Today, Mel Gibson’s (in)famous movie opens in theatres, The Passion of The Christ. Obviously I haven’t seen it, yet. The movie may well warrant criticism, I do not know.
What continually annoys me, though, is to see these news anchors interview other newspeople or movie critics, and ask them theological questions regarding the history of the crucifixion.
Movie critics are not usually theologians nor Bible scholars, and I’ve seen two very fine examples of this in the past week. I can’t remember which the first one was; it was on Fox News or MSNBC, I think. I watched them ask questions to some talking head who’d just gotten out of the theatre… and watched this woman field questions about which she obviously knew nothing. Credit to her, however, is that she at least knew how to pronounce the term “Aramaic”, which wasn’t the case for the newcaster.
Last night’s example, however, was even more fitting. Paula Zahn had some movie critic on, talking about the accuracy of the movie. This guy proceeded to ramble on about some pretty incorrect assumptions. He mentioned that Pontius Pilate was this big, bad voodoo daddy that the locals, mostly Jews, feared. He said that the Jews were terribly persecuted under Pilate. Basically, the point he was trying to make was that the movie might have been pinning more than a fair share of blame on the Jews, as opposed to Pilate.
Hold on, hold on! Step off your high horse, man! Let’s look at some more accurate historical assessments!
* Under the Roman empire itself, the Jews were not “terribly persecuted” — at least, not a lot more than those of other cultures and religions that had been conquered by the Romans. The Roman empire had a specific policy of tolerance, and would not punish religions, per say, unless they interfered with state matters.
* That is not to say that Herod, the King of Judea, per Roman appointment, wasn’t cruel. there is plenty of historical evidence to support this. During his reign over Judea, Herod had tens of thousands of Jews slaughtered; of this, there is no disagreement. However, in Jesus’ case, Herod wasn’t simply going to kill someone off for the sake of “having the opportunity” to kill a Jew. Herod had more important things to do, and besides, what good would this serve? Besides, why would Herod, with his history of cruelty to the Jewish people, suddenly appease them? He was well-aware of their mutual (and well-placed) distaste for him, and knew that nothing could make him any more “honourable” in their eyes. Finally, Herod was a political opportunist — if it wouldn’t go to further cement his power base — why trifle with it?
* Now, if I am not mistaken, Pilate, on the other hand, was not a particularly powerful “governor”. That term is a bit confusing today, if people associate it with the modern concept… but Pilate was something of a “City Manager”, maybe a bit higher. He dealt with the administration of the region. The people under him didn’t particularly “fear” him. I am thinking that the movie critic from above was confusing Pilate with Herod, who was pretty cruel all around. Regardless, Pilate wasn’t a terrible force with which to be reckoned.
* In the district where Jesus was taken before the people, the Saducees were in power; For a local government, it was pretty powerful religious aristocracy that was in charge. They did not have the specific power to execute a man for a crime, however, which is why Jesus’ case was taken up the chain of command, to Pilate and Herod. The idea that Jesus was a “dangerous political activist” was the key claim that was made, so that the higher levels of government would even entertain it. If it was just some religious oddball, Rome, or its subordinates, would have little to say.
* The act of crucifixion in Rome was reserved for non-Roman citizens. Romans could be, and were, put to death via any number of methods, sure, but this most brutal method of punishment was never used on any person considered a citizen under the Roman empire. Thus, the punishment given to Jesus was done against Roman precedent and was, indeed, done with a fair amount of hesitation.
* All this said, Pilate was plenty hesitant to crucify this man, which is why, in a wishy-washy manner he (wrongly) brought Jesus before the court of public opinion. It should be noted that more evidence of religious toleration, particularly Jewish, can be found in his actions of bringing Jesus to the people; when Pilate brought him before the crowds, it was a recognition of the Passover tradition of letting one prisoner go free. Regardless, he left Jesus’ fate in the hands of the crowd, rather than commute this sentence of death that he knew was unjust. In the extended portion of this entry below, I have included the synaptic Gospels’ version of Pilate’s exchange with the people.
Finally, simply put, the “blame”, as it were, for Jesus’ crucifixion spreads far and wide. The crowd called out for his death, and Pilate bowed to public pressures rather than doing the honourable thing. But to say that either Pilate or Herod were sole or joint catalysts for Jesus’ death, as this movie critic was implying is downright incorrect. As it stood, neither Herod nor Pilate had much at stake in getting rid of this guy. Now, the historicity of the Bible is debated by many, and probably will be for eternity, but, assuming Gibson was trying to emulate The Passion, using the Biblical texts below, I don’t really see how making Pilate out to be any more “to blame” would be any more accurate, given the perspective.
Until I see the movie, I can’t make my own assessment of how it handled these issues, but my (rather long) point in illustrating the above ideas is that TV personalities keep interviewing people who are obviously pretty lacking in knowledge, when it comes to theology or Biblical study, yet they are being treated as scholars in such. They are asking these people “what the Bible says”, and how it compares to the movie, and thus are getting totally incorrect answers which just furthers misunderstanding amongst everyone!
Sometimes I wish TV news anchors just could just buy a clue, but I am not sure where the blame lay. Anchors? they’re probably just asking questions? What about the people who scheduled the interview? Didn’t they do any research?
This line of blame keeps going… and can go right up to the heads of the news organisations, as far as I’m concerned.