From 70 AD to a period situated sometime before 110 AD the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were produced. They do not constitute the first written Christian documents: the letters of Paul date from well before them. According to O. Culmann, Paul probably wrote his letter to the Thessalonians in 50 AD. He had probably disappeared several years prior to the completion of Mark’s Gospel.
Paul is the most controversial figure in Christianity. He was considered to be a traitor to Jesus’s thought by the latter’s family and by the apostles who had stayed in Jerusalem in the circle around James. Paul created Christianity at the expense of those whom Jesus had gathered around him to spread his teachings. He had not known Jesus during his lifetime and he proved the legitimacy of his mission by declaring that Jesus, raised from the dead, had appeared to him on the road to Damascus.
It is quite reasonable to ask what Christianity might have been without Paul and one could no doubt construct all sorts of hypotheses on this subject. As far as the Gospels are concerned however, it is almost certain that if this atmosphere of struggle between communities had not existed, we would not have had the writings we possess today. They appeared at a time of Hence struggle between the two communities. These ‘combat writings’, as Father Kannengiesser calls them, emerged from the multitude of writings on Jesus.
These occurred at the time when Paul’s style of Christianity won through definitively, and created its own collection of official texts. These texts constituted the ‘Canon’ which condemned and excluded as unorthodox any other documents that were not suited to the line adopted by the Church.
The Judeo-Christian have now disappeared as a community with any influence, but one still hears people talking about them under the general term of ‘Judaistic’. This is how Cardinal Daniélou describes their disappearance:
‘When they were out off from the Great Church, that gradually freed itself from its Jewish attachments, they petered out very quickly in the West. In the East however it is possible to find traces of them in the Third and Fourth centuries AD, especially in Palestine, Arabia, Transjordania, Syria and Mesopotamia. Others joined in the orthodoxy of the Great Church, at the same time preserving traces of Semitic culture; some of these still persist in the Churches of Ethiopia and Chaldea,’
The ‘official’ confirmation of the ‘victory’ over the true followers of Jesus by Paulinian Christianity was enshrined, as we have already seen, in the outcome of the famous Council of Nicea which was held in 325 AD – when the Roman Emperor Constantine, who at the time claimed to be ‘neutral’ on the grounds that he was not a Christian, decided that the Paulinian version of Christianity represented the true teachings of Jesus, and that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John should become the officially accepted gospels, and that all other gospels, including the Gospel of Barnabas, were to be destroyed – along with whoever was found to have them in their possession – a decision which resulted in many of the early gospels being lost for good, and millions of Unitarian Christians being martyred in the years that followed.
It was also at the Council of Nicea, after over two centuries of debate, that Jesus was officially granted divine status, and, with the official instatement at the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD of ‘the Holy Ghost’ as the ‘third person’, the doctrine of Trinity which had begun to emerge during the intervening period finally came of age, some three and a half centuries after the disappearance of Jesus.
Shortly after the Council of Constantinople, the Roman Emperor Theodosius made it a capital offence to reject the doctrine of Trinity, thereby laying the foundations for the Mediaeval and Spanish Inquisitions which were to flourish centuries later – by which time the doctrines of the New Covenant, and of Original Sin, and of the Atonement and Forgiveness of Sins, and of the Trinity, had become so deeply embedded in the Christian psyche that no amount of reformations, ancient or modem, and however well-intentioned, could dislodge them.
Thus it is a matter of historical fact that it took several centuries for the doctrine of Trinity to be developed – as part of a long drawn out cultural and philosophical process, characterised by fierce conflict and at times often confused debate – which explains why the doctrine is never actually described in detail within any of the texts of even the official Paulinian version of the New Testament as being central to Jesus’s teaching.
This can only be because the contents of the early Christian writings – both of the Judeo-Christian and of the Paulinian Christians – had already been finalised prior to the formulation of the doctrine, and were already too well-known to be tampered with too extensively, by the time that the doctrine had reached the stage where it was formally expressed in writing.
The most that the Paulinian Church could hope to achieve was the systematic and complete suppression of all the Judeo-Christian writings which clearly and unequivocally affirmed the Oneness of God as well as confirming the continuity of both teaching and behavior which existed between Moses and Jesus, peace be on them.
Once the doctrine of Trinity had been formally adopted and declared to be the official doctrine of the Pauline Church, one of the inevitable consequences of this decision was that out of the three hundred or so Gospels extant at that time, only the four which were selected as the official Gospels of the Pauline Church were permitted to survive. The remaining Gospels, including the Gospel of Barnabas, were ordered to be destroyed completely.
It was also decided that all Gospels written in Hebrew should be destroyed. Edicts were issued stating that anyone found in possession of an unauthorized Gospel would be put to death. This was the first well organized attempt to remove all the records of Jesus’s original teaching, whether in human beings or books, which contradicted the doctrine of Trinity. In the case of the Gospel of Barnabas, these orders were not entirely successful, and mention of its continued existence has been made up to the present day:
Pope Damascus (304-384 AD), who became Pope in 366 AD, is recorded as having issued a decree that the Gospel of Barnabas should not be read. This decree was supported by Gelasus, Bishop of Caesaria, who died in 395 AD. The Gospel was included in his list of Apocryphal books. ‘ Apocrypha’ simply means ‘hidden from the people’. Thus, at this stage, the Gospel was no longer available to everyone, but was still being referred to by the leaders of the Church. In fact, it is known that the Pope secured a copy of the Gospel of Barnabas in 383 AD, and kept it in his private library.
There were a number of other decrees which referred to the Gospel. It was forbidden by the Decree of the Western Churches in 382 AD, and by Pope Innocent in 465 AD. In the Gelasian Decree of 496 AD, the Evangelium Barnabe is included in the list of forbidden books. This decree was reaffirmed by Hormisdas, who was Pope from 514 to 523 AD. All these decrees are mentioned in the Catalogue of Greek Manuscripts in the Library of Chancellor Seguier (1558-1672), prepared by B. de Montfaucon (1655-1741).
The writings of Barnabas – which include his Epistle as well as his Gospel’ – are also mentioned in the Stichometry of Nicephorus as follows:
Serial No. 3: Epistle of Barnabas … Lines 1,300
and again in the list of Sixty Books as follows:
Serial No. 17: Travels and teaching of the Apostles.
Serial No. 18: Epistle of Barnabas.
Serial No. 24: Gospel According to Barnabas.
This famous list was also known as the Index, and Christians were not supposed to read any of the books listed in it On pain of eternal punishment.
It is interesting to note in passing that a Greek version of the Epistle of Barnabas (which is mentioned by two of the most well known early church fathers, Origen (185-254 AD) and Eusebius (265-340 AD) in their writings) is in fact to be found in the Codex Sinaiiicus – perhaps the earliest Greek version of the New Testament known to be in existence today and dating from the 4th or 5th century AD – although it has been excluded from all modem versions of the Bible.
Although Christian polemicists have repeatedly attempted to allege not only that the Italian translation of the Gospel of Barnabas is a mediaeval forgery, but also by implication that the Gospel itself is a forgery – written by a Muslim convert in the fifteenth or sixteenth century AD – this clearly cannot be correct, given the number of recorded references to the Gospel of Barnabas which were often made long before the coming of the Prophet Muhammad.
As regards other later references to the Gospel of Barnabas, the Gospel is also, recorded in the 206th manuscript of the Baroccian Collection in the Bodleian Library in Oxford which dates from the 6th or 7th century AD. Cotelerius, who catalogued the manuscripts in the Library of the French king, listed the Gospel of Barnabas in the Index of Scriptures which he prepared in 1789. There is also a solitary fragment of a Greek version of the Gospel of Barnabas to he found in a museum in Athens, which is all that remains of a copy which was burnt:
It is interesting to note that consistent with the observation by Grabe in Spicilegium Patrum, I, 302, Toland found that the 39th Baroccian manuscript contains a fragment that is an Italian equivalent to the Greek text. Thus Toland’s conclusion was that the extant Italian translation of the Gospel of Barnabas was identical to the ancient Gospel of Barnabas. In the same year, Reland in De religione Mahommedica (1718) discovered that the Gospel also existed in Arabic and Spanish.
Mr. Johnson’s conclusions regarding all the various references to the various versions of the Gospel of Barnabas are significant:
Grabe’s knowledge of a Greek version of the Gospel and its equivalence to the later Italian manuscript makes it highly plausible that today’s Gospel of Barnabas is in fact the Evangelium Barnabae listed by the Sixth century Gelasian Decretal and the Sixth or Seventh century Cod. Barocc, 206’s list of 60 books. I say, ‘highly plausible’ because no early Greek manuscript is known to be in existence today.
However, it is equally certain that Christian claims that the Gospel of Barnabas is a forgery of some fifteenth or sixteenth century renegade Muslim, are simply vain attempts to dismiss a Gospel that strikes at the heart of contemporary Christian Christology. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians admitted the centrality of this doctrine to the entire body of Christian faith:
“Tell me, if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how is it that some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, Christ himself has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is void of content and your faith is empty too. Indeed, we should then be exposed as false witnesses of God, for we have borne witness before Him that He raised up Christ … “ (I Corinthians 15: 12-15)
Clearly, if there is an early Greek or Hebrew copy of the Gospel of Barnabas in existence somewhere, then a comparison between it and the Italian translation would end the dispute as to the authenticity and reliability of the Italian version once and for all.
In the fourth year of the Emperor Zeno’s rule in 478 AD, the remains of Barnabas were discovered, and a copy of the Gospel of Barnabas, written in his own hand, was found on his breast. This is recorded in the Acta Sanctorum, Boland Junii, Tome II, pages 422 450, published in Antwerp in 1698. It has been claimed by the Roman Catholic Church that the Gospel found in the grave of Barnabas was that of Matthew, but no steps have been taken to display this copy. The exact contents of the twenty-five mile long library of the Vatican continue to remain in the dark.
The manuscript from which the current English translation of the Gospel of Barnabas was made, was originally in the possession of Pope Sixtus V (1589-1590). He had a friend, a monk called Fra Marino, who became very interested in the Gospel of Barnabas after reading the writings of Iraneus, who quoted from it extensively. One day he went to see the Pope. They lunched together and, after the meal, the Pope fell asleep. Father Marino began to browse through the books in the Pope’s private library and discovered an Italian manuscript of the Gospel of Barnabas. Concealing it in the sleeve of his robe, he left and came out of the Vatican with it.
This manuscript then passed through different hands until it reached ‘a person of great name and authority’ in Amsterdam, ‘who, during his life time, was often heard to put a high value to this piece.’ After his death, it came into the possession of J.E. Cramer, a Councilor of the King of Prussia. In 1713, Cramer presented this manuscript to the famous connoisseur of books, Prince Eugene of Savoy. In 1738, along with the library of the Prince, it found its way into the Hofbibliothek in Vienna, where it now rests.
Toland, a notable historian of the early Church, had access to this manuscript, and he refers to it in his Miscellaneous Works, which was published posthumously in 1747. He says of the Gospel: ‘This is in scripture style to a hair,’ and continues:
“The story of Jesus is very differently told in many things from the received Gospels, but much more fully … and particularly this Gospel … being near as long again as many of ours. Someone would make a prejudice in favour of it; because, as all things are best known just after they happen, so everything diminishes the further it proceeds from its original.”
The following extract from the Gospel of Barnabas, for example, (which is taken from the translation of Lonsdale and Laura Ragg) describes what is alleged to have taken place immediately before the miraculous feeding of the five thousand – an account which, as well as furnishing an explanation as to why such a large crowd had gathered in the first place, cannot be found in the four officially accepted Gospels, and for obvious reasons, since it describes how Jesus publicly demonstrated that he could not possibly be identified with God, simply by comparing his human attributes with God’s divine attributes:
“Accordingly the governor and the priest and the king prayed Jesus that in order to quiet the people he should mount up into a lofty place and speak to the people. Then went up Jesus on to one of the twelve stones which Joshua made the twelve tribes take up from the midst of Jordan, when all Israel passed over there dry shod; and he said with a loud voice: ‘Let our priest go up into a high place whence he may confirm my words.’
Thereupon the priest went up thither; to whom Jesus said distinctly, so that everyone might hear: ‘It is writ ten in the testament and covenant of the living God that our God has no beginning; neither shall He ever have an end.’
The priest answered: ‘Even so it is written therein.’
Jesus said: ‘It is written there that our God by His word alone has created all things.’
‘Even so it is,’ said the priest.
Jesus said: ‘It is written there that God is invisible and hidden from the mind of man, seeing He is incorporeal and uncomposed, without variableness.’
‘So it is truly,’ said the priest.
Jesus said: ‘It is written there how that the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him, seeing that our God is infinite.’
‘Sa said Salomon the Prophet,’ said the priest, ‘O Jesus.’
Said Jesus: ‘It is written there that God has no need forasmuch as He eats not, sleeps not, and suffers not from any deficiency.’
‘So is it,’ said the priest.
Said Jesus: ‘It is written there that our God is every where, and that there is not any other god but He, Who strikes down and makes whole, and does all that pleases Him.’
‘So it is written,’ replied the priest.
Then Jesus, having lifted up his hands, said: ‘Lord our God, this is my faith wherewith I shall come to your judgement: In testimony against every one that shall believe the contrary.’
And turning himself towards the people, he said, “Repent, for from all that of which the priest has said that it is written in the book of Moses, the covenant of God for ever, you may perceive your sin; for that I am a visible man and a morsel of clay that walks upon the earth, mortal as are other men. And I have had a beginning, and shall have an end, and am such that 1cannot create a fly over again.” (The Gospel of Barnabas: 95).
The publicity which Toland gave to the Vienna manuscript made it impossible for it to share the same fate as another manuscript of the Gospel in Spanish which also once existed. This manuscript was presented to a college library in England at about the same time that the Italian manuscript was given to the Hofbibliothek. It had not been in England long before it mysteriously disappeared.
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 EIders 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.
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.