Gray Flannel Dwarf

2/25/2004

Movie Critics are not Theologians.

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.

Matthew 27:19-24

19While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”
20But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
21“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
22“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
23“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
24When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

Mark 15:9-15

The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.
9“Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
12“What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.
13“Crucify him!” they shouted.
14“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
15Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

Luke 23:13-24

13Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.”
18With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” 19(Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)
20Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
22For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.”
23But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.


cswiii @ 11:14 am

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