One American in four believes Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus, according to a survey commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League on the eve of the release of Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ."
A national poll of 1,200 adults conducted in December found 25 percent accepted the statement "Do you think that Jews were responsible for the death of Christ?" as being "probably true."
"We are extremely concerned that one out of four Americans accepts the notion that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus," said Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director, in a press release.
Foxman expressed concern that Gibson's film, "with its unambiguous blaming of the Jews," will reinforce or spread the notion of Jewish guilt already held by large numbers of Americans.
The poll, conducted by The Marttilla Communications Group of Boston, nearly mirrored a similar survey in 2002, where 26 percent said Jews were responsible for Christ's crucifixion.
A recent poll conducted by ABC News/Primetime reported fewer than one in 10 Americans believing the "deicide" charge, but that poll phrased the question differently, asking if Jews "today" are responsible for the death of Jesus.
Foxman has been a leading critic of Gibson's movie, which opens today in theaters nationwide.
The controversial line from Matthew 27:25, where the Jewish mob says "Let his blood be upon us and our children," is gone in the final cut, thanks to criticism that it appeals to discredited theology that the Jewish people are under a curse for their role in Jesus death that lasts until today.
Gibson's film presents Pontius Pilate, however, the Roman procurator who ultimately decides to sentence Jesus to death, as a pawn in the hands of Jewish leaders.
Pilate in the film is caught in a dilemma: release Jesus and face a rebellion led by the Jewish authorities, or crucify him and risk a rebellion by his disciples. Either way, he fears the emperor will hold him accountable.
"I am innocent of this man's blood," he says as he washes his hands.
"Do as they wish," he tells an executioner, referring to the Jewish mob.
The Romans are guilty of the film's worst brutality, particularly in an unsettling flogging scene, in which Jesus is beaten nearly to death in violation of Pilate's orders to chastise him but not to kill him. Soldiers in Pilate's court are clearly uncomfortable, however, as the Roman leader wavers under demands from the crowd calling for Jesus to be crucified.
Along the way to Golgotha, Roman soldiers occasionally pause to feel compassion for Jesus and his mother.
"Listen, he prays for you," a Roman soldier says to a Jewish leader as Jesus asks from the cross for God to forgive his persecutors.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.