Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, to be released nationwide on Ash Wednesday, is expected to become the most successful “biblical” film ever made. Advance sales, especially among Evangelical groups cultivated by director, producer, and co-screenwriter Gibson, have been brisk. Whether The Passion becomes the best-known movie version of Christ’s life, or merely an evangelical tool for Christian churches, it has already won the undisputed title of the movie most widely written about before being seen by the public at large.
Jewish leaders, especially Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who sneaked into a preview for pastors in Florida, have expressed serious fears about the film’s potential for provoking anti-Semitic violence. A group of ecumenically inclined Jewish and Catholic scholars, who read an early script of the movie, complained about its historical anachronisms and potential for reanimating the slander of deicide against the Jewish people. Gibson, whose reconversion to the Vatican II-rejecting, Latin Mass-going “traditionalist” Catholicism of his youth appears to be entirely sincere, has aggressively defended his movie. The Academy Award winner is evidently a man of passionate, if occasionally strident, religious conviction. “The Holy Ghost was working through me on this film,” Gibson has said. That’s quite an endorsement.