Did Jesus conspire with confederates to fulfill the prophecies of the messiah? Did someone feed him a drug while on the cross to fake his death? These controversial findings were published in a book “way back in” 1965. What’s happened to the theory since?

The book The Passover Plot caused a big stir in the 1960s and became a best seller. It was written by someone with a PhD but without a university appointment (as far as I could find), and who was one of the team of people that helped to translate the Dead Sea Scrolls. Evidently, he was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize at some point. So, the author certainly seems to have enough “chops” for attention to be paid.

In rereading this book recently, I was impressed with the amount of detail that the author presented, bringing out a very full picture of the state of affairs in first century Palestine. Pretty much all of the details he presented seem to stand up to then-current scholarship.

That being said, he does present an “interesting” recasting of the story, threading a narrative of a man (Jesus) who becomes convinced that it is his destiny to fulfill the messianic prophecies, eventually suffering on the cross. He paints a story of a project management genius who maintains multiple confederates on a “need to know” basis and, in the end, the plan comes together brilliantly.

Except for that little issue of the Roman soldier with a spear. According to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1986, Jesus could not possibly have survived the crucifixion. In addition, they cite some information from the Gospels that is very unlikely to have been made up.

My own favorite non-supernatural explanation for the resurrection is that post crucifixion sightings of Jesus were really Jesus’s twin brother Jude or Thomas[1]. To me, one of the strangest aspects of the post-crucifixion part of the Gospels is that so many of his followers failed to recognize him (Luke 24, John 20, John 21).

Now, with all of this said, let me point out that it doesn’t matter. We will probably never know definitively what happened. However, you do not need to accept the supernatural explanation of events to be a Christian, despite what the Council of Nicaea said. All religious language is by necessity metaphorical, and so what matters is the message, not the “facts.” Only people without faith need facts.

Now I’m sure that some people will jump all over me for that last statement. Before doing so, though, I ask that you read the essay “Why facts have no bearing whatsoever on religious belief.”

[1] Yes, this is a real thing.