Picks and Pans Review: After the Cross

UPDATED 06/08/1981 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/08/1981 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Hugh J. Schonfield

A former advertising copywriter turned historian and student of religious history, Schonfield caused a sensation in 1965 with his book The Passover Plot. It speculated that Jesus, rather than being a divine figure, was only a very shrewd Jewish political leader, who simulated His (or his) death on the cross by having a compatriot slip him a powerful sedating drug. Other allies then, theoretically, carried the "body" from his nearby tomb to safety, but the plot was foiled because a Roman soldier had inflicted an ultimately fatal wound with his spear when checking to make sure Christ had died. This book expands on that theory, detailing, for instance, Christ's scheme to assure that his trial, crucifixion and miraculous escape coincided with Passover, heightening his identification as the Messiah. Even Jesus never planned for his survival to be considered a resurrection, Schonfield argues; it was only such architects of early Christianity as Saint Paul who constructed that explanation to restore his followers' faith. Schonfield, an 80-year-old Jew from London, says that after The Passover Plot his enemies "had no ammunition to counter my thesis except that of vilification and misrepresentation." That's nonsense; his case is all circumstantial. It is still, however, not implausible and should provoke anew stimulating discussions of what is, to believers and nonbelievers alike, one of history's most fascinating events. (A.S. Barnes, $7.95)

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