Mel Gibson’s Judah Maccabee Movie: High on Action, Low on Circumcisions


The news that Mel Gibson is planning to make a Judah Maccabee biopic has caused quite a stir. While Judah Maccabee is one of the greatest heroes in the history of Judaism for leading the revolt against the Seleucid Empire, Mel Gibson loves getting drunk and ranting about how “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” Why would Mel Gibson want to make a movie about a beloved Jew? The Atlantic‘s Jeffery Goldberg had heard about Gibson’s interest in the story of Maccabee a couple years ago and asked him. Turns out, he thinks it would make one hell of an action movie.

Now that Showgirls scribe Joe Eszterhas and Warner Bros. are attached, Mel Gibson’s Judah Maccabee movie looks to be on the road to production. But before anyone else was involved, Gibson had expressed interest in the story. When Jeffery Goldberg told God is Not Great author Christopher Hitchens this a couple of years ago, Hitchens told him, “You must go to Los Angeles and stop him.”

Goldberg did travel to Los Angeles, but merely to ask Gibson about why he wanted to make the Judah Maccabee movie. The Passion of the Christ director didn’t tell him that he wanted to make amends for his previous comments about Judaism or prove that he could show a Jewish character in a positive light. He just thought that it would make a kick-ass action flick:

“I just read it when I was teenager, and it’s amazing. It’s almost like” — here, [Mel Gibson] grabbed my digital recorder, held it to his mouth, and spoke in a portentous movie-announcer voice — “They profaned his Temple. They killed his father. They… all kinds of stuff. In the face of great odds for something he believed in” — here he switched out of movie-announcer voice — “Oh, my God, the odds they faced. The armies they faced had elephants! How cinematic is this! Even Judah’s dad — what’s his name? Mattathias? — you kind of get this guy who more or less is trying to avoid the whole thing, but he just gets to a place where had enough, and he just snapped!”

It is worth noting that many believe that in his version, Mel Gibson will play Judah’s dad, the guy who “just snapped.”

When Goldberg told him Christopher Hitchens’ theory that Maccabee’s victory over the Greeks eventually led to the worldwide spread of Christianity, Gibson countered, “I can see where Hitchens is coming from, but he’s pretty puny in his thoughts, because he left out one vital ingredient, and that is that God can do what he damn well pleases! No matter what the Greeks did! And you know, he doesn’t bring that into consideration. I think he thinks that way because he might be an atheist. He’s an atheist, right?”

Christopher Hitchens is an atheist, and a pretty famous one at that.

When Goldberg informed him that the story of Judah Maccabee involves the forcible circumcisions of assimilated Greek Jews, Gibson said that he’d probably avoid that aspect in the film version. “You have to mention it, but you wouldn’t want to make it a thing in the movie. ‘Hold them down!’ Jesus,” he said. “In this scene, we’ll stay away from the disgusting aspects. We’ll stay on the guy’s face. Aaargghhh!”

Of course, Goldberg and Gibson’s meeting wouldn’t have been complete without a circumsicion joke:

MG: Yes. Hey, did you know they use foreskins for replacing eyelids?

JG: No they don’t.

MG: Yeah, they do.

JG: Come on, really?

MG: You tend to look a bit cock-eyed, though.

JG: I can’t believe I just walked into that one.

MG: Me either.

Happy Hanukkah!

Mel Gibson on Judah Maccabee, Christopher Hitchens, and Circumcision [The Atlantic]