The Gospel of Barnabas from the Muslim point of view

The Muḥammadans assert that a gospel of Barnabas existed in Arabic, and it is believed by some that Muḥammad obtained his account of Christianity from this spurious gospel.

“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 supposed, for the use of renegades. This book appears to be no original forgery of the Muḥammadans, though they have no doubt interpolated and altered it since, the better to serve their purpose; and in particular, instead of the Paraclete or Comforter (St. John xiv. 16, 26; xv. 26; xvi. 7), they have in this apocryphal gospel inserted the word Periclyte, that is, “the famous or illustrious,” by which they pretend their prophet was foretold by name, that being the signification of Muḥammad in Arabic; and this they say to justify that passage in the Qurʾān (Sūrah 61) where Jesus is formally asserted to have foretold his coming, under his other name of Aḥmad, which is derived from the same root as Muḥammad, and of the same import. From these or some other forgeries of the same stamp, it is that Muḥammadans quote several passages of which there are not the least footsteps in the New Testament.” (Sale.)

After Mr. Sale had written the extract which we have quoted, he inspected a Spanish translation of the Italian copy of this apocryphal gospel, of which he gives the following account:—

“The book is a moderate quarto, in Spanish, 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; and is said, in the front, to be translated from the Italian by an Aragonian Moslem named Moṣtafā de Aranda. There is a preface prefixed to it, wherein the discoverer of the original MS., who was a Christian monk called Fra Marino, tells us that, having accidentally met with a writing of Irenæus (among others), wherein he speaks against St. Paul, alleging for his authority the gospel of St. Barnabas, he became exceedingly desirous to find this gospel; and that God, of his mercy, having made him very intimate with Pope Sixtus V., one day, as they were together [37]in that Pope’s library, his Holiness fell asleep, and he, to employ himself, reaching down a book to read, the first he laid his hand on proved to be the very gospel he wanted; overjoyed at the discovery, he scrupled not to hide his prize in his sleeve, and on the Pope’s awaking, took leave of him, carrying with him that celestial treasure, by reading of which he became a convert to Muḥammadanism.

“This Gospel of Barnabas contains a complete history of Jesus Christ, from His birth to His ascension, and most of the circumstances of the four real gospels are to be found therein, but many of them turned, and some artfully enough, to favour the Muḥammadan system. From the design of the whole, and the frequent interpolations of stories and passages, wherein Muḥammad is spoken of and foretold by name, as the messenger of God, and the great prophet who was to perfect the dispensation of Jesus, it appears to be a most bare-faced forgery. One particular I observe therein induces me to believe it to have been dressed up by a renegade Christian, slightly instructed in his new religion, and not educated as a Muḥammadan (unless the fault be imputed to the Spanish, or, perhaps, the Italian translator, and to the original compiler). I mean the giving to Muḥammad the title of Messiah, and that not once or twice only, but in several places; whereas, the title of Messiah, or, as the Arabs write it, al-Masîḥ, i.e. Christ, is appropriated to Jesus in the Qurʾān, and is constantly applied by the Muḥammadans to him, and never to their own Prophet. The passages produced from the Italian MS. by M. de la Monnoye are to be seen in this Spanish version almost word for word.”

The Rev. Joseph White, D.D., in his Bampton Lectures of 1784, gives a translation of those chapters in this spurious Gospel of Barnabas, which relate to the supposed crucifixion of Judas in the place of our Lord, and which we insert:—

“Judas came near to the people with whom Jesus was; and when He heard the noise He entered into the house where the disciples slept. And God, seeing the fear and danger of His servant, ordered Gabriel and Michael and Rafaīl and Azraīl to carry Him out of the world.

“And they came in all haste, and bare Him out of the window which looks towards the south. And they placed Him in the third heaven, where He will remain blessing God, in the company of angels, till near the end of the world.” (Chapter 216.)

“And Judas the traitor entered before the rest into the place from which Jesus had just been taken up. And the disciples were sleeping. And the Wonderful God acted wonderfully, changing Judas into the same figure and speech with Jesus.

“We believing that it was He, said to him, Master, whom seekest thou? And he said to them, smiling, Ye have forgotten yourselves, since ye do not know Judas Iscariot.

“At this time the soldiery entered; and seeing Judas so like in every respect to Jesus, laid hands upon him,” &c. (Chapter 217.)

“In which (Chap. 218) is related the passion of Judas the traitor.

“The soldiers afterwards took Judas and bound him, notwithstanding he said with truth to them that he was not Jesus. And soldiers mocked him saying, Sir, do not be afraid; for we are come to make thee King of Israel; and we have bound thee, because we know thou hast refused the kingdom. And Judas said, Ye have lost your senses.

“I came to show you Jesus, that ye might take Him; and ye have bound me, who am your guide. The soldiers lost their patience, hearing this, and they began to go with him, striking and buffeting him, till they reached Jerusalem,” &c. &c. (Chapter 218.)

“They carried him to Mount Calvary, where they executed criminals, and crucified him, stripping him naked for the greater ignominy. Then he did nothing but cry out, O my God, why hast thou forsaken me, that I should die unjustly, when the real malefactor hath escaped? I say in truth that he was so like in person, figure, and gesture to Jesus, that as many as knew Him, believed firmly that it was He, except Peter; for which reason many left his doctrine, believing that it had been false; as He had said that He should not die till the end of the world.

“But those who stood firm were oppressed with grief, seeing him die whom they understood to be Jesus: not recollecting what He had told them. And in company with His mother, they were present at his death, weeping continually. And by means of Joseph Abarimatheas (sic), they obtained from the president the body of Judas. And they took him down from the cross, burying him with much lamentation in the new sepulchre of Joseph; having wrapped him up in linen and precious ointments.” (Chapter 219.)

“They all returned, each man to his house: and he who writeth, with James and John, went with the mother of Jesus to Nazareth. And the disciples, who did not fear God with truth, went by night and stole the body of Judas, and hid it; spreading a report that He (i.e. Jesus) had risen again, from whence sprung great confusion among the people.

“And the High Priest commanded, under pain of anathema, that no one should talk of him; and on this account raised a great persecution, banishing some, tormenting others, and even stoning some to death: because it was not in the power of anyone to be silent on this subject. And then came news to Nazareth, that Jesus had risen again. And he that writeth desired the mother of Jesus to leave off her lamentation. And Mary said, Let us go to Jerusalem, to see if it is truth. If I see Him I shall die content. (Chapter 220).

“The Virgin returned to Jerusalem with him that writeth, and James and John, the same day that the decree of the High Priest came out.

“And as she feared God, though she knew [38]the command was unjust, she entreated those who talked with her not to speak of her Son. Who can say, how we were then affected? God, who knows the heart of man, knows that between the grief for the death of Judas, whom we understood to be Jesus, and the pleasure of seeing him risen again, we almost expired. And the angels who were the guardians of Mary went up to heaven the third day, and told Jesus what was passing. And He, moved with compassion for His mother, entreated of God that He might be seen by His disciples. And the Compassionate God ordered His four favourite angels to place Him within His own house, and to guard Him three days; that they and they only might see Him, who believed in His doctrine. Jesus descended, surrounded with light, into the house of His mother, where were the two sisters, Martha and Mary, and Lazarus, and he that writeth, and John and James, and Peter. And when they saw Him, they fell with their faces on the earth as if dead. And Jesus lifted them up, saying, Fear not, for I am your Master. Lament not henceforth, for I am alive. They were astonished at seeing Jesus, because they thought Him dead. And Mary weeping said, Tell me, my Son, why, if God gave Thee power to raise up the dead, did He consent that Thou shouldest die, with so much reproach and shame to Thy relations and friends, and so much hurt to Thy doctrine, leaving us all in desolation? Jesus replied, embracing His mother, Believe me, for I tell thee the truth, I have not been dead; for God has reserved Me for the end of the world. In saying this He desired the angels to manifest themselves, and to tell how He had passed through everything. At the instant they appeared like four suns; and all present prostrated themselves on the ground, overcome by the presence of the angels. And Jesus gave to all of them something to cover themselves with, that they might be able to hear the angels speak.

“And Jesus said to His mother, These are the Ministers of God. Gabriel knows His secrets; Michael fights with His enemies; Asrafiel will cite all to judgment; and Azrael receives the souls. And the holy angels told how they had, by the command of God, taken up Jesus, and transformed Judas, that he might suffer the punishment which he wished to bring on Jesus. And he that writeth said, Is it lawful for me to ask of Thee, in the same manner as when thou wast in the world? And Jesus answered, Speak, Barnabas, what thou wishest.

“And he said, I wish that Thou wouldest tell me how God, being so compassionate, could afflict us so much, in giving us to understand that Thou wast he that suffered, for we have been very near dying? And Thou being a prophet, why did He suffer Thee to fall under disgrace, by (apparently) placing Thee on a cross, and between two robbers? Jesus answered, Believe Me, Barnabas, let the fault be ever so small God chastiseth it with much punishment. And as my mother and faithful disciples loved me with a little earthly love, God chastised that love by this grief; that He might not chastise it in the other world. And though I was innocent, yet as they called Me God, and His Son, that the devils might not mock Me on the Day of Judgment, He has chosen that I should be mocked in this world.

“And this mocking shall last till the holy Messenger of God (i.e. Muḥammad) shall come, who shall undeceive all believers. And then He said, Just art Thou, O God! and to Thee only belongeth the honour and glory, with worship, for ever.” (Chapter 221.)

“And then He said, Barnabas, that thou by all means write my gospel, relating everything which has happened in the world concerning Me; and let it be done exactly; in order that the faithful may be undeceived, knowing the truth. He that writeth said, Master, I will do it as Thou commandest me, God willing: but I did not see all that happened with Judas. Jesus answered, Here stand Peter and John, who saw it, and will relate it to thee.

“And He told James and John to call the seven apostles who were absent, and Nicodemus, and Joseph Abarimatheas (sic), and some of the seventy-two disciples. When they were come, they did eat with Him; and on the third day He commanded them all to go to the mount of Olives with His mother: because He was to return to heaven. All the apostles and disciples went, except twenty-five of the seventy-two, who had fled to Damascus with fear. And exactly at mid-day, while they were all in prayer, Jesus came with many angels (blessing God), with so much brightness that they all bent their faces to the ground. And Jesus raised them up, saying, Fear not your Master, who comes to take leave of you; and to recommend you to God our Lord, by the mercies received from His bounty: and be He with you!

“And upon this He disappeared with the angels; all of us remaining amazed at the great brightness in which he left us.” (Chapter 222.)

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Early Christian Library Before 400 CE

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