In addition to the major historical approaches presented in the last chapter, many have attempted to write more-or-less popular lives of Jesus. These authors often advocate unorthodox interpretations: Jesus never died on the cross; he was connected with the Qumran community; someone else changed his message to fit their own desires; he traveled to various parts of the world during the so-called “silent years” or even after the crucifixion.
While such works are given virtually no attention by careful scholars, these attempts are sometimes very popular with those who are unfamiliar with the data behind such questions. Many are bothered by nonfactual or illogical presentations, but are not quite able to locate the problems involved. This is the major reason that these approaches are included in this book. We will investigate several of the most popular recent attempts to present unorthodox pictures of Jesus’ life.
The Rise of the Swoon Theory
Each of the fictitious lives of Jesus surveyed in Chapter 1 taught that Jesus survived death on the cross and was later revived. His “appearances” to his disciples were not miraculous, of course, for he had never died in the first place. The swoon theory, espoused by Heinrich Paulus and others during the heyday of the liberal naturalistic theories, was quite popular in the first half of the nineteenth century. It was disproven by the facts and indicted by liberals like David Strauss. Before examining this view, it will be helpful to present an overview of two contemporary attempts to write similar lives of Jesus.
Hugh Schonfield’s The Passover Plotcreated quite a sensation when it appeared. ^1 However, very few readers were aware of the similarity between this book and earlier fictitious lives of Jesus. For Schonfield, Jesus had carefully planned his career of public ministry in accordance with his belief that he was Israel’s Messiah.^2 Accordingly, he plotted events such as his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, on which occasion Lazarus helped him make the appropriate arrangements.^3 Jesus made especially intricate plans concerning his upcoming crucifixion, which required especially accurate timing. On this occasion his chief confidant was Joseph of Arimathea.^4
While Jesus was on the cross, Joseph made arrangements for an unidentified man to give Jesus a drink that had been drugged. As a result, Jesus slipped quickly into a state of unconsciousness, which made him appear dead. Nonetheless, Jesus was in a very serious condition when he was removed from the cross, especially complicated by John’s report of the spear wound in his chest.^5 On Saturday, Jesus’ body was
1 Hugh Schonfield, The Passover Plot(New York: Bantam Books, 1965).
2 Ibid., pp. 37–38.
3 Ibid., pp. 112–115.
4 Ibid., pp. 153–161.
5 Ibid., pp. 160–161.
From Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus – Ancient Evidence For The Life Of Christ (in print at Amazon)
removed from the tomb, after which he regained consciousness briefly, but died shortly thereafter and was reburied.^6
At this point, Schonfield turns to his proposed reconstruction of events that account for the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. The unidentified man at the cross who administered the drug is the key figure in this reconstruction. He helped carry Jesus to the tomb, then returned on Saturday to rescue him. During Jesus’ brief period of consciousness, Jesus asked this man to convey to his disciples that he had risen from the dead. However, Jesus died shortly after and this person helped bury him. It is also this anonymous person who was present in the tomb when the women came early on Sunday morning and was the one mistaken by Mary Magdalene as the gardener. Later this same man visited the disciples on the road to Emmaus, at the seashore and in Galilee. The disciples mistook this stranger for Jesus and proclaimed his resurrection from the dead.^7