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179: The Passion of The Christ with Dr. David Chapman

In Christianity, Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Today we’re going to learn about the depiction of that event on screen as we saw in 2004’s The Passion of The Christ. To help us learn more, we’ll be joined by the Professor of New Testament and Archaeology at Covenant Theological Seminary, Dr. David Chapman.

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

Dan LeFebvre  02:09

A lot of movies start off with a date to establish the timeline. But this movie is a little bit different. So let’s begin by clarifying the timeline and how the story begins. There is a date at the beginning of the movie, but it gives us the year 700 BC alongside a passage from Isaiah, then it jumps to Jesus just after the Last Supper, which I’m going to assume is not the year 700 bc since bc stands for before Christ. Now, as I was watching this, I got the sense that the filmmakers assume everyone already knows the time and place for how it begins. I’m sure a lot of people do. But for those who don’t, can you give us some more context around what we’re seeing in the opening sequence of the movie?


Dr. David Chapman  02:48

Yeah, that’s well stated and observed. I think the movie does assume a lot from the viewer that they already know, at least part of the story. And you’re correct that it does open with that quote from Isaiah, and gives the date of 700 BC, which is roughly right for Isaiah, the events of the passion of Jesus would be around 30 bc or 3080, excuse me, and so give or take two or three years. And so you kind of have to adjust for that time difference. Yes, I think probably what the movie is trying to do with that 700 bc is to establish the notion that there was prophetic ideas that were already coalescing in Jesus, especially the idea that by his wounds we are healed, I think is what they’re trying to frame. But it is quite confusing if you don’t know the story.


Dan LeFebvre  03:37

In that opening sequence, we do see some soldiers coming to arrest Jesus. And even though right away he admits to being the one that they’re looking for. Judas kisses Jesus on the cheek, and then Jesus says something to the effect of Judas, you betray the Son of Man with a kiss. Now we saw Judas earlier in the movie taking a payment from some men that again, it doesn’t really explain. There’s not a lot of context there either in the movie, and again, it’s just kind of, I think the filmmakers expect you to know a lot of the rest of the story of what’s going on here. So can you fill in some of the details of how and why Jesus was arrested?


Dr. David Chapman  04:09

There are assumptions going on there. And I think, you know, our major historical accounts and earliest historical accounts, certainly for the life of Jesus are the Gospels. And all for the Gospels mentioned Judas, his role in this and that Judas, who is one of the disciples, Jesus had 12 disciples kind of famously, and then many others kind of around that orbit that 12 are listed by name often. And Judas is one of these, it’s he’s usually said at the beginning of the gospel account as to being the one who betrayed Jesus, which then shows up later in the Gospels. The movie actually is a pretty good job. If you kind of know the story. I’m giving you a sense of Judas for the offer of money betraying Jesus, but actually, the Gospels themselves indicate a little bit more than that kind of infer that Judas seems to have Then concern the direction that Jesus was taking this kind of mission, and especially the way that he didn’t seem concerned about money and expenditures. So a young lady comes to him and pours an expensive ointment on Jesus. And he considers this a good thing, even though they could have used it in the words of the disciples to pay for the poor. Judas was in charge of the purse. And so there seem to be a few indications in the, throughout the Gospels that Jesus was already worried about the direction Jesus is taking things. And he then takes the initiative to go to the leaders who offer in payment in order to betray Jesus.


Dan LeFebvre  05:36

Okay. Now, according to some of the dialogue in the movie, that I think it was between like a Temple Guard and a Roman soldier, they give an indication of what he’s being arrested for. And they say that he’s just a criminal that’s breaking temple laws. So that’s why they’re bringing him for questioning was that the reason that was given for why why he was being arrested?


Dr. David Chapman  05:54

Yeah, it’s interesting, because the Gospels actually present kind of an array of reasons that the Jewish leaders, especially the temple leaders, are concerned about Jesus. And so just earlier in that week prior to his execution, Jesus had engaged in a triumphal procession from the Mount of Olives across the valley into Jerusalem, which was a very kingly looking act. So it looked like he was acting like the Messiah. And shortly after that, he goes into the temple precincts. And he turns over the tables of the money changers and borates people for turning the temple into basically an economic entity instead of the worship of the Father. So that’s hitting the temple leaders where it hurts financially. But throughout Jesus’s ministry, he’s not been abiding by kind of traditional rabbinic precepts at times, so he heals on the Sabbath day, which one day in a week is supposed to be holy. And so he heals on a day that he probably shouldn’t, according to them, other things his disciples do, refusing to fast, etc. And so these kind of there’s a tension throughout the Gospels leading up to his arrest. And so they actually, I think there’s probably multiple factors that come together as to what their motives might be. But then they also need a reason for accusation. And so the ideas that are presented in the movie provides some of the different possible reasons for an accusation. But I don’t think you can reduce the reasons that they would want to arrest him just to those accusation reasons.


Dan LeFebvre  07:24

Sounds like there was that tension going on. But those, like the procession, and things like that were almost the final straw that were pushing them over the edge to Okay, we need to do something about this, and we need to arrest this guy.


Dr. David Chapman  07:40

Yeah, that’s very well stated. Yes, it is. Just that way, they have been considering it, according to the Gospels throughout trying to find an opportune moment. And now they figure they just have to do something, I think is kind of how it’s represented the Gospels.


Dan LeFebvre  07:54

Even though we see that reason for his arrest in the movie, if we head back to the movies timeline, there is another reason that the the temple leaders kind of give, and we see that once he’s taken to a trial in front of typhus, and he says that Jesus has been brought there for being a blast femur, they call him, the Nazarene troublemaker, they say he claims to be the king of the Jews. He says he’s going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, he cures the sick through magic, he claims that he’s the bread of life, if we don’t eat his flesh and drink his blood, then we’re not going to inherit eternal life. These are all things that typhus is saying in the movie, during the trial. But ultimately, he still doesn’t seem to believe what the people are saying. But then he asked Jesus Himself, Are You the Messiah? Are you the Son of the living God? Jesus, his reply in the movie is simply I am. And that throws everyone into an uproar. He’s pronounced guilty on the spot. And that leads then to what we see throughout the rest of the movie. But how did the movie do showing this trial?


Dr. David Chapman  08:53

As you can imagine, with all things that have to do with the New Testament, there’s an immense amount of study and scholarship that’s been involved in looking at this. And I think an overall take would be that they do a generally a fine job. There’s a lot of little pieces, I would say, you know, might be done better in another way. One of those is that they approached Jesus and accused him of blasphemy at the beginning, in that trial narratives, the portions of the Gospels that specifically speak to his trial, that’s actually a charge that comes up at the end. I’m not sure that it’s presented exactly at the beginning. And several of the things that are put on the lips of his accusers are not explicitly stated in the Gospels. The gospels do say that multiple accusers came forth. They couldn’t agree in terms of their testimony. And psychiatrists does show or the Jewish leadership shows some frustration, that they’re not able to get a series of witnesses that can agree that they can actually contend and based simply on that witness, and it seems, then at that point that this does turn to Jesus and asked him to kind of commit and if he’s the Messiah or not, and I think the best scholarship on this that I know of would indicate that the charge that he’s actually after is what would be called misleading the people. Because to say that you’re a Messiah is in itself, not blasphemous, you know, you have to malign the name or misuse the name of God in some way for it to be blasphemy. And so it seems to be misleading the people, and yet Jesus’s response, and they actually do a pretty good job with this in the movie, isn’t just, yes, I am the Messiah. But it’s you know, and I’m going to paraphrase. From now you’ll see the Son of Man cutting on glory at the right hand of the Father. what he’s done there is he’s actually combined some old testament that’s from the Psalms, and from the book of Daniel. And he’s kind of defined the Messiah, he is an end, he’s a much more not just a human person. But now he’s actually sitting at the right hand and heaven of God, which is effectively claims to deity. And that’s what allows the charge of blasphemy, I think a fair way to read the trial is Jesus is then a real problem. And they’ve concerned about the religious movement he’s doing, they’re concerned about the economic aspects of it, etc. And they’re looking for a charge. Jesus gives them a charge that finally works for them, which is blasphemy and the fact that everybody hears him utter that allows scientists to say you’ve all heard what he said, this is blasphemy. And now the people around actually can become witnesses in the formal trial, which actually, I think happens the next morning. And that’s another thing, right? I think they could have actually presented it better than they did in the movie. So there’s, there’s multiple trials, they’ve kind of condensed them into one and ones that the evening, but I think it’s actually kind of a hearing, preparing the charges for the formal trial, which is the next morning, and the movie doesn’t present the morning trial at all.


Dan LeFebvre  11:54

Okay, well, what you were saying earlier about having multiple witnesses, about them not really agreeing, when you were saying that it threw into my head about how they pay Judas. So is there any possibility that maybe they were paying some of these witnesses to come forward and try to say what they wanted him to say, but perhaps because they were throwing us all together? You know, but the procession was only a week beforehand. And it sounds like it was almost throwing us all together almost last minute was kind of haphazardly put together?


Dr. David Chapman  12:24

I think that’s, I will say it in most respects, I think, yeah, haphazard, is a it was, it was kind of a neat of a moment, it was the night before the day before a holy day. And so they’re under a very tight timeframe there because in order for this execution to happen, it has to happen in the course of the next day, which means they have to proclaim Jesus worthy of death, via blasphemy, they then have to take him to Pilate, Pilate has to proclaim him worthy of death. And then they have to execute him. And he needs to be taken down from the cross all before the holy day. So they’re under this very tight itinerary. I would say, I don’t know that there’s any evidence in the gospels that they were paying witnesses or anything like that. But I think they were obviously seeking some reason to kind of bring about something that they really felt was necessary in the moment and then seeking for some time,


Dan LeFebvre  13:17

You mentioned Pilate, and I didn’t want to ask you about that. Because the movie shows typhus bringing Jesus to Pontius Pilate. And according to the movie, it’s because I think I said something about how it’s unlawful for them to condemn a man to death. Now, before we dive into what we’re actually seeing in the movie there, I do want to ask about some of those leaders that we see because there’s typhus and then there’s Pilate. And then in the movie, he mentioned someone named King Herod. And even though the movie is only focusing on Jesus’s trial here, it seems to imply that there’s these different governmental leaders, and it’s not unique to his trial. But anytime there’s a criminal, these are the people that you have to basically get the okay from, can you explain the power structure at that time of who would have been in charge of what for convicting a criminal,


Dr. David Chapman  14:01

This is another example where the movie kind of assumes a lot. And again, you know, often a knowledge of the Gospels or, and more of that kind of history of the period and these names, etc. You know, I think in general terms, which you have is that the Jewish people had long had a body that was responsible not just for theological discussion and overseeing the Jewish people in that way, but also, for hearing some of the most important judicial decisions. This is called the Sanhedrin. And for a long time, it had the power of capital punishment for putting somebody to death. But there’s a statement and later rabbinic works, when called the Talmud, that indicates that 40 years before the destruction of the temple, the temple was destroyed, and it’s at 70. And so if you go back to 30, at sea, it seems that they had just lost the right to, to condemn somebody to death. And so they could actually carry out the death penalty. They needed the Romans to cooperate. And so Pilate, then, as always is the case in in a Roman province, the provincial governor approximator, has the ability to put somebody to death. And so he had the formal ability to do that. Herod is in charge of the galley, which is north of Judea. And so he was king in that area, but not down in Jerusalem, so galleys, north of Jerusalem, near the Sea of Galilee. And so, because Jesus was from the area of Galilee, he could officially be punished by the king of that territory, who also was probably granted the right by the Romans to put someone to death. So, you know, if you’re kind of thinking through power structures, there’s the Jewish leaders who are most motivated to put Jesus to death. And there’s the Romans who are going to be concerned about anybody who claims to be king of the Jews, because that might be a, you know, a revolution waiting to happen. And they’re mostly concerned about political and economic peace. And then Herod has potential right as well within Galilee. So it starts with the Jewish leaders who can’t put somebody to death that they toss it to Pilate who could put somebody to death. He’s not sure he has Roman legal grounds for doing so. So he sends him to hear it hear it sends it back to Pilate, that’s the sequence you see going on in the movie. And most of that’s represented in the Gospels. Again, there’s more detail in the gospels, but most of that’s represented.


Dan LeFebvre  16:29

One thing that we see with pilot is once it comes back from heritage, he tries to appease the crowd he’s offering to release either Jesus or a notorious murderer, or named in the movies pronounced Barabbah. I’ve always pronounced it Barabbas. But the movie seems to imply that Pilate was kind of wanting to let Jesus go, I think we saw that his wife had a dream The night before warning against convicting a holy man. And so Pilate wants to let Jesus go. And so he’s offering the choice of Jesus who, not nonviolent crime versus this notorious murderer. And then the crowd calls his bluff and asked for Barabbas to be released, and for Jesus to be crucified. Is that a pretty accurate representation of what happened?


Dr. David Chapman  17:17

Well, in general terms, yes, there’s a number of characters that Mel Gibson kind of fills out more. So you mentioned one of them, pilots wife, who we do know from the Gospels receives a vision, but there’s not much extend extended kind of discussion of that she doesn’t have a name, there’s not, you know, there’s a lot of interaction between pilot and his wife in the movie. And so there’s been extra scenes, but and I think for artistic reasons, and, and such. The mentioned apparatus, though, is repeated in all the Gospels. And there’s an agreement in the gospels as well that he was involved. As a robber, really, the Greek term is wastage, which is a brigand, and the brilliance of God and this time period, often we’re also involved in insurrections and many revolts. And so some of the Gospel accounts indicate that he was actually involved in a revolt and had been involved in murdering people in the revolt. And so he was a pretty heinous guy. And it is a striking choice represented in all the Gospels, Jesus or Barabbas. And that is put to the people and the people for Barabbas, to be set free. So that there’s, you know, many of the dimensions of that are accurate. I will say that the whole kind of interaction between Pilate and Claudia, his wife, because it’s much more expansive, I think, actually makes pilots seem like a more sympathetic guy just kind of caught in between. And I’m not sure if that’s the fairest read of the text, their pilot is actually not complying with Roman law, and that he ultimately allows the crowds to sway him to convict somebody that He has given clear indication that he shouldn’t convict. I think most Roman readers of the Gospels actually would, would not think of Pilate as a fully sympathetic guy here. But he gets a lot more sympathy in the movie.


Dan LeFebvre  19:06

One thing that the movie does mention when he’s giving the crowd The choice is I think he I don’t remember the exact line, but he said something to the effect of how every year I give you a prisoner to release it, was that something that would actually happen and kind of be a reason why maybe he puts that to the crowd of Barabbas or Jesus?


Dr. David Chapman  19:25

Yes. I mean, that’s certainly how it’s, it’s stated in the Gospels. I will say outside the Gospels. There’s really limited evidence about these kind of things. And Philo, who is a Jewish author and Alexandria Egypt, mentions that it’s regularly the case that people are released from punishment during the Emperor’s birthday. So the idea that there might be certain Holi celebrations The Emperor’s birthday is a holiday celebration, given the Imperial cult, you know, I think resonates pretty well with with history. The gospels are very clear on this matter. And so I I take that to be you know, historically very plausible.


Dan LeFebvre  20:01

In the movie there is after given the choice between Jesus and Barabbas. There’s another point where we see a pilot almost trying to appease the crowd, but not really going to the point of condemning Jesus to be crucified. And that’s when he orders a very severe punishment, but he makes sure to give the order that Jesus is not to be killed. And then we see the Roman soldiers kind of seem to go too far with the punishment because they’re there. It’s a horrible, horrible scene in the movie, for sure. But then when the Roman commander comes and sees what the soldiers are doing, he’s appalled at what’s happened, Did that really happen there where we see the Roman soldiers, I think they even use like a cat of nine tails, and he’s when it sticks and just beating him to a pulp.


Dr. David Chapman  20:53

This is one of the areas that I think is most expensive, is a generous way to put it, but at least historical in the text. There are several issues with it that have been pointed out over the years. One is the sequence of when Jesus is beaten, and it seems to be out of the order of when it’s done in the Gospels. Secondly, like you indicate, I mean, they beat him, they give him a thorough set of beating. So one way of beating in antiquity was to do kind of 40 minus one or have a set number of times you strike somebody, and they do a full set of beatings with kind of canes or rods, as you indicated, and Jesus is bruised and injured and bleeding, and he falls to the ground. And then he stands up again. And then they started all over again, to do it again, with a cat of nine tails kind of thing. And there’s a whole question of whether the cat of nine tails was actually been used in Rome. And certainly, they’ve already beat him that there’s not going to engage in another sequence, and that none of that’s represented the Gospels that the cat, the character, you mentioned have either not or is not named in the Bible, in the Bible, or in the earliest, you know, kind of historical texts of the Gospels, etc. Many of these kind of things come from more medieval tradition, much less probable, and I think the viciousness of it and it was certainly a very vicious act, crucifixion and the things that preceded it, but I think Gibson’s expansion at the at the end, was historically likely, and also, probably, but what beyond a human body can actually sustain? somebody pointed out that Jesus probably would have been already dead. You know, if Gibson’s movie is correct, and long before he could even be asked to carry his cross, etc. So there’s the intensity, and the violence of that is probably excessive. It was a very violent activity, not quite that violent.


Dan LeFebvre  22:46

And that was something that struck me as well as, as I’m watching this. How is he still alive? I mean, it’s, especially once they go with it, the cat of nine tails because that’s just, you know, ripping off parts of flesh, and it’s horrible. But just thinking of just the blood loss. And I mean, I’m not a doctor, but I don’t know how he would have survived that.


Dr. David Chapman  23:08

Yeah, that’s and I’m not a doctor, either. There’s one guy who’s a fairly famous kind of medical examiner person who’s looked a lot at the crucifixion of Jesus, a guy named Suki. And he has said that this is just not physically possible. And I think that’s very likely that yeah, it’s that the blood loss is huge. So you may remember afterwards, Mary comes and kind of chops up the blood. And that’s, again, all of that is additional to the Gospels Mary’s much more present in the movie than she is in the Gospels. And I think what’s going on there is Gibson’s heading towards kind of a theological motivation for that to have Mary sopping up the blood of Jesus because and kind of later medieval tradition, she too can become a dispenser of grace and forgiveness through the blood of Jesus. And so that kind of gives her a, you know, a collection of blood that she can dispense. And so I think there’s things going on with that. But the sheer quantity, etc, is, you know, I think he would have been dead based on that. So there’s, you know, there’s things going on there that are difficult. And you know, and there’s many other scenes that are added, Satan shows up and there’s other things that are going on, that are clearly being added to the story that are thematic, and they often have theological motivation, but they’re not based on our earliest historical records.


Dan LeFebvre  24:28

Okay, but the the punishment itself that the punishment happened, that was something that Pilate did order, before he made the decision to crucify that correct.


Dr. David Chapman  24:38

Jesus is maltreated by the Jewish guards beforehand, the sequence of whether he was actually punished by Pilate. It seems to me that he was actually the formal punishment didn’t start until after he had agreed to Jesus being the one who would be accepted and not for others. So I think that That sequence doesn’t seem to accord with the Gospels either.


Dan LeFebvre  25:04

Okay, that’s what you’re saying kind of being a little bit out of order. Okay, okay. Yeah, cuz in the movie we do see, we see him succumbing to the pressure of crucifying Jesus. But that’s after that punishment takes place.


Dr. David Chapman  25:15

Another aspect of that that’s been highlighted by Gibson, I think in the movie, I think this is an artistic choice is he has Caiaphas kind of taking the lead constantly and being the one. So Titus is the high priest. And he’s the one who is kind of constantly calling for Jesus’s death. And many times what’s being put on his lips are in the gospels is kind of a general outcry from the, the people. And I think what Gibson is doing there artistically is he’s, you know, kind of, and this worked even better, kind of 15 years ago, or so in movie history, you know, and the way that a lot of Gibson’s movies are kind of good versus evil, and you have personifications of good, and you have bad guys, so you have, you know, and Caiaphas is clearly represented as a bad guy. And this and none of his decisions seem to be good, none of them seem to have good warrant to them or reason to them. And this is one of the reasons that I think some people have found the movie to have anti semitic elements is that he becomes this kind of personification of Jewish opposition to Jesus, I’m not sure if that’s a fully fair read of what Gibson’s doing. There’s a lot of debates about that. But it is the case that kind of this becomes this kind of juxtaposition to Jesus, and you kind of have Satan and typhus are the two bad characters and Jesus, Mary, and a few people that support them are good characters, and Pilate somewhere in between, and it just seems to be kind of playing out more as a movie, you know, kind of a movie type story than it does quite the way it does in the Gospels.


Dan LeFebvre  26:52

If we head back to the movie, after Pilate decides to crucify Jesus, we do see him washing his hands of the matter, as he agrees to do that. And then we see, as you mentioned, before Jesus is forced to carry his cross on the street, I thought it was interesting, he’s forced to carry the full cross, we see two other prisoners that have to carry theirs, but just kind of the cross beam that’s strapped to them. And we have that Roman soldiers, following along and pushing the crowd back, you know, stay away from the prisoners, all the while they’re whipping Jesus, each time he stumbles under the weight of cross, eventually, he can’t carry the cross anymore. And one of the Roman soldiers orders someone nearby, a guy named Simon of serine, to carry the cross instead, how much of that actually happened?


Dr. David Chapman  27:35

General contours, yes, details problematic. That’s that’s kind of how, but that part of this is, you know, these are some of the most studied texts in all of human history, the Gospels on this. And so getting all the details, you know, people really care about that. So it’s certainly the case that Jesus carried his cross beam. It’s the case that Simon osirian had to help him in that. But one of the things you aptly pointed out is that Jesus is carrying the whole cross both kind of the horizontal beam as well as the vertical beam. And I’ve spent much of my academic career studying ancient sources and crucifixion in Greek, Latin and Aramaic, Hebrew, etc. And there’s relatively few sources that speak about carrying the cross, but those that do pretty clearly it’s the cross beam and not the whole cross. And so this distinction that’s made between the others only carry the cross being the two thieves on either side of him. And Jesus cares, the whole cross just has no basis in history, certainly not in the Gospels. And the other aspect of that is, you know, later and when you see the crucifixion happen, Jesus has been just scourged. And as you said, kind of nine tails. I mean, there’s every square inch of him this is bloody and torn to shreds. And the other two thieves have undergone none of that. And it seems much more the case that a standard part of crucifixion was to do some torturing before the person then carries their being to the cross. And so, you know, it’s like he’s turning the volume way up on Jesus’s torturing in excess of what is likely and turn it way down on the other two thieves. And that was also part of the carrying the cross beam. And so the result is just an unevenness that’s probably not historical. So again, a general contours, Yeah, fine, but you know that the degree that’s going on there, it’s the it’s the volume issue. That’s really the problem I would suggest.


Dan LeFebvre  29:35

You mentioned Mary earlier, cleaning up the blood and as Jesus is carrying the cross down, the movie makes a point to show that Mary is always watching like she’s following along. I mean, there’s points where I think she turns away because she just can’t stand to see what she’s witnessing. But was Mary actually there following along as Jesus was carrying the cross?


Dr. David Chapman  29:55

Another good question observation again in the gospels Mary’s not There, she’s there at the end at the crucifixion act itself, that she just receives very brief mention. And so all of those instances with Mary, really come to us more from medieval tradition. So one of the things that Gibson is trying to do is integrate what are called the 14 Stations of the Cross, which are if you go to Jerusalem, there’s a pilgrim way that’s called the Via Dolorosa. And there are 14 Roman numerals as you go through, that each have to do with an event and several of which, actually, the majority of which are taken from the Gospels, but several also come in kind of from medieval tradition, and so marry factors, and one of those were Mary and Jesus meet. And that’s represented in the movie, Veronica, who comes and wipes Jesus’s face with her headscarf, and that’s also from kind of medieval tradition. None of these are represented the earliest historical sources. And so kind of historically, I query these whether they actually happen that way. But they are kind of connected with this later devotional tradition of the 14 stages of the cross which the idea of stages across maybe as early as sixth century, the idea of 14 comes about, in a later Medieval period, 13th century later, that specific number becomes kind of instantiated kind of, even later in the medieval tradition, and becomes kind of officially recognized receives official sanction from the pope in the Catholic tradition. And so kind of, he’s following that, which is, again, a pious devotional tradition, but maybe not the most accurate history in all of its respects.


Dan LeFebvre  31:36

Okay. Well, I appreciate you clarifying that. Because Yeah, that that is something that the movie makes a point to, to mention. But again, it’s it doesn’t really explain why it’s making a point of that.


Dr. David Chapman  31:45

Yeah, I think, especially with a married material is very interesting, because throughout the movie, Mary kind of shows up at the moments when Jesus is most weighed down, most seems willing to just go ahead and die or not accomplish his full purpose of being crucified, etc. And she comes up and kind of either do looking at one another, or sometimes she’s physically present with him, and enables him to endure and to go on. And again, I think this has to do with the elevation and later traditions about the role that Mary played. And part of that has to do with her being The Handmaiden of God, which is referred to later in the movie. And this idea of her also dispensing merit and things like this, that are, again, not in the gospels, but are being put in because of this elevation of Mary that goes on as the church proceeds through time, especially in the Catholic tradition, certain degree in the in the Orthodox tradition as well,


Dan LeFebvre  32:40

We’re at the point in the movie, where we see the crucifixion itself being depicted. And when we see Jesus being put on the cross, his arms are tied with rope first, and then the hammer nails through the center of his hand, and then they cross his feet. So one is on top of the other, they nail his feet to the cross. After this, they turn the crossover. So Jesus is hanging just off the ground, they bend the back of the nails behind the back of the cross, and then finally they raise it and anchor it to the ground. So he’s left hanging there. But he doesn’t die right away, it takes quite some time for him to die, slow, excruciating death. And the movie all does imply that this is all happening in a single day, because Jesus mentions to one of the other prisoners hanging there that today you will be with me in paradise. So how did the movie do portraying the act of crucifixion itself?


Dr. David Chapman  33:30

Yeah, I think you know, again, general contours fine. The questions are always in the details. So yes, in the course of the day, certainly the Gospels mentioned that it started in the third hour of the day. So around 9am, Jesus seems to be dead by about the ninth hour of the day, which would be around 3pm in the afternoon. The other two are hasten to death by chattering their shins. And the result is of all that traumas that all three are dead in time to to remove them before the holy day. So all of that General contraries is there. So because I you know, I studied these ancient sources and crucifixion, etc. I’m often asked about the particularities. And so, you know, there’s some of those that I thought were represented well, and some that I, I had some concerns about. I will say, our sources generally don’t describe the exact methodology. Very few of them mentioned aspects of method method. The gospels accounts are actually some of the most detailed accounts of any crucifixion from antiquity. And so we have kind of limited evidence. Part of our evidence indicates that the Romans crucified people in a variety of postures, there seems to kind of be a main way that might be expected, but there’s a variety that’s allowed from it. The use of nails and crucifixion is testified in a variety of sources. So that’s certainly the case we have one major example of a crucified body that shows up in the archaeological record, actually, interestingly, just outside of Jerusalem, In a place called Givat HaMivtar was discovered in the memory correctly in the 60s and 70s at the latest. And this has, there’s a heel bone with it with a nail through it. And that becomes our main physical evidence for crucifix from antiquity. We know that 1000s really 10s of 1000s of people were in or crucify antiquity. And we have very little evidence of this in the archaeological record, there’s one other possible discovery that’s made in the north of Italy in the Po Valley, that’s kind of recently come to light in the last decade or so. And so that limited evidence, if you look at it, it, one of the things is that the nails seem to have been often reused. And so for example, we, you mentioned rightly, that in the movie, you know, they pound the nail all the way through the cross, and then they bend it to kind of keep it from coming out. Well, that’s not very likely, in my estimation, because they actually wouldn’t be able to pull the nail out, they have to be able to get the guy down from the cross anyway, and then they’re going to want to use we use the nails, you know, because those kind of materials are costly and necessary in the entire world. So there’s little things like that, that I might query, the position of the cross that the hand, people often ask is it with the nail, go through kind of the palm of the hand, or maybe further down on the wrist. And in most art, especially Renaissance and medieval art, and even before the medieval period tends to represent that nail going through the poem. But the Greek term for hand that’s used in the New Testament in the gospels, really can reference the wrist area as well. And so there’s a variety of scholars that have debated, you know, what, what could have supported the nail. And But sadly, our kind of crucifixion are few archaeological examples. There’s no evidence of nails, the hands are often missing. And if they are there, there’s no evidence of where the nail was. And so it’s not in kind of clarified from the archaeological record. So this debates kind of continue going on. So we could you know, the other aspect is the block that Jesus stands on that’s often represented in medieval and even early medieval art. But we do have some Griffey that are kind of used about crucifixion in general, from around the time of the first century. And those seem to represent the person straddling the cross if you would, and a single nail from the outside of the heel to the inside of the heel on each side. So the person that the beam is in between and the heels on either side, and that would account better with the one archeological find we have from the Jerusalem area. So I tend to wonder about that, too. So so you know, but those are the kinds of things that people ask me all the time. And I have to say, again, you know, limited evidence, but I don’t think I think Gibson is going with actually the prevalent presentation in Christian art from early medieval up until even most recent times. But I’m not sure that that’s actually first century practice.


Dan LeFebvre  38:07

You mentioned them having to break the shins of the other prisoners in order to kill them. But then Jesus dying first. And the way the movie portrays it the impression that I got as as I was watching, one of the big reasons why Jesus dies. First is he was practically already dead, as he was carrying the cross down the street because of this just absolutely brutal punishment we talked about earlier. But if that punishment didn’t necessarily happen, was he the one that that died first, and then the other prisoners had to be killed, like we see in the movie? Or was that that timing off as well?


Dr. David Chapman  38:39

So the Gospel accounts also represent that I think that’s presented pretty well in the movie, that Jesus does die without the soldiers needing to do anything else. Whereas the other two, their shins are broken. And there’s a whole debate in crucifixion studies about what causes death. Some have suggested asphyxiation, some have suggested kind of hypovolemic shock. There’s probably the best studies and it’s amazing, every two or three years in the medical literature, major medical journals, people have another idea for why crucifixion killed people in antiquity, we know it did is kind of what and I think the best accounts are, there’s probably multiple factors that could take into account and shock could be reproduced by any of them. And pretty early on. Jesus had been clearly maligned for a long time and the vehemence of the beating that would have probably happened with all of them, whether it was harsher, and Jesus should not could produce a death from any body, and the carrying of the cross and these kind of things. Make it so that the body is already ready to go into, you know, kind of complete collapse. And so that seems very probable. And then John’s Gospel does indicate something that happens in the movie, which is that this spear is pushed into Jesus aside. blood and water come out, verify that he’s dead. I will say that’s another point where I think there’s kind of theological addition made because what comes out is this immense quantity of blood. And then this immense quantity of water, which is not represented in the Gospel account. And I think, especially the water kind of pours out on Mary and on john and even on the soldier, and it seems to be kind of this cleansing of them, that I think that’s, you know, the theological thing that he’s heading to not really historical. But yeah, I think you know, that the Gospel accounts are very clear. And and certainly the Roman soldiers would have been quite adept at figuring out if somebody’s dead before they bury, and that’s their job. And so, you know, that’s, I think well represented,


Dan LeFebvre  40:35

you make a good point about the spear and the blood in the water. Because earlier in the movie, there was a, they also made a point of, I think Mary was trying to give him some water while he was carrying the cross. And one of the soldiers comes in and knocks it out, because you can tell that he’s parched, and he’s thirsty. And that that makes sense. I mean, considering what we see him go through, but then later on, of course, he’s got all this water, he seems pretty well hydrated when this spear pierces him.


Dr. David Chapman  41:01

Yeah, there’s an astounding amount of water. It’s almost like a little hose in a sense, and blood too. And he’s already been bleeding for quite a while. So those things aren’t representative historical sources, but they’re also i’m not sure that they’re physically possible. But that again, I think this is where the movie, in my mind is, has a really profound artistic sensibility to it. It’s very gruesome. I mean, I remember back in the day that it came out, Roger Ebert called it the most violent movie he’d ever seen. And so there’s certainly that, but there’s a lot to appreciate about that, you know, the camera angles, the characterizations that the use of light and a lot of thematic material that’s brought in, I think that’s part of what’s going on here. These are artistic choices that are, you know, not necessarily physically or historically, that that’s not the main principle that’s being at play there.


Dan LeFebvre  41:50

According to the movie, just moments after Jesus’s death, there is a massive earthquake that happens, and it leaves a big crack down the center of the temple in Jerusalem. Did that actually happen?


Dr. David Chapman  42:00

Well, that’s also not the Gospel accounts. So again, it’s not not really some struggle, there is a striking thing in historical accounts that the curtain of the temple is torn into, which seems kind of miraculous. And there’s also the mention of earthquake, especially in Matthew’s Gospel, which is, you know, very plausible that Jerusalem is right next to the Dead Sea, and that the Jordan River, and that’s an extension of the African Rift Valley, you’re right on a tectonic plate there. So earthquakes happen in that area all the time. So that makes sense. But the know the actual cracking of the temple, which is quite, I mean, it looks like, you know, an earthquake movie from, you know, something that would take place in California or something like that. It’s, it’s, yeah, that’s how we say, Yeah.


Dan LeFebvre  42:51

Why the impression I got from the movie was it was showing that because they made a point I mentioned that. Jesus said he was going to destroy the temple, and then rebuild it. Three days later, it was kind of that prophecy coming true. Almost, you know, we see Okay, he’s, now that he’s dead. He’s destroyed the temple through this, this earthquake. And there’s whether it be, you know, divine intervention, or whatever it may be. That was the impression I got from the movie was why this was happening.


Dr. David Chapman  43:21

Yeah, I think I think thematically you’re correct. Yeah, I think that’s maybe what’s going on with that. I wondered that as well. But again, that’s the Gospels don’t push to that, as artists crisis.


Dan LeFebvre  43:34

After he is killed, that we see Jesus, his mother, Mary, who witnessed the entire thing, as we talked about earlier, but she’s also with john, and another woman named Mary, Mary Magdalene, and they take the body of Jesus down from the cross. I think the Roman soldier who appears that Jesus died with his spear, Cassius is there as well. But as I was watching this, it seemed like the Roman just spent a lot of effort keeping people away from Jesus as they’re walking down the streets. And then after he’s dead, they don’t seem to care anymore. They let Mary john and Mary Magdalene take the body down and do whatever they want with it. Thinking of this from the Romans perspective, as far as I’m aware, Jesus was just another prisoner who was crucified. So I would expect that if they let this happen for Jesus, they’d let this happen for any prisoners, family or friends to just take the body down after they’re dead. Is that a fair assessment of what the Romans allowed at the time? Or was there a special case for Jesus in the eyes of the Romans?


Dr. David Chapman  44:28

It’s another place where I think you’re right to point out that the movie is assuming that somebody kind of already knows something of the story. So in the Gospel accounts, there’s a man who is a member of the Sanhedrin. So he’s a priestly figure named Joseph Verma Thea, he goes to Pontius Pilate and requests the right to bury Jesus. And pilot grants that right and it seems to be based on that that Jesus is removed from the cross and a pilot along with a man named Nick edemas and John’s Gospel, take him to be buried in it. In a YouTube, I will say again, you know, if you go to Christian art, and again, medieval tradition, there’s there’s an expanded role of Mary, and john in particular, as well as Mary Magdalene there so that there’s a famous series of arts a piece of art, they’re called a pinata. And so Michelangelo, and, you know, kind of very famous artists does this. And it’s, it’s a representation, especially in the Renaissance, I should say, or Renaissance and medieval period. It’s representation at the foot of the cross of Jesus, bloody in the arms of Mary’s mother, and she’s holding his body. And she’s she, often in those representations. She’s facing the viewer of the painting. And it seems to me that that’s exactly what Gibson is, is wanting to imitate that is the final scene before it fades to black. And then Jesus ends up in a tomb is that very famous piece of kind of Renaissance art to talk that’s going on there. And so he he’s pushing towards that end, he skipped some of the important stuff you need to know you know, Joseph Verma Thea is represented briefly in the scene. But he and the cadenas fall out of the scene. And what you really see is married with Jesus, and Magdalen and john right next to him. And so that’s what’s going on. So the historicity of that his question, I think the idea that Jesus was, was taken down at pilots authority, makes good sense. Again, all the bodies are going to be taken down because of the holy day, the next day. And so there would have been Special Access granted to Jessica Maratha. Was it possible that Mary was there? Because she’s part of Joseph’s group? That’s, that’s possible. But you know, we’re, we’re kind of pushing again, more into the artistic and the medieval than we are into the early sources.


Dan LeFebvre  46:49

And that makes sense to just from a straight up movie perspective, we see that a lot, were they not going to bother to introduce a new character at this point, because then you have to explain this new character, and yet they explain all that. So Joseph avermedia. And Nick, Kadeem is like, having to introduce them and show them going to Pilate that, that just extends that the timeline of the movie itself, so I could see how they would want to speed that up.


Dr. David Chapman  47:14

Yeah, I think you’re right, that’s probably part of the decision that’s going on there.


Dan LeFebvre  47:18

At the very end of the movie, you mentioned it, the tomb and you know, it looks like a cave that we see in the cameras inside and we see a stone being rolled away from the entrance, which that lets the light inside the light hits a body that’s lying there, it’s wrapped in cloth and and then the body sinks in is if the costings, and I should say, as if the body within is just simply disappeared. And then the camera pans over, we see Jesus sitting there, it’s no more blood, no scars. Well, except for one, you see, as he gets up to walk out, you see a hole in the hand where that where the nail was, but there’s not a lot more explanation than that. And so I think, again, this is another example of where that movie just assumes that you know, what’s going on here. And what’s happened. Can you fill in some more context around the way that the movie comes to an end?


Dr. David Chapman  47:59

Yeah, it’s interesting that you mentioned that because I remember seeing the movie back in 2004, when it came out. And I was asked to speak to some different groups of people about this, some academic, some kind of church groups. And I remember just being disappointed, just that, because I, my feeling was if you had walked there, and you’d never heard the Gospels never read the Gospels or anything like that, you’d be like, what world is going on here? And so it’s another place where it’s really assumed that there’s a resurrection, you know, which is what, again, earliest gospels, early sources mentioned, not only Jesus’s death and his burial in his tomb, but then a couple of days, well, three days later, technically, but on the Sunday that Jesus arises, and then there’s a variety of resurrection accounts, and including ones where he invites the disciples to feel that loons that are still there, the scars are the ones they’re still there, I think it’s striking, the way that’s represented in the movie is that there’s there’s still a hole, Jesus’s hand, it’s not just a little scar, it’s, it’s a hole. And what’s supposed to look like I don’t know, but the idea that he was risen, was pointed out at the time, and I was among those that did, and if I had a theological kind of area that I’d be disappointed in the movie is so much focus on the death of Jesus, which has historically been very true. In in the church traditions, all the church traditions, orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, etc. Very important that, but also the same traditions also emphasize that, you know, that’s not where it ended, that there’s a resurrection. And there’s just a quick nod to it. And if you don’t know the story, you don’t, I think it’s just very confusing to the viewer right there. Of course, you know, famously, and you probably know this, but three or four years ago, Mel Gibson was talking about making a sequel, and I don’t know if it ever happened to this sequel movie on the resurrection. And so, if happens, that would be, you know, absolutely fascinating. I might kind of remedy that in some ways. But yeah, I think there’s something a little bit lost there. But that wasn’t his point. He was very clear on you know, his point. was to emphasize the passion of Jesus and the suffering of Jesus, the meaning of that, which is a very Lenten theme, you know, the 40 days leading up to the Good Friday and Easter in the Christian calendar, and a very strong devotional theme, especially in the, the branch of Christianity that he’s involved in. And so I appreciate that I just think there’s something lacking if you don’t get to the resurrection in terms of Christian history as well.


Dan LeFebvre  50:25

Well, speaking of Mel Gibson, let’s say, let’s say you were directing this movie, what’s something that you would have done differently?


Dr. David Chapman  50:30

I think I was reflecting on this, because it had been a number of years. And of course, I viewed it again, just the last couple of days preparing to talk about it here. And I remember all of these kind of historical matters, and the sense that the general contours of the history are, are good, and they’re represented well, that he’s added a lot of this artistic representation and a lot from medieval tradition. And I actually think he does a nice job in the opening scenes kind of signaling to us that he’s not going to stay with the earliest historical records, he’s not going to stay with the Gospels, and this is going to be artistry. So he takes us to the garden of the seminary. And he gives us this interaction, the first words that we hear Jesus say, and the disciples say back to them or not in the Gospels. So if you know the Gospels, you already know he’s departing from that he’s going to give us an interpretation. And Satan shows up in the garden in a way that, you know, is not at all in any of the earliest, any early historical records. And yet, there’s a theological themes that are going on there again, if you know something about Christian theology, that this battle was Satan, and then there’s a snake that comes slithering out of Satan, and Jesus eventually crushes his heel, which is a reference to the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis. And it has this sense of Jesus crushing Satan represents a theological tradition. So all of that’s important, all of it is theological, and all of it is aesthetic and artistic. And so in many ways, I really appreciate this discussion. I think it’s an important one to have about the history dimension of this. But it’s, it seems to me that the movie is almost best viewed as a, as a work of art history. And in that way, it stands up, I think, quite well. And I admire it, especially in those terms. I think if you were asked me, one of the things I would have done, I would have been a little bit more careful with the Jewish characterization to represent both the the fact that there are many Jewish followers of Jesus, and then there were Jewish opponents of Jesus, because I think Mel Gibson opened himself up to some charges of anti semitism there. That didn’t need to happen based on the Gospels that we’ve got the Gospels themselves written by Jewish people, in kind of a prophetic way of saying, you know, we need to turn to this man who’s the Messiah, and those who don’t, you know, are going to be judged for that. And so in that it works kind of like Old Testament prophecy, or, you know, the prophecy in the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh. And so, sadly, and if you know anything about even fairly early, third, fourth century Christian tradition and heading in the medieval period, there’s a great deal of anti semitism that does come into charging the Jewish people with putting Jesus to death. And so we always need to be sensitive to that represent all sides of that kind of show Roman complicity. That’s where I would have maybe shown pilot as being less of a equivocating guy, and then maybe not put Caiaphas. So front and center in ways that aren’t represented the Gospels. So I might have done stuff like that added that concern. But I greatly admire the movie for his artistry as


Dan LeFebvre  53:48

well. I know we’ve talked a lot about the historical side, and you mentioned the things that are thrown in there from a theological perspective. So looking at it from from that way, from a theological perspective, is there anything that you felt was added that didn’t really need to be or maybe that was omitted that you wish had been in there was anything from a theological perspective that you would change about the movie,


Dr. David Chapman  54:09

I think I should start by saying things that I really admire, because the first time I saw the movie, I was really bothered by the Satan thing. He shows up multiple times, not just in the garden, but a few times. And there’s this very odd scene that people continue to ask me about, like, while Jesus is being whipped, and Satan’s in the background carrying this baby, you know, there’s just, there’s weird stuff going on there. I think, to give a charitable read to that, you know, what Satan is trying to do is oppose Jesus, his notion that God is his father, and surely a father would not let his son go through this kind of thing is what Satan tries to tempt Jesus by. And so I think that’s something that’s going on there. And there’s this point after Jesus’s it says, It’s finished and you know, he has accomplished what he set out to do and Satan cries out, you know, and so There’s, those are theological themes to say that and in the death of Jesus, the evil of this world has been done. And Satan has been undone, his dominion isn’t done. And then there’s these moments, especially as they’re progressing to the cross where there’s these constant flashback scenes to Jesus’s teaching, where he says, you know, that Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. And where he says, it refers to the Lord’s Supper, which is kind of regularly to this day commemorated in churches, and he says, you know, take eat this is my body take this as the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for the forgiveness of sins. And by interspersing, those flashbacks, Gibson is giving us this a way of interpreting what Jesus is doing, both kind of Jesus’s intent and then kind of theologically how to understand this. And I think all of that’s done really well. I think the way you start is what would I have done differently to theologically you know, what would I wish that he didn’t admit? I think that resurrection scene, which we already talked about, if I had my druthers, I would have had a much more clear resurrection. That was clear to everybody, especially those who don’t already know the story, what’s going on. And I would have done that, theologically, because in the Christian tradition, it’s the death of Jesus is what atones is the technical word of pays for our sin for all wrongdoing, and grasses forgiveness before God. And the resurrection gives us the hope of life, eternal life of God. And so you have half of that going on in this movie and not really the other half. It wasn’t intended to be but it wasn’t a full of, you know, if you put me in directing, I might have thrown in resurrection. See,


Dan LeFebvre  56:38

You mentioned the the scene of Satan screaming and that’s that brings up an interesting point because I thought it was interesting that throughout the movie, we do see Satan periodically show up and almost egging on this process of tormenting Judas after he betrays Jesus and involved in the process in that way is what the implication that I got, as I was watching. But then at the end, when things seem to go the way that Satan wanted, we see him screaming, right? Like, Oh, no, this actually went the way that I wanted it to. So if you don’t know more of the story, it gets lost in translation, I think


Dr. David Chapman  57:15

That is very well stated, you’re entirely correct and striking, it didn’t occur to me until you said it. That’s true. Again, this goes back to a notion in Christian theology that that’s represented in the New Testament and expanded on later that Jesus’s death, which is, indeed, the Gospels, there’s, there’s one mention, I will mention, I say that there’s one mention of the gospel, that Satan entered Judas. And so it seems that Judas is inspired to accomplish his betrayal of Jesus by Satan. And one of the Gospels mentioned this. And there I don’t, you know, I don’t know that we’re supposed to think demon possession or anything, it’s just the Satan’s effect is it was heavy on Jesus or something like that. So it’s clear that Satan was pushing for this. And yet, at the end, he didn’t realize in a sense that this was part of God’s plan all along. The interesting thing is this, that Satan seems to know in the movie on the front end, that Jesus’s suffering may actually be part of God’s plan. There’s no indication of that in the Gospels and kind of historic tradition, Satan seems to be blindsided by this, he produces this. And on the back end, he suddenly realizes that now, Jesus, having accomplished this death, paying for sin, and the resurrection, now Satan’s actually defeated. And so that’s coming in from Christian theology, in a sense is accurate to the theology. But is like you say, inexplicable to somebody who doesn’t already bring that to the movie? Well observed. Yeah.


Dan LeFebvre  58:50

Well, thank you so much for your time to come on and chat about the Passion of the Christ. I know. We’ve talked about a lot, but we’ve still only scratched the surface here. So for someone listening who wants to dive in deeper, can you share a little bit more about your work and where they can learn more?


Dr. David Chapman  59:02

Yeah, if you’re interested in my work, I’ve written a couple of pretty technical books on ancient sources and crucifixion. And if somebody wants to read those that’s under David W. Chapman. One on ancient Jewish sources about crucifixions in general and antiquity and another about Greek and Roman sources about the trial and crucifixion of Jesus? I don’t honestly think those are the easiest ways to reading about this. I think there’s a whole variety of authors that have kind of engaged with these materials. I think some of my favorite would be somebody like Darrell Bock, who works at a teaching institution in in Dallas, or another man by the name of Craig Keener, who has a great book on historical Jesus. And then there’s a writing by Scott McKnight on the death of Jesus. That is, I think, very, very good. So there’s a number of sources like that there’s, I mean, tons and the tradition, I think, I don’t know if I know of any kind of recent evaluations of the passion. But there was a lot that was done, you know, 15 years ago, and So you know, you Google, you get stuff some of its good. Some of it is just not worth reading. And some of it is, is, I think, unfortunately, people felt like you either have to really liked the movie or not. And I think, you know, like with any good movie, you know, you want to appreciate the Artistic Achievement has been realized there, even if you don’t want to quit, what’s the difference? You know, the historical matters as well. So?


Dan LeFebvre  1:00:25

Well, I think like what you had said earlier, you were talking about some of the texts that have been studied the most in human history. So, I mean, it happens with movies all the time that you’re going to nitpick, and you’re going to pull things apart, but especially for a story like this one.


Dr. David Chapman  1:00:38

Yes, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, anybody who does this, it has been true with every almost every movie that comes out about Jesus, that there’s always going to be people who like it, and people who don’t, and the percentages might change depending on what the artistic vision is. That Yes, you’re asking, you’re just asking for something if you do a movie about Jesus, because you know, people are going to be looking at every scene and every portion of the scene and what’s in behind the person in the scene and everything so it’s we should just, you know, state some aberration that he took this on and yeah, again, I think you know, that we should give a shout out to the cinematography. Additional, I think was that that’s in a tog refer and the actress and lighting. I mean, there’s so much that went into making this movie. That’s just very, very well done.


Dan LeFebvre  1:01:24

Thank you again, so much for your time. I really appreciate it.


Dr. David Chapman  1:01:27


Dan, thank you. It’s really fun to do this with you.



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