March 12, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

The problem with making an epic about Jesus’ death? The source material’s a little sketchy. The Gospel According to John covers Jesus’ scourging in just one short verse. So to flesh out ”The Passion of the Christ,” Mel Gibson used additional sources and his imagination — a surefire way to court controversy. Here’s a sample of differences between the Bible and the movie, as noted by the interfaith website


IN THE MOVIE As Jesus prays fervently, Satan tries to talk him out of his fate. A snake slithers out from under the devil’s robe. Jesus stomps on it.

IN THE BIBLE No Satan, no symbolic snakes. Otherwise, Gibson is faithful to Matthew, Mark, and Luke.


IN THE MOVIE The traitorous apostle is hounded by nightmarish visions and is driven out of Jerusalem by wild-eyed Jewish children. Finally, he hangs himself.

IN THE BIBLE The reports of Judas’ betrayal, remorse, and suicide leave out The Passion’s horror-flick embellishments.


IN THE MOVIE After the Jewish priests convict Jesus of blasphemy, high priest Caiaphas wants Jesus killed. While deliberating Jesus’ fate, Pontius Pilate — Jerusalem’s Roman overlord — takes Jesus aside and offers him a cool drink.

IN THE BIBLE The priests do find Jesus blasphemous, but they also worry that his radical ministry could invite a violent Roman crackdown. Pilate never gives Jesus a comforting refreshment.


IN THE MOVIE Roman guards chain Jesus to a post and beat him to a pulp. Pilate’s sympathetic wife, Claudia, offers linens to Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of Jesus, to clean up his blood.

IN THE BIBLE The Marys do not witness the torture, and Pilate’s wife appears in the Gospels only once and isn’t referred to by name. Instead, Gibson is sourcing the controversial mystic visions of a 19th-century German nun, Anne Emmerich.

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