The Gospel of John Promotes Interfaith Understanding
- 2004 31 Mar
With the recent opening of the film The Passion of The Christ, Jews and Christians are once again engaged in intensive debates and discussions about the Bible, the roots of anti-Semitism, and the role of Jesus in history. The popular culture dictates that this is a moment to attend to these debates.
A variety of factors may be at play, including the religious orientation of the current White House. Certainly the press has fueled the discussion. There is more coverage of religious subjects and more correspondents with religion beats than ever before, which generate interest. Time and Newsweek magazines have for years had two “religion” covers each year. Most importantly, more people than ever are attending churches in the United States, a country founded on the basic precept of “one nation under God.”
As the producer of the film The Gospel of John, I am repeatedly being asked one question: why did a Jewish producer make a film adaptation of this gospel of the New Testament? If, it is argued, the gospels demonize the Jews as Christ-killers, what could possibly interest a Jewish producer in filming one of those gospels?
As a faithful Jew, I am profoundly sensitive to the unfathomable suffering my people have endured over the centuries due to this canard. It is my belief that one way to heal deep-seated prejudices and conflicts is through enlightenment, communication and understanding. I would not have produced “The Gospel of John” unless I believed that it would contribute to such inter-faith understanding.
Our film’s eight-member advisory committee of leading scholars of theology and religion from throughout North America – including two Jewish members – shared this opinion, and in fact it was their unanimous recommendation that we produce The Gospel of John before any other book of the Bible, either Old or New Testament. (In the future, we plan to produce books on a word-for-word basis from the Old Testament as well.) Their recommendation preceded any knowledge of Mel Gibson’s picture.
It is not unreasonable for Christians and non-Christians to engage in a dialogue regarding a greater understanding of the basic tenets of Christianity. Similarly, for years, Reform and Conservative Jews have welcomed a greater appreciation of the Jewish faith from the Christian world.
How many non-Christians or even Christians fully understand or can distinguish the difference between the four Gospels? Or the way the character of Jesus is delineated so different in each of the Gospels? Our film provides a first opportunity for an in-depth exploration. The book has an easy-to-understand, relevant narrative which appeals broadly. For us, it was a challenge to show a different portrait of Jesus that has almost never been seen by the film-going public. We knew, of course, that the Fourth Gospel contains “anti-Jewish moments” and various anti-Jewish depictions at the trial and passion. Every Gospel has that.
But a Jewish producer can perhaps bring a perspective and sensitivity and reverence to the depiction of the First Century, differently than the one that usually gets portrayed in “sword and sandal” epics. For what we produced is not a “Hollywood-ization” of the Gospel of John, or some fantasy based on that gospel…it is the Gospel of John itself in a very organic way.
Deeper inter-faith understanding leads to less acrimony between religious groups. In today’s tumultuous world filled with religious tensions and strife, the ideas of John (who was a Jew) are profound, yet simple.
Ultimately, the point of the film can be expressed simply: “Love One Another.” It may be more difficult for Jews to see that that is what most people take away from it. But after observing a great many people react to our work, I am convinced that is the dominant reaction among most people.
It was a coincidence that The Gospel of John appeared shortly before The Passion of the Christ. Ours is a film that many say compliments The Passion. We include the ministry and teaching of Jesus – which connects him to his Jewish environment. Ours is also a “family-friendly” film, suitable for congregations, Bible study groups, Sunday schools and small ministries. We rigorously connect Jesus’ death to his message and life mission. I believe that the viewer – whether secular or religious – distills from our film discrete elements of education, spiritual uplift, and entertainment, or some combination of these.
In the end, it is Jewish-Christian dialogue, education and discussion, which may help to reduce the historical hatreds. If blind hatred stems from ignorance, to the extent that our film promotes deeper inter-faith understanding, it will have achieved one of its primary goals.
Garth H. Drabinskyis the producer of “The Gospel of John”, which premiered at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival.
Read our earlier interview: Gospel of John Touches Hearts of Filmmakers