Although the Gospel of Barnabas has in recent years been distributed fairly widely throughout the Muslim world in many languages, most Muslims have not as yet seen a copy of this book. Nevertheless the knowledge of its existence is fairly widespread in the Muslim community.
Since 1973 the English translation of the Gospel of Barnabas by Lonsdale and Laura Ragg has been reprinted in large numbers by the Begum Aisha Bawany Wakf in Pakistan and a number of these reprints have come into worldwide circulation. The general position, however, is that most Muslims remain largely ignorant of the book and its contents as a whole.
It has been a blissful ignorance. For too long many Muslims have been persuaded that this book tells the ultimate truth about the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. It alleges that Jesus was not the Son of God, that he was not crucified, and that he foretold the coming of Muhammad. As a result some Muslims believe that this is the true Injil that was given to Jesus. The Gospel of Barnabas, however, does not claim to be the Injil but actually distinguishes itself from the book allegedly given to Jesus. In the following passage we find this distinction very clearly brought out:
The angel Gabriel presented to him as it were a shining mirror, a book, which descended into the heart of Jesus, in which he had knowledge of what God hath done and what he hath said, and what God willeth insomuch that everything was laid bare and open to him; as he said unto me: ‘Believe, Barnabas, that I know every prophet with every prophecy, insomuch that whatever I say the whole hath come forth from that book’. (The Gospel of Barnabas, p.9).
Other Muslims believe that the Gospel of Barnabas is the “original testament” and that the Christians have substituted it with the “New Testament”. Such an attitude betrays a woeful ignorance, not only of the Gospel of Barnabas, but also of the structure of the Christian Bible as a whole.
Because we are persuaded, however, that ignorance is a great evil – no matter how blissful it may be – and because ignorance is the handmaid of error, we deem it necessary to set out the true facts about the Gospel of Barnabas so that it may be clear to Muslim peoples everywhere that this book is a patent forgery of the Middle Ages and that the Muslims will be doing the cause of truth a great service by admitting once and for all that the Gospel of Barnabas is of no historical value at all and that it is to be rejected as a genuine account of the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.
This booklet does not purport to be a contribution to the ongoing scholarly study that is being conducted in the Christian world into the background and origins of the Gospel of Barnabas. For this we are chiefly indebted to the Raggs, who first translated the Gospel into English, and to men like Gairdner, Jomier and Slomp who have gone to great lengths in the cause of truth to provide substantial evidence of the falsehood of the Gospel of Barnabas. Rather we have endeavoured to produce here in summary form some of the clear proofs which have come from these studies so that our Muslim friends may see that the Gospel of Barnabas is a forgery which has become a lamentable red-herring across the trail of Christian-Muslim apologetics in the modern world.
It has been our purpose in some small measure to convey to the Muslim community worldwide some of the fruits of these studies. We have done this purely because we believe that it is deeply regrettable that men should believe that this book is a true account of the life of Jesus Christ.
Because we believe that no lover of truth will wish to be deluded by a counterfeit for long, we have elected to reveal briefly to our Muslim readers some of the origins and sources of the Gospel of Barnabas. We trust that our readers will peruse this booklet with a genuine desire to know where the Gospel of Barnabas really came from and when it was really written – and that they will draw a fair conclusion from the evidence set forth in the following pages of this booklet.
1. Was Barnabas really its author?
This book professes to be a Gospel and alleges that its author was the Apostle Barnabas. We must therefore begin by enquiring who the man Barnabas really was and at the same time must decide whether he is the author of the book we are considering in this booklet. To do this we must make some comparisons between the knowledge that we have of the real Apostle Barnabas in the Bible and the professed author of the Gospel of Barnabas. At the beginning and end of this book two comments appear which immediately assist us in our quest. They are these:
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 Paul also hath been deceived. (The Gospel of Barnabas, p.2).Others preached that he really died, but rose again. Others preached, and yet preach, that Jesus is the son of God, among whom is Paul deceived. (The Gospel of Barnabas, p.273).
The author of this book uses strong language to denounce the teaching of Paul in particular, especially regarding circumcision; the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus; and the Christian belief that Jesus is the Son of God. The whole book abounds in discourses levelled against those things which the author particularly takes Paul to task for, and there can be no doubt that the author of this book is poles apart from Paul and his doctrine and is diametrically opposed to his preaching and teaching.
This is the first of many evidences against the authenticity of this book for whoever wrote it expediently appended the name “Barnabas” to it as its author, whereas only a brief reflection on the actual profile of the real Apostle Barnabas will show that he cannot possibly be the author of this book.
Let us briefly go through the history of Barnabas in the Bible. He only appears among the apostles after the ascension of Jesus to heaven when the early Christian Church was taking root in the land of Palestine. As a gesture of faith and love towards his brethren, he sold a field he owned and gave the proceeds to the apostles for distribution at their discretion to those who were in need among the brethren. This gesture of kindness was a great source of encouragement to the believers and the apostles accordingly named him “Bar-nabas”, which means “Son of encouragement”. Before this he had been known only by his common name Joseph (Acts 4.36).
Here the author of the Gospel of Barnabas makes his first serious blunder for he suggests throughout his book, not only that Barnabas was actually one of the twelve disciples of Jesus during his ministry on earth, but also that he was known by this name “Barnabas” throughout that period of ministry. On more than one occasion in the book we find that Jesus allegedly addressed him by name and the first occasion, which comes particularly early in the book, is this one:
Jesus answered: ‘Be not sore grieved, Barnabas; for those whom God hath chosen before the creation of the world shall not perish’ (The Gospel of Barnabas, p.21).
Now we have here a patent anachronism which destroys the possibility that this book was really written by the Apostle Barnabas. The apostles only gave him the name “Barnabas” (Son of encouragement) after the ascension of Jesus because of the generous act he had done which had heartened the spirits of the early Christians. But the Gospel of Barnabas makes Jesus call him by this name some three years before he ascended to heaven. This is a serious – in our view fatal – objection to the claim that this book was written by the Apostle Barnabas.
As we press on in our study of the life of Barnabas, however, we find further proofs that destroy the claim that this book was really written by him. The next time he appears in the early events of the Church was on the occasion of Paul’s first visit to all the apostles in Jerusalem. Because the apostles knew that Paul had in previous years been a relentless persecutor of the early Christians (primarily because they believed that Jesus was the Son of God!), the apostles and other Christians in Jerusalem doubted whether he really was now converted to their faith. It is indeed a revelation to discover, in the light of the vehement attacks made on Paul in the Gospel of Barnabas, just who it was who went to great pains to assure the brethren in Jerusalem that Paul was really a disciple:
But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. Acts 9.27
We are now confronted with a second serious chain of evidence against the suggestion that Barnabas was the author of the “Gospel” attributed to him. Only seven verses earlier we read that when Paul engaged in public preaching in the synagogue of Damascus, “immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’.” (Acts 9.20). When this same Paul came to Jerusalem, it was Barnabas who vigorously defended him as a true disciple of Jesus.
What a contrast we have here with the book we are considering where the author, supposedly Barnabas, takes Paul to task for the very fact that he was proclaiming that Jesus was the Son of God. The true Barnabas was the right-hand man of this very Paul who publicly taught that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. It is this same Barnabas who represented him at Jerusalem and who spared no effort in persuading the disciples there that Paul really was a disciple of Jesus.
Later on in this booklet we shall show that the Gospel of Barnabas was first written not earlier than fourteen centuries after Christ and that the author, whoever he was, simply chose to make Barnabas the alleged author of his obnoxious forgery. The men we referred to earlier, who have made much in-depth study into the origins and sources of the Gospel of Barnabas, have also tried to ascertain why the real author of this book chose to make Barnabas its supposed author. One or two plausible theories have been suggested, but to this day we have not been able to discover why he did this.
But one thing we do know – the actual author of the Gospel of Barnabas could not have made a worse choice for the “authorship” of his book than Barnabas. He has written this book ostensibly as a defence against “Pauline Christianity” (as some put it) and yet he has, probably without serious reflection, chosen as his author the one man we always find at the side of Paul – recommending him at all times as a true disciple of Jesus and endorsing his preaching wherever he went. To put it plainly, the author of the Gospel of Barnabas has chosen as the alleged author of the book he has composed against the teaching of Paul the very man who supported that teaching more actively than anyone else during his ministry. Barnabas was the spiritual blood-brother of Paul. Our real author has, in a second awful manner, made another calamitous blunder by suggesting that the Apostle Barnabas – of all people! – was the author of the fraudulent “Gospel” he has composed.
As we go further into the life of Barnabas this fact comes out even more clearly. When the church in Jerusalem heard that the church in Antioch was growing well, the apostles decided to send Barnabas there to take over the teaching and instruction of the new believers. But Barnabas, of his own volition, decided that he could not handle this by himself, and decided to obtain the assistance of another fellow-believer well-grounded in the faith for this work. Without hesitation Barnabas went all the way to Tarsus in Asia Minor to find Paul and immediately he brought him to Antioch to assist him in the instruction of the church in the city. We read the following of their ministry:
For a whole year they met with the church, and taught a large company of people; and in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians. Acts 11.26
Under the joint ministry of Paul and Barnabas, the disciples were first called Christians – because Barnabas was a true champion of the very “Pauline Christianity” that the Gospel of Barnabas sets out to refute. After this Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem with aid for the brethren because of a famine that was taking place in the days of the Roman emperor Claudius (Acts 11.28-30). After this Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch (Acts 12.25). They continued to lead the church there and were subsequently sent out by the church to preach the Gospel in the provinces of Galatia (in what is part of Turkey as we know it today).
Wherever they went Paul and Barnabas preached that Jesus was the Son of God and that God had raised him from the dead (cf. Acts 13.33). And yet, the author of the Gospel of Barnabas would have us believe that Barnabas was an archenemy of Paul on these matters! We even find them both proclaiming that the restrictive ordinances of Judaism (e.g. circumcision) should not be forced upon the Gentiles and that they were unnecessary for salvation. A very interesting event in their joint ministry is recorded in these words:
But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’. And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question. Acts 15.1-2
Certain Judaisers had come among the early Christians stating that circumcision was necessary for salvation. Who do we find debating hotly with them on this point? None other than Paul and Barnabas!
And yet, in the Gospel of Barnabas, we read that one of the “impious doctrines” that Paul was holding to was repudiation of circumcision. That he repudiated it as an essential element of salvation we will readily concede (Galatians 5. 2-6) – but his chief partner in this repudiation is none other than Barnabas! Once again the author has blundered in making Barnabas the author of his deplorable forgery.
Indeed, according to the Gospel of Barnabas, Jesus is alleged to have said to his disciples:
‘Leave fear to him that hath not circumcised his foreskin, for he is deprived of paradise’ (The Gospel of Barnabas, p.26).
Thus circumcision is an essential element and a prerequisite of salvation in the Gospel of Barnabas and the author obviously assents to this doctrine. But of the real Barnabas we read that he joined with Paul in furiously debating against the doctrine of the Judaisers that circumcision was necessary for salvation. It is quite clear that the real Barnabas was not the author of the book that bears his name and that someone else not only forged this book but misrepresented the name of its author as well.
The current publishers of the Gospel of Barnabas (Begum Aisha Bawany Wakf) are well aware that the major objective of the Gospel of Barnabas is to counteract “Pauline Christianity”. In an appendix entitled “Life and Message of Barnabas” they allege that the passage about the debate on the issue of circumcision reveals a growing rift between Paul and Barnabas. They quote Acts 15.2 (quoted above) and shamelessly comment: “After this rift, there was a parting of the ways” between Paul and Barnabas (The Gospel of Barnabas, p.279). But it is quite obvious that the rift was not between Paul and Barnabas on the issue but between the men from Judea on the one hand who were glorifying circumcision and Paul and Barnabas on the other who were furiously against perverting the freedom of the religion of Jesus with legalistic traditions and restrictions that could save nobody. Because this appendix appears in all editions of the Gospel of Barnabas published today we must say that the whole article is a brazen misrepresentation of the true relationship between Paul and Barnabas. The writer of the article has had to disown conscience in trying to force the theory of the Gospel of Barnabas that Paul and Barnabas disagreed on doctrinal matters.
At no stage is there any evidence that Paul and Barnabas ever disagreed on a matter of doctrine. They once had a minor personal dispute when Paul did not wish to take John Mark on a missionary journey, as he had fallen back on a previous one, to the provinces of Galatia (Acts 15.38-40). This, however, was purely a personal matter which was clearly resolved as we see in other passages of Scripture (Colossians 4.10 and 2 Timothy 4.11). On one other occasion Barnabas was guilty of some religious discrimination with other Jewish Christians in Antioch when they would not eat with the Gentile Christians (Galatians 2.13). Paul censured this strongly but this was also not about a doctrinal matter but one of common fellowship between all Christians no matter what their background. None of these minor disputes had anything to do with the fundamental doctrines Paul and Barnabas so rigidly promoted – the repudiation of circumcision as necessary for salvation, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the basic doctrine that Jesus is the Son of God. Rather we have extensive evidence that Barnabas was the prime vindicator of all these doctrines that Paul taught.
Paul’s later letter to the Christians of Galatia helps us even more to perceive the truth of this fact. In the second chapter we read that Paul went up to Jerusalem – with Barnabas of course – taking Titus, an uncircumcised Greek, with him as a test case against the necessity of circumcision (Galatians 2.1). But Titus, however, was not compelled to be circumcised – obviously as a result of the persuasive arguments of Paul and Barnabas against circumcision as an essential element of salvation.
Not only did the apostles at Jerusalem agree with Paul and Barnabas that circumcision was unnecessary but, as Paul said, they “gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship” (Galatians 2.9). Once again the sympathy and unity of Barnabas with Paul is plainly revealed and it is obvious that in the early church, whenever the Christians at Jerusalem thought of Barnabas, they must have immediately associated him with Paul.
In the third chapter of Galatians we have further evidence that Barnabas was a Christian in every way and not one who was opposed to Christianity as the author of the Gospel of Barnabas is. Paul, aggrieved that the Galatians were considering such a trivial matter as circumcision as essential for salvation, openly censured them for losing sight of the wondrous and all-sufficient work of Jesus who alone made salvation a reality for men through his atoning death on the cross. He rebuked them in the following words which show quite plainly what the heart of his message to them was:
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? Galatians 3.1
We must ask: by whom was Jesus Christ “publicly portrayed as crucified” before the eyes of the Galatians? Who first preached to them the Gospel of Jesus? No one else but Paul and Barnabas! So from this letter we have further concrete evidence that Barnabas was a champion of the Gospel which Paul preached. Certainly he was not only an apostle of true Christian persuasion, but in his quest for Christian fellowship chose Paul as his closest companion. Of all people the Apostle Barnabas could not be the author of the Gospel attributed to him!
The transparent unity in the mission and purpose of Paul and Barnabas is finally made even yet clearer by this brief summary of their activities together:
“Devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God (Acts 13.43) … Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly (13.46) … the Jews stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas (13.50) … Paul went on with Barnabas to Derbe (14. 20) … Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them (15.2) … and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles (15.12) … then it seemed good to the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas (15.22) … our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ (15.26) … Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord (15.35)”
There is such a contrast between the real Barnabas who through all these events chooses Paul as his companion, and the pseudo-author of the Gospel of Barnabas, who has a positive antagonism to Paul and his teaching, that we cannot help but conclude that the Gospel of Barnabas is a forgery. It was not written by Barnabas but by someone else who made a major tactical blunder in choosing a close companion of Paul as the author of this book.
Two points from within the Gospel of Barnabas also show that the author could not be the real Apostle Barnabas. Firstly, this book makes Jesus constantly deny that he is the Messiah (further treatment of this subject follows later in this booklet) and yet the same book calls Jesus himself the “Christ” (p.2). Now any man with a basic knowledge of Greek knows that “Christos” is the Greek translation of Messiah (a Hebrew word) and that “Jesus Christ” is an anglicised form of the Greek “Iesous Christos”, meaning “Jesus the Messiah”. The very real contradiction that exists here in the Gospel of Barnabas is further evidence that the author was not Barnabas himself. He came from Cyprus, an island where Greek was the common tongue, and Greek would have been his home language. The real Barnabas would never have made such a mistake as to call Jesus the Christ and deny that he was the Messiah!
Secondly, the author of the Gospel of Barnabas has chosen to know nothing of the ministry of John the Baptist in his book but has deviously taken the testimony of John to Jesus in the Bible and changed it into a supposed testimony of Jesus to Muhammad. Whether Jesus ever predicted the coming of Muhammad or not is not at issue here (see Is Muhammad Foretold in the Bible?, No.5 in this series, for a treatment of that subject). What is obvious, however, to anyone who has read the life of Jesus in the Bible, is that the author of the Gospel of Barnabas has tried to make Jesus a herald of the coming of Muhammad in the very mould of John the Baptist who was a herald of the coming of Jesus, and to achieve this he has put Jesus in the shoes of John and has made him say of Muhammad what John really said of him!
Accordingly the author of the Gospel of Barnabas has had to omit the person and ministry of John from his book altogether. But the clear and consistent account of John’s ministry in the Bible (see particularly Matthew chapter 3, John chapters 1 and 3) and the plain endorsement in the Qur’an of the ministry of John the Baptist as a herald of Jesus (Surah 3.39) both expose the deceitfulness of the author of the Gospel of Barnabas. It is certain that the real Barnabas, who was a “good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11.24), would never have resorted to such falsehood in the cause of truth to which he was so dedicated throughout his life.
We conclude that there is overwhelming evidence that the real Barnabas was most certainly not the author of the book being circulated today in the Muslim world which purports to be written by him. But now let us press on to a brief examination of the internal evidence of the Gospel of Barnabas to see whether it has any credibility at all, or whether it is not really a “bare-faced forgery”, as George Sale put it, that has been unwittingly distributed throughout the Islamic world in the service of Satan and his causes alone.
2. Evidence of its Medieval Origin
We find much evidence in the Gospel of Barnabas that it was first written in the Middle Ages – many centuries after the times of Jesus and Muhammad.
a). The Centenery Jubilee:
In the time of Moses God ordained that the Jews were to observe a jubilee year twice a century:
A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be to you. Leviticus 25.11
Throughout the centuries this command was observed and the Roman Catholic Church eventually took it over into the Christian faith. About 1300 AD Pope Boniface the Eighth gave a decree that the jubilee should be observed once every hundred years. This is the only occasion in all history that the jubilee year was made to be only once every hundred years. After the death of Boniface, however, Pope Clemens the Sixth decreed in 1343 AD that the jubilee year should revert to once every fifty years as it was observed by the Jews after the time of Moses. Now we find in the Gospel of Barnabas that Jesus is alleged to have said:
‘And then through all the world will God be worshipped, and mercy received, insomuch that the year of jubilee, which now cometh every hundred years, shall by the Messiah be reduced to every year in every place.’ (The Gospel of Barnabas, p.104).
Only one solution can account for this remarkable coincidence. The author of the Gospel of Barnabas could only have quoted Jesus as speaking of the year of jubilee as coming “every hundred years” if he knew of the decree of Pope Boniface. But how could he know of this decree unless he lived at the same time as the Pope or sometime afterwards? This is a clear anachronism which compels us to conclude that the Gospel of Barnabas could not have been written earlier than the fourteenth century AD.
This also means that the Gospel of Barnabas dates at least seven hundred years after the time of Muhammad and it is in the circumstances of no historical value at all. Although it often makes Jesus predict the coming of Muhammad by name (which is why it is a best-seller in the world of Islam today), as it was written after the death of Muhammad, these “prophecies” are of no interest or value at all. Indeed the Gospel of Barnabas contains many discourses and practices fully synonymous with the basic teachings of Islam – but these too are of no value because the book was written at least seven hundred years after the advent of Islam.
Prophecies that are first composed centuries after the event they foretell has come to pass are of no more interest or value than yesterday’s weather forecast. We conclude, from the striking quote about the jubilee year, that the author of the Gospel of Barnabas wrote his book not earlier than the fourteenth century after Christ. Let us press on to examine further evidence of mediaeval features.
b). Quotations from Dante.
Dante was an Italian who, significantly, also lived about the time of Pope Boniface and wrote his famous “Divina Comedia” in the fourteenth century. This was basically a fantasy about hell, purgatory and paradise according to the Roman Catholic beliefs of his times.
Now in the Gospel of Barnabas we read that Jesus allegedly said of the prophets of old:
‘Readily and with gladness they went to their death, so as not to offend against the law of God given by Moses his servant, and go and serve false and lying gods’. (Gospel of Barnabas, p.27).
The expression “false and lying gods” (dei falsi e lugiardi) is found elsewhere in the Gospel of Barnabas as well. On one occasion it is Jesus again who supposedly uses these words (p.99) and on another it is the author himself who describes Herod as serving “false and lying gods” (p.267). Nevertheless this expression is found in neither the Bible nor the Qur’an. What is interesting, however, is that it is a direct quote from Dante! (Inferno 1.72). Many of the descriptions of hell in the Gospel of Barnabas (pp. 76-77) are reminiscent of those in the third canto of Dante’s Inferno as well.
Likewise the expression “raging hunger” (rabbiosa fame) is also reminiscent of the first canto of Dante’s Inferno. Both speak of the “circles of hell” and the author of the Gospel of Barnabas also makes Jesus say to Peter:
‘Know ye therefore that hell is one, yet hath seven centres one below another. Hence, even as sin is of seven kinds, for as seven gates of hell hath Satan generated it: so there are seven punishments therein’. (The Gospel of Barnabas, p.171).
This is precisely Dante’s description found in the fifth and sixth cantos of his Inferno. We could go on and quote many more examples but space here demands that we press on to other evidences that the Gospel of Barnabas was written in the Middle Ages. One striking quote must be mentioned, however, because in this case the Gospel of Barnabas agrees with Dante while contradicting the Qur’an. We read in the Qur’an that there are seven heavens:
He it is who created for you all that is in the earth. Then turned He to the heaven, and fashioned it as seven heavens. Surah 2.29
On the contrary we read in the Gospel of Barnabas that there are nine heavens and that Paradise like Dante’s Empyrean – is the tenth heaven above all the other nine. The author of the Gospel of Barnabas makes Jesus say:
‘Paradise is so great that no man can measure it. Verily I say unto thee that the heavens are nine … I say to thee that paradise is greater than all the earth and all the heavens together’. (The Gospel of Barnabas, p.223).
Clearly the author of the Gospel of Barnabas knew Dante’s work and had no scruples to quote from it. Accordingly we have further evidence that the Gospel of Barnabas could not have been written earlier than the fourteenth century – hundreds of years after the times of Jesus and Muhammad. It is accordingly a worthless forgery which should be disowned as such by every Muslim who believes in his heart that no lie can be of the truth.
3. The Mediaval environment of the Gospel.
The author of the Gospel of Barnabas claims to have been with Jesus throughout his ministry and accordingly must have walked with him throughout the land of Palestine during those three years that Jesus served the people of Israel. In the circumstances we would expect to find a first-century, Palestinian environment in his book – such as we find in the four true Gospels of the Christian Bible. But we are astonished to find many incidents which betray a mediaeval, western-European background in the Gospel of Barnabas. Firstly we read:
‘Behold then how beautiful is the world in summer-time, when all things bear fruit. The very peasant, intoxicated with gladness by reason of the harvest that is come, maketh the valleys and mountains resound with his singing, for that he loveth his labours supremely’. (The Gospel of Barnabas, p.217).
This is a fair description of Spain or Italy in summer but most certainly not of Palestine where the rain falls in winter and where the fields are parched in summer. In any event Palestine has always been a part of the world where cultivation of the land has required much effort and where much of the countryside is barren and grassless. We find it surprising that this land should be appealed to as one which in summer-time is a good example of the delightful environment of Paradise. Indeed Jesus is alleged to have delivered this discourse to his disciples in the wilderness beyond the Jordan (p.211) where they were hardly likely to have any evidence of the glories of the lush gardens of Paradise.
Again we read in the Gospel of Barnabas that Martha, her sister Mary, and her brother Lazarus were the overlords of two towns, Magdala and Bethany (p.242). This proprietorship of villages and towns belongs to the Middle Ages when the system of feudalism was rooted in European society. Certainly no such practice was known at the time of Jesus when the occupying Roman forces controlled most of the land of Palestine.
These anachronisms rule out any possibility that the Gospel of Barnabas is genuinely what it claims to be. It does well appear to be a forgery of the Middle Ages written by a Muslim who, probably frustrated at being unable to prove that the true Gospels in the Bible are corrupted, wrote a false Gospel and proclaimed that his corruption was the truth! A similar example of the mediaeval environment of this Gospel is the reference in it to wine casks (p.196), for wine was stored in skins in Palestine (Matthew 9.17) while wooden casks were used in Europe in the Middle Ages.
In conclusion, however, it must be pointed out that whereas the author of the Gospel of Barnabas reveals in his book that he has an accurate knowledge of the structure of mediaeval society, he simultaneously exposes his ignorance of the land of Palestine which he is supposed to have traversed as a disciple of Jesus for at least three years! He says:
Having arrived at the city of Nazareth the sea-men spread through the city all that Jesus had wrought. (The Gospel of Barnabas, p.23).
In this passage Nazareth is represented as a coastal city, a harbour on the lake of Galilee. After this we read that Jesus “went up to Capernaum” (p.23) from Nazareth, as though Capernaum was in the hillside near the sea of Galilee. Here the author really has his facts incorrect, for Capernaum was the coastal city and Nazareth was up in the hills (where it is to this day). Jesus would have gone up from Capernaum to Nazareth, not the other way around as the author of the Gospel of Barnabas has it. This evidence also shows that the author of the Gospel of Barnabas lived in Europe in the Middle Ages rather than in Palestine at the time of Jesus.
3. Other Evidences against its Authenticity
Before concluding this booklet let us briefly consider some of the other evidences that prove that the Gospel of Barnabas is a forgery. Firstly, this book makes Jesus often state that he is not the Messiah but that Muhammad would be the Messiah. It is a constant, recurring theme in the Gospel of Barnabas. Two quotes show, not only that Jesus did not consider himself the Messiah, but preached that Muhammad was to be the Messiah:
Jesus confessed and said the truth: ‘I am not the Messiah … I am indeed sent to the house of Israel as a prophet of salvation; but after me shall come the Messiah’. (The Gospel of Barnabas, pp.54, 104).
Other passages in the Gospel of Barnabas contain similar denials by Jesus that he was the Messiah. It is clearly one of the express purposes of this book to establish Muhammad as the Messiah and to subject Jesus to him in dignity and authority. Here, however, the author of this book has overreached himself in his zeal for the cause of Islam. For the Qur’an plainly admits that Jesus is the Messiah on numerous occasions and in doing so it confirms the teaching of Jesus himself that he was indeed the Messiah (John 4.26, Matthew 16.20). One quote from the Qur’an will suffice to prove this:
‘O Mary! Lo! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a word from Him, whose name is the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, illustrious in the world and the Hereafter’. Surah 3.45
The Gospel of Barnabas was obviously written as an ideal “Islamic” Gospel, setting forth a life of Christ in which he is made to be the Isa of the Qur’an rather than the Lord Jesus Christ of the Christian Gospels. But as it so hopelessly contradicts both the Qur’an and the Bible on the fact that Jesus was the Messiah and does this so often and so consistently, it must be rejected as a forgery by Christian and Muslim alike. There is no room here for apologetics or efforts to reconcile this book with the Qur’an or the Bible. It is a counterfeit.
Secondly, it is alleged that the Romans stirred up the Jews to such an extent about the real nature of Jesus that “all Judea was in arms” (p.115), ready to fight for or against the various beliefs being spread among them about him. As a result six hundred thousand gathered for battle – two hundred thousand each for the beliefs that he was God, that he was the Son of God, and that he was only a prophet; all of them being prepared for a three-cornered contest where each side took on the other two at one and the same time!
The story betrays itself as a phenomenal myth and fantasy by its hopeless overstatement of the number of men gathered for battle. (The author often resorts to wild exaggerations of facts and numbers in his book in an apparent attempt to create a wondrous impact on his readers). Where did the Jews suddenly find six hundred thousand swords at a time when the Romans not only suppressed but also prevented the manufacture of military hardware by this nation? Rather than fight one another, this whole army could with ease have driven the Romans right out of Palestine for the Roman army throughout the world numbered less than half this figure. Only a small garrison controlled Judea and secular history knows of no such monumental preparation for a three-cornered contest of such gigantic proportions!
The Gospel of Barnabas furthermore suggests that Pilate, Herod and Caiaphas went to great pains to prevent the pending holocaust. We find this hard to believe. If indeed the Jews were six hundred thousand strong, Pilate would have been only too delighted to see them decimate one another in a three-cornered contest!
The Gospel of Barnabas also clearly contradicts the Qur’an about the birth of Jesus when it says:
The virgin was surrounded by a light exceeding bright and brought forth her son without pain. (The Gospel of Barnabas, p.5).
This is a clear repetition of Roman Catholic beliefs of the Middle Ages. The bright light and the painless birth find parallels in the beliefs about the Virgin Mary in the churches of Europe in Mediaeval times. No such details are found in the Biblical account of the birth of Jesus but the Qur’an directly contradicts the Gospel of Barnabas when it says:
And the pangs of childbirth drove her unto the trunk of the palm tree. Surah 19.23
Because the Gospel of Barnabas purports to be an account of the life of Jesus written by one of his disciples, and further because it has been clearly composed to synchronise with the Qur’an in its concept of Jesus as a prophet of Islam, the Muslim world has not hesitated to foist this book on the Christian world as the “true Gospel”. But we are constrained to ask how this book can be true in Muslim eyes if it contradicts the Qur’an which the Muslims believe to be the Word of God.
In the Gospel of Barnabas we read that Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea both at the time of the birth of Jesus (p.4) and during the time of his ministry thirty years later. Palestine was a particularly difficult trouble-spot for the Romans and no governor was sent there for long – let alone thirty years. We know from history in any event that Pilate was only appointed governor in 27 AD – more than a generation after the birth of Jesus. This is another faux pas – one of many in the pages of this Gospel.
Another contradiction between the Gospel of Barnabas and the Qur’an is found in their respective accounts of the end times. According to the Gospel of Barnabas, on the thirteenth day of a fifteen day climax leading to the end of all things, “the heaven shall be rolled up like a book, and it shall rain fire, so that every living thing shall die” (p.70). The Qur’an, however, says of the Last Day:
But when the shout cometh on the day when a man fleeth from his brother and his mother and his father and his wife and his children, every man will have that day concern enough to make him heedless of others. Surah 80.33-37
There is a clear contradiction here. The Gospel of Barnabas states that two days before the end all shall perish but the Qur’an states that men will still be alive until the last day when the trumpet shall sound from heaven. The Muslim world must choose between the Qur’an and the Gospel of Barnabas – no man can sincerely believe that the latter book is a true account of the life of Jesus Christ if he still believes that the Qur’an is the Word of God.
Furthermore according to the Gospel of Barnabas all angels shall die on the last day (p.70) but the Qur’an knows nothing of the death of angels but states that eight of them will bear the Lord’s throne on the last day (Surah 69.17). Any Muslim who believes that the Qur’an is the Word of God and any Christian who believes that the Bible is the Word of God must reject the Gospel of Barnabas as a hybrid composition of no literary or religious value at all.
We could go on and produce even further proofs that this book is truly a “bare-faced forgery” as George Sale so succinctly put it but the evidence given in this booklet should be sufficient to convince any reasonable Muslim that, while he might feel it would be very useful for a Gospel to be discovered wherein Jesus foretells the coming of Muhammad, the Gospel of Barnabas just does not provide him with the honest evidence he needs. Muslim interest in this book is understandable but, in the name of truth and honesty, the Muslims of the world should admit that it is not a book contemporary with the life of Jesus, which proves that he really was the Isa of the Qur’an, but rather a lamentable forgery which, far from promoting the cause of Islam, must ultimately damage it if foolish men continue to propagate it as a true account of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. We shall conclude with a brief study of the likely origin and author of the Gospel of Barnabas from the evidence we possess at the present time.
4. Who Really Composed this Forgery?
There are only two known manuscripts of the Gospel of Barnabas which existed before any copies were made from the texts available to us. The Italian version is in a library today in Vienna whereas only fragments remain of the Spanish version. George Sale, in his comments on the Gospel of Barnabas in his “Preliminary Discourse to the Koran” and a further short preface in his book, speaks of a complete Spanish version in his lifetime which he saw for himself. It appears that the Spanish version may well have been the original one. In the introduction to this version it is claimed that it is a translation of the Italian version but numerous spelling errors in the Italian version – typical of an author using Italian as a second language – certainly show at least that the author was more at home in Spain than Italy. Nevertheless this does not prevent the possibility that someone from Spain tried his hand at composing an original in Italian. This possibility is made all the more real by two considerations.
Firstly, as the author often quotes the Vulgate (the Latin translation of the Bible) and has borrowed many of his stories from the
Scriptures, he might well have found it more convenient to use the Italian language medium for his own contrived composition.
Secondly, he might have thought that his book would look far more authentic if it was written in Italian. It would serve to substantiate the introduction of the Spanish version where it was alleged that the Gospel of Barnabas was originally hidden in the Pope’s library before it was discovered in rather questionable circumstances by a certain Fra Marine who allegedly became a Muslim after reading it. The Italian text may have been written to give some credence to this story – if the Gospel was to appear in Spain first of all, it would be far more suitable to have it written in the foreign tongue in the land of its alleged origin, rather than in the local dialect. This latter alternative might have cast immediate suspicion on its real origin – especially if an Italian version could not be produced to verify the claim that the original came from Italy.
Certain features, however, substantiate the suggestion that this book was first written in Spain by a Spaniard, no matter what language he originally wrote it in. The Gospel of Barnabas makes Jesus say:
‘For he who would get in change a piece of gold must have sixty mites’. (The Gospel of Barnabas, p.71).
The Italian version divides the golden “denarius” into sixty “minuti”. These coins were actually of Spanish origin during the pre-Islamic Visigothic period and openly betray a Spanish background to the original Gospel of Barnabas.
No one knows who actually wrote the Gospel of Barnabas but what is known, without shadow of doubt, is that whoever it was, it most certainly was not the Apostle Barnabas. It was most probably a Muslim in Spain who, possibly the victim of the reconquest of his country, decided to take private revenge by composing a false Gospel under the assumed name of Barnabas to give his obnoxious forgery some measure of apparent authenticity. He probably first composed the Italian script to maintain this appearance of genuineness but simultaneously composed (or arranged for such a translation) a Spanish version for distribution in his own country. He may well have been the notorious Fra Marine or he may have been the translator Mustafa de Aranda, or indeed he may well have been both – using the two names for the same expedient ends as those he sought to achieve through using the name of Barnabas as the author of his book. He most certainly was someone far more at home in Spain in the Middle Ages rather than in Palestine at the time of Jesus Christ.
Whatever the Gospel of Barnabas may claim to be, whatever it may appear to be, whatever the Muslim world would like it to be, a general study of its contents and authorship shows that it is a poor attempt to forge a life of Jesus consonant with the profile of Jesus in the Qur’an and Islamic tradition. The Muslim world will do well to reject this book as a clear forgery – for that is what it unmistakably proves to be.
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