ÒHistory as a Literary Weapon:
The Gospel of Barnabas in Muslim-Christian PolemicsÓ
This article was published in the journal Studia Theologica 2002:1 (pp. 4-26). © Oddbj¿rn Leirvik
Since the introduction of historical criticism of the Bible, Western Christianity has lived with a distinction between Óthe Christ of faithÓ and Óthe historical JesusÓ. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, historians of religion as well as liberal theologians claimed access to historical truths about Jesus that ran contrary to christological doctrines held by the churches. In this process, history was used as a weapon against established beliefs about Jesus, but simultaneously as a point of reference for alternative convictions about morals and religion. The anti-mythological quest for the simple teachings of Jesus in the nineteenth century was countered with the critical argument of Albert Schweitzer in his Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung from 1913, namely that its liberal protagonists found little more of historical interest than a mirror of their own ethical ideas. In the latter half of the twentieth century, the quest for the historical Jesus was resumed, with renewed optimism as to the possibility of gaining substantial historical insight into the life of Jesus and its Jewish-Palestinian context. 
From the first quest in the nineteenth century, Muslims have increasingly utilised historical critique of the New Testament for apologetic purposes. ÓWith the weapons of their adversariesÓ, Muslim apologists have tried to underpin classical Islamic arguments against ChristÕs divine sonship, his crucifixion and the historical reliability of the New Testament with modern, critical insights.
In this connection, the claim has been put forward that the so-called Gospel of Barnabas gives a more reliable access to the historical Jesus than the New Testament Gospels. In the Gospel of Barnabas, Jesus vehemently denies that he is the Son of God, and repeatedly foretells the coming of Muhammad. In consonance with dominant interpretations of the QurÕ‰n, he is substituted on the cross by Judas.
The alleged gospel is regarded by many Muslims as going back to a manuscript from early Christianity, whereas Western scholars take it for granted that it was produced either in the late Middle Ages or in the early modern period. To say the least, the Barnabas controversy has not been conducive to mutual understanding and respect between Muslim and Christian scholars.
In general, biblical scholars in
the West have been ready to reconsider lost or subdued gospels. The so-called
third quest for the historical Jesus has triggered a mounting interest in the
sayings gospel genre, as represented by the Gospel of Thomas and the
Gospel of QÓ. The sayings gospels
concentrate on the teachings of Jesus and pay no attention to his violent death
However, Muslim apologists have only to a little extent responded to the theories of the sayings gospel proponents. Instead, their main apologetic weapon has been the alternative Jesus narrative of the Gospel of Barnabas. Contrary to their keen interest in biblical criticism, Muslim apologists have shown little interest in source critique of their alternative gospel.
In the present essay, I shall discuss what kind of challenge the Barnabas controversy represents to Christian-Muslim relations. I shall focus on the use of history as a weapon in what may be regarded as a literature of resistance.
The Gospel of Barnabas retells the story of Jesus in 222 chapters, in the form of a Ógospel harmonyÓ that contains central parts of the biblical Gospels, apocryphal Jesus-material, peculiar readings of the Old Testament, and Islamic teachings. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, it was only known through an old Italian manuscript and a partial Spanish version. The manuscripts have been associated by Muslim apologists and also by some Western Enlightenment writers with a ÓGospel of BarnabasÓ referred to in ancient Christian lists of non-canonical writings.
Spanish manuscript has been the frame of reference for the groundbreaking
scientific investigations of the Spanish scholar BernabŽ Pons which have
been published during the 1990s. BernabŽ took up Mikel de
EpalzaÕs suggestion that the background of the Gospel of Barnabas should be
sought in Morisco circles, i.e. among Spanish Muslims who had been forced to
convert to Christianity and were later expelled from Spain. The Spanish version alleges that the
Aragonian Morisco Mustaf‡ de Aranda translated the Gospel of Barnabas
into Spanish while he was based in
The Spanish manuscript, which lacks chapters 121-200, contains also a preface attributed to the alleged detector of the manuscript, a certain monk presented as Fra Marino. Here, the monk explains how he chanced upon it in the library of Pope Sixtus V (r. 1585-1590), read it, and -- having become convinced of its truth --converted to Islam. The preface also explains how Fra Marino, when reminded of the strife between Paul and Barnabas as reported in the Acts of the Apostles, had reached the conclusion that a number of prominent disciples of Jesus (including Barnabas) would probably have written their own version of the gospel.
in the Gospel of Barnabas exploded after it had been translated into English by
Lonsdale and Laura Ragg in 1907, on the initiative of a Scottish missionary. Notwithstanding the RaggsÕ deconstruction of the text and their denial of its authenticity as a ÓgospelÓ, the English translation was immediately
expropriated by Muslims as an opportunity for intensified apologetics against
Christian missionaries. In 1907, W. H. Temple Gairdner -- a missionary scholar
from English soon appeared in both Arabic (
Before further analysing Muslim apologetic utilisation of the alleged gospel and subsequent Christian responses, the contents of the Gospel of Barnabas must be summarised.
In accordance with Muslim tradition, the Gospel is seen as a book given to Jesus, descending into his heart. The prize argument of classical Muslim polemic, that of the falsification (tahr”f) of Jewish and Christian Scriptures, is abundantly attested. The Gospel of Barnabas recounts much of the biblical Gospel material, only with distinct emphases and additions. It adds a substantial amount of apocryphal material and excels in midrash-like readings of the Old Testament. The sum of it exceeds by far a normal gospel format, and its 222 chapters amount to more than 200 pages in normal print.
Its privileged writer, Barnabas, is referred to as one of the twelve apostles, and said to have received Ógreat secretsÓ (ch. 112). In the preamble, Barnabas presents himself as Óapostle of Jesus the Nazarene, called ChristÓ. He decries those who, Óbeing deceived of Satan, under pretence of piety, are preaching the most impious doctrineÓ. Their deviation consists of Ócalling Jesus son of God, repudiating the circumcision ordained of God for ever, and permitting every unclean meatÓ. Paul is mentioned as the most prominent example of those who have been deceived. Already from the outset, then, Barnabas presents himself as a chief antagonist to Pauline Christianity, a point that is reiterated in the gospelÕs last chapter: ÓOthers preached, and yet preach, that Jesus is the Son of God, among whom is Paul deceivedÓ (ch. 222).
Although the Gospel of Barnabas is bent upon conforming biblical material with Islamic tradition, its is not always in consonance with the QurÕ‰n. For instance, against the QurÕ‰n, but in accordance with medieval legend, it maintains that Mary gave birth to Jesus without pain.
Guistolisi and Rizzardi have characterised the spirituality of the gospel and its emphasis on prayer, fasting, taming the body and penitence as ÓmonasticÓ. Jesus is depicted as a stern ascetic who warns against laughter (ch. 29), hates rest above all things (ch. 59), and teaches that the body is the enemy (ch. 64). He nevertheless turns water into wine (ch. 15).
A peculiar feature of the gospel is that Jesus holds lengthy ÓGreekÓ discourses about the four elements of nature and the three things that make up man (the soul, the sense and the flesh, ch. 105). He rebuts classical Aristotelian claims that the soul is tripartite -- Ócalling it the sensitive, vegetative, and intellectual soul. But verily I say to you, the soul is oneÓ (ch. 106). Jesus seems to agree, however, with the Aristotelian notion that Óreason ... holdeth a middle place in manÓ (ch. 141). JesusÕ discourses on soul, senses and reason reveal the authorÕs knowledge of similar discussions not only in Christian tradition, but also in classical Islamic philosophy and mysticism.
With groans and lengthy discourses, Jesus laments that people call him ÓSon of GodÓ. As in the QurÕ‰n, Jesus assures his audience that he is but a mortal, subject to the judgement of God like everyone else (ch. 93). As noted, the author accuses Paul of being deceived by the idea that Jesus is God, but not really of being the source of this deception. Instead, the gospel puts forward the idea that the origin of this belief goes back to an incident during his lifetime when the Roman soldiery Óstirred up the Hebrews, saying that Jesus was God come to visit them. Whereupon a great sedition arose ...Ó. In the uprising, some claimed that Jesus was God who had come to visit the world, others that he was a son of God, and still others that he was but a prophet of God, since God has no human similitude (ch. 91). Tranquility only returned when the Senate of Rome issued an order prohibiting people -- on pain of death -- from calling Jesus God or Son of God (ch. 98).
So what would be an appropriate title for Jesus, according to this gospel? In contrast to the QurÕ‰n, Jesus is not presented as the Messiah (Italian: il-Messia, equivalent to the qurÕ‰nic al-mas”h). Instead, it is Muhammad who is honoured with this title. This is unprecedented in Islamic tradition.
Jesus is given instead the role that has traditionally been occupied by John the Baptist, as the forerunner of the Messiah. A most conspicuous part of the Gospel of Barnabas is JesusÕ very frequent foretelling of Muhammad -- either by explicit mention of his name, or by reference to Óthe messengerÓ. The Gospel of Barnabas even reflects the Muslim legend of MuhammadÕs pre-existence, and the notion of the eternal nžr Muhammad” (light of Muhammad) is expressly referred to in one of the Arabic glosses to the Italian text. Like John the Baptist in the biblical Gospels, Jesus asserts that the one to come -- i.e. Muhammad, the awaited Messiah and Messenger -- Ówas made before me, and shall come after meÓ (ch. 42 and 96).
BernabŽ Pons has suggested that these peculiarities should not be taken as mistakes, but rather as conscious reinterpretations of Christian and Islamic tradition. The author suggests that in the true Islamic sense, it is Muhammad -- the final messenger -- who is the Messiah. Christ is only the forerunner, who announces his coming.
In the version of the passion, dependence on the substitution theories of classical Muslim commentaries to the QurÕ‰n (tafs”r) is evident. The likeness of Jesus is cast upon Judas, who (after a rather crude version of the interrogations) is crucified in his place. Jesus is rescued by God through a window in a house where he has taken refuge, and installed in the third heaven until the end of time.
As a substitute for the resurrection narrative, the Gospel retells the legend of a visit from heaven by Jesus (after his ascension) to comfort Mary and the disciples, a tradition found in similar form in the popular ÓStories of the prophetsÓ from the early Islamic era.
Several features characteristic of Jewish and Muslim law are reflected in the gospel. Circumcision is said to be indispensable (ch. 22-23), and pork is prohibited (ch. 32). More specifically Muslim observances, such as ablutions before prayer (ch. 36, 61 etc.) and the celebration of AbrahamÕs sacrifice (ch. 67), can also be identified.
The Gospel contains also a rather comprehensive ÓSatanologyÓ. Its descriptions of heaven and hell come close to medieval parallels, as in Dante. In ch. 135-127, the seven parts of hell are related to the seven deadly sins.
As for the GospelÕs inserted interpretations of the Old Testament, some space is occupied by the argument that Ishmael, not Isaac, is the privileged heir of Abraham. Adam is said to have seen the Muslim shah‰da (confession) in a vision, and to have it written upon his thumb-nails (ch. 39).
Apocryphal Jewish material includes the story about two hermits at the time of Elijah (ch. 148-150). These are presented as the Ótrue PhariseesÓ(cf. 144-145, 151), and associated with their spiritual relatives Hosea and Haggai.
Since the early eighteenth century, Western scholars have taken some interest in the Gospel of Barnabas and its possible importance for Muslim-Christian relations. Even in that period -- i.e., long before the translation of the Gospel of Barnabas into English -- comments by Western Orientalists triggered some interest among individual Muslims.
of the first to draw the attention of Muslims to the manuscript known as ÒThe Gospel of BarnabasÓ appears to have been George Sale, in the ÓPreliminary DiscourseÓ to his translation of the QurÕ‰n in 1734. Sale refers to the claim of Óthe MohammedansÓ to have Óa Gospel in Arabic attributed to St.
Barnabas, wherein the history of Jesus Christ is related in a manner very
different from what we find in the true Gospels, and correspondent to those
traditions which Mohammed has followed in his Kor‰nÓ. As for the historical value of the alleged
the remarks made by Sale, the rationalist Enlightenment deist John Toland hade
made some references to the Italian version of the Gospel of Barnabas in his
work Nazarenus or Jewish, Gentile and Mahometan Christianity (1718). By virtue of the gospelÕs denial of ChristÕs divine sonship, Toland appreciates the
Gospel of Barnabas for being closer to the original Jewish Christianity than
the biblical Gospels. In contrast to
The origin of modern Muslim polemical use of
the Gospel of Barnabas lies in
The polemical writings of al-Kair‰naw” emerged as a response to Christian missionary activities in the nineteenth century. His Izh‰r al-haqq (ÓDemonstration of truthÓ, 1867) was written in response to PfanderÕs book Miz‰n al-haqq (ÒThe Balance of TruthÓ). Al-Kair‰naw” propounds the invalidity of the doctrine of Trinity and the alleged corruption and abrogation of biblical scriptures. In his context, he also refers briefly to the Gospel of Barnabas as an early Christian document foretelling the advent of Muhammad.
the inclusion of insights from Western biblical criticism, Izh‰r al-haqq introduced a significant turn in modern Muslim polemics against
Christianity. Schirrmacher notes that the central contention in nineteenth-century
Muslim apologetics was still the classical claim that the Bible has been
tampered with or falsified by Jews and Christian. The new element in al-Kair‰naw”Õs treatment of this old and cherished theme
in Muslim polemics was his utilisation of insights from biblical criticism in
founder of the Ahmadiyya movement, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was also aware of the
Gospel of Barnabas when he wrote about Jesus in India in 1899.
Ahmad obviously believed that this was one of the gospel manuscripts included
in the collections of the
After its publication in
English in Arabic by Rash”d Rid‰ in 1908, the Gospel of
Barnabas received much attention in
It is clear that Abž Zahra held the Gospel
of Barnabas to be very old. He strongly affirmed its authenticity as an early
Christian witness entirely in consonance with the teachings of Islam. In the
part dealing with the Gospel of Barnabas, he explicitly called for a Christian
response, a challenge that was eventually taken up by the comprehensive and
critical study made by Jacques Jomier of the Dominican Centre for Oriental
The widespread apologetic use of the Gospel of Barnabas by Muslims include more recent books by the Pakistani polemicist ÔAta ur-Rah”m and the American Muslim M. Y. Yusseff. In the works of ÔAta ur-Rah”m and Yusseff, the authenticity of the Gospel of Barnabas is simply taken for granted. ÔAta ur-Rah”m even claims that ÓThe Gospel Barnabas was accepted as a Canonical Gospel in the churches of Alexandria up until 325Ó, and that Óthe Pope secured a copy of the Gospel of Barnabas in 383 AD, and kept it in his own libraryÓ. Unfortunately, he does not reveal the sources of this rather astounding information.
When examining the arguments of Muslim advocates of the Gospel of Barnabas, one is struck by their efforts to construct an alleged controversy between Barnabas and Paul (which resembles the classical distinction made by liberal Christian theologians between the simple teachings of Christ and the dogmas of Paul). In the prologue of the gospel, Barnabas presents himself as a true follower of Christ in contradistinction to Paul, who has been captured by a doctrinal deception. Modern Muslim polemicists take the argument some steps further. With reference to a rather forced interpretation of the reference in Acts 15 to a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas, Barnabas is taken as the chief opponent to Paul and his teaching of a Hellenistic Christianity. This runs rather contrary to Christian research pertaining to the role of Barnabas in the early church.
Significantly, neither ÔAta ur-Rah”m nor Yusseff pay any attention to the Epistle of Barnabas, which some Muslim authors seem to confuse with the Gospel of Barnabas. Instead, Yusseff takes some interest in the much later (probably fifth-century) and pseudepigraphic Acts of Barnabas. Yusseff cites a part of the Acts where it is said that Barnabas, when going to Cyprus, took with him documents that he had received from the apostle Matthew -- Óa book of the Word of God and a narrative of the miracles and doctrinesÓ. With an interesting twist, Yusseff contends that Matthew and Barnabas were in facts co-authors of the gospel in question, which (according to Yusseff) might in fact be identical with the hypothetical Q-source known from biblical criticism.
Yusseff also makes some effort to prove the spiritual affinity of Barnabas to the Essenes and the kind of Jewish spirituality reflected in the Dead Sea Scrolls. He sees the Gospel of Barnabas in the tradition of Jewish-Christian movements like the Ebionites, and above all the alleged Jewish-Christian offshoot of the Essenes, the Nazarene movement. As for the Essenes, Yusseff takes special interest in their expectation of two Messiahs.
In accordance with traditional Muslim apologetics, both ÔAta ur-Rah”m and Yusseff single out Paul as the main culprit of process that led to the deification of Christ and the abandonment of circumcision in Hellenistic Christianity. In contrast with the general tendency in recent biblical scholarship to focus on the Jewish/Semitic background of the Gospels, they rely on insights from the history of religions at the turn of the century. Correspondingly, they focus on the mythical language of the Gospels, the Egyptian/Hellenistic origins of ideas about death and resurrection, and the title ÒSon of GodÓ.
In Western research, the connection between ancient Muslim polemics against Paul and the more recent Barnabas controversy has been investigated by P. S. van Koningsveld (Koningsveld 1996). Citing differing medieval Muslim images of Paul, Koningsveld searches for possible Andalusian links between the medieval traditions and the image of Paul in the Gospel of Barnabas. He notes that in spite of similarities, Óone observes a radically different sentiment in the Islamic traditions and the Gospel of Barnabas.Ó In the latter (which may reflect indigenous Spanish tradition), Paul is Óin errorÓ, he is ÓdeceivedÓ, but Óhe is not the ruthless and rancorous deceiver working on behalf of or against the Jews, as portrayed in the Islamic sourcesÓ.
Notwithstanding the fact that the
overwhelming majority of Muslim writing about the Gospel of Barnabas takes its
authenticity for granted, dissenting voices in the Muslim community should not
be overlooked. Schirrmacher mentions an article from 1977 by Muhammad Yahy‰ al-H‰shim” in the influential organ of the World
Islamic League of Mecca. Al-H‰shim” refers to the famous Christian-Muslim dialogue in
In the main, however, Muslim writers who have commented on the Gospel of Barnabas has utilised it for apologetic purpose. In their polemical project, history has been uses as a weapon, in a way similar to that of the first quest for the historical Jesus in the nineteenth century. Critical hermeneutical insights in how the eye of the observer influences the image of Jesus, seem to have made little impact on Muslim apologetics.
Also in Christian apologetic responses, much emphasis has been put on historical truth. Since the publication of the English translation, Christian scholars have sought to identify historical mistakes about Palestinian antiquity and unmistakable traces of later historical events in the Gospel of Barnabas. Apologetic Christian responses, such as those by David Sox and William Campbell, have basically agreed with the critical evaluation that was already made by the Raggs. Launsdale and Laura Ragg pointed to the gospelÕs obvious dependence on Talmudic and Islamic material. They observed that post-biblical material is interpolated Óas it were parenthetically, and mostly into discourses put into the mouth of ChristÓ. They also noted that there seems to be a certain ignorance of the geography and circumstances of Palestine (e.g. having Jesus sailing to Nazareth in ch. 20, or locating Tiro/Tyrus close to Jordan in ch. 99), and even of Islamic tradition. Their arguments were later refined by Jacques Jomier, when he responded to Abž ZahraÕs challenge that Christians should state their opinion on the Gospel of Barnabas.
Both Jan Slomp and David Sox have pointed to
Fra Marino -- who is referred to in the preface to the Spanish manuscript -- as
the most likely candidate for the authorship of the Gospel of Barnabas. Sox has
sought for Fra Marino in the context of Venetian inqusition. Slomp suggests that Fra Marino may in fact
have been a converso, i.e. a Jew forcibly converted to Christianity who
had eventually been forced by the inquisition to flee from
Many recent Western studies have focused on a possible Spanish origin of the gospel, but sought the author in a morisco (christianised Muslim) rather than converso environment. This theory was launched by the Spanish scholar Mikel de Epalza in 1963 and 1982, and has later been refined by the studies of Gerard A. Wiegers from 1995 and the works of Luis F. BernabŽ Pons which have been published from 1992 onwards. On the basis of his doctoral dissertation from 1992, BernabŽ Pons has published studies on the content of the gospel (in 1995) and a critical edition of the Spanish manuscript (in 1998) -- proposing a sixteenth- or seventeenth-century Morisco background for the Gospel of Barnabas. His work has been considered as a major breakthrough in critical research about the alleged gospel. In a book review of the studies by Wiegers and BernabŽ Pons, Jan Slomp expresses the hope that Óthis research, carried out not by missionaries but by academic scholarsÓ may break new ground, and possibly be Óa step forward out of this unfortunate debateÓ.
French translation with a commentary made by Cirillo and FrŽmaux distinguishes itself by proposing an ancient Christian background
to the present gospel. Contrary to most Western scholars, they
argue that the Gospel of Barnabas is probably based on an early
Judaeo-Christian document, whereas the existing version only dates as far back
as the fourteenth century. They suggest the following line of tradition behind
the present gospel: an early Christian background, a medieval collector, and an
Islamic reviser in the sixteenth century. Cirillo and FrŽmaux focus on the expression Ótrue PhariseesÓ as a possible
clue to monastic, Jewish-Christian groups that may have held views similar to
those reflected in the Gospel of Barnabas. These groups seem to have regarded
Elijah as the main precursor of Jesus (cf. the references to Óthe little book of ElijahÓ in ch. 145), and may have had
recently, Theodore Pulcini has taken the references to Elijah and the true
Pharisees as an argument for a possible Carmelite origin to the Gospel of
Barnabas. He also argues in more general terms that
the type of monastic practice which seems to be implied by the gospel,
corresponds well to the testimony of the Carmelite rule from 1247. The end of
the community on
suggests that the tradition from the ancient Acts of Barnabas that links
the apostle of Barnabas to
The strength of PulciniÕs theory lies in his concentration on internal evidence. His theory has also the advantage of confirming the stated primacy of the Italian manuscript over against the Spanish one. His construction of a possible historical scenario is more fanciful, and relies upon the constructed conversion story of a single Carmelite monk.
contextual arguments for a much later, Morisco background are far stronger, but
perhaps not the internal ones. When in 1992, Luis F. BernabŽ Pons presented his thesis in
As for literary parallels to central features of the Gospel of Barnabas, BernabŽ Pons points to the Morisco authors Ahmad al-Hay‰r” Bejerano (Granada/Morocco) and Ibr‰h”m al-Taybil” (Toledo/Tunis, his Spanish name was Juan PerŽz). In a document from 1634, attributed to al-Taybil”, explicit reference is made to the Gospel of Barnabas. BernabŽ Pons also shows how Taybil”, in one of his poems, reproduces one of the most peculiar aspects of the Gospel of Barnabas, namely the contention that the real Messiah was not Christ but Muhammad.
this environment, the Gospel of Barnabas may have been produced in order to
demonstrate the content of the true (in the Islamic sense) gospel of Jesus
Christ. The format chosen by the author lies, according to BernabŽ Pons, somewhere between the genre of Christian gospels and that of the
Had”th collections (the sayings of the Prophet), testifying also in a formal
way to the cross-influences of two distinct religious cultures. As for the
outcome of the Morisco plot, BernabŽ Pons suggests that the lack of any known
publication of the Gospel of Barnabas may be due to the fact that after
the expulsion of Moriscos from
hypothesis of a Morisco origin of this notion is supported by the Dutch scholar
Gerard A. Wiegers, who has found the idea of Muhammad as the true Messiah
expressed in the poems of the Morisco author Juan Alonso AragonŽs, a convert to Islam writing between 1600-1620. Wiegers believes that the Gospel of Barnabas
may have been influenced by the ideas of this particular author. The point of
departure for WiegersÕ study is similar to that of BernabŽ Pons, namely the hypothesis that the expulsion of the Moriscos from
of the new concepts appearing in these polemical writings is the idea that
Muhammad is the Messiah. In a particular manuscript of Juan Alonso
AragonŽs, which Wiegers characterises as an extremely interesting
anti-Christian and anti-Jewish Islamic treatise, the main aspiration seems to
be Òto demonstrate that Muhammad was the promised messiah of Jewish and
Christian scriptures, or, el mesias general (the universal messiah), as
the Spanish text puts itÓ. Whereas Muhammad is depicted as the
general Messiah for all peoples, JesusÕ ministry -- as the special Messiah of the
Gospel, the evangelico mesias -- was confined to
As regards more conventional Muslim views, the manuscript of Alonso contends that the scriptures have been corrupted, and that Jesus was substituted on the cross (according to Alonso, the one who was crucified was in fact a king Jesus of Damascus).
Historical or situated truth?
In his review of recent contributions to the Barnabas controversy, Jan Slomp expresses the hope that Christians and Muslims would start mutually upgrading the esteem for each otherÕs Scriptures. As he puts it, this presupposes that Muslims cease to support a culture of historical forgery and to utilise a dubious document like the Gospel of Barnabas in order to convey traditional claims that Christians have distorted their scriptures.
approaching the question of historical truth, however, it must be kept in mind
that truth claims about history are always situated in a particular context. As for the Gospel of Barnabas, it is more
than obvious that the protracted controversy has to do with power relations. As
argued convincingly by BernabŽ Pons and others, the creation of the Gospel
was probably one of many examples of a strategy of resistance by Spanish
Muslims who had been converted by force during the Catholic reconquista,
and later expelled by the Inquisition. Like the leaden books of
Contemporary post-colonial theory shed fresh light on the dynamics of anti-imperial literature. Post-colonial theory focuses on the complex interaction between the colonial language of dominance and the subtle elements of resistance reflected in language and literature emerging from the contact zone between the disparate cultures of domination and subordination. Indian MuslimsÕ employment of Western biblical criticism against Western missionaries in the 19th century (Òwith the weapons of their adversariesÓ) may serve as a good example.
As for the possible Morisco origin of the Gospel of Barnabas, I find James C. ScottÕs notion of Òhidden transcriptÓ (as laid out in his book Dominance and the Arts of Resistance. Hidden Transcripts) illuminating. In Scott's definition, the hidden transcript is a "privileged site for nonhegemonic, contrapuntal, dissident discourse" which is always found underneath the public transcripts of masters and subordinates, as a condition for a practical albeit mostly non-divulged resistance on the part of the dominated ones. The notion of a hidden transcript points to "a realm of relative discursive freedom, outside the earshot of powerholders". The critical moment in any change of power relations is when the hidden transcript of the subordinates becomes public, as an act of rebellion or revenge.
the public performance of Conversos and Moriscos in post-reconquista
the time of its origin, the Gospel of Barnabas did not have the intended effect
as a public performance. Failing to catch the attention of a large public, its
fate resembles that of the leaden books that were buried in the ground in
it was only in the second phase of its history as literature of resistance that
the Gospel of Barnabas became a success story. When rediscovered by Muslims
after its translation into English in 1907, the stage had already been set for
anti-colonial, anti-missionary employment of the Gospel of Barnabas. As
demonstrated by Schirrmacher, a new phase of literary resistance to the
Christian empire had already been introduced by eighteenth-century Muslim
What emerges, then (if one accepts the theory of a Morisco origin to the Gospel of Barnabas), is a double, anti-imperial context to the Barnabas controversy: in the sixteenth century, Moriscos may have struck back at the Spanish Catholic empire by producing the Gospel of Barnabas as a sweet revenge for their forced conversion and violent expulsion. In any case, in the early twentieth century Indian and Arab Muslims found the alleged Gospel to be a useful weapon in their resistance to Christian, missionary efforts.
Anger with religious pressure from Inquisition and Christian imperial power is understandable. But does it justify what Slomp sees as historical forgeries?
Apart from the insights of post-colonial theory, an interesting approach to the Barnabas controversy may be found in studies made by the Finnish scholar Heikki RŠisŠnen, who has employed the insights from redaction criticism of the New Testament on interreligious exegesis. In Marcion, Muhammad and the Mahatma, he discusses pious efforts at improving the Scriptures -- from MarcionÕs revised Bible to Joseph SmithÕs Book of Mormon and Mahatma GandhiÕs selective reading of the Gospels. RŠisŠnen suggests that the qurÕ‰nic portrait of Jesus could be seen in a similar light. The image of Christ in the QurÕ‰n should not be taken merely as a deviation from biblical tenets, but rather as a new redaction of the Jesus story in its own right. He notes that the QurÕ‰n picks up well-known elements from Ólow christologiesÓ (for instance, servant christology) in the New Testament, as well as elements from apocryphal tradition. But according to RŠisŠnen, every reinterpretation should be analysed with a view to its inner coherence, instead of being deconstructed into bits and pieces borrowed from elsewhere.
The Gospel of Barnabas may be viewed in a similar way, as a much later Muslim attempt at Óimproving the ScripturesÓ by re-editing the Jesus story in a new historical context and for a new audience. Does that mean that anything goes, in more or less fanciful historical reconstructions? Is there a limit to what may be counted as a new version of the Jesus story, different from pious reinterpretations?
RŠisŠnen values fresh redactions of the Jesus story and of GodÕs plan for history as creative reappropriations in their own right. But he is not willing to dispense with historical critique. Speaking of the Óconscience of the historianÓ, he suggests (with Wayne Meeks) that it belongs to the job of a historian Óto try to protect the integrity of the pastÓ. In the global village, the effort of the exegete is needed as the Óhistorical conscienceÓ in dialogue -- Óas one who warns of attempts to make too direct a use of the textsÓ.
True to what he regards as the indispensable gains of biblical criticism, RŠisŠnen challenges Muslims to be receptive for historical approaches to the QurÕ‰n. Only when holy texts are acknowledged as a witness from the past and allowed to speak with a foreign voice, can interpretation of the scriptures be freed from the uncritical self-assertiveness of the reader. What is needed on both sides, is a critical awareness of the difficulties involved whenever assertions about objective truths and historical facts are made.
I would argue like RŠisŠnen that any desire to improve the scriptures runs the risk of violating their foreignness. This was a main point in SchweitzerÕs critique of the first quest for the historical Jesus. Against all too ÒfamiliarÓ portraits of Jesus, he argued that Jesus of the Gospels will always remain a foreign voice, and can only make a difference when recognised as such.
Muslims disagree with the image of Christ as depicted by the New Testament Gospels. For Christians, the Muslim image of Christ represent so to say a second foreignness. But the reclaiming of Christ as a Òtrue MuslimÓ can only be taken seriously as a qurÕ‰nic reinterpretation of previous events and beliefs. Forging a different witness from the past, in order to harmonise early Christianity with Islam, is good for nothing. The claim that the Gospel of Barnabas represents the only genuine version of the life of Jesus may be understandable as a counter-measure to Christian imperialism, but is not justified by it. It runs contrary to the conscience of the historian, which must also in this case seek to protect the integrity of the past.
If historical research is to have any value at all, it must be possible to conclude that a certain manuscript is not of ancient, but -- in this case -- of late medieval or early modern origin. This does not mean that nothing can be learnt from the Gospel of Barnabas. As literature of resistance, it calls Christians in the West to a self-critical examination of the intertwined worlds of religious conviction and power politics. The Gospel of Barnabas reveals probably little or nothing about ancient Christianity. But there is a lot to be learnt from the Barnabas controversy, about unequal distribution of power during the last four hundred years of Muslim-Christian co-existence.
However, power relations change with time and context. I have argued that the Gospel of Barnabas can be read as part of an Islamic literature of resistance Ófrom belowÓ, directed against Christian empires and missionaries. But this is not the entire picture. In the modern context, the Gospel of Barnabas has also become part of a Muslim, anti-Christian polemics Ófrom aboveÓ, which has violated the integrity of Christian minorities by arrogant supersessionist claims. With change of context, there is always the need for an Óethics of interpretationÓ which avoids the temptation to convert resistance into repression.
is common to distinguish between a second quest in the 1950s, initiated by Nils
Alstrup Dahl, Ernst KŠsemann and others, and a more widespread, third
quest from the 1980s. The second
quest was triggered by the recognition that a faith in Christ with no interest
in the historical Jesus will eventually run the risk of docetism. The third
quest has been stimulated by fresh insights into early Christianity,
contemporary Judaism and ancient
 Christine Schirrmacher, Mit den Waffen des Gegners. Christlich-muslimische Kontroversen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert dargestellt am Beispiel der Auseinandersetzung um Karl Gottlieb Pfanders ÔM”z‰n al-haqqÕ und Rahmatull‰h ibnHal”l al-'Utm‰n” al-Kair‰naw”s ÔIzh‰r al-haqqÕ und der Diskussion Ÿber das Barnabasevangelium. (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1992).
 For classical interpretations of QurÕ‰n 4:156-159 and the apparent qurÕ‰nic denial of the crucifixion, see Oddbj¿rn Leirvik, Images of Jesus Christ in Islam: Introduction, Survey of Research, Issues of Dialogue (Uppsala: Swedish Institute of Missionary Research, 1999), p. 25, 39 and 72f.
 A popular version of the theory about Óthe lost Gospel of QÓ is found in Burton S. Mack, The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q and Christian Origins (San Francisco: Harper, 1993).
 Cf. Leirvik, Images of Jesus Christ in Islam, p. 53f and 212-214.
Spanish manuscript, published by BernabŽ Pons in 1998,
lacks chapter 121-200. The old Italian manuscript includes some Arabic glosses.
In 1991, the old Italian manuscript was published in parallel columns with a modern
Italian translation: Eugenio Giustolisi and
 An Evangelium nomine Barnabe apocryphum is referred to in Decretum Gelasianum de libris recipiendis et non recipiendis from the end of the fifth century, and even in a similar list in Greek from the seventh or eighth century (euangelion kata barnaba). See Schirrmacher, Mit den Waffen des Gegners, p. 246f.
 In Spanish: Luis F. BernabŽ Pons, Edici—n y estudio del manuscrito Espa–ol del Evangelio de BernabŽ. Evangelio hispano-isl‡mico de autor morisco (siglos XVI-XVIIÓ). (Alicante: Ph.D. thesis 1992); El Evangelio de San BernabŽ: un evangelio islamico espa–ol (Alicante: University Press 1995.); El texto morisco del Evangelio de San BernabŽ (Granada: Universidad de Granada e Instituto de Cultura Juan Gil Albert, 1998).
In German: Luis F. BernabŽ Pons, ÒZur Wahrheit und Echtheit des BarnabasevangeliumsÓ, Religionen im GesprŠch vol. 4 (1996), p. 133-188.
 Mikel de Epalza, ÒSobre un posible autor espa–ol del evangelio de BarnabŽÓ, al-Andalus (Madrid) vol. 28 (1963), p. 479-491; and ÒLe milieu hispano-moresque de lÕEvangile islamisant de BarnabeÓ, Islamochristiana vol. 8 (1982), p. 159-183.
 Cf. the evaluations of BernabŽ Pons in El Evangelio de San BernabŽ ... and El texto morisco ...; those of de Epalza in ÒLe milieu hispano-moresque ...Ó and Jan SlompÕs evaluations in ÒThe 'Gospel of Barnabas' in recent researchÓ, Islamochristiana 23 (1997), p. 81-109.
Italian manuscript has 34 blank pages, obviously meant to contain an
introduction, probably similar to that of Fra Marino in the Spanish manuscript.
The Spanish manuscript is presently available in the Fisher Library in
and Laura Ragg, The Gospel of Barnabas, edited and translated from the
Italian MS. in the Imperial Library at
is confident , however, that Ówhen honest men throughout the East know the
contents of the book, they will assign to it its true historical value as a
gospel -- which is exactly nilÓ. W. H. Temple Gairdner, The Gospel of
Barnabas. An Essay and Enquiry (
 It has also been translated into Persian, Indonesian and Turkish. As for more recent Western translations, it was translated into French by Cirillo and FrŽmaux 1977 in connection with a scientific investigation, and has also been translated into modern Italian, modern Spanish, Dutch and German. See references in Schirrmacher: Mit den Waffen des Gegners, p. 346-352 and Slomp, ÒThe 'Gospel of Barnabas' ...Ó, p. 87.
As for the numerous Urdu editions of the Gospel of Barnabas, the influential head of the JamaÕat-i Islami movement, Maulana al-Maududi, who prefaced a 1974 edition, admitted that the frequent mentioning of MuhammadÕs name was against the usual style of prophecies about future events. He nevertheless holds the Gospel of Barnabas to be more authentic than the biblical Gospels (see Slomp, ÒThe 'Gospel of Barnabas' ...Ó, p. 105-107).
In addition to translations into national
languages, Muslim publishers (especially in
 SaÕ‰da thought that the existing Gospel of Barnabas was composed by a Spanish Jew who converted to Islam, but holds the existence of an early Christian source to be quite probable. Rid‰ is more ready to identify the existing gospel with the early Christian Gospel of Barnabas known from the Gelasian decree, although he keeps the door open for the possibility that various kinds of reworking have been carried out. As for the foretelling of Muhammad, Rid‰ links the Barnabas argument to traditional apologetic readings of the Gospel of John as prophesying Muhammad. In the year before the edition of the complete translation, Rid‰ had been publishing excerpts and advocating the authenticity of the Gospel of Barnabas in his (and Muhammad ÔAbduhÕs) serialised commentary to the QurÕ‰n, Tafs”r al-Man‰r (see Schirrmacher: Mit den Waffen des Gegners, p. 286-304: ÒMuhammad Rash”d Rid‰Õs arabische Edition des BarnabasevangeliumÓ).
 See ch. 10, 124, 168, 193, 212.
 See ch. 44, 58, 71, 97, 115, 133, 151, 157, 189, 191-192, 212.
 Giustolisi and
 See ch. 17, 48, 52, 53, 70, 72, 91-95, 128, 206, 220.
 Cf. ch. 42 and 96, where Jesus utters the humble announcements attributed to John in the biblical Gospels.
 See ch. 12, 16, 36, 39, 41-44, 54-58, 72, 82-84, 96-97, 112, 136, 142, 158-159, 163, 177, 191, 206, 220. Allusion also seems to be made to the qurÕ‰nic foretelling of Ahmad, the praiseworthy (cf. 97).
 In English translation: ÒHe [David] relates in the Psalms that God first created the Light of Muhammad. All the prophets and saints are lights. (This is part [of the text])Ó - commenting on the formulation in ch. 12 that has David saying: ÒBefore Lucifer in the brightness of saints I created thee.Ó A doxological assertion by Jesus in ch. 12 implies that ÓGod created the splendour of all the saints and prophets before all thingsÓ (cf. ch. 43: God Ôcreated before all things the soul of his messengerÕ). See P. S. van Koningsveld, ÒThe Islamic Image of Paul and the Origin of the Gospel of BarnabasÓ, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam vol. 20 (1996), p. 218.
 Cf. Leirvik: Images of Jesus Christ in Islam, p. 60ff.
 See ch. 13, 43-44, 142, 190-191, 208.
Mit den Waffen des Gegners, p. 263-274. In De religione Mohamedica (1705), Adrian
Roland mentions a gospel in Arabic and Spanish. Even seventeenth century
references to the gospel have also been suggested by some, cf. Louis Cardaillac
in his study of Morisco-Christian polemics between 1492 and 1640 (Schirrmacher:
Mit den Waffen des Gegners, p. 263). A possible further reference is
found in a book review by Michael Carter of SchirrmacherÕs Mit den Waffen des Gegners. Carter points to Edward PockockeÕs Specimen historiae Arabum (1650), which mentions two ÒuncorruptedÓ versions of the Gospel which prophesy MuhammadÕs coming, one in private hands, the other in
Sale, The Koran: commonly called the Alcoran of Mohammed; translated into English immediately
from the original Arabic, with explanatory notes, taken from the most approved
commentators, to which is prefixed a preliminary discourse, by George Sale,
Gent (London: William Tegg, 1863), sect. IV, p. 53.
 Ibid., p. 42. The Spanish version of the gospel is also referred to by Joseph White in his Bampton Lectures from 1784 (Schirrmacher: Mit den Waffen des Gegners, p. 272f).
Italian manuscript was made available to Toland by J.C. Cramer in
from the references made by Toland and
 Schirrmacher, Mit den Waffen des Gegners (see note 2).
 PfanderÕs work, which was produced at the instigation of the Ottoman Sultan ÔAbulazõz, appeared in 1864 in both Turkish and Arabic, and has subsequently become one of the most widely circulated Muslim works about Christianity.
 Schirrmacher, Mit den Waffen des Gegners, p. 275f.
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Jesus in
International Publications, 1989), p. 26. In the Indian context, Hamid Snow -- the head of a peculiar movement called Ôthe Nazarene MuslimsÕ-- also cited the Gospel of Barnabas in his book The Gospel of Ahmad (1897). Setting out to prove that Islam is Ôbut a true continuation of Nazarene Judaism as taught by the Christ (Jesus) and the Messenger (Ahmad)Õ, Snow claims that ÓThe dogmas of the Nazarenes are exactly the same as those of the Muhammedans, excepting that minor incident, the crucifixion of Jesus, which is strictly no dogma at all, nor even a matter of salvation.Ó As for his interest in the Gospel of Barnabas, Snow concentrates on its denial of the crucifixion. Notably, Snow makes no explicit reference to the foretelling of Muhammad contained in the Gospel of Barnabas (Schirrmacher: Mit den Waffen des Gegners, p. 278f).
 Ibid., p. 329-334.
 Hugh Goddard, Muslim Perceptions of Christianity (London: Grey Seal, 1996), p. 60.
 Jacques Jomier, ÒL'evangile selon BarnabeÓ, MIDEO vol. 6 (1959-1961), p. 137-226.
 Muhammad 'Ata ur-Rahim, Jesus -- a Prophet of Islam (London: Muslim Information Services, 1979).
E. Yussef (ed.), The Gospel of Barnabas (Indianapolis: American
TrustPublications, 1990) and The
 'Ata ur-Rahim, Jesus -- a Prophet of Islam, p. 42.
the theology of Barnabas was not necessarily identical with that of Paul, the
first or second century Epistle of Barnabas indicates that Barnabas may
in fact have been one of the main antagonists of Judaism and judaising elements
within Christianity. Modern
scholarship often attributes the Epistle to a Christian in
 Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, Islam and Christianity (Lahore: Idara Minhaj ul-Quran, 1987), p. 88.
 M. E. Yusseff (ed.), The Gospel of Barnabas, p. 89. The reference (not given by Yusseff) is apparently Acta Barnabae 15. Slomp cites a different part which says that ÓBarnabas, having unrolled the Gospel, which he had received from Matthew his fellow-labourer, began to teach the JewsÓ. See Jan Slomp, ÒThe Gospel in Dispute (A Critical Evaluation of the first French translation with Italian Text and introduction of the so-called Gospel of BarnabasÓ, Islamochristiana vol. 4 (1978): 110). The reference (not given by Slomp) is apparently Acta Barnabae 22.
A related Cypriot legend, known from an Acta Sanctorum printed in Belgium in 1698, telling that the remains of Barnabas were found in 478, states that he had Óon his breast the Gospel according to Matthew, copied by Barnabas himselfÓ (ibid., cf. Schirrmacher: Mit den Waffen des Gegners, p. 245).
 Yusseff speaks of Paul as being part of a Nicolaitan (cf. Revelation 2:6 and 15) conspiracy, ibid., p. 48ff.
 van Koningsveld, ÒThe Islamic Image of Paul ...Ó (see note 21).
accordance with the preface of the Spanish manuscript, van Koningsveld regards
the Italian text as earlier than the Spanish version. He nevertheless finds it
probable that the origin of the pseudepigraphic gospel should be sought in
ex-Christian circles of Morisco extraction, possibly in
 van Koningsveld, ÒThe Islamic Image of Paul ...Ó, p. 217.
 Schirrmacher: Mit den Waffen des Gegners, p. 353f.
 Ibid.: 342f.
 In English translation by Kenneth Cragg (ÔAbb‰s Mahmžd al-ÔAqq‰d: "The Gospel of Barnabas", The News Bulletin of the Near East Christian Council, Eastertide (1961), p. 9-12. Cf. Slomp: ÒThe Gospel in Dispute ...Ó, p. 68, Schirrmacher: Mit den Waffen des Gegners, p. 354f. and Campbell, The Gospel of Barnabas (see note 51), p. 52. In his famous biography of Christ, ÔAbqariyyat al-mas”h, al-ÔAqq‰d stated clearly that he held the biblical gospels to be the most reliable access to the life of Jesus (cf. Leirvik: Images of Jesus Christ in Islam, p. 185-189).
 David Sox, The Gospel of Barnabas (London: Allen & Unwin 1984).
 William Campbell, The Gospel of Barnabas, Its True Value (Rawalpindi: Christian Study Centre, 1989).
 Lonsdale and Laura Ragg, The Gospel of Barnabas ..., p. xix.
 Jomier, ÒL'evangile selon BarnabeÓ.
 By investigation of other historical sources from the 16th century, Sox (in The Gospel of Barnabas) has identified two possible persons that may be identical with Fra Marino: A ÓFather Maestro Marino the VenetianÓ who is referred as ÓinquisitorÓ in a manuscript from 1549, and a Fra Marino Moro who served also as a inquisitor in Venice but somewhat later (d. 1597).
 Mikel de Epalza, ÒSobre un posible autor espa–ol ...Ó and ÒLe milieu hispano-moresque ...Ó (see note 9 above).
 Gerard A. Wiegers, ÓMuhammad as the Messiah. A comparison of the polemical works of Juan Alfonso with the Gospel of BarnabasÓ, Bibliotheca Orientalis vol. LII, no. 3-4 (1995), p. 245-292.
 See note 8 above.
 Jan Slomp, book review of ÓEl Evangelio de San BernabŽ: un evangelio isl‡mico espa–olÓ, Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 1 (1997), p. 105-106. Cf. SlompÕs fuller review of recent research in ÒThe ÔGospel of BarnabasÕ ...Ó.
 Luigi Cirillo and Michel FrŽmaux, ƒvangile de BarnabŽ, Recherches sur le composition et l'origine. Texte et traduction (Paris: Beauchesne, 1977).
Gospel of Barnabas often refers to
 Theodore Pulcini, ÒIn the Shadow of Mount Carmel: the Collapse of theÔLatin EastÕ and the Origins of the Gospel of BarnabasÓ, Islam and Christian -Muslim Relations vol.12 , no. 2 (2001), p. 191-209.
 Cf. his critical edition of the Spanish version (BernabŽ Pons, El texto morisco ...).
 A contemporary Muslim commentary on the lead book affair, made by Ahmad ibn Q‰sim al-Hajar”, is found in P. S. van Koningsveld, Q. al-Samarrai and G. A. Wiegers, Ahmad ibn Q‰sim al Hajar” (d. after 1640): Kit‰b n‰sir al-d”n Þ al'l-qawm al-k‰fir”n (The Supporter of Religion Against the Infidel), Fuentes Ar‡bico-Hispanas, 21 (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cient’ficas, 1997), p. 68-91, cf. 36.
 Also Mikel de Epalza pays much attention to al-Taybil” in this regard, see de Epalza: ÒLe milieu hispano-moresque ...Ó, p. 174-178 and de Epalza, ÒSobre un posible autor espa–ol ...Ó.
 BNM Ms. 9653 -- cf. de Epalza: ÒLe milieu hispano-moresque ..:Ó, p. 176 and BernabŽ Pons, ÒZur Wahrheit und Echheit ..:Ó, p. 174.
 Cf. BernabŽ Pons, ÒZur Wahrheit und Echheit ..:Ó, p. 151f.
 Wiegers, ÒMuhammad as the Messiah ...Ó, p. 245-292. Wiegers deals especially with BNM Ms. 9655.
 Ibid., p. 245. For this perspective on the Gospel of Barnabas, see also Jean-Marie Gaudeul, Encounters & Clashes. Islam and Christianity in history (Rome: Pontificio Istituto di Studi Arabi e Islamici, 1990), vol. 1, p. 201- 213.
 Wiegers, ÒMuhammad as the Messiah ...Ó, p. 247.
 Slomp: ÓThe ÕGospel of BarnabasÕ in recent researchÓ.
 For situated reading and Óthe poetics of locationÓ, see Fernando F. Segovia and Mary Ann Tolbert (eds.), Reading from this Place (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995).
 For an introduction to post-colonial theory, see Peter Childs and Patrick Williams, An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theory (London etc.: Prentice Hall/Harvester Wheatscheaf, 1997).
 James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance. Hidden Transcripts (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1994).
 Ibid., p. 25.
 Ibid., p. 155, 215.
 Ibid., p. 215.
 Heikki RŠis‰nen: Marcion, Muhammad and the Mahatma (London: SCM Press, 1997).
 Ibid., p. 15.
 Ibid., p. 118ff.
Mary Ann Tolbert: ÓWhen Resistance Becomes Repression: Mark
13:9-27 and the Poetics of LocationÓ, in