The Italian manuscript was translated into English by Canon Lonsdale and Laura Ragg, and was printed and published by the Oxford University Press in 1907. Nearly the whole edition of this English translation abruptly and mysteriously disappeared from the market. Only two copies of this translation are known to exist, one in the British Museum, and the other in the Library of Congress in Washington. A microfilm copy of the book in the Library of Congress was obtained, and a fresh edition of the English translation was printed in Pakistan. A copy of this edition was used for the purposes of reprinting a revised version of the Gospel of Barnabas thereafter,
The new English edition, understandably, has caused the present Christian Church a certain degree of irritation – for if the contents of the Gospel of Barnabas are true, then it clearly follows that most of the versions of Christianity which exist today – and accordingly the various Churches which promote them – do not have very firm foundations
This is because the Gospel of Barnabas confirms that Jesus was not God, nor the ‘son’ of God, and that he was neither crucified in the first place, nor subsequently ‘raised from the dead’ thereafter. As we have already seen, it was Paul himself who pointed out that if Jesus was neither crucified nor raised from the dead, then the bottom falls out of the Paulinian thesis:
“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead …” (1 Corinthians 15:14-15).
Accordingly virtually all the established churches, however near or far they are to each other, have united in their various efforts to discredit the English version of the Gospel of Barnabas by discrediting the Italian edition from which it was translated.
In a manner reminiscent of the way in which the Russian edition of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion has been constantly branded as ‘ a forgery’ in order to discredit any translation of it into another language, so with the Spanish and English translations of the Gospel of Barnabas, it has been claimed that the Italian version is a forgery – and, by implication, that even the much earlier Hebrew and Greek versions which, as we have just seen, are known to have existed at a very early stage in the history of Christianity, must also have been ‘forgeries’!
Perhaps the most sustained and scholarly attempt aimed at discrediting the English edition of the Gospel of Barnabas has been the book written by David Sox entitled, somewhat misleadingly, ‘The Gospel of Barnabas’. Only a few lines of the English translation are actually quoted by him, and the underlying purpose of his book is clearly to put off as many people as possible from actually reading the Gospel of Barnabas itself and making their own minds up about its authenticity!
Given that David Sox’s brief was to ‘prove’ that the Italian version of the Gospel of Barnabas is a forgery, his methodology is transparently clear: Having ascertained that the binding of the manuscript in Vienna dates from approximately the 16th or 17th century – although not necessarily the manuscript itself, which may date from an earlier period and which could have been bound and rebound several times before ending up in its present binding for all we know, but certainly not an earlier manuscript from which it may have been copied, let alone an even earlier manuscript in Greek or Hebrew from which it may have been translated – David Sox then had to find a likely forger:
It had to be someone who was clearly familiar with both the Old and the New Testaments as represented in the Vulgate Bible – so that repeated references could be made to Old Testament events and prophecies whenever this was appropriate; it had to be someone who had converted to Islam, but who nevertheless would be ‘clever’ enough not to make the ‘forgery’ correspond too closely or entirely with what the Quran says about Jesus
(for example, describing the Prophet Muhammad as ‘the Messiah’ who would come after Jesus, whereas the Quran confirms that Jesus was the Messiah whose coming had been foretold by Moses; or, for example, confirming the traditional nativity story given in the officially accepted Gospels, rather than giving an account of the birth of Jesus which corresponded with the account which is given in the Quran; or, for example, not mentioning various miracles of Jesus which, as we shall see in Chapter Eleven, are described in the Quran, but not in the officially accepted Gospels);
and it had to be someone who had the ability to ensure not only that the ‘forgery’ did not correspond exactly with what is in the Quran, but also that at least a third of the contents of the ‘forgery’ confirmed exactly what is in the other officially accepted Gospels, that at least another third expanded on what is in the other officially accepted Gospels without contradicting them, and that the remaining third – even if it contradicted what is in the other officially accepted Gospels – nevertheless appeared to be ‘in scripture style to a hair’, to use the phrase coined by Toland. It could not have been a particularly easy brief!
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 ‘Q’ Gospel, for want of a better name.