Magazine article First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life , No. 145
Although repercussions may extend far into the future, we can now get a measure of critical distance from the extraordinary religious and cultural moment that is Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and the responses to it. One welcomes, therefore, the reflection of David Berger of Brooklyn College, writing in Commentary, "Jews, Christians, and 'The Passion.'" Berger gets off on the right foot by noting, as have many others, that people generally take from the film what they bring to it. "Despite its powerful cinematic effects, this is a film whose capacity to move depends in large measure on the viewer's ability to identify with Jesus of Nazareth for reasons that are not presented in the film itself. If you come with love and admiration for its hero, and all the more so if you come with faith in his divinity and his supreme self-sacrifice, every lash, every nail, every drop of blood will tear at your psyche." Berger, as a Jew, did not bring such beliefs to the film and therefore left it "curiously unmoved."
He is moved, however, to deplore Christian literalists who defend the film as being faithful to history and the gospel texts, as well as Orthodox Jews who defend such literalism and the film more generally. Christians who took high school classes to see the film with all its brutality are guilty of what is "perhaps, indeed, a form of child abuse." Berger does not say outright that the film is anti-Semitic but observes, "No filmmaker who actually cared about avoiding anti-Semitism could have produced anything resembling it." He does not believe that the film "was made with the conscious purpose of fomenting hatred against Jews." He is exercised that the film does not abide by guidelines issued by the Catholic bishops conference for presenting the passion, although he knows full well that the bishops did not sponsor and had no control over the film. Berger expresses sympathy for the judgment of another Jewish critic who said, "The solid bridge of trust Jews thought they had with the Catholic Church now lies exposed as merely a drawbridge, readily placed in raised position when it is most needed."
Perhaps Berger fails to appreciate that Catholics viewed the film in order to witness and enter into the suffering and death of their Lord, not to check out its conformity to episcopal statements on Jewish-Christian relations. It seems more than likely that, in viewing the film, even those with a long-standing commitment to Jewish-Christian dialogue had Jesus, not Jews, on their mind and, despite the film's nonobservance of dialogical protocols, were deeply moved. In his judicious conclusion, Berger writes, "If amity is to prevail, traditionalist Christians will have to force themselves to understand that reasonable people have grounds for genuine concern about this movie, that its critics do not necessarily hate them, and that some like them very much indeed. …