seal  Purdue News

February 3, 2004

Purdue expert can address controversy on Mel Gibson's 'Passion'

Whether it's a Mel Gibson production or a local church group producing a Passion play, a Purdue University expert who studies anti-Semitic messages says it's important to be thoughtful about the message on screen or stage.

"Over the centuries there have been many stage productions of Jesus' Passion, his suffering, during his last week on earth," says Gordon R. Mork, professor of history and Jewish studies who has studied productions of Passion plays. "In the 20th century the Passion play moved from stage to screen, but none has generated such controversy and speculation as Gibson's production."

"The Passion of Christ," which opens Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25, has generated controversy due to what some critics and Jews have feared are anti-Semitic messages. Mork can talk about what four things viewers should watch for, especially if a particular drama is accused of anti-Semitic bias.

"Are there claims that the Passion play or film is exactly what's in the Bible?" Mork says. "The Bible is not a film script. Inevitability, any production is a creative interpretation, so there should be cause for concern if anyone markets their production as anything other than an interpretation.

"Does the presenter show the Jews as collectively guilty for Jesus' suffering and death?" he says. "Historically, it was the oppressive and militaristic power of Rome, represented by Pontius Pilate, who tortured and crucified Jesus."

Mork also can talk about how key Bible verses are interpreted and how the production reflects the Jewishness of Jesus and his followers.

"Overall, it's important to ask how does a production explain the events that led to Jesus' death," Mork says. "Does it put the blame on a particular group or try to define who are the good and bad guys?"

Mork, whose area of academic expertise is German history, also can talk about his study of Passion plays at Oberammergau, Germany.

CONTACT: Mork, (765) 494-4138,