As I’ve indicated, this semester I’m teaching my course on Jesus in Scholarship and Film; in it we read and analyze a number of Gospels (the canonical four and six others); we discuss how scholars have reconstructed the life of Jesus; and we seen how Jesus has been portrayed on film.  One of the ultimate goals of the class is to show that every Gospel, every scholar, and every film presents Jesus in a *different* way.  There’s not One Jesus out there, but a large number of Jesuses.

Most of the students have not seen any of the films we’re discussing in class (from Cecil B. DeMille’s King of Kings up to Jesus of Montreal).  And they will have an assignment to write a film critique of other films we don’t deal with directly.  I give them the choice of Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ or Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”  If experience is any guide, most of them will choose Gibson.  And most of them will find it deeply moving.  It certainly is moving, especially if you’re moved by gore.  But what about it as a film?  Apart from the bloodthirst, most students don’t find anything wrong with it.

What about biblical scholars?  For what it’s worth:  I don’t think I know a single scholar of the historical Jesus, or of the New Testament, or – well of any academic topic taught at universities whom I’ve ever spoken with – who likes the movie. Most of the objections raised to it have involved its portrayals of Jews and its apparent embrace of the kinds of anti-Semitism that is all too easy to overlook, and therefore re-embrace without thinking.

I am completely sympathetic with these objections. But here I’ll talk about other issues. I find the movie problematic (also) because Gibson maintained *both* that he stayed faithful to the accounts of the Gospels *and* that he showed events “as they really were.” Neither is true.

First, as to being faithful to the Gospel accounts.

The one thing that struck every single person who saw the movie and that kept most everyone else away from seeing it was the horrifically gruesome violence done to the body of Jesus, not only at the crucifixion but even more during the episode of his flogging, where he is literally beaten to a pulp until he can’t stand, but then finds strength to arise and more or less tell them to bring it on again some more (he HAS to suffer, so he’s in for the full treatment – KEEP IT COMIN’ BOYS), which they do, blow after blow after blow until he is little more than a throbbing blob of blood.

So, is this being faithful to the Gospels?  Actually, no.  Not even close.   Realize the Gospels *could* have given a blow by blow (literally) account of what happened when Jesus was tortured before his execution.  They could have gone on for pages describing this lash of the Roman thongs and its effect on his battered body, and then the next, then the next, for pages – just as Gibson’s version goes on minute after minute after minute after minute.   But they don’t.  How do the Gospels themselves handle Jesus’ flogging?  By saying: “and they scourged him.”   That’s *IT*.  No detailed account.  No blow by blow.  Nothing.  Just a simple statement.  And why is that?  Because the Gospels – unlike Gibson – were not INTERESTED in the gory second-by-second details.  They were interested in other things.  That is, they were interested in things other than Mel Gibson is interested in.  So let’s not say that this gruesome account is being true to the Gospels.  (This, of course, is just one example).

But, second, you could say: OK, so the Gospels don’t give all the details – but Gibson is telling it like “it really was.”  If a prisoner was scourged, this is what it was like.  This movie gives us a realistic account of Jesus’ last hours.  Right?  Well, no, wrong.

This was quite obvious to me the first time I saw it.  As you all probably know, the dialogue in the movie is actually delivered in Aramaic (with subtitles for those of us who are a little rusty on our spoken Aramaic).  But what you may not know – or didn’t notice – is that Jesus, the Aramaic-speaking Jew – when he is taken before Pontius Pilate for his trial, suddenly shifts and begins to speak in flawless Latin!   Yup, that’s right, LATIN!!  Jesus!!!   What’s *that* all about?

Gibson of course is thinking that the Roman governor would speak Latin, and so Jesus would speak to him in his native tongue.  But how in the world would Jesus have learned Latin?  (Some scholars have suggested that Jesus knew a smattering of Latin given the Roman presence in the land; but that has been shown to be almost certainly false.  There were no Romans present in Jesus’ town of Nazareth, and prior to his arrival in Jerusalem the last week of his life, he probably never encountered a Roman) (yes, I do know there are stories about him and centurions and so on in the NT; I have my doubts about them.  but in any event, these were not occasions for him to take some Latin lessons).

Anyway, back to my question: what is Gibson *thinking* in having Jesus speak fluent Latin?  In fact, it is not an innocent question.  For this reason.

Gibson belongs to a sect of Roman Catholicism that is opposed to all the advances and changes that have taken place in the religion since Vatican II in the 1960s.  In particular, his group of sectarians are opposed to the saying of the Catholic Mass in the vernacular (i.e., local) languages.  They insist that the mass is to be said in Latin.  Why?  Because Latin is the sacred language.

If Latin is the sacred language for the sacred rites centered on remembering Jesus’ death and resurrection (the mass), the language that God has ordained should be used for the sacred rite – then surely Jesus himself could have spoken Latin.  Right?!?  That appears to be the logic behind the strange shift in Jesus’ tongue at his trial.  Jesus of course was fluent in Latin.  It’s the sacred language.

Yikes.  This isn’t history.  It’s theology transposed onto the past to make it say what one (Mel) *wants* it to say.

There are all sorts of other anomalies and odd moments in “The Passion of the Christ” (including the pious legend that when “Veronica” wiped Jesus’ face on the way to Gethsemane that an image of his face was miraculously transferred to the cloth!  So much for sticking to the message of the Gospels….).

In short what we have in this movie is not an accurate retelling of the accounts of Jesus’ trial and death as found in the Gospels; and it is not an accurate portrayal of things “as they really happened.”  What is this movie then?  It is the Gospel according to Mel.

I have no problem with Mel writing his own Gospel.  Each of us is perfectly free to write his or her own Gospel.  What I object to is a millionaire actor and director who is himself obsessed with violence and blood and gore and torment and death, and who cannot separate these obsessions from his own religion, pushing these obsessions on unwary viewers who are supposed to think think that this Gospel of Mel is in fact the Gospel of Truth.

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2023-09-22T10:47:08-04:00September 21st, 2023|Jesus and Film|

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  1. Alfred September 21, 2023 at 5:55 am

    Like all Catholics (and Orthodox) Gibson does not depend on scripture alone. And his sect is inspired by a range of unusual writing. My understanding is that he based much of his narrative on The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Anne Catherine Emmerich [1862]

    Surely it is his fidelity to his source on which his movie should be judged, not the sources a Protestant would prefer?

    • Joan_of_Bark September 24, 2023 at 10:16 am

      If you’re right, then Gibson should say as much, not pretend otherwise. Has he ever said that this was his source?

    • stevenpounders September 26, 2023 at 12:30 pm

      Actually, Dr. Ehrman is judging the movie based on Gibson’s own source claim:

      “Critics who have a problem with me don’t really have a problem with me in this film,” Gibson said. “They have a problem with the four Gospels. That’s where their problem is.” (Mel Gibson’s interview with Diane Sawyer)

      Gibson might have based his film on the visions of a 19th century German mystic – but that’s not how he marketed the film.

  2. petfield September 21, 2023 at 6:06 am

    I’ve always found it very funny, when you used to refer to the fake περικοπή in Jonh with the woman taken in adultery, and you would bring up this movie to point out that this story has been so influential that it even made it as a flashback into this movie, which has nothing to do with Jesus’s life (other than his torture)!

  3. rezubler September 21, 2023 at 8:13 am

    re: pushing obsessions. That pretty much applies to most all directors! When I first saw The Passion of the Christ, it was clear to me (and most of the folks who saw the movie) that there were many liberties taken and that it more radical “Mel’s view”. There was no attempt made to hide his known biases. The blood/gore was only considered somewhat reasonable due to it balancing much of the intentional ‘glossing over’ of many of the actual horrors of a crucifixion in most church settings. The depth of Jesus’ suffering was the clear target for Mel and the more Jesus suffered, the worse the stain on those who sanctioned the execution. I am sure Gibson also justified the piling on of the suffering in relation to all the sin that Jesus was bearing onto the cross. Do I think it was a BAD movie? No. It was effective in showing an admittedly slanted view that balanced some of the more anticeptic views that preceded it. For many, Gibson’s setting of Jesus’ suffering demonstrated how tiny many of our sacrifices are in comparison.

    …and maybe Jesus might of known “Caveat Emptor.”

  4. GeoffClifton September 21, 2023 at 8:51 am

    Thanks Dr Ehrman. I haven’t seen the film but my wife has (she’s a liberal post-Vatican II Catholic) and was upset by the gore, which you mentioned. On the Latin point, however, I think there’s a remark in Josephus (?) that Latin was virtually unknown in Judea at that time and so official communications had to be sent out to there from Rome in Greek. I guess, conceivably, Jesus might have had a smattering of Greek (Sepphoris, a Greek Town was close to Nazareth) and Pilate as an educated Roman may have spoken Greek, so that could have been how they communicated. Otherwise, they probably used an interpreter. (I’m tempted to make a corny joke about Jesus actually speaking English but don’t want to annoy Mel G 😉)

  5. GeoffClifton September 21, 2023 at 8:57 am

    A follow-up question, please, Dr Ehrman. Are you familiar with the streaming series called The Chosen, and if so, how do you regard its grasp on Biblical scholarship?
    Many thanks.

    • BDEhrman September 22, 2023 at 6:49 pm

      Sorry, I know of it but haven’t seen it.

  6. Franz September 21, 2023 at 9:21 am

    Thanks for the review. Confirms why I did not watch the move and never will.

  7. jhague September 21, 2023 at 10:11 am

    “How do the Gospels themselves handle Jesus’ flogging? By saying: “and they scourged him.” ”

    Do you think Jesus was flogged before the crucifixion or just taken away to be crucified?

    • BDEhrman September 22, 2023 at 6:49 pm

      I really don’t know. I don’t know how we could find out….

      • jhague September 24, 2023 at 4:15 pm

        I had a thought that if the Romans wanted to prolong the suffering on the cross, then they would not want the person flogged before hand. Does that make sense?

        Are there any records of flogging before crucifixion in other writings, such as Josephus?

        • BDEhrman September 28, 2023 at 7:40 pm

          Good point. I don’t know of other records of flogging, but I’ve never looked into it. Maybe someone else on th eblog knows and can help us out.

  8. fishician September 21, 2023 at 10:20 am

    I’ve never understood the concept of conducting a religious service in an ancient tongue that the congregants don’t speak, and I don’t think Paul would understand it either: “So you too, unless you produce intelligible speech by the tongue, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will just be talking to the air…So if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be unintelligible to the one who speaks, and the one who speaks will be unintelligible to me.” (1 Corinthians 14:9, 11) If your purpose is to sound religious but not to edify then you’ve missed the point.

  9. nowakova.nicole September 21, 2023 at 11:07 am

    As someone who used to be a Roman Catholic, I was really disgusted with the Catholic obssesion with blood, gore and pain and I think that Mel Gibson’s movie is a prime example of that (other examples are crucifixes, prayers and devotions like litany of the most precious blood, litany of passion, relics, saints and their ascetic practices like self-flagellation, starvation, some saints allegedly received stigmata and their biographies describe it very graphically, there are even religious orders like passionists who besides the three vows also take a vow to promote devotion the passion of christ etc).

    Is this something that was present in the first century or do you think it started in the middle ages? From what I know asceticism is not a part of jewish religion, so I am wondering where it came from and how it became such an important part of catholicism. What do you make of the shroud of turin? Do you think it is authentic?

    • BDEhrman September 22, 2023 at 6:51 pm

      We know of self-flagellation even among certain pagan groups. It makes sense for anyone who thinks this world is corrupt and needs to be escaped, that th ebody is a prison that needs to be denied and punished so the spirit can be set fre… The shroud is a medieval forgery, according to the best science. But believers will hang on! Just as othee people will believe all sorts of other things…

  10. curtiswolf69 September 21, 2023 at 11:35 am

    To me it did not make sense in the movie for the Romans to beat him to a bloody pulp and then have him die quickly when crucified. As you have noted the Romans wanted people to die slowly in plain view to serve as a deterrent against rebellion against Rome.

  11. Stephen September 21, 2023 at 1:06 pm

    A little socially acceptable sado-masochism for the churchgoing set.

  12. nanuninu September 21, 2023 at 1:35 pm

    For some reason, Jesus had to suffer before he was killed to atone for our sins. According to Mel, he had to lose about ten gallons of blood before he was crucified. Back in the day, were animals tortured before they were sacrificed? I can see that making sense to religious lunatics.

  13. drinphx September 21, 2023 at 1:56 pm

    I’m curious if you have seen any episodes of The Chosen currently on Netflix? They say it’s based on the Gospels although they definitely pick and choose which one’s to use to suit their message. The actors are way to well groomed and good looking but having said the I think the series does not over evangelize and seems to be trying to provide some historical context with its look and feel.

    • BDEhrman September 22, 2023 at 6:51 pm

      I’m afraid I haven’t seen it.

  14. NTDeist September 21, 2023 at 3:03 pm

    I would assume Pilate spoke to the Jews and Jesus in Greek since some of the Jews in Jerusalem knew Greek. Would a Jew then translate and repeat Pilate’s words in Aramaic for Jesus and the crowd?

    • BDEhrman September 22, 2023 at 6:52 pm

      Presumably. But I don’t think there was a crowd present at Jesus’ trial, even though the Gospels (and esp the movies!) portray it that way. It would have been a very quick private event in Pilate’s judgment hall.

      • AngeloB September 23, 2023 at 11:35 pm

        Why do you think a crowd was included in the Gospels Bart?

        • BDEhrman September 28, 2023 at 7:31 pm

          To elevate the importance of Jesus and the moment.

  15. VerdantChief September 21, 2023 at 3:07 pm

    Bart, I can’t wait to see you analyze The Chosen, if you haven’t already. If you have, I must find your review.

    • BDEhrman September 22, 2023 at 6:53 pm

      I haven’t seen it, I’m sorry to say. (I *think* I’m sorry…)

  16. Hogie2 September 21, 2023 at 3:26 pm

    Have you watched the comedy series Black Jesus? It may be good assignment for your class. It’s very funny and an interesting modern take on Jesus.

    “The hijinks of a street-smart savior living in modern-day Compton, on a mission to spread love and kindness throughout the crime-ridden L.A. neighborhood with his small group of followers.“

    • BDEhrman September 22, 2023 at 6:53 pm

      I haven’t! Thanks,

      • jonas September 23, 2023 at 6:19 pm

        I can second the recommendation for Black Jesus — it’s a very funny, very sweet show written by Aaron Macgruder, the cartoonist known for the often boundary-pushing comic strip/animated series The Boondocks.

  17. MarkWiz September 21, 2023 at 3:52 pm

    I suspect there is an underlying theological reason for Gibson’s graphic portrayal of the blood and gore. When I was a kid growing up in parochial school pre-Vatican II, the image of Jesus’s suffering was intensely drilled into our little skulls. The philosophy was that not only was Jesus executed for our sins, but also His torture and death were the most painful episodes ever experienced in mankind. Therefore, you owe it to God to be good because your sins will continue to hurt Him. Yep, Catholic guilt is real. But as I grew older, my attitude became, “But if that is true, I didn’t set up the rules of the game.” What father would give his young kids a puppy knowing they would neglect it, maybe even abuse it to death, only to be able to say, “I loved that puppy, I shared my love with you, but you killed it! You are worthless and owe me obedience!” It seems incredibly manipulative to me, as does most of the OT stories – the tree in the garden, Issac and Abraham, Job. Who could stay in a human relationship like this?

  18. Chemosh September 21, 2023 at 4:48 pm

    Hi Bart,
    A Blessed Mabon to you!
    Did any of the early Christians that were eventually put down, such as Marcion or any of the Gnostics, claim to have had a vison of Jesus and given a mission, such as the road to Damascus claim made by Paul?

    • BDEhrman September 22, 2023 at 6:54 pm

      NOt that I’m aware of. They usually did claim to have revelations from God, often about how to *interpret* Scripture. But I can’t thikn of any visions of Jesus being claimed.

  19. John.Feldmann September 21, 2023 at 6:49 pm

    Even though I am Roman Catholic and try to pray in Latin as best as I can, I was never able to connect with Gibson‘s rendition. I never imagined the scourging of Christ as such a gruesome depiction. Are there any historical hints in Roman historiography on what torture practices in the Empire might have been?

    • BDEhrman September 22, 2023 at 6:57 pm

      Oh yeah. They aren’t pleasant. Some of the Christian martyr accounts give gory details, e.g.,

      • John.Feldmann September 22, 2023 at 7:31 pm

        Just following up on that: How historically reliable would you consider most of the martyr accounts to be?

        • BDEhrman September 28, 2023 at 7:10 pm

          Today in my seminar we discussed the first that survives, The Martyrdom of Polycarp. I don’t think there’s any way it was written by an eyewitness (as it indicates) or that it can be accurate in its details. The others are pretty much like that.

  20. Publilius September 21, 2023 at 8:30 pm

    Well, many people believe that Jesus is God, so presumably he speaks all human languages.

  21. DrMixerGED September 22, 2023 at 1:43 am

    Spot on. I saw this with excitement as an “unsaved” person with my buddy at 18. Then not long ago, I, the atheist, after binge watching the Chosen, then watching it again with my saved wife, suggested we watch “The Passion
    …”. Hated it. For the reasons Bart mentioned, and just the absurdity of it all. Still, speaking Aramaic was a cool touch.

    Not relevant: Bart, have you ever reviewed “The Chosen?” If not, would you consider it, considering it’s an extremely popular show?

    And thanks Bart/Diane/etc. You know what for.

    • BDEhrman September 22, 2023 at 6:59 pm

      I haven’t seen it, I’m sorry to say. (I *think* I’m sorry…)

  22. Brcaval September 22, 2023 at 5:19 am

    prof. Ehrman,
    I also saw the film, years ago, and I found it particularly violent and almost pleased with this. Regarding the question of the language used in the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, I became convinced that Pilate should have spoken Greek and not Latin: wasn’t Greek perhaps the “diplomatic” language used by Roman officials in the empire, especially in the East?

    • BDEhrman September 22, 2023 at 6:59 pm

      Yes, he probably would have spoken Greek.

  23. Tomos September 22, 2023 at 8:17 am

    Hi Doctor Ehrman do you reckon there are books and stories of Jesus not in canon that you think are probably Historical or have Historical parts to them that you think happened in terms of what Jesus said and did?

    • BDEhrman September 26, 2023 at 7:22 pm

      I’d say the Gospel of Thomas is the one usually cited as most likely to have sayings of Jesus that might be authentic. Otherwise, not so much.

  24. Frank_Bella September 22, 2023 at 8:48 am

    Bart, I think you are being a little tough on Mel. While you are factually correct, Gibson is no New Testament scholar, nor does he claim to be. I would guess that he is speaking in some hyperbole, when he says things like “as it was,” and “true to the Gospels.” He also said that he was incorporating the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich, which is where all the gore came in, and which are obviously not part of the Gospels. Even John Paul II said, “It is as it was.” Mel Gibson makes no secret of his “Traditional” Catholicism and rejection of Vatican II, and makes no secret that he incorporated his own devout religious views into the movie. I guess I simply would not hold him to the same standard that you hold Dan Brown, about whom you make a very strong and obvious case. About the anti-Semitism issue, that was a big controversy at the time, the Jewish role presented by Mel was no different a view than was in some ancient Christian writings, as you have pointed out. I think he makes my group (the Italians) look much worse, which I guess they deserved.

  25. Tom48 September 22, 2023 at 11:57 am

    “when he is taken before Pontius Pilate for his trial, suddenly shifts and begins to speak in flawless Latin! Yup, that’s right, LATIN!!”

    I have not seen this movie, but I am curious – was he speaking Classical Latin or Ecclesiastical Latin?

    Also, Americans are notoriously monolingual, but people in small countries today often speak more than one language, and it was presumably similar in first century Roman Palestine. Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic, and Jesus, at least, presumably knew enough Hebrew to read the Torah. Also, Koine Greek was the common trade language in the eastern Mediterranean, and Latin was the common administrative language. It seems quite possible that some of Jesus and his disciples knew at least a smattering of Latin and/or Greek. This is not to claim they necessarily did, and certainly not that they were fluent, but only to suggest that it is possibly not valid to suggest that it is impossible that any of them knew anything other than Aramaic.

    • BDEhrman September 26, 2023 at 7:25 pm

      Ah, good question. I”ve not thought about it. But I’d assume it was classical Latin. And yes, today many people are multilingual. Not in rural parts of the world in antiquity, or even most urban parts. Only the educated elite would be completely fluent (and some others who had to be — for example international merchants).

  26. EricBrown September 22, 2023 at 1:02 pm

    there is also a long-standing strain of Catholicism (congruent with or at least overlapping with Gibson’s strain) that finds it theologically important that Jesus’ suffering had to be super, super rough suffering. that weeping over how rough it was is a form or devotion, etc.

    Never made much sense to me… the truly astonishing thing, theologically… would be the omnipotent creator somehow making himself mortal (in part?) and choosing to experience that, which includes dying, peacefully or awfully.

    Someone once gave me the “Dolorous passion of our Lord Jesus Christ”, supposedly visions of a certain Saint Anne describing in ridiculous detail every single moment and act and scene of the last day or so (Such as very detailed descriptions of which disciple was starting the fire on the hearth in the upper room, what color was the rug, whatever.

    The most laughable thing to me is that Jesus moves around from Pilate to Herod to this that the other place so much he’d have to be running like Usain Bolt the entire time to fit it into the schedule.

  27. sukebind September 22, 2023 at 3:46 pm

    I haven’t seen the movie, but I’ve read that another objection is that Mel inserted fever dreams of 17th- and 18-century visionaries.

  28. giselebendor September 22, 2023 at 4:38 pm

    Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ is a film I watched twice over the years. Read the Kasantzakis extraordinary book as well. I always remembered from the first viewing the notion that Jesus had a choice (even if animated by Satan),and he chose his own terrible destiny. On second viewing,I gave more emphasis precisely to the shocking satanic revelation.Also, the way in which it seems that Jesus grows into his own person with every action or saying is uncanny.The point is,it’s a tremendous film, an art work that made me think.

    This is not the case with Gibson’s film.First, I abhor anti-Jewish slants,particularly from a Holocaust denier.I wish I had never seen the film.The gore is unforgivable.The Latin and also the Aramaic are fake.The “harmonised” Gospels are a mess.But my true nightmare is the fact that so many millions of people loved it and were moved by it.It actually scares me.It reminds me of the statement “we preach Christ crucified”,or something like it- maybe I took it from Paul- that reduces the whole of Jesus’ legacy to a Roman pagan harrowing method of torture and execution.

    One of my favourite movies is Mary Magdalene.Another is Passolini’s Gospel according to Matthew.

  29. curiojeff September 22, 2023 at 6:04 pm

    My favorite film adaptation is Franco Zeffirelli’s 1977 miniseries Jesus of Nazareth. I recently re-watched it (with the benefit of Bart’s insights) and, while it’s replete with historical inaccuracies, it still does an amazing job of capturing both the period and the blended Gospel story without veering into ridiculous, DeMille-esque miracles. There’s no walking on water, no mountaintop with Moses and Elijah, no flying up into heaven. The few miraculous events it includes are handled with subtlety and taste. Yes, there is the healing of the blind man, the raising of Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus, but they’re done without veering into the fantastical. Jesus’ resurrection moment is left off-screen and the lone post-resurrection encounter shows Jesus simply talking briefly with his disciples, comforting them. And the way they depict crucifixion is downright educational.

    The casting is superb and the performances are amazing, particularly James Farentino as Peter, Christopher Plummer as Herod Antipas, Michael York as John the Baptist, and Robert Powell as Jesus — without question the best-cast Jesus in film history. All-star casts often yield cheesy results, but many of these popular actors deliver the best work of their careers!

    Puts Mel’s version to shame.

    • BDEhrman September 28, 2023 at 7:07 pm

      Robert Powell. I completely agree. Eyes that will look right through you….

  30. Jac September 22, 2023 at 7:17 pm

    I always thought that a Gibson style scourging would have killed Jesus before he even got to the cross! All that blood loss would surely at least have rendered him unconscious.

  31. BAF September 22, 2023 at 9:52 pm

    Dr. Ehrman, I believe that the blood found on the Shroud of Turin is type AB. According to blood type expert Dr. Peter D’Adamo, AB is the most recent blood type. He says: “Little evidence for the occurrence of group AB extends beyond 900 to 1,000 years ago, when a large western migration of Eastern peoples took place. Blood group AB is rarely found in European graves prior to 900 A.D.”

    If this is also true in middle eastern graves, it is yet another reason why the Shroud can be considered to be a later forgery. What do you think?

    • BDEhrman September 28, 2023 at 7:12 pm

      I’d have to look into it. There’s a new documentary coming out on it….

  32. petekang September 23, 2023 at 11:08 am

    I have been re-reading the gospels, starting with Mark, with the question of “What kind of Jesus is this portraying?” I would love to sit in this class that you’re doing this semester. One thing that kind of caught my eye during re-reading Mark: it says that shortly after the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus “came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God. (Mark 1:14)” What is our understanding of what this “gospel of God” is? Jesus doesn’t necessarily spell out what this is. In fact, the Jesus of Mark’s Gospel is very cryptic and secretive. It couldn’t have been what we understand as “gospel” today, that is, the propitiation of sins through the death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection, since it didn’t happen yet. Or was it? Do we have any idea?

    • BDEhrman September 28, 2023 at 7:19 pm

      It’s the good news mentioned in the next verse: the kingdom of God is very near. These are the first recorded words of Jesus (Mark 1:15) and I think that they actually do sum up the teaching/preaching of Jesus (even though Mark himself sees the good news as Jesus’ death)

  33. J.MarkWorth September 23, 2023 at 3:40 pm

    Mel Gibson has shown in other films such as Braveheart and The Patriot that he prefers cinematic excess to real history. Braveheart, especially, is notorious for being historically wrong about nearly everything in the film. So I’m not surprised that he plays fast and loose with the New Testament.

  34. dellajo September 23, 2023 at 5:19 pm

    Hi Professor. I haven’t seen the movie but I remember another criticism of the movie at the time from one scholar was that Pontius Pilate himself (never mind Jesus) was speaking Latin. The scholar thought he would’ve spoken Greek. What’s your view?

    • BDEhrman September 29, 2023 at 10:47 am

      Pilate’s native language would have been latin, but probably when conducting business with the locals he would have spoken Greek.

  35. jonas September 23, 2023 at 6:30 pm

    Gibson’s personal theology certainly played a role in how he portrayed Jesus’s (blood-spattered) last hours, but where he got most of his details for the film was from the visions of an early 19th-century German mystic named Anne Catherine Emerich, who claimed to have received a revelation in which she was transported back in time to witness Jesus’s trial and execution in gruesome detail. It’s Emerich’s purported vision, recorded by the German romantic poet Clemens Brentano, that inspired the film. Not coincidentally, what she saw seemed to comport largely with images of the passion passed down from medieval and baroque Catholic art and liturgical drama. The legitimacy of Emerich’s visions, as well as the role of her amanuensis, Brentano, have been the subject of a lot of religious and scholarly controversy.

  36. Martin Brody September 23, 2023 at 8:10 pm

    As one having spent time in the Roman Catholic tradition, in my understanding a circular argument, spinning at 3500 RPM, underlies the emphasis on the cruelty of Jesus’s scourging. Especially in our modern times where you see torture raised to an art form in regular television programming, the scourging of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb has to be depicted as extreme to elicit the requisite shock and horror.

    The circular argument involves the “Agony in the Garden,” among other things. Interestingly, Jesus sweats blood in the Garden of Gethsemane because he already knows how excruciating his scourging and crucifixion will be (remember Jesus as God knows the future). And even though this was all “God’s plan” to “die for the sins of the world,” Judas and Pilate somehow still had free will. And yet even though Jesus realized the importance of his sacrifice, unlike other Christian martyrs who relished dying for the cause, Jesus doesn’t seem to keen on it.

    Go figure.

  37. fragmentp52 September 23, 2023 at 11:22 pm

    Thanks as always Bart for this forum.

    For those interested, Paula Fredriksen wrote an article back in 2003 in The New Republic that does a kind of deep dive into the issues around this film. A very good piece IMO, and as always with Paula, very well written.

  38. AngeloB September 23, 2023 at 11:31 pm

    My brother was in tears after watching the movie in the cinema!

  39. GeoffClifton September 24, 2023 at 8:11 am

    While we are on the subject (and I only base this on still shots I’ve seen), Mel didn’t get the Roman uniforms right either. He has legionaries with helmets and armour that were probably invented after Jesus’s death and employed first in the West before being used by Eastern troops. Pilate’s troops were auxiliaries and would probably have worn chain mail, plainer helmets and carried old style oval shields. But, to be fair, many Jesus movies make these same errors.

  40. michaelfriesen September 24, 2023 at 8:35 am

    Lapsed Catholic here. I agree Gibson’s movie isn’t historically accurate and there are plenty of problems with it as far of its depictions of Jews, etc. I still appreciate the movie though, and that’s because I feel it does a good job of representing aspects of Catholic theology, such as the idea of Mary as co-redemptrix. In some ways, it reminds me of the Gospel According to John: both are historically inaccurate and unfair in their depiction of Jews; at the same time, both are deeply symbolic works of art that seek to express their authors’ idiosyncratic faith.

    I write the above not to discount what others have said. Mostly, I agree with critiques of the film. But, to me, the reviews I read of the film, especially by New Testament scholars, tended to miss a lot of the distinctive Catholic symbolism in the film. And for me, that’s where the movie shines, not in all the gore, which is all some people were able to see.

  41. Daniel N. September 24, 2023 at 4:22 pm

    Hi Bart, you mention 4 canonical and 6 non-canonical gospels from the Antiquity + the movie gospel of Mel.

    But how many gospels we have from the Antiquity? At least some part of?

    • BDEhrman September 28, 2023 at 7:41 pm

      My edition of “The Other Gospels” (that I did with Zlatko Plese, my colleague) contains about 40 gospels from outside the NT from the early centuries, in Greek, Latin, and Coptic (we translated them all and gave them introductions to explain what they’r about).

  42. Omar6741 September 24, 2023 at 4:54 pm

    Off-topic question for Bart:
    What do you think of Marcionite priority, the idea that Marcion wrote the first Gospel and that the NT gospels are adaptations of, or reactions to, his work?

    • BDEhrman September 28, 2023 at 7:42 pm

      I think it has almost zero going for it. Matthew is being quoted already around 100 CE. There’s no way Marcion could be that early.

      • Omar6741 September 29, 2023 at 10:33 pm

        One more question: in which authors around 100CE should I look for these Matthew quotations?

        • BDEhrman October 3, 2023 at 3:53 pm

          The Didache and then a decade later Ignatius’s letter to the Ephesians.

  43. Chris_C September 24, 2023 at 5:32 pm

    It’s certainly not pleasant to watch the gore but where exactly should the line be drawn on the violence? It’s hard to say. It’s true that the Gospel accounts only say that Jesus was scourged, but how serious or significant would the scourging have been? Roman occupied Palestine 2000 years ago was a very different world to our own: human rights were not exactly top priority. I imagine that a flogging of this nature would have been absolutely brutal. In fact, we are told in the Gospels that Jesus was so weak that he was not capable of carrying the cross on his own. He was helped by Simon of Cyrene which serves to indicate that he had been significantly brutalised beforehand.

    Where Mel certainly did go way off the Gospel narratives is when he portrays Simon of Cyrene intervening when the Romans are beating Jesus on the way to Calvary. Simon even dares to tell the Roman soldiers that he will no longer assist in carrying the cross unless they stop beating Jesus. I do not recall reading this anywhere in the Gospels. That much certainly is the Gospel according to Mel Gibson.

  44. pjcWitch September 24, 2023 at 6:26 pm

    Just curious, but could you guestimate the percentage of your students that select “The Passion” over “The Last Temptation of Christ?”

    I haven’t seen Gibson’s movie because I don’t like gore for its own sake. It’s been some years that I watched “The Last Temptation …” but I remember it being interesting because it postulated a different take on the gospels’ message.

    What info do your students have when deciding which movie to choose? I confess that I envy your students as it sounds like a “fun” course.

    • BDEhrman September 28, 2023 at 7:42 pm

      Last semester it was something like 18 our of 22. And they told me why: It was much shorter. 🙂

  45. babaks September 26, 2023 at 5:33 am

    @Dr. Ehrman, I have another blog suggestion for you. There’s an ebook, available to download for free if you do a quick google search, and it’s called “Man Messenger Messiah” by Abu Zakariya. I think it’s really interesting. It would be cool to get your insight on it

  46. Flosshilda September 26, 2023 at 1:38 pm

    I have never seen Gibson’s film and I never wish to. I am not in to “gore fests”. As for the nonsense of Jesus speaking fluent Latin that must have been interesting. Did he have a “Latin lesson” like Brian? 🙂

    Greek was the lingua franca of the region and Pilate would have spoken Greek with his high ranking Jewish colleagues. Latin was, of course, the official language of the Roman military.

    Your course sounds fascinating. Jesus of Montreal is a very interesting film that I have not seen for a number of years and I do hope you include Pasolini’s The Gospel of Matthew on the list. Not forgetting probably the best one of all The Life of Brian!

    • BDEhrman September 28, 2023 at 8:00 pm

      Ha! No, in Gibson’s movie Pilate didn’t take Jesus by the ear and force him to conjugate the verb…. And yes, they do see parts of Pasolini (not enough action for most of them) and Life of Brian! And Superstar: the don’t know the music, which to me is astonishing….

  47. sonjitsu September 26, 2023 at 3:42 pm

    Question: What will be the best description of the temple guards (who arrested Jesus), are they Roman soldiers (under Pilate) or Jewish household (of the High Priest)?
    Who had jurisdiction over the temple guards, the High Priest or Pontius Pilate?
    Please elaborate as I want to learn why later on, Jesus was handed over to Pilate. Thanks in advance Prof Ehrman.

    • BDEhrman September 28, 2023 at 8:01 pm

      They would be Jewish soldiers guarding the temple.

      • dankoh September 28, 2023 at 10:39 pm

        In addition to the regular Temple guards (Jewish), Roman soldiers were posted on top of the walls at volatile times, such as Passover. Josephus records an incident where a Roman soldier on the wall “mooned” the crowd, causing a riot. The soldier was eventually handed over to the Jewish authorities and executed.

        • BDEhrman October 3, 2023 at 3:38 pm

          Yeah, wasn’t his finest moment, even if it was his finale.

      • sonjitsu September 29, 2023 at 1:59 pm

        Thank you Dr Ehrman, regarding the Antonia Fortress; are there Roman soldiers stationed there during the time of Jesus?

        • BDEhrman October 3, 2023 at 3:50 pm

          Pilate was in town and soldiers were with him, but apparently they didn’t stay in the Fortress but in Herod’s palace. I don’t know if any were standing guard at the fortress or not (the sources don’t say)

  48. TimOBrien September 29, 2023 at 4:52 pm

    I assume, professor, that in referring to Mel’s “The Passion of the Christ” as a gospel, you had tongue firmly planted in cheek. There is certainly no small irony in describing 2+ hours of torture porn as “Good News.” 🤯

    I haven’t been able to bring myself to endure what is by all accounts an incredibly brutal gore fest for no better reason than to see illustrated in gruesome detail humanity’s response to a divine emissary who merely attempted to show us “the Way” to attain a transcendent state of existence.

    After the Galileo debacle, the Age of Enlightenment slowly began to dawn on the RCC with the church eventually pitching its absurd (and idolatrous) “Bible Inerrancy” doctrine onto the historical trash heap. Would that their prod progeny had done likewise.

    Unfortunately, there’s no hint that Inerrancy’s (equally deranged) doctrinal coconspirator, “Substitutionary Atonement” — the only thing that could possibly have inspired this horror movie — will be similarly consigned any time soon.

    More likely, the church will beatify Gibson. Probably to the cheers of unreformed “Reformation” prods. 😏

  49. kellygene63 October 1, 2023 at 12:19 pm

    Well we all know Mel is literally anti-Semitic, I think it’s pretty lame to blame the Jews for Jesus death for 2000 yrs, but I also don’t think the Jews at the time of Jesus should get a free pass, lots of them didn’t like Jesus and some wanted him dead back then. (But please blame the right people in the right time period not a whole race)
    I loved the movie, not for its history, I love movies to escape reality I put blinders on to enjoy them, hell if we was so skeptical of all movies we wouldn’t watch anything.

  50. JacobSapp01 October 2, 2023 at 12:31 pm

    Ha! I remember being very emotionally drained watching this an evangelical. 20 years later, having left the faith, I share many of your objections. Two moments that always stood out to me were:

    1) The demon that gives Judas (and me) a jump scare early in the film after Jesus is arrested.
    2. ) The creepy baby that the Satan character is holding midway through the film.

    One thing I still find deeply moving…the certainly fictional moment in which Jesus stumbles, and Mary runs to him, recalling a similar moment from his childhood. When Mary reaches him, he quotes Revelation to her. ”Behold, I make all things new”. As a evangelical in 2003/2004, that part was epic.

    Do be sure to check out this alleged sequel Mel is making and let us know your thoughts!

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