The Passion of the Christ: The Last Twelve Days of Jesus
The events leading up to the resurrection of Jesus Christ are often referred to as the “passion” of Jesus Christ and include the Last Supper, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the arrest and trial of Jesus, his crucifixion, burial, and ultimate resurrection. A look will be taken into the last twelve days that Jesus spent on the Earth, with a comparison to the portrayal of these events in Gibson's 2004 The Passion of the Christ movie.
The last twelve days that Jesus spent on Earth were brutal—filled with betrayal, persecution, intense violence, and an inherent understanding that mankind may just deserve to suffer for their own sins. But Jesus, despite everything that was done to him, never gave up on the souls of mankind and chose instead to allow what may be done to him with the knowledge that he was chosen as the King of the Jews for a reason—and that reason was about to come to a terrible fulfillment. Before that moment, however, Jesus made a few predictions during what became known as the Last Supper. The Last Supper is entitled so because it was the last supper that Jesus shared with his Apostles. It is also known as the supper in which Jesus gave out bread, telling the Apostles that “this is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25). Then, taking up what became known as the Holy Grail in modern myth, Jesus passed around a chalice, citing that “this cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:26). During the Last Supper, Jesus makes the dire prophecy that Judas Iscariot will betray him. It is also suggested by the four Gospels that Jesus knew that he would lose all of his Apostles.
The Choice of Pontius Pilate
The movie starts out after the Last Supper has already occurred, with Jesus lamenting his future in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives, while his Apostles look on with worry. Judas, in fulfillment of the prophecy given during the Last Supper, sells Jesus and his location to the highest bidder—High Priest Caiaphas and Sanhedrin. In the movie, the scene demonstrates the inner-drama that Judas must be feeling of his dark betrayal. The coins of payment are tossed at him, falling to his feet where he must stoop to pick them up, all the while knowing what he has just committed himself and Jesus to. Their fates are clear. But, having been paid for his information, Judas dutifully leads the temple guards to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Judas kisses Jesus to identify him as the man they seek. Peter immediately takes action, efficiently slicing off the ear of one of the guards. Jesus heals the guard of his grievous wound, while offering Peter a few words of wisdom: “all they that take the sword shall perish by the sword” (Mathew 26:52). After the guard is healed, Jesus is hauled off for his crimes, while his Apostles flee the scene, all prior loyalty to Jesus vanishing in an instant—just as Jesus had predicted.
Jesus is brutally beaten and tortured before his trial, which essentially consists of Jesus being the King of the Jews, the Messiah, which he, of course, openly admits to Sanhedrin. Jesus is then taken to Pontius Pilate, who is instructed to carry out the execution under Roman law, to avoid any ramifications and revolts with the Jewish community. Pilate doesn’t want any sort of revolt under his rule and determines that he will give the people a choice: to execute Jesus or Barabbas. At this point, the movie does a better job of expressing the inner turmoil that Pilate would have felt when given the orders to execute Jesus. Instead of doing so, he comes up with the plan to have Jesus flogged, which he hopes will be enough to take the fight out of the audience. The floggers work hard at punishing Jesus, but he stands up, with profound dignity, only to be punished until the skin is literally stripped from his body by the floggers who understand the danger that he represents. His torture is ceased by a soldier’s mercy. He is later given a crown of thorns, which is pummeled over and over again into his scalp. Pilate, once he realizes what he has done, asks the exultant crowd if the torture can be ended, but High Priest Caiaphas demands crucifixion (an event which is not in the Bible). The crucifixion begins with Jesus carrying his own means of death upon his shoulders, which he does so proudly. He is meant to walk to his death with the cross and two other criminals, but they castigate him for his pride. Jesus is beaten by soldiers mercilessly, until, at last, when he falls a third time, the Roman soldiers step in during a brief moment of pity. Eventually the procession arrives at the crucifixion site and Jesus is nailed to the cross. Jesus laments to God, asking why God has forsaken him, but, on his last breaths, he gives his spirit willingly to God in His mercy. Then the sky darkens and an earthquake shakes the ground, sending the crowd fleeing for their lives.
The Truth of God's Words
When the soldiers realize that Jesus was truthful and that they had indeed been responsible for the murder of God’s son, another earthquake breaks the temple in two, and while High Priest Caiaphas is sobbing in shock, Satan is depicted screaming in rage in Hell. This event, while slightly inaccurate, does find its basis in the Bible. Three of the Gospels, Luke, Mark, and Mathew all reference the earthquake that rends the temple in half. Eventually, Jesus is removed from the cross and taken to a tomb. On Easter Sunday morning, three days later, Jesus stands proudly, displaying his wounded but healed hands and body, and walks out of the tomb as the movie concludes. In this, the movie is again inaccurate, even ending before Jesus was to make his fateful appearances to his loyal Apostles, including Mary. All four Gospels give accounts of Jesus making appearances to the eleven remaining Apostles (as Judas had committed suicide for his betrayal to Christ). The appearances were Jesus’ final act to highlight the truth of God’s words and demonstrate to them that their faith would grant them power as well.
Gibson's Inspiration and Changes to the Movie Plot
It is well known that there are two major extra-biblical works that Mel Gibson drew upon when creating The Passion of the Christ. The first, called The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, was published in 1914, though it was written as told by Augustinian nun Anne Catherine Emmerich prior to her death in 1824. Her words are visions of Jesus in the “passion,” all of the events transpiring between the Last Supper and his resurrection. Undoubtedly, this particularly made a great source for a movie, as it offered visually descriptive and highly detailed depictions of the violence and horror endured by Jesus. The second volume of import is the Mystical City of God by Maria de Agreda who was a Spanish nun from the mid-sixteen hundreds. The work was not widely known until it was translated into English in 1902; however, it, like the work of Emmerich, proves substantially important in reviewing the events of the “passion.” Many scholars will cite that the movie takes careless inaccuracies from these sources, but, in truth, the inaccuracies are not in the proceedings of the “passion” themselves, and instead can be cited as artistic license in helping the audience to better visualize the events as they might have taken place.
As with any book to movie adaptation, there will (and must) be changes to ensure the audience understands the action and importance of the situations being played out on screen. This being the case, there will always be slight inaccuracies that the most devout readers and scholars will find and dwell upon. Some changes might be drastic—as nearly all book to movie situations have been in the past (I am Legend, The Other Boleyn Girl, any book written by Michael Crichton, and every classic ever put to film), but the liberties taken with Gibson’s work have nothing to do with major plot points—for example, Jesus’ crafty carpentry of the table, which required the use of actual chairs. Mary makes a joke, breaking the traditional fourth wall of authenticism by saying that such a contraption will never catch on. Another moment of historical inaccuracy occurred when Satan is shown carrying a strange demon child while Jesus is being flagellated for his crimes. This in and of itself is not literally mentioned in the Bible, or any other extra-biblical source for that matter, but it is a powerful image to visually demonstrate how people persecute those innocent and pure among them, without regret or consequences for their actions. On the other hand, Mary and Jesus joking about the table served as one moment of comic relief (as in all Shakespeare plays) for the audience to breath in between the profound intensity of violent and dramatic scenes.
Overall, the “passion” of Jesus Christ incorporates the events leading up to his resurrection are depicted with a fair degree of accuracy in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. The last twelve days that Jesus spent on Earth were harrowingly brutal, depicted violently onscreen, in ways not visually comprehensible in Biblical verse. Gibson, for his part, does take a bit of creative license in the rendering of events, but overall, the changes are mainly to better illustrate the characters in ways not easily written in Biblical verse and do not alter the “passion” in any other way than to add a bit of depth and background to the Gospels.
de Agreda, M. (1902). Mystical City of God. (Fiscar Marison, Trans.). Retrieved 3 August 2009 http://www.archive.org/stream/mysticalcityofgo02maruoft#page/n6/mode/1up
Emmerich, A.C. (1914). The dolorous (sorrowful) passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rev. C.E. Schmoger, Ed.). Retrieved 3 August 2009 http://www.jesus-passion.com/DOLOROUS_PASSION_OF_OUR_LORD_JESUS_CHRIST.htm
Gibson, M. (Producer & Director). (2004). The passion of the Christ [Motion picture]. United States: Mel Gibson, Icon Productions. Holy Bible: New International Version. (1987). New York: Zondervan.