Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ sure is getting a lot of heat these days. With more than two months left to go yet before its theatrical release, prominent Jewish leaders, foremost among them New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, have labeled Gibson's film as anti-Jewish. "This film can potentially lead to violence directed against the Jewish community," Hikind asserted. "It will result in anti-Semitism and bigotry. It really takes us back to the Dark Ages … the Inquisition, the Crusades, all for the so-called sin of the Crucifixion of Jesus."
It's true that Christians have directed hatred against Jews throughout church history. But if Gibson is correct in saying his movie is faithful to the Gospels, Hikind is protesting the heart of the Christian story itself. Conservative Catholic John McCloskey notes, "If you find the Scriptures anti-Semitic, you'll find this film anti-Semitic." And so some have, like Irwin Borowsky, who has cut out entire sections of the New Testament that Jews find offensive and has published his version as the American Holy Bible.
But are the Gospels anti-Semitic? Most Christians today would contend anti-Semitism and Christianity clearly can't be compatible—Jesus' command to love one's neighbor overrides any kind of rationale permitting violence against Jews. But then how do we explain passages in the New Testament that seem to come down hard on the Jews?
Two recent books help us unpack this question—and come up with quite different solutions. Constantine's Sword, published in 2001, garnered widespread acclaim among the media, though some Christian critics refused to join in the praise. James Carroll, a former Catholic priest who wrote his book on a fellowship with Harvard University, traced the ...1
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