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Schonfield vs. Easter & the Invincibility of Scripture
“It is the moment before sundown in Jerusalem. On the hill of Golgotha three bodies are suspended on crosses. Two, the thieves, are dead. The third appears so. This is the drugged body of Jesus of Nazareth, the man who planned his own crucifixion, who contrived to be given a soporific potion to put him into a deathlike trance. Now Joseph of Arimathea, bearing clean linen and spices, approaches and recovers the still form of Jesus. All seems to be proceeding according to plan….” “It was a nightmarish undertaking, the outcome of the frightening logic of a genius, and it worked out.” -from The Passover Plot, © 1965, Bernard Geis Associates
Twenty-eight years ago Hugh J. Schonfield published The Passover Plot. Controversial, provocative, and sensational, the book was instantly very big news. In sum, it alleged that although Christ was the Son of Man, He certainly was not the Son of God. The author laid out in elaborate detail just how Jesus contrived to be arrested the night before the Passover, how He had arranged to be given a drug that would render Him unconscious, and how His accomplices would then nurse Him back to health and stage a “resurrection”.
Schonfield claimed that his book was the result of forty years of research. 275 pages long, it was carefully footnoted and included a five-page index as well as an extensive, detailed, bibliography. It was billed as a scholarly work. The author himself, a Jewish man educated at the University of Glasgow, insisted that the book should by no means be regarded as a “far-fetched…fictitious” attack on Jesus. No, this was ‘high scholarship’. And so, when it was released, The Passover Plot was accorded great credibility. It received many notable reviews from the likes of Time magazine, The London Sunday Times, and Publisher’s Weekly. It shook the faith of the faithful like a megabomb exploding at the heart of the Christian faith. In the end, however, it turned out to be more of a firecracker. Hugh Schonfield, in the spotlight of international acclaim, was temporarily regarded as the man who may have fired a deadly shot at the risen Christ. In the light of history he has come to appear more like a little boy shooting a cap gun at the Rock of Gibraltar. This is 1993. Schonfield has disappeared. The Bible stands. Easter survives. Christianity marches on. The risen Christ lives!
Twenty-eight years after all the hurrah, the book today is out of print and out of stock. My original copy sits high on a shelf, gathering dust, its pages yellowing. Bernard Geis Associates, the original publisher, once thriving in the hot glow of rave reviews, is now out of business. Random House, the USA distributor, told me this month that they no longer even have a record of the book in their files. The Commonwealth of World Citizens, an organization Schonfield once founded, is now kaput. And Hugh Schonfield himself …is dead. Sources in England informed me in late March that he had died in January of 1988, his aspirations unfulfilled.
Schonfield’s attacks on the credibility of the Biblical account of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth were never simply dismissed out of hand. Intelligent and reasonable men considered them all (and many others like them). But in every case, an intelligent and convincing rebuttal was forthcoming. The Swoon Theory, The Resuscitation Theory, The Hallucination Theory, The Wrong Tomb Theory-every one has been methodically treated and solidly refuted in book after book, e.g. Josh McDowell’s The Resurrection Factor, © 1981 Here’s Life.
Of course, Hugh Schonfield is just one lone figure in the long parade of those who have marched against Scripture. King Jehoiakim tried his hand at directly doing away with God’s Word back in 600 B.C. (Jeremiah 36). He failed. In 303 A.D. Diocletian ordered all Bibles destroyed. But in 313 A.D. Diocletian died, not the Bible. The Frenchman Voltaire once predicted that within 100 years the Bible would be gone. Fifty years after his death, however, men were printing Bibles on the very press that he once owned, and distributing them from his own former house! Still, the parade persists. In 1982 Holy Blood, Holy Grail was published. In 1991 Robert Schaeffer wrote The Making of the Messiah. The Jesus Seminar, a panel of about 50 liberal “scholars”, today periodically convenes for their wildly speculative ‘bead toss’ on what Jesus did or didn’t say. Last December (1992) U.S. News & World Report featured a cover story, The First Noel, in which readers were advised that modern research, ‘new’ insights, and recent ‘scholarship’ have now led many to “reject the historical veracity” of much of the traditional Christmas story.
But something very interesting, and perhaps unexpected, has occurred. In spite of all the attacks, the jury of time and history has consistently, repeatedly, returned the same verdict: let God be true and every man a liar. The long parade of skeptics and critics, in a sort of an ironic twist, has in fact come to be one of the most powerful testimonies of all for the invincible truth of Scripture. The Bible has stood all attacks essentially unscathed-just about what you’d expect to be the case if it really was God’s Word and God Himself really was sovereignly protecting and preserving His revelation to humankind. Few have summed it all up better than the venerable old Bible scholar, Henry Halley (circa 1925), in his best-selling Halley’s Bible Handbook: “The dear Old Book has worn out many anvils”, he wrote, “and long after the critics have been forgotten, will go marching on, loved and honored, by unnumbered millions. Precious Book!” Today, 28 years too late, Hugh J. Schonfield no doubt believes in Easter.