A Rabbi's Impressions of the Oberammergau Passion Play
by Joseph Krauskopf
Four centuries ago a village high in the Bavarian Alps, Oberammergau, promised that, if God interceded against the bubonic plague, they would stage a Passion play every ten years. A Passion play is a medieval dramatic form which depicts the life and (principally) death of Jesus. All of the actors are residents, and the entire community participates in one way or another. The pageant continues in the 21st century.
This book is an American Reform Rabbi's encounter with this quaint, and at the time insidiously anti-Semitic, production. He vividly describes his own feelings at each stage of the play. Krauskopf uses the 1900 Oberammergau Passion as a springboard to examine a whole set of issues which will make both Jews and Christians uncomfortable, but which need looking at, even today. He is a virtual attorney-for-the-defense, working every angle to clear the reputation of the Jews.
Krauskopf points out many inconsistencies in the narrative. He describes how bits of folklore accreted to the story, and how the four Gospel accounts don't match up. In particular he illustrates how the legal procedures don't remotely match what was customary at the time, let alone the question of why such a trial would even be conducted during the high holy days. He exhibits a long (but unfortunately unattributed) list of parallels between the teachings attributed to Jesus and the Talmud.
The Second Vatican Council, in Nostra Aetate no. 5, October 28, 1965, stated that "the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God as if this followed from Sacred Scripture." The Oberammergau script has been rewritten to soften the anti-Semitism and to remind viewers that Jesus was Jewish (!). However, the issue keeps coming up. Recently the movie adaptation of The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ revived the controversy.
What of the Old Testament Prophecies of Christ?