Mel Gibson's film rekindles a debate.

Previously published Slate articles made new.
Feb. 25 2004 11:38 AM

Who Killed Jesus?

Mel Gibson's film rekindles a debate.

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Mel Gibson's controversial new film The Passion of the Christ, which depicts the last 12 hours of Jesus' life, opens today. The question "Who killed Jesus?" has occupied scholars for centuries; now movie critics are joining the fray. In a September 2003 story, Steve Waldman attempts to answer it, explaining why both Christians and Jews are accountable. "To say that films should not be made depicting an important Jewish role in the death of Jesus is to say that films should not be made based on the Bible. The idea that influential Jews wanted Jesus killed is not a distortion of Christianity; it is, for better or worse, an accurate depiction of the New Testament," Waldman says. In defense of the Jews, Waldman says, "There is a strong possibility that the Bible itself, in effect, distorted the history of the 'Jewish' role." He concludes, " ... it is clear that the Crucifixion and Resurrection are central to the faith. While the Crucifixion in itself wasn't a good thing, it was, according to much Christian doctrine, an entirely necessary and pre-ordained thing. Without it, Christianity as we know it wouldn't exist."

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