It’s been less than 24 hours since news broke that Mel Gibson, with the help of Joe Eszterhas, will be writing a movie about Jewish badass Judah “The Hebrew Hammer” Maccabee. There’s already been an official response, and jokes cracked, but there hasn’t been word from Gibson himself. No longer! The Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg, who is writing a book on Judah Maccabee, conducted a long interview with Gibson on the subject a few years ago. While researching his book, Goldberg found out that Gibson was interested in making a movie on Maccabee, and at Christopher Hitchens’s urging went to California to talk to Mel. (Hitchens told Goldberg, with what we imagine to be a Mission: Impossible–style delivery, “You must go to Los Angeles and stop him.”) Though Goldberg’s book still isn’t done, for the public good he is now surfacing parts of the interview. So, why is Mel Gibson making this movie?
Gibson tells Goldberg that he finds the Book of Maccabees, I and II, “ripping good reads.” He elaborated:
“I just read it when I was teenager, and it’s amazing. It’s almost like” — here, he grabbed my digital recorder, held it to his mouth, and spoke in a portentous movie-announcer voice — “They profaned his Temple. They killed his father. They… all kinds of stuff. In the face of great odds for something he believed in” — here he switched out of movie-announcer voice — “Oh, my God, the odds they faced. The armies they faced had elephants! How cinematic is this! Even Judah’s dad — what’s his name? Mattathias? — you kind of get this guy who more or less is trying to avoid the whole thing, but he just gets to a place where had enough, and he just snapped!”
Gibson also mentioned that he didn’t think such a movie would make money, because of production costs — “If you’re looking to make money out of this, forget it. Even Braveheart didn’t make much money.” — and pooh-poohed Hitchens’s critique of Judah Maccabee (the Hitch is not a fan): “I can see where Hitchens is coming from, but he’s pretty puny in his thoughts, because he left out one vital ingredient. And that is that God can do what he damn well pleases! No matter what the Greeks did! And you know, he doesn’t bring that into consideration. I think he thinks that way because he might be an atheist. He’s an atheist, right?”
And then Goldberg and Gibson also got into a really fun conversation about circumcision, because it turns out that before the Maccabees went to war, many Jews were stretching out their foreskins to look like Greeks, and that forced circumcision was part of their war plan. To wit!
Jeffrey Goldberg: There are some unpleasant aspects to this story, you know. Some crazy stuff went on. Some of the people were so in love with Greek culture that they would uncircumcise themselves… It was a war about circumcision in some ways…. I don’t know how you dramatize that.
MG: You have to mention it, but you wouldn’t want to make it a thing in the movie. “Hold them down!” Jesus…. In this scene, we’ll stay away from the disgusting aspects. We’ll stay on the guy’s face. Aaargghhh!
JG: Well, you did that before. You had them pull out your intestines in Braveheart.
MG: Disemboweled. You know, they castrated William Wallace. First they castrated him, then they dragged him through the streets behind horses…. I softened it a lot. They cut off his dick and his balls and they dragged him through the streets. Then they hung him up and drew and quartered him. He was a real wreck…. I was circumcised. That was more like just a medical procedure. It wasn’t for religious purposes. Cleanliness or something.
JG: Oh, yeah?
MG: Hey, did you know they use foreskins for replacing eyelids?
JG: No they don’t.
MG: Yeah, they do.
JG: Come on, really?
MG: You tend to look a bit cock-eyed, though.
JG: I can’t believe I just walked into that one.
MG: Me either.
Mel Gibson, Ladies and Gs!