CCJR Affirms Ad Hoc Committee "Report on the 2010 Oberammergau Passion Play Script"

On June 16, 2010, the regular member organizations of the Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations voted to affirm this report as an official statement of the Council.

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Executive Summary

The Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations, a network of academic and educational organizations that promotes mutual understanding between Jews and Christians, recently assembled an ad hoc scholarly team of members to examine the script of the 2010 Oberammergau Passion Play for coherence with contemporary historical and biblical research and relevant Catholic teaching documents. The study examined only the written scripts in German and English; it did not consider staging or theatrical factors. The team noted the many challenges faced by dramatists of the Gospel passion narratives and some unique features of the Oberammergau production.

Positive Impressions

The review recognized quite clearly the results of significant work to distance the Passion Play from its long history of anti-Jewish characterizations and animosity.  The scriptwriters’ effort to attend to history more carefully can be seen in three broad aspects of the script, though each item will be significantly affected by casting, lighting, music, and other staging elements:  (1) Jewish society in Jesus' day is presented as variegated and vibrant; (2) Jesus is clearly shown to be a Jew; and (3) the relationship between Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate is nuanced. Other positive features of the script were also noted.

Negative Impressions

The team expressed varying degrees of concern about aspects of the 2010 script in three main categories. (1) Some of the script's interlacing of Old Testament scenes with New Testament ones with "living images" recalls perennial demeaning depictions of Judaism; especially problematic is the Golden Calf episode from Exodus 32.  (2) The Temple priesthood is inaccurately depicted as primarily concerned with "purity of doctrine." Typical debates of the time over Torah observance are thus inaccurately made into capital offenses, resulting in Jesus anachronistically being called "heretic" and "apostate." (3) Caiaphas, the script’s principal antagonist, as well as Annas, are unnecessarily and baselessly portrayed as fanatics driven to see Jesus crucified.  As a result the depiction of Pilate is somewhat skewed as well.  In short, Jewish opponents of Jesus are unjustifiably depicted in such extreme terms as to risk impressing on the audience a negative image of the entire Jewish community. We also noted other negative features of the script.

Recommendations for the Future

The team commended the scriptwriters for the steps taken to eliminate the potential for anti-Judaism in the Oberammergau script. Encouraging them to continue their necessary work of reform, it offered specific suggestions to address the concerns that it had raised.

** The detailed report follows. **

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