It seems to me that many, if not most of the negative reviews of The Passion thus far have ignored the fact that the story Gibson portrays is drawn, almost whole cloth, from the Gospels themselves. The especially controversial sections (“Let His blood be upon our heads and on our childrens’!”, the trial before the Sanhedrin, etc.) are actually in the Gospels. What these reviews are dancing around is actually labeling the Gospels themselves as anti-Semitic (a far less sustainable and far more incendiary charge, to be sure). Yet I have seen no admission of these facts, at least until I read the New York Times’ review (registration required).
Is “The Passion of the Christ” anti-Semitic? I thought you’d never ask. To my eyes it did not seem to traffic explicitly or egregiously in the toxic iconography of historical Jew hatred, but more sensitive viewers may disagree. The Pharisees, in their tallit and beards, are certainly shown as a sinister and inhumane group, and the mob they command is full of howling, ugly rage. But this on-screen villainy does not seem to exceed what can be found in the source material.
So, that then leaves us with this question: were the other reviewers wilfully or merely accidentally ignorant of the facts at hand? I would like to believe the latter, unfortunately, I think it’s most likely the former.