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THE GOSPEL OF BARNABAS
Muslims often cite The Gospel of Barnabas in defense of Islamic teaching. In fact, it is a best seller in Muslim countries. Yusuf Ali refers to it in his commentary on the Qur'an. Suzanne Haneef, in her annotated bibliography on Islam, highly recommends it, saying, "Within it one finds the living Jesus portrayed far more vividly and in character with the mission with which he was entrusted than any other of the four New Testament Gospels has been able to portray him." It is called "essential reading for any seeker of the truth." Typical of Muslim claims is that of Muhammad Ata ur-Rahim, who insisted that "The Gospel of Barnabas is the only known surviving Gospel written by a disciple of Jesus.... [It] was accepted as a Canonical Gospel in the churches of Alexandria up until 325 A.D." Another Muslim author, M. A. Yusseff, argues confidently that "in antiquity and authenticity, no other gospel can come close to The Gospel of Barnabas."
These are strange statements in view of the fact that reputable scholars have carefully examined The Gospel of Barnabas and find absolutely no basis for its authenticity. After reviewing the evidence in an article in Islamochristiana, J. Slomp concluded: "in my opinion scholarly research has proved absolutely that this 'gospel' is a fake. This opinion is also held by a number of Muslim scholars." In their introduction to the Oxford edition of The Gospel of Barnabas, Longsdale and Ragg conclude that "the true date lies ... nearer to the sixteenth century than to the first." Likewise, in his classic work "Jomier proved his point by showing beyond any doubt that the G. B. V. contains an islamicised late medieval gospel forgery."
A central idea in this work is in accord with a basic Muslim claim, namely, that Jesus did not die on the cross. Instead, this book contends that Judas Iscariot was substituted for Jesus (sect. 217). This view has been adopted by many Muslims, since the vast majority of them believe that someone else was substituted on the cross for Jesus.
EVIDENCE FOR AUTHENTICITY LACKING
Our concern here is about the authenticity of this alleged gospel. That is, is it a first-century gospel, written by a disciple of Christ? The evidence is overwhelmingly negative.
First of all, the earliest reference to it comes from a fifth-century work, Decretum Gelasianum (Gelasian Decree, by Pope Gelasius, A.D. 492-95). But even this reference is in doubt. However there is no original language manuscript evidence for its existence! Slomp says flatly, "There is no text tradition whatsoever of the G. B. V." [Gospel of Barnabas Vienna ms.]. By contrast, the New Testament books are verified by over 5,300 Greek manuscripts that begin in the second and third centuries A.D. (see Chapter 10).
Second, L. Bevan Jones notes that "the earliest form of it known to us is in an Italian manuscript. This has been closely analyzed by scholars and is judged to belong to the fifteenth or sixteenth century, i.e., 1400 years after the time of Barnabas.'' Even Muslim defenders of it, like Muhammad ur-Rahim, admit that they have no manuscripts of it before the 1500s.
Third, this gospel is widely used by Muslim apologists today, yet there is no reference to it by any Muslim writer before the fifteenth or sixteenth century. But surely they would have used it if it had been in existence. As Ragg observes, "Against the supposition that the Gospel of Barnabas ever existed in Arabic we must set the argument from the total silence about such a Gospel in the polemical literature of the Moslems. This has been admirably catalogued by Steinschneider in his monograph on the subject.''
Ragg goes on to note the many Muslim writers who wrote books who would no doubt have referred to such a work - had it been in existence - such as Ibn Hasm (d. 456 A.H.), Ibn Taimiyyah (d. 728 A.H.), Abu'l-Fadl al-Su'udi (wrote 942 A.H.), and Hajji Khalifah (d. 1067 A.H.). But not one of them, or anyone else, ever refers to it between the seventh and fifteenth centuries when Muslims and Christians were in heated debate.
Fourth, no father or teacher of the Christian church ever quoted it from the first to the fifteenth century. If The Gospel of Barnabas had been considered authentic, it more surely would have been cited many times by some Christian teacher during this long period of time, as were all the other canonical books of Scripture. What is more, had this gospel even been in existence, authentic or not, certainly it would have been cited by someone. But no father cited it during its supposed existence for over 1,500 years!
Fifth, sometimes it is confused with the first-century Epistle of [Pseudo] Barnabas (c. A.D. 70-90), which is an entirely different book. In this way Muslim scholars falsely allege there is support for an early date. Muhammad Ata ur-Rahim confuses the two books, thus wrongly claiming that it was in circulation in the second and third centuries A.D. This is a strange error since he admits that they are listed as different books in the "Sixty Books" as "Serial No. 18 Epistle of Barnabas.... Serial No. 24. Gospel of Barnabas.'' In one place Rahim even cites by name the "Epistle of Barnabas" as evidence of the existence of the Gospel of Barnabas!
Some have mistakenly assumed that the reference to a gospel used by Barnabas referred to in the apocryphal Acts of Barnabas (before c. A.D. 478) was The Gospel of Barnabas. However, this is clearly false, as the quotation reveals: "Barnabas, having unrolled the Gospel, which we have received from Matthew his fellow-labourer, began to teach the Jews.'' By deliberately omitting this emphasized phrase, the impression is given that there is a Gospel of Barnabas!
Sixth, the message of the apocryphal Gospel of Barnabas is completely refuted by eyewitness first-century documents that possess over five thousand manuscripts to support their authenticity, namely, the New Testament. For example, its teaching that Jesus did not claim to be the Messiah and that he did not die on the cross are thoroughly refuted by eyewitness, first-century documents (see our Chapters 10 and 11) .
Seventh, no Muslim should accept the authenticity of The Gospel of Barnabas since it clearly contradicts the Qur'an's claim that Jesus was the Messiah. It claims, "Jesus confessed, and said the truth; 'I am not the Messiah ... I am indeed sent to the house of Israel as a prophet of salvation; but after me shall come the Messiah" (sects. 42, 48). This is flatly contradictory to the Qur'an, which repeatedly calls Jesus the "Messiah" [the "Christ"] (cf.5:19,75).
Eighth, even Muslim scholars like Suzanne Haneef, who highly recommends it, have to admit that "the authenticity of this book has not been unquestionably established" and that "it is believed to be an apocryphal account of the life of Jesus. Other Muslim scholars doubt its authenticity too. For the book contains anachronisms and descriptions of medieval life in western Europe that reveal that it was not written before the fourteenth century. For example, it refers to the year of Jubilee coming every one hundred years, instead of fifty as it was practiced before this time (The Gospel of Barnabas, 82) . The papal declaration to change it to every one hundred years was made by the church in A.D. 1343. John Gilchrist, in his work titled Origins and Sources of the Gospel of Barnabas, concludes that "only one solution can account for this remarkable coincidence. The author of the Gospel of Barnabas only quoted Jesus as speaking of the jubilee year as coming 'every hundred years' because he knew of the decree of Pope Boniface. " He added, "but how could he know of this decree unless he lived at the same time as the Pope or sometime afterwards? This is a clear anachronism that compels us to conclude that the Gospel of Barnabas could not have been written earlier than the fourteenth century after Christ.'' One significant anachronism is the fact that The Gospel of Barnabas uses the text from the Roman Catholic Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible (fourth century A.D.), even though Barnabas supposedly wrote it in the first century A.D. Other examples of anachronisms include a vassal who owes a share of his crop to his lord (The Gospel of Barnabas, 122), an illustration of medieval feudalism; a reference to wooden wine casks (ibid., 152), rather than wine skins as were used in Palestine; and a medieval court procedure (ibid.,121).
Ninth, Jomier provides a list of many mistakes and exaggerations in The Gospel of Barnabas. There are historical mistakes, such as, "Jesus was born when Pilate was governor, though he did not become governor until 26 or 27 A.D." There are also geographical mistakes. For example, Chapter 20 "stated that Jesus sailed to Nazareth," even though it is not on the seashore. Likewise, The Gospel of Barnabas contains exaggerations, such as Chapter 17's mention of 144,000 prophets and 10,000 prophets being slain by Jizebel (in Chapter 18).
Tenth, according to Slomp, "Jomier's study showed many Islamic elements throughout the text that prove beyond any doubt that a Muslim author, probably a convert, worked on the book." Fourteen such influences are noted. For example, Jomier notes that the word "pinnacle" of the temple, where Jesus is said to have preached - hardly a good place! - was translated into arabic by dikka, a platform used in mosques. Also, Jesus is represented as coming only for Israel but Muhammad "for the salvation of the whole world" (Chapter 11). Finally, the denial of Jesus to be the Son of God is Qur'anic, as is the fact that Jesus' sermon is modeled after a Muslim hutba that begins with praising God and his holy Prophet (Chapter 12).
In summation, the Muslim use of The Gospel of Barnabas to support their teaching is devoid of evidence to support it. Indeed, its teachings even contradict the Qur'an. This work, far from being an authentic first-century account of the facts about Jesus, is actually a late medieval fabrication. The only authentic first-century records we have of the life of Christ are found in the New Testament, and it categorically contradicts the teaching of the Gospel of Barnabas. For a further critique of this "gospel" the reader should consult David Sox's excellent book titled, The Gospel of Barnabas.
1. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Meaning of the Glorious Qur'an: Text, Translation and Commentary, 3d ed. (Cairo: Dar Al-Kitab Al-Masri, 1938), 2 vols., 230.
2. Suzanne Haneef, What Everyone Should Know about Islam and Muslims (Chicago: Kazi Publications, 1979), 186.
3. Muhammad Ata ur-Rahim, Jesus, A Prophet of Islam (Karrachi, Pakistan: Begum Aisha BawanyWaqf, 1981), 41.
4. M. A. Yusseff, The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Gospel of Barnabas, and the New Testament (Indianapolis: American Trust Publication, 1985), 5.
5. J. Slomp, "The Gospel in Dispute," in Islamochristiana (Rome: Pontificio Instituto di Studi Arabi, 1978), vol. 4, 68.
6. Longsdale and Luara Ragg, The Gospel of Barnabas (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907), xxxvii.
7. J. Jomier, Egypte: Reflexions sur la Recontre al-Azhar (Vatican au Caire, avil 1978), cited by Slomp, 104.
8. Slomp notes several facts that place this reference to The Gospel of Barnabas in doubt. First, only its name is mentioned; there are no contents or manuscripts of it from this period. Second, it is mentioned as a spurious book rejected by the church. Third, the "Gelasian Decrees were published immediately after the invention of the printing press and therefore available in many libraries." Hence, "A forger, Jomier believes, could easily have had access to these Decrees and taken hold of the title in order to give his own book some air of truth and respectability" (cited by Slomp, 74).
10. L. Bevan Jones, Christianity Explained to Muslims, rev. ed. (Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press, 1964), 79.
11. Ragg, xlviii. Steinschneider's monograph is listed as Abhandlungen fu"r die Kunde des Morgenlandes, 1877.
12. See Slomp, 37-38.
13. See Muhammad ur-Rahim, 42-43.
14. Ibid., 42
15. See Slomp, 110, emphasis ours.
16. Haneef claims it was "lost to the world for centuries due to its suppression as a heretical document," but there is not a shred of documented evidence for this. In fact, it was not even mentioned by anyone before it first appeared in the sixth century.
17. See Slomp, 68.
18. John Gilchrist, Origins and Sources of the Gospel of Barnabas (Durban, Republic of South Africa: Jesus to the Muslims, 1980), 16-17.
19. See Slomp, 9.
22. Ibid., 7.
24. David Sox, The Gospel of Barnabas (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1984).