Christ Carrying the Cross by El Greco

The word "passion" is derived from he Latin word passus which means “having suffered” or “having undergone.” According to the BBC: “The Passion of Christ is the story of Jesus Christ's arrest, trial and suffering. It ends with his execution by crucifixion. The Passion is an episode in a longer story and cannot be properly understood without the story of the Resurrection. The word Passion comes from the Latin word for suffering. The crucifixion of Jesus is accepted by many scholars as an actual historical event. It is recorded in the writings of Paul, the Gospels, Josephus, and the Roman historian Tacitus. Scholars differ about the historical accuracy of the details, the context and the meaning of the event. Most versions of the Passion begin with the events in the Garden of Gethsemane. Some also include the Last Supper, while some writers begin the story as early as Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem to the applause of the crowds. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“The Passion is a story about injustice, doubt, fear, pain and, ultimately, degrading death. It tells how God experienced these things in the same way as ordinary human beings. The most iconic image of the Passion is the crucifix - Christ in his last agony on the cross - found in statues and paintings, in glass, stone and wooden images in churches, and in jewellery. The Passion appears in many forms of art. It is set to music, used as a drama and is the subject of innumerable paintings. |::|

“Spiritually, the Passion is the perfect example of suffering, which is one of the pervasive themes of the Christian religion. Suffering is not the only theme of the Passion, although some Christians believe that Christ's suffering and the wounds that he suffered play a great part in redeeming humanity from sin. |::|

“Another theme is incarnation - the death of Jesus shows humanity that God had become truly human and that he was willing to undergo every human suffering, right up to the final agony of death. Another is obedience - despite initial, and very human, reluctance and fear, Jesus demonstrates his total acquiescence to God's wishes. But the final theme is victory - the victory of Christ over death - and this is why the Passion story is inseparable from the story of the Resurrection. |::|

“The main episodes of the Passion story are:
The Last Supper
The agony in the Garden of Gethsemane
The arrest of Jesus after his betrayal by Judas
The examination and condemnation of Jesus by the Jews
The trial before Pilate during which Jesus is sentenced to be whipped and crucified
The crucifixion of Jesus |::|

Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity ; Religious Tolerance ; History of Christianity ; BBC on Christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Early Christian Writing ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins ; Christian Answers ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Early Christian Art ; Early Christian Images ; Early Christian and Byzantine Images ; Jesus and the Historical Jesus ; Britannica on Jesus Jesus-Christ ; Historical Jesus Theories ; Wikipedia article on Historical Jesus Wikipedia ; Jesus Seminar Forum ; Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ ; Jesus Central ; Catholic Encyclopedia: Jesus Christ ; Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible ; Bible History Online ; Biblical Archaeology Society ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL)

Passion Story According to the Gospels

Christ Carrying the Cross

“The Passion story is told in the 4 Gospels of the New Testament of the Bible (Mark 14-15, Matthew 26-27, Luke 22-23, and John 18-19). The first 3 (often called the Synoptic Gospels) have much in common, while St John's Gospel tells the story rather differently. |::|

According to the BBC: “Many Bible scholars would say that the Gospels are not primarily a historical record of what happened because: 1) they were written between 40 and 70 years after the death of Jesus: 2) those who wrote them were not present at the events they described - but the oral tradition was very strong in those days, so it was possible for information to be passed on quite accurately from actual eyewitnesses; 3) the oral tradition allowed the narrative to be reshaped as it was passed on, in order to suit the purposes of the person telling the story; 4) the Gospels differ on some of the events; 5) the purpose of the Gospels is not to provide an accurate record of the historical events of Christ's last days but to record the spiritual truth of Jesus Christ; 6) The Gospels are a combination of historical fact with theological reflection on the meaning and purpose of Christ's life and death. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“They also look back to show how Christ's suffering and death followed the prophecies of the Old Testament in order to demonstrate that he was the long-expected Messiah. The Gospel accounts of the Passion are very simple; other accounts of Christ's suffering and death have embellished the story with additional details. |::|

Way of Sorrow

Via Dolorosa, in the Muslim and Christian Quarters in the Old City of Jerusalem, is route taken be Jesus, from the moment he was he was sentenced to his crucifixion. It begins near the Lion's Gate (St Stephen’s Gate), the entrance of the Old City facing the Mount of Olives, and follows a more or less straight course, with a zigzag n the middle, to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which contains the tomb of Jesus. Along the way are fourteen so-called stations, most of which correspond with events described in the New Testament. Via Dolorosa means the “Sorrowful Street” in medieval Latin but is often called the “Way of the Cross.”

The Via Dolorosa has no basis in historical fact. The “Holy Places” were discovered in the 4th century, 300 years after Christ’s death by the Empress Helena and the Via Dolorosa was not created until long after that, most likely in the 15th century. By then the entire layout of the city was different than in Jesus’s time. Some have suggested that route was chosen by medieval merchants to bring them business from pilgrims.

From what historians and archaeologists can best determine Jesus was tried by Pilate near where the Armenian Church is today not near the Lion Gate, where the Via Dolorosa begins. Jesus He carried the crossbeam of his cross, not the whole thing, down St. James Road and up Chabad Street, the Cardo Maximus of the Romans, the Garden Gate, which stood where David Street hits the bazaars today. Most of the sights are looked after by Greek Orthodox monks and Franciscan friars and nuns.

At 4:00pm on Good Friday, during Holy Week, thousands of Christians from all over the world rent robes and crosses and parade through the streets of Jerusalem , following the route of Jesus, singing, chanting, reading passages from the bible and stopping at the 14 stations on Via Dolorosa. Sometimes individuals carrying smaller crosses, follow the entire route on their knees. "My faith became gigantic,” one pilgrim told National Geographic. "We felt Him walking among us."

Dan Belt wrote in National Geographic, “Christians form all over the world pour in like a conquering horde surging down the Via Dolorosa’s narrow streets and ancient alleyways, seeking communion in the cold stones or some glimmer, perhaps, of the agonies Jesus endured in his final hours. Every face on earth seems to float through the streets... every possible combination of eye and hair and skin color, every costume and style of dress, from blue-back African Christians in eye-popping daskikis to pale Finnish Christians dressed as Jesus with a bloody crown of thorns to American Christians in sneakers.

Stations of the Via Dolorosa

1) The first station is at Antonia---a Roman Fortress and headquarters for the Roman high priest in Jesus' day---where Jesus was condemned and Pilate washed his hands of the guilt . The Antonia is long gone; a playground in an Arab high school---Madrasa al-Omariya, 300 meters west of the Lion's Gate---is said to be a courtyard of the Antonia. From here the route then follows a busy narrow street that parallels’s north wall of Herod’s Great Temple through the Muslim Quarter.

Via Dolorosa

2) The second station is located next to the Franciscan Monastery of the Flagellation, across the road from the First Station. This is where Christ took up his cross and was whipped on Pilate’s orders. The chapel was built on the site of a Crusader church but mostly it dates back to the 1920s. The Chapel of the Condemnation and Imposition of the Cross on the left, marks the site where Jesus was sentenced to death and soldiers gambled for Jesus' clothes.From here, the Via Dolorosa turns south on Tariq Bab al-Ghawanima and passes the northwestern gate of the Temple Mount. Just west of the entrance to the Lithostratos is the Ecce Homo Arch, where Pilate identified Jesus to the crowd saying "Ecco homo" ("Behold the man" - John 19:5).

3) The Third Station is where Jesus fell for the first time under the weight of his cross. 4) The Forth Station is where Mary watched her son go by with the cross, and is commemorated at the Armenian Church of Our Lady of the Spasm. (Neither of these events is recorded in the Bible.) 5) The Fifth Stations mark place where Jesus faltered and was offered a drink. At Station 5, Simon of Cyrene was forced by Roman soldiers to help Jesus carry this cross (Mt 27:32; Mk 15:21; Lk 23:26).

6) The Sixth Station at the top of a steep hill is where Veronica wiped the sweating face of Jesus with a handkerchief. The Greek Catholic Church of St. Veronica is located here. According to a tradition dating from the 14th century, St. Veronica wiped Jesus' face with her handkerchief, leaving an image of his face imprinted on the cloth. The relic, known as the Sudarium or Veronica, is kept at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Veronica's name may derive from the Latin vera icon, "true image."

7) The Seventh Station is where Jesus fell for a second time and was jabbed with a lance by a Roman centurion. This is marked by a Franciscan chapel at the Via Dolorosa's junction with Souq Khan al-Zeit. 8) The Eight Station marks the place where Jesus consoled the lamenting women of Jerusalem (Lk 23:27-31). 9) The Ninth Station marks the site of Jesus' third fall. A Roman pillar at the Coptic Patriarchate next to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre marks the site.

The last five stations are in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Ten through Thirteen take place in Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. These include the 10) The Tenth Station, where Jesus was stripped (at top of the stairs to the right outside the entrance); and 11) The Eleventh Station, where Jesus was nailed to the cross (upstairs just inside the entrance at the Latin Calvary). 12) The Twelfth Station is where Jesus died on the cross. Here there is a fissure in the limestone, produced, it is said, by an earthquake that occurred when Jesus died (Rock of Golgotha in the Greek Orthodox Calvary). 13) The Thirteenth Station is where Jesus was taken down from the cross and his body was placed a stone. The statue of Our Lady of Sorrows sits next to the Latin Calvary. 14) The Fourteenth and Last Station is where Jesus was laid in the tomb. The tomb is in the edicule (a small building) on the main floor, inside the tiny Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre.

Passion in Liturgy, Music and Art

According to the BBC: “The Passion of Christ has featured in Christian liturgy since the 4th century. It became an institution in the 5th century when Pope Leo the Great laid down that the St Matthew Passion should be part of the mass on Palm Sunday and the Wednesday of Holy Week, and the St John Passion should be part of the Good Friday service. From the 7th century the service on the Wednesday of Holy Week featured the St Luke Passion, and from the 10th century the Roman Catholic Church used the St Mark Passion on the Tuesday of Holy Week. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“From quite early the Passion was chanted in a dramatic way, with the reader representing the different voices in the story: the Evangelist as Narrator, the voice of Christ, and other speaking parts. Very often the words of Christ were chanted while the rest was spoken. The texts were originally chanted by a single person, but from around the 13th century different voices took the different parts. |::|

“The first polyphonic Passion settings date from the 15th century. As music became more sophisticated various forms of Passion were developed, ranging from straight narratives with music through to oratorios anchored to a greater or lesser extent in the text of scripture. The St Matthew Passion of J S Bach is probably the best-known of the musical settings of the Passion.” |::|

“The Passion is one of the most common subjects in art. Paintings of the Crucifixion were much in demand for church use. The earliest paintings of the Crucifixion date from the 5th century. Among the most famous paintings is the Isenheim altarpiece (1515) by Mathias Grunewald. The painting of the Crucifixion is gruelling in both its detailed treatment of the physical anguish of Jesus, and the visual language used. The Crucifix as a sculpted cross with the figure of Jesus dates from the 10th century (the Gero Cross of Cologne Cathedral). In many churches a Crucifix stands on the choir screen, in the arch between the nave and the chancel. These are often known as 'roods' and the screen as a 'rood screen'. Rood comes from the Saxon word for a crucifix.” |::|

Passion Plays and Miracle Plays

Passion plays, mystery plays and miracle plays were introduced in the Middle Ages to Mass, celebrations and festivals to entertain and offer theological instruction to people who were mostly illiterate. Passion plays usually dealt with events dealing with the death and resurrection of Christ. Mystery plays dramatized events from the Old and New Testaments such as Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham almost sacrificing of Isaac, and Jesus being tempted by the Devil. Miracle plays were usually centered on the lives of famous saints or events in their lives. Moral plays were stories with a moral messages.

Christ entering Jerusalem, Oberammergau Passion Play in 1900

These plays grew out living pictures (tableaux) of things like the Three Wise Men visiting Bethlehem. The earliest miracle plays are believed to date pack to the 10th century but the first one recorded by name, Play of St. Katherine , was produced in England in the 12th century.

Early plays were performed in Latin in churches. Later they were performed in local languages in open spaces such as public squares. Freed from the church, they incorporated non-religious elements such as comedy and satire and dealt with issues of the day and controversial subjects. Sometimes they made fun of the church and dealt with sexual themes and ended up being condemned by the church. .

According to the BBC: “'Passion plays' have been staged since the 12th century. The earliest play (so far) is one found at the Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino in Italy. Two 13th century German passion plays are known, and Passion plays were more popular during that century and the one that followed. The Passion of Christ was also portrayed in the English 'cycle plays'. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“Passion plays often give a detailed portrayal of Christ's physical suffering and many of them include explicit dramatisations of the beating and execution of Christ. There were at least two reasons for this: since all Passion plays emphasise the humanity of Christ and identify this with his physical experiences, a realistic Crucifixion brought the point home to the audience. Secondly, making the action as realistic as possible demonstrated to the audience that the death of Christ was a real historical event. |::|

Oberammergau Passion Play

The most famous Passion play is the one that has been staged at Oberammergau in Upper Bavaria in Germany since 1634. Oberammergau is a small town with around 6,000 residents at the foot of the Bavarian Alps and home of the world’s most famous Passion Play. The event takes places over two days. All the actors are amateurs and the pay they receive is exceptionally low. In 1960, for example, the highest paid actor—who had spent many months preparing for the job—received only $1,875. The people of Oberammergau consider the Passion Play to be a religious service and therefore they have forbidden it from being recorded, filmed, televised or from going on tour. [Source: People's Almanac]

In 1970, over a half a million people from all over the world came to witness the spectacle (more than a million were refused tickets which are usually sold in a package with two nights lodging). To cope with the sudden influx of 8,000 tour buses and 100,000 cars the town had to hire 40 traffic police. The visitors left behind $10 million. The profits were split four ways between the town's church, the performers, upkeep on the accommodation and the next performances.

According to the BBC: “The villagers of Oberammergau had promised God that if he saved them from a plague epidemic they would commemorate it by staging a dramatic representation of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection every ten years. The Oberammergau Passion play is particularly notable for involving the participation of the most of the villagers, with over 800 people in the cast. |::|

The Passion Play is produced every ten years, generally in years that end with zero. The last one was in 2010, the next is in 2020. In non-play years the people of Oberammergau make their living from farming, woodcarving, clothes making and tourism. According to, a Bavarian tour organization: “This small Bavarian community, with 5,100 inhabitants located within the Ammergau Alps, owes its world-famous reputation to the impressive Passion Plays that have been performed every 10 years in the town since 1634 - the next will take place in 2020, from 16 May to 4 October. Over the last few years the imposing 4,800 capacity Passion Play Theater has opened its doors for other famous cultural performances.”

Oberammergau Passion Play in 1900

History of Oberammergau Passion Play

The origin of the passion play religious service goes back to 1633 when Germany was ravaged by the Thirty Year War and the plague. The residents of Oberammergau had managed to protect their town from the plague by setting up barricades, but one villager with the plague managed to slip back in undetected and within a short time 100 villagers died a painful death. The survivors prayed to God and told him that if they were spared they would reenact Christ final days every ten years "from now until the end of time." [Source: People's Almanac]

Through the 17th and 18th century the Passion Play was performed privately by the people of Oberammergau. In 1800, Austrian commanders, who were in the town to fight Napoleon's troops, witnessed the performance and word began to spread around Europe. In 1840, princes, princesses and aristocrats from all over Europe, according to one report, arrived "on foot, often without shoes and stockings, in a long procession, praying loud and devoutly; in the eyes of the people the visit to this play serves a holy purpose, they look upon the way there as a pilgrimage undertaken to save their souls."

In 1860, after a railroad was built connecting Munich to Starnberg, large numbers of people began arriving. The repeat performance held in 1871 (few people showed up in 1870 due to the Franco-Prussian War) was attended by King Edward VII of England and crazy King Ludwig II of Bavaria. The 1880 performance was attended by Prussian Crown Prince Friedreich Wilhelm, the 1890 by Thomas Edison. In 1900 King Oskar II of Sweden, John D. Rockefeller, Alexander Eiffel and Count Zeppelin showed up. In 1930 Henry Ford presented the actor who played Christ with a motor car.

To mark the 300th anniversary of the Passion Play a special performance was held in 1934, attended by William Randolph Hearst and Adolph Hitler (traveling under an alias and escorted by a dozen cars). Hitler's favorite character was Pilate who he said "stands like a firm rock in the middle of the whole muck and mire of Jewry."

In 1934 the Passion Play was presided over by Hitler's appointed Bavarian State Minister and the High Commissioner for Tourist Traffic. When the villagers were ordered to change their costumes and makeup so they looked Aryan rather than Jewish they refused but they did agree to march in their costumes, regularly "heiling" Hitler. In 1943, Hitler ordered the theater where performances were held to be turned into a bomb factory.

The Passion Play used to be held every year. After World War I it was postponed from 1920 to 1922 because Germany was so desperately poor. In 1940, it was canceled by the Nazis on the grounds it was 'sentimental drivel" and took "manpower and energy from the struggle for world conquest."

Christ leaving the tomb, Oberammergau Passion Play in 1900

Production of the Oberammergau Passion Play

In 1970 a new script was written by a Benedictine monk named Stephan Ettal after conferring with Jewish groups who considered elements of the play to be "anti-Semitic." But the 26-man Oberannaregau play committee rejected it as too boring. Before the 36th performance of the Passion Play in 1970 Jewish groups supported by seven Christian scholars demanded that Munich's Cardinal Julius Dopfner boycott the opening of the performance on the grounds it was anti-semitic. Dropfner did attend but in his opening mass he said: "We are all agreed that the text today needs a new version." [Source: People's Almanac]

Seamstresses usually begin working a year in advance on creating and altering the 1,000 or so new costumes that are needed for each Passion Play. About 1,700 Oberammergau are involved in the production of the play. A man who plays Christ must be on stage for about five hours and memorize about 7,000 words.

The Passion Play was originally produced in front of the town's church but after 1830 it was presented on the Passion Meadow in a covered 5,200-seat theater and an open satge. The Bavarian Alps rise up in back of the stage and it is not unusual for dramatic thunderstorms to strike between 4:00 and 4:30 during the climatic crucifixion scene. The performance ends at 5:15pm with a musical rendition of the Apostles' Creed. There is no applause.

Old Testament and Other Religious Contribution to the Passion

According to the BBC: “Some accounts of the Passion use elements from Old Testament passages to provide additional material: One of the most widely known of these applications is the phrase..."they have numbered all my bones" (Psalm 21:18), which lay behind a host of narrative descriptions of Christ being stretched so tightly on the cross that all his bones were clearly visible and therefore numerable. “Several passages from the Book of Isaiah also provided details that have been added into the Passion story. [Source: Thomas H. Bestul, Texts of the Passion: Latin Devotional Literature and Medieval Society, 1996 |::|

According to the BBC: “It wasn't just the Old Testament material that was used to augment the Passion story. Gospels not included in scripture, such as the Gospel of Nicodemus, provided additional material.Bible commentaries from masters such as Saint Augustine and Saint Jerome dealt with the Passion, while St. Ephraem, for example, added many physical details of the Passion...They, indeed, stretched out His limbs and outraged Him with mockeries. A man whom He had formed wielded the scourge. He who sustains all creatures with His might submitted His back to their stripes — Saint Ephraem [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

20120507-raisng cross Rembrandt.jpg
Raising the Cross by Rembrandt
“Mediaeval books like the Historia scholastica of Peter Comestor and the Legenda aurea of Jacobus de Voragine (d. 1298) added their own ideas to enhance the power of the story... John's description of the arrest in the garden states only that the band of soldiers with the tribune and the leaders of the Jews took Jesus and bound him (John 18:12). In some of the late medieval treatises on the Passion, this description is elaborated with the additional detail that Christ's hands were tied so tightly that blood burst from his fingernails. [Source: Thomas H. Bestul, Texts of the Passion: Latin Devotional Literature and Medieval Society, 1996 |::|

“The mediaeval monk John of Fécamp (died 1078) wrote a famous description of the body of the dying Christ, which clearly inspired many painters... His naked breast gleamed white, his bloody side grew red, his stretched out innards grew dry, the light of his eyes grew faint, his long arms grew stiff, his marble legs hung down, a stream of holy blood moistened his pierced feet. [Source: John of Fécamp, quoted in Thomas H. Bestul, Texts of the Passion: Latin Devotional Literature and Medieval Society, 1996 |::|

“Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ used another influential account; The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which is based on the visions of the German nun Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824). Emmerich believed she had seen Christ's suffering - and her visions added to the Gospel version of the story. So for example, where the Gospels merely refer to Jesus being flogged, Emmerich adds much detail: |::|

“What the Gospels state matter-of-factly and without narrative elaboration is luridly expanded by Emmerich: First they used "a species of thorny stick covered with knots and splinters. The blows from these sticks tore His flesh to pieces; his blood spouted out...." (p. 135). Then she describes the use of scourges "composed of small chains, or straps covered with iron hooks, which penetrated to the bone and tore off large pieces of flesh at every blow" (p. 135). Emmerich's visions paint a very negative portrait of the Jews, and give them a much greater role in the suffering of Jesus than is found in the Bible. [Source: Paul Kurtz, The Passion as a Political Weapon, Free Inquiry, 2004]

The Passion and Anti-Semitism

“The Passion story has often been used to justify Christian anti-Semitism with cruel, tragic and shaming results. Mary Gordon points out that the Passion is a story whose very power to move the human spirit has been a vehicle for both transcendence and murder. To be a Christian is to face the responsibility for one's own most treasured sacred texts being used to justify the deaths of innocents. [Source: Professor Terry Eagleton, cultural theorist, literary critic and Catholic, BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

Christian and Jewish scholar arguing

“And the gospel versions of the story clearly suggest that even if the Jews did not actually kill Jesus, some Jewish officials played a significant part in getting the Roman governor to sentence Jesus to death.Some people claim that the Bible states that the Jews cursed themselves as Christ-killers. They base this on a passage in St. Mark's Gospel (27:25) where members of the Jewish crowd shout out, "His blood be on us, and on our children." This phrase was used for centuries to claim that Jews bore a 'blood guilt' that justified Church anti-Semitism and the murder of Jews. In fact Jesus was not killed by the Jews, but by Roman soldiers on the orders of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor.

“Jesus was crucified, and only the Romans used this method of execution. Jesus was not primarily executed for blasphemy but because Pilate feared that he would incite public unrest. Some of the Jewish leadership played a part in the death of Jesus, but the Jewish population as a whole had nothing to do with it. The blame for Christ's death is unambiguously stated in the Christian Creed: He was also crucified for us, suffered under Pontius Pilate and was buried. |::|

“The Roman Catholic Church brought a formal end to Church anti-Semitism at the Second Vatican Council when it declared in the document Nostra Aetate: True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ, still what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. |::|

“Although the Church is the new People of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures.” |::|

Mel Gibson's The Passion

One film about Jesus that stirred up more than its share of controversy and generated a lot of press was The Passion of the Christ , a film made by Mel Gibson in which all the actors spoke Aramaic (the language widely spoken in Jesus’s time), Hebrew or Latin and highlighted the violence of Christ’s last 12 hours in lurid detail with no shortages of blood, whips, chains, thorns, ripped open flesh, anguished expressions and nails being driven through body parts.

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Audiences loved the film. Some viewers said that watching it was like a religious experience that reveled new level of their faith. One audience member told Newsweek, “I left the theater beaming and smiling and so renewed.” Pope John Paul II said, “It is as it was.” The Reverend Billy Graham wept. Yasser Arafat called it “moving and historical.” Some local religious leaders bought tickets for their entire congregations. The box office numbers were quite impressive. It grossed $350 million in the United States and $550 million worldwide in the first month after its release.

Most critics panned it. Charges of anti-Semitism were made in the way the Jews were portrayed as ultimately being responsible for all the pain that Jesus endured. Gibson is very conservative “traditionalist Catholic” who rejects the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which declared that the Jews should not be held responsible for Christ’s death. When The Passion was ignored at the Oscars some blamed Jews in Hollywood for the snub. Gibson’s views on Jews was called into question when he said “*#&#! Jews” were responsible for “all the wars in the world” when he was arrested for drunk driving California in August 2006.

The Passion was shot in the Italian town of Matera and was rejected by most Hollywood studios. Gibson plucked down $30 million of his own money to make it and said “the Holy Ghost was working through me on this film.” The actor who played Jesus said of Gibson: “The wounds of Christ healed his wound.” There were a number of historical inaccuracies: most Romans in Palestine spoke Greek rather Latin; people who were crucified were nailed through wrists and ankles rather feet and hands. Gibson also included some scenes in the movie that were not in the Gospel, some them suggesting Jewish culpability.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, , Metropolitan Museum of Art, Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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