06/24/2010 08:20 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Christian, Jewish Scholars Urge Changes To Oberammergau Passion Play Script

By Alfredo Garcia
Religion News Service

(RNS) Jewish and Christian scholars have called for a full edit of the script for the world's largest Passion play, currently on stage in southern Germany, even as changes couldn't be made until at least 2020.

Produced once every 10 years, the Oberammergau Passion Play in Bavaria is the largest and one of the oldest theatrical reenactments of the final days of the life of Jesus.

The Oberammergau play attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators and employs approximately half of the town's 5,200 residents. Like many Passion plays, however, Oberammergau has been criticized for its anti-Jewish elements and stereotypes.

The Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations, an umbrella group for more than 30 academic and educational interfaith centers in the U.S. and Canada, drafted a list of 17 recommendations for a new script, even though the play won't be staged again until 2020.

The report concluded that "Jewish opponents of Jesus are unjustifiably depicted in such extreme terms as to risk impressing on the audience a negative image of the entire Jewish community."

The report encouraged editors not to draw primarily from previous versions of the play that contain anti-Jewish elements.

The current script contains edits from the 1980s overseen by director Christian Stueckl and dramatist Otto Huber. Even with an emphasis on Jesus as a rabbi and the elimination of anti-Jewish references from the Gospel of Matthew, the current script continues to raise ire among clerics and academics alike.

The study recognized these changes, but called for further adjustments.

The CCJR points specifically to "refinements for the presentation of Old Testament scenes, the relationship between the Roman governor and the Jewish High Priest, the nature of the capital charges brought against Jews, and the numbers and mood of Jewish spectators."

The report has been praised by Rabbi Eric J. Greenberg, director of the department of interfaith affairs for the Anti-Defamation League, as a "monumental step forward in proving how Christians and Jews can work together to benefit both faiths."