by Kieran Healy on February 26, 2004

Just as an aside to “Belle’s post”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001393.html, I think that once people have finished scrutinizing it for blood-libel, the relevance of Mel Gibson’s _The Passion of the Christ_ to current U.S. policy in the Middle East awaits detailed exploration. In fact, I’m surprised that commentators have yet to discuss the foreign policy lessons to be learned from Pilate and his occupying Roman legions. As I’ve “said before”:http://www.kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/000344.html, for all his “failings”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pontius_Pilate Pilate was at least attempting to bring a tradition of republicanism in politics, pluralistic tolerance of religion in civic life, and “heavy investment in public infrastructure”:http://bau2.uibk.ac.at/sg/python/Scripts/LifeOfBrian/brian-09.html to a priest-ridden, monotheistic, intolerant Middle-Eastern troublespot. History might remember him better had he not had the massive bad luck to run up against a “blowback”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0805062394/kieranhealysw-20/ref=nosim/ problem the size of the “Son of God”:http://ship-of-fools.com/Gadgets/Kitschmas02/01.html during his governorship.



Uncle Jimbo 02.26.04 at 4:44 am

What a reasonable, toned comment on this movie. Amidst all the hyper-ventilating, I think you have found a likely to be relevant view of the importance of this film.




bob mcmanus 02.26.04 at 5:00 am

Since Jesus and the Christians were insignificant to Pilate’s career ( I think there was an ill-considered massacre out east somewhat that got him recalled)….

I actually read this as a very nice and subtle reference to recent history in Iraq. Silly me.


Rabbi Joel Schwartzman 02.26.04 at 6:29 am

Surely you gest. Old Pontius’ bad luck didn’t stem from his run in with Jesus. He was called back to Rome for his murderous ways, and we have more history about that from Agrippa I and Philo than we actually do for his most famous victim. Let not the sands of the Middle East revise your vision of history too distortedly.


dsquared 02.26.04 at 6:54 am

Yeh, but other hand his eventual diversification into the fitness classes industry seems to be paying off.


James R MacLean 02.26.04 at 7:19 am

I think I’m disturbed by the tendency of self-conscious groups to wallow in some great wrong that was done to them. For example, ultranationalists in many countries have a sort of ritual wallowing in some offense committed against them at some time in the past.

What I’m noticing is a lot of really extreme aggrievment on the part of zealots watching the movie (sorry, I don’t meant Hasmonean zealots either). Just a thought.


John Isbell 02.26.04 at 2:09 pm

Let’s note that Joan Armatrading should be listened to more often.
More than one apocryphal gospel treats Pilate as a saint and martyr. Most are fairly dull, though John playing with a partridge, with different interpretations, and traditionally written by his disciple, is cute and rings true. What they ddo have is rampant anti-semitism. You see what the NT redactors left out: a lot.
The film will, fom what I’ve heard, certainly horrify and traumatize the Sunday School kids nationwide being shown it. My prayer is that this will cause their parents to think what they’ve just done. It’s Lent.
Mel is a of course a heretic, and I’m confident his film is also heterodox. Jesus is not a side of beef.


T. Gracchus 02.26.04 at 3:00 pm

What exactly is a “blood-libel”?


Miriam 02.26.04 at 3:26 pm

Blood libel. Jonathan Frankel has a good book on its resurgence in 19th c. Europe.


Jimmy Doyle 02.26.04 at 4:21 pm

Since all the evangelists except Luke were almost certainly Jews, that “rampant anti-semitism” would presumably be of the ‘self-hating’ variety?


John Isbell 02.26.04 at 6:04 pm

Apocryphal gospels, Jimmy. ca. AD 130-300. Gentiles. Pro-Roman, hence the Pilate schtick, and blaming the Jews as definitely as possible. Definitely not the Romans.


Dave F 02.26.04 at 7:59 pm

As an enthusiastic crucifier of uppity Jews (by the thousands) and a Saddam-like form of orderly overnment, Pilate scarcely fits the tortuous analogy Kieran is trying to fashion here.

I’m a lapsed Catholic, but I know an anti-semitic set-up when I see it. Judging from many of the comments here, I gather the British left is running true to form on this question.


Jimmy Doyle 02.26.04 at 9:38 pm

John Isbell: Gotcha. I stand corrected; seem to be having some trouble with basic reading comprehension.


Jim Madison's Dog 02.26.04 at 9:52 pm

I am told by a priest pal of mine that at the entrance to Pilate’s hometown there is a sign that says, “Welcome To (Wherever) — Birthplace of Pontius Pilate.”
Now, THAT’S marketing.

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