Film and the Apologetics of Biblical Violence

By Hector Avalos


1. Bryan Stone, “Religion and Violence in Popular Film,” Journal of Religion and Film (1999); Paul Graham, “Violence in the Godfather; Ambiguous Space and Victimage Model,” Journal of Religion and Film (2005).

2. Examples include Timothy K. Beal and Tod Linafelt, Mel Gibson's Bible: Religion, Popular Culture and the Passion of the Christ (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2006); J. Shawn Landres and Michael Berenbaum, eds., After the Passion is Gone: American Religious Consequences ( Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2004); Kathleen E. Corley and Robert L. Webb, Jesus and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ: The Film, The Gospels, and The Claims of History (New York: Continuum, 2004).

3.Stone, “Religion and Violence,” par. [42].

4. Margaret R. Miles, Seeing and Believing: Religion and Values in the Movies (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998), p. 66. For discussion of Miles, see Stone, “Religion and Violence,” par. [39].

5. For the political implications of defining violence, see also Stephen J. Casey, “Defining Violence,” Thought: A Review of Culture and Idea 56/220 (1981): 5-16.

6. There is now a vast literature on the social role of the body and embodiment. Some these studies include Chris Shilling , The Body and Social Theory (2 nd edition; London: Sage, 2003); Barbara Maria Stafford, Body Criticism: Imaging the Unseen in Enlightenment Art and Medicine (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1997); Jon L. Berquist, Controlling Corporeality: The Body and the Household in Ancient Israel (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2002); Dale B. Martin, The Corinthian Body (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995); Benedict Ashley, O.P. Theologies of the Body: Humanist and Christian (Braintree, Massachusetts: The Pope John XXIII Medical-Moral Research and Education Center, 1985).

7. Stephen Prince, ed., Screening Violence (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000).

8. On the impact of this release, see Matthew Bernstein, ed. Controlling Hollywood: Censorship and Regulation in the Studio Era (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1999), p. 5.

9. For the Code as an effective form of religious censorship, see Gregory D. Black, The Catholic Crusade Against the Movies 1940-1975 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). For the view that religious control was highly contested and negotiated, see Lea Jacobs, The Wages of Sin: Censorship and the Fallen Woman Film, 1928-194 2 (Berkeley: University of California, 1997).

10. For the text of the Production Code, I rely on Thomas Doherty, Pre-Code Hollywood : Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930-1934 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), p. 348.

11. See Herbert Blumer and Philip M. Hauser, Movies, Delinquency, and Crime (New York: Macmillan, 1933).

12. Doherty, Pre-Code Hollywood , p. 355. Dan Streible (“A History of the Boxing Film, 1894-1915: Social Control and Social Reform in the Progressive Era,” Film History 3 [1989]:235-257), argues that boxing films between 1894 and 1915 were often outlawed to suppress black empowerment when it became apparent that many black boxers were outmatching white boxers. Thus, social control, rather than just entertainment, could also play a role in how violence was used in boxing films.

13. Doherty, Pre-Code Hollywood , 359.

14. See Terry Lindvall, The Silents of God: Selected Issues and Documents in Silent American Film and Religion, 1908-1925 ( Lanham , MD : Scarecrow Press, 2001), p. 124.

15. See my earlier critique of how biblical scholars address biblical violence in Hector Avalos, Fighting Words : The Origins of Religious Violence (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Press, 2005). See also, Carol Delaney, Abraham on Trial: The Social Legacy of Biblical Myth (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998); Regina Schwartz, The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).

16. Our corpus of films consists of these Moses films: The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille, 1956), The Ten Commandments (Ben Dornhelm, 2006), and The Prince of Egypt (Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner and Simon Wells, 1998). These are our Jesus films: The Life and Passion of Christ (Lucien Nonguet and Ferdinand Zecca, 1903), From the Manger to the Cross (Sidney Olcott, 1912), King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMille, 1927), King of Kings (Nicholas Ray, 1961), The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1964), The Greatest Story Ever Told (George Stevens, 1965), Jesus of Nazareth (Franco Zeffirelli, 1977), The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988), The Gospel of John (Philip Saville, 2003), and The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2004).

17. Richard Maltby, “The Kings of Kings and the Czar of All Rushes: The Prorpiety of the Christ Story,” in Matthew Bernstein, ed., Controlling Hollywood , p. 81. See also, Felicia Herman, “‘The Most Dangerous Anti-Semitic Photoplay in Filmdom': American Jews and the King of Kings (DeMille, 1927),” The Velvet Light Trap 46 (Fall, 2000):12-25; Yael Ohad-Karny, “‘Anticipating' Gibson's The Passion of the Christ: The Controversy Over Cecil B. DeMille's The King of Kings,” Jewish History 19 (2005):189-210. These changes were implemented in versions released in 1928, which is what most current DVD versions reproduce.

18. Bruce Babington and Peter William Evans, Biblical Epics: Sacred Narrative in the Hollywood Cinema (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993), p. 107.

19. Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII (New York: Doubleday, 1966), p. 115.

20. On the efforts to pacify special interest groups who might be hostile to The Greatest Story Ever Told, see Sheldon Hall, “Selling Biblical Religion: How To Market a Biblical Epic,” Film History 14 (2002):170-185.

21. Donald Hayne, ed., The Autobiography of Cecil B. DeMille (New York: Garland Publishing, 1985), p. 277.

22. DeMille, Autobiography, p. 399.

23. For an edition, see Anne Catherline Emmerich and Clemens Brentano, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, edited by Noel L. Griese (Atlanta: Anvil Publishers, 2005).

24. John Dominic Crossan, “Hymn to a Savage God,” in Jesus and Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, p. 23.

25. The O'Reilly Factor, February 27, 2004.

26. DeMille, The Autobiography, p. 399.

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