Book Review

The Passover Plot by Hugh J. Schonfield

Photo on 05-11-2013 at 14.16 #2

I had intended to spend the day writing the “dopest”* literary rap of all time, but I have instead been stricken by the vomiting bug that had previously circled around my girlfriend’s entire family. I managed to stave off the constant retching by stuffing an inch long Italian suppository up my anus**, but the nausea remained, leaving me trapped in bed and unwilling to listen to any kind of repetitive beats and unable to make up words that half-rhyme. Or occasionally rhyme. So I’ve been reading. Several books in circulation, hopefully at least a second of which I will finish before the day is out.

The first book I have finished today is the 1965 Hugh Schonfield non-fiction piece, The Passover Plot. It is a heavily researched exploration of the life of Jesus and the spread of early Christianity, offering a few interesting “conspiracy-type theories” as well as  some interesting academic essays about the politico-cultural-literary origins of the Gospels.

Schonfield’s central idea is that Jesus was a mortal man of intense faith who, reading the many signs and prophecies in existence in old Jewish scripture, decided that he was the Messiah. He then went out of his way to confirm this through enacting the other prophecies that had been made about the Anointed One, the King of the Jews, the Son of David, and the Son of Man, as his many names alternately translate as. Schonfield even posits a theory about Jesus faking his death – timing his crucifixion so that it would last only a short time due to the Sabbath, being administered a narcotic through a sponge dipped in vinegar wine – only for it to be ruined by the famous stab in the side he received from a Roman soldier. Now, all of this is fun, but what is interesting about the book is the heavy historical detail it gives about the eastern edges of the Roman Empire in the first century.

Schonfield works heavily from reputable sources, there is a lot from (for example) Josephus, a Jewish historian who wrote of the Jewish-Roman wars, albeit benefitting from patronage from the victors. (The Romans.) Schonfield writes about the spread of Christianity, why certain themes rise in certain Gospels based on when and where they were written, who plagiarised who, who had probably read what, who was trying to impress which potential converts… When Schonfield writes about history, about the war games John the Baptist (my big interest) and Jesus became involved in, about the loss of favour of Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate, about political posturing, about literary creation, reputation, the affixing of the supernatural to the real, the book is great.

So though I enjoyed, as a cynic and as an appreciator of a well-written and well-put argument, the first part of the book, narrating Jesus’ life as Schonfield sees it, what I LOVED LOVED LOVED about this was the final hundred pages, the academic texts about a portion of history I had until recently little to no working knowledge of. The more I read about this period, and this part of the world, the more interest I have in it. This may only be my first non-fiction I’ve read as I pursue John the Baptist, but it certainly won’t be the last…

NB: I find Christianity, particularly Catholicism, very interesting. From the outside, very much not from within.


* = “best”

** Took more than one attempt, I’ll tell you for free. Kept thinking it had gone it, made it past the outer layer, whatever, but I’d remove my hand and the little moistened stick would slowly push itself back out and into my hand. To finally get it to stay I had to get the non-tapered end a good three/four centimetres into my hole. And that’s not “too much information” by the way, that’s the correct level of information when discussing the application of a suppository. Prude.

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