I would very much like to see a film about Judah Maccabee and am sorry that Maccabees was withdrawn from the Revised King James Version in the early 19th century, possibly because Christian slaves read it as a metaphor for their own liberation. It’s a powerful story still available in the Roman Catholic editions of the Bible.

Mel Gibson wanted to make a film about Judah Maccabee, and journalist-turned-screenwriter Joe Eszterhas wrote a script. Then the project went pear-shaped. On April 18, 2012, the Telegraph reported:

Earlier this month, Joe Eszterhas, best known for his work on Basic Instinct, claimed that Gibson pulled out of directing The Maccabees, a film he had written about the biblical hero Judah Maccabee, because he “hates Jews” …

The Jewish community had expressed concerns about Gibson’s involvement with the film. In 2006, the actor was arrested for drink driving and an anti–Semitic outburst. He was also criticised for the negative portrayal of Jewish people in his 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ.

Gibson retorted that what Eszterhas had said amounted to “utter fabrications”. He added that “a man of principle” would have withdrawn from The Maccabees “regardless of the money” if he believed him to be anti-Semitic. Gibson told him: “I guess you only had a problem with me after Warner Brothers rejected your script.”

The article said that English actor Ray Winstone came to Gibson’s defence:

Winstone, talking to Mandrake [the paper’s celebrity reporter] at the West End premiere of Elfie Hopkins, was in no mood to distance himself from his old friend who appeared with him in Edge of Darkness.

“Listen, everyone has said something in the heat of the moment and all I can say is that when I met him, he was a complete and utter gentleman,” Winstone says at the Ciroc Vodka-sponsored premiere.

“When I was out in Boston with him and my Jewish mate Dr David Wechsler, we got on like a house on fire. My old mate David loved him to death. There are a lot of things Mel does to help people which he never talks about. The press don’t report that.”

An earlier Telegraph article directed readers to a Hollywood site, The Wrap, for a letter allegedly from Joe Eszterhas to Gibson, reproduced in full (language alert). The letter chronicles Eszterhas’s and his family’s alleged encounters with Gibson as well as the latter’s turbulent home life.

The saddest part for me were the final paragraphs, wherein it alleges that Gibson’s young daughter slapped him in the face. When Gibson allegedly asked her why she’d done it, she (allegedly) said, ‘I’m sorry, Daddy. I love you.’ Fact or fiction, children do pick up patterns about family life from an early age.

At the risk of showing my age, I well remember reading Rolling Stone when Eszterhas was Senior Editor between 1971 and 1975. The high points were the record reviews and Eszterhas’s investigative journalism. I used to save the best for last and savour his forensic examination of America’s socio-political scene. He wrote at length and as he found. His writing inspired me to research subject matter thoroughly, to dig deeper, because things aren’t always what they seem. His articles showed me that truth was stranger than fiction.

Therefore, it was with some disappointment that I discovered some years later that he went into screenwriting. Hmm. I rather wish that he had stayed in journalism, because, although his style is somewhat peripatetic and could use some tweaking, it is uniquely his and compels you to read on. When I read his alleged letter to Gibson, the style and length strongly resemble Eszterhas’s writing.

I hadn’t known until I read his Wikipedia profile that Eszterhas was actually born in Hungary and that his father was a Roman Catholic newspaper editor and author. But this really surprised me:

Eszterhas learned at age 45 that his father had hidden his collaboration in the Hungarian Nazi government and that he had “organized book burnings and had cranked out the vilest anti-Semitic propaganda imaginable.”[4]p.201

Imagine how Eszterhas must have felt on that day in 1990.  Since then, he has had no contact with his father.

In 2008, Eszterhas published a book, Crossbearer, which detailed his return to the Roman Catholic Church in 2001, when he broke down before God. The Toledo Blade interviewed him just before Crossbearer hit the shops giving us an idea of what happened seven years before (emphases mine):

He and his second wife, Naomi, had just moved from Malibu to a suburb of Cleveland – where he had grown up; she was from nearby Mansfield. They felt Ohio would be a better, more wholesome place to raise their four boys (he had two grown children from his first marriage).

A month after the move, Mr. Eszterhas was diagnosed with throat cancer. Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic removed 80 percent of his larynx, put a tracheotomy tube in his throat, and told him he must quit drinking and smoking immediately.

At age 56, after a lifetime of wild living, Mr. Eszterhas knew it would be a struggle to change his ways.

One hot summer day after his surgery, walking through his tree-lined neighborhood in Bainbridge Township, Mr. Eszterhas reached a breaking point.

“I was going crazy. I was jittery. I twitched. I trembled. I had no patience for anything. Every single nerve ending was demanding a drink and a cigarette,” he wrote.

He plopped down on a curb and cried. Sobbed, even. And for the first time since he was a child, he prayed: “Please God, help me.”

Mr. Eszterhas was shocked by his own prayer.

“I couldn’t believe I’d said it. I didn’t know why I’d said it. I’d never said it before,” he wrote.

But he felt an overwhelming peace. His heart stopped pounding. His hands stopped twitching. He saw a “shimmering, dazzling, nearly blinding brightness that made me cover my eyes with my hands.”

Like Saul on the road to Damascus, Mr. Eszterhas had been blinded by God. He stood up, wiped his eyes, and walked back home a new man.

In a phone interview this week, Mr. Eszterhas said it was “an absolutely overwhelming experience.”

Since then, he and his wife have been faithfully attending Mass. That doesn’t mean that he completely accepts the state of the Catholic Church today. And, yes, he did go to a Protestant church during his soul-searching time post-conversion:

When Mr. Eszterhas visited a nondenominational megachurch, he heard a sensational sermon. But he felt empty afterward, missing Holy Communion and the Catholic liturgy.

Eszterhas gave the Blade his thoughts on 21st century Catholicism:

He and Naomi decided they could not, in good conscience, donate a dime to the church because of the clerical sexual abuse scandal.

He also writes about the inner turmoil he felt when he took his boys to catechism classes or other church events and kept a protective eye on them the whole time, making sure they were never alone with a priest.

And he complains about priests’ homilies being boring and pointless.


Mr. Eszterhas told The Blade that despite his mixed feelings over the church and the abuse scandal, the power of the Mass trumps his doubts and misgivings.

The Eucharist and the presence of the body and blood of Christ is, in my mind, an overwhelming experience for me. I find that Communion for me is empowering. It’s almost a feeling of a kind of high.”

On his life pre-conversion:

He worked as a police reporter in Cleveland and “was always fascinated with the darkness. I covered countless shootings, urban riots, and in several situations I was there before police were because I had a police radio and used to drift around the city until something happened,” he said.

But after his spiritual transformation, he said, he had had enough of death, murder, blood, and chaos.

“Frankly my life changed from the moment God entered my heart. I’m not interested in the darkness anymore,” he said. “I’ve got four gorgeous boys, a wife I adore, I love being alive, and I love and enjoy every moment of my life. My view has brightened and I don’t want to go back into that dark place.”

He also told the Blade reporter that he has undergone an apparent miraculous healing of his throat as his oncologist said:

that my tissue had regenerated to the point where you cannot only not tell that there was ever any cancer there, but you can’t tell that there had been any surgery there.

Wow — what a story. I never knew that until today. Hollywood reporters never mention it. Eszterhas did say he wished that Hollywood studios would commission more Christian and family films. He said that the American public would love to see them. Perhaps this is why the Maccabees project inspired him so. Let’s hope he finds a new project in this regard.

A closing note on Crossbearer. From the reader reviews, it would appear that the book is written in a style which will appeal more to Catholics than to Protestants. I’m not talking about theology as much as I am the narrative itself, which is peppered with language or situations that conservative and orthodox Protestants would not expect from a regenerate Christian.  As many of the readers warned, this is not a ‘born again’ book in an Evangelical sense but a Catholic story about one man’s return to faith.

I noticed that Tim Challies did not like it, and I can understand that. Tim, a Canadian pastor in a Reformed denomination, will have a different experience of God and His grace than will a passionate Hungarian who had to come to grips not only with his early memories of the aftermath of the Second World War but also becoming a US citizen and adapting to life in an environment where urban back streets featured prominently. Furthermore, there is no doctrine of grace in the Catholic Church the way there is in the Reformed denominations. Readers should not expect to find it in Eszterhas’s book.

So — a possible recommendation for Catholics and maybe for mainline Protestants. I’m not saying Eszterhas’s style is correct or justifiable when writing about conversion and Christianity, however many Catholics, especially those born after the Second World War, will be able to identify with or overlook these weaknesses.

I pray that God sends him every grace in his continuing sanctification.