What about the Gospel of Barnabas?

Certain critics of the Gospels allege that a document called the “Gospel of Barnabas” is the original Gospel of Jesus, claiming that Christians had deliberately hidden it until it popped up in the 18th century. While there are hundreds of early manuscripts of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, there are absolutely no manuscript copies of the Gospel of Barnabas until one thousand five hundred years after Jesus. As we will see below, this document was composed in southern Europe sometime between 1500 and 1590. Unfortunately for the forger, his rather fuzzy understanding of the Bible, the Qur’ān and ancient Palestine betrays both his ignorance of Palestine and the medieval date of authorship.

Evidences of Sixteenth Century Origins

The “Gospel of Barnabas” contains some undeniable marks of 16th century authorship. The Tawrat ordered the Israelites to set aside every fiftieth year as a “jubilee” year of rest and debt cancellation, yet the author of the “Gospel of Barnabas” gives the interval as 100 years. No Jew of Jesus’ day would have made such a blunder. Where did the author get the number one hundred from? Around 1300AD, Pope Boniface VIII reintroduced this ‘jubilee’ liberation year which had not been practiced for centuries, but decreed a 100 year interval jubilee for the church. Later popes changed it back to 50 years and then down to 25 years. Apparently the author of the “Gospel of Barnabas” had heard of Pope Boniface’s decree but thought it was instituted by Jesus.

He also unthinkingly included a few quotations and concepts from the medieval author Dante which are found neither in the Bible nor Qur’ān. Dante was another 13th century Italian who wrote a fantasy classic about hell and heaven called The Divine Comedy. Several quotations from Dante found their way in this “Gospel of Barnabas”, such as the phrase “dei falsi e lugiadi” (“false and lying gods”) (Inferno 1:72, Gospel of Barnabas para 23), which is found neither in the Bible nor Qur’ān.

The “Gospel of Barnabas” writes of storing wine in wooden wine-casks (para 152), a practice common in medieval Europe but unknown in first-century Palestine where wine was stored in skins. Furthermore, the author makes Jesus speak of how beautiful the world is in summertime when the harvest and fruit abound (para 169). This is a good description of Italy in the summer, but not Palestine where the rain falls and crops grow in the winter but the fields are parched in summertime.

The author was also unfamiliar with Palestine’s geography, for he describes Nazareth as a coastal city (para 20,21) on the Sea of Galilee, yet Nazareth is 1,300ft above sea level and 20km from the sea. In chapter 99, Tyre is described as close to the Jordan River, yet in reality it is 50km away in present-day Lebanon. The “Gospel of Barnabas” mentions Jesus as preaching from the pinnacle of the Jerusalem temple. If he would have seen the temple with his own eyes, he would have known that this was 150 feet high, making preaching impossible. The author also describes the amassing of three armies, each of 200,000 armed men in a battle over the question of Christ’s deity. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the whole Roman regular army only numbered 300,000 at this time and a half of these were reserves. There was only a small garrison in Judea until the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.1

This is only a short list of the many clear indications that this document was written by a rather sloppy medieval European. More such evidence is available online at www.unchangingword.com . The original English translation of the “Gospel of Barnabas” by Lonsdale and Laura Ragg (1907) included 70 pages of introduction giving further convincing reasons why various scholars believe this to be medieval forgery. Jamaati-Islam translated this document into Urdu and propagated it throughout Pakistan, but they deliberately omitted the original introduction debunking it. With such overwhelming and conclusive evidence of medieval authorship, one wonders at the integrity of the men who continue to propagate what they must know to be false. For example, a Pakistani named Ataur Rahim who took great pains to introduce this “Gospel” into Pakistan, had this to say:

The Gospel of Barnabas is the only known surviving Gospel written by a disciple of Jesus, that is by a man who spent most of his time in the actual company of Jesus during the three years in which he was delivering his message. Therefore he had direct experience and knowledge of Jesus’ teaching, unlike all the authors of the four accepted Gospels.2

Every claim in the above statement is false and meant only to mislead. He totally ignores the fact that both John and Matthew, who wrote two of the Gospels in the Injīl, were among the twelve intimate disciples of Jesus. Barnabas, on the other hand, was from the distant island of Cyprus and most probably never met Jesus, having come to faith after Jesus was taken up to heaven. Rahim further claims that during Emperor Zeno’s ruled in 478AD, the remains of Barnabas were discovered, and a copy of the Gospel of Barnabas, written by his own hand, was found on his breast. According to him it is recorded in the Acta Sanctorium, Boland Junii, Tome 2, pages 422-450, published in Antwerp in 1698. However, the record actually says that a copy of the Gospel of Matthew, copied by Barnabas himself, was found on his breast. This deliberate alteration of the record reflects clearly Rahim’s lack of integrity and deliberate attempt to deceive. He omitted the words “according to Matthew, copied by Barnabas himself” and instead inserted “Gospel of Barnabas”. A more truthful practicing Muslim scholar in the West concluded as follows:

As regards the “Gospel of Barnabas” itself, there is no question that it is a medieval forgery … It contains anachronisms which can date only from the Middle Ages and not before, and shows a garbled comprehension of Islamic doctrines, calling the Prophet the “Messiah”, which Islam does not claim for him. Besides its farcical notion of sacred history, stylistically it is a mediocre parody of the Gospels, as the writings of Baha Allah are of the Koran.3

Muslim scholar Dr Mahmoud Ayoub concurs:

“This is most probably a late work, written under Islamic influence.”4

It is disgraceful for people to continue to publish, promote and distribute this false Scripture. It is disgraceful for them to create this deliberate confusion.

Inconsistencies with the Qur’ān

Furthermore, the “Gospel of Barnabas” contradicts not only the Gospels but also the Qur’ān in numerous places. The Qur’ān gives Jesus alone the noble title of Al-Masih, or “The Messiah”5, while the Gospel of Barnabas reads as follows:

Jesus confessed instead the truth: “I am not the Messiah… I am indeed sent to the house of Israel as a prophet of salvation.” (Gospel of Barnabas, para 42,82)

The medieval author of the “Gospel of Barnabas” contradicted the Qur’ān in many other areas. For example, he included an un-Biblical medieval tradition that Jesus’ birth was miraculously painless (para 3). This directly contradicts Sura Maryam verse 23, which describes Mary in great pain in childbirth. According to the Qur’ān , there are only seven heavens (Baqara 2:29), but the author of this document taught the existence of nine heavens.6 On numerous other topics such as hell, judgment, wine, polygamy, Satan, prophets and sacrifice this document directly contradicts the Qur’ān.

  1. The New Encyclopedia Britannica , Vol. 25, pp. 414-415 (ed. 15th, 1993).
  2. Rahim, A prophet of Islam, p.37.
  3. Cyril Glassé, The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989, p. 65
  4. Ayoub, Mahmoud M., “Towards an Islamic Christology II”, The Muslim World, Vol. LXX, April 1980, No. 2, p. 113.
  5. The Qur’ān states, no less than eleven times, that Jesus alone is the Messiah (see Al-Imran 3:45 for example).
  6. Chapter 178

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