And the Number One Reason Why Mel's Passion Isn't As It Was...

1. The resurrection of Jesus is not historical.

I had hoped beyond hope that Mr. Gibson's film would end with that incredible shot at the foot of the cross, where Mary stares in sorrow and knowledge at us all. But the book of photographs and the missing MSNBC article both confirm that the final shot is Jesus boldly stepping from the tomb.

It is the central fact of Christianity, after all. Millions take comfort in its promise, just as millions take comfort in the revelations given to Mohammed, and millions more seek the Nirvana of Buddha. Lots of people trust in the revelations given to Joseph Smith, and others find refuge in the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, Ayn Rand, or Marianne Williamson.

Yet the only evidence we possess of the historical truth behind this fact is the testimony we have from the Christian scriptures. And this testimony is not enough to establish the Resurrection of Jesus as history, as something we can state with just reason, "This is what actually happened on that day."

The best explanation for this is found in On Miracles, an essay written by David Hume. Since it's a tough read, I've paraphrased it into four and a half pages, and put it on a .pdf file. But here's the central argument, as I understand it:

Experience allows us to accept testimony into our reasoning, but testimony to the miraculous undermines experience, the justification for accepting testimony. Therefore, reasonable people can reject miracles established only by testimony.

Download my paraphrase of On Miracles (.pdf file, 140k)
It's the very character of what that testimony asks us to accept that disallows the testimony from a historical portrayal of the death of Jesus. The extraordinary fact may thwart our experience for a while, and yet the extraordinary can be verified through more and better experience. But any testimony is properly accepted only as it accords with experience, and testimony about miracles, violations of the laws of nature, are in conflict with the experience that gives us those laws of nature.

There is one way the reasonable person can accept testimony of miracles: only if the denial of the testimony is a greater miracle to believe than the miracle itself. The evidence of the credulity and delusion of human beings throughout time will always be more credible than accounts of the miraculous. And so, tales of miracles, whoever the teller, must be discounted when approaching a reasonable account of historical events.

The only thing that recommends the Resurrection to the historical record is the testimony of the eyewitnesses. This testimony cannot appeal to our reason; it can only appeal to our faith.

Mr. Gibson, then, is making a film about Faith. It is a particular faith as well - it accords most completely with a Roman Catholic version of the events of that day. He draws from centuries of Catholic art and doctrine in his composition, and has brought all his power as a filmmaker to bear on the final product. The result will be an incredible, powerful story with a clear message. He should be quite pleased with the results, for this film, beyond any other, will be his masterpiece.

But it is not as it was.