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We're all holding our breath on this one.

11:00 PM, Feb 22, 2004 • By LARRY MILLER
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ONE OF LENNY BRUCE'S most famous bits--and this is a very loose paraphrase--concerned Jewish guilt for the crucifixion. "Folks," he would say wearily, "I've gotta be honest. We did it. And I'm real sorry. But we did it. I just found the proof in our attic. Turns out it was my Uncle Lou."

Funny bit. A little hard to chew on coming out so soon after the liberation of the concentration camps some people say never existed, but it's a funny bit.

Well, folks, as Bette Davis said in one of her movies, buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

The opening, reception, run, box office, and--most importantly--the aftermath of "The Passion of the Christ" are shaping up to be very nearly as powerful as the original was two thousand years ago.

At least this has to be the first movie in Hollywood history that can't be ruined by revealing the end. Can you imagine someone that stupid? "Oh, man, why'd you tell me? See, that's why I don't read the reviews." Come to think of it, it's almost a miracle (so to speak) that the thing wasn't Hollywood-ized. "Can you make the ending more upbeat? You know, maybe a 'buddy-movie.'"

Of course, as you probably know, it's not a Hollywood movie at all. Mel Gibson paid for the whole thing out of his own kick to the tune of thirty million bucks, which is a snappy little tune. It's not much by movie standards, where the budgets of "Waterworld" and "Titanic" and many others are regularly, well, titanic. Still, thirty million dollars is a pretty big check for one guy to write, no matter who he is. ("Is it okay if I post-date it? We just got new carpeting put in, and I want to make sure there's enough in the account to cover it. It's always everything at once, huh?") What I'm getting at is that even the richest people in the world don't just plunk chunks of dough down like that unless they're powerfully committed to something.

Like God and faith. Now, I haven't seen the movie, and I don't know Mel Gibson. Likewise, I'll bet ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine-percent-or-so of you haven't seen it and don't know Mel Gibson, either. But this hasn't stopped us all from thinking, reading, and talking about it, has it?

Well, it shouldn't. Here's my take: I'm glad he did it; but I'm a little afraid.

Afraid of what? I don't know. Pogroms? No. Riots? No. Then what? I don't know. Then why am I afraid?

I don't know.

I'VE ALWAYS LIKED GIBSON'S MOVIES. He's a terrific actor and director. (In fact, if Jesus had had a lighthearted, ironic side-kick, I would've been on the phone every day to get it. After all, I've got a head start on the Aramaic with my Hebrew. Ah, well, maybe the sequel.)

I'm not the biggest fan of action movies, in fact I can't watch them at all since September 11, when the real heroes took over. But Mel's stuff was always better than the rest. His characters started out tough and alienated, haunted and long-suffering, hurt and rigid, but they always grew to be selfless, caring, affectionate, and heroic.

And when I heard, a few years ago, that he was also religious? I liked him even more. After all, so am I.

Plus, remember, this is a guy who could crook his finger at any woman in the world, and she would follow him. But he doesn't. How many men could say the same if they had the power? So far, he and I are the only ones.

OKAY, I guess we might as well jump to the sixty-four thousand dollar question: Did "The Jews" kill Jesus? Well, first of all, if they did, the whole nefarious scheme doesn't seem to have worked out quite the way they planned, does it? In fact, just a few years after the skullduggery, those wily Christ-killers were shattered and scattered to the four corners of the Earth, where they spent the next two thousand delightful years getting blamed for every nosebleed and crop-failure in the village and constantly, repeatedly, neverendingly, being tortured and murdered in the most horrible ways imaginable.

(Say, wait a minute. Kind of sounds like what happens to the guy in the movie, doesn't it?)

And let's not forget the "wow" finish sixty years ago, and the "Always-leave-'em-wanting-more" encore today on every bus in Jerusalem. Like yesterday.

Well, I think it's enough. It's not for me to say, of course, it's for God. But I think it's enough. Or, as we Jews might say colloquially, "Enough, already."

Look, folks: Jesus was a Jew, a rabbi, in fact. His parents were Jews. The disciples were Jews. The first ten thousand Christians were Jews. More. Now, in the most important ways Jesus was the Son of Man, and is part of every culture and race.
But he was a Jew, and if his hair was fuzzy, it was probably Eliot Gould-fuzzy, not Justin Timberlake-fuzzy, because, again, HE WAS A JEW.