Tuesday, March 16, 2004

A short response to The Passion

Nope. I haven't watched it, though I've heard of one wince-inducing mistake - the consistent use of the word meshiacha to refer to the main character, which is not correct Hebrew or Aramaic. Hebrew has the patach ganuv before the chet, making the word Mashiach, while in Aramaic the kametz alef ending would have eliminated the patach ganuv, making the word Meshicha, rather than Meshiacha.

At any rate, I've received several spam emails offering me the book that inspired the movie, by Anna Catherine Emmerich, for only $19.95 (plus shipping and handling).

I figured that this book was probably available for free on Project Gutenberg, and so it is. Follow the link to read The Dolorous Passion...

When I first read it, I thought I would post my response in time for Purim, because it is somewhat amusing. But then I thought to dwell on it a while, to better formulate my response.

Basically, much of the gore, and anti-semitic content, of Gibson's movie is derived from this book. It purports to be an eye-witness account of the events leading up to and including the crucifixion, through the eyes of Sister Anna Catherine Emmerich, who had visions. While there are problems with the gospel accounts, I don't care to address them here.

However, the mistakes Sister Emmerich makes are obvious and somewhat funny. I feel compelled to point them out because they are trying to beatify her, which would grant more credence to her tale. Further, some folk's reaction to criticism of Gibson's movie is that it is based entirely on the gospels, so who are you to criticise our religious texts and tell us what to believe? It is important to point out that much of the details come from Emmerich's book, which is not the gospels, and should not be accepted.

Two awful mistakes. First, she describes the eating of the Paschal lamb:

All this time they remained standing, only leaning slightly on
the backs of their seats.

Most Jews would read this and remain puzzled. This is not an accurate description of how one would eat the korban pesach. From where did Emmerich get this? Then I gave it some thought and laughed.

One of the four questions asked at the Seder is: On all other nights we eat whether sitting or reclining, but on this night, we all recline.

"SheBechol HaLelot Anu Ochlin, Ben Yoshvin UVen Mesubin, HaLayla HaZeh, Kulanu Mesubin."

One would read this and think there is a choice between sitting and reclining. To recline thus entails not sitting. And if they were not sitting they must be standing.

In sooth, reclining (Heseba) is a much more relaxed posture than sitting. It means reclining on a couch. For example, one statement in Talmud Yerushalmi describes the position one must be in for Birchat HaMazon (Grace After Meals) {note: to not rely on this for actual practice}:

If one eats while walking, he should stand in place while saying Birchat HaMazon.
If one eats while standing, he should sit while saying Birchat HaMazon.
If one eats while sitting, he should recline while saying Birchat HaMazon.
If one eats while reclining, he should wrap himself {in a talit} while saying Birchat HaMazon.

Each one is a greater level of permanance (kviut). This is but an example. It is clear from all sources that reclining is not standing while leaning on the back of the chair, but it seems just as clear how Emmerich made the mistake. And she made this mistake based on misreading sources, not based on something she saw in a vision.

(The reason I found this extremely funny at first at this was that I imagined they were standing leaning on the backs of their chairs - that is the front part of their chair backs, which would have them contorting in a manner worthy of Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks. But it is also possible she meant the backs of the backs of their chairs. In which case the mental image is not as funny, but it is still based on a misunderstanding of sources.)

The second silly mistake is in her description of the sop, as a meant of identifying Judas as the betrayer:

He leaned then
on his breast and said: 'Lord, who is it?' I did not see Jesus say to him
with his lips: 'He it is to whom I shall reach bread dipped.' I do not know
whether he whispered it to him, but John knew it, when Jesus having
dipped the bread, which was covered with lettuce, gave it tenderly to
Judas, who also asked: 'Is it I, Lord?' Jesus looked at him with love, and
answered him in general terms. Among the Jews, to give bread dipped was
a mark of friendship and confidence; Jesus on this occasion gave Judas
the morsel, in order thus to warn him, without making known his guilt
to the others.

She clearly knows about dipping the lettuce, and the knows about a matzo and lettuce combination. However, this combination of *only* matzo and lettuce is a post-Temple invention, practiced for example by the Amora Rabbi Yochanan. In Temple times, those who did this (for example Hillel) made a sandwich of lamb, matzo, and maror (=lettuce). She is thus missing an essential ingredient of the sandwich. Further, the lettuce was not wrapped around the matzo!

Further, why does she assume the matzo is being dipped at all? And further, she makes up this nonsense: "Among the Jews, to give bread dipped was
a mark of friendship and confidence." This is just silly. So why does she do this?

In part, she is trying to describe the story in accordance with the traditional Christian understanding. In John 13:25-26 the verses state:

"He then lying on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it?
Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon."

Now, the word "sop" (or whatever the word is in Greek) means "that which is dipped." Christian scholars, unfamiliar with Jewish practice, did not realize that this referred to "Karpas," which Jews dip at the seder. All they had to give them a definition was the rest of the Bible. They found Ruth 2:14:

וַיֹּאמֶר לָה בֹעַז לְעֵת הָאֹכֶל, גֹּשִׁי הֲלֹם וְאָכַלְתְּ מִן-הַלֶּחֶם, וְטָבַלְתְּ פִּתֵּךְ, בַּחֹמֶץ; וַתֵּשֶׁב, מִצַּד הַקֹּצְרִים, וַיִּצְבָּט-לָהּ קָלִי, וַתֹּאכַל וַתִּשְׂבַּע וַתֹּתַר
"And Boaz said unto her at meal-time: 'Come hither, and eat of the bread, and dip thy morsel in the vinegar.' And she sat beside the reapers; and they reached her parched corn, and she did eat and was satisfied, and left thereof."

Thus bread is something that is dipped, and so Jesus must have dipped bread - or matza in this case. In what did he dip it? They thought in a maror (bitter herb) sauce.

The sister is trying to harmonize traditional Christian understandings with other things she has learned about how Jews conduct a seder, and so she still has the matzo dipped, but it is dipped while inside a peice of lettuce.

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