Monday, August 18, 2008

Mel Gibson's THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST: Biblical accuracy

Some raved that it was the most controversial movie of it’s time, while others sang praises of it’s beautifully accurate depiction of a terrible event. Robert Ebert gave the film 4 out of 4 stars, in contrast to Christopher Hitchen’s horrendous review, calling it “an exercise in sadomasochistic homoeroticism” (Hitchens 2007). Regardless of the criticism, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ beautifully depicts the last 48 hours of Jesus Christ’s life. The Passion follows Jesus from his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane and Judas’ betrayal: to his trial with Pilate and the denial of Peter: to his brutal flogging and his last breath upon the cross at Golgotha. Gibson’s portrayal of the crucifixion has been crucified itself for being far too gruesome and inaccurate. However, The Passion of the Christ is the most historically accurate contemporary picture society has seen. By comparing the scourging and crucifixion scenes in the movie, the biblical accuracy of The Passion is evident.


“He ordered Jesus flogged with a led-tippped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to crucify him.” Mark 15:15 NLT

The scourging of a criminal was the prelude to the crucifixion. The criminal was stripped of their clothing, their hands tied together and affixed around a post above their head. Once secured, the Roman legionnaire, with flagellum in hand, would begin the brutal whipping. The flagellum was a whip comprised of leather thongs with two small lead balls attached near it’s ends. As the whip is brought down upon the body “at first the heavy thongs cut through the skin only,” but with each blow, the flagellum “cut[s] deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first and oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial bleeding form vessels in the underlying muscles” (Davis 1965) When the centurion in charge determines the criminal was near death, the scourging would cease (Davis 1965). Jesus was ordered to be “flogged with a lead-tipped whip” in the gospel of Mark (Mk 15:15 NLT). In The Passion of the Christ, the scourging of Jesus scene portrays his beating in accordance to the manner stated above: His clothes are torn off; hands are tied together and wrapped around a post positioned above his head. With flagellum in hand, the Roman guards begin brutally whipping Jesus, laughing at his agony as the crowd looks on, some weeping, others cheering. Blood sails through the air, soaking the ground beneath Jesus, splattering the Roman guard’s faces, and even sails as far as the camera lens. The facial expressions with every whip tell of the sheer pain and once they are finished, Jesus is left in a pool of his own blood. As the film continues, the Roman soldiers dress Jesus “in a purple robe and made a crown of long sharp thorns and put it on his head,” (Mk 15:17 NLT) just as it says in the gospels. The scourging scenes have a biblical base behind their action, apparent by their relationship to the text.


“Carrying his cross by himself, Jesus went to the place called Skull Hill (in Hebrew, Golgotha). There they crucified him. “ John 19:17-19 NLT

After the scourging has ceased, the Romans required that the criminal carry a large wooden cross to the place of their own execution. It was at the place of execution that the criminal would be attached to the cross. In the gospel of John, Jesus was ordered to carry “his cross by himself” (Jn 19:17 NLT) Known as the act of “torture and execution of a person by fixation on a cross,” this horrendous practice was first introduced into Egypt and Carthage by the Persians (Davis 1965). The Romans later mastered the tortuous act and increased the efficiency of each whip. Accounts from Roman history “have shown that the nails were driven between the small bones of the wrists” (Davis 1965). Historically Christians have believed that the large nails were pierced through Jesus’ palm; however, “nails driven through the palms would strip out between the fingers when they support the weight of a human body” (Davis 1965). In The Passion of the Christ, after being brutally beaten, Jesus carries his cross through the city, stumbling with every step he takes and falling helplessly to the ground. After help from a man named Simon, a battered Jesus reaches the top of Golgotha. In this scene, Jesus is nailed to the cross; two nails accurately driven through his wrist bones and another through his feet. Both feet are extended, left foot pressed against the right, toes down and the nail pierces the arches. Once the cross is raised, the remaining events in the movie follow the order as written in the gospels: beginning with Jesus being taunted by the guards, and finishing with Jesus’ last anguished shout of “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?) (Mk 15:34 NLT) Once again, the crucifixion scene is concurrent with the manner in which the event happened within biblical text.

The Passion of the Christ caused a stir when released in 2004. Many viewers were upset by the highly violent actions of the movie. Others critiqued Gibson’s “obvious” anti-Semitic viewpoints. However, it is hard to believe that the controversial issue around The Passion of the Christ was strictly the highly violent scenes or the possible anti-Semitic undertones. It was society’s unpreparedness for what Gibson was ready to portray. The crucifixion is and should be upsetting; a man, whipped until near death and then forced to carry a 110 pound cross, which he is nailed to by his own limbs -- does not exactly sound like the next Disney hit. Gibson took the chance to give the world a glimpse of what the crucifixion might have been like. Was his depiction 100% correct? No one knows nor ever will. But Bible scholar and President of Focus on the Family, Dr. James Dobson believes that not only was the movie “faithful to the essentials of the biblical account, it is easily the most heart-wrenching, powerful portrayal of Christ's suffering that I have ever seen” (Dobson 2004). With scenes rooted in biblical evidence, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ beautifully portrays the most horrific event in history: the death of Jesus Christ.

Carole Baumgartner
Word Count: 1054

Works Cited
Davis, C. Truman. "The Passion of Christ from a Medical Point of view." Arizona Medicine (Arizona Medical Association), March 1965.
Dobson, Dr. James. "The Greatest Story Ever Told." Focus on the Family. Feb 2004. (accessed Jul 15, 2008).
The Passion of the Christ. Directed by Mel Gibson. Produced by Newmarket Films. 2004.
Hitchens, Christopher. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Allen & Unwin, 2007.

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