Miscellaneous Muslim Objections to the Gospel


1. Muslim Interest in the So-Called Gospel of Barnabas.

A Christian will be surprised to hear for the first time that there are supposed prophecies to Muhammad in the Bible. It will not be long, however, before he also hears that such prophecies are also found in a Gospel which the Popes are said to have suppressed in the Vatican Library. The Muslim will politely ask why the Gospel of Barnabas has not been included in the Christian Bible and it will not help to express surprise at the fact that such a Gospel is even said to exist. First published in English in 1907, this Gospel has now become widespread in the Muslim world and since 1973, when it was reprinted for the first time in Pakistan, tens of thousands of copies have been published and distributed.

A perusal of its contents will show that it denies that Jesus is the Son of God and that he was crucified. It teaches that Judas was crucified in his place and that Jesus ascended to heaven without dying. On a number of occasions Jesus is recorded as prophesying the coming of Muhammad by name and throughout the book one finds a typical Islamic spirit as the Saviour of the Christians reappears as a model prophet of Islam. The omission of this Gospel from the New Testament has thus led to a Muslim charge that the Christian world has suppressed it because it states that Jesus was not the Son of God. One writer says:

Muslims fondly imagine that this Gospel has been denounced by Christians solely because of its Islamic flavour. It would be far truer, however, to say that this is the only reason why it has obtained favour in the Muslim world, for all the external and internal evidences relating to the book give a far better reason for rejecting it - the Gospel is nothing but a forgery compiled for the first time in Europe during the late Middle Ages, possibly as late as the sixteenth century after Christ. Another Muslim writer says:

The conclusion that the Gospel of Barnabas is the "most authentic" of the Gospels in existence cannot possibly derive from an objective study of the facts. Islam "feels" it is the most authentic, says the author, and perhaps his choice of verb exposes the only reason for Muslim attempts to vindicate what turns out to be a clear forgery, namely popular Muslim sentiment. A far better assessment of the Gospel of Barnabas appears in this quote:

We shall proceed to analyse some of the internal evidences which expose the Gospel of Barnabas as a forgery before closing with a brief analysis of the external evidences surrounding its origin. We have already seen in the last section that the Muslim author Shafaat rejects the Gospel as a contemporary record of the life of Jesus Christ and there are many others like him who do not believe that Islam needs the testimony of a false witness to maintain itself. Christian works discrediting the Gospel of Barnabas have also gone a long way towards defusing Muslim enthusiasm about it, nevertheless there are still vast numbers of uninformed Muslims who will raise the subject in argument with a Christian and claim that it is the only authentic Gospel. This section will furnish the Christian with some of the most telling points against this supposition.

We shall begin with a study of the evidences that place the authorship of the Gospel in the Middle Ages.

2. The Mediaeval Origins of the Gospel of Barnabas.

All the internal evidences of the book date it to about the late Middle Ages, certainly not earlier than the midfourteenth century after Christ. We shall begin with one particular passage which helps to date this book quite easily. In the time of Moses God ordained that the Jews were to observe a jubilee year twice a century:

Throughout the centuries this command was observed and the Roman Catholic Church eventually took it over into the Christian faith. Near 1300 AD Pope Boniface the Eighth gave a decree that the jubilee should be observed once every hundred years. This is the only occasion in all history that the jubilee year was made to be only once every hundred years. After the death of Boniface, however; Pope Clemens the Sixth decreed in 1343 AD that the jubilee year should revert to once every fifty years as it was observed by the Jews after the time of Moses. Now we find in the Gospel of Barnabas that Jesus is alleged to have said:

Only one solution can account for this remarkable coincidence. The author of the Gospel of Barnabas could only have quoted Jesus as speaking of the year of jubilee as coming "every hundred years" if he knew of the decree of Pope Boniface. But how could he have known of this decree unless he lived at the same time as the Pope or sometime afterwards? This is a clear anachronism which compels us to conclude that the Gospel of Barnabas could not have been written earlier than the fourteenth century after Christ.

There is only one Muslim writer who has written on the Gospel of Barnabas, and in support of it, that I know of who has had the courage to face this problem and propose an explanation, a none-too-successful one, however. He argues that the setting of the jubilee once every hundred years in the Gospel of Barnabas is "an error" and reasons:

A weaker defence can hardly be imagined. Firstly, the author conveniently does not tell us in which language the spelling of a hundred and fifty is so similar. Secondly, there is no textual evidence whatsoever to suppose that the scribe made an error in transcribing the text. On the contrary we find that Durrani evades the issue to a large extent, for it is quite clear that the writer of the Gospel deliberately intended to speak of a hundred years. He makes Jesus speak of the jubilee which "now cometh every hundred years". The use of the word now proves the point - the jubilee year had always come every fifty years and the writer of the Gospel would not so speak of the contemporary period in such an exceptional way if he had originally intended to also speak of fifty years. The very institution of a jubilee once every hundred years by Pope Boniface also undermines the evasive defence that a scribal error has occurred at this point. Indeed the give-away use of the present tense precludes any suggestion that the Gospel of Barnabas could have been written before the fourteenth century after Christ. A Western writer places the error where it belongs - not with a scribe but with the original author:

The possibility spoken of is the actual dating of the manuscript to the very time of the centenary jubilee, though studies of the external evidences relating to the Gospel have led to the probability that it was originally written as late as the sixteenth century after Christ.

A brief consideration of some other passages in the Gospel of Barnabas shows that the original author was well acquainted with Dante's Divina Comedia, a well-known fantasy about hell, purgatory and paradise dating about the same time, Many of these passages reveal a direct dependence on Dante's work. A typical example is found in the following text where Jesus is recorded as saying of the prophets of old:

The expression "false and lying gods" (dei falsi e bugiardi) is found elsewhere in the Gospel of Barnabas as well. On one occasion it is Jesus again who supposedly uses these words (p. 99) and on another it is the author himself who describes Herod as serving "false and lying gods" (p. 267). Nevertheless this expression is found in neither the Bible nor the Qur'an. What is interesting, however, is that it is a direct quote from Dante!

Another typical example of dependence on Dante, and one which is of great importance as the Gospel of Barnabas in this case agrees with the great Italian author while contradicting the Qur'an, appears in the Gospel's reckoning of the number of the heavens. We read in the Qur'an that God "turned to the heaven, and fashioned it as seven heavens" (Surah 2.29) On the contrary we read in the Gospel of Barnabas that there are nine heavens and that Paradise - like Dante's Empyrean - is the tenth heaven above all the other nine. The author of the Gospel of Barnabas makes Jesus say:

There are numerous other evidences that betray the original author's reliance on Dante's work. The book makes Jesus inform Peter that hell has seven centres, one below another, since there are seven kinds of sins and seven kinds of punishments (p. 171). This is precisely what Dante says in the fifth and sixth cantos of his Inferno. Other parallels in the book are described in the following quote:

The only Muslim voice on the Gospel of Barnabas to tackle these compelling evidences against its authenticity once again has to resort to pure conjecture to offer any kind of defence at all. Twice he claims that the similarities between Dante and the Gospel are based on "mere coincidences" (Durrani, Forgotten Gospel of St. Barnabas, p. 23). A single such comparison might possibly be coincidental, but not a whole series of likenesses where the consensus reaches even to the finest details (sometimes even to the exact choice of words).

In another place in the Gospel we read that Jesus is supposed to have said that the soul and sense are one thing and that men divide it into "the sensitive, vegetative and intellectual soul" (The Gospel of Barnabas, p. 134). This is very much a definition of the soul which was popular in the Middle Ages and derives from Aristotle:

There is every good reason to conclude from an analysis of the internal evidences of the Gospel of Barnabas that the book dates from the Middle Ages, certainly not earlier than the fourteenth century after Christ. Let us proceed to examine other internal evidences which rule out the possibility that this book is a genuine and authentic Gospel.

3. Other Evidences Against Its Authenticity.

There are numerous other passages in the Gospel of Barnabas that serve to identify its mediaeval character and rule out the possibility that it was written in the first century in Palestine. The author in fact betrays a considerable ignorance of the geography of the country, such as we find in the following quote attributed to Jesus:

This is a fair description of Italy in summer but most certainly not of Palestine where the rain falls in winter and where the fields are parched in summer. In any event PaIestine has always been a part of the world where cultivation of the land has required much effort and where much of the countryside is barren and grassless. Another typical example of a geographical error in the Gospel of Barnabas appears in the following quote:

In this passage Nazareth is represented as a coastal city, a harbour on the lake of Galilee. After this we read that Jesus "went up to Capernaum" (p. 23) from Nazareth, as though Capernaum was in the hillside near the sea of Galilee. Here the author really has his facts incorrect, for Capernaum was the coastal city and Nazareth was up in the hills (where it is to this day). Jesus would have gone up from Capernaum to Nazareth, not the other way around as the author of the Gospel of Barnabas has it.

These glaring discrepancies rule out the possibility that the Gospel of Barnabas could have been written by anyone who had travelled around Palestine as one of the followers of Jesus. Such evidences suggest all the more that the author of this book was far more at home in mediaeval Europe than in first-century Palestine.

In the face of such obvious geographical fallacies one wonders why Muslims continue to publicise this Gospel, let alone claim that it is the only true one. It can only be presumed that Muslims believe it would be greatly to their advantage to find an early Gospel setting Jesus forth as a typical prophet of Islam consistent with the teaching of the Qur'an, in particular its denial of his divinity and crucifixion, but it requires a tremendous degree of confidence in sentiment rather than the facts to maintain that the Gospel of Barnabas fulfils this role. One such Muslim writer, despite the evidences set out in this section of which he must have been aware, nevertheless boldly declares that it cannot be denied that the Gospel of Barnabas "gives more accurate, easy and comprehensible account of the Bible land than either of the four Gospels" (Durrani, Forgotten Gospel of St. Barnabas, p. 105). Such are the lengths to which some writers will go in defiance of the truth to maintain their own wishful sentiments.

One also finds it hard to understand how Muslims can continue to promote this so-called Gospel when it quite obviously contradicts the Qur'an in a number of places. A good example is found in this text on the birth of Jesus:

This is a clear repetition of Roman Catholic beliefs of the Middle Ages. The bright light and the painless birth find parallels in the beliefs of the churches of Europe in mediaeval times. No such details are found in the Biblical account of the birth of Jesus but the Qur'an directly contradicts the Gospel of Barnabas when it says:

Perhaps the most significant point at which the Gospel of Barnabas contradicts the Qur'an, particularly as it does so on numerous occasions, is in its teaching that Jesus did not regard himself as the Messiah but declared that Muhammad would be the Messiah.

In the section on the Messiah in this book (pp. 183-197) we saw constantly that Jesus is called Al-Masihu Isa in the Qur'an (as in Surah 3.45), meaning quite simply "the Messiah Jesus". On no less than eleven occasions in the Qur'an we find Jesus spoken of by this title and in the New Testament we likewise find that he confirmed that this title belonged to him alone (Matthew 16.20, John 4.26). One finds, however, statements such as the following in the Gospel of Barnabas:

It is clearly one of the express purposes of the Gospel of Barnabas to establish Muhammad as the Messiah and to subject Jesus to him in dignity and authority. Here, however, the author has overreached himself in his zeal for the cause of Islam. Muhammad freely acknowledged that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and never applied this title to himself. As one writer observes, the author of the Gospel of Barnabas has "the enthusiasm of a 'convert' which sometimes makes Barnabas more Muslim than the Koran" (Sox, The Gospel of Barnabas, p. 50). Once again we find Muslim writers in considerable difficulty seeking defences to what to us truly appears to be indefensible. Let us hear Dr. Durrani again:

Once again the author seems to be unacquainted with the facts and misses the point in the second quote completely. Jesus ascribed numerous Messianic prophecies to himself. He applied Isaiah 53.12 ("And he was reckoned with transgressors"), and thus the whole Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 53, to himself in Luke 23.37 ("This scripture must be fulfilled in me"). He likewise applied Psalm 22.1 and with it, therefore, the whole Messianic Psalm to himself in Mark 15.34. When a Samaritan woman spoke of the Christ who was coming, he who is called Messiah, Jesus directly replied: "I who speak to you am he" (John 4.26).

Regarding the second quote, which tends to suggest that Barnabas himself made an error in failing to recognise Jesus as the Messiah, we once again find the author deliberately avoiding the issue. The Gospel of Barnabas makes Jesus himself deny that he was the Messiah, a denial attributed to him in plain contradiction of both the teaching of the Qur'an and the Bible at this point. Durrani's book serves only to show how indefensible Muslim confidence in the Gospel of Barnabas ultimately is.

A final point proving quite clearly that it was the real author of this spurious Gospel (most certainly not the Apostle Barnabas!) who was in confusion about the identity of the Messiah is the fact that, while he denies that it was Jesus, he nevertheless calls Jesus the Christ! His prologue begins:

The very next two verses again make Jesus the Christ, one of them calling him quite simply Jesus Christ. We therefore find the author in considerable confusion about the title Messiah.

It seems that the author's difficulty arose from some degree of ignorance of the different languages he was faced with regarding this title.

All these evidences, and many others we have not been able to mention, expose the Gospel of Barnabas as a patent forgery and a poor one at that. The author has been none too successful in covering the tracks of his limited knowledge of the different languages he was obliged to handle and of the geography of Palestine. It is hard to understand why Muslims like Durrani still, to this day, try to vindicate this forgery and it appears that they would do well to follow others like Shafaat who wisely recognise this so-called Gospel as an embarrassing testimony to the Qur'an.

4. The Original Authorship of the Gospel of Barnabas.

The internal evidences show quite conclusively that the Gospel of Barnabas is a forgery dating back to not earlier than the fourteenth century after Christ. Let us now briefly consider the external evidences and see whether its probable authorship can be determined. The first public mention of this book in history appears in the lengthy introduction George Sale wrote to his translation of the Qur'an which was first published early in the eighteenth century:

There appears to be no record of the Arabic edition of which Sale speaks and there are only fragments remaining of the Spanish edition. The full text of the Italian edition, however, remains in the same library to this day. It was from this manuscript that Lonsdale and Laura Ragg produced the first English translation in 1907.

The first record of the Italian Gospel thus goes back not earlier than the year 1709. The Spanish version was also known to be in existence in complete form at this time:

What, then, of its authorship? In an introduction to the Spanish version there was a statement that it was a translation of the Italian version done by an Arragonian Muslim named Mostafa de Aranda. Further information gleaned from a preface to a later edition of Sale's translation of the Qur'an is given in the following passage:

Internal evidence suggests that the Gospel of Barnabas was originally written in Europe and speculations have thus arisen as to its likely authorship. A general supposition is that "the forger was probably a renegade Italian monk" ("The Gospel of Barnabas", The Muslim World, Vol. 13, p. 280). Studies in more recent years have suggested that the Gospel was indeed originally written in the Italian language but that it should be noted that the author was very conversant with the land and environment of Spain as the book often discloses a Spanish background. He could, therefore, have been a Spanish convert from Islam forcibly converted at the time of the Inquisition who took private revenge on his persecutors by forging an "Islamic" Gospel. There is clear evidence of Spanish influence in the following quote:

The Italian version divides the golden "denarius" into sixty "minuti". These coins were actually of Spanish origin during the pre-Islamic Visigothic period and openly betray a Spanish influence behind the Gospel of Barnabas.

A recent book, however, gives a thoroughly researched presentation of the history of the text of the Gospel of Barnabas in comparison with certain developments in the Roman Catholic Church at the time of Pope Sixtus V and suggests the possibility (already suggested by others) that Fra Marino, the supposed discoverer of the Gospel in the Pope's library, was himself the author of the book. The writer begins by saying "there is considerable evidence that we are dealing with an Italian author" (Sox, The Gospel of Barnabas, p. 65), and he goes on to outline the actual history of the real Fra Marino who at one time had close contact with Fra Peretti (who later became Pope Sixtus V) and was a key figure in the Inquisition. He simultaneously quotes a strikingly coincidental note in the preface to the Spanish version of the Gospel not quoted by Sale where the Fra Marino who "discovered" the Gospel was said to be "in the office of defining papal cases and had a hand in the inquisition" (op. cit., p. 65).

The real Fra Marino, although a companion of Peretti during his pre-papal days, fell into disfavour with him as a result of certain questionable practices in his administration as an inquisitor. As a result, although Peretti went on from one post to another until he obtained the papacy, Marino was deprived of further advancement. His fate at Peretti's hand may have led him to compose the Gospel of Barnabas as an act of jealousy with the purpose of undermining his integrity particularly if, as is possible (although there is no evidence of this), he himself converted to Islam. The introductory statement that he had found the original Gospel of Barnabas concealed in the Pope's library strengthens this possibility considerably.

The author himself comes to no definite conclusion regarding the authorship of the Gospel but his research suggests very strongly that Fra Marino was somehow involved in its authorship. It does seem that Sox's work has probably pinpointed the likely environment of the origin of the Gospel of Barnabas (Catholic Italy) and the time of its compilation (the sixteenth century). We will probably never know precisely what the origin of the Gospel really was but there is abundant evidence to show what it most certainly is not - an authentic contemporary record of the life of Jesus Christ compiled by the Apostle Barnabas.

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