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A Note from Our Editor: "The Oberammergau Passion Play--Anti-Semitic?"

One of the considerable advantages of living "across the pond"—in Europe and in Great Britain—is the opportunity easily to attend important Christian events of historical significance. (This privilege, by the by, we extend to you through our International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism & Human Rights, held each summer in Strasbourg, France; be sure to consider attending this coming July:

Thus, in August of this last summer, Professor Craig Parton (the Academy’s American director) and I, accompanied by our wives and two dear French friends, attended the famed Oberammergau Passion Play. This dramatic production, setting forth in words, tableaux, and music the biblical account of Our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection, has been performed annually by the inhabitants of a little, fairy-talelike Bavarian village ever since 1634. The previous year, the area had been decimated by the plague, and the villagers promised that if they were spared they would perform such a play in perpetuity. A child of the village will appear as one of the Palm Sunday crowd; later, he or she will take an adult part, and finally, perhaps, in old age play the role of Simeon or Anna In 1970, 1980, and 1984 (a special anniversary year season), I brought groups of American Christians to the Play, and my wife and I attended again in l990. The 2000 performance, then, was the fifth time I have seen this remarkable testimony to the central events of the gospel story.

Of course, there has been fussing and fuming from non-Christians every Passion Play season. In particular, Jewish anti-defamation organisations and the politically correct have screamed that the Play is anti-semitic. Their argument rests essentially on the text references to "the Jews" having rejected Jesus as the Messiah. The problem here is that the Play text follows, almost slavishly, the Gospel of John, where such phraseology is employed. It does not seem to occur to the critics that the expression, "the Jews", can hardly mean all those of Jewish race, since Jesus and His followers were themselves genuine Jews!

Some editorial concessions and expansions were made in the 2000 text to deflect such criticisms. For example, the number of Old Testament references has been increased and Gamaliel is introduced as a believing member of the Jewish High Council, making such declarations as: "But I confess: According to his own way, the one whom you condemn serves the God of our fathers. He believes everything written in the Law and the Prophets, and has the same hopeful faith in God that many among us here share as well." But, fortunately, the recent editors of the late-19th century Daisenberger script did not dilute the Johannine message for the sake of keeping everyone happy.

A few particularly striking illustrations for the edification of all of us:

From the opening Prelude:

Merciful God, you sent your only Son

to raise sinners from despair

Jesus, Savior! To restore us to life

you were our friend unto death

Act X (the Crucifixion):Nailed to the cross,

the Son of Man is raised!

In tbe serpent on Moses’ staff

the cross already pre-exists:

From the bites of venomous snakes

that bronze serpent saved the people.

In the same way, there will flow for us

bliss and salvation from the cross.Act XI (the Resurrection):The lamb is dead [original German text: was slain]. The earth enfolds the Holy One.But weeping and pain, sadness and lamentation will flee

for the Lord casts death into the flaming sea

and steps on the serpent’s head!

He frees his beloved son from the prison of death.

Forcefully he breaks open the gate. Out of the darkness of night

the anointed one arises in majesty and brilliant light

and leads us toward the source

from which life’s waters course.Closing soprano solo and chorus:Praise to you, who vanquished death

you, who died at Golgotha!

Praise to you, Savior of sinners,

you, who won at Golgotha!

Praise to you, who on the altar of the cross

offered your life for us!

You have bought us for yourself,

we live and die only for you!

The full stress given to the Resurrection here stands in marked contrast to most theatrical and film versions of Jesus’ ministry seen today. My wife and I were suitably appalled on attending the revised version of Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar to find that—obviously to palliate secular anti-supernaturalism—the physical Resurrection does not even figure into the plot.

Speaking of Jesus Christ Superstar: my wife—an internationally known professional harpist—had literally to put her fingers in her ears to reduce the decibel-level rock when we attended the London production. What a joy, in contrast, to experience the concert quality Passion Play music, still largely intact, from the original score of Oberammergau’s local composer Rochus Dedler (1820). A bit romantic perhaps—but so was Mendelssohn!

Some have been bothered by the fact that Passion Play occurs in a strongly Roman Catholic part of Germany (Bavaria—the home of the Hapsburg emperors and eccentric baroque prince Duke Ludwig of Neuschwanstein—Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fame). But, though the Reformation had not reached that part of Germany when the Play was first performed, there is today a fine local Lutheran Church in Oberammergau, and, aside from one or two lines gratuitously tossed to Mary which the biblical authors give to others (e.g., "He was like a 1amb led to the slaughter and djd not open his mouth"—and John 3:16!), the Play is certainly in no sense a special pleading for Romanism. It is simply what C. S. Lewis in another context termed "mere Christianity."

But the extreme difficulty of finding that today in artistic circles should lead us, in this writer’s judgment, to praise God for what the decennial Passion Play continues to provide

* * *

The genuine second millennium of the Christian era has now begun (in 2001, of course, since there was no year "0"). Instead of climbing on your housetop with all your belongings ("Of that day and hour," unequivocally declared Our Lord concerning his Second Coming, "knoweth no man"), spend some time with this issue of the Global Journal, so as to become better equipped to relate the eternal gospel to the needs of a new century.

The Global Journal does not ordinarily publish sermons. In this issue, we make an exception for the intriguing Columbus Day message by the Revd Ken Schurb, assistant to the President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and a doctoral candidate in Early Modern European History at Ohio State University.

Readers will again have to put up with a contribution from the Editor: a treatment of the doctrine of Conversion, designed to show the coordination (rather than a conflict) between infant baptism and personal decision for Christ.

Conversion is grounded in the Atonement, so it is entirely appropriate that we also publish Daniel Chadwick’s essay, "The Extent of Atonement and Judgment: A Phenomenological Vision." Chadwick sees phenomenological method as a device for potentially illuminating biblical revelation--not (as it is generally presented in contemporary philosophy) as a substitute for theological thinking.

Kenneth C. Harper, whose article on Generational Theory elicited considerable interest in our second issue (Vol. 1, No. 2) returns with something quite different: a study of the Labyrinth as a spiritual tool. This ancient motif has been appropriated by New Agers and wooly-minded mystics; here is an opportunity to see its relevance to serious Christian belief.


-- John Warwick Montgomery

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