5 March 2006


Re-reading the paper written by two archeologists from the Archeological Institute of America examining the historical accuracy of The Passion of the Christ (originally linked from Language Log?). Their source materials are the Gospels and research based on Roman documents of the time. Their observations:

  • The lingua franca of that area of the Levant was Greek. The Romans and the ruling class would set aside their Latin and Aramaic, respectively, for Greek when speaking with each other.
  • Jesus, however, was poor and would not have known Greek or Latin.
  • Jesus, and anyone at the time, would have been crucified in the nude.
  • The Gospels don't mention any exceptional torture occurring, and torture was strongly regulated in Roman law.
  • Jews would not have been allowed in the Roman army and would therefore not have been part of the entorage arresting Jesus.
  • Jews were not a single group but were divided across various sects, some of which organized against their Roman rulers so were less in cohoots than in conflict.

Their conclusion: The end result is a movie that conveys a tremendous amount of pain and suffering, but also one that is, in many major and minor respects, unmoored from documented realities. Gibson strives to convey a theological message by recreating a convincing ancient context. The message that people take away from the movie should not, however, be mistaken for verifiable historical fact. There is good archeological research out there, it's a shame that it wasn't used. I can understand that Muslims might cringe at an accurate examination of the life and times of Muhammad, but I'm surprised that it can't or hasn't existed for Jesus.

I was reminded of this, especially the concept of striving for authenticity yet ignoring facts in conflict with belief, when I watched the Wafa Sultan commentary on Al Jazeera. She argues that Muslim violence is primitive, and although somewhat rambling at the beginning, she makes many, many fine points. However, the cleric who is to rebut her shows the futility of any attempt at dialog when he says dismissively If you are a heretic, there is no point in rebuking you, since you have blasphemed against Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran. Isn't that what Mel Gibson has said to us?

[ posted by sstrader on 5 March 2006 at 9:18:56 AM in Culture & Society ]