The Body in Pain

When Mel Gibson premiered The Passion of the Christ in 2004, pundits wondered if Hollywood seriously believed that movie-goers would pay millions to see yet another sandals-and-robes epic about the Holy Land, especially since the actors spoke in Latin, Hebrew, and reconstructed Aramaic. There were no big-name stars, special effects, or even a parallel 3-D version.

But the public loved the film, to the tune of more than $600 million in earnings. Many were deeply moved by the story, which centers on Jesus’ suffering in the hours before he is crucified.

Previewing it, critic Roger Ebert remarked on the excruciating torture Jesus undergoes. He is whipped, flayed, beaten, pierced, and denied water. "The movie is 126 minutes long, and I would guess that at least 100 of those minutes, maybe more, are concerned specifically and graphically with the details of the torture and death of Jesus. This is the most violent film I have ever seen."

What is the contemporary definition of torture? The legal language is in Article 1 of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by the U. S. Senate in 1994. In plain English, torture is the intentional infliction of severe mental or physical pain or suffering by or with the consent of state authorities for a specific purpose. That purpose could be to punish, elicit information, take revenge, or simply instill fear.

According to the Denmark-based International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, common methods of torture include "beating, electric shocks, stretching, submersion, suffocation, burns, rape, and sexual assault." Another category is psychological torture --"isolation, threats, humiliation, mock executions, mock amputations, and witnessing the torture of others" -- all of which have potentially devastating consequences.

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July 2011 Sojourners
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