It's still not clear if the runaway success of Mel Gibson's ''The Passion of the Christ'' means Hollywood will greenlight more biblical movies, or just that Mel Gibson can now make whatever biblical movies he likes. On Tuesday, he told Sean Hannity on his radio show that his next entry in the genre may be the story of the Maccabees, the Jewish guerilla fighters who led a successful rebellion against Greek conquerors 165 years before Christ, inspiring the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
Gibson told Hannity that the story has ''always fired my imagination.'' Recounting the story, which occurred in biblical times but is not recounted in the Bible, Gibson said: ''It's about Antiochus, the king who set up his religion in the Temple, and forced them all to deny the true God and worship at his feet and worship false gods. The Maccabees family stood up, and they made war, they stuck by their guns, and they came out winning. It's like a Western.'' (Or like ''Braveheart'' or ''The Patriot,'' he might have added.)
The story ends with a miracle: When the victorious Jews cleansed the Temple of its sacrilegious, they found only enough oil to light the Eternal Flame for one day, but it managed to last eight days, until more oil could be rendered. Hence the eight-day holiday of Hanukkah (Hebrew for ''rededication''), when Jews light candles on an eight-branch menorah each night.
Talking to Hannity, Gibson once again defended ''The Passion'' against charges of anti-Semitic stereotyping. Still, making a movie about Jewish heroes may not insulate him from such charges in the future. Anti-Defamation League Executive Director Abe Foxman, who has been ''The Passion'''s most vocal critic, told the Orlando Sentinel that he feared Gibson would ''write his own history.'' He said he'd rather see a Jewish director like Steven Spielberg take on the story. ''The Maccabees ... are our sacred history,'' he said.