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THE BODY (2001)


PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES: Philosophy of religion, faith/reason

CHARACTERS: Matt Gutierrez (Antonio Banderas; Jesuit priest from El Salvador), Sharon Golban (Israeli archaeologist), Father Pierre Lavelle (French Catholic priest and archeologist), Abu Josef (head of the Muslim Popular Front of Jeruslem), Cardinal Pesci, Moshe Cohen (Israeli attaché)

SYNOPSIS: Sharon, an Israeli archeologist, discovers what she believes is the body of Jesus, walled up in a subterranean tomb in Jerusalem’s old city. Artifacts from the tomb are analyzed by specialists, and evidence mounts supporting the theory that it is Jesus. The implications of this potential discovery quickly become clear to Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders: if it is the body of Jesus, then he did not rise from the dead and the factual basis of Christianity is undermined. Worried about the fallout of such a discovery, a Catholic cardinal assigns the task of investigating the claim to Matt, a young Jesuit Priest who formerly worked in government military intelligence. The Cardinal makes clear what the outcome of the investigation should be: it is not the body of Christ. One of the Catholic consultants, Father Lavelle, slowly loses his faith as the evidence mounts and eventually kills himself out of despair. Political tensions in Jerusalem are increased when radical Palestinians declare East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Fearing collaboration between Jews and Catholics regarding the discovery, a Palestinian group, “The Popular Front of Jerusalem” attempts to undermine the investigation and they steal the bones from the tomb. The Israeli army intervenes, but the bones are destroyed by a grenade. The Israelis then destroy the tomb, which reveals an inscription (that no one sees) indicating that the body was not that of Jesus. Matt abandons the priesthood, although he now feels that the investigation has made him more of a man of God.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1. In Matt’s first meeting with Cardinal Pesci, Pesci states, “We’re counting on you to protect the Church.” Matt interjects, “Protect the faith.” Pesci states, “They’re synonymous: you protect the Church, you protect the faith.” To what extent is the Church (regardless of what denomination) essential for protecting the Christian faith?

2. When Sharon first meets Matt, she states “I’m not going to lie for you.” He responds, “Why would I ask you to lie? Why?” She answers, “Because my archeological facts are going to conflict with your religious beliefs. Don’t you forget that.” If archeology comes into conflict with religious dogma, as it sometimes does, what are the options for the believer?

3. Matt notes that the bones in the tomb are those of a man who was five inches shorter than the image in the Shroud of Turin. This, for Matt, suggests that the bones in the tomb are not really those of Jesus. Sharon is offended at the comparison and says, “Congratulations, Father, you came to prove something and now you’ve proved it.” What is so offensive about Matt’s line of reasoning?

4. Sharon asks Matt to read the gospels as a scientist, not as a believer. Matt responds that he can’t because he is not a scientist but a priest. What are the essential differences in how a believer and a scientist would look at the Bible or some other sacred text?

5. Moshe Cohen, the Israeli attaché, stated that the discovery of Jesus’ body “is not going to be the end of Christianity or the Catholic Church.... Religion is not based on a rational system of proofs. It survives because of human need. We offer proof that Christ is not risen, those who believe are not going to believe us. Some may fall away. But, you know what? I think Christianity is going to survive.” Is Cohen right?

6. In one scene a Monsignor asks Cardinal Pesci, “Do you really believe it is he in that tomb?” Pesci replies, “I don’t concern myself with that very much. My concerns are for the Church and her real problems.” What does this response say about Pesci’s personal faith?

7. Attempting to suppress Sharon’s findings, Matt states, “If you take away his resurrection, you take away the God Jesus, and with him the dream of millions of people who believe he’s all they have.” Sharon responds that “The truth will set you free.” Who’s right?

8. As the evidence mounts supporting the contention that the body is that of Jesus, Matt’s faith weakens and he goes to Father Lavelle requesting something that he “can hold onto.” In view of the evidence, what could be offered to Matt to support his faith?

9. Father Lavelle’s faith slowly crumbles and he eventually kills himself. Matt feels responsible and says, “If that is the body of Jesus Christ, I sent Father Lavelle to oblivion, to nothingness.” What’s wrong with Matt’s line of reasoning?

10. The discovery of the tomb quickly became wrapped in political tension between Israelis and Palestinians. Several film critics believed that the film took a wrong turn here. The political intrigue does indeed seem over the top. What kind of political tension might be more realistic?

11. When the tomb is demolished at the end of the film, a stone inscription appears, making it clear that the body was not that of Jesus: “Please God take my son David, as you took your own son Jesus.” Would the point of the film have been better if this scene was left out?


 
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