call to Understanding: An Interfaith Appeal on a Topic That Has Caused Animosity between Christians and Jews
    An ecumenical and interfaith statement by religious leaders in the Boston area that urges Jews and Christians to dialogue with one other.  [easy print pdf version]
  3. "The Passion of the Christ," Jewish Pain, and Christian Responsibility: A Response to Mel Gibson's Film
    A statement by "concerned Christians" that urges caution in the use of the DVD and videotape versions of the movie, prepared by John Merkle, Associate Director, Jay Phillips Center for Jewish-Christian Learning, St. Paul and Collegeville, MN and Peter A. Pettit, Director, Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding of Muhlenberg College, Allentown, PA.   Spanish version
  4. Statement of the Anti-Defamation League on the "Recut" version of the film (March 2005)


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 Reflections on Responses to the Film

?I Didn?t See Any Anti-Semitism? ? Why Many Christians Don?t Have a Problem with The Passion of the Christ
An analysis by Mary C. Boys published in CrossCurrents, Spring 2004.

"The Passion" Revisited
Cardinal William Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore and U.S. Bishops' Moderator for Catholic-Jewish Relations, wrote this column for the archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Review, after seeing the movie for a second time with Jewish friends. "When I saw it first, I was overwhelmed by the vivid depiction of the physical brutality inflicted on Jesus and so missed much of the detail," he writes. "[T]his second viewing opened my eyes to aspects of the film I had not caught previously, and I saw why some of our Jewish neighbors view it with understandable concern and even a measure of fear.