The Problem With The Passion
A Black Perspective On The Epic Film
I'm terribly disappointed that Mel Gibson, in going to extraordinary lengths to ensure scriptural and historical accuracy, made an obvious and conscious decision to model his Christ after the European reconstruction of Jesus rather than the more accurate (and earliest) artistic interpretations of a man of color. Even a casual look into the historical account of Christ suggests Jesus could not have looked much like Jim Caviezel:
The region in which Jesus lived: the African American Biblical Scholar Cain Hope Felder makes the case that we should see the Middle East of Jesus' day as a kind of eastern extension of Africa, using archaeological and linguistic evidence to demonstrate the interaction between these peoples in these regions.
Jesus' General Ancestry: A key element in the narrative of the Hebrew Bible is the Hebrews' move to, sojourn in, and liberation from Egypt. Felder claims that they were a mixed race of Afro-Asiatics. Moses had a Cushite, or Ethiopian wife (Num.12:1); a son of Aaron, the one who begot the priestly line, was Phinehas (Ex.6:25), which in Egyptian means “the Nubian," referring to the area of Sudan or Ethiopia (Jer.38:7).
Jesus' Genealogy - four Afroasiatic women are mentioned in the Genealogy that opens Matthew's Gospel: Rahab. Tamar, Ruth and Bathsheba. (Matt. 1.2-17)
Jesus' Connection with Egypt: in both Christian and non-Christian texts, Jesus is placed in Egypt during his formative years. Celsus, a Jewish critic of Christianity from the second century, reported the tradition that Jesus learnt his magical powers in Egypt (Origen, Contra Celsum, 1.28). And Matthew's Gospel famously reports the holy family's flight to Egypt (Matthew 2) and announces the return with the scriptural “Out of Egypt I have called my son” (Matt. 2.15). —Jesus Was A Person of Color, Mark Goodacre, Senior Lecturer in New Testament at the University of Birmingham (UK) and Secretary of the British New Testament Society
“Although we deeply love ALL our Christian brethren, my wife & I
remain concerned that this 'film-style' Jesus is ALWAYS white or
white-based; an all too discomforting point we've discussed
among white Christians,” The Reverend Carvin Clements, host of
The Word of Truth, KCBR Radio. “Then, as if to show some
distinction, the guy that rushes in to help carry the cross is
even whiter, which really boiled my blood. There is no question
where this man is from in Scripture. Just as there is no
question where Jesus is from and what the people REALLY look
like in that region.”
Note to Reverend Clements that, despite rumors to the contrary, Jarreth Merz, a little known TV actor who played Simeon, indeed appeared to have Afrosiatic features, which genuinely pleased me and my party. It was the one moment during the film that we went, “Yes. He got that right, at least.” I'd go even farther and wish Gibson had cast Merz in the role of Jesus, as I personally believe Christ likely looked a lot more like Merz than Jim Caviezel. “That being said,” Clements continued, “the truth is well known by those of us who study, and, in spite of our well-founded disappointment with Gibson and the like, my wife, I and some friends will still view this movie. I would not discourage my own people from doing the same. Bottom line is that all folk need to be saved. Dare I say especially ours!”
“What is most disturbing to me is 30 million went into the making of this project and here we have Christ depicted incorrectly again,” Pastor Lee continues. “History, geography and other factual information inform us that the people of that region during that time where a darker skinned people. With hair unlike Kenny G. Some people, especially so-called Christians, will say that doesn't matter, but I say it does matter. Some will say Jesus wasn't any color and I say that person epitomizes ignorance.
“Is the depiction incorrect? What would our Christian Mayor say? What would professor David Parish of the local Fuller Seminary Extension say? What would the Dean of the Nazarene Bible College say? What would the Reverend Jesse Brown, NAACP Chairman of Religious Affairs say? What would the Pastor of Woodmen Valley say?
“The fact of the matter is this is a real issue and some attention should be brought to it. 30 million dollars to destroy 30 years of progress? Why has this detail gone unnoticed by the 'we are one' Christian community? It's not about color,” Pastor Lee concludes, “it is about truth.”
Black Jesus: Catedral Metropolitana Mexico City circ. 1675
Does It Matter?
“Early in my faith, I found it important for Jesus to be a black
man,” the Reverend Dr.
Henry F. Johnson, Interim Pastor of
Friendship Missionary Baptist Church writes, “but now it isn't
important. I arrived at this point as a result of education and
spiritual growth. While at Nazarene Bible College, I took a
class in Black Theology. This theology seemed to have its roots
during the Black Power Movement. There are various views of
Black Theology but most seem to make Jesus more of a liberator
from the oppression from the white man. During the movement, I
was right there with that trend of thought with my Afro,
clenched fist, and handshake. The problem with this thought is
that we make Jesus available only to a certain group of people.
This contradicts the Word of God. Matthew 1:21-23 says,
shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for
he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done,
that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the
prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall
bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which
being interpreted is, God with us.
“Jesus came to save his people from their sin,” Pastor Johnson continues. “This raises the question, who are his people? It is logical to say that the people who sin are the people Jesus came to save. Romans 3:23 says, For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. This makes me come to the conclusion that salvation is for all people, not just black people.”
“While I believe in scriptural and historical accuracy, I can't also help but wonder if we are making too much of an issue of Jesus' skin tone rather than focusing on His role in our lives,” the Reverend Neil Brown suggests. “I do believe that Jesus is a man of color. But, I also believe Him to be a man for all colors. Before us lies the greatest opportunity to preach the Gospel, and we as the Body have an uproar over something that, although important, does not in any way overshadow the responsibility we have to witness to the sinner. All I'm saying is that this should be a time we collectively put aside our denominations, our differences, our agendas, and our politics to keep the main thing the main thing. We can correct inaccuracy issues later with teaching. This is the time that we must stand united to preach and proclaim further the Kingdom of God.
“Instead of being disappointed in Gibson, let's thank him for
his bravery and commitment to his faith and belief in Jesus,
that he would risk the rest of his career to make a film like
this. He's given us one of the greatest tools to use, movies,
coupled with the greatest forum, the media, to get our faith to
the masses. We need to be able to address the need of the
sinner, who may not realize the brevity and depth of what Jesus
has done with His sacrifice. The real question is, are we ready
for them? Because no matter what, the sinner will come with real
questions about our faith that we must be able to answer and
defend if necessary. If we boycott or speak negatively about
this picture, we inadvertently showcase our division and not our
unity. So then, what makes us any different than the heathen if
we can't put aside our issues to put the focus where it really
should be? Because, right now, the sinner probably has no idea
that Jesus even is a man of color. And for that matter, if Jesus
is the God of all creation, and a man for all nations, does his
being Indian for the Native American, or Black for the African
American, Caucasian for the White American, or even green for
Kermit the Frog, really make all the difference? Perhaps Kirk
Franklin was right when he said, 'Doesn't matter what color You
are, as long as your blood as red.'”
This is the typical response from the typical American Christian. “Does it matter?” “What's the big deal?” “Why do you have to see everything through race?” We're not the people who see everything through race. When I, as a black man, show up for a job interview, shop at a store, step into an elevator, or even just walk down the street, my ethnicity is the very first thing most whites notice about me. Not the color of my eyes or my sterling personality. The first thing most whites notice about me is “black.” A man who robs a 7-Eleven is almost universally a white man. At 2:45 AM this morning two unidentified men robbed and fled the corner store. A black man who robs a store is almost universally a black man. At 2:45 AM this morning two unidentified black men robbed and fled the corner store. A Hispanic man is a Hispanic or Latino man. But a white man is a man. We can certainly be as guilty as any other ethnicity of looking at things in terms of race, but it's not a prism we created.
We are not forcing a black Jesus on anybody. We are not denying anyone their existence, their heritage, their uniqueness as a people. We are certainly not denying anyone a fair hearing on reasonable and empirical evidence. God's love certainly desires to preserve culture, not destroy it. Certainly not destroy it in His name and for His sake, which is what happens when we are given this exasperated hand wave dismissal. With reactions ranging from a benign, head-patting condescension to a snotty eye roll, a great many Christians of all ethnicities continue to refuse to give the matter an even reasonable hearing, clinging steadfastly to their white Jesus and, in large majority, insisting we do the same. And, look it up: I didn't say Jesus was a man of color, this isn't some crazy theory by black revisionists. White people, white scientists, with PhD's and so forth, have said this, have presented evidence to suggest the historical Christ looks nothing like Michelangelo's famous invention of 1505. This isn't a “black” theory or even a “black” thing, it's a science thing. It's an anthropological thing. It's a matter of scientific theory if not historical certainty that, whatever Christ looked like like and whatever His ethnicity, our common image of him is way off, Jim Caviezel notwithstanding. CONTINUED