Monday, July 19, 2010

It was the best of Gospel-based films; it was the worst of Gospel-based films

Greetings.

Jewish date:  8 ’Av 5770 (Parashath Wa’ethḥannan).

Today’s holidays:  The Nine Days (Judaism), Monday of the Sixteenth Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Dr. Doom/St. Thulsa Doom (Church of the SubGenius), Feast Day of the Magi: Krishna (Thelema).

Worthy causes of the day:  “Tell Restaurants and Markets: Donate, Don't Dump, Usable Excess Food - The Petition Site” and “Forget what Timothy Geithner thinks. We want Elizabeth Warren to police Wall Street.”.

Topic 1:  Tomorrow is 9 ’Av (Tish‘ah be’Av), the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, commemorating the destruction of both Temples and a number of other tragedies in Jewish history.  You can find out about this holiday at OU.org.  Furthermore, “Why I like Tisha Be’Av” presents an unusual perspective to the holiday; while acknowledging its aspect of mourning, the author emphasizes what we have now and in the future which is worth having.

Color of the CrossTopic 2:  The final film in my series on Gospel-based movies, Color of the Cross.  As implied by the title of this post, this film is in one aspect the best of the bunch and in other aspects the worst of the bunch.

What is great about Color of the Cross is that the antagonists have motives for what they do.  The writers do not simply parrot the Gospels, but try to make what happens make some sort of sense.  The Romans are consistently cruel and oppressive, as is fitting for people trying to dominate an extensive empire.  Caiaphas, while acting against Jesus, does so because he is under pressure from the Roman soldier Horatio, who demands that all “prophets” (who are potential troublemakers) be turned over to him.  The Sanhedhrin calls for Jesus’s arrest to protect him from a racist mob.  Judas betrays Jesus not for money or spite or hatred, but because he wants to start an uprising to drive out the Romans.

There are two things which are really bad about Color of the Cross.  The first and most obvious is the introduction of racism into the story.  Jesus and some of the other Jewish characters are black, and many Jews are depicted as having trouble with the idea of a black Messiah.  This is an astoundingly bad idea, as the notion of prejudice against anyone based on skin color is completely absent from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.  There is an awareness that some humans have dark skin—e.g., Jeremiah 13:23 implies that the people of Kush (Ethiopia) have a different skin color from Jews—but nowhere is there any claim that dark-skinned people are bad or light-skinned people are good.  Racism did not merely have nothing to do with why Jesus was killed, either in how he was depicted in the New Testament or reality; grafting it into the story short-circuits any serious attempt at exploring why he was killed.

The other thing really bad about Color of the Cross is the lack of serious research.  Clearly the writers made some attempt at studying Judaism, but what they studied was modern Judaism, not that of the Second Temple Period, and the study made was superficial.  The details needed to ensure that the writers looked like they knew what they were doing are absent or wrong.  (To be frank, if they had talked with anyone who could provide the necessary information, they might have well discovered that serious Jews consider the arguments made in the New Testament that Jesus is the Messiah or the Son of God to be invalid, and this film would have not existed at all, or it would have turned out to be a very different film.)  No Jew who knows anything is going let ḥameṣ (leavened grain or grain products) remain in his/her possession anywhere near Sundown the day before Pesaḥ (Passover); neither would he/she identify a miqweh (ritual bath) as “holy water”.  Anyone sufficiently familiar with the Torah would know that the Messiah is not mentioned therein, only perhaps hinted at.  None of the characters has a clue that the minimum that one needs to eat in order for it to legally be considered eating is the volume of an olive, and Jesus makes the bizarre assertion that the lamb used for the qorban Pesaḥ (paschal sacrifice) needs to be a virgin.  And while ṃaṣṣah (unleavened bread) and wine make their appearance at the sedher (the ritual storytelling and meal on Pesaḥ), the writers really have no clue what the whole business of dipping is about and have no idea that maror (bitter herbs) and the qorban Pesaḥ should be present, not to mention the fact that the qorban Pesaḥ is supposed to be slaughtered on the Temple Mount and eaten in Jerusalem.  For some reason, the whole movie takes place in Arimathea, despite the claims of the Gospels.  The costumes for the Priests and Pharisees are blatantly copied from The Passion of the Christ.  And for no apparent reason, Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate, both of whom are mentioned in all four canonical Gospels, are dropped from the story entirely.

In conclusion, Color of the Christ makes some attempt to turn the antagonists into believable characters, but forcing racism into the story is not an improvement, and the research department utterly failed to do their job.

Peace and have an easy fast.

Aaron
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