Sating the Monster

Dissident Voice, United States
March 22 2004

Sating the Monster

by Barbara Sumner Burstyn

Part of the year we live in a small farming community in New Zealand,
where each summer the locals get together for a sports day. In a
paddock backed by the impenetrable Kaweka Ranges, kids gallop their
horses round barrels and dog racing consists of a dead possum tied to
the back of Ute, driven at speed across the paddock with farm dogs in
hot pursuit. While the women slap home grown BBQ sausages into white
bread, men discuss the recent floods and our neighbors decide it’s
the perfect time to try to convert us.

`I can’t wait to see Mel Gibson’s, the Passion,’ the home-schooling
wife and mother says two seconds after we’re introduced. Her husband,
a born-again minister with a flock in Napier nods quietly. I ask her

`Because,’ she lowers her voice, `it’s the truth.’

`Really?’ I know my inflection is rising.

`Oh yes, it shows clearly who was responsible for Jesus’ death.’

Usually people either like or dislike a particular film. But this one
is different. For believers in the literal interpretation of the
bible, the movie version of the last hours of Jesus’ life represents
something far more than actors acting and it’s certainly not two
hours of escapism, instead this film represents validation for their
beliefs and nothing short of the word of God.

But aren’t they missing something here? This is not a rent in the
fabric of time, a documentary or even a docudrama. It’s a movie, a
version of historical events, true only in the sense that Oliver
Stone’s Vietnam War film, Platoon, is true.

Speaking in the New Yorker recently, early Christian historian and
author of The Gnostic Gospels and The Origin of Satan, Elaine Pagels
explains when Christians read the Gospels as historical acts, they
will say what Mel Gibson says: that this is the truth, this is our
faith. But the film ignores the spin the gospel writers were
pressured to put on their works.

Putting it into context she explains how the gospel writers were
oppressed Jews trying to sell a new religion. The gospels, she says,
were not intended as history but as preaching, as religious
propaganda to win followers for the teachings of Christ.

Pagels also calls into question Gibson’s portrayal of Pilate as
benign and says it’s a narrative device to make the Jews appear more
malignant. She says the film is full of the preposterous dialectic of
bad Jews and good Romans. And she points out that when the Temple
police arrest Jesus, Mary Magdalene turns to the Romans as if they
were the policemen on the block, benign protectors of the public
order. `But the very idea of a Jewish woman turning to Roman soldiers
for help is ridiculous.’

And while New York Times arts editor Frank Rich describes the film as
Jew baiting, in an interview in Readers Digest, Gibson, a member of a
Catholic extremist group carefully skirted the issue of the Holocaust
by folding it into the general fog and loss of the WWII. Of course
the son is not responsible for his father’s sins, but Gibson has made
no move to distance himself from Gibson senior’s vicious Holocaust

Certainly in places like Denver, Colorado, the subtle anti-Semitic
message of this film is getting through with The Lovingway United
Pentecostal Church posting a huge marquee reading “Jews Killed the
Lord Jesus.’

But if there is message besides anti-Semitism in this film it is that
violence and brutality are part of human nature. Rich calls the film
a jamboree of bloody beefcake … constructed like a porn movie,
replete with slo-mo climaxes and pounding music for the money shots.’
While writer Christopher Hitchens called it a homoerotic “exercise in
lurid sadomasochism” for those who “like seeing handsome young men
stripped and flayed alive over a long period of time.”

So when a born-again type uses this film to tell you about God’s
love, it might be useful to remember that this love comes with ravens
to peck out your eyes if you blaspheme, extreme torture, blood and
gore and a hoard of baying, big nosed Jews (in contrast to the Jewish
Jesus’ petit white bread one.)

This movie with its utter glorification of the agonies humans can
inflict on each other reveals the bloodlust that lurks in the heart
of man. It is this that fuels our inhumanity to each other and that’s
why this film is such a big hit. And it is this that allows us to
ignore the reality of the pogroms that have decimated Jews for
centuries, fueled the Crusades and the Holocaust, the genocide of
numerous ethnic groups from Armenians and Gypsies to Native
Americans. And it is this bloodlust that allows us to ignore the
10,000 Iraqi’s killed since the invasion of their country, and the
demonizing of present day Muslims.

And who killed Jesus? According to my neighbor we all did. `Not just
the Jews,’ she says and sighs deeply as if she has been divested of a
great weight, this burden of truth. The Passion; a story of love, of
one mans sacrifice? Or an anti-Semitic gore fest to temporarily sate
the monster in each of us?

Barbara Sumner Burstyn is a freelance writer who commutes between
Montreal, Quebec and The Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. She writes a
weekly column for the New Zealand Herald (), and
has contributed to a wide range of media. She can be reached at:
[email protected]. Visit her website to read more of her work:
© 2004 Barbara Sumner Burstyn