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Mel's 'Passion' is not the gospel truth

An American teenager who saw Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ asked his father, "Why did the Jews hate Jesus so much?" Sadly, the film cannot be blamed for what appears to be the Jewish people's hostility to the Christian Son of God. When I saw a preview, a Jewish journalist sitting next to me kept asking: "Is that in the Bible?" Sadly, the answer was yes.

This raises a problem for teachers of RE who teach the Gospels. When they tell of its message of love, they cannot ignore that the words St Matthew puts in the mouths of the Jews when they refuse to spare Jesus, "His blood be upon our heads and the heads of our children", resulted in the massacre of Jews as Christ-killers throughout Christendom.

Yet the Gospels must be taught, and not only to Christians but to all who live in the Western world, with or without a faith. The values of the New Testament have in one form or another been the foundation of our civilisation.

So how are RE teachers to teach the Gospels without fomenting racial disharmony? My five-year-old son's friend could not believe that he could be Jewish because of what he learned in his church Sunday school. The answer is to place the Gospels in their historical setting with an understanding of the theological and historical considerations which influenced their final composition.

My reading of the Gospels, with their contradictions over Jesus's crucifixion, proves the Jews had no responsibility for his death.

Two story lines weave through the Gospels to explain the history of Jesus.

One is historically true; the other is not. Jesus was perceived by his disciples to be the Messiah - in Hebrew, the anointed one - who would rebel against Rome to become the king of Israel.

That is why his descent through his "father" Joseph is traced back to King David; also why Caiaphas the High Priest feels compelled to hand him over to the Romans so that they do not punish the Jews for this popular rebellion and why Pilate affixes over his head the sign: "Jesus the Nazarean King of the Jews" to deter future rebels.

The second story is that Jesus is the Son of God sent by his Father to be the sacrificial atonement for human sin. Jesus the Jew could never have believed this, and - as is shown by the texts - neither did his disciples.

This, the redemption from sin and the achievement of eternal life through eating the dying God, was the belief of Paul, which only later was inserted into the Gospels when the Jewish Christians had disappeared.

If Jesus was the Son of God who would usher in their Kingdom of God, the Romans had no reason to kill him. Indeed no one had a reason to kill him.

If, as according to the Gospels, he declared this heresy, the High Priest would have considered him as one possessed but no threat to his rule. He could not have handed him over to the Romans because they would not crucify a Jew for heresy.

But Jesus had to die; that was the destiny he accepted out of his love for his Father and humanity. Politically, it was more pragmatic for Christians seeking converts and favour from the Roman world to blame the Jews for his death.

To be fair, when the Gospels were published, Christians were a tiny sect fighting for survival. They could not imagine that their conversion of the Western World would have given such credence to their texts; that their expressed anger at the Jews for rejecting their way could lead to irrational hatred which would kill millions of innocent people.

If I am told that, as a Jew, it is disrespectful for me to question the veracity of the history of Christianity, I must claim entitlement in the light of the tragic history of my own people caused by its defamation of my ancestors. Surely, RE teachers are morally bound when they teach a religion of love to make certain that its literature does not sow the seeds of hatred?

It is not good enough to say: "You cannot blame the Jews today for what they did a long time ago." The anti-Semitic images are too strong not to make a dangerous impression on vulnerable children. They have to be told:

"It may not have happened this way."

Rabbi Sidney Brichto's book Apocalypse, A revolutionary interpretative translation of the writings of St John, is publishedby Sinclair-Stevenson

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