The Gospel of Barnabas, part 2/2, By Ahmad Thomson

There was, however, one obvious possible candidate: According to the Preface to the Spanish translation of the Gospel of Barnabas, Fra Marino – the monk who is said to have stolen the Pope’s copy of the Italian version – had subsequently embraced Islam. ‘If we can only prove that he did not really steal the Pope’s copy at all,’ we can see David Sox thinking, ‘but that in fact he actually wrote it himself – then we will have succeeded!’ Naturally this hypothesis would depend heavily on establishing beyond any doubt that not only the binding, but also the Italian manuscript itself was written between approximately 1580 and 1600 any proof of which is very conspicuous by its absence.

Of course, short of having access to an authentic and voluntary confession by Fra Marino, it would be impossible to ‘prove’ such a thesis, some four centuries after the alleged event, even ‘on the balance of probabilities’, and let alone ‘beyond any reasonable doubt’, – as David Sox in a roundabout way himself accepts, when he admits that ‘the reader is faced with a great amount of speculation’ in his book. However he nevertheless attempts the impossible, perhaps in the hope that, by at least raising this possibility and making it seem plausible, any version of the Gospel of Barnabas might as a result be sufficiently discredited not to be taken too seriously by anyone who happened to come across it.

We are accordingly presented with the fruits of David Sox’ s laborious searches through the official records for the period within which the Italian manuscript was probably bound to see if there is any mention of a Fra Marino who not only had the requisite talents to be able to produce such an interesting ‘forgery’, but who also would have had the necessary motive needed to sustain what would have been such a demanding and, if he were to be found out by the Inquisition, such a dangerous, task.

David Sox was only able to come up with one possible candidate: a former Inquisitor of Venice – who probably would have been more likely to have burnt the Gospel of Barnabas than written it! – who according to the records was officially reprimanded on two occasions for being too lenient with heretics, and who was subsequently demoted from his position and replaced.

From these scant details, David Sox concludes that Fra Marino was not only somehow driven to embrace Islam, but also must have decided to forge the Italian version of the Gospel of Barnabas as an act of revenge against his successor – although how such an act could have actually adversely affected his successor (who probably would have been delighted to burn the offending ‘forgery’ had he ever come across it) is never clarified.

This scenario is extremely tenuous, to say the least, especially when in fact the Italian manuscript receives hardly any publicity whatsoever for the next four hundred years – and not until the English version of it begins to be widely circulated some seventy years after the Italian version has been translated into English by Canon Lonsdale and Laura Ragg!

Unfortunately for David Sox there are no contemporary records which depict the successor of an ex-Inquisitor (who happens to be called Fra Marino) tearing his hair out in desperation as hundreds of gullible Italians inexplicably embrace Islam after reading the infamous Gospel of Barnabas.

Indeed there is no real ‘proof’ that the Fra Marino to whom the Preface to the Spanish version refers is none other than our ex-Inquisitor from Venice. In all probability there were literally tens, if not hundreds, of Fra Marinos in Italy during the time of Pope Sixtus V not all of whom would have been recorded in what few records have survived up until today, and any one of whom might have been the Fra Marino who stole the Pope’s copy of the Gospel of Barnabas.

Furthermore, as regards the Fra Marino selected by David Sox, although it is recorded that he was an Inquisitor, and that he was reprimanded, and that he was demoted (but not dismissed), there is no record that he either subsequently embraced Islam, or that he was burnt at the stake for embracing Islam, or that he fled the country in order to avoid the clutches of the Inquisition after accepting Islam. If, as David Sox has attempted to argue, Fra Marino himself wrote the Gospel of Barnabas ‘in revenge against his successor’, surely the Gospel would have been publicised at the time, and surely there would have been a public outcry as a result. It appears that David Sox could find no such record.

Thus in spite of all his long hours of research, his carefully arranged footnotes and cross-references, and his lucid style, David Sox’s hypothesis remains unlikely, implausible and unconvincing. It is highly unlikely that any impartial court of law today could possibly conclude, on the ‘evidence’ presented by David Sox, that the link needed to substantiate his allegation of forgery which he seeks to establish in his book has been proved.

Indeed one cannot help concluding that perhaps the main reason why he has gone to such great lengths in his attempts to prove the highly improbable, may well be that it is because the contents of the Gospel of Barnabas are in fact true.

It is however to his credit that in spite of all the farfetched speculation – of which, as we have already seen, he admits there is ‘a great amount’ – David Sox does have the intellectual honesty to admit that, ‘The Jesus of the Gospel of Barnabas is on many occasions similar to that of the canonical Gospels,’ – although he then adds, ‘ because, of course, the former book depends on material contained in the latter.’ It is possible, however, that it is in fact the converse of that statement which is nearer the truth:

It is possible that the reason why there is in fact such a marked similarity between the contents of The Gospel of Barnabas and that of the other Gospels is that the Italian translation is not a ‘forgery’, but rather a faithful translation of a much earlier Greek or Hebrew or even Aramaic version, which was in existence long before the Quran was revealed, and on which the writers of the four officially accepted Gospels perhaps depended – for it is now generally accepted that the three earliest accepted Gospels, known as the Synoptic Gospels, were in part derived from an earlier unknown Gospel which today’s researchers often refer to as the ‘0’ Gospel, for want of a better name.

It is possible that this earlier unknown Gospel could be the original Gospel of Barnabas, although it is clear from the following analysis contained in Dr. Maurice Bucaille’s book, The Bible, the Quran and Science, that the ‘Q’ Gospel may well have been a collection of different narrations, rather than one complete document:

The problem of sources was approached in a very simplistic fashion at the time of the Fathers of the Church. In the early centuries of Christianity, the only source available was the Gospel that the complete manuscripts provided first, Le. Matthew’s Gospel. The problem of sources only concerned Mark and Luke because John constituted a quite separate case. Saint Augustine held that Mark, who appears second in the traditional order of presentation, had been inspired by Matthew and had summarised his work. He further considered that Luke, who comes third in the manuscripts, had used data from both; his prologue suggests this, and has already been discussed.

From the Fathers of the Church until the end of the Eighteenth century AD, one and a half millennia passed without any new problems being raised on the sources of the evangelists: people continued to follow tradition. It was not until modern times that it was realised, on the basis of these data, how each evangelist had taken material found in the others and compiled his own specific narration guided by his own personal views.

Great weight was attached to actual collection of material for the narration. It came from the oral traditions of the communities from which it originated on the one hand, and from a common written Aramaic source that has not been rediscovered on the other, This written source could have formed a compact mass or have been composed of many fragments of different narrations used by each evangelist to contradict his own original work.

Thus the question inevitably arises as to whether the Apocryphal Gospel of Barnabas is, in fact, either this missing Gospel or at least a part of the possible collection of different narrations.

It must be remembered that John Mark, whose Gospel is the earliest of the four accepted Gospels, was the son of the sister of Barnabas. He never met Jesus. Thus, what he related of Jesus’s life and teaching in his Gospel must have been related to him by others.

It is known from the books of the New Testament that he accompanied Paul and Barnabas on many of their missionary journeys up to the point when there was a sharp conflict between them, resulting in Barnabas and Mark going to Cyprus together. It is unlikely that Mark relied on Paul as a source of information since Paul had never met Jesus either.

The only reasonable conclusion appears to be that he must have repeated what his uncle Barnabas told him about Jesus. It is said by some that he acted as Peter’s interpreter and wrote down what he had learned from Peter. This may be correct, for Mark must have had some contact with the other apostles when he was not journeying with Barnabas or Paul. However, Good speed shows us from his research that anything he did learn from Peter was by no means comprehensive:

He had been an interpreter of Peter and wrote down accurately, though not in order, everything that he remembered that had been said or done by the Lord.

For he neither heard the Lord, nor followed him, but afterwards, as I said, attended Peter who adapted his instructions to the needs of the hearers, but had no design of giving a connected account of the lord’s oracles.

Luke, who also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, never met Jesus. He was Paul’s personal physician. Matthew, who also never encountered Jesus, was a tax collector.

It has been argued that Mark’s Gospel might be the ‘Q’ Gospel and that Matthew and Luke used his Gospel when writing theirs. However, they record details which Mark does not, which implies that Mark’s Gospel could not have been their only source. Some have said that this is not important, since it is known that Mark’s Gospel was written in Hebrew, then translated into Greek, and the Greek translation then translated once again into Latin.

All the Hebrew and early Greek versions of Mark’s Gospel have been destroyed, and people can only speculate as to how much of the Gospel was changed or altered during these transitions from one language to another, although it has now been generally accepted that the final section (Mark 16: 9-20) was tacked on to the end of the basic work at a later stage in order to round it off, which is why it is not to be found in the two oldest complete manuscripts of the Gospels, the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus which are said to date from the late 4th or 5th century AD.

It is interesting to note in passing that there have even been attempts to return to the source by synthesising the Gospels, since the contradictions that arise between them have, at times, proved a little awkward for the established Church.

Titian attempted to synthesise the four accepted Gospels, which had already been earmarked by the Pauline Church as their official Scriptures during the second century AD. In this Gospel, Titian used 96% of John’s Gospel, 75% of Matthew’s Gospel, 66% of Luke’s Gospel, and 50% of Mark’s Gospel. The rest he rejected. It is significant that he placed little trust in the earliest Gospel and relied most heavily on the last Gospel to be written. His synthesised Gospel was not a success.

Thus it is debatable whether Mark’s Gospel can be regarded as the common source of the three Synoptic Gospels, whereas most of the events recorded in these three Gospels are contained within the Gospel of Barnabas – although, as has already been remarked, there are some notable and deeply significant differences – which is why, according to the Introduction to the Gospel of Barnabas, Barnabas wrote his Gospel in the first place:

“Dearly beloved, the great and wonderful God has during these past days visited us by his Prophet Jesus Christ in great mercy of teaching and miracles, by reason whereof many, being deceived of Satan, under pretence of piety, are preaching most impious doctrine, calling Jesus son of God, repudiating the circumcision ordained of God for ever, and permitting every unclean meat:

Among whom also Paul has been deceived, whereof I speak not without grief; for which cause I am writing that truth which I have seen and heard, in the intercourse that I have had with Jesus, in order that you may be saved, and not deceived of Satan and perish in the judgement of God. Therefore beware of every one that preaches unto you new doctrine contrary to that which I write, that you may be saved eternally. The great God be with you and guard you from Satan and from every evil. Amen.”

If the Italian version of the Gospel of Barnabas is a faithful translation of an earlier manuscript which actually did contain what Barnabas originally wrote – and there is no way of conclusively ‘proving’ this, just as there is no way of conclusively ‘proving’ that the contents of the four officially accepted Gospels which exist today actually contain what their original authors in fact wrote – then it does follow that the Gospel of Barnabas could well be the ‘Q’ Gospel, the common source of the synoptic Gospels, although as yet no one has ventured to make a verse by verse comparison between the contents of the Gospel of Barnabas and the contents of the four official Gospels in order to establish exactly which verses are shared and which verses are unique.

If the Gospel of Barnabas is the ‘Q’ Gospel, and given the manner in which Paulinian Christianity developed, it then makes it easier to understand why not only the manuscripts of all the other Gospels – which are known to have existed in the early years of Christianity and which were rejected at the Council of Nicea were destroyed, but also all the early manuscripts of even-the four official Gospels, probably after the original texts had been radically altered. It should be emphasised that as regards the four officially accepted Gospels, there are no versions in the original Hebrew or Aramaic, and that, as Dr Maurice Bucaille confirms, the earliest Greek versions date from after the Council of Nicea:

Documents prior to this, i.e. papyri from the Third century AD and one possibly dating from the Second, only transmit fragments to us. The two oldest parchment manuscripts are Greek, Fourth century AD. They are the Codex Vaticanus, preserved in the Vatican Library and whose place of discovery is unknown, and the Codex Sinaiticus, which was discovered on Mount Sinai and is now preserved in the British Museum, London. The second contains two apocryphal works.

According to the Ecumenical Translation, two hundred and fifty other known parchments exist throughout the world, the last of these being from the Eleventh century AD. ‘Not all the copies of the New Testament that have come down to us are identical’ however. ‘On the contrary, it is possible to distinguish differences of varying degrees of importance between them, but however important they may be, there is always a large number of them. Some of these only concern differences of grammatical detail, vocabulary or word order. Elsewhere however, differences between manuscripts can be seen which affect the meaning of whole passages.’ If one wishes to see the extent of textual differences, one only has to glance through the Novum Testamenturn Graece (Nestlé-Aland, Pub., United Bible Societies, London, 1971).

This work contains a so-called ‘middle of the road’ Greek text. It is a text of synthesis with notes containing all the variations found in the different versions.

Thus not only is it possible – indeed it is highly likely – that significant changes were made to the original texts which pre-dated the Council of Nicea and which have all been destroyed, but also even the texts which date from after the Council of Nicea do not fully agree with each other, cannot therefore be entirely accurate, and in fact have themselves been altered:

The authenticity of a text, and of even the most venerable manuscript, is always open to debate. The Codex Vatîcatlus is a good example of this. The facsimile reproduction edited by the Vatican City, contains an accompanying note from its editors informing us that, ‘several centuries after it was copied (believed to have been in circa the Tenth or Eleventh century), a scribe inked over all the letters except those he thought were a mistake.’ There are passages in the text where the original letters in light brown still show through, contrasting visibly with the rest of the text which is in dark brown.

There is no indication that it was a faithful restoration. The note states moreover that, ‘the different hands that corrected and annotated the manuscript over the centuries have not yet been definitively discerned; a certain number of corrections were undoubtedly made when the text was inked over.’ In all the religious manuals the text is presented as a Fourth century copy. One has to go to sources at the Vatican to discover that various hands may have altered the text centuries later.

One might reply that other texts may be used for comparison, but how does one choose between variations that change the meaning? It is a well known fact that a very old scribe’s correction can lead to the definitive reproduction of the corrected text. We shall see further on how a single-word in a passage from John concerning the Paraclete radically alters its meaning and completely changes its sense when viewed from a theological point of view.

O. Culmann, in his book, The New Testament, writes the following on the subject of variations:

“Sometimes the latter are the result of inadvertent flaws: the copier misses a word out, or conversely writes it twice, or a whole section of a sentence is carelessly omitted because in the manuscript to be copied it appeared between two identical words. Sometimes it is a matter of deliberate corrections, either the copier has taken the liberty of correcting the text according to his own ideas or he has tried to bring it into line with a parallel text in a more or less skillful attempt to reduce the number of discrepancies. As, little by little, the New Testament writings broke away from the rest of early Christian literature, and came to be regarded as Holy Scripture, so the copiers became more and more hesitant about taking the same liberties as their predecessors: they thought they were copying the authentic text, but in fact wrote down the variations. Finally, a copier sometimes wrote annotations in the margin to explain an obscure passage. The following copier, thinking that the sentence he found in the margin had been left out of the passage by his predecessor, thought it necessary to include the margin notes in the text. This process often made the new text even more obscure.”

The scribes of some manuscripts sometimes took exceedingly great liberties with the texts. This is the case of one of the most venerable manuscripts after the two referred to above, the Sixth century Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis. The scribe probably noticed the difference between Luke’s and Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, so he put Matthew’s genealogy into his copy of Luke, but as the second contained fewer names than the first, he padded it out with extra names (without however balancing them up),

Is it possible to say that the Latin translations, such as Saint Jerome’s Sixth century Vulgate, or older translations (Vetus Itala), or Syriac and Coptic translations are any more faithful than the basic Greek manuscripts? They might have been made from manuscripts older than the ones referred to above and subsequently lost to the present day. We just do not know.

The truth of the matter is that there are no complete pre Council of Nicea manuscripts of any of the writings contained in the New Testament extant today – nor of the Gospel of Barnabas for that matter ­ or if there are, then whoever has them has been keeping very quiet about them for a good many centuries, and probably for not the right reasons.

It must be emphasised therefore that the contents of the earliest Greek manuscripts of the four officially accepted Gospels are in fact just as capable of having been ‘forged’, albeit during an earlier period, as are the contents of the Italian manuscript of the Gospel of Barnabas. We just do not know.

The converse possibility, however, is equally true, and although, to quote the Introduction to the Ecumenical Translation, ‘there can be no hope of going back to the original text itself,’ there is still the possibility that on the whole all the Gospels – including The Gospel of Barnabas – in their present form do contain a certain degree of accuracy and truth. It is possible to read all of these Gospels and find elements of what must be true in all of them – but it is impossible to claim that any of them are entirely accurate or to rely completely and unreservedly on any one of them.

Furthermore, the one Gospel which we do not have is the Gospel of Jesus, the original revelation that he received, in the original language in which it was revealed – so that the accuracy and authenticity of any translation of that original text could always be ascertained and assessed simply by referring back to that original text whenever the occasion might arise.

It is interesting to note, as has already been stated, in this context that according to the Gospel of Barnabas, the revelation which was given to Jesus – ‘The Ingeel’ – was never preserved as a written text at any stage, but was more in the nature of a well of wisdom which was placed in the heart of Jesus by the angel Gabriel, and from which he could draw as he needed:

Jesus having come to the age of thirty years, as he himself said unto me, went up to the Mount of Olives with his mother to gather olives. Then at midday as he was praying, when he came to these words: ‘Lord, with mercy …,’ he was surrounded by an exceeding bright light and by an infinite multitude of angels, who were saying: ‘Blessed be Cod.’ 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 has done and what has said, and what God wills insomuch that everything was laid bare and open to him; as he said unto me: ‘Believe, Barnabas, that 1know every prophet with every prophecy, insomuch that whatever I say the whole has come forth from that book.’

This account of the nature of the revelation which Jesus received is not contradicted by any historical record which states otherwise. There is no record of Jesus being presented with inscribed tablets as happened with Moses, for example, or of his receiving a series of revelations like Muhammad, blessings and peace be on all of them, with certain disciples being appointed to record these revelations as they occurred – but not any of Jesus’ s own words – in order to ensure that the revelation was preserved exactly as it was revealed.

There can be no doubt, however, that Jesus was an illuminated being whose words contained a clarity and directness which reflected all the qualities of light – and which must have entered people’s hearts and remained in them just as light does when it enters a room.

And when these words came to be recorded in writing, then surely at least some of these words – together with the accounts of the situations in which they were uttered – must have survived intact, even if the darkness in other people tried to cloud some of them up or shut them out by changing or removing them.

In spite of all the imperfections which exist in the present contents not only of the Old and the New Testaments, but also of The Gospel of Barnabas and other similar works, there can be no doubt that at least some of their contents must accurately record at least some of the words and actions of Jesus, peace be on him – although it will never be possible to actually differentiate between what is reliable and what is not with complete accuracy or certainty.

It does remain a great pity, therefore, that there is no complete original authentic text of the Gospel of Jesus, which has been verified beyond any reasonable doubt, in existence today.

It therefore follows that what David Sox says of the four officially accepted Gospels applies equally to the Gospel of Barnabas:

The differences, even the contradictions, between the Gospel accounts do not detract from the spiritual truths that they contain; if anything, they give us a better understanding of the world in which they were written.

Nevertheless, there is still the necessity – wherever fundamental contradictions between the various accounts do exist – of having to decide which account is the most accurate and the nearest to the truth of the matter:

Was Jesus a Prophet of God or a ‘son’ of God? Was it Jesus or Judas, or someone else, who was crucified? Did Jesus tell his disciples that there would be a Prophet who would come after him who would be called Muhammad, and are the references to the Paraclete in John’s Gospel in fact references to him?

And the answers to these questions can only be sensed if the reader does indeed understand the world in which they were written – and accordingly the nature of the disagreement that dearly existed between the two groups of Christians whom Cardinal Daniélou termed the Judeo-Christians and the Pauline Christians, between those who sincerely followed the example of Jesus and those who followed Paul, putting words into the mouth of Jesus that he, peace be on him, never himself uttered, and granting him a divine status which he neither claimed nor possessed.

Even though none of the contents of either the New Testament or the Gospel of Barnabas are capable of being fully authenticated; and even though it is impossible to establish exactly what has been altered, or added, or removed, or allowed to remain intact; and whether or not the authors of the officially accepted Gospels, each with such a differing background, derived their knowledge from the same source or not; and if they did, then whether or not that source was in fact The Gospel of Barnabas, about Barnabas the commandment is: “If he comes unto you, receive him.” (Epistle To The Colossians 4:10).