Passion story leaves me cold

WHEN was the last time Mel Gibson made a movie anyone cared about? Braveheart, perhaps? But that overblown, preposterous mangling of the truth is ancient history itself.

WHEN was the last time Mel Gibson made a movie anyone cared about? Braveheart, perhaps? But that overblown, preposterous mangling of the truth is ancient history itself.

Now, with The Passion, he is playing fast and loose with history again. This time, though, it's a little more sinister than upsetting a few historians and those Scots who care about their true traditions.

The first thing I heard about The Passion, months before its cinema release, was that it was dangerously anti-Semitic.

This, of course, is a long-established Christian tradition. About as long-established, in fact, as Christianity itself.

Jesus was a Jew, as were his followers. His movement was at first an attempt to make the people of Israel better Jews.

When his cult became a breakaway sect after his death, it was inevitable that the minority should hold the majority around them in contempt. It's what fanatical minorities do.

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When the little movement became a big movement, it turned round. The Jews were now the minority, but still held in contempt by the Christians.

The big lie – that it was really the Jews, not the Romans who hounded Jesus to death – was pretty much inevitable too.

The most abused member of a visiting football team is always one who used to play for the home side.

And, of course, the Romans were still the real power in the land when the Gospels were written. It would have been risking further crucifixions to have laid all the blame on them for Christ's execution.

From there, the myth of Jewish treachery became the foundation for centuries of persecution and murder.

By repeating that lie in graphic detail, Gibson – who claims to be a Catholic – is guilty of something even the Pope would today regard as a sin.

(Not quite as big a sin, it must be said, as those being perpetrated by Ariel Sharon. The Israeli prime minister's murderous policies towards the Palestinians are surely the biggest cause of anti-Semitism in the world today. But let's get back to the movie.)

Another odd, but probably inevitable, thing about early Christianity was the way it dwelt not on the wise and uplifting things Jesus had to say, but on his death.

The instantly identifiable logo of Christianity – its worldwide brand – is not an image of Jesus speaking to his followers, or healing the sick. It is the image of him dying on the cross.

It is as if his death were more important than his life.

Mel Gibson obviously thinks it was. He hasn't made a glossy, glamorous movie about Christ's moral values. He's made one about blood, treachery and death.

On the way he's created a mountain of controversy, which is the best form of advertising.

This is not putting Gibson's talents to the service of Christ, but using the brand of Christ to revive a mediocre film-maker's stalled career.

I would not normally write at such length about a show I haven't seen it. In this case I make an exception.

I have no desire to spend two hours watching someone being gorily tortured – especially when all the dialogue's in Latin and Aramaic.

(Inadvertently, Gibson's film may do some good. It may revive the market in movies with subtitles, thereby improving the prospects of some first-rate European films succeeding with British and American audiences.)

Incidentally, I see The Passion has been deposed this week from the top of the US box office charts. By a remake of Dawn of the Dead.

Which seems fitting.

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