Hugh J. Schonfield (May 1901-January 24, 1988) was a British Bible scholar specializing in the New Testament and the early development of the Christian religion and church. He was born in London, and educated there at St Paul's School and King's College, doing postgraduate religious studies in Glasgow. He was one of the founders of and was president of the pacifist organization Commonwealth of World Citizens, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1959 for his services toward international humanity. At one time he was president of the H.G. Wells Society.
Schonfield was a Jew who termed himself a "Nazarene", meaning that he believed, as a Jew, that the Messiah, as predicted in Judaism's Hebrew Bible, had come in the person of Jesus. He believed, furthermore, that Jesus was aware of and believed in himself as born to fulfill the role of the Jewish Messiah, and consciously made the effort to see that the prophecies were fulfilled in his daily life (and death); that Jesus did not intend to found a new religion, but intended instead to lead to the fulfillment of God's covenant with the Jewish people as documented in the Hebrew Bible; that Christianity, the religion, was the product of Jesus' followers, especially as proclaimed to "the Nations", i.e., non-Jewish people, at which point the connection to Jesus' original purpose was lost.
This disconnect from the original message occurred over a period of time, under great distress (wars, loss of nationhood, slavery, exile from Jerusalem and Palestine), and for a multitude of reasons. Among those who are mentioned as having distorted the message is Saul of Tarsus, also known as the Apostle Paul, who Schonfield depicts as mentally ill and as believing himself to be the Messiah. This is ironic given Schonfield is an Old Pauline, having been educated at a school bearing the Apostle's name. Schonfield believes that Jesus, himself, had nothing but good intentions in living his life out as predicted for the Messiah; Schonfield questions the result of the distortion at the hands of some of his followers, and at the hands of some who used this burgeoning new religion for less than honourable purposes.
Schonfield encourages believers in Jesus to take a critical view of what is told to them about him, and to endeavor to learn about the historical Jesus, how he fit into his times and land, and what was the purpose of his original message— faith in the Scriptures, living the exemplary life according to them, and for the purpose of alleviating misery, and making a difference to humanity.
Schonfield wrote over 40 books including commercially successful books in the fields of history and biography as well as religion. In 1958 his non-ecclesiastical historical translation of the New Testament was published in the UK and the USA, titled The Authentic New Testament. This aimed to show without idealised interpretation the meaning intended by the writers while maintaining the original structures. A revised version appeared in 1985 titled The Original New Testament. In 1965 he published the controversial The Passover Plot, a book whose thesis 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.
Schonfield followed The Passover Plot with a sequel in 1968, Those Incredible Christians. This was also described as controversial, but had less impact than the earlier book.
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