Sunday, March 9, 2003

On Mel, Hutton and Passion

I'm looking forward to Gibson's Passion as much as anyone, and I'm not surprised to see intrepid reporters starting to look into his background and beliefs for ways to understand or even discredit the project.

But I don't see those efforts as wrong or necessarily as "hatchet jobs" as one commenter below put it.

Look,Gibson is putting his faith front and center here, and is being very direct about it, asserting that he's doing the project because of his faith. Given that claim, it's natural for people to wonder..well...what is Mel Gibson's faith all about then, anyway?

One commenter below said that it was wrong for a reporter to take advantage of an elderly gentleman - Hutton Gibson, Mel's dad. Well, sorry, but there's no evidence that Hutton Gibson is suffering from senility or Alzheimer's. He's held his uber-traditionalist, sedevacantist, conspiracy-drenched views for decades, and very publicly, too. Despite his protestations, I can't imagine that Mel Gibson is surprised by the media's growing attention to his background in light of the film. I'm sure he expected it, and I hope he's prepared - and I particularly hope he's prepared to offer careful, nuanced historically-rooted explanations of the respective Roman and Jewish roles in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, especially in response to reactions like this

A prominent Jewish leader on Friday asked actor Mel Gibson to make certain that his new film on the last 12 hours in the life of Christ does not portray the Jews as collectively responsible for the crucifixion.

Since I'm currently writing a study guide to Matthew 26-28, such issues are much on my mind these days.

My bookshelf is piled high with commentaries on Matthew, and, in case you're wondering, I'm making great progress and should make my deadline with no problem (I always scold my son when he says things like that: "I've never been in a car accident..." "I've done fine on all the other microbiology tests..." Famous Last Words is what I listen to me cry on March 31, wondering how I got into such a mess when it all looked so good on March 10).

For my money, in case you're wondering, the most helpful commentaries have been the following:

The Expositor's Bible Commentary

Daniel Harrington's commentary on Matthew, part of the Sacra Pagina series.

Daniel Patte's commentary

and, of course, Raymond Brown's Death of the Messiah

For those of you whose knees reflexively hit your jaw when you hear the name, "Raymond Brown," you really need to understand that Brown was actually one of the more "conservative" American Catholic Biblical scholars of the post-Vatican II era. (yes, yes...I know. Rene Laurentin...The Truth of Christmas. Got it.) Crossan, for example, has no use for Brown, and that tells you something. I find the Death of the Messiah fascinating because as he goes through the many, many interpretations of each passage offered by scholars from the 19th century to the present, Brown almost always opts for a) the simplest explanation (Occam's razor, you know) and b) the historicity of the text.

And by the should hear my husband's smart interpretation of Mt. 26:25. You should.

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