Gospel Of Barnabas
The Gospel of Barnabas is a book depicting the life of Jesus, which claims to be by the biblical Barnabas who in this work is one of the twelve apostles. Two manuscripts are known to have existed, both dated to the late 16th or early 17th centuries, with one written in Italian and the other in Spanish, its text surviving only in a partial 18th-century transcript. Barnabas is about the same length as the four canonical gospels put together, with the bulk being devoted to an account of Jesus’ ministry, much of it harmonized from accounts also found in the canonical gospels. In some key respects, it conforms to the Islamic interpretation of Christian origins and contradicts the New Testament teachings of Christianity.
The text of this Gospel is late and is considered pseudepigraphical. However, some academics suggest that it may contain remnants of an earlier, apocryphal work (perhaps Gnostic, Ebionite or Diatessaronic), redacted to bring it more in line with Islamic doctrine. Some Muslims consider the surviving versions as transmitting a suppressed apostolic original in support of the Islamic view of Jesus.
This work should not be confused with the surviving Epistle of Barnabas, nor with the surviving Acts of Barnabas.
Main article: The History of the Gospel of Barnabas
The earliest reference to a Barnabas gospel, which is generally agreed to correspond with the one found in the two known manuscripts, is in Morisco manuscript BNM MS 9653 in Madrid, written about 1634 by Ibrahim al-Taybili in Tunisia. While describing how the Bible predicts Muhammad, he speaks of the “Gospel of Saint Barnabas where one can find the light” (“y así mismo en Evangelio de San Bernabé, donde se hallará la luz“). The first published account of the Gospel was in 1717, when a brief reference to the Spanish text is found in De religione Mohamedica by Adriaan Reland; and then in 1718, a much more detailed description of the Italian text by the Irish deist John Toland. Both Italian and Spanish texts are referred to in 1734 by George Sale in The Preliminary Discourse to the Koran:
The Muhammadans have also a Gospel in Arabic, attributed to saint Barnabas, wherein the history of Jesus Christ is related in a manner very different from what we find in the true Gospels, and correspondent to those traditions which Muhammad has followed in his Quran. Of this Gospel the Moriscoes in Africa have a translation in Spanish; and there is in the library of Prince Eugene of Savoy, a manuscript of some antiquity, containing an Italian translation of the same Gospel, made, it is to be supposed, for the use of renegades. This book appears to be, by which their prophet was foretold by name, that being the signification of Muhammad in Arabic; and is to justify that passage in the Quran where Jesus Christ is formally asserted to have foretold his coming under his other name Ahmed, which is derived from the same root as Muhammad and of the same import.
Sale’s translation of the Qur’an text became the standard English version at that time; and through its dissemination, and that of the Preliminary Discourse, an awareness of the Gospel of Barnabas spread widely in scholarly circles; prompting many fruitless attempts to find the Arabic original to which Sale referred. However, in his description of the Gospel in the Preliminary Discourse, Sale was relying entirely on second-hand accounts. For example, contrary to Sale’s notice, the words paraclete or periclyte are not explicitly found in the text of either the Spanish or Italian versions; although the Greek term periclyte is transliterated into Arabic in one of the marginal notes to the Italian manuscript at Chapter 44, as a gloss to the Italian uno splendore which is indeed there applied to Muhammad by name. Subsequent to the preparation of the Preliminary Discourse, Sale was able to borrow the Spanish manuscript itself and had a transcript made.
Earlier occurrences of a Gospel of Barnabas
A “Gospel according to Barnabas” is mentioned in two early Christian lists of “Apocrypha” works: the Latin text of Decretum Gelasianum (6th century), as well as a 7th-century Greek List of the Sixty Books. These lists are independent witnesses. In 1698 John Ernest Grabe found an otherwise unreported saying of Jesus, attributed to the Apostle Barnabas, amongst the Greek manuscripts in the Baroccian collection in the Bodleian Library; which he speculated might be a quotation from this “lost gospel”. John Toland translates the quotation as, The Apostle Barnabas says, he gets the worst of it who overcomes in evil contentions; because he thus comes to have the more sin; and claimed to have identified a corresponding phrase when he examined the surviving Italian manuscript of the Gospel of Barnabas in Amsterdam before 1709. Subsequent scholars examining the Italian and Spanish texts have been unable, however, to confirm Toland’s observation.
This work should not be confused also with the surviving Epistle of Barnabas, which may have been written in 2nd century Alexandria. There is no link between the two books in style, content, or history other than their attribution to Barnabas. On the issue of circumcision, the books clearly hold very different views, that of the epistle’s rejection of the Jewish practice as opposed to the gospel’s promotion of the same. Neither should it be confused with the surviving Acts of Barnabas, which narrates an account of Barnabas’ travels, martyrdom and burial, and which is generally thought to have been written in Cyprus sometime after 431.
In A.D. 478, during the reign of the Eastern Roman (later Byzantine) Emperor Zeno, archbishop Anthemios of Cyprus announced that the hidden burial place of Barnabas had been revealed to him in a dream. The saint’s body was claimed to have been discovered in a cave with a copy of the canonical Gospel of Matthew on its breast; according to the contemporary account of Theodorus Lector, who reports that both bones and gospel book were presented by Anthemios to the emperor. Some scholars who maintain the antiquity of the Gospel of Barnabas propose that the text purportedly discovered in 478 should be identified with the Gospel of Barnabas instead; but this supposition is at variance with an account of Anthemios’s gospel book by Severus of Antioch, who reported having examined the manuscript around the year 500, seeking to find whether it supported the piercing of the crucified Jesus by a spear at Matthew 27:49 (it did not). According to the 11th-century Byzantine historian Georgios Kedrenos, an uncial manuscript of Matthew’s Gospel, believed to be that found by Anthemios, was then still preserved in the Chapel of St Stephen in the imperial palace in Constantinople.
Prince Eugene’s Italian manuscript had been presented to him in 1713 by John Frederick Cramer (1664–1715); and was transferred to the Austrian National Library in Vienna in 1738 with the rest of his library. In Amsterdam sometime before 1709, Cramer had lent the manuscript to Toland, who writes that; (Mr. Cramer) had it out of the library of a person of great name and authority in that said city; who during his life was often heard to put a high value on the piece. Whether as a rarity, or as the model of his religion, I know not. Michel Fremaux reports no success in tracking and identifying this previous owner, or in finding a corresponding manuscript listed in any Amsterdam catalogue or inventory. However, Toland’s notice would imply that the unnamed deceased former owner was a prominent anti-Trinitarian or Unitarian by religion; and Fremaux conjectures that the manuscript may have been brought to Amsterdam by Christopher Sandius (1644–1680), either from his own activity as a collector in Poland; or more likely from his acquisition of the papers of Giovanni Michele Bruto (1517–1592), who had assembled an extensive collection of manuscript sources in Hungary and Transylvania. Cramer had published an edition of Bruto’s theological writings in 1698, and Fremaux speculates that Cramer might have come across the Gospel of Barnabas in the course of his researches within Sandius’s library in Amsterdam. Otherwise, Slomp has proposed that Gregorio Leti (1630–1701), whose Amsterdam library had been auctioned-off following his death, could be the unnamed former owner of the Italian manuscript. Leti however, though hostile to the Papacy (and Sixtus V in particular) was an orthodox Calvinist in religion.
The Italian manuscript has 506 pages, of which the Gospel of Barnabas fills pages 43 to 500, written within red frames in an Islamic style. The preceding pages five to forty-two are also red framed; but remain blank (other than for Cramer’s presentation to Prince Eugene), and it may be inferred that some sort of preface or preliminary text was intended, although the space is much greater than would have been needed for the text of the corresponding Spanish Preface. There are chapter rubrics and margin notes in ungrammatical Arabic; with an occasional Turkish word, and many Turkish syntactical features. Its binding is Turkish, and appears to be original; but the paper has an Italian watermark, which has been dated between 1563 and 1620. The same scribe wrote both the Italian text and the Arabic notes, and was clearly “occidental” in being accustomed to write from left to right. There are catchwords at the bottom of each page, a practice common in manuscripts intended to be set up for printing. The manuscript appears to be unfinished, in that the Prologue and 222 chapters are provided throughout with framed blank spaces for titular headings, but only 28 of these spaces have been filled. This Italian manuscript formed the basis for the most commonly circulated English version, a translation undertaken by Lonsdale and Laura Ragg and published in 1907. The Raggs’ English version was quickly re-translated into Arabic by Rashid Rida, in an edition published in Egypt in 1908.
The Italian spelling is idiosyncratic in frequently doubling consonants and adding an intrusive initial “h” where a word starts with a vowel (e.g. hanno for anno). The writer is not a professional scribe. Otherwise, however, the orthography and punctuation indicates a hand formed in the first half of the 16th century, and in certain key respects is characteristically Venetian. The underlying dialect however, is Tuscan; and shows a number of characteristic late medieval (14th–15th-century) forms. The linguistic experts consulted by the Raggs concluded that the Vienna manuscript was most likely the work of an older Venetian scribe, copying a Tuscan original, and writing in the second half of the 16th century.
Sale says of the lost Spanish manuscript; “The book is a moderate quarto.. written in a very legible hand, but a little damaged towards the latter end. It contains two hundred and twenty-two chapters of unequal length, and four hundred and twenty pages.” It had been lent to Sale by Dr. George Holme (1676–1765), Rector of Headley in Hampshire from 1718 till his death. Sale had a transcript made for his own use, and returned the original to Dr Holme; and it is recorded as being bequeathed to Queen’s College, Oxford in Holme’s will. This manuscript, with an English translation, passed subsequently to Dr. Thomas Monkhouse, also of Queen’s College, who himself lent both text and translation to Dr. Joseph White who used them for his series of Bampton Lectures in 1784. Sale supposes that the Spanish manuscript is African in origin, but otherwise provides no indication of how Dr. Holme might have come by it; but as Holme had been chaplain to the English factory in Algiers from 1707 to 1709, a North African provenance may be inferred. Sale quotes three passages from the text in Spanish; and a further nine chapters are quoted by White in English translation. No trace is known of the original Spanish manuscript after Dr. Monkhouse’s death in 1792.
However, an 18th-century copy, derived from the manuscript, was mentioned in a 1760 catalogue of the collection of manuscripts of the deceased author Joseph Ames, where it was described as “El Evangelio de Barnabas Apostol, transcribed from one in the Possession of Mr. Edm. Calamy, who bought it at the Decease of Mr. Geo. Sale, fol.” Then, William Hone mentions the manuscript at the end of his 1823 book Ancient mysteries described, where Hone describes why he did not include the Gospel of Barnabas in his other book, Apocryphal New Testament:
It is said that the Gospel of Barnabas ought to have been included. Of that Gospel, the Rev. Jeremiah Jones supposed that there were no fragments extant. He refers to the Italian MS. of it in Prince Eugene’s Library, quoted by Toland and La Monnoy, and gives their citations, at the same time observing that the piece is a Mahometan imposture. From another MS. belonging to Dr. Monkhouse, the Rev. Joseph White, in the notes to his Bampton Lectures, produces a long extract. Sale, who in his translation of the Koran, notices this Gospel, likewise had a MS. of it, which after his death was purchased by the Rev. Edm. Calamy, who permitted a copy to be taken by Mr. John Nickolls, the portrait collector: on his decease it became the property of Mr. Joseph Ames, author of the History of Printing, and is now in my possession.
The transcript was rediscovered in the 1970s in the University of Sydney’s Fisher Library among the books of Charles Nicholson, labelled in English “Transcribed from ms. in possession of the Revd Mr Edm. Callamy who bought it at the decease of Mr George Sale … and now gave me at the decease of Mr John Nickolls, 1745; (signed) N. Hone”. The Sydney manuscript therefore is a copy of Sale’s own transcript; and has 130 pages but does not contain the entire text, as at the bottom of page 116 there is a note Cap 121 to 200 wanting, such that page 117 resumes with chapter 200 (in the Spanish numeration). Comparing the Sydney transcript with the counterpart passages quoted in Spanish by Sale, there are no substantial differences, but it would appear that sometime between Sale’s death in 1736 and 1745 some 80 chapters of his transcript had been lost; and are consequently also missing from the Sydney copy.
The Spanish text is preceded by a note claiming that it was translated from Italian by Mustafa de Aranda, an Aragonese Muslim resident in Istanbul. A Morisco letter of around 1630, now in Madrid, confirms de Aranda as an associate of Ibrahim al-Taybili, in whose works is found the earliest reference to the Spanish Gospel. In the Spanish text, the translator’s note is itself preceded by a Preface by one assuming the pseudonym ‘Fra Marino’, claiming to have stolen a copy of the Italian version from the library of Pope Sixtus V. Fra Marino, clearly a high ranking Italian ecclesiastic, reports that having a post in the Inquisition Court, he had come into possession of several works which led him to believe that the Biblical text had been corrupted and that genuine apostolic texts had been improperly excluded. Fra Marino also claims to have been alerted to the existence of the Gospel of Barnabas, from an allusion in a work by Irenaeus against Paul; in a book which had been presented to him by a lady of the Colonna family. Marino outside Rome was a Colonna estate, and during the later 16th century Cardinal Ascanio Colonna, a close associate of both Sixtus V and Philip II of Spain, was building a palazzo there.
The linguistic forms, spelling and punctuation of the Spanish text (as recorded in the Sydney transcript) are generally close to standard Castilian of the late 16th century; and lack the idiosyncrasies of the Italian manuscript. Hence, linguistically, the surviving Spanish text appears later than the surviving Italian text; but this does not necessarily confirm that the underlying Spanish text is secondary.
Aside from the missing 80 chapters, there are differences in the chapter divisions between the Italian and Spanish texts; and also between the Sydney transcript and the Spanish passages quoted by Dr. White in English. The Italian and Spanish chapters agree for the prologue and up to chapter 116. Chapter 117 in the Italian version is split into Chapters 117 and 118 in the Spanish; and then Chapters 118 and 119 in the Italian correspond with 119 in the Spanish. Chapter 120, before the lacuna, is common to both; but when the Spanish manuscript resumes, its numbered Chapter 200 corresponds to the numbered Italian Chapter 199. The two versions continue one chapter out of phase for the rest of the book so that the final Chapter 222 in the Sydney transcript corresponds to Chapter 221 in the Italian. The final Chapter 222 in the Italian is missing from the Spanish text. In the quotations of Joseph White, there is a further difference in that the long Chapter 218 (217 in the Italian text) is split, so that Chapter 220 in Dr. White’s text corresponds to Chapter 219 in the Sydney transcript and Chapter 218 in the Italian manuscript. Dr. White’s Chapter 221 corresponds with both Chapters 220 and 221 in the Sydney transcript, and Chapters 219 and 220 in the Italian. In this context it may be noted that Chapter 218 in the Italian manuscript contains a corrected chapter division, in that the scribe originally split off the final paragraph into the start of Chapter 219, and then erased and overwrote the division. This suggests that whatever text the scribe of the Italian manuscript was using as his copy, was unclear as to chapter divisions at this point.
Besides the absent final chapter, and the large lacuna already noted; the Spanish text also misses a section of around 100 words from its Chapter 222 (Chapter 221 in the Italian) and another substantial but shorter section from Chapter 211 (Chapter 210 in the Italian). These may be related to Sale’s note that the manuscript was damaged towards the end. Otherwise there are numerous points where words present in the Italian text (and necessary for the sense) are not represented in the Spanish translation. Conversely there are also around a dozen places where the Raggs had speculated that a word or phrase might have been accidentally omitted in their Italian text, and in all these instances, the Spanish text supplies the missing words.
Unlike the Italian text, the Spanish text has no Arabic marginal notes or chapter summaries, nor are the Italian titles for the first twenty-seven chapters represented in the Spanish. There is a title provided in the Spanish text above the Prologue but this differs from that provided above the Prologue in the Italian text. Contrariwise, there is a title provided above Chapter 218 in the Sydney transcript, which is not found either above the corresponding Chapter 217 in the Italian text, nor is quoted at this point by Dr. White.
Other than in their respective copyist errors, there appear to be few substantial differences of meaning between the Spanish and Italian text; but one notable variant is found in the description of the crucifixion of Judas Iscariot in Chapter 218 in the Spanish text (217 in the Italian text). Jesus Christ has been miraculously abstracted from the action; and Judas, transformed into the likeness of Jesus, is crucified in his place. In the Spanish manuscript, and Dr. White’s translation, it is said that all Jesus’s disciples remained fooled by the transformation throughout the crucifixion “excepting Peter”; but this specific qualification is not present in the Italian text, nor is Peter stated as an exception in the earlier account of the transformation itself in Chapter 217 of the Spanish text.
Some researchers of the work argue for an Italian origin, noting phrases in Barnabas which are very similar to phrases used by Dante and suggesting that the author of Barnabas borrowed from Dante’s works; they take the Spanish version’s preface and translators’s note as supporting this conclusion. Other researchers have noted a range of textual similarities between passages in the Gospel of Barnabas, and variously the texts of a series of late medieval vernacular harmonies of the four canonical gospels (in Middle English and Middle Dutch, but especially in Middle Italian); which are all speculated as deriving from a lost Vetus Latina version of the Diatessaron of Tatian. If true, this would also support an Italian origin.
Other researchers argue that the Spanish version came first; regarding both the translator’s note, and the Spanish preface’s claims of an Italian source, as fabrications intended to boost the work’s credibility by linking it to the Papal libraries. These scholars note parallels with a series of Morisco forgeries, the Lead Books of Sacromonte, dating from the 1590s; or otherwise with Morisco reworkings of Christian and Islamic traditions, produced following the expulsion of the Moriscos from Spain.
A detailed comparison between the surviving Italian and Spanish texts shows numerous places where the Spanish reading appears to be secondary, as for example, where a word or phrase necessary for the meaning is missing in the Spanish text but present in the Italian. Bernabé Pons, arguing for the priority of the Spanish version, maintains that these are due to transcription errors accumulating through the stages of creating the Sydney manuscript, which is a copy of a copy. Joosten, however, while accepting that the carelessness of the two successive English copyists is the most likely explanation for most such instances, nevertheless argues that a minority of such readings are inherently more likely to be due to translation errors in the Spanish text. In particular, he sees the Spanish text as containing numerous ‘Italicisms’ as, for example, where the Italian text employs the conjunction pero, with an Italian meaning ‘therefore’; while the Spanish text also reads pero, with a Spanish meaning ‘however’; the Italian sense being the one demanded by the context. He finds no counterpart ‘Castilianisms’ in the Italian text. There are, however, other passages where the Spanish reading makes sense, while the Italian does not, and many features of the Italian text that are not found in the Spanish; such as the titles for chapters 1–27. Joosten argues that this indicates that both the 16th-century Italian and Spanish texts must depend on a lost Italian original, which he, in common with the Raggs, dates substantially to the mid-14th century. Joosten states:
A systematic comparison of the Italian and Spanish texts of the Gospel of Barnabas leads to the conclusion that the Spanish was translated from the Italian at a date somewhat removed from the original.
If the Italian version is the original, then a plausible context for the text in its final form may be within anti-Trinitarian circles in Transylvania. In the mid 16th century many Italian and German anti-Trinitarians, persecuted both by Calvinists and by the Inquisition, sought refuge in Transylvania, whose church had adopted anti-Trinitarian doctrines in 1568, and whose aristocratic houses maintained an Italian-speaking culture. Michael Fremaux, in support of the hypothesis that the Italian manuscript may have been brought to Amsterdam from Translyvania, instances Symon Budny, Jacob Palaeologus and Christian Francken as late 16th century anti-Trinitrian thinkers with Transylvanian connections, whose religious teachings find close parallels in the Gospel of Barnabas. Transylvania was nominally under Turkish overlordship and had close links to Istanbul; and when following the death of the anti-Trinitarian prince John Sigismund Zápolya in 1571 it became difficult for anti-Trinitarians to publish locally, attempts were made in the 1570s to establish a printing press in the Turkish capital to publish radical Protestant works.
Following the conquest of Moorish Granada in 1492, Sephardi Jews and Muslim Mudéjar were expelled from Spain. Although some found initial refuge in Italy (especially Venice), most resettled in the Ottoman Empire, where Spanish speaking Jews established in Istanbul a rich sub-culture with a flourishing Hebrew and Ladino printing industry. Numbers were further augmented after 1550, following campaigns of persecution by the Venetian Inquisition against Italian anti-Trinitarians and Jews. Although Muslim teaching at this time strongly opposed the printing of Islamic or Arabic texts, non-Muslim printing was not, in principle, forbidden. In the Spanish preface, Fra Marino records his wish that the Gospel of Barnabas should be printed, and the only place in Europe where that would have been possible in the late 16th century would have been Istanbul.
The lost Spanish manuscript claimed to have been written in Istanbul, and the surviving Italian manuscript has several Turkish features; so, whether the language of origin was Spanish or Italian, Istanbul is regarded by most researchers as the place of origin of the two known texts. A minority of researchers – such as David Sox – are, however, suspicious of the apparent ‘Turkish’ features of the Italian manuscript; especially the Arabic annotations, which they adjudge to be so riddled with elementary errors as to be most unlikely to have been written in Istanbul (even by an Italian scribe). In particular, they note that the glossing of the Italian version of the shahada into Arabic, does not correspond exactly with the standard ritual formula recited daily by every Muslim. These researchers are inclined to infer from these inconsistencies that both manuscripts may represent an exercise in forensic falsification, and they tend to locate their place of origin as Rome.
Few academics argue that the text, in its present form, dates back any earlier than the 14th–16th centuries; although a minority see it as containing portions of an earlier work, and almost all would detect the influence of earlier sources—over and above the Vulgate text of the Latin Bible. Consequently, most researchers would concur with a stratification of the surviving text into at least three distinct layers of composition:
- An editorial layer dating from the late 16th century; and comprising, at the least, the Spanish preface and the Arabic annotations,
- A layer of vernacular narrative composition, either in Spanish or Italian, and dating from no earlier than the mid-14th century,
- A layer derived from earlier source materials, almost certainly transmitted to the vernacular author/translator in Latin; and comprising, at the least, those extensive passages in the Gospel of Barnabas that closely parallel pericopes in the canonical gospels; but whose underlying text appears markedly distinct from that of the late medieval Latin Vulgate (as for instance in the alternative version of the Lord’s Prayer in chapter 37, which includes a concluding doxology, contrary to the Vulgate text, but in accordance with the Diatessaron and many other early variant traditions);
Much of the controversy and dispute concerning the authenticity of the Gospel of Barnabas can be re-expressed as debating whether specific highly transgressive themes (from an orthodox Christian perspective) might already have been present in the source materials utilised by a 14th–16th-century vernacular author, whether they might be due to that author himself, or whether they might even have been interpolated by the subsequent editor. Those researchers who regard these particular themes as primitive, nevertheless do not generally dispute that other parts of the Gospel may be late and anachronistic; while those researchers who reject the authenticity of these particular themes do not generally dispute that other parts of the Gospel could be transmitting variant readings from antiquity.
This work clearly contradicts the New Testament biblical accounts of Jesus and his ministry but has strong parallels with the Islamic faith, not only mentioning Muhammad by name, but including the shahadah (chapter 39). It is strongly anti-Pauline and anti-Trinitarian in tone. In this work, Jesus is described as a prophet and not the son of God, while Paul is called “the deceived.” Furthermore, the Gospel of Barnabas states that Jesus escaped crucifixion by being raised alive to heaven, while Judas Iscariot the traitor was crucified in his place. These beliefs—in particular, that Jesus is a prophet of God and raised alive without being crucified—conform to or resemble Islamic teachings which say that Jesus is a major prophet who did not die on the cross but was taken alive by angels to God.
Other passages, however, conflict with the teachings of the Qur’an—as, for instance, in the account of the Nativity, where Mary is said to have given birth to Jesus without pain or as in Jesus’s ministry, where he permits the drinking of wine and enjoins monogamy—though the Qur’an allegedly acknowledges each prophet had a set of their own laws that might differ in some aspects from each other. Other examples include that hell will only be for the committers of the seven deadly sins (Barnabas: 4–44/135), anyone who refuses to be circumcised will not enter paradise (Barnabas 17/23), that there are 9 heavens (Barnabas 3/105).
If the Gospel of Barnabas is seen as an attempted synthesis of elements from both Christianity and Islam, then 16th- and 17th-century parallels can be suggested in Morisco and anti-Trinitarian writings.
Islamic and anti-Trinitarian views
The Gospel of Barnabas was little known outside academic circles until recent times, when a number of Muslims have taken to publishing it to argue against the orthodox Christian conception of Jesus. It generally resonates better with existing Muslim views than with Christianity:
Qur’an Surah 4 Verse 157–158:
And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah.” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but it was made to appear to them so. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. (157) Rather, Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise. (158)
Rather than describing the crucifixion of Jesus, Gospel of Barnabas describes him being raised up into heaven It can be likened to the description of Elijah in 2 Kings, Chapter 2. It also foretells the coming of Muhammad by name and it calls Jesus a “prophet” whose mission was restricted to the “house of Israel”.
It contains an extended polemic against the doctrine of predestination (Chapter 164), and in favour of justification by faith; arguing that the eternal destination of the soul to Heaven or Hell is neither pre-determined by God’s grace (as in Calvinism), nor the judgement of God, in his mercy, on the faith of believers on Earth (as in Islam). Instead it states that all those condemned at the last judgement, but who subsequently respond in faith, who demonstrate unfeigned penitence, and who make a free choice of blessedness, will eventually be offered salvation (Chapter 137). Only those whose persistent pride prevents them from sincere repentance will remain forever in Hell. Such radically Pelagian beliefs in the 16th century were found amongst the anti-Trinitarian Protestant traditions later denoted as Unitarianism. Some 16th-century anti-Trinitarian divines sought to reconcile Christianity, Islam and Judaism; on the basis of very similar arguments to those presented in the Gospel of Barnabas, arguing that if salvation remains unresolved until the end times, then any one of the three religions could be a valid path to heaven for their own believers. The Spaniard, Michael Servetus denounced the orthodox Christian formulation of the Trinity (alleging the only explicit reference to the Trinity in the New Testament to be a later interpolation); and hoped thereby to bridge the doctrinal divide between Christianity and Islam. In 1553 he was executed in Geneva under the authority of John Calvin, but his teachings remained very influential amongst Italian Protestant exiles.
Included in chapter 145 is “The little book of Elijah”; which sets out instructions for a righteous life of asceticism and hermitic spirituality. Over the succeeding 47 chapters, Jesus is recorded as developing the theme that the ancient prophets, specifically Obadiah, Haggai and Hosea, were holy hermits following this religious rule; and contrasting their followers – termed “true Pharisees” – with the “false Pharisees” who lived in the world, and who constituted his chief opponents. The “true Pharisees” are said to congregate on Mount Carmel. This accords with the teaching of the medieval Carmelites, who lived as an eremitic congregation on Carmel in the 13th century; but who claimed (without any evidence) to be direct successors of Elijah and the Old Testament prophets. In 1291 the Mamluk advance into Syria compelled the friars on Carmel to abandon their monastery; but on dispersing through Western Europe they found that Western Carmelite congregations – especially in Italy – had largely abandoned the eremitic and ascetic ideal, adopting instead the conventual life and mission of the other Mendicant orders. Some researchers consider that the ensuing 14th–16th-century controversies can be found reflected in the text of the Gospel of Barnabas.
The Gospel also takes a strongly anti-Pauline tone at times, saying in the Italian version’s beginning: “many, being deceived of Satan, under pretence of piety, are preaching most impious doctrine, calling Jesus son of God, repudiating the circumcision ordained of God for ever, and permitting every unclean meat: among whom also Paul has been deceived.”
Prediction of Muhammad
The Gospel of Barnabas claims that Jesus predicted the advent of Muhammad, thus conforming with the Qur’an which mentions:
And [mention] when Jesus, the son of Mary, said, “O Children of Israel, indeed I am the messenger of Allah to you confirming what came before me of the Torah and bringing good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Aḥmad.” But when he came to them with clear evidences, they said, “This is obvious magic.”— Surah As-Saf 61:6
(Ahmad is an Arabic name from the same triconsonantal root as Muhammad: Ḥ-M-D = [ح – م – د].)
A Muslim scholarly tradition links this Qur’anic passage to the New Testament references to the Paraclete in the canonical Gospel of John (14:16, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7). The Greek word paraclete can be translated as ‘Counsellor’, and refers according to Christians to the Holy Spirit. Some Muslim scholars, have noted the similarity to the Greek periklytos which can be translated as ‘admirable one’; or in Arabic, ‘Ahmad’.
The name of “Muhammad” is frequently mentioned verbatim in the Gospel of Barnabas, as in the following quote:
Jesus answered: “The name of the Messiah is admirable, for God himself gave him the name when he had created his soul, and placed it in a celestial splendour. God said: ‘Wait Mohammed; for thy sake I will to create paradise, the world, and a great multitude of creatures, whereof I make thee a present, insomuch that whoso bless thee shall be blessed, and whoso shall curse thee shall be accursed. When I shall send thee into the world I shall send thee as my messenger of salvation, and thy word shall be true, insomuch that heaven and earth shall fail, but thy faith shall never fail.’ Mohammed is his blessed name.” Then the crowd lifted up their voices, saying: “O God, send us thy messenger: O Admirable One, come quickly for the salvation of the world!”
— Barnabas 97:9–10
Paul and Barnabas
Hajj Sayed argues that the description of the conflict between Paul and Barnabas in Galatians supports the idea that the Gospel of Barnabas existed at the time of Paul. Blackhirst has suggested, by contrast, that Galatian’s account of this argument could be the reason the gospel’s writer attributed it to Barnabas. Paul writes in (Galatians Chapter 2):
When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.— Galatians 2:11–14
Paul was attacking Peter for “trying to satisfy the Jews” by sticking to their laws, such as circumcision. It is contended that at this point Barnabas was following Peter and disagreeing with Paul. Some feel it also suggests that the inhabitants of Galatia at his time were using a gospel or gospels disagreeing with Paul’s beliefs, which the Gospel of Barnabas could be one of them (although the Gospel of Peter would seem a more natural candidate, as in the light of the second letter.) To Galatian’s account we may compare the Introductory Chapter of Gospel of Barnabas, where we read:
Dearly beloved the great and wonderful God hath during these past days visited us by his prophet Jesus Christ in great mercy of teaching and miracles, by reason whereof many, being deceived of Satan, under presence of piety, are preaching most impious doctrine, calling Jesus son of God, repudiating the circumcision ordained of God for ever, and permitting every unclean meat: among whom also Paul hath been deceived, whereof I speak not without grief; for which cause I am writing that truth which I have seen and heard, in the intercourse that I have had with Jesus, in order that ye may be saved, and not be deceived of Satan and perish in the judgment of God. Therefore beware of every one that preacheth unto you new doctrine contrary to that which I write, that ye may be saved eternally.— Introduction to the Gospel of Barnabas
From the previous passages, it is argued that in the beginning, Paul and Barnabas were getting along with each other; but that at the end, they started to depart in their beliefs to give to the importance of the Jewish law.
Other non-canonical differences
According to the following passage, Jesus talked to Barnabas and gave him a secret:
Jesus, weeping, said: “O Barnabas, it is necessary that I should reveal to you great secrets, which, after that I shall be departed from the world, you shall reveal to it.” Then answered he that writes, weeping, and said: “Suffer me to weep, O master, and other men also, for that we are sinners. And you, that are a holy one and prophet of God, it is not fitting for you to weep so much.”
Jesus answered: “Believe me, Barnabas that I cannot weep as much as I ought. For if men had not called me God, I should have seen God here as he will be seen in paradise, and should have been safe not to fear the day of judgment. But God knows that I am innocent, because never have I harboured thought to be held more than a poor slave. No, I tell you that if I had not been called God I should have been carried into paradise when I shall depart from the world, whereas now I shall not go thither until the judgment. Now you see if I have cause to weep.
“Know, O Barnabas, that for this I must have great persecution, and shall be sold by one of my disciples for thirty pieces of money. Whereupon I am sure that he who shall sell me shall be slain in my name, for that God shall take me up from the earth, and shall change the appearance of the traitor so that every one shall believe him to be me; nevertheless, when he dies an evil death, I shall abide in that dishonour for a long time in the world. But when Muhammad shall come, the sacred Messenger of God, that infamy shall be taken away. And this shall God do because I have confessed the truth of the Messiah who shall give me this reward, that I shall be known to be alive and to be a stranger to that death of infamy.”—
Also according to the Gospel of Barnabas, Jesus charged Barnabas to write the gospel:
Jesus turned himself to him who writes, and said: “Barnabas, see that by all means you write my gospel concerning all that has happened through my dwelling in the world. And write in a similar manner that which has befallen Judas, in order that the faithful may be undeceived, and every one may believe the truth.”—
Some readers have noted that the Gospel of Barnabas contains a number of anachronisms and historical incongruities:
- It has Jesus sailing across the Sea of Galilee to Nazareth – which is actually inland; and thence going “up” to Capernaum – which is actually on the lakeside (chapters 20–21).
- Jesus is said to have been born during the rule of Pontius Pilate, which began after the year 26.
- Barnabas appears not to realize that Christ and Messiah are synonyms, Christ (khristos) being a Greek translation of the word messiah (mashiach), both having the meaning of ‘anointed’. The Gospel of Barnabas thus errs in describing Jesus as “Jesus Christ” (lit. ‘Messiah Jesus’ in Greek), yet claiming that ‘Jesus confessed and said the truth, “I am not the Messiah”‘ (ch. 42).
- There is reference to a jubilee which is to be held every hundred years (Chapter 82), rather than every fifty years as described in Leviticus: 25. This anachronism appears to link the Gospel of Barnabas to the declaration of a Holy Year in 1300 by Pope Boniface VIII; a Jubilee which he then decreed should be repeated every hundred years. In 1343 the interval between Holy Years was reduced by Pope Clement VI to fifty years.
- Adam and Eve eat an apple (ch. 40); whereas the traditional association of the Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Book of Genesis 2:9,17; 3:5) with the apple rests on the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Latin, where both ‘apple’ and ‘evil’ are rendered as malum.
- The Gospel talks of wine being stored in wooden casks (chapter 152). Casks of palm wood were used by the fifth century B.C., when Herodotus shipped wine to Mesopotamia. Oaken casks were a characteristic of Gaul and Northern Italy, and were not commonly used for wine in the Roman empire until after 300 CE; whereas wine in 1st century Palestine was always stored in wineskins and jars (amphorae). The Pedunculate or English Oak Quercus robur does not grow in Palestine; and the wood of other species is not sufficiently airtight to be used in wine casks.
- In Chapter 91, the “Forty Days” is referred to as an annual fast. This corresponds to the Christian tradition of fasting for forty days in Lent; a practice that is not witnessed earlier than the Council of Nicaea (325). Nor is there a forty days’ fast in Judaism of the period (see Mishnah, volume Ta’anit, “Days of Fasting”).
- Where the Gospel of Barnabas includes quotations from the Old Testament, these correspond to readings as found in the Latin Vulgate rather than as found in either the Greek Septuagint, or the Hebrew Masoretic Text. The Latin Vulgate translation was a work that St. Jerome began in 382 AD, centuries after the death of Barnabas.
- In Chapter 54 it says: “For he would get in change a piece of gold must have sixty mites” (Italian minuti). In the New Testament period, the only golden coin, the aureus, was worth approximately 3,200 of the smallest bronze coin, the lepton (translated into Latin as minuti); while the Roman standard silver coin, the denarius, was worth 128 lepta. The rate of exchange of 1:60 implied in the Gospel of Barnabas was, however, a commonplace of late medieval interpretation of the counterpart passage in the canonical Gospels (Mark 12:42), arising from the standard medieval understanding of minuti as meaning ‘a sixtieth part’.
- Chapter 91 records three contending Jewish armies 200,000 strong at Mizpeh, totaling 600,000 men, at a time when the Roman army across the entire Empire had a total strength estimated as 300,000.
- In Chapter 119 Jesus instances sugar and gold as substances of equivalent rarity and value. Although the properties of sugar had been known in India in antiquity, it was not traded as a sweetener until industrial-scale production developed in the 6th century. From the 11th to 15th centuries, the sugar trade into Europe was an Arab monopoly, and its value was often compared with gold. From the mid-15th century, however, large-scale sugar estates were established in the Canary Islands and the Azores, and sugar, although still a luxury item, ceased to be exceptionally rare.
Since the publication of English, Arabic, and Urdu translations at the beginning of the 20th century, the work has been popularly cited in support of the Islamic view of Jesus. Islamic writers who cite the work include Rahmatullah Kairanawi, Rashid Rida, Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, and Muhammad Ata ur-Rahim.
Standard Muslim teaching asserts that the Injil Arabic name for the Evangel or the prophetic Gospel delivered through the prophet Isa (Jesus of Nazareth), has been irretrievably corrupted and distorted in the course of Christian transmission. In consequence, Muslim teaching asserts that no reliance can be placed on any text in the Christian tradition (including the four canonical gospels of the Christian New Testament) as truly representing the teachings of Jesus. Viewed from an orthodox Islamic perspective, the Gospel of Barnabas might be considered a Christian work, as its many points of difference from the Qur’an suggest; hence, it too may be expected to have undergone corruption and distortion. Consequently, no orthodox Muslim writer accepts the Gospel of Barnabas as transmitting the authentic Injil, and few deny that the known Italian text contains substantial elements of late fabrication. Additionally, the Gospel of Barnabas cannot even be a variant of the authentic Injil because the real Injil must be authored from the perspective of Allah the same way the Quran is supposed to be, and not from the perspective of Barnabas. Nevertheless, Muslim writers sometimes note those elements of the Gospel of Barnabas that stand in accord with standard Qur’anic teaching, such as the denial of Jesus as being Son of God and the prophetic prediction by Jesus of the coming Messenger of God and, consequently, some Muslims are inclined to regard these specific elements as representing the survival of suppressed early Jesus traditions much more compatible with Islam.
Possible Syriac manuscripts
In 1985, it was briefly claimed that an early Syriac copy of this gospel had been found near Hakkâri in eastern Turkey. However, it has since been demonstrated that this manuscript actually contains the canonical Bible.
In February 2012, it was confirmed by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism that a 52-page biblical manuscript in Syriac writing had been deposited in the Ethnography Museum of Ankara. Newspaper reports in Turkey claimed that the manuscript had been found in Cyprus in 2000, in an operation conducted by police against smugglers, and had been kept in a police repository since then; and further speculated that the text of the manuscript could be that of the Gospel of Barnabas. Photographs of a cover page have been widely published, on which can be read an inscription in a recent Neo-Aramaic hand, stating “In the name of our Lord, this book is written on the hands of the monks of the high monastery in Nineveh, in the 1,500th year of our Lord”. No subsequent confirmation has been published, either as to the contents of the Ankara manuscript, or as to any findings of scientific tests for its age and authenticity.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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