Humanism[ edit ] At one time he was president of the H. Wells Society. Schonfield wrote over 40 books including commercially successful books in the fields of history and biography as well as religion. This aimed to show without idealised interpretation the meaning intended by the writers while maintaining the original structures. A revised version appeared in titled The Original New Testament. In he published the controversial The Passover Plot , a book the thesis of which is that the Crucifixion was part of a larger, conscious attempt by Jesus to fulfill the Messianic expectations rampant in his time, and that the plan went unexpectedly wrong.
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London: Open Gate Press, Reviewed by Robert M. Hugh J. Schonfield died in , leaving behind him a great many books, most published, some as yet unpublished.
Schonfield was a remarkable man with remarkable convictions, and his unique perspective enabled him to cast a revealing light on whatever subject he treated. Whether he was studying the gospels, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Toledoth Jeschu, the Kabbalah, you could be sure going in that you would be shown how to view something familiar in an altogether unfamiliar way.
For one thing, he was a survivor of the generation of such fresh-thinking trail-blazers as Robert Eisler and Rendell Harris. For another, Schonfield retained a good measure of the Rationalism of an earlier generation of critics. This is evident particularly in his notorious book The Passover Plot, a book surprisingly conservative in many ways, not least in its belief in the literal accuracy of the gospel stories and sayings, despite the error of their supernaturalism.
Schonfield reasoned that Jesus was, as the gospels depict, sure of his messianic mission and that this destiny included crucifixion and subsequent reappearance. If, or rather since, he was the Messiah, he ought to be able to accomplish this, the work of the Messiah. One often hears it said, by those who did not read The Passover Plot, that Schonfield advocated the Scheintod "seeming death" theory of Venturini, Bahrdt, and Schleiermacher, but this is wrong.
Schonfield thought that Jesus planned an escape from the cross, but that the unanticipated lance-thrust killed him.
Schonfield nonetheless did continue in a Rationalist vein, similar to Kirsopp Lake, suggesting that the resurrection appearances of a "Jesus" who was at first not "recognized" were actually cases of mistaken identity. And despite the scorn of apologists, the only thing implausible about such speculations is that they are based on too literal a reading of the gospels!
Like the old time Rationalists refuted so expertly by D. Strauss, Schonfield gives the gospels too much credit! Those critics of The Passover Plot who pegged Schonfield as an unbeliever did not read him carefully.
He was no unbeliever. He was just a heretic. And there was more heresy! Schonfield was also a Spiritualist. He believed in parapsychology and mediumism, what is today called "channeling. Indeed, it is almost surprising that Schonfield did not interpret the resurrection of Jesus as Leslie D.
And this brings us to the posthumously published Proclaiming the Messiah. Hugh Schonfield had a number of distinctive views on Paul, his life and his doctrine, and they are set forth here. It is to be hoped that the new Proclaiming the Messiah will attract new readers to Schonfield and that they will find their interest sufficiently kindled to search out his previous works.
Like later kabbalists Abraham Abulafia and Sabbatai Sevi, whose studies had led them to the belief in their own messiahship, Saul decided he was the one.
He had to admit now that Jesus was the Messiah, not he, but then Saul adopted the next best role. He viewed himself as the living image of Christ on earth even as Christ had been the image of God. Specifically, Saul believed that he often acted as "channeler" for the voice and persona of the exalted Christ "I say to you, not I, but the Lord All this is only hinted at in Proclaiming the Messiah. One might even compare him to the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, self-proclaimed Lord of the Second Advent who, as such, is not Jesus Christ himself returned to earth but rather an earthly representative bearing his spirit to carry forward his task.
Such a picture of Paul certainly comports with the virtually messianic colors in which Paul and his fans painted him, e. I think especially of the case of Dr. David C. Schmithals shows The Office of Apostle in the Early Church how the earliest apostles were Gnostic redeemer-mystagogues who preached the gospel of the Cosmic Christ whose light-sparks were scattered among the souls of the elect, to whom they preached. Schmithals suggested that Paul and others had taken over pretty much the same notion, only on behalf of Jesus of Nazareth, a recent historical figure.
Schonfield reasons that the issue was not simply one of Jewish Torah-piety "legalism" and whether it should be required of Gentile converts. No, that would be myopic. Paul had seen Roman power protect and guarantee Jewish rights in Cilicia; James and Peter chafed under the rule of Pilate and resented, on general principle, outlanders ruling the Holy Land. For Paul, Jesus Christ was a heavenly being with whom one might be mystically united; for the Pillars, Jesus was the soon-coming king.
For both Paul and his rivals, the Torah regulations formed the sancta of the Jewish people; by one and the same token, the Pillars hoisted the Torah as a battle standard for messianic Jewish nationalism, while Paul dispensed with it for the sake of Christian internationalism.
But both kingdoms had their evangelistic heralds, itinerant missioners making their way throughout the Diaspora, spreading the word of the Messiah Jesus, his recent appearance, and his imminent return. But he also has Paul accused of being a Nazorean agitator.
Luke does not try to disabuse us of the notion that these Nazoreans were revolutionaries, advocating customs illegal for Romans, urging Jews to acclaim Jesus king instead of Caesar. No, he means only to tell us that Paul was not one of these Nazoreans.
The Romans did not make fine distinctions, but the Christians did. And Paul was constantly getting in trouble because of the reputation of his rivals! Of course the forgoing scenario only makes sense if one supposes, as Schonfield does, that Acts is correct in depicting Paul always going first to Diaspora synagogues, something his epithet "Apostle to the Gentiles" would not lead us to expect.
As Schonfield points out, his pagan converts could have had no interest whatever in the notion of a Jewish national deliverer. So, to be taken for a messianic agitator among Jews, Paul would have had to be preaching his messiah in the synagogues. Schonfield is ambivalent with regard to the historical value of Acts. On the other, he admits the narrative is largely fictional, especially the speeches, and even calls the author of Acts a "novelist.
In the end he had created a new religion, the Christian religion. But he had not meant to, any more than Martin Luther had intended to split the Catholic Church. The standard version has it that Paul thought that the Gentiles had only to believe in Jesus to be saved, while his opponents held that Gentiles must believe in Jesus and shoulder the yoke of circumcision and the Torah, all commandments.
Acts 15 depicts a compromise whereby the Gentiles are told they must keep the minimal Noachian commandments traditionally required of the Gentile "God-fearers," the noble pagans who attended synagogue to worship the Hebrew God but who balked at circumcision and all the rest. This much seems fairly clear, but it leaves some crucial areas blurry.
For them, was it full proselyte or nothing? Had they believed people like Cornelius the Centurion were just damned to Gehenna? This seems to be implied, but it seems rather strange. Would James have viewed them the same way Paul views Corinthian Christians who visit prostitutes and eat idol-meat--as apostates to be delivered to Satan?
Is the issue "What must I do to inherit eternal life? Has Luke over-simplified the issues to the point of confusion? Schonfield seems to realize that we must make some distinctions Luke did not bother to make. So Schonfield suggests that what Paul really wanted was for the Pillars to grant recognition to his Gentiles, even without the Torah, as Israelites.
A modern parallel might be the debates between moderate and liberal Christians over the status of believers in non-Christian religions. Karl Rahner says certain Hindus or Buddhists may be saved if they qualify as "anonymous Christians," i. Raimundo Panikkar says they may be saved by Christ by means of their own religions. Huston Smith and Wilfred Cantwell Smith say that non-Christians are saved through their religions, by their own religions, and on the terms of their own religions.
None of these theologians envision non-Christians as damned to perdition; the point at issue is how salvation works. Schonfield makes his case by appealing to passages selected from Romans 11 and Ephesians, and this makes his argument still more problematical. Astonishingly, he accepts every canonical Pauline Epistle as authentic, even the Pastorals. Perhaps it is the same in the proliferation of spurious Pauline Epistles. Maybe the essential insights of whatever authentic core there may be of Pauline Epistles recur in the Pauline pseudepigrapha, the Paulinist megatext.
Personally, I am a collector of Bible and Koran translations and enjoy reading them through in an attempt to prevent the texts from becoming invisible to me by over-familiarity.
As Vladimir Schklovsky said, art must take as its task to defamiliarize, to make the familiar appear strange and new again. One will find no bishops and apostles in these epistles, but rather overseers and envoys. No churches, but communities. In his New Testament, Schonfield has tried his best to assist the reader to see the documents stripped of their gilt edges and India paper, as if one were getting a first glimpse of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
To this end he has ventured his own chronological rearrangement of the letters and parts of letters. Ephesians becomes "To the Communities in Asia - The Ephesian Copy," reflecting theories about Ephesians having first served as an encyclical. This arrangement, though begging numerous debates, is helpful for the sake of prying the documents out of their canonical casket.
Of course, one can imagine the myriad different hypothetical arrangements that would result if other scholars tried their hand at the same task --not a bad idea! And this is a shame. Perhaps it would be too much to expect for Schonfield, in the scholarly work of his last years, to have subjected his theories, forged long ago, to the risk of significant change and development.
At any rate, it is an unexpected delight to discover Proclaiming the Messiah, a precious legacy of Hugh J.
Hugh Schonfield, a Forgotten Ossuary, and the Origin of the Jesus Son of Pantera Traditions