Up to the mid-19th cent., different version of the text of the Passion Play existed in Oberammergau, including the outstanding 9000 verses of the “Passio nova” written by the Benedictine monk Ferdinand Rosner in 1750. In 1810, Otmar Weiss, also a monk from the Ettal monastery, wrote a prose version; in its 1860 adaptation by the parish priest Josef Alois Daisenberger, it forms the basis of the play to this day.
The Passion Play was traditionally entitled “The Great Sacrifice at Calvary”. Its main focus was on depicting the Saviour’s suffering and death. This reduction to the maltreated, beaten and suffering Jesus, to his flagellation and condemnation, to his death on the cross seemed to us like an abridgement of the great story.
The life of Jesus cannot be reduced merely to his suffering. First and foremost, our concern must be for the teachings of that young man from Nazareth, on his challenge to us which in the Greek of St. Matthew’s Gospel reads “Metanoeite”, translated as “Rethink!”. Jesus expressed this demand of a radical rethink most explicitly in his Sermon on the Mount. It shows clearly that there is no higher commandment in his eyes than that of love, love for God and for human beings.
What is it, though, that makes his words so special? Have we not heard them a thousand times already? Have they not become just empty phrases? Jesus, the young Jew, spoke of an Israel ruled by Rome, in a world marked by social contrasts, founded on suppression and exploitation. The ruling Sadducee elite co-operated with the Romans who quashed any emerging unrest immediately. As we know today, Pontius Pilate ordered the crucifixion of thousands of insurgents, and the main concern of the Sadducee priests was their own prestige and standing; anyone who opposed them was suppressed through religious disciplinary action. The people longed for liberation from Roman rule, from the heavy burden of taxation and slavery, they longed for a king, a messiah on the Jewish throne.
In this world, in this setting, Jesus of Nazareth spoke of the unconditional commandment of loving thy neighbour, a commandment that included everyone, that everyone was entitled to: beggar, slave, prostitute, but also the hated Roman soldier and his master Pontius Pilate who had ordered the butchery of thousands of Jews. Jesus proclaimed a new understanding of humanity. In his view, all humans are equal in the eyes of God; our life is going to be measured by our behaviour and attitude to our fellow human beings. He addresses the priests according to ancient Jewish tradition: “Hear O Israel! The LORD our God, the LORD is one. There is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. There is no other commandment greater than this.” Jesus’ call for a radical rethink, his “Metanoite!” is the order to bring an end to hate and counterhate, violence and counterviolence. This message is as valid today.
These were our guiding thoughts in the adaptation of the Passion Play text for 2010. We want to show a Jesus prepared to stand up with incredible single-mindedness for his faith in his God, who is also the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, that is: the God of the Jews. It is this faith and the rigorous single-mindedness with which he lives it that ultimately bring him to the cross.
A further important aspect of the adaptation which has been the concern of all editors from the 1950s onwards has been the problem of anti-Judaism, which runs as an ominous thread through the entire history of Europe and of Christianity and in whose dissemination these Passion Plays also played their part. Banishing it from the play was and is our obligation.
For the many long hours spent on adapting the text for this year’s play, we would like to express our heartfelt thanks to Professor Ludwig Moedl, our theological advisor.
Christian Stückl and Otto Huber
Directors of the 2010 Passion Play