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Author POSTED: Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Remnant News Watch

(May 31, 2010)


Censoring the Oberammergau Passion Play


Mark Alessio

New York Correspondent

(Posted June 7, AD 2010 The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has announced the release of the “first-ever major study of the Oberammergau Passion Play by leading scholars on Christian-Jewish relations” (May 14, 2010): “The 16-page report examines the 2010 script of the world's oldest passion play, which was last performed in 2000 in Germany. The new production, depicting the last days of Jesus, officially premieres on May 15. In a section on recommendations, the scholars suggest play officials compose a totally new script using contemporary biblical studies and historical research in order to eliminate continuing damaging negative stereotypes of Jews and Judaism.”

The text of the 2010 Oberammergau Passion Play was examined in the light of “historical and biblical research and relevant church teaching documents.” Although the scholars responsible for the report concluded that the “Jewish opponents of Jesus are unjustifiably depicted in such extreme terms as to risk impressing on the audience a negative image of the entire Jewish community," they also "recognized and appreciated the efforts the scriptwriters had made, even if not always successful, to avoid the potential for anti-Judaism in the Passion Play."

“Positive” impressions cited in the report include: Jesus is clearly shown to be a Jew; the figure of Judas credibly displays complex motivations; and the script incorporates much of Jesus' teaching. “Negative” impressions include: The play's use of Old Testament images; an inaccurate portrayal of the Temple priesthood; and the fanatical depiction of the Jewish High Priest Caiaphas.

The study was instituted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Council of Centers on Jewish Christian Relations (CCJR), and was supported by the American Jewish Committee, B'nai B'rith International and the National Council of Synagogues.

Comment: The 16-page "Report on the 2010 Oberammergau Passion Play Script" (May 14, 2010) was produced by a group of interfaith experts designated the Ad Hoc CCJR Oberammergau Committee. This group includes Sr. Mary C. Boys of Union Theological Seminary, Dr. Philip A. Cunningham of Saint Joseph's University, Dr. Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt University, and Rabbi A. James Rudin of the American Jewish Committee. Boys, Cunningham and Jill-Levine were part of another Ad Hoc Committee a few years ago – i.e., the Ad Hoc Committee of Christian and Jewish Scholars who hijacked Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of The Christ” and turned it into a battering-ram with which to assault the New Testament.

How reliable are these interfaith experts? In their article, Theology’s "Sacred Obligation": A Reply to Cardinal Dulles (America Magazine, Oct. 14, 2002), Boys and Cunningham stated that the Pontifical Biblical Commission (PBC) had “set aside the opinion of the author of Hebrews about Israel’s covenant.” Yes, inspired Scripture as mere “opinion.” They conveniently ignored this passage from the PBC document, “The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible” (May 24, 2001):

The Letter to the Hebrews quotes in extenso the prophetic message of the “new covenant” and proclaims its fulfillment in Christ “mediator of the new covenant”. It demonstrates the insufficiency of the cultic institutions of the “first covenant”; priesthood and sacrifices were incapable of overcoming the obstacle set by sins, and incapable of establishing an authentic mediation between God and his people. Those institutions are now abrogated to make way for the sacrifice and priesthood of Christ (Heb 7:18-19; 10:9). For Christ has overcome all obstacles by his redemptive obedience (Heb 5:8-9; 10:9-10), and has opened access to God for all believers (Heb 4:14-16; 10:19-22). In this way, the covenant announced and prefigured in the Old Testament is fulfilled. It is not simply a renewal of the Sinai covenant, but the establishment of a covenant that is truly new, founded on a new base, Christ's personal sacrificial offering (cf. 9: 14-15).

But, hey, why should “Catholics” view Jesus as anything special? In addition, Cunningham (in an online discussion posted by The Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies) described Jesus Christ as “a specific son of the Covenant, whom the Church perceives as the Crucified and Raised One living in its midst.” Perceives? Whatever. It’s all good, right?

Jill-Levine describes herself as a "Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Protestant seminary in the buckle of the Bible Belt." In her book, “The Misunderstood Jew,” she wrote: “Jesus of Nazareth dressed like a Jew, prayed like a Jew, instructed other Jews on how best to live according to the commandments given by God to Moses, taught like a Jew, argued like a Jew with other Jews, and died like thousands of other Jews on a Roman Cross.” Passion? Redemptive suffering? No. Jesus was just another guy on a Cross.

James Rudin (writing in the July 10, 2003 edition of The Christian Science Monitor) described the Gospels as “radioactive material.” He also referred to the writings of Ven. Anne Catherine Emmerich as “toxic.” On June 25, 2003, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported Rudin’s assertion that “it takes enormous sensitivity to strip” the gospels “of anti-Semitic teachings.”

If you were a publisher, you would not ask someone who despised Chinese food to edit a tome on “The Cuisines of China.” Going to the Ad Hoc CCJR Oberammergau Committee for insights into the Passion of Christ isn’t much different. There is an overriding bitterness motivating these experts: bitterness against the Catholic Church; bitterness against the Gospels and the men who wrote them; and bitterness, ultimately, against Jesus Christ for being such an inconvenient sign of contradiction. The lack of affinity for the very concept of Jesus Christ as Redeemer, as “Suffering Servant,” creates a tunnel vision for these people, whereby they can watch a representation of His Sufferings and miss the point entirely.

The true motives of the Ad Hoc CCJR Oberammergau Committee are evident in Section 6 of their report, “Recommendations for the Future.” These recommendations include: “Les tableaux vivants should be refined to be less potentially supersessionist and to convey instead a post-Nostra Aetate affirmation of Jewish covenantal life with God.”

“Supersessionism” is one of those words used to demonize and obfuscate. It is used to paint Catholics as brutal and triumphalistic. However, it simply means Catholics hold that the covenant between God and the People of Israel has been replaced or superseded by the New Covenant of Jesus Christ that in Christ can be found the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Far from rendering the Old Testament valueless, this belief adds a new and glorious dimension to the ancient Biblical texts.

Les tableaux vivants are “living images” meant to convey typological truths whereby the Old Testament is interpreted in relation to the New Testament. The Ad Hoc Scholars complain that, “The script occasionally risks casting Old Testament language, especially prophetic texts, as simplistically predictive of Jesus, as in the narrator's first words in Act IV: ‘In the meal of Moses, filled with hope for the coming of Lord, recognize the meal that Jesus shared with his friends!’”

The Ad Hoc Scholars cannot abide this belief that all of Scripture points to Jesus Christ. Those who accept this approach to Scripture are “simplistic,” unlike the complex and learned “scholars.” Yet, we accept this approach to the inspired texts on no less authority than that of Jesus Himself. We read of the Resurrected Christ that, walking with His disciples on the road to Emmaus, “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded to them in all the scriptures, the things that were concerning Him.”

Elsewhere in their report, the Ad Hoc group praises the fact that, in the current version of the Oberammergau Passion Play, Judas is portrayed as “a credible, sympathetic figure with whom the audience can identify.” Forget that “supersessionist” (and ecumenically inconvenient) Jesus. Judas is the “figure with which the audience can identify.”

One more point is worth noting. The Ad Hoc CCJR Oberammergau Committee offers recommendations for dialogue that could be incorporated into future versions of the production:

The producers might consider intensifying the use of the chorus even more intentionally to relate the performance to Christian faith today. For example, if Peter curses Jesus (Mk. 14:71), the chorus could ask, “Do we curse you, today, Lord? Do we abandon our convictions when convenient?” When the Lucan Jesus prays for his crucifiers (Lk. 23:34), the chorus might chant, “The healing savior offers life even to those who take his life. Do we follow his example as his disciples today?”

Aside from the cringe-worthy banality of these suggestions (which, let’s face it, are only offered on the premise that barbaric Christian audiences need to be assuaged of their hatred), it is interesting to see the Ad Hoc contingent making such suggestions in the first place. One of the main “scholarly” complaints against Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ was its use of extra-Scriptural scenes. Apparently, the latest Ad Hoc entity has no problem with this – as long as they can write the dialogue.

Imagine looking at Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper and becoming fixated with one of the plates on the table to the exclusion of all else. This is what the anti-Gibson Ad Hoc group did six years ago and this is what the Ad Hoc CCJR Oberammergau Committee is doing today. It is not “the greatest story ever told” for them. It is not the ultimate manifestation of Divine Love. How could it be? In their document they state, “The Gospels also contain dramatically or theological driven elements that are historically dubious, if not impossible.” And they feel that it is they, and they alone, who are equipped to “fix” what everyone from the Evangelists on down has gotten wrong.


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