[Marxism] "'The Passion' of the Americans" or why noone ever asked Omar Sharif (or Benicio del Toro, not to mention -- God forbid-- Ice Cube) to play Jesus

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sat Feb 28 21:57:03 MST 2004

'The Passion' of the Americans 

By William Rivers Pitt 
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

February 27, 2004

  . . . . My question is much simpler [than possible 
anti-Semitism]: Why would Mel Gibson make
a movie about people in the ancient Middle East and
cast it with so many white people? To look at the
central actors in this film, you'd think Jesus did his
work near Manchester, New Hampshire instead of the Holy
Land. The answer to that question lies within the
United States, the prime market for this film. There
are millions of Christians in America, some 25% of whom
would characterize themselves as evangelical. It stands
to reason that this film would do very well here,
especially given the controversy that has surrounded
the content.

The whiteness of the cast, however, speaks to a
decidedly un-Christian truth that lies near the heart
of this republic. Simply put, nailing a white Jesus
Christ to the cross on film will generate a far more
emotional response from the American viewing public
than the crucifixion of a savior who actually looks
like he is from the Middle East.

First, let's dispense with the idea that the white
people who were cast to play the most emotive
characters - Jesus, Judas, and Mary Magdalene - have
anything to do with historical accuracy. In truth, the
region where Jesus was born was, and remains, populated
by brown-skinned people. The fact of Christ's non-
whiteness is borne out in the historical record, and in
biblical scripture. Right off the bat, the Book of
Matthew describes Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt to
escape the wrath of Herod. Egypt is in Africa, and is
populated by brown-skinned people. For my money, this
would be the last place on earth I would go to hide a
white baby from an angry King.

The earliest renditions of Jesus, painted by the first
Christians called Essenes in the catacombs of Rome,
depict a person with brown skin. During the time of
Roman Emperor Justinian II, a gold coin featuring an
image of Jesus was minted. This coin, which today can
be seen in the British Museum, depicts a man with
demonstrably non-white features and tightly curled
hair. Finally, there is the Book of Revelations, which
bears out the crafting of the Essenes and the Roman
coin-makers by describing Jesus as having hair like
wool, feet the color of burnt brass, and who resembled
jasper and sardine stones. Jasper and sardine stones
are both brown, as is burnt brass.

The Jesus most familiar to Americans, the Jesus
featured in Gibson's film, looks like the front man for
an alternative rock band out of Minnesota. Judas in
this film is a shorter version of the same phenomenon.
White skin, long straight brown hair, decidedly
European features - this is not the Jesus that preached
revolution against the Empire long ago. This is the
Jesus fashioned by Michelangelo five centuries ago, who
used his white cousin as the model for the savior.

The ugly truth which never even occurs to most
Americans is that Jesus looked a lot more like an
Iraqi, like an Afghani, like a Palestinian, like an
Arab, than any of the paintings which grace the walls
of American churches from sea to shining sea. This was
an uncomfortable fact before September 11. After the
attack, it became almost a moral imperative to put as
much distance between Americans and people from the
Middle East as possible. Now, to suggest that Jesus
shared a genealogical heritage and physical similarity
to the people sitting in dog cages down in Guantanamo
is to dance along the edge of treason.

George W. Bush calls himself Christian. If you believe
him, he is on armchair-to-armchair relations with the
Almighty, enjoying regular conversations with He Is
What He Is on everything from tax policy to invasion
plans. Bush serves a unique dual role as both the
Commander in Chief and as high priest to the
evangelical wing of American Christianity.

When Bush did his little flight-suit strut across the
aircraft carrier last May, he proclaimed victory in
biblical verse and sent a signal to those Christians
who see him as more than a man. Bush, that day, quoted
Isaiah's passage from the Servant Songs about captives
coming out and slaves being free. This is the same
passage, as described in Luke chapter 4, which Jesus
used to announce his coming as the Son of God. "Today
this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,"
said Jesus. Bush's use of this incredibly loaded
passage speaks as much to his messianic fantasies as it
does to his status as Christian-in-Chief.

Yet this is the same man who invades countries without
cause and consigns tens of thousands of innocents to
explosive, burning death. This is the same man who
pushes tax policies that further enrich the wealthy
while stripping funds and services from the neediest in
this nation. This is the man who speaks the language of
vengeance, of fear, of violence. This is the man whose
entire moral existence flies in the face of Christ's
words from Luke, chapter 12, verse 15: "Take care to
guard against all greed, for though one may be rich,
one's life does not consist of possessions." Sadly, the
skewed moral compass of George W. Bush is shared by too
many Americans who would call themselves Christian.

Possibly the most important words ever spoken by Jesus
can be found in Matthew, chapter 5, verses 38-45. "You
have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a
tooth for a tooth,'" said Christ. "But if any one
strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other
also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat,
let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces
you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him
who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would
borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, 'You
shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I
say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who
persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father
who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil
and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the

It is these words that condemn both Bush and the hands-
off moral attitude of too many American Christians.
Certainly, Jesus was no fool. In Luke, chapter 11,
verse 21, he said, "When a strong man, fully armed,
guards his own palace, his goods are in peace." Self-
protection, for person and nation, is both moral and
intelligent. But vengeance, violence and hatred are not
Christian. Mercy, love and generosity are the hallmarks
of the teachings of Jesus. If you are to call yourself
Christian, you must be for the poor and the weak, and
against empire and vengeance. Period.

These simple attributes are all too absent in the
American soul and spirit. Gibson's white Jesus is but
one example of how far we have strayed. It is a safe
bet that, had Gibson chosen a brown-skinned actor to
portray Jesus, his film would not find a connection in
this country. Millions of Americans try to live by the
teachings of Jesus, and do so with success, but find
themselves at odds with those who carry the banner of
Christianity. This is a travesty.

Too many so-called Christians are blind to history,
blind to the actions of our nation, blind to the
hypocrisy of our so-called leaders, and the world
bleeds because of it. Too many so-called Christians are
people who would slaughter the savior to protect their
power and position. Were Jesus alive today, he would
probably nail himself to the cross to get away from all
these people who act like barbarians in His name.


William Rivers Pitt is the senior editor and lead
writer for truthout. He is a New York Times and
international bestselling author of two books - 'War on
Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know' and 'The
Greatest Sedition is Silence.'


More information about the Marxism mailing list