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Based on his research into the social and religious culture in which Jesus was born, lived and died, and into other literature, including the source documents of the Gospels, Schonfield reached the following conclusions:
According to Schonfield's analysis, the events of the Passover, which are presented in all the Gospels, but inconsistently, are most accurately presented in the Gospel of John. His reading of that Gospel convinced him that John's account, though probably filtered through an assistant and transcription in John's old age, suggests that Jesus had planned everything. Among other things, so that he would not be on the cross for more than a few hours before the Sabbath arrived when it was required by law that Jews be taken down, so that one of his supporters, who was on hand, would give him water (to quench his thirst) that was actually laced with a drug to make him unconscious, and so that Joseph of Arimathea, a well-connected supporter, would collect him off the cross while still alive (but appearing dead) so that he could be secretly nursed back to health. Schonfield suggests that the plan went awry because of a soldier's actions with a spear. Schonfield gives evidence of a high-ranking member of the Sanhedrin who was one of Jesus' followers, likely the Beloved Disciple who is otherwise obscure, and notes several instances in which knowledge of or access to the Temple was available to one or more of Jesus' followers. He identifies this follower as John, the source of the Gospel many decades later whilst living in Asia Minor. He suggests that this Apostle, and Joseph of Arimathea, were responsible for events following the Crucifixion, and that it might have been this Apostle (an 'undercover Disciple', as it were) who was seen (by those who did not know him) at the Tomb on the morning of the Resurrection.
After first laying out the storyline and outcome of Jesus' life in the first half of the book, along with supportive arguments, Schonfield devotes the second half of the book to a more detailed explanation of the concepts and arguments used to support his conclusions. Schonfield also discusses how Jesus' original message and purpose may have become transformed during the century after his death.
The Passover Plot is the name of a 1976 film which was adapted from this book. The movie starred Zalman King as Yeshua (Jesus), and the cast included Harry Andrews, Dan Hedaya, and Donald Pleasence. It was directed by Michael Campus and nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume Design.