Sunday, February 15, 2004

Scholar takes Gibson to task

By Margaret A. McGurk
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Professor Michael J. Cook of Cincinnati's Hebrew Union College will present a lecture titled "Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ: Will It Damage Jewish-Christian Relations?" at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Congregation Beth Adam, 1001 Loveland Madeira Road, Loveland.

Michael J. Cook will also participate in a panel discussion on The Passion of The Christ with other New Testament scholars at Presbyterian Church of Wyoming, 225 Wyoming Ave., from 3 to 5 p.m. Feb. 22.

The Rev. Dr. Ed McNulty, author of Praying the Movies and editor of Visual Parables will moderate, joined by theologian Arthur Dewey from Xavier University and Pastor David Hawley of Indian Hill Church, a former faculty member at United Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. Phone 821-8735, ext. 108, or e-mail

Cook, professor of Judaeo-Christian Studies at HUC, is a rabbi whose specialty is the New Testament. He was one of seven scholars asked by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to review a script for The Passion of The Christ in April 2003.

Their 18-page report warned that the script reinforced the ancient Christian position that held all Jews responsible for the death of Jesus, and could amplify anti-Semitism.

Gibson responded angrily and threatened legal action over what he said was a stolen script, though the scholars had been in contact with his company and had signed agreements promising not to show the script to anyone. Others who took Gibson to task, including Anti-Defamation League director Abraham H. Foxman and The New York Times critic Frank Rich, also drew bellicose reactions from the filmmaker.

In recent weeks, however, Gibson has moderated his statements. He wrote a conciliatory letter to Foxman, and reportedly trimmed a provocative line from the film based on feedback from previews.

In a written statement summarizing his views, Cook criticized the movie for historical inaccuracy, theological errors, sensational violence and "anti-Jewish motifs," such as a Jewish mob abusing Jesus' mother Mary, a Jewish temple guard preparing the cross, and the portrayal of Jews as bloodthirsty.

He also takes Gibson to task for using ideas from often anti-Semitic writings of 18th-century German mystic Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich, which Cook described as "extra-Biblical source materials no sober Christian scholar would deem worthy to examine."

The lecture is free. Phone 985-0400 or visit

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