Vital Signs

The Triumph of Tradition

“When violence breaks out, Mel Gibson will have a much higher authority than professors and bishops to answer to.”  So predicted Boston University’s Paula Fredriksen in one of the opening salvos in the year-long campaign to kill Mel Gibson’s film masterpiece, The Passion of the Christ—a campaign that was, in equal measure, hysterical, disingenuous, ignorant, and unsuccessful.  As of this writing, The Passion has grossed over $360 million in the United States (making it the seventh top-grossing domestic film in history) and over $200 million overseas.  The result is not the “violence” Fredriksen predicted but numerous stories of people being moved to return to Christ and, in a few instances, even to confess to unsolved crimes.

Just about everything the critics said about Gibson’s film was wrong.  Starting with Fredriksen, the critics assumed the pose of objective historian, lecturing us ad nauseam that all scholars believe that the Romans alone were responsible for the Crucifixion; that Pilate was such a brutal tyrant that what the Gospels wrote about him was certainly false; that no one in first-century Jerusalem spoke Latin.  But Raymond Brown, the late doyen of liberal biblical scholars, wrote in his Death of the Messiah that, “When the Jewish, Christian, and pagan evidence is assembled, the involvement of Jews in the...

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