Customer Reviews: The Passover Plot: A New Interpretation of the Life and Death of Jesus
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on August 5, 1999
Did Jesus orchestrate his public life and subsequent crucifixion and disappearance from the tomb? Hugh Schonfield, a renowned scholar and former Pulitzer Prize nominee, feels that is a possibility. And in his book "The Passover Plot," he presents his scholary arguments as to how and why Jesus could have pulled off such a feat.

If you are a Christian this book could well destroy your faith, or else strengthen it. The author does not attempt to debunk Christian beliefs, but instead he gives us the "historical" Jesus as he sets down his arguments in the context of the times in which Jesus lived. He takes into consideration the political climate of the area, as well as the feelings and beliefs of contemporary Jews of which Jesus was one.

For whatever reason you read this book, I suggest you do it with an open mind. If you can do so, you will surely agree that "The Passover Plot" is indeed an interesting and exciting read. Schonfield's ideas are revolutionarhy at the very least, and whether you agree with his treatise or not, you must laud his painstaking, scholarly sincerity and careful scrutiny of the available references.

To reach his version of the truth, Schonfield tries to dispel the myths through which Christ looms larger than life in the Gospels of the New Testament. He sifts and probes the Gospels and other authoritative works, including those of the contemporary Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, to arrive at the facts which have not been previously represented. He attempts to show that it was the personality of Jesus which enabled him to embark on a program calculated to fulfill what he believed the prophecies demanded of the Messiah.

The plot of Jesus was unique in that it called for intense messianic faith, acute perceptiveness, an iron will and extreme intelligence. To accomplish his goals, Jesus had to produce certain calculated reactions.

The Galilean, the first-born of a Jewish carpenter Joseph and his wife Miriam (Mary), was to prove to be no ordinary boy, for he was destined to play a unique part in history. Very little information is available regarding the early life of Jesus. The Gospels pass over completely his entire life prior to his public ministry. It is fairly certain, however that Jesus having grown up under the influence of the Essene sect, their teachings influenced the shaping of his beliefs. The Gospels suggest that Jesus was imbibed by notions presented by the Nazarenes, and his younger brother James had somewhat embraced the ascetic way of life. Early in his life, Jesus put into operation a program which was the outcome of his prior messianic investigations in the years before his baptism by John the Baptist.

That Jesus believed he was the Messiah of the Jews is divulged in the Gospels, the author feels. Following his baptism by John, Jesus put into motion his plot to fulfill the scriptures as to his ministry and subsequent crucifixion. Jesus was fully aware that the only future that mattered depended upon what he said and did in his life and finally upon his death. He knew exactly what he was doing, and every word and action was well planned and thought out.

Schonfield weaves an intricate tapestry of Jesus' public life, taking into consideration the political climate of the times and the belief by many Jews that the end was at hand, as well as strong messianic fervor. Jesus calculated his entry into Jerusalem and subsequent ministry to coincide with the scriptures.s Because of the harsh political climate in the city, he had to carefully orchestrate his public life so as to not prematurely infuriate either the Roman rulers or the Jewish hierarchy.

The author delves deeply into the brief ministry of Jesus, his agony on the cross, his burial and subsequent disappearance from the tomb. Although the written information of these events is sparse, Schonfield offers his take on a very intriguing chain of events in the life and death of Jesus. He tries to explain details of the resurrection using the resources at hand and a very fertile, educatiod mind. I think he has succeeded beyond what could have been expected.

In conclusion, Schoenfield points out that Jesus exerted a powerful influence on those who came in contact with him. If you wish to know the real Jesus, he concludes, we have to be acutely aware of all that was going on at the time, the highly charged atmosphere and political tension. We must think of Jesus not as a divine being or teacher of ethics,but as a son of his country, a man with the blood of kings in his veins, exercising authority, because he truely believed it to be his messianic destiny. The Jesus of history can only be correctly known by those who are willing to see him as a Jewish Messiah.

Finally, the author tries to lay out the origins of Christianity, completely interlaced with synoptic and paganic influences. His premise is that Christianity was in origin a messianic movement, and that it's development as a new religion was conditional by its subsequent non-Jewish environment.

Schoenfield has indeed portrayed the historical Jesus as a real person of his time, rather than as a theological figure of Cbhristian faith. The figure that evolves is a person of dynamic character, with one perpose and one goal in mind.

I strongly encourage you to read "The Passover Plot." It will either shake your Christian faith or greatly reinforce it. But surely, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
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on February 7, 2006
Though previous reviewers seem to believe that the author, Hugh Schonfield, is guilty of some anti-Christian agenda, I beg to ask whether it's possible for people in our modern era of division to believe that someone with whom they disagree simply has a different perspective, rather than an agenda.

Schonfield's book is well researched, but not without its faults. Nevertheless, he earns points in my book for taking the time to translate the original texts and interpret them within the historical context of early Christianity. I wonder how many of his critics have done the same.

In the final analysis, however, Schonfield offers us an hypothesis, not a polemic, and personally I found parts of this hypothesis to be a bit of a stretch (e.g., that Jesus could have used a sedative drug to fake his death). Nevertheless, the background is informative and the hypothesis offered is thought-provoking.

As a side note, I've always been amazed at how so many Christians believe that the hypotheses of people like Hugh Schonfield and Dan Browm pose a serious threat to them and their faith. If Christianity can be so threatened by a hypothesis, then it never really was as great a faith as I have always believed it to be.

Finally, I am amazed at how subsequent reviewers, people who know nothing about me, feel justified in insinuating that I condone the senseless Muslim violence now happening and suggest that I have "contempt" and "much spite and resentment for orthodox Christianity." If you did know me you'd know that I am proud to call myself a Christian, and hold Jesus as my utmost role model. But since I am open to learning and debating various questions about my religion (as offered in the "Passover Plot"), I guess that must mean that I am not a "real" Christian to those who criticize me. My only response is that you may want to re-read Matthew 7:1-5. Lest anyone doubt my Christian credentials, I will not use this forum to attack anyone directly (as was done repeatedly to me) and will now do the MOST Christian thing by simply turning the other cheek.

It's gonna be okay people, let's all just take a deep breath and relax.
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on November 6, 2001
It was Schoenfeld's speculation that Jesus faked his crucifixion that made this a hot best-seller in its day, but the virtues of the book lie in the meticulous and persuasive scholarship that underlie the sensational element. Schoenfeld is particulary good at explaining what it means to understand Jesus as a Jew, a fact given lip service but rarely understood by Christians. Also outstanding is his analysis of the differing theological conceptions and aims of the four gospel authors, and how their religious views shaped their versions of the story. His idea that Jesus deliberately set out to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies and become the Messiah is interesting and plausible. One needn't accept his highly speculative passover plot theory of just what happened on that first Easter to get quite a lot out of this excellent work.
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on June 19, 2000
As a Roman Catholic, Schonfield's idea of a Passover plot is intriguing and does not in the least threaten my Christian beliefs. Why should it? He doesn't suggest that Christianity is bad or evil, just that its beginnings are not exactly the way they were portrayed by the reporters of a later time. It's a theory, and a pretty good one at that! In his sequel THE PENTECOST REVOLUTION, Schonfield sheds even more light on this very touchy subject.
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on September 28, 2006
Dr. Schonfield, a very learned scholar, did what numberless people before and after him have done: He attempted to find the "real Jesus" hidden in the Gospels. As a seeker-after-truth, I read this book when it first came out. I found the book to be educational, entertaining, and enlightening on a number of subjects. Unfortunately, it wasn't very enlightening on the main question it sought to answer: What really happened on the first Easter?

Schonfield posits a complex conspiracy theory in which Jesus, with the unwitting assistance of his enemies, would fake his death and resurrection to advance his theological ends. Despite skepticism about the traditional Easter account, my assessment was that if your choice was limited to either the traditional account or the Schonfield account, you'd have to go with the traditional account.

Schonfield's analysis, however, does something that most post-modern New Testament scholarship does not. It credits the Biblical account of Jesus' life. Most post-modern Christian scholarship takes as its point of departure the presupposition that the Gospels are an amalgam of much falsehood and little truth.

It is ironic that cutting-edge Christian scholarship presupposes the falsity of the basic Gospel narrative while non-Christian scholars like Dr. Schonfield and Haim Cohn (The Trial and Death of Jesus) credit the basic account.
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on June 4, 2006
Why is it that my fellow contemporary Christians see such a threat in a study of the historical Jesus? Their response to movies such as the Da Vinci code, and books such as Mr. Shonfield's excellent exploration, always amaze and amuse me. Do they really expect to have the supernatural Jesus without the reality of the man? Hugh Shonfield does an incredible job of exploring the times and events that influenced the real person who established one of the most universal and controversal religions in all of history. As long as Jesus, and his message love one another, exists in our hearts, then what else is needed. Thank you Mr. Shonfield for your special work.
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on January 3, 2013
I first read this book many years ago and found the theory fascinating. The idea is that Jesus, who firmly believed he was the Messiah, set out to follow the biblical prophesies to the bitter end. The author suggests even though Jesus' motivations were sincere, he tried to hedge his bets though the timing of his arrest and crucifixion. The book contains many citations of authority to back up its claims and the theory seems certainly possible. Each reader will need to make up his/her mind. Its well worth the read.
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on September 22, 2012
I first read this book 40 years ago. A young man interested in ,this other man named Jesus. I have looked for this book for over 40 years and could not find it anywhere. Till now.
I am 64 today This book from what I could remeber of it impacted my life in many ways. It opened it up to a better understanding of Jesus the man. It was instrumental in forming my beliefs with regards to organzied religion and a better ability to feel at peace with my belief system as the years went by. But it is not the same reading a book of this kind as a young man, as it is now, as an aging adult taken on new meaning. This re-reading of the book, has been a great re-birth to me and has helpped me understand from where some of my spiritual beliefs come from.

Once again this book has helped me understand Jesus the man ,my faith in him and his life here on earth as a man, living in much different times then is presently going on in the area he taught in today. It answers many of the questions I had toughts about over the years. I strongly recommend this book to anyone that would like to get to know Jesus the man and the times he lived in. This is far from being a book about faith or religion, but about a Man who influncesed many millions of people over more then 2000 years latter. It may test your beliefs, it may change them slightly ,or maybe even change them totally, but it will do one thing, give you insight to the man they called JESUS
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on March 2, 2012
I find biblical history, and particularly Jesus' history, to be fascinating at the very least, particularly considering the immense influence Christianity has on the world today. It is sad to realise how many Christians are so reluctant to see the human side of Jesus. Before being created a god (in the first Nicean Council) he was a mortal man; a Middle-Eastern Jew who taught his personal beliefs to those willing to listen and then practise those beliefs themselves.

Studies of world religions and spiritual practices will attest to this quite readily. Unfortunately, all too many accept the dogma as absolute truth, but as some famous person once said (and I'm paraphrasing here) "Religion is the opiate of the masses"...

With that said, I very much believe that Hugh Schonfeld gives us a provocative truth of how and why Jesus (very deliberately) acted the way he did, and chose to die/sacrifice himself the way he did. When one takes into account the politics of the period, the religious fervor, and the general instability of the Middle East, the time was prime for a messiah figure to appear on the political scene and lead a willing public into a new religion, and, by doing so, creat a new political power base to challenge Herod's regime. By the way, the idea of dying, three days later rising from the dead, and having his faithful apostles spreading the story of his "having risen to Heaven" is a storyline which goes back centuries prior to Christ's birth.
For me, "The Passover Plot" puts this altogether in a way that is finally easily understandable. Combining this book with the works of Elaine Pagels, Bart Ehrman, Simcha Jacobovici, and other religious scholars, I can say that I finally understand the true circumstances of Christ's life, his place in history, and his influence of our modern society today.

And if anyone reading this would also like to further their religious education, they'd do well, indeed, to look up the authors mentioned here and explore on their own to know the influence of Christ on their own daily lives.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to read this. I do welcome any responses and will try to reply to each one.
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on December 17, 2007
Previous reader reviewers of this book have made many good comments, but have not, I think, made clear enough one important aspect of it. Only a portion of the book actually describes a "Passover plot" by Jesus involving a highly detailed planning of his own arrest, trial, crucifixion, faked death, and faked resurrection. That portion is far-fetched and sensational, but is a relatively small portion of the whole book.

By contrast, the first 100 pages of the book present a picture of Jesus that is, I think, credible and insightful. It is a naturalistic presentation of the entire life of Jesus, stripped of all supernatural acts and events, though not beliefs, and without fantastic intrigue either. Schonfield, as a Jewish scholar, is able to probe deeply into the Jewish background of Jesus. It becomes clear that 1st century Jews in Palestine, and especially Galilee, were intensely superstitious, nervously engaging in prophesies, oracular readings of the Old Testament, messianism and apocalypticism. Schonfield writes of the sickness of that society, a time in which young Yeshua (Jesus), among a number of others, naturally and honestly came to believe he was the messiah. After all, Schonfield notes, many boys everywhere, living in less intense times, dream of becoming great heroes or leaders of their people, even unto death. He also bravely points out some personal faults of Jesus such as a father-fixation and a grim tendency toward scorn. His passage on Jesus cursing the fig tree is precious. So are his comments that the Christian religion is basically pagan because it made of Jesus an anthropomorphic idol.

Up to about page 100, Schonfield's picture of Jesus has much in common with Albert Schweitzer's famous finding of an apocalypse-preaching historical Jesus. But Schweitzer's book is so massive and complex that few readers are likely to read much of it. Schonfield's simpler, easier-to-read book offers a more accessible account of that apocalyptic or eschatological Jesus. He also lucidly suggests that the ignominious martyrdom of John the Baptist partly prompted Jesus' desire for his own more spectacular death in Jerusalem at Passover.

However, after about page 100, a neat demarcation-line as it were, Schonfield moves from this credible account of Jesus' general belief in himself as a messiah who must suffer to a not-at-all credible account of his detailed plotting of every specific step on his way to that goal and more. At about p. 100 I stopped reading the book (not only in disbelief, but admittedly also for lack of time).

As for the remaining, intrigue-laden scenario (which the dustjacket had described for me), Schonfield clearly borrowed much of this from the lives of Jesus written c. 1800 by Bahrdt and Venturini, whose "swoon" theories (coma on the cross, resuscitation later in the tomb) were understandable in their time but are much less so now that we know far more about ancient crucifixions and how efficiently deadly they were. Schonfield's 1965 reprise of that moribund theory (drugged vinegar drink on cross would cause coma) was probably influenced by the widespread drug culture of the early 1960s.

Yet, even Schonfield's fantastic notion of a highly detailed "Passover plot" by Jesus has some redeeming points. It offers a naturalistic theory for the reputed resurrection, which must indeed have had natural causes of various kinds (a body theft by whomever, then dreams, or visions, or chance glimpses of Jesus look-alikes, or the sight of his image on his shroud, or deliberate embellishments by storytellers, etc.). Moreover, some of the clues to a conspiracy that Schonfield thinks he sees in the gospels involve passages that are undeniably bizarre, passages that Schonfield did not invent and that Christians have no satisfactory explanations for. Schonfield deserves sympathy at least for his attempt to make some natural sense out of those bewildering passages.

I first heard of this book in the 1970s and, judging from what little I heard, did not think it worth reading. Now I have finally read it, or part of it, and must admit that I was long mistaken about its full contents. The first 100 pages or so can certainly be recommended to all readers curious about the real Jesus.
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