Three weeks before the Ash Wednesday (Feb. 25) release of ''The Passion of the Christ,'' director Mel Gibson is still editing. According to the New York Times, he recently decided to cut what may be the film's most controversial scene, the one where the Jewish high priest Caiaphas says of the Crucifixion of Jesus, ''His blood be on us and on our children.'' The line, which comes from Matthew 27:25, had for centuries been the source of the charge of deicide leveled against the Jewish people, and had led to fears by Jewish and Christian groups that Gibson's film would stir anti-Semitism by reviving that charge.
Earlier reports from the private preview screenings Gibson has staged had indicated that Gibson had cut the scene, only to put it back recently. But a close Gibson associate tells the Times the scene is gone for good, though the associate didn't attribute the deletion to pressure from religious groups. ''It didn't work in the focus screenings,'' the source said of the scene. ''Maybe it was thought to be too hurtful, or taken not in the way it was intended. It has been used terribly over the years.''
Meanwhile, Romanian actress Maia Morgenstern, who plays Mary in the film, denied that Gibson's intent was anti-Semitic. ''Mel Gibson is an artist, a director. He never imposed his religious convictions on anyone,'' said Morganstern, who is Jewish, in an Associated Press interview. She said that the film's seeming placement of blame on Jewish leaders was a cautionary political statement ''about the responsibility and impact political and military leaders can have in manipulating the masses and interfering in people's conscience, particularly at a moment of crisis as it was then.''