Obermamergau's residents were given a preview Aug. 13 of a new version of the village's traditional - and controversial - Passion Play.
The new text blames the crucifixion of Jesus on the sins of mankind, rather than specifically on the Jews - the basis of widespread charges of anti-Semitism leveled at the text that had been used since 1860.
The new production was scheduled to have five dress rehearsals to test local reaction, after which the town council will decide whether to keep the revised version for the 1980 season or revert to the 1860 script.
Hans Schwaighofer, a sculptor who heads the Oberammergau Wood Carving School and played the role of Judas in 1950 and 1960s, directed the new version - actually the version written in 1750 by a Bavarian priest, the Rev. Ferdinand Rosner. It has modern language and music, and is staged in the manner of a medieval mystery play.
The forces of evil, led by the chief of the fallen angels, called Lucifer in the text, come on stage in masks representing jealousy, greed, hatefulness, deceit, death and despair. It is these forces, rather than the jews, that provoke man to crucify Jesus.
The controversial 1860 version, written by another Bavarian Priest, the Rev. Alois Daisenberger, has come under sharp attack. Even after some offending passages were dropped for the 1970 performances, an analysis of the American Jewish Congress concluded that "it differs little, not only from its immediate predeccessor, but also from what was performed on the same stage in the time of Hitler, who so acutely recognized the harmony between the pageant's anti-Jewish elements and his own anti-Semitic policies."
Residents of Oberammergau, for the most part, defended the Daisenberger play and resisted pressures from the late Julius Cardinal Doepfner of Munich to revise the script.
But at a closed meeting in Oberammergau July 30, 1975, climaxing a long-standing tug-of-war between "progressives" and "conservatives," 10 of the town councils 16 members voted to replace the 1860 script.
Schwaighfer had been named to direct than 1970 production, but resigned after the town council overruled his attempt to reform the play.
The council qualified its decision to replace the 1860 script with the provisin that Schwaighofer perform a series of dress rehearsals in the summer of 1977, to test village and press reaction.