Mel Gibson's unfinished but hugely controversial film, The Passion, has provoked further criticism after a leading Jewish group had a private screening.
The film, which portrays the final 12 hours of the life of Jesus Christ, would fuel "bigotry and anti-Semitism" in its current form, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said. It called on Gibson to modify the film before it is released.
"The film unambiguously portrays Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob as the ones responsible for the decision to crucify Jesus," said Abraham Foxman, the ADL's director. "We are deeply concerned that the film, if released in its present form, will fuel the hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism that many responsible churches have worked hard to repudiate."
He added: "We hope that Mr Gibson and [the production company] Icon Productions will consider modifying The Passion so the film will be one that is historically accurate, theologically sound and free of any anti-Semitic message."
The film has attracted controversy since leaked copies of early drafts of the script began appearing earlier this year. Its critics say the film, which was shot in Italy, has dialogue only in Latin and Aramaic and has no English subtitles, portrays the Jews as "bloodthirsty".
Gibson has made extensive efforts to win over his critics and has organised a number of private screenings, mostly for conservative religious figures and scholars. Until last week the ADL had not been invited to a screening of the film, which is due to be released on Ash Wednesday next year.
Last Friday, the head of the ADL's office on interfaith matters, Rabbi Eugene Korn, attended a private screening in Houston, Texas. He said that some of the film's "gross historical inaccuracies" had been removed after complaints from Jewish and Catholic scholars earlier this year. But he said that the film still had "major historical falsehoods".
He added: "Sadly the film contains many of the dangerous teaching that Christians and Jews have worked for so many years to counter. This is not a disagreement between the Jews and Gibson. Many theologically informed Catholics and Protestants have expressed the same concerns."
He said that he appealed to Gibson "as one man of faith to another man of faith". He added: "I didn't detect a positive response at that time, but I am hoping that he will still consider it."
Much of the controversy surrounding the film is linked to Gibson's membership of an extremely conservative Catholic church in California, which holds Mass in Latin and rejects the reforms of Vatican Council II in the 1960s, which among other things rejected the belief that the Jews were to blame for the death of Jesus.
A spokesman for Gibson, who produced, directed and co-wrote the film, which stars James Caviezel, denied that it was his intention to offend. "No one associated with this film has any interest in fuelling hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism,'' said Gibson's publicist, Alan Nierob. "In fact, Mel's interest is just the opposite, as he has stated previously that this film is about love, hope, faith and forgiveness.''
A number of those who have seen the film have praised it. Matt Drudge, founder of the Drudge Report news website, said: "It depicts a clash between Jesus and those who crucified him and speaking as a Jew, I thought it was a magical film that showed the perils of life on earth."Reuse content