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Kurt Russell compares made-up Santa language to the Aramaic of ‘Passion of the Christ’

Bearded, magic men promising mystical rewards or punishment, however jiggly their bellies or toned their midsections, do not hold much interest for most Jews. But sometimes, on matters of Santa or Jesus, we must break our respectful silence.

Such a rare occasion presented itself on Nov. 18, smack-dab in the middle of nitl season, when Kurt Russell cited a mind-bending parallel for his upcoming film’s use of a fictive Elvish dialect, Yulish.

“I’ll never forget when I saw ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and went, ‘Mel discovered something that nobody figured out for all this time we’ve been making movies,’” Russell told The New York Times, while plugging “The Christmas Chronicles 2,” which, not for nothing, was written by a guy named Matt Lieberman.

“If you do anything that’s historical, especially the Bible, and you do it in an original language, it gives it a sense of authenticity,” Russell said. “And when I saw that, and I read this script, I thought, Elvish will give this a sense of authenticity.”

Let’s unpack this a bit. Kurt Russell is here claiming that Mel Gibson’s antisemitic opus, “The Passion of the Christ,” had an air of verisimilitude because it used Aramaic, one of the languages of the Hebrew Scriptures and the primary lingua franca of Jews in the first century Levant.

Point 2: Russell is saying that his movie, about an imaginary iteration of a Greek saint, both demands and might approach that level of reality because it uses — in scenes with Santa and his elves — a made-up language whose etymology appears to derive from the word “Yuletide.”

Thank God for Russell’s Jewish better half, Goldie Hawn (Mrs. Claus in these films), for saying, “He says it’s a language, but in my mind it’s just sounds.”

Tolkien this ain’t. And yet, like the tongues and tales of Middle Earth, there are always more layers to examine.

It’s notable that Russell is here commending Gibson, given the fact that the evidently un-cancellable actor-director is himself starring in a competing Santa vehicle, “Fatman,” which is improbably backed by the production company of Israeli-American billionaire and Democratic mega donor Haim Saban.

But if you’ll permit me to riff a bit, I’d like to speculate a bit as to Russell’s motives here. On the one hand this reverence for the historicity — or at least, historical vibe — of “The Passion” seems like an unqualified compliment to a rival Santa impersonator. Yet, the comparison is so outlandish and unfortunate that I choose to receive it as a dig, akin to “Your grossly dangerous antisemitic depiction of Jesus’ death, where you paint Jews as hook-nosed demons, is about as historically valid as my dumb Santa movie, which, by the way, is better than yours because we used your gimmick.” That read is surely wishful thinking, however, given the fact that Russell and Hawn are friendly with Gibson.

Still, Russell, by likening the import of Santa to that carpenter from Nazareth, stumbled into a quietly held, though not unfamiliar, seasonal Jewish sentiment: that Jesus’ divinity is no more viable than the reindeer sorcery of the guy with a twinkle in his eye. For that, I’ll let his comparison, of an invented Elf vernacular and the language of the Jerusalem Talmud, slide.

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]


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