Book review: The Passover Plot

by Hugh J. Schonfield


As long as this influential book has been around, I’m just now getting around to reading it. The problem, for me, was the title; somehow, it just seemed hard for me to take it seriously.

It is, however, an interesting and thoughtful picture of the historical Jesus. Jesus is portrayed as a keen judge of human character, shrewdly manipulating both friend and foe with utmost precision to orchestrate his own death, because that was the messianic prophecy which most rang true to him.

The “plot,” however, is a bit bizarre. The way Schonfield puts the pieces together, Jesus never intended to die. Instead, he carefully timed his execution so that he would not be left long on the cross, and with the help of a bit of drugged wine vinegar lifted to him on the cross from a friend, he hoped to fake his death. He expected to revive in the tomb. Whether he actually did revive or not seems immaterial to the success of the plot, because this accomplice was asked to spread the word of his impending return, and the accomplice was then mistaken by others to be the risen Jesus himself! That alone left enough miracle resurrection stories hanging around that Christianity would emerge even if Jesus didn’t manage to reappear.

Part II of the book presents six essays describing the origin and growth of Christianity. I found the essay about Messianism to be particularly interesting, because of my interest in the apocalyptic Son of Man title, but the other five essays were also thought-provoking.

Though the scholarship is now a little dated (this was published in 1965), this is a five-star book. But I just couldn’t bring myself to award all five stars, because the Passover Plot theory itself (supposedly the focus of the book) is just too far-fetched for me to take seriously.

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