Jay Michaelson at The Jewish Daily Forward called it “the most tasteless YouTube video ever.” He continues, “It’s hard to fathom who thought this project would be a good idea. Any Jew with personal, familial or even historical memories of the Holocaust will immediately find it to be an outrage. Not to state the obvious, but it desecrates the memory of six million Jews to use their suffering as a way to convert Jews to Christianity.”
The Internet has exploded with discussions of this three-minute film, most of which call it offensive and/or insensitive and ask that it be taken off the Internet. If you haven’t seen the film, it’s worth three minutes of your time to watch and form your own opinion. But, the basic gist is this: A concentration camp in 1943 … the SS officers choosing who will go to work camps and who will go to the “showers.” Jesus, carrying His cross on His shoulder, is next in line. The SS officer sends Him to the showers, saying, “just another Jew.” Then, the title — “That Jew Died For You.” Then, up scrolls Isaiah 53:4-5, “Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him. And by His wounds we are healed.”
The film looked low-budget — bad acting, overly dramatic music and terrible cinematography … the green screen was so obvious it jolted me out of the story — but that wasn’t why it didn’t sit well with me.
I also completely understand Michaelson’s offense at the film. Even though I am not a Jew myself, when watching it … it just felt wrong. I agree with many of the film’s critics who say that if the film’s purpose was to convert Jews to Christianity, they actually did the complete opposite — pushed them further away. Especially because the film was released so close to Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 28. But even that wasn’t totally why it didn’t sit well with me.
Even if it weren’t poorly made, even if it weren’t offensive to Jews … the theology of the film just doesn’t make sense. The title and the quote from Isaiah do not fit with what actually happened in the movie.
The film is called, “That Jew Died for You,” but in the film, Jesus didn’t die FOR anyone, He only died with them. Yes, I said “only” on purpose. I am not trying to minimize death at all — each and every one of those six million deaths were valuable, beautiful lives that were precious to God. But, in a film that closes with a quote about a Messiah who “bore our suffering” and “took up our pain,” His death with them as “just another Jew,” especially while carrying His cross, doesn’t make any sense. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus died for me on the cross. But that’s not what this movie said with its story. In this movie, Jesus didn’t save anyone. He didn’t take anyone’s place. He didn’t die for anyone, even though He was carrying the cross. He just died. And then, up pops the title – “That Jew Died for You.” Huh? The film just left me confused. What were they trying to say?
If you go to the “why we made this movie” section of the web site, Jews for Jesus explains that their intentions in making this movie were:
- To grapple with the question, “Where was God during The Holocaust?”
- To counteract the view that the actions of Hitler and his regime were an outgrowth of the teachings of Jesus
- To express the belief that Jesus sufferings on the cross were on our behalf
That’s their first problem right there. It’s a three-minute movie. It can’t say three things. There’s not enough time.
They thought they could accomplish all of this by emphasizing that if Jesus were living in Europe in 1943, the Nazis would have considered Him “just another Jew.” OK. I get that one point – that Jesus was “just another Jew.” That makes sense. Now. Now that I read the web site and watched the “making of” the video. But that wasn’t what came through in the film, at least not to me. And in this way, movies are like jokes. If you have to explain your joke, it’s not funny. If you have to explain your movie, it’s not powerful.
The movie just didn’t accomplish what they intended. And in the process, it offended tens of thousands of Jews. I agree with Michaelson that it desecrates the memory of the six million Jews who were slaughtered in The Holocaust. At the same time, it should offend Christians — it misses the mark on the Gospel. Jews for Jesus closes their “making of” the video by saying, “‘That Jew Died for You’ is not a message of despair, it is a message of hope and salvation.” In the film, I didn’t see any hope and salvation. The movie starts and ends with death. The only hope isn’t in the movie itself, but in the Scripture passage quoted afterward. As hope-filled as I know Scripture to be, just tacking a Bible verse on the end of a movie about death doesn’t really add hope. If you want a hope-filled film, the hope needs to be part of the story.
There are many real hope-filled stories from The Holocaust, many stories of survival, many real stories of how God was there with people through the suffering and pain and death, and even stories of how Christians helped Jews to survive. Perhaps Jews for Jesus should have spent their time and resources telling one of those stories instead.
Kathy Larson is the director of Christian Education and Creative Arts at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C.