Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Submitted to a Medieval Forgery, Part 1

Masud Masihiyyen

Say: “We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was forged by fake Barnabas. We definitely make a distinction between our scripture and the scripture fabricated by a supposed Muslim as we consider the Gospel of Barnabas better and worthier than the Qur’an.”

It is quite baffling to see some Muslims believe in the Gospel of Barnabas although this particular Gospel was proven to be a forgery1 and to overtly contradict several teachings of the Islamic Scripture. This is why it is a matter of wonder that some Muslims insist on using the fraud named “the Gospel of Barnabas” in their theological and historical debates with Christians. What could be the source of this unconditional Muslim love for this fake document dating back only to the Middle Ages and containing obvious mistakes? In order to answer this question and thus solve the mystery of some Muslim scholars’ adherence to the Gospel of Pseudo Barnabas at the expense of their Islamic creed, we should make a comparison between the allegations and teachings of the fake Gospel of Barnabas and those of the Qur’an. This comparative analysis will lead us to the reasons underlying many Muslims’ baffling reliance on a forgery and in a text unauthorized by the Qur’an.

Some Muslims submit themselves to the fake Gospel of Barnabas because they know that this text is the only document to support their allegations concerning the authenticity of the canonical Gospels and of the basic Christian tenets. In this respect, it is possible to say that the Islamic scripture fails to provide any evidence for the assertion that Isa (Jesus) of the Qur’an was but a messenger of Allah sent to the house of Israel and taught the Islamic creed six centuries before Mohammad. The fallacious contention that the Qur’an itself sufficed to prove what it claimed with regard to the condition of the former religions and scriptures had caused much trouble and stress for Islamic scholars, who were not taken seriously because of their erroneous argument that the assertion of the claimant should be considered equal to evidence. The Gospel of Barnabas meant a unique gift and blessing for such Muslim scholars because it was presented as an additional piece of evidence illustrating the supposed corruption of the New Testament. This makes it partly understandable why some Muslim scholars became willing to defend and propagate a religious text that contradicted their Qur’an in both form and content: the fake Gospel of Barnabas – far from perfection though – backed up Islam and came to represent a book without which some teachings of the Qur’an remained weak and lacked testimony.

Moreover, Pseudo Barnabas was careful and intelligent enough not to repeat the statements about the former revelations in the Qur’an, which had bothered Muslim scholars by giving birth to controversies between Muslims and Jews/Christians with regard to the confirmation of the Holy Bible by the Islamic scripture. Interestingly, the writers of the Qur’an taught that Allah revealed the final scripture to confirm and support the Holy Bible. For instance:

And if thou (Muhammad) art in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto thee, then question those who read the Scripture (that was) before thee. Verily the Truth from thy Lord hath come unto thee. So be not thou of the waverers. (Surah 10:94 Pickthall)

He hath revealed unto thee (Muhammad) the Scripture with truth, confirming that which was (revealed) before it, even as He revealed the Torah and the Gospel. (Surah 3:3 Pickthall)

Let the People of the Gospel judge by that which Allah hath revealed therein. Whoso judgeth not by that which Allah hath revealed: such are evil-livers. And unto thee have We revealed the Scripture with the truth, confirming whatever Scripture was before it, and a watcher over it. (Surah 5:47-48 Pickthall)

Say O People of the Scripture! Ye have naught (of guidance) till ye observe the Torah and the Gospel and that which was revealed unto you from your Lord. (Surah 5:68 Pickthall)

These remarks in the Qur’an are problematic for many Muslim scholars; for they disregard the discrepancies between the Islamic and Judeo-Christian scriptures and state that the Qur’an came not to correct or replace, but to confirm and preserve the Bible. Being aware of this problem and crisis, Pseudo Barnabas sided with later Muslim scholars and supported their allegations by putting into Jesus’ mouth the claim that the Bible had to be corrupted for the revelation of the Qur’an:

Jesus answered: "Everything that conforms to the Book of Moses, that receive you for true; seeing that God is one, the truth is one; whence it follows that the doctrine is one and the meaning of the doctrine is one; and therefore the faith is one. Truly I say to you that if the truth had not been erased from the Book of Moses, God would not have given to David our father the second. And if the book of David had not been contaminated, God would not have committed the Gospel to me; seeing that the Lord our God is unchangeable, and has spoken but one message to all men. Wherefore,when the Messenger of God shall come, he shall come to cleanse away all wherewith the unGodly have contaminated my book." (Gospel of Barnabas 124:2)

Second, the Gospel of Pseudo-Barnabas is based on a well-developed conspiracy theory that concurred with the Muslim allegations upon the origin of Christianity and Apostle Paul’s involvement in the spread of the Christian faith. Right in the prologue to this so-called Gospel fake Barnabas argues that Jesus was a pathetic messenger whose true teachings had been perverted by some disciples that were led astray by Satan to teach false doctrines:

Dearly beloved, the great and wonderful God has during these past days visited us by His prophet Jesus Christ in great mercy of teaching and miracles, for which reason 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, whereof I speak not without grief. (Prologue to the Italian manuscript)

Additionally, Pseudo Barnabas contends that some of Jesus’ disciples who did not fear God stole Judas Iscariot’s body in order to proclaim that Jesus had risen:

Those disciples who did not fear God went by night [and] stole the body of Judas and hid it, spreading a report that Jesus was risen again; whence great confusion arose. (Gospel of Barnabas 218:1)

Above all, fake Barnabas’ addiction to anachronism compels him to suppose that Jesus’ true teachings were twisted and contaminated during His prophetic ministry. This is why we read in the medieval forgery that Jesus once overtly denied being the Son of God, God, and the Messiah when questioned by the high priest, who was astoundingly aware of these doctrines:

When day was come, Jesus went up to the Temple  with a great multitude of people. Whereupon the high priest drew near, saying: 'Tell me, O Jesus, have you forgotten all that you did confess, that you are not God, nor son of God, nor even the Messiah?' Jesus answered: 'No, surely, I have not forgotten; for this is my confession which I shall bear before the judgment seat of God on the day of judgment. For all that is written in the Book of Moses is most true, inasmuch as God our creator is [God] alone, and I am God's servant and desire to serve God's Messenger whom you call Messiah.' (Gospel of Barnabas 206:1-2)

The Qur’an, on the other hand, is unaware of all these assertions as no verse in it claims that Jesus’ genuine teachings were already twisted during his prophetic ministry. Accordingly, the Jesus in “Mohammad’s Gospel” is made to repudiate the doctrine of the Trinity and His divinity on the Day of Judgment (Surah 5:116-117) rather than during His ministry. Further, there is no implicit or explicit reference in the entire Islamic scripture to a disciple or apostle named Paul. In contrast to the accusations presented by the author of the Gospel of Barnabas, the authors of the Qur’an never taught that some of Jesus’ disciples were deceived and led astray by Satan. For the Qur’an, there were only two groups of people, who fell into disagreement on the basis of their faith: those who believed in Jesus and became His disciples versus those who rejected Jesus and opposed Him. Strikingly, the writers of the Qur’an said that the party of Jesus’ disciples (all of them) had become triumphant against the party of the unbelievers:

O ye who believe! Be ye helpers of Allah. As said Jesus the son of Mary to the Disciples, "Who will be my helpers to (the work of) Allah." Said the disciples, "We are Allah.s helpers!" then a portion of the Children of Israel believed, and a portion disbelieved: But We gave power to those who believed, against their enemies, and they became the ones that prevailed. (Surah 61:14 Yusuf Ali)

Although most of the Islamic scholars blame Paul for contaminating the supposed true Gospel named Injil and inventing today’s Christianity, the Qur’an is not only ignorant of these harsh accusations, but also fails to explain why Christianity in Mohammad’s time had major discrepancies with the Islamic message allegedly delivered by Jesus. Consequently, some Muslim scholars submitted themselves to the fake Gospel of Barnabas because the author of this forgery supposedly knew something that was both beneficial and additional to the Qur’an.

Third, as a massive book consisting of 222 chapters the Gospel of Barnabas gives an enormous amount of information about Jesus and His teachings. Besides, in this so-called Gospel Jesus’ words and acts are narrated in an organized way with more than enough details. The life of Jesus from the period of His annunciation to that of His ascension is explained pretty well and meticulously so as not to leave place for doubts or vagueness. Certainly, the Gospel of Barnabas owes this detailed information about Jesus and its organized form of narration to the author’s deliberate plagiarism from the New Testament: particularly from all of the four canonical Gospels and some other parts of the canonical scripture (Acts of the Apostles, Peter’s First Universal Letter, and even some verses of the Old Testament). However, the Qur’an almost presents zero data about Jesus’ life and His teachings when compared to the Gospel of Barnabas. It will not be unfair or an exaggeration to say that the things stated about Jesus in the Islamic scripture would not exceed four pages if they were extracted from the Qur’an and written on sheets of paper. Actually, the organized and partly flowing narratives about Jesus in the Qur’an occur in two chapters: Surah 19 and 3. Apart from these, there are short verses describing Jesus’ prophetic ministry in a few chapters.
4 In sharp contrast to the detailed and recurrent narration of Jesus’ various kinds of miracles in the Gospel of Barnabas, the Qur’an summarizes Jesus’ miracles into one sentence5:

And (appoint him) an apostle to the Children of Israel, (with this message): 'I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah’s leave: And I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah’s leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe’. (Surah 3:49 Yusuf Ali)

More to the point, the verses about Jesus in the Qur’an mostly remain silent on various historical and geographical issues and thus appear in the form of obscure and incomplete accounts. For instance, the writers of the Qur’an chose to hide from the readers the name of the place where Jesus was born. Likewise, it is impossible to know the name of a single disciple of Jesus by reading the Islamic scripture. As a result of these deficiencies, some Muslims submit themselves to the fake Gospel of Barnabas because they know that they need it as a primary book of reference with regard to Jesus.

Relevant to the above point, every honest Muslim scholar that reads the Gospel of Barnabas and the Qur’an comparatively is supposed to confess that the former is superior to the latter in both form and content when the Islamic denial of Jesus’ crucifixion is in view. In the entire Qur’an, which contains 114 chapters, there is only one single verse that denies the reality of Jesus’ passion by presenting it as an optical illusion:

That they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Apostle of God"; - but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not: - (Surah 4:157 Yusuf Ali)

This single verse, which belongs to the late period of the supposed revelation of the Qur’an, fails to answer the following questions and leaves its readers in constant suspense, making one also suppose that the Islamic objection to Jesus’ crucifixion is based on nothing but conjecture:

- Was someone else crucified and killed in Jesus’ stead?
- Did the supposed illusion or appearance have a miraculous nature or was it simply the result of a misunderstanding?
- Why was such a deceptive miracle needed?
- Why was someone killed in Jesus’ stead? What made this substitution crucial?
- Who was the person that was allegedly crucified in Jesus’ place?
- What happened to that person’s corpse?

The Islamic scripture cannot answer any of these questions, for it lacks a narrative concerning Jesus’ passion even though it dedicates many verses to the narration of Jesus’ miraculous birth from a virgin in two chapters (Surah 19 & 3). The reason underlying this inconvenience is the fact that the non-canonical Gospels of Jesus’ infancy, which the hands that wrote the Qur’an plagiarized from, were confined to the narratives prior to Jesus’ prophetic ministry and thus lacked the accounts concerning His passion. Seemingly, the hands that devised the Qur’an had no access to either canonical or apocryphal Gospels that contained long and detailed narratives of Jesus’ passion.

In contrast to the inadequacy of the Qur’an in this respect, the Gospel of Barnabas provides answers for all of the questions stated above by simply substituting Judas Iscariot for Jesus and perverting the passion narratives in the canonical Gospels. This is why two long chapters (216-217) in the book of Pseudo Barnabas relate the supposed arrest, crucifixion, and death of Judas the betrayer. In the rest of the chapters until the final one (222) Pseudo Barnabas endeavors to fabricate philosophical and theological reasons for the necessity of Jesus’ seeming death and the deceitful miracle transforming Judas the betrayer into Jesus. The admittance of the medieval Gospel of Barnabas by some Muslims as a reliable religious text indicates those Muslim believers’ gratefulness to Pseudo Barnabas for his favor of saving the Qur’an from deficiencies and vagueness on the subject of Jesus’ passion.

Fourth, some Muslims submit themselves to the Gospel of Barnabas and keep praising it at the expense of the Qur’an because Pseudo Barnabas proved to be a cleverer and more cunning person than the authors of the Islamic scripture. The stories recounted in the Qur’an in association with basic Christian tenets are actually the distorted versions of Jesus’ infancy stories plagiarized from a few non-canonical Gospels.
6 For instance, the 19th chapter of the Qur’an, which is named after Jesus’ mother Mary, relates baby Jesus’ miraculous speech in the cradle at the time of Mary’s return to her folk after the delivery:

Then she pointed to him. They said: How can we talk to one who is in the cradle, a young boy? He spake: Lo! I am the slave of Allah. He hath given me the Scripture and hath appointed me a Prophet, And hath made me blessed wheresoever I may be, and hath enjoined upon me prayer and almsgiving so long as I remain alive, And (hath made me) dutiful toward her who bore me, and hath not made me arrogant, unblest. Peace on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive! (Surah 19:29-33 Pickthall)

Certainly, this account is not included in any of the canonical Gospels, but can be found in an apocryphal writing named “Arabic Infancy Gospel”:

We find what follows in the book of Joseph the high priest, who lived in the time of Christ. Some say that he is Caiaphas. He has said that Jesus spoke, and, indeed, when He was lying in His cradle said to Mary His mother: I am Jesus, the Son of God, the Logos, whom thou hast brought forth, as the Angel Gabriel announced to thee; and my Father has sent me for the salvation of the world. (Arabic Infancy Gospel chapter 1;

The comparison of these two accounts reveals how the authors of the Qur’an made vain efforts to pervert the narrative in the Arabic Gospel of Infancy for the sake of adapting it to the major tenets of Islam and denouncing some of the basic Christian doctrines concerning Jesus’ identity. It is blatant that the falsified Jesus in the 19th chapter of the Qur’an implicitly denies being the Son of God and makes a miraculous speech in the cradle not to manifest His divinity, but to serve the Islamic presentation of the Messiah as but one of the past prophets. The forced inclusion of Jesus into the alleged chain of Islamic messengers in Mohammad’s fantasy through the modification of the phrase “Son of God” in the original source to “servant of Allah” in the 19th chapter also turns the words “Logos” and “savior” in the original source into “scripture” and “prophet” in Mohammad’s book, respectively. More to the point, this purely Islamic identification ascribed to Jesus by Mohammad, which exists in the form of a miraculous speech delivered by infant Jesus, is followed by an assertion that aims to rebuke Christians for identifying Jesus as the Son of God:

Such was Jesus, son of Mary: (this is) a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt. It befitteth not (the Majesty of) Allah that He should take unto Himself a son. Glory be to Him! When He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is. (Surah 19:34-35 Pickthall)

This intrusion, which betrays the flow of the Islamic narrative, proves that the authors of this chapter tried to present the falsified and distorted version of the story of baby Jesus’ speech as the original account revealed by Allah. In other words, the writers of the Qur’an targeted the authenticity of the Arabic Gospel of Infancy because they presumed that Christians relied on this scripture while worshipping Jesus as the Son of God and Savior. However, the Arabic Gospel of Infancy has never been regarded as an authentic and apostolic writing by any of the Christian Churches. The universal Church in the early era of Christianity considered all of the Gospels of Jesus’ Infancy apocryphal, which meant that such writings – no matter that they did not support heretical doctrines – were not included into the New Testament canon. Consequently, the Qur’an tries to distort an apocryphal Gospel and mistakenly supposes that the textual perversion of the original accounts in such Gospels will cast doubts upon the authenticity of the Christian scripture and tenets. In this respect, the writers of the Qur’an could be likened to a person who goes to a dueling with a knife instead of a gun.

Pseudo Barnabas, on the other hand, is clever and crafty enough not to fall into the same kind of an error; for he dedicates his time and energy to the systematic perversion of the canonical Gospels instead of the apocryphal ones! This is why Pseudo Barnabas attacks the authenticity of the Christian scripture in a far better and more reasonable way than the Qur’an and strives to convince the reader of his basic allegation that his Gospel alone contains the original teachings of Jesus whilst the rest of the writings are falsified and inauthentic. Fake Barnabas’ aim to overshadow the authenticity of the canonical Gospels is mostly reflected in the perversion of the canonical accounts that overtly contradict the Islamic designation of Jesus as the messenger of Allah. For instance, the Gospel of Matthew relates the dialog between Jesus and His apostles with regard to His identity. As the spokesperson of the apostles, Peter responds and says that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus endorses this identification and binds it directly to God:

When Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! (Matthew 16:13-17)

To compare and contrast this canonical narrative with the medieval Gospel of Barnabas:

Jesus departed from Jerusalem after the Passover, and entered into the borders of Caesarea Philippi. Whereupon, the angel Gabriel having told him of the sedition which was beginning among the common people, he asked his disciples, saying: "What do men say of me?" They said: "Some say that you are Elijah, others Jeremiah, and others one of the old prophets." Jesus answered: "And you; what say you that I am?" Peter answered: "You are Christ, son of God." Then was Jesus angry, and with anger rebuked him, saying: "Begone and depart from me, because you are the devil and seek to cause me offences. And he threatened the eleven, saying: "Woe to you if you believe this, for I have won from God a great curse against those who believe this." And he was fain to cast away Peter; whereupon the eleven besought Jesus for him, who cast him not away, but again rebuked him saying: "Beware that never again you say such words, because God would reprobate you!" Peter wept and said: "Lord, I have spoken foolishly; beseech God that he pardon me." (Gospel of Barnabas 70:1-2)

Apparently, spurious Barnabas twists this account in accordance with the Islamic repudiation of Jesus’ divinity and craftily combines it with the verses in the same chapter of Matthew’s Gospel which recount Peter’s reprobation on the occasion of his objection to Jesus’ passion:

From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him: “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.” (Gospel of Matthew 16:21-23)

This ability to abuse the canonical Christian writings for the sake of propagating Islam and backing the alleged falsification of Jesus’ teachings is peculiar to the medieval Gospel of Barnabas, which marks its superiority to the Islamic scripture.

Fifth, the Gospel of Barnabas does not reiterate the gross mistakes and false accusations of the Islamic scripture, being a comparatively more accurate document. We do not mean that the medieval Gospel of Barnabas is free of error, far from it, but for the sake of honesty it should be made plain that most of the mistakes in the medieval Gospel are a direct result of Pseudo Barnabas’ intention to work the four canonical Gospels into one single book and add into his forgery all the cultural peculiarities of his era. The errors in the Gospel of Barnabas become apparent only if the text is analyzed by an objective reader who has enough knowledge of history and geography to compare first century Palestine with the Europe of the Middle Ages. The errors in the Qur’an, on the other hand, stem from its authors’ hasty and rough combination of the data concerning biblical figures and events with the help of faulty and exaggerated analogies. For example, the writers of the Qur’an mistook Jesus’ mother Mary with the Miriam of the Old Testament (Exodus 15:20), who was the daughter of Amram and sister of Aaron. This is why the following verses astonishingly teach that Jesus’ mother Mary was the same person as the daughter of Imran (biblical Amram) and sister of Aaron:

And Mary, daughter of 'Imran, whose body was chaste, therefore We breathed therein something of Our Spirit
. (Surah 66:12)

Then she brought him to her own folk, carrying him. They said: O Mary! Thou hast come with an amazing thing. O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a wicked man nor was thy mother a harlot. (Surah 19:27-28 Pickthall)

This Qur’anic confusion of the two women bearing the same name most probably resulted from the assimilation of the account about Miriam in the book of Exodus to the non-canonical account concerning Jesus’ mother Mary in the apocryphal Gospels of Infancy. However, Pseudo Barnabas did not repeat this mistake and proved to be both different from and superior to the Islamic scripture when he wrote – in accordance with the traditional teachings of the Church! – that Jesus’ mother Mary was from the tribe of Judah:

In these last years a Virgin called Mary, of the lineage of David, of the tribe of Judah, was visited by the angel Gabriel from God. (Gospel of Barnabas 10:1)

More, fake Barnabas exposed the mistake of the Qur’an writers when he talked of Aaron’s sister Miriam as a distinct woman of the Old Testament era:

How nearly then the good approached to ruin by judging falsely, is shown by the brethren of Joseph, who sold him to the Egyptians, by Aaron and Miriam, sister of Moses, who judged their brother. (Gospel of Barnabas 50:3)

As for the false accusations in the Qur’an targeting basic Christian tenets, these owe their existence either to the scribes’ ignorance of the genuine and universal teachings of the Church or to the deliberate perversion of the truth for the sake of slandering Christians and making them equal to pagans. The prevalent example of such false accusations is the contention that Christians worshipped three distinct gods and Mary was a part of the Trinity.
7 The Qur’an seems so sure of this contention that Allah deems it crucial to rebuke Christians through Jesus’ speech:

And when Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah? he saith: Be glorified! It was not mine to utter that to which I had no right. If I used to say it, then Thou knewest it. Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I know not what is in Thy Mind. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Knower of Things Hidden? (Surah 5:116 Pickthall)

The medieval Gospel of Barnabas, however, is unaware of this accusation and never claims that Christians worshipped Mary as a part of the Trinity. This is why Jesus is made to deny and rebuke genuine Christian tenets in the Gospel of Barnabas rather than a tenet that Christians were mistakenly presumed to embrace:

And though I have been innocent in the world, since men have called me "God," and "Son of God," God, in order that I be not mocked of the demons on the day of judgment, has willed that I be mocked of men in this world by the death of Judas; making all men to believe that I died upon the cross. (Gospel of Barnabas 220:4)

Sixth, another good reason that some Muslims have for submitting themselves to the medieval forgery of fake Barnabas is that it endorses some of the traditional Islamic teachings and commentaries which are not supported by the Qur’an. For instance, the Islamic scripture confirms the biblical teaching that God tested Abraham’s love when He asked him to offer his son as a holocaust. To compare the original account in the Bible with the one in the Qur’an:

Some time after these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am!” Abraham replied. God said, “Take your son – your only son, whom you love,Isaac – and go to the land of Moriah! Offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will indicate to you.” Early in the morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took two of his young servants with him, along with his son Isaac. When he had cut the wood for the burnt offering, he started out for the place God had spoken to him about. On the third day Abraham caught sight of the place in the distance. So he said to his servants, “You two stay here with the donkey while the boy and I go up there. We will worship and then return to you.” Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and put it on his son Isaac. Then he took the fire and the knife in his hand, and the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father?” “What is it, my son?” he replied. “Here is the fire and the wood,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” “God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham replied. The two of them continued on together. When they came to the place God had told him about, Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood on it. Next he tied up his son Isaac and placed him on the altar on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand, took the knife, and prepared to slaughter his son. But the Lord’s angel called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am!” he answered. “Do not harm the boy!” the angel said. “Do not do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God because you did not withhold your son, your only son, from me.” Abraham looked up and saw behind him a ram caught in the bushes by its horns. So he went over and got the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son And Abraham called the name of that place “The Lord provides.” It is said to this day, “In the mountain of the Lord provision will be made.” (Genesis 22:1-13)

So We gave him tidings of a gentle son. And when (his son) was old enough to walk with him, (Abraham) said: O my dear son, I have seen in a dream that I must sacrifice thee. So look, what thinkest thou? He said: O my father! Do that which thou art commanded. Allah willing, thou shalt find me of the steadfast. Then, when they had both surrendered (to Allah), and he had flung him down upon his face, We called unto him: O Abraham! Thou hast already fulfilled the vision. Lo! thus do We reward the good. Lo! that verily was a clear test. Then We ransomed him with a tremendous victim. And We left for him among the later folk (the salutation): Peace be unto Abraham! (Surah 37:101-109 Pickthall)

Apart from being a summarized version of the long biblical narrative, the story in the Qur’an differs from the one in the Bible when it teaches that Abraham revealed his dream to his son, who agreed with his father and willingly submitted himself to Abraham’s plan. This kind of an alteration to the biblical account is rather understandable if the reader of the Qur’an takes into account Mohammad’s wish to make far-fetched associations between the basic Islamic concept of submission (which means “Islam”) and major biblical figures/patriarchs. Nonetheless, Muslims scholars do not give priority to this discrepancy in their religious debates with Jews and Christians, but drastically change the course of dissention when they claim that the son whom Allah asked Abraham to sacrifice was Ishmael rather than Isaac.

Clearly, the account in the 37th chapter of the Qur’an extends zero support to such Muslim scholars by keeping silent on the identity of Abraham’s son. Oddly enough, the writers of the Islamic scripture were not interested in the name of the child that Abraham attempted to offer, and it is not impossible or unreasonable to construe their indifference as the implied endorsement of the name given in the Bible. After all, the Islamic version of the story does not insist on the child’s identification as Ishmael, which would be inevitable if Mohammed had been bothered by and objected to the existence of Isaac’s name in Ishmael’s stead. However, the fact that Ishmael’s name is missing from this account in the Qur’an causes much trouble for Muslim scholars who object to Isaac’s existence in this particular narrative. Most probably, the reason underlying Muslim scholars’ desire to replace Isaac with Ishmael is the link drawn between Abraham’s offered son and the divine promise in the following verses of the Bible:

The Lord’s angel called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “‘I solemnly swear by my own name,’ decrees the Lord, ‘that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be as countless as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the strongholds of their enemies. Because you have obeyed me, all the nations of the earth will pronounce blessings on one another using the name of your descendants.’” (Genesis 22:15-18)

Muslim scholars’ aim to replace Isaac with Ishmael is significant because it also indicates the Islamic zeal for replacing Israel with Arabs, which perfectly fits Mohammad’s identification as the last messenger and seal of all the prophets. Even though the Islamic form of the narrative about Abraham’s test by God in the Qur’an seems unaware of these aspirations and abandons Muslims in their traditional comments and teachings that the Jewish rabbis distorted the Torah and changed Ishmael to Isaac to negate Mohammad, the medieval Gospel written by Pseudo Barnabas overtly endorses all these allegations. Strikingly, fake Barnabas refers in many places of his book to the traditional Islamic teaching that the son Abraham was asked to offer was Ishmael rather than Isaac. Even at the beginning of Jesus’ prophetic ministry fake Barnabas highlights his disagreement with the biblical account:

The angel Gabriel answered: "Arise, Jesus, and remember Abraham, who being willing to sacrifice his only-begotten son Ishmael to God, to fulfill the word of God, [when] the knife [was] not able to cut his son, offered a sheep in sacrifice at my word. (Gospel of Barnabas 13:3)

Later, fake Barnabas takes the same traditional Islamic comment one step further and links it to the other Islamic charge against the authenticity of the Torah. It is not surprising to see that Pseudo Barnabas reiterates in his medieval forgery all the Islamic interpretations and accusations developed later than the compilation of the Qur’an:

The disciples said: "O master, it is written in the Book of Moses, that the promise was made in Isaac." Jesus answered with a groan: "It is so written, but Moses did not write it, nor Joshua, but rather our rabbins, who do not fear God! Truly I say to you, that if you consider the words of the angel Gabriel, you shall discover the malice of our scribes and doctors. For the angel said: "Abraham, all the world shall know how God loves you; but how shall the world know the love that you bear to God? Assuredly it is necessary that you do something for love of God." Abraham answered: 'Behold the servant of God, ready to do all that which God shall will.' Then spoke God, saying to Abraham: "Take your son, your firstborn Ishmael; and come up the mountain to sacrifice him." How is Isaac firstborn, if when Isaac was born Ishmael was seven years old? Then said the disciples: "Clear is the deception of our doctors: therefore tell us you the truth, because we know that you are sent from God." Then answered Jesus: "Truly I say to you, that Satan ever seeks to annul the laws of God; and therefore he with his followers, hypocrites and evil-doers, the former with false doctrine, the latter with lewd living, to day have contaminated almost all things, so that scarcely is the truth found. Woe to the hypocrites! For the praises of this world shall turn for them into insults and torments in hell. (Gospel of Barnabas 44:1-2)

On another occasion fake Barnabas forces Jesus to designate the Torah as a corrupted scripture and declare Ishmael superior to Isaac in terms of Mohammad’s allegedly being a descendant of the former:

Whereupon said the scribe: I have seen an old book; written by the hand of Moses and Joshua ;(he who made the sun stand still; as you have done), servants and prophets of God, which book is the true Book of Moses. Therein is written that Ishmael is the father of Messiah, and Isaac the father of the messenger of the Messiah. And thus says the book, that Moses said: "Lord God of Israel, mighty and merciful, manifest to your servant the splendour of your glory." Whereupon God showed him his Messenger in the arms of Ishmael, and Ishmael in the arms of Abraham. Near to Ishmael stood Isaac, in whose arms was a child, who with his finger pointed to the Messenger of God, saying: "This is he for whom God has created all things." Whereupon Moses cried out with joy: "O Ishmael, you have in your arms all the world, and paradise! Be mindful of me, God's servant, that I may find grace in God's sight by means of your son, for whom God has made all." (Gospel of Barnabas 191:2)

The eagerness to mark Ishmael as the child of the promise compels Pseudo Barnabas to conclude that the promised Messiah cannot be Jesus on the basis of His being an Israelite
9. This conclusion also explains why fake Barnabas makes efforts to replace Jesus the Messiah with Mohammad the supposed Messiah:

When day was come, Jesus went up to the Temple with a great multitude of people. Whereupon the high priest drew near, saying: 'Tell me, O Jesus, have you forgotten all that you did confess, that you are not God, nor son of God, nor even the Messiah?' Jesus answered: 'No, surely, I have not forgotten; for this is my confession which I shall bear before the judgment seat of God on the day of judgment. For all that is written in the Book of Moses is most true, inasmuch as God our creator is [God] alone, and I am God's servant and desire to serve God's Messenger whom you call Messiah.' (Gospel of Barnabas 206:1-2)

In fake Barnabas’ eyes Ishmael’s alleged superiority to Isaac is inextricably bound to the identity of the Messiah due to the racial affiliation of the divine promise with the identity of the son whom Abraham wanted to offer as a sacrifice to God:

The high priest answered: "This I ask of you, and I do not seek to slay you, wherefore tell us: Who was this son of Abraham?" Jesus answered: "The zeal of your honour, O God, inflames me, and I cannot hold my peace. Truly I say, the son of Abraham was Ishmael, from whom must be descended the Messiah promised to Abraham, that in him should all the tribes of the earth be blessed." Then was the high priest wroth, hearing this, and cried out: "Let us stone this impious fellow, for he is an Ishmaelite, and has spoken blasphemy against Moses and against the Law of God." Whereupon every scribe and Pharisee, with the elders of the people, took up stones to stone Jesus, who vanished from their eyes and went out of the Temple (Gospel of Barnabas 208:1-3)

It is clear like daylight that Pseudo Barnabas forged the narrative above through the perversion of the dialog between Jesus and the Jewish authorities in John’s Gospel 8:48-59. Barnabas’ systematic perversion is not confined to the New Testament text, for his new teaching that the true Messiah must be a descendant of Ishmael instead of Isaac is bound to the supposed correction of the account of Abraham’s sacrifice in Genesis. This is not the end of the story yet! The doctrines in the Gospel of Barnabas about the identity of the Messiah and the emphasis it lays on the name of the son that Abraham was asked to offer as a holocaust go beyond the Bible and threatens the integrity of the Qur’an. Spurious Barnabas argues that the true book of God must openly deny the statements in the Torah that the son Abraham offered was Isaac and that the promised Messiah is an Israelite. Since the Qur’an fails to do any of these, fake Barnabas implies that the Qur’an cannot be a true book from above and must therefore be rewritten for correction. Muslims scholars who embrace the Gospel of Barnabas as a reliable document know that it is a revised and updated version of their Qur’an in that it includes in the most organized form all the traditional Islamic comments and teachings missing from the Qur’an. All these teachings, which aim to strengthen and defend the Islamic scripture in religious and political debates with Jews, can be found in the medieval Gospel of Barnabas, which functions as the trouble-shooter for Islam and Muslims.

Continues on Part 2


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