But the true controversy surrounding The Passion is the allegation that it blames Jewish people for killing Christ. Historically many anti-Semites have used this 'blood guilt' argument as a justification for attacks on Jews.
'We have a problem here. Already one quarter of Americans believe Jews killed Jesus, and that's before this movie comes out,' said Foxman, who secretly attended a Christian screening of the film in Florida.
The Passion follows a literal interpretation of the Gospels. It depicts their betrayal of Jesus by the Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob. 'The Jews and a group of sadistic Roman soldiers are the only ones portrayed as evil. The Jews make bloodthirsty calls for Jesus's death on a continuous basis,' Foxman said.
Gibson is a follower of an obscure ultra-traditionalist Catholic sect that rejects many recent reforms of the Catholic Church, does not recognise the current Pope and still conducts Mass in Latin. Gibson's father, Hutton Gibson, also stoked up problems when he told one interviewer that the Vatican reforms of the 1960s had been a 'Masonic plot backed by the Jews'.
Gibson has vehemently denied any anti-Semitism in the film, saying that it is a faithful interpretation of scripture. But he raised eyebrows when he claimed that he witnessed agnostics and Muslims on the movie set convert to Christianity during production. He has also warned of a 'dark force' that tried to interrupt screenings and told how actor Jim Caviezel, who plays Jesus, was struck by lightning during filming.
In a bid to defuse some of the tension around the film's release, Gibson last week wrote to the Anti-Defamation League after reportedly deleting a key scene in which a priest calls down an eternal curse on the Jews. 'You are a man of integrity and a man of faith and I do not take your concerns lightly... all who ever breathe life on this Earth are children of God and my most binding obligation to them, as a brother in this waking world, is to love them,' Gibson wrote.
However, Gibson did not address any of Foxman's specific questions about the film. Foxman has now written back to Gibson asking that he include a 'post-script' in the film that will ask its viewers not to come away with anti-Semitic feelings. 'Your words do not mitigate our concerns about the potential consequences of your film... How will the film be viewed by others? Could the images of your film be used by those who are disposed toward hatred to harden their hearts?'
Foxman is still convinced that the film will play into a rise in anti-Semitic attacks across the world, though he accepts that Gibson himself is not at all anti-Semitic. 'He has a very strong belief. But it is others we are worried about. We just fear that people will come away from watching this and blame the Jews,' he said.
But many Christians dismiss Foxman's concerns. 'Anything like this is going to get resistance. But it is ridiculous. I have seen the movie too, and I did not see any hatred of the Jews,' said Giovino.
One thing is certain though: the hype surrounding the film is going to ensure a box-office smash. Experts predict Gibson will recoup his $25m investment on the opening weekend alone.