For over a year now, a cloud has hovered over the village of Oberammergau, location of the world-famous Passion Play. My wife and I recently visited this Bavarian village, spending some time with persons vitally concerned with the course of the upcoming decentennial commemoration of the crucifixion of our Lord, due in 1980.

The mood of Oberammergau has for months been one of uneasiness, due to the controversy over the form and staging of the coming presentations. The text used in recent presentations has been adapted from a script written 300 years ago. Until recently, there were few major objections to it. From time to time members of the Jewish community have felt that parts of the script made too much of the role of Jewish authorities in the trial and death of Jesus. However, the major stimulus to controversy came with pronouncements in the midsixties of the Vatican Ecumenical Council, which sparked suggestions for a radical revision of the Passion Play script that would avoid reference to, or suggestion of, Jewish responsibility for the death of our Lord.

The village of 4,200 has for a decade been divided into two camps, that of the “no-change traditionalists” and the “now-play progressives.” The latter have campaigned for a replacement of the seventeenth-century script with a more recent one, in which the forces of evil leading to the death of Jesus are shown allegorically. This would serve to absolve the Jewish religious authorities of our Lord’s time of responsibility for the crucifixion event. As the controversy has progressed, however, it has become clear that the demands for the elimination of that, plus the correction of some historical errors, have served as a pretext for a demand by some for a thorough updating ...

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