To millions of Christians raised with a Sunday School interpretation of Christianity, this article may come as something of a shock. However, for those Christians, the shocks are only just the beginning. Indeed, the shocks dramatically increase in voltage when one considers the early Christian scriptures, both apocryphal and canonical in regards to the Crucifixion.
“That they said (in boast), ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the messenger 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 – nay, God raised him up unto Himself; and God is exalted in power, wise” (Quran 4:157-158)
There are very few issues, which separate Muslims from. Christians as sharply as that of an alleged crucifixion, which reportedly occurred on the outskirts of Jerusalem in the first half of the first century. That the crucifixion was little noted at the time, cannot be doubted. Besides the books of the New Testament of the Bible (authored during the second half of the first century and the first half of the second century), as well as other early Christian literature, the only near-contemporary mention of the crucifixion is found in just two places. A mention of the event occurs briefly in the works of the Jewish historian, Josephus bin Matthias, (during the second half of the first century) who wrote:
“At this time there was a wise man called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous… Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. Accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have reported wonders.” (Josephus F, 1988)
The other writer who reported the event in passing was the Roman historian, Tacitus, who lived from around 55 to 115. He stated:
“Christus … had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius,
by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate …” (Tacitus: Annals. In Pagels E, 1979)
Certainly, there are other issues, that separate and divide Islamic from Christian belief, most conspicuously the Christian doctrine of the trinity. However, the doctrine of the trinity is so ephemeral and so complex that the average Christian does not even begin to understand the doctrine. If asked to define it, he would probably provide a definition of the trinity, which the church has long since declared to be heresy. But, the crucifixion is an issue that does matter to the average Christian, who sees the crucifixion of Jesus, peace be upon him, as an historical event about which there really can be no doubt.
Indoctrinated throughout childhood by years of listening to Bible stories of the crucifixion, and by instruction in how the Bible is to be read and understood, the average Christian is often rather incredulous that anyone can even doubt that Jesus Christ was crucified. Most Christians believe that one can question the virgin birth, one can question the post-crucifixion resurrection of Jesus, one can question the trinity, but how can one even start to question the historical event of the crucifixion of Jesus?
In marked contrast, the Quran explicitly states that “they killed him not, nor crucified him”. However, the Quran does not say that there was no crucifixion. Rather, the Quran states that it was not Jesus Christ who was crucified, even though it was made to appear that he was. In short, the chasm, which separates Islam and Christianity in regard to the crucifixion, is not whether or not there was a crucifixion at the time and place the New Testament maintains, but only whether the person so crucified was Jesus. Given this consideration, the present chapter ignores the myriad of debates within Christianity as to the place/ and actual date of crucifixion. Instead, it focuses on just one point, i.e., was it Jesus who was crucified?
– There are two issues regarding the date of the crucifixion. First, in what year during Pontius Pilate’s government was the crucifixion? Second, is the chronology of the Synoptic or Johanine tradition to be followed in placing the crucifixion in relation to the Jewish Passover?
In raising this question, the author proposes to show that the Christian literature and scripture, in and of itself, provide several reasons to accept the Quranic statement that it was not Jesus, the prophet of Allah (God), who was crucified. In so doing, it is readily acknowledged that one is traveling down a path “with no (certain) knowledge”, and with only the signposts of “conjecture to follow”. However, it is not the purpose of this article to show what really took place that long ago day in Jerusalem. Rather, it is to demonstrate that the early Christians were quite confused and uncertain about what actually happened during the crucifixion event.
The very fact that such confusion existed is sufficient evidence, to doubt the crucifixion of Jesus, and should cause Christians to ponder on the Quranic statement that Jesus Christ was not crucified; and the essential similarity between the Quran and various branches of the early Christian church.
Three basic classes of information are utilized in what follows. First, information regarding the crucifixion is presented from the so-called apostolic fathers of the early Christian churches. Second, information is taken from the so-called apocryphal books of the New Testament of the Bible. Third, information regarding the crucifixion is based on the so called canonical gospels of the New Testament. Hence, it can be seen that all the evidentiary information is from early Christianity, and not from Islam. Thus, early Christian literature and scripture is used to cast doubt on official Christian doctrine.
The apostolic fathers
Before proceeding to examine apocryphal books, a brief word ought to be mentioned about the evidence to be found in the writings of the so called apostolic fathers of the early Christian churches. The apostolic fathers frequently noted that there were “heretical” sects (i.e., Christian sects, which did not agree with the particular dogma being espoused by the apostolic father in question), which taught that the “passion” or suffering of Jesus on the cross was untrue and/or illusory. In that regard, such references are found in the writings of Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Hippolytus. Together, these apostolic fathers form a veritable Who’s Who of the early Christian churches:
– Pagels E, 1979 – Canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, Ignatius or Ignatius The Ophoros was the bishop of Antioch (Syria). In 107 or 108, Ignatius was arrested by the Romans, and transported to Rome. Between that time and his death around 110, Ignatius wrote a series of letters in which he attacked the proposition that Jesus’ suffering and death were an illusion.
– Beiler JG,1998 – Canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, Polycarp was a 2nd century bishop of Smyrna. His writings included Letter to the Philippians, in which he vigorously attacked the argument that Christ’s suffering and death were illusory.
– Trypho, 1998 – Canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, Irenaeus was the late 2nd century bishop of Lyon. Irenaeus is best remembered for his five-volume Adversus Haereses, which was basically an attack against Christian Gnosticism.
– Wilkin RL, 1998 – Canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, Hippolytus was born around 170 and died around 235. He was a Christian martyr, and was the first anti-pope. He is remembered for his voluminous writings against heresies, including Philosphunrena.1998
A particular example may be of interest
In his Trallians, Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch (who died around 110, and who wrote during the first decade of the second century), was quite eloquent in his attack against the early Christians who denied that the crucifixion of Jesus was anything more than an illusion. The following quotation from Ignatius is directly to the point:
“But if, as some say…(his suffering was only an appearance), then why am I a prisoner, and why do I long to fight with the wild beasts? In that case, I am dying in vain.” (Ignatius: Trallians 10:1)
One cannot attack as heresy a belief or doctrine that does not yet exist. The theology of Ignatius not withstanding, his attack against those early Christians who believed that Jesus’ crucifixion was only illusory, demonstrates the existence of that belief among the early Christians. Further, the fact that Ignatius even bothered to attack this doctrine suggests that the belief in the illusory nature of the crucifixion was quite widespread by 110.
Clearly, the doctrine of or belief in the illusory nature of the crucifixion was perceived by Ignatius to be a threat to what would much later become the orthodox position of the Christian church regarding the crucifixion. As it would take some years for such a belief to become widespread across the vastness of the Roman Empire, it can be deduced that the origin of the doctrine of the illusory nature of the crucifixion must be dated well back into the first century, and quite possibly right back to the time of the crucifixion itself.
When considering the above, it must be remembered that Ignatius was attacking Christians, not non-Christians, although the particular Christians being attacked shared a specific belief system at odds with that of Ignatius when it came to the particulars of the doctrine of the crucifixion. To millions of Christians raised with a Sunday School interpretation of Christianity, the above may come as something of a shock. However, for those Christians, the shocks are only just the beginning. Indeed, the shocks dramatically increase in voltage when one considers the early Christian scriptures, both apocryphal and canonical.
Gospel of Barnabas
Muslim authors have occasionally made extravagant and highly unsupported claims regarding the Gospel of Barnabas. Wishing to spare embarrassment to these authors, whose intentions and motivations were presumably quite good, the present author refrains from referencing these claims. However, among the claims made for the Gospel of Barnabas are that it: was considered canonical by the Alexandrian church until 325; was quoted extensively by Irenaeus, the second century bishop of Lyon; and served as the basis for Jerome’s Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible, as authorized by the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, none of these claims is accurate.
The first claim appears to be based on a simple confusion, in which the claimant is merging the identities of two separate books, i.e., the Gospel of Barnabas and the Epistle of Barnabas. It was the latter book, which was considered canonical by the Alexandrian church, or at least which was read in their services, and it was the latter book, which was mentioned by a variety of early church fathers!, including Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome!, In fact, the Epistle of Barnabas is even found in the Sinaitic Syriac, a fourth century version of the Bible.
As to the second claim, there is no mention of the Gospel of Barnabas .in any existing writings of Irenaeus. How did this erroneous claim come to be so frequently made?
There are two possible answers. First, Irenaeus did refer to the Epistle of Barnabas. The second possible answer is more complicated and complex, and begins by noting that the claim, is that Irenaeus quoted extensively from the Gospel of Barnabas. A simple procedure of checking quotes should have shown the fallacy of this claim, if the relevant portions of the writings of Irenaeus existed. The problem is, however, that this claim is reportedly based on the statements of a 16th century Father Marino, the person who allegedly stole the manuscript of the Gospel of Barnabas from the library of Pope Sixtus V.
In an attempt to reconstruct the genesis of the claim, it is hypothesized that Father Marino alleged that he had access to “hidden” or “suppressed” writings of Irenaeus, wherein Irenaeus quoted from the Gospel o f Barnabas. Thus, the whole claim can be seen to be based on the word of a reportedly self-confessed thief who claimed that he had access to a secret manuscript of Irenaeus. This manuscript, which no one else can attest to, in turn attests to the provenance of the Gospel of Barnabas. for which the only source is Father Marino. Clearly, this claim for the provenance of the Gospel of Barnabas is little short of being laughable.
As to the third claim, this author is absolutely perplexed as to how anyone with any familiarity with the Latin Vulgate could possibly associate it with the Gospel of Barnabas. The only association perhaps, is that Jerome was responsible for the Vulgate, and he referenced the Epistle of Barnabas in some of his writings. After all, the Vulgate was one of the sources for the King James translation of the Bible, and bears much more in common with the modern Bible than it does with the Gospel of Barnabas.
So, what is the provenance of the Gospel of Barnabas? The earliest reference to it that this author can identify, is in the Decreturn Gelasianum de Libris Recipiendis et non Recipiendis (Decree of Gelasius of Accepted and non-Accepted Books), where it is listed as an apocryphal and rejected book. (Platt RH, Brett JA.)
The Decree of Gelasius is a precursor of the Roman Catholic Church’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Prohibited Books), and is often attributed to Pope Gelasius I, who died in 496, but the actual provenance of the Decree of Gelasius cannot be traced back beyond the sixth century. Be that as it may, the fact that the Gospel of Barnabas was banned in the Decree of Gelasius establishes that there was a Gospel of Barnabas by at least the sixth century.
However, it remains an open question as to whether or not the book that is presently identified as being the Gospel of Barnabas is the same Gospel of Barnabas identified in the Decree of Gelasius. The reported provenance of the book currently identified as the Gospel of Barnabas is as follows:
1) in 383, Pope Damasus I secured a copy of the Gospel of Barnabas, and kept it in his private library;
2) apparently, it was then passed down within the private libraries of the various popes;
3) in the late 16th century, a Father Marino stole the manuscript from the personal library of Pope Sixtus V;
4) the manuscript then passed through the possession of a variety of unnamed persons;
5) around the start of the 18th century, the manuscript came into the possession of a J.E. Cramer, reportedly a counselor to the King of Prussia;
6) in 1713, Cramer reportedly gave the manuscript to Prince Eugene of Savoy; and
7) in 1738, the manuscript passed from the prince to the Hofbibliothek in Vienna, where it reportedly remains to date. (Rahim MA, 1974 and Abdullah M, 1996)
What of the above information can be confirmed from independent sources?
1) Damasus I was pope from 366-384
2) Sixtus V was pope from 1585-1590
3) Prince Eugene of Savoy lived from 1663-1736
4) The prince’s library of over 10,000 books was given to the Hofbibliothek in Vienna.
However, even with such confirmation, intellectual honesty compels the admission that the Gospel of Barnabas, as currently received, cannot be traced in unbroken provenance prior to around the start of the 18th century. Quite simply, it mayor may not be the same book referred to in the Decree of Gelasius. The reader is urged to keep this caution in mind when considering material from the Gospel of Barnabas.
The basic tenet of the Gospel of Barnabas is that when Judas Iscariot led the soldiers into the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest Jesus and bring him to trial, the appearance of Judas was miraculously changed, and Jesus ascended into heaven. With Jesus safe in heaven, Judas took on the appearance of Jesus Christ. According to this source, Jesus was never arrested, was never tried, and was never crucified. Instead, it was Judas, the traitorous disciple, who was arrested, tried, whipped, mocked, and crucified. The relevant portions of the Gospel of Barnabas are quoted below.
When the soldiers with Judas drew near to the place where Jesus was… God, seeing the danger of His servant, commanded Gabriel, Michael, Rafael, and Uriel, His ministers, to take Jesus out of the world. The holy angels came and took Jesus … and placed him in the third heaven in the company of angels blessing God for ever more Judas was so changed in speech and in face to be like Jesus the soldiery entered, and laid their hands upon Judas, because he was in every way like to Jesus… The soldiers took Judas and bound him, not without derision… Then the soldiers lost their patience, and with blows and kicks they began to flout Judas, and they led him with fury into Jerusalem… (Gospel of Barnabas 215-217. In Ragg L, Ragg L, 1974)
In Jerusalem, Judas was variously questioned by the Jewish high priests and Sanhedrin, by Pontius Pilate, (who is identified as being a secret follower of Jesus), and by Herod the tetrarch. Judas kept arguing in vain that he was not Jesus, but Judas. Arriving back before Pilate for the second time, Judas was whipped, clad in an old purple garment, crowned with thoms, and mocked. Finally, Pilate condemned Judas to death by crucifixion, assigning him to be crucified with two robbers. (Gospel of Barnabas 217. In Ragg L, Ragg L 1974)
So they led him to Mount Calvary, where they used to hang malefactors, and there they crucified him naked, for the greater ignominy. Judas truly did nothing else but cry out: “God, why hast thou forsaken me, seeing the malefactor hath escaped and I die unjustly?” Verily I say that the voice, the face, and the person of Judas were so like to Jesus, that his disciples and believers entirely believed that he was Jesus; wherefore some departed from the doctrine of Jesus… for Jesus had said that he should not die till near the end of the world; for that at that time he should be taken away from the world.
But they that stood firm in the doctrine of Jesus were so encompassed with sorrow, seeing him die who was entirely like to Jesus, that they remembered not what Jesus had said… 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 217-218)
Post crucifixion, the angels transported Jesus back to earth from the third level of heaven, in order that Jesus might make an appearance to his mother and her two sisters, to Martha, Mary Magdalene, and Lazarus, and to John, James, Peter, and Barnabas. A later appearance was then made to the seven (of the 12?) “faithful disciples”, Nicodemus and Joseph (of Arimathea?). Finally, Jesus again ascended into heaven, with this ascension being witnessed by 47 of the greater 72 disciples. (Gospel of Barnabas 219-221. In Ragg L, Ragg L 1974)
While the shakiness of the provenance of the Gospel of Barnabas must be noted, this book does clearly state that Judas Iscariot was the one crucified in place of Jesus Christ. As such, the Gospel of Barnabas supports the Quranic account of the crucifixion, while refuting the orthodox Christian position.
Two books of Jeu, Provenance
The Two Books of Jeu are found in the Codex Brucianus, which has been dated to anywhere between the third and the tenth centuries. The Two Books of Jeu were mentioned in the Pistis Sophia (Faith-Wisdom), a third century, and were Coptic and Gnostic text, and were probably composed in Egypt around the third century. (Hennecke E, Schneemelcher W, Wilson RM,1963)
The statement from this apocryphal source is probably the weakest of any in supporting the Quranic account, in that the relevant statement from this manuscript is somewhat ambiguous. However, the reader may judge for him or herself, by reviewing the following quotation: Jesus, the living one, answered and said to his apostles: “Blessed is he who has crucified the world, and has not allowed the world to crucify him.”
According to the Two Books of Jeu, the blessed one is he who has not allowed the world to crucify him. The clear implication is either that Jesus Christ was not blessed, or that he was not crucified. As the former option is unthinkable to both Christians and Muslims, the latter option is the only one remaining.
Apocalypse of Peter, Provenance
The Apocalypse of Peter was one of the many exciting books of early Christianity, which were brought to light in 1945 by the immeasurably important archaeological discoveries at Naga Hammadi, Egypt. These discoveries unearthed a library of fourth century papyrus manuscripts, many of which were in the Coptic language. Given this provenance, the latest possible creation for the Apocalypse of Peter would be the fourth century. However, extensive literary analysis of the manuscript indicates that the Apocalypse of Peter was originally authored at some point probably in the third century. (BrashIer J, 1990)
In the following quotation from the Apocalypse of Peter, italics have been added by the present author, in order to highlight crucial words and phrases, which illustrate that this apocryphal work maintains that Jesus Christ was only crucified in appearance, not in reality. Jesus was only seemingly seized by the soldiers, while in reality he remained by the side of Peter, where he guided Peter to a true understanding of the crucifixion event. (However, later in the passage, it is stated that Jesus was initially seized, and then released, a point that will be explored more fully when examining the canonical gospels.)
The crucified victim is a substitute or simulacrum of Jesus, a substitute who came into being in the likeness of Jesus, and who appears to be identified as a demon.
When he had said those things, I saw him seemingly being seized by them. And I said, “What do I see, O Lord, that it is you yourself whom they take, and that you are grasping me? Or who is this one, glad and laughing on the tree? And is it another one whose feet and hands they are striking?” The Savior said to me, “He whom you saw on the tree, glad and laughing, this is the living Jesus. But this one into whose hands and feet they drive the nails is his fleshly part, which is the substitute being put to shame, the one who came into being in his likeness. But look at him and me.” But I, when I had looked, said, “Lord, no one is looking at you. Let us flee this place.” But he said to me, “I have told you, leave the blind alone! And you, see how they do not know what they are saying. For the son of their glory instead of my servant they have put to shame.”…And he said to me, “Be strong, for you are the one to whom these mysteries have been given, to know them through revelation, that he whom they crucified is the first-born, and the home of demons… But he who stands near him is the living Savior, the first in him, whom they seized and released, who stands joyfully looking at those who did him violence, while they are divided among themselves. (Apocalypse of Peter 81:4-32; 82:1-3. In Robinson IM,1990).
While the above quoted text is somewhat difficult to follow and to interpret in places, the Apocalypse of Peter can be seen as clearly rejecting the notion that Jesus Christ was crucified, even though it appeared that way to most onlookers. In that regard, the Apocalypse of Peter supports the Quranic presentation of the crucifixion event, and differs radically from traditional Christian orthodoxy.
The second treatise of the great seth, Provenance
Like the Apocalypse of Peter, this book was discovered in 1945 at Naga Hammadi, Egypt. As such, its provenance remains unquestioned between its burial in the fourth century, and its discovery in 1945. However, the origins of this work can probably be pushed back further in time than the fourth century. A theological analysis of its account of the crucifixion indicates a core taken from Basilides (Gibbons JA, 1990), who was a second century, Egyptian Christian of the Gnostic persuaslon (In order not to reveal prematurely some of the surprises to be found within the accounts of the crucifixion found in the canonical gospels, this point will be elaborated later.) At this juncture it would suffice to say that the provenance of The Second Treatise of the Great Seth traces to anytime between the second and fourth centuries, with the earlier date being most probable.
The presentation of the crucifixion in Seth is reported in the reputed words of Jesus, who is the speaker in the passage quoted below. The passage clearly states that Jesus died only in appearance, and that it was someone other than Jesus who was nailed to the cross, who drank the gall and vinegar, and who wore the crown of thorns. Throughout this whole procedure, Jesus was miraculously altering his form or physical appearance at will, and was witnessing the entire series of events.
(In the following passage from Seth, italics have been added by the present author to highlight relevant issues.)
“And the plan which they devised about me to release their error and their senselessness-I did not succumb to them as they had planned. But I was not afflicted at all. Those who were there punished me. And I did not die in reality but in appearance, lest I be put to shame by them because these are my kinsfolk… For my death which they think happened, (happened) to them in their error and blindness, since they nailed their man unto their death .. .for they were deaf and blind… Yes, they saw me; they punished me. It was another; their father; who drank the gall and the vinegar; it was not l. They struck me with the reed; it was another; Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder. It was another upon whom they placed the crown of thoms… And I was laughing at their ignorance… For I was altering my shapes, changing from form to form.” (The Second Treatise of the Great Seth 55:10-20,30-35; 56:1-13)
Once again, the message is clear. While Jesus Christ appeared to be crucified, this was mere illusory appearance. In reality, Jesus was not crucified. Rather, it was Simon who was crucified in substitution for Jesus Details of this appear later on in the chapter.) In short, Seth clearly rejects the concept of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, being thus consistent with the Quranic presentation of the crucifixion. Once again, the traditional Christian orthodoxy is out rightly rejected by an early Christian text.
Acts of John, Provenance
The Acts o f John is found in a solitary Greek manuscript from Vienna unearthed in 1897, but there is a notation which states that the manuscript may have been the work of a scribe who lived in 1324. However, its provenance does not stop there. The Acts of John was condemned as heretical at the Second Nicene Council of 787, indicating its existence in the eighth century. Moreover, Augustine quoted a fragment from it in a letter written in the fifth century. The quotation from Augustine matches the manuscript of 1897, establishing that the Acts of John found in 1897 is the same book that was in circulation in the fifth century. However, literary analysis suggests a composition date in the first half of the second century. (Cameron R, 1982)
The passage quoted below from the Acts of John takes place after the supposed arrest of Jesus. The author of the manuscript claims to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, i.e. John, the son of Zebedee.
(Since the account is written in the first person, the reader is to assume that the first person pronoun refers to John, unless it is part of a statement enclosed in quotation marks, in which case it refers to Jesus, who is talking to John.)
John narrates in the quotation that follows, how he and the rest of the disciples scattered and fled near the time of crucifixion, and how he had sought refuge by hiding in a cave on the Mount of Olives. While hiding in the cave, Jesus appeared to him during the time of the crucifixion, and explained to John that the crucifixion was illusory, and that Jesus was not the one being crucified. While explaining this to John, Jesus reminds him of a symbolic dance, which Jesus allegedly had performed with his disciples earlier, to predict and depict the illusory crucifixion event that was to take place later. Jesus categorically states to John that he is suffering none of the things that will later be said about him, e.g. that he was pierced with a lance and wounded, that he was hung on the cross, that blood flowed from him, etc., (In the passage quoted below, italics have been added by the present author to highlight relevant statements.
And we were like men amazed or fast asleep, and we fled this way and that. And so I saw him suffer, and did not wait by his suffering, but fled to the Mount of Olives, and wept at what had come to pass. And when he was hung (upon the Cross) on Friday, at the sixth hour of the day there came a darkness over the whole earth. And my Lord stood in the middle of the cave and gave light to it and said, “John, for the people below in Jerusalem I am being crucified and pierced with lances and reeds, and given vinegar and gall to drink. But to you I am speaking and listen to what I speak … ” And when he had said this he showed me a Cross of Light firmly fixed, and around the Cross a great crowd, which had no single form; and in it (the Cross) was one form and the same likeness. And I saw the Lord himself above the Cross…”this is not that wooden Cross which you shall see when you go down from here; nor am I the (man) who is on the Cross.
(I) whom now you do not see but only hear (my) voice. I was taken to be what I am not, I who am not what for many others I was; but what they will say of me is mean and unworthy of me… So then I suffered none of those things which they will say of me; even that suffering which I showed to you and to the rest in my dance, I will that it be called a mystery… You hear that I suffered, yet I suffered not; and that I suffered not, yet I did suffer; and that I was pierced, yet I was not wounded; that I was hanged, yet I was not hanged; that blood flowed from me, yet it did not flow; and, in a word, that what they say of me, I did not endure, but what they do not say, those things I did suffer …” (Acts of John 97-99,101. In Cameron R, 1982)
The Gnostic flavor of this passage from the Acts of John may be confusing for some readers who are not well versed in Gnostic doctrine and philosophy. However, the relevant verses leave no doubt that the crucifixion of Jesus was only an illusion. Once again, an apocryphal writing of early Christianity totally refutes traditional Christian orthodoxy about the crucifixion event, and is consistent with the Quranic position on that issue.
Summary and conclusions
Whether or not one accepts the Gospel of Barnabas as predating the beginning of the preaching of Prophet Muhammad, there is no denying that much of the apocryphal literature within the early Christian churches maintained that Jesus was not really crucified. Quite simply, the early Christian churches did not unanimously hold that Jesus died on the cross. There were many divisions within the early Christian churches, and some sections of early Christianity clearly believed that Jesus’ crucifixion was illusory and/or that someone else was crucified in his place. By examining the provenance of these apocryphal books, one can demonstrate that this belief in the illusory and/or substitute nature of the crucifixion was quite prevalent in the early Christian churches during the second and third centuries.
Further, by reference to the polemics against this position by the so-called apostolic fathers, one can trace this position back to the first decade of the second century. Allowing reasonable time for such a belief system to have spread to the point that the apostolic fathers felt the need to attack it, it becomes clear that the belief that Jesus was not really crucified was well represented in the early Christian churches during the last half of the first century. In short, this belief was common at a time prior to, or concomitant with, the authorship of the canonical gospels of the New Testament!
Canonical gospels, Provenance
Having digressed to examine the provenance of the apocryphal books, it is only fair to present a brief statement about the provenance of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Without getting into a detailed and lengthy discussion of source and text criticism, it is worth noting that: Matthew, Mark, and Luke frequently present a united front that is at variance with John, which is why the earlier three are referred to as the Synoptic Gospels. Further, all four gospels are based, at least in part, on prior written sources, such as Q, proto-Mark, M, L, and other hypothesized documents and none of these four canonical gospels were actually written by a disciple of Jesus. Moreover, the order of composition of these gospels is usually held to be Mark, followed by Matthew, followed by Luke, and finally followed by John. It should be further noted that both Matthew and Luke based part of their accounts on Mark. In their initially completed form, none of the four gospels can be dated earlier than about the last quarter of the first century, with John being dated to the first quarter of the second century. Editing of the four canonical gospels continued throughout the first few centuries.
The sum total of the above proves that none of the authors of the four canonical gospels was an actual eye-witness to the events of the crucifixion, although their respective books may seem to include such first-hand accounts, which in reality were only stories of news happenings as told to them, either directly or though intermediaries.
In what follows, different crucifixion stories in the canonical gospels are examined. In each case, a careful reading would clearly suggest that the person who was crucified may not have been Jesus at all.
Evidence: The denial of Peter
The heroic Peter
All four of the canonical gospels are in unison on various issues concerning the arrest of Jesus. All four agree that Jesus and his disciples ate a common meal together in Jerusalem on the night of the arrest (although Matthew, Mark, and Luke portray this meal as being the Passover meal, while John portrays it as being the day prior to the Passover.
(Shepherd MH, 1971. This issue of the exact chronology of the crucifixion in relation to the Jewish Passover, as well as the chronology of John vs. the chronology of the synoptic gospels, has divided Christian theologians for centuries, and lies outside the scope of the present article.).
Further, all see eye-to-eye on the fact that Jesus was arrested the night before the crucifixion, and that his arrest took place outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem (which was consistently, but variously, identified as the Garden of Gethsemane, a place on the Mount of Olives, against him. He had to have known that his act of heroism would lead to his immediate death, yet he was more than willing to sacrifice his life in his desperate attempt to save Jesus. However, Peter was able to get in only one thrust of his sword, thus cutting off the ear of Ma1chus, the slave of the high priest, before Jesus intervened. Stopping the fight before it could really begin, Jesus surrendered himself to the arresting force, and his disciples then fled into the night. (Luke adds that Jesus healed the ear of Malchus. (John 18:13-16)
The cowardly Peter
Following his arrest, Jesus was taken either: to Anna’s, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest, and then to Caiaphas; or directly to Caiaphas (Matthew 26:57; Mark 14:53; Luke 22:54; John 18:15) Unlike all of the other disciples, the ever-faithful and heroic Peter followed at a distance, and gained entrance to the outer courtyard. There the intrepid Peter waited for word on the fate of Jesus. However, while Peter was standing in the courtyard, the authors of the four canonical gospels would have the reader believe that Peter did a complete about-face. They would have the reader believe that the heroic Peter, who had single-handedly attacked the Roman legionnaires and Temple police, and who had risked his life in even following Jesus into the outer courtyard, had suddenly become a coward, because he three times denied any association with Jesus before the cock crowed that morning. Because the exact wording of Peter’s denials is so important, all four gospel accounts are presented immediately below:
Matthew’s account of Peter’s denials
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:55-62)
When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Mark 14:66-72)
While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the fore-court. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. (John 18:17-18, 25-27)
Finally, the account of John
The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself… Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Again Peter denied it, and at the moment the cock crowed. (Danielou J, Marrou H, 1964. Asimov I, 1969. Leon-Dufour X, 1983. Schonfield HJ, 1967, E)
What Peter denied
In considering these four versions of what is reportedly the same event, one needs to begin by carefully considering what is it that Peter is denying. In that regard. The Accusations ‘A’ and ‘D’ what Peter denied:
Matthew 1, A: ‘You were with Jesus the Galilean.’
D: ‘I do not know what you are talking about.’
Matthew 2, A: This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.
D: I do not know the man.
Matthew 3, A: ‘You are one of them, for your accent betrays you.’
D: ‘I do not know the man.’
Luke 1, A: ‘This man also was with him.’
D: ‘I do not know him.’
Luke 2, A: ‘You also are one of them.’
D: ‘Man, I am not.’
Luke 3, A: ‘This man also was with him.’
D: ‘I do not know what you are talking about.’
Mark 1, A: ‘You were with Jesus from Nazareth.’
D: ‘I do not know what you are talking about.’
Mark 2, A: ‘This man is one of them.’
D: ‘But again he denied it.’
Mark 3, A: ‘You are one of them; for you are a Galilean.’
D: ‘I do not know this man.’
John 1, A: ‘You are one of this man’s disciples.’
John12, A: ‘You are one of his disciples.’
John 13, A: ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him.’
D: ‘Peter denied it.’
As a brief digression, it should be noted that the four canonical gospels agree that Peter made three denials, and they agree in reporting three accusations. However, the canonical gospels do not agree as to what those accusations were. Be that as it may, the data presented above can be summarized into the following accusations:
1) Peter was with Jesus, the Galilean;
2) Peter was with Jesus of Nazareth;
3) Peter was with “them”, where the context indicates that them “refers” to Galileans and/or to the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth;
4) Peter was with the disciples of the man being tried;
5) Peter was with the man being tried; and
6) Peter was in the garden with the man being tried.
In making the summary list of six accusations, care has been taken not to pre-judge the outcome, i.e., one cannot assume that Jesus of Nazareth is the one being tried, but one must look directly at the statements involved.
As can be seen Luke and John present a united front, in which Peter’s denials are specifically directed towards the man being tried or interrogated. Quite simply, Peter is denying any association with the man being tried or interrogated. What if that man were not Jesus Christ? What if Judas were seized instead of Jesus Christ (Gospel of Barnabas), or what if some other substitute for or simulacrum of Jesus Christ were seized in place of Jesus Christ (Apocalypse of Peter, The Second Treatise of the Great Seth, and Acts of John)? In that case, Peter’s denials are The Crucifixion totally truthful. In that case, there exists no bewildering contradiction, reportedly occurring within a matter of mere hours, between:
Peter’s willingness to fight single-handedly Roman soldiers and Temple police, which implies his heroic bravery and unwavering faith; and Peter’s denials, which imply cowardice and lack of faith. In short, the hypothesis exists that a superficial reading of the canonical gospels misrepresents Peter’s denials into being a denial of Jesus Christ, when, in fact, Peter is simply stating “I do not know this man”, where “this man” may not be Jesus Christ. Read in the light of maintaining the consistency of Peter’s portrayal within the canonical gospels, Peter’s denials reflect a denial that the man being tried and/or interrogated was Jesus Christ.
However, what about the accounts of Matthew and Mark? Here one encounters the denials within the context of such phrases as “Jesus the Galilean”, “Jesus of Nazareth”, and “Jesus, the man from Nazareth”. One option is to dismiss these phrases as later and erroneous elaboration of an earlier account, as preserved in Luke and in John. Certainly, this option has much to recommend it, and is not to be dismissed out of hand. However, a second option also exists, which is based upon examination of the key words “Galilean” and “Nazareth”. In that regard, it is noted that most superficial readers of the Bible equate “Galilean” with “a man from the geographical area of Galilee”, which the Bible indicates Jesus Christ was. Likewise, most such readers equate “Nazareth” with a town in Galilee, which the Bible indicates was the town, in which Jesus Christ was raised. However, both of these terms had radically alternative meanings during the first half of the first century.
Judaism in the first century
During the first half of the first century, Judaism was divided into numerous religious and political sects. A partial listing of such sects and their various divisions included: Sadducees (Zadokites); Hasidim (the root group for both the Pharisees and the Essenes); Pharisees (Perishaiya); Zealots; Hasmoneans; Sicarii; Essenes; Herodians; Nazoreans (Nazarites or Nazirites); and Galileans (Josephus F, 1988. Leon-Dufour 1983). It is only within this context that terms such as “Jesus the Galilean”, “Jesus of Nazareth”, and “Jesus, the man from Nazareth” can be properly and fully understood.
If one were to rank these different Jewish sects and sub-sects along a cultural-political dimension, the left-right axis would be anchored as follows. The far left would indicate acceptance of and accommodation with Hellenistic culture and with Roman rule, and the far right the complete rejection of Hellenistic culture and Roman rule, coupled with extreme nationalistic aspirations. Given this axis and definition, the Sadducees would occupy the far left, the Pharisees would occupy the middle ground position to the right side of the fulcrum, and the Zealots and Hasmoneans would occupy the far right. It was the far right, which consistently gave birth to revolutionary movements against Roman authority. Typically, the groups of the far right are referred to as Zealots, where Zealot becomes an umbrella word, covering various groups and sub-groups, including the Sicarii (from the Greek word “sikarioi”, meaning “dagger men”, and indicating a sub-group of Zealots, who were assassins) and the Galileans. The Bible indicates that at least two of Jesus’ disciples were from the far right of the cultural-political spectrum: Simon, the Zealot57; and Judas Iscariot (the Sicarii). (Dupont-Sommer A, 1967. Leon-Dufour 1983)
As noted above, the Zealot movement represented the far right of the cultural-political axis within first century Judaism. However, identification of a person as a Zealot said very little about that person’s actual religious orientation. Some Zealots were quasi secular, and others were deeply committed to the Jewish religious tradition. Among the latter group of Zealots, there is a sub-group known as the Galileans (Josephus F 1988). The origin and history of the Galileans are as follows:
In six CE, Quirinius, a Roman senator of consular rank, was appointed governor of Syria by Caesar Augusrus. One of his first tasks was to administer a census in Palestine for the sake of registering property for the construction of a proper tax roll. While most Jews in Palestine acquiesced to this census, a dissident faction of Jews, led by Judas of Gamala ( Judas, the Galilean) entered into open revolt against the authority of Rome, claiming that: the end purpose of the census would amount to slavery for the Jewish people; adherence to the census was an agreement by Jews that pagans had the right to rule Palestine; and that it was time for the Jews to establish their own theocratic state. (Acts 5:37). The revolt of Judas, the Galilean, was short-lived, Judas was killed, and his followers were scattered for a while. However, the uprising of Judas, the Galilean, was the birth of the Zealot movement, and particularly of that part of the Zealot movement known as the Galileans. (Josephus F, 1988. Bomkamm G, 1998)
Following the aborted uprising of Judas the Galilean, the Galileans continued to engage in isolated acts of guerrilla warfare against Rome, which steadily increased in intensity across the decades between 6 and 70. In 44, such revolutionary and paramilitary activities on the part of the Galileans led to the crucifixions of James and Simon, the sons of Judas, the Galilean, by order of Tiberius Alexander, procurator of Judaea. Finally, in 66, Menahem, another son of Judas, the Galilean, led the Galileans and Zealots in open revolt against Rome. Menahem and his followers seized the armory at Masada, and then marched on Jerusalem. Taking most of Jerusalem, Menahem, who had pretensions of being king, established a despotic rule, and assassinated Ananias, the Jewish high priest. However, Menahem was then assassinated by Eleazar, the son of Ananias, in the Temple of Jerusalem. Menahem’s followers then fled back to Masada, under the command of another Eleazar, who was a descendant of Judas, the Galilean. At Masada, the Jewish revolt continued until 73, when the besieged inhabitants of Masada committed mass suicide, in order not to be captured by the Roman army, which surrounded them. (Matthew 26:71. 66, Mark 14:67)
Given the above account, one can readily see that the identification of “Jesus the Galilean” cannot automatically be equated with “Jesus from the geographical region of Galilee”. Given the context of the times, the more likely identification would be “Jesus, a member of the Galilean party of paramilitary insurrectionists”. Such a Jesus would obviously not be Jesus Christ, and Peter’s denial of such a Jesus would be truthful.
Among the accusations leveled against Peter, one refers to “Jesus of Nazareth, and one refers to “Jesus, the man from Nazareth. The former statement is, in fact, a misleading translation of the Greek word “Nazorean, and the latter statement a misleading translation of the Greek “Nazarene”. The Greek word “Nazorean” or “Nazarene” is a transliteration (Nazarenoi or Nazoraioi) of the Aramaic word “Nasren” or “Nasraya”, which means “the preservers”. In turn, the Aramaic word can be traced to the Hebrew “Nazir”, meaning “consecrated”, “holy”, or “abstainer”. If the Jewish sects and sub-sects of the first century were aligned on an religious axis, in which the left pole represented Jewish liberalism, and in which the right pole represented religious conservatism, then the Pharisees would fall in the middle, and the Essenes and Nazoreans would fall on the far right.
So, who were, and what were, the Nazoreans? Quite simply, they were the same group referred to in the Old Testament as Nazarites or as Nazirites. A Nazarite or Nazorean was a person, who took a vow of abstinence and of severe adherence to the Mosaic Law, where such vow could be for life or for a specified amount of time. The specific rules governing the period of being a Nazarite or Nazorean are enumerated in Numbers 6:1-21 in the Bible, and are not repeated in this chapter. However, it is noted that the Nazarites or Nazoreans were characterized by refusal to cut their hair, by absolute abstinence from alcohol and from any derivative of the grape, by absolute refusal to be anywhere near a corpse, etc. Prominent Biblical figures who have been identified as being Nazarites or Nazoreans include: Samson; Samuel; probably John (Yahya), the Baptist, possibly James, the first head of the Christian church at Jerusalem; and temporarily Paul. However, the Biblical portrayal of Jesus Christ is mutually exclusive with that of a Nazorean, as a Nazorean could never have taken from the fruit of the grape, and could never have come anywhere close to the departed Lazarus, whom Jesus, through the power of Allah, reportedly raised from the dead.
Given the above discussion, Peter’s denial of being associated with Jesus, the Nazorean, appears to have been a truthful statement, although Jesus, the Nazorean, was not Jesus Christ. Of note, a Nazorean might also have been a Galilean, but would not have to have been.
(As an aside, it is noted that in the passage quoted earlier from John 18:1-12, the phrase “Jesus of Nazareth” should read “Jesus, the Nazorean”, thus raising the possibility that Jesus Christ may never have been arrested in the first place.)
The name ‘Jesus’
During the first century, Jesus (the Greek rendition of Joshua) was a very popular name in Palestine. For example, of the 28 high priests of Judaism from the time of Herod the Great to the destruction of the Temple, four were named Jesus (Jesus son of Phabet or Phiabi, Jesus son of Sec or Sei, Jesus son o f Damneus, Jesus son o f Gamaliel). Using this list of Jewish high priests as a representative sample of male names in Palestine in the first century, one can expect about 14% of the male population to have been named Jesus. Clearly, it is not too much to imagine that a second Jesus was being interrogated the night before the crucifixion, that it was this man that Peter denied, and that it was this man who would be crucified the next day.
The denial of Peter presents the canonical gospels with two mutually exclusive options:
1) Within a matter of just a few hours, Peter went from being a heroic figure of unlimited bravery to being a coward, who verbally denied his affiliation with Jesus Christ at three separate times in rapid succession. Quite frankly, this portrayal of Peter tends to strain the imagination.
2) Peter was straightforward and honest in denying his affiliation, either with an unknown man, or with a paramilitary insurrectionist and extreme right-wing adherent of Judaism, who happened to be named Jesus. Assuming that the man was unknown, Peter’s denial was quite consistent with the evidence from the apocryphal books presented previously. Assuming that the man was a paramilitary insurrectionist named Jesus, Peter’s denial is in keeping with the story of the release of Barabbas, recounted below.
The release of Barabbas
The release of Barabbas is reported by all four canonical gospels, and many of the details are the same across the four narratives. In each account, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea, gives the Jewish crowd a choice between the release of two prisoners, one of whom has been traditionally presented as Jesus Christ, and the other of whom has been presented as a notorious outlaw, who is known only as Barabbas. The agitated crowd selects Barabbas to be released. Pilate thus releases Barabbas, and Jesus Christ is supposedly crucified. However, as will soon be seen, this Sunday School interpretation of the gospel portrayal is less than accurate, primarily because the most ancient and accurate texts of the gospels have been kept away from the laity until very recent times. Of the four accounts, that of Matthew is by far the most illuminating and detailed, and it is this narrative that is reported below:
Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews? “Jesus said, “You say so.”…Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah? For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
As a slight digression, it is noted that apocryphal writings consistently identify Pilate’s wife’s name as ProcIa. ( More about her perceived status by the early Christian churches will be presented later on in the chapter.)
The identity of Barabbas
The text quoted above from Matthew, as found in The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), clearly identifies Barabbas as having the given name of Jesus. In making this identification, the NRSV utilizes the most ancient texts”, in order to correct the deletion of Barabbas’ given name, i.e., Jesus, which happened in earlier versions of the Bible. As a point of fact, Biblical scholars have long known from these ancient texts of Matthew that Barabbas’ name was Jesus. However, this information was typically not presented to the laity. In the King James Version of the Bible of 1611, there is absolutely no mention of Barabbas’ name as being Jesus. In the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of 1946, this information finally makes it into the text as an obscure footnote. Finally, in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of 1989, the earliest and most complete information regarding Barabbas is presented directly in the text, where it originally was supposed to be, and the previously unknown Barabbas has once again become Jesus Barabbas.
However, the Biblical translators are still holding out on the laity. They have still not completed their job of educating the Christian laity, and of making the Biblical text accessible to the average Christian. They have now presented Barabbas as Jesus Barabbas, but they are still not pointing out that “Barabbas” is not a given name, but is a patronymic. A patronymic is an identifier, whereby the person is stated to be the son of X. Thus, in the New Testament, one finds the disciple Simon Peter also called Simon bar Jonah, i.e., Simon the son of. Jonah. However, Biblical translators have consistently run together the Aramaic words “bar” and “Abbas”, thus rendering “Jesus bar Abbas” as “Jesus Barabbas”, or, worse yet, only as “Barabbas”. With this in mind, and realizing that “bar” merely means “son of’, one can now identify Barabbas as “Jesus the son of Abbas”. However, even taking the translation to this point, it would still be somewhat misleading, because “Abbas” is not a given name. The word “Abbas” still needs to be translated from the Aramaic. “Abbas” means “father”, and Barabbas is directly and unambiguously identified in Matthew as being “Jesus, the son of the Father! Now, if one were to ask 100 randomly selected Christians the identity of “Jesus, the son of the Father”, one would get 100 positive identifications of Jesus Christ.
Barabbas was none other than Jesus, the son of the Father! This is not an identification based upon some apocryphal book, which mayor may not have a provenance back to the early Christian churches, such as the case with the Gospel of Barnabas. This is not even an identification based upon apocryphal books, which can be directly traced to the early Christian churches, such as the case with the Two Books of Jeu, the Apocalypse of Peter, The Second Treatise of the Great Seth, or the Acts of John. This is an identification that is directly made by the canonical gospel of Matthew. However, it is an identification that can only be made once: the earliest texts of Matthew are finally the acknowledged ones, as in the case of the NSRV; and the reader has completed the translation of two words, which the Biblical translators are still refraining from translating, thus keeping the laity in the dark as to the actual statement of Matthew. Understanding this passage of Matthew is similar to peeling an onion. There is layer after layer that needs to be removed, before one gets to the actual core. While one can see that the Biblical translators have begun peeling that onion for the laity, the peeling process has been awfully slow, and is still incomplete.
Based on the above discussion, we can see that as per Matthew Pilate offered to release one of the two captives that day viz., “Jesus, the son of the Father” or “Jesus who is called the Messiah.” According to the Matthean narration, the crowd selected “Jesus, the son of the Father” for release. Pilate met their request, releasing “Jesus, the son of the Father”, and condemning “Jesus called the Messiah.” At the very least, the Matthean account indicates that there was marked confusion regarding who was released and who was crucified. Oscillating between the two, “Jesus, the son of the Father” and “Jesus who is called the Messiah”, how is one to decide who is who?
The answer is available, but takes a bit of sleuthing. Prior to Pilate asking the crowd whom they want released, Matthew has Pilate asking a single, pointed question to Jesus, i.e., “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Leon-Dufour 1983. Schonfield HJ, 1967).
This was the only thing in which Pilate appeared to be interested. Was Jesus laying claim to being the King of the Jews, and thus leading an insurrection against Rome? Pilate had no concern about internal bickering among the Jewish religious establishment. Whether or not someone claimed to be a religious figure such as the Messiah was not his concern. He wanted to affirm the claim of kingship, since this encompassed temporal and secular authority, posing a challenge to the imperial rule of Rome. Hence, he did not ask Jesus if Jesus were the theological Messiah, because Pilate didn’t care about this issue. However, Pilate did care if Jesus were claiming to be King of the Jews. Claiming to be the theological Messiah was not a crime under Roman law, while claiming to be the King of the Jews certainly was.
Here, one needs to examine what is meant by “Jesus who is called the Messiah”. Generations of Sunday School-attending Christians have been indoctrinated with a theological concept of the Messiah, which dates from the time of the early Christian churches. However, the Hebrew word “Mashiah”, which is rendered “Messiah” in the Bible, simply means “anointed”. Likewise, the Greek word “Christos”, which is rendered Christ in the Bible, is simply a Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Mashiah”. Thus, even if Pilate’s words were “Jesus who is called the Messiah”, all he was saying was “Jesus who is called the anointed.” Who were the anointed of Israel? The answer is the kings and high priests of Israel. In that regard, any insurrectionist who was laying claim to being the king of Israel, and there were many such people in the first century, would have had himself anointed as king of Israel, and could have.
Having established Pilate’s concern, and thus having established the actual charge against Jesus, i.e. claiming to be King of the Jews, and having established the actual meaning of the word “Messiah”, one now turns to the parallel passage of the release of “Jesus, the son of the Father” in Mark.
So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” … But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. (Matthew 26:69-70)
Note the subtle, but all-important change. The choice is between “Jesus, the King of the Jews” and “Jesus, the son of the Father”! Given this version, there is no ambiguity or confusion as to identity. Jesus, who claimed to be the King of the Jews, and had thus been anointed as such, i.e. had become a Messiah, was turned over for crucifixion, while Jesus, the son of the Father, was released. What could be simpler or more straightforward than that? Now, who was this Jesus, who claimed to be King of the Jews? He was probably a person already encountered in this chapter, i.e., “Jesus, the Galilean”, i.e., the paramilitary insurrectionist, whom Peter denied knowing. It was this Jesus, who was the actual murderer and insurrectionist, whose charges were falsely being attributed to Jesus, the son of the Father, simply through the confusion, deliberate or otherwise, created by the writers of the gospels or their renderers, redactors, or editors. (Platt RH, Brett JA)
The story of the release of Jesus, the son of the Father, is of enormous significance. Even if the reader rejects the reconstruction of the Matthean passage suggested by this author, which was based upon Pilate’s question to Jesus and upon the parallel Markan narrative, the reader of the canonical gospels is still left with confusion and ambiguity. The respective identities of who was released (Jesus, the son of the Father) and of who was crucified (Jesus who is called the Messiah) are confusing and unanswered questions. That confusion and ambiguity is sufficient, in and of itself, to serve notice that at least one viable answer to the above questions from the canonical gospels supports the Quranic account of the crucifixion. Further, if one accepts the reconstruction of the Matthean account as proposed by this author, then it is clear that Jesus, the King of the Jews ( Jesus, the Galilean), was crucified, while Jesus, the son of the Father, was released. Here, one has total vindication of the Quranic account of the crucifixion, as though one were needed, based solely on the canonical gospels.
By this point, the Christian reader, indoctrinated by a childhood of Sunday School lessons, may be thinking that this whole line of argument is preposterous. Never mind what Matthew actually said about Jesus, the son of the Father, it’s easier just to ignore the whole thing. However, before taking that step, one more piece of information should be considered. If Pilate did, indeed, sentence Jesus Christ to death by crucifixion, how should the early churches have viewed Pilate and his associates? Would not Pilate have been vilified to the ends of the earth by the early Christian churches? Might not Pilate have been formally condemned by the early churches to eternity in hell? One would certainly think so. However, the facts are radically different. On October 28th, the Eastern Orthodox Church calendar lists the feast day of Saint Procla, the wife of Pontius Pilate. On June 25th, the Coptic Christian Church lists the feast day of Saint Procla and of Saint Pontius Pilate! (Matthew 27:32-36)
Procla was canonized as a saint by both the Eastern Orthodox Church and by the Coptic Christian Church, while Pontius Pilate was canonized as a saint by the Coptic Christian Church. How did the early Coptic Christian Church ever justify canonizing as a saint the man, who condemned Jesus Christ to death by crucifixion? This just defies all reason and all logic. What did these early Christians know that modem Christians don’t know? Perhaps, they knew that Pontius Pilate, their beloved saint, was the man who released Jesus Christ. Perhaps, they had a better understanding of Matthew, than do most modem Christians.
At this point, it is very tempting to say “case closed, court adjourned.” However, there is one more piece of evidence from the canonical gospels, which needs to be examined.
Evidence: the recruitment of Simon of Cyrene
The traditional Christian interpretation of the crucifixion has Jesus Christ moving from the sentencing before Pontius Pilate to the site of crucifixion, i.e. Golgotha (Calvary in the Latin). This journey is ritualized by the Roman Catholic Church as part of its 14 Stations of the Cross, of which the fifth station is of special interest. The fifth Station of the Cross refers to an event that is narrated in the” three synoptic gospels, but not in John. It is at the fifth Station that Simon of Cyrene was reportedly enlisted to carry the cross of Jesus (Mark 15:21-24).
As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. (Luke 23:26,32-33)
They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. (Norwood FA, 1971)
As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus… Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.
Now, two points need to be made with regard to the above narratives. First, the gospels never have the cross being transferred back to Jesus from Simon. Second, in the passage from Mark and in the passage from Luke, the present author has italicized the word “Jesus” in one place. In each such place, the NRSV footnote to the text clearly states that the Greek reads “him”, not “Jesus”. In other words, the translators were concerned that the average reader would read “him” as referring to Simon of Cyrene, if it weren’t for their insertion of “Jesus” for “him”. In that regard, the translators are absolutely correct. The average reader would read “him” as referring to Simon of Cyrene, indicating that it was Simon of Cyrene, who was crucified. In the above passages, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all seem to be saying that Simon of Cyrene was crucified in the place of Jesus.
It should be emphasized that the above interpretation of the synoptic tradition is not limited to the present author. In fact, that very interpretation was widely held by segments of the early Christian churches. Readers of this chapter have already encountered that interpretation in The Second Treatise of the Great Seth, the apocryphal book of the early Christian churches, where it stated, “it was another, Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder.” As a point of fact, the substitution, of Simon of Cyrene (as the crucifixion victim), for Jesus was a cardinal tenet of belief among those early Christians known as Basilidians, who were prominent in the middle of the second century. They congregated in Egypt and continued in existence through the fourth century. Their lineage can be traced back to people who were the followers of Basilides, claimed to be the receiver of certain secret traditions from Glaucias (an interpreter of Peter, the disciple of Jesus).
Summary and conclusions
It is not the author’s intent to prove anyone tradition, as opposed to any other, in which it was not Jesus Christ who was crucified. However, the foregoing reviews of Christian scripture, both apocryphal and canonical, dramatically illustrate that the early Christian churches had no unanimous acceptance of the doctrine of Christ’s crucifixion. Clearly, they were confused as to what actually took place. Different theories on this subject floated within the early churches. Among the various candidates for the dubious honor of having been the crucified victim, one can list: Judas Iscariot; Simon of Cyrene; simulacrums of Jesus Christ; unidentified others; and a paramilitary insurrectionist known as Jesus, the Galilean, who claimed to be the King of the Jews, and who is to be distinguished from Jesus, the son of the Father, i.e., Jesus Christ.
The Quran clearly states that Jesus Christ was not crucified. Large segments of the early Christian churches, and of the early Christian scriptures, agree with that statement.
For Muslims, the lesson may be that many of the early Christian churches were much closer to Islam than previously thought. For Christians, the lesson may be that the doctrine of the crucifixion was very much questioned and debated by the early churches. With that in mind, perhaps they might be willing to take a second look at the teachings of Islam, and to consider the similarities between the teachings of Islam and the foundations of early Christianity.
And a garden on the far side of the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem). They are also of a-common opinion, that in the course of the arrest, one of Jesus’ disciples drew his sword and attacked, in order to attempt to defend Jesus. While John identifies this disciple to be Peter (Simon bar Jonah), Matthew, Mark, and Luke are silent about this name.
After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him.
In the above account from John, Judas Iscariot, the disciple who reportedly betrayed Jesus, leads a group of armed men to arrest Jesus. John identifies these armed men as being “a detachment of soldiers” and “police from the chief priests and the Pharisees.
The former identification implies that Roman legionnaires were put under the direction of the Jewish officials, in order to assist in the arrest of Jesus. The latter identification clearly refers to the Temple police force. In the face of this numerically superior and armed authority, one disciple stood his ground. Peter bravely drew his sword, and single-handedly attacked the armed multitude of professional soldiers and police arrayed.