Paul As Villain

The Jesus Party, by Hugh J. Schonfield (Macmillan, 1974, 320 pp., $7.95), and The Jesus Establishment, by Johannes Lehmann (Doubleday, 1974, 212 pp., $5.95), are reviewed by Paul L. Maier, professor of ancient history, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Both of these titles are rewritings of early Christian history based on the now common (but unproven) thesis that Paul and the gospel writers grossly warped Jesus’ message and falsified facts about his life into the caricature of it believed by later Christians. Neither book uncovers any especially new evidence to support such contentions, despite the sensational claim made on the jacket of The Jesus Party: “This revolutionary view overturns nearly two thousand years of Christian tradition.…” No, it doesn’t.

Dr. Hugh Schonfield, the English scholar-popularist, is well known for The Passover Plot and its follow-up, Those Incredible Christians. For all its melodramatic restyling of Holy Week, The Passover Plot is regarded by most scholars, whether Jewish, Christian, or neither, as an embarrassment to the cause of serious scholarship. Short on evidence but long on imagination and the “thesis-becomes-fact-a-chapter-later” ploy, the work is taken seriously today only by extreme biblical revisionists or by the uninformed.

But in The Jesus Party Schonfield has somewhat mended his academic manners, and his position now is not quite so irresponsible as that of a few of his Jewish co-religionists who are justifiably tired of being branded as “deicides” because of Good Friday and have prepared their literary replies in various ways. For example, Schonfield will have nothing of the too drastic rewriting of history attempted in The Trial and Death of Jesus (Harper ...

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