Oddbjrn Leirvik:


History as a Literary Weapon:

The Gospel of Barnabas in Muslim-Christian Polemics


This article was published in the journal Studia Theologica 2002:1 (pp. 4-26). Oddbjrn Leirvik


Since the introduction of historical criticism of the Bible, Western Christianity has lived with a distinction between the Christ of faith and the historical Jesus. 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. [1] 

       From the first quest in the nineteenth century, Muslims have increasingly utilised historical critique of the New Testament for apologetic purposes. With the weapons of their adversaries, Muslim apologists have tried to underpin classical Islamic arguments against Christs divine sonship, his crucifixion and the historical reliability of the New Testament with modern, critical insights.[2]

       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 QurՉn, he is substituted on the cross by Judas.[3]

       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 hypothetical lost Gospel of Q.[4] The sayings gospels concentrate on the teachings of Jesus and pay no attention to his violent death in Jerusalem. Furthermore, they seem to corroborate the classical Muslim perception of the gospel (al-injl) as a book preached by Jesus rather than a narrative about him.[5]

       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: manuscripts and translations


The Gospel of Barnabas retells the story of Jesus in 222 chapters, in the form of a gospel harmony 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.[6] The manuscripts have been associated by Muslim apologists and also by some Western Enlightenment writers with a Gospel of Barnabas referred to in ancient Christian lists of non-canonical writings.[7]

       The Spanish manuscript has been the frame of reference for the groundbreaking scientific investigations of the Spanish scholar Bernab Pons which have been published during the 1990s.[8] Bernab took up Mikel de Epalzas 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.[9] The Spanish version alleges that the Aragonian Morisco Mustaf de Aranda translated the Gospel of Barnabas into Spanish while he was based in Istanbul, which was a notable Morisco refuge. But many scholars take the Spanish version to be primary. They  regard the alleged primacy of the Italian text as a tactical construction, prompted by the wish to give maximum authority to the text by associating it with Rome.[10]         

       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.[11] 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.

       Muslim interest 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.[12] Notwithstanding the Raggs deconstruction of the text and their denial of its authenticity as a gospel, 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 in Cairo -- reported that Muslims in Egypt and India were already indulging in wildest talk regarding the historical value of the book.[13]

       Translations from English soon appeared in both Arabic (Egypt, 1908) and Urdu (India, 1916).[14]  The initiative to an Arabic translation from English was taken by the polemical reformist Rashd Rid and was subsequently published in Cairo. By a historical irony, the Arabic translation was made by a Syrian-Orthodox Christian, Khall SaՉda. Perhaps not surprisingly, two separate prefaces made by SaՉda and Rid respectively reveal different evaluations of the historical value of the document by the translator and the initiator.[15]                 


The contents of the Gospel of Barnabas


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.[16] The prize argument of classical Muslim polemic, that of the falsification (tahrf) of Jewish and Christian Scriptures, is abundantly attested.[17] 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 great secrets (ch. 112). In the preamble, Barnabas presents himself as apostle of Jesus the Nazarene, called Christ. He decries those who, being deceived of Satan, under pretence of piety, are preaching the most impious doctrine. Their deviation consists of calling Jesus son of God, repudiating the circumcision ordained of God for ever, and permitting every unclean meat. 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 gospels last chapter: Others preached, and yet preach, that Jesus is the Son of God, among whom is Paul deceived (ch. 222).

        Although the Gospel of Barnabas is bent upon conforming biblical material with Islamic tradition, its is not always in consonance with the QurՉn. For instance, against the QurՉn, 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  monastic.[18] 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 Greek 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 -- calling it the sensitive, vegetative, and intellectual soul. But verily I say to you, the soul is one (ch. 106). Jesus seems to agree, however, with the Aristotelian notion that reason ... holdeth a middle place in man (ch. 141). Jesus discourses on soul, senses and reason reveal the authors 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 Son of God.[19] As in the QurՉn, 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 stirred up the Hebrews, saying that Jesus was God come to visit them. Whereupon a great sedition arose .... 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 QurՉn, Jesus is not presented as the Messiah (Italian: il-Messia, equivalent to the qurՉnic al-mash). 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.[20] A most conspicuous part of the Gospel of Barnabas is Jesus very frequent foretelling of Muhammad -- either by explicit mention of his name, or by reference to the messenger.[21] The Gospel of Barnabas even reflects the Muslim legend of Muhammads pre-existence, and the notion of the eternal nr Muhammad (light of Muhammad) is expressly referred to in one of the Arabic glosses to the Italian text.[22] Like John the Baptist in the biblical Gospels, Jesus asserts that the one to come -- i.e. Muhammad, the awaited Messiah and Messenger -- was made before me, and shall come after me (ch. 42 and 96).

       Bernab 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 QurՉn (tafsr) 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 Stories of the prophets from the early Islamic era.[23]

        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 Abrahams sacrifice (ch. 67), can also be identified.

       The Gospel contains also a rather comprehensive Satanology. 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 Gospels inserted interpretations of the Old Testament, some space is occupied by the argument that Ishmael, not Isaac, is the privileged heir of Abraham.[24] Adam is said to have seen the Muslim shahda (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 true Pharisees(cf. 144-145, 151), and associated with their spiritual relatives Hosea and Haggai. 


Early Western interest in the Gospel of Barnabas


Since the early eighteenth century, Western scholars have taken some interest in the Gospel of Barnabas and its possible importance for Muslim-Christian relations.[25] 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.

       One of the first to draw the attention of Muslims to the manuscript known as The Gospel of Barnabas appears to have been George Sale, in the Preliminary Discourse to his translation of the QurՉn in 1734. Sale refers to the claim of the Mohammedans to have a 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 Korn.[26] As for the historical value of the alleged gospel, Sale dismisses it as a forgery, but with the following qualification: a forgery originally of some nominal Christians, but interpolated since by Mohammedans.[27]

       Before 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 gospels denial of Christs divine sonship, Toland appreciates the Gospel of Barnabas for being closer to the original Jewish Christianity than the biblical Gospels.[28] In contrast to Sale, Toland argued that the Gospel of Barnabas was not a modern forgery, but rather a Muslim reworking of the apocryphal Gospel referred to in early Christian documents.[29]  


Indian origins of modern Muslim polemical use of the Gospel of Barnabas


The origin of modern Muslim polemical use of the Gospel of Barnabas lies in India. This has been demonstrated by Christine Schirrmacher in her study Mit  den Waffen des Gegners, in which she analyses the Barnabas controversy in the light of the Muslim apologetics of Rahmatullh al-Kairnaw (1834-91, often referred to as al-Hind).[30] Schirrmacher sees the controversy between al-Kairnaw and the Agra missionary Karl Gottlieb Pfander as the most central incident in nineteenth-century Christian-Muslim polemics, and the Barnabas controversy as a pivotal feature of polemical clashes in the twentieth century.

       The polemical writings of al-Kairnaw emerged as a response to Christian missionary activities in the nineteenth century. His Izhr al-haqq (Demonstration of truth, 1867) was written in response to Pfanders book Mizn al-haqq (The Balance of Truth).[31] Al-Kairnaw 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.[32]

       By the inclusion of insights from Western biblical criticism, Izhr 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-Kairnaws treatment of this old and cherished theme in Muslim polemics was his utilisation of insights from biblical criticism in Europe.

       The 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 British Museum: in the gospel of Barnabas, which must be available in the British Museum, it is stated that Jesus was not crucified, not did he die on the cross.[33]


Polemic use of the Gospel of Barnabas in the twentieth century  


After its publication in English in Arabic by Rashd Rid in 1908, the Gospel of Barnabas received much attention in Egypt. For instance, Muhammad Ab Zahra -- who taught at al-Azhar was much inspired by al-Kairnaw  and referred to it in his influential Muhdart f al-nasrniyya (Lectures on Christianity).[34] His book, which was first published in 1942, has been described as the basis for every other book on the subject published since.[35] Through numerous translations, it has had a considerable impact in the entire Muslim world. Ab Zahra argues that a faithful transmission of Jesus message had been made impossible by the disruption of the Christian communities caused by persecution, and that Jesus original message disappeared after the Council of Nicea. In expounding what he regards to be Christs original message of tawhd (divine unity), Ab Zahra refers not only to the QurՉn, but also to the Gospel of Barnabas which he holds in high esteem and cites as an authority in this respect. He quotes from the part of the gospel that explains the substitution of Judas for Jesus on the cross and the deliverance of Jesus through divine intervention.

       It is clear that Ab 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 Studies in Cairo.[36]

        The widespread apologetic use of the Gospel of Barnabas by Muslims include more recent books by the Pakistani polemicist Ata  ur-Rahm[37] and the American Muslim M. Y. Yusseff.[38] In the works of Ata  ur-Rahm and Yusseff, the authenticity of the Gospel of Barnabas is simply taken for granted. Ata  ur-Rahm even claims that The Gospel Barnabas was accepted as a Canonical Gospel in the churches of Alexandria up until 325, and that the Pope secured a copy of the Gospel of Barnabas in 383 AD, and kept it in his own library. Unfortunately, he does not reveal the sources of this rather astounding information.[39]


Reconstructing Early Christian controversy: Barnabas and Paul


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.[40]

       Significantly, neither Ata  ur-Rahm nor Yusseff pay any attention to the Epistle of Barnabas, which some Muslim authors seem to confuse with the Gospel of Barnabas.[41] 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 -- a book of the Word of God and a narrative of the miracles and doctrines.[42] 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.[43]

       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 Ata ur-Rahm 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.[44] 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 Son of God.         

       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).[45] 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.[46] He notes that in spite of similarities, one observes a radically different sentiment in the Islamic traditions and the Gospel of Barnabas. In the latter (which may reflect indigenous Spanish tradition), Paul is in error, he is deceived, but he is not the ruthless and rancorous deceiver working on behalf of or against the Jews, as portrayed in the Islamic sources.[47]


Contested history: Muslim apologetics and Christian responses


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-Hshim in the influential organ of the World Islamic League of Mecca.[48] Al-Hshim refers to the famous Christian-Muslim dialogue in Tripoli (Libya) in 1976, in which some Muslims tried to put the Gospel of Barnabas at the centre of their arguments.[49] He dismisses the gospel as a document of dubious value,  comparable to the innovations of the Ahmadiyya movement who claim that Christ did not die on the cross but survived it, went to Asia and died in Kashmir. He even contends that it might have been composed by a Jew in order to instigate hatred between Christians and Muslims. A refutation of the gospels authenticity is also found in a newspaper article from 1959 by the Egyptian biographer of Christ Abbs Mahmd al-Aqqd, who comes close to standard historical-critical positions taken by Western scholars.[50]

       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[51] and William Campbell,[52] have basically agreed with the critical evaluation that was already made by the Raggs. Launsdale and Laura Ragg pointed to the gospels obvious dependence on Talmudic and Islamic material. They observed that post-biblical material is interpolated as it were parenthetically, and mostly into discourses put into the mouth of Christ.[53] 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 Ab Zahras challenge that Christians should state their opinion on the Gospel of Barnabas.[54]


Recent historical investigations in the West           


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.[55] 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 Spain to Venice. In this way, Slomp stresses the repressive atmosphere that has probably triggered the production of this gospel.

        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,[56] and has later been refined by the studies of Gerard A. Wiegers from 1995[57] and the works of Luis F. Bernab Pons which have been published from 1992 onwards.[58] On the basis of his doctoral dissertation from 1992, Bernab 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 Bernab Pons, Jan Slomp expresses the hope that this research, carried out not by missionaries but by academic scholars may break new ground, and possibly be a step forward out of this unfortunate debate.[59]

       The French translation with a commentary made by Cirillo and Frmaux distinguishes itself by proposing an ancient Christian background to the present gospel.[60] 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 Frmaux focus on the expression true Pharisees 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 the little book of Elijah in ch. 145), and may have had Syria as their main base.[61]

       More 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.[62] 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 Mount Carmel came in 1291, when the last crusader strongholds on the Mediterranean coast were recaptured by the Muslims. As a possible scenario for the composition of the Gospel of Barnabas, Pulcini suggests that it may have been composed by a displaced Carmelite monk who had found a safe harbour in Cyprus and -- perhaps disappointed with his monastic community and contemplating Muslim victories -- may have converted to Islam. This may have happened just after the Carmelites expulsion from the Holy Land to Cyprus, or in the 16th century when the Turks conquered the Venetians and the Carmelites were once more displaced, from Cyprus to Crete.

       Pulcini suggests that the tradition from the ancient Acts of Barnabas that links the apostle of Barnabas to Cyprus may have been another formative element in the process. If one presupposes that the monk in question was Italian by origin, this would explain the linguistic influx from Tuscan and Venetian dialects in the Italian manuscript, which were already noted by the Raggs.


External and internal  arguments in favour of a Spanish-Morisco origin


The strength of Pulcinis 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.

       The contextual arguments for a much later, Morisco background are far stronger, but perhaps not the internal ones. When in 1992, Luis F. Bernab Pons presented his thesis in Alicante, Spain on the Morisco origin of the gospel, he took the Spanish version as his frame of reference.[63] He argues that the Gospel of Barnabas was paralleled by a series of Morisco creations of early Christian writings, found in Granada at the end of the sixteenth century and known as the leaden books of Sacromonte.[64] In the leaden books, Christian origins are presented with distinctively Islamic overtones. Bernab Pons is careful not to speak of forgeries in a derogatory way. He suggests that the Morisco literature in question should rather be taken as an expression of ideas harboured by people who participated in two religious realities, Christian and Muslim.

       As for literary parallels to central features of the Gospel of Barnabas, Bernab Pons points to the Morisco authors Ahmad al-Hayr Bejerano (Granada/Morocco) and Ibrhm al-Taybil (Toledo/Tunis, his Spanish name was Juan Perz).[65] In a document from 1634, attributed to al-Taybil, explicit reference is made to the Gospel of Barnabas.[66] Bernab 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.[67]

       In 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 Bernab Pons, somewhere between the genre of Christian gospels and that of the Hadth 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, Bernab 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 Spain, the syncretistic argument and form of this pseudepigraphic gospel lost its force.

       The 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 Aragons, a convert to Islam writing between 1600-1620.[68] Wiegers believes that the Gospel of Barnabas may have been influenced by the ideas of this particular author. The point of departure for Wiegers study is similar to that of Bernab Pons, namely the hypothesis that the expulsion of the Moriscos from Spain marked a new phase in the history of Muslim-Christian polemics, in which the Moriscos were finally free to express themselves about the religion that had been forced upon them by the Christian authorities in Spain.

       One of the new concepts appearing in these polemical writings is the idea that Muhammad is the Messiah.[69] In a particular manuscript of Juan Alonso Aragons, which Wiegers characterises as an extremely interesting anti-Christian and anti-Jewish Islamic treatise, the main aspiration seems to be to demonstrate that Muhammad was the promised messiah of Jewish and Christian scriptures, or, el mesias general (the universal messiah), as the Spanish text puts it.[70] Whereas Muhammad is depicted as the general Messiah for all peoples, Jesus ministry -- as the special Messiah of the Gospel, the evangelico mesias -- was confined to Israel only.

       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 others Scriptures.[71] 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.

       When 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.[72] 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 Bernab 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 Granada, the Gospel of Barnabas may be read as Morisco literature of resistance which contested the Christian empire by claiming that Christianity rested on a historical falsification of the teachings of Jesus which were now finally corrected by the true Gospel.

       Contemporary post-colonial theory shed fresh light on the dynamics of anti-imperial literature.[73] 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 Muslims employment of Western biblical criticism against Western missionaries in the 19th century (with the weapons of their adversaries) may serve as a good example.

       As for the possible Morisco origin of the Gospel of Barnabas, I find James C. Scotts notion of hidden transcript (as laid out in his book Dominance and the Arts of Resistance. Hidden Transcripts) illuminating.[74] 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".[75] 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.[76]

       Behind the public performance of Conversos and Moriscos in post-reconquista Spain there was clearly -- as the Inquisition suspected -- a hidden transcript. When forcibly converted Jews and Muslims were eventually expelled, the time had come to reveal what had hitherto been shrouded and perhaps even to elaborate on it. Like the leaden books of Sacromonte, the Gospel of Barnabas may have been produced as an equally desperate and creative response to the loss of status and dignity. As Scott notes, To speak of a loss of dignity and status is necessarily to speak of a public loss. It follows, I think, that a public humiliation can be fully reciprocated only with a public revenge.[77] As a public revenge, the production of the Gospel of Barnabas was performed with great creativity, by people who were able to draw upon elements from both Christian and Muslim tradition (granted that the Morisco theory is right).

                               At 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 reconquered Granada. However, the testimony of early modern Western scholars such as Toland and Sale shows that the Gospel was not completely forgotten, and was in fact continuously invoked in certain Muslim circles.

       Anyhow, 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 apologists in India who attacked the Bible and missionary teachings about Christ by the weapons of their enemies, i.e. by use of modern biblical criticism.

       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.


Pious improvement of scriptures and the critical conscience of the historian


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 Risnen, who has employed the insights from redaction criticism of the New Testament on interreligious exegesis. In Marcion, Muhammad and the Mahatma,[78] he discusses pious efforts at improving the Scriptures -- from Marcions revised Bible to Joseph Smiths Book of Mormon and Mahatma Gandhis selective reading of the Gospels. Risnen suggests that the qurՉnic portrait of Jesus could be seen in a similar light. The image of Christ in the QurՉn 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 QurՉn picks up well-known elements from low christologies (for  instance, servant christology) in the New Testament, as well as elements from apocryphal tradition. But according to Risnen, 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 improving the Scriptures 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?

       Risnen values fresh redactions of the Jesus story and of Gods plan for history as creative reappropriations in their own right. But he is not willing to dispense with historical critique. Speaking of the conscience of the historian, he suggests (with Wayne Meeks) that it belongs to the job of a historian to try to protect the integrity of the past. In the global village, the effort of the exegete is needed as the historical conscience in dialogue -- as one who warns of attempts to make too direct a use of the texts.[79]

       True to what he regards as the indispensable gains of biblical criticism, Risnen challenges Muslims to be receptive for historical approaches to the QurՉn.[80] 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 Risnen that any desire to improve the scriptures runs the risk of violating their foreignness. This was a main point in Schweitzers critique of the first quest for the historical Jesus. Against all too familiar 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 true Muslim can only be taken seriously as a qurՉnic 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 from below, 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 from above, which has violated the integrity of Christian minorities by arrogant supersessionist claims. With change of context, there is always the need for an ethics of interpretation which avoids the temptation to convert resistance into repression.[81]




[1]           It is common to distinguish between a second quest in the 1950s, initiated by Nils Alstrup Dahl, Ernst Ksemann 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 Palestine brought forward by the Nag Hammadi and Qumran discoveries, and advances in Jewish studies as well as social and historical sciences applied to Roman-Palestinian antiquity. For the concept of a first, second and third quest for the historical Jesus, see Bernhard Brandon Scott: From Reimarus to Crossan: Stages in a Quest, Currents in Research 2 (1994), p. 253-280.

[2]           Christine Schirrmacher, Mit den Waffen des Gegners. Christlich-muslimische Kontroversen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert dargestellt am Beispiel der Auseinandersetzung um Karl Gottlieb Pfanders Mzn al-haqq und Rahmatullh ibnHall al-'Utmn al-Kairnaws Izhr al-haqq und der Diskussion ber das Barnabasevangelium. (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1992).

[3]           For classical interpretations of QurՉn 4:156-159 and the apparent qurՉnic denial of the crucifixion, see Oddbjrn 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.

[4]           A popular version of the theory about the lost Gospel of Q is found in Burton S. Mack, The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q and Christian Origins (San Francisco: Harper, 1993).

[5]           Cf. Leirvik, Images of Jesus Christ in Islam, p. 53f and 212-214.

[6]           The Spanish manuscript, published by Bernab 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 Guiseppe Rizzardi, Il vangelo di Barnaba. Un vangelo per i musulmani? (Milano: Istituto Propaganda Libraria, 1991).

[7]           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.

[8]           In Spanish: Luis F. Bernab Pons, Edicin y estudio del manuscrito Espaol del Evangelio de          Bernab. Evangelio hispano-islmico de autor morisco (siglos XVI-XVII).  (Alicante: Ph.D. thesis 1992); El Evangelio de San Bernab: un evangelio islamico espaol (Alicante: University Press 1995.); El texto morisco del Evangelio de San Bernab (Granada: Universidad de Granada e Instituto de Cultura Juan Gil Albert, 1998).

In German: Luis F. Bernab Pons, Zur Wahrheit und Echtheit des Barnabasevangeliums, Religionen im Gesprch vol. 4 (1996), p. 133-188. 

[9]           Mikel de Epalza, Sobre un posible autor espaol del evangelio de Barnab, al-Andalus (Madrid) vol. 28 (1963), p. 479-491; and Le milieu hispano-moresque de lEvangile islamisant de Barnabe, Islamochristiana vol. 8 (1982), p. 159-183.

[10]          Cf. the evaluations of Bernab Pons in El Evangelio de San Bernab ... and El texto morisco ...; those of de Epalza in Le milieu hispano-moresque ... and Jan Slomps evaluations in The 'Gospel of Barnabas' in recent research, Islamochristiana 23 (1997), p. 81-109.

[11]          The 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 Sydney. See Schirrmacher: Mit den Waffen des Gegners, p. 260-262 and J. E. Fletcher, The Spanish Gospel of Barnabas, Novum Testamentum vol. XVIII ((1976), p. 314-320.

[12]          Lonsdale and Laura Ragg, The Gospel of Barnabas, edited and translated from the Italian MS. in the Imperial Library at Vienna (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1907). The initiative behind the translation appears to have been taken by John W. Youngson of the Church of Scotland Mission to Muslims. Through a professor in Glasgow who knew of the Italian manuscript in Vienna, the task of a scientific, critical translation and edition was eventually given to the scholars Lonsdale and Laura Ragg.       

[13]          Gairdner is confident , however, that when 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 nil. W. H. Temple Gairdner, The Gospel of Barnabas. An Essay and Enquiry (Cairo , 1907), p. 2.

[14]          It has also been translated into Persian, Indonesian and Turkish. As for more recent  Western translations, it was translated into French by Cirillo and Frmaux 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, The 'Gospel of Barnabas' ..., p. 87.

            As for the numerous Urdu editions of the Gospel of Barnabas, the influential head of the Jamaat-i Islami movement, Maulana al-Maududi, who prefaced a 1974 edition, admitted that the frequent mentioning of Muhammads 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, The 'Gospel of Barnabas' ..., p. 105-107).

In addition to translations into national languages, Muslim publishers (especially in Pakistan) have also produced several editions of the English translation.

[15]           SaՉda 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 Abduhs) serialised commentary to the QurՉn, Tafsr al-Manr (see Schirrmacher: Mit den Waffen des Gegners, p. 286-304: Muhammad Rashd Rids arabische Edition des Barnabasevangelium).

[16]          See ch. 10, 124, 168, 193, 212.

[17]          See ch. 44, 58, 71, 97, 115, 133, 151, 157, 189, 191-192, 212.

[18]          Giustolisi and Rizzardi, Il vangelo di Barnaba ..., p. 18-21.

[19]          See ch. 17, 48, 52, 53, 70, 72, 91-95, 128, 206, 220.

[20]          Cf. ch. 42 and 96, where Jesus utters the humble announcements attributed to John in the biblical Gospels.

[21]          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 qurՉnic foretelling of Ahmad, the praiseworthy (cf. 97).

[22]          In English translation: He [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]) - commenting on the formulation in ch. 12 that has David saying: Before Lucifer in the brightness of saints I created thee. A doxological assertion by Jesus in ch. 12 implies that God created the splendour of all the saints and prophets before all things (cf. ch. 43: God created before all things the soul of his messenger). See P. S. van Koningsveld, The Islamic Image of Paul and the Origin of the Gospel of Barnabas,  Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam vol. 20 (1996), p. 218.

[23]          Cf. Leirvik: Images of Jesus Christ in Islam, p. 60ff.

[24]          See ch. 13, 43-44, 142, 190-191, 208.

[25]          Schirrmacher: 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 Schirrmachers Mit den Waffen des Gegners. Carter points to Edward Pockockes Specimen historiae Arabum (1650),  which mentions two uncorrupted versions of the  Gospel which prophesy Muhammads coming, one in private hands, the other in Paris. See Michael Carters book review in MESA Bulletin 28 (1994), p. 109f.

[26]          George 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. Sale later admits that he never saw any manuscript in Arabic, only the Spanish version from which he cites some passages in his comments to sura 3 and 7. See ibid., p. 42f, 117.   

[27]          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).

[28]          The Italian manuscript was made available to Toland by J.C. Cramer in Amsterdam. Through Prince Eugene of Savoy, to whom Cramer dedicated the manuscript, it came to the Austrian National Library where it has since been preserved in Die Handschriftensammlung der sterreichischen Nationalbibliothek (ibid., p. 265-268).

[29]          Apart from the references made by Toland and Sale, several other mentions by Western authors of the modern Gospel of Barnabas (in its Italian or Spanish, or -- hypothetically -- Arabic form) can be identified from the early eighteenth century onwards (ibid.: 272-274).

[30]          Schirrmacher, Mit den Waffen des Gegners (see note 2).

[31]          Pfanders work, which was produced at the instigation of the Ottoman Sultan Abulazz, appeared in 1864 in both Turkish and Arabic, and has subsequently become one of the most widely circulated Muslim works about Christianity.

[32]          Schirrmacher, Mit den Waffen des Gegners, p. 275f.

[33]          H. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Jesus in India (Islamabad and Tilford: Islam

International      Publications, 1989), p. 26. In the Indian context, Hamid Snow -- the head of a peculiar movement called the Nazarene Muslims-- also cited the Gospel of Barnabas in his book The Gospel of Ahmad (1897). Setting out to prove that Islam is but a true continuation of Nazarene Judaism as taught by the Christ (Jesus) and the Messenger (Ahmad), Snow claims that The 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. 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).

[34]          Ibid., p. 329-334.

[35]          Hugh Goddard, Muslim Perceptions of Christianity (London: Grey Seal, 1996), p. 60.

[36]          Jacques Jomier, L'evangile selon Barnabe, MIDEO vol. 6 (1959-1961), p. 137-226.

[37]          Muhammad 'Ata ur-Rahim, Jesus -- a Prophet of Islam (London: Muslim Information Services, 1979).

[38]          M. E. Yussef (ed.), The Gospel of Barnabas (Indianapolis: American TrustPublications, 1990) and The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Gospel of Barnabas and the New Testament (Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1990).

[39]          'Ata ur-Rahim, Jesus -- a Prophet of Islam, p. 42.

[40]          Although 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 Alexandria. A recent study of the Epistle of Barnabas is Reidar Hvalvik, The Struggle for Scripture and Covenant. The Purpose of the Epistle of Barnabas and Jewish-Christian Competition in the Second Century (Tbingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1996).

[41]          Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, Islam and Christianity (Lahore: Idara Minhaj ul-Quran, 1987), p. 88.

[42]          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 Barnabas, having unrolled the Gospel, which he had received from Matthew his fellow-labourer, began to teach the Jews. See Jan Slomp, The Gospel in Dispute (A Critical Evaluation of the first French translation with Italian Text and introduction of the so-called Gospel of Barnabas, 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 on his breast the Gospel according to Matthew, copied by Barnabas himself (ibid., cf. Schirrmacher: Mit den Waffen des Gegners, p. 245).

[43]          Yusseff, The Dead Sea Scrolls ..., p. 94f and 97.

[44]          Yusseff speaks of Paul as being part of a Nicolaitan (cf. Revelation 2:6 and 15) conspiracy, ibid., p. 48ff.

[45]          van Koningsveld, The Islamic Image of Paul ... (see note 21).

[46]          In 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 Istanbul.

[47]          van Koningsveld, The Islamic Image of Paul ..., p. 217.

[48]          Schirrmacher: Mit den Waffen des Gegners, p. 353f.

[49]          Ibid.: 342f.

[50]          In English translation by Kenneth Cragg (Abbs Mahmd al-Aqqd: "The Gospel of Barnabas", The News Bulletin of the Near East Christian Council, Eastertide (1961), p. 9-12. Cf. Slomp: The Gospel in Dispute ..., 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, Abqariyyat al-mash, al-Aqqd 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).

[51]          David Sox, The Gospel of Barnabas (London: Allen & Unwin 1984).

[52]          William Campbell, The Gospel of Barnabas, Its True Value (Rawalpindi: Christian Study Centre, 1989).

[53]             Lonsdale and Laura Ragg, The Gospel of Barnabas ..., p. xix.

[54]          Jomier, L'evangile selon Barnabe.

[55]          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 Father Maestro Marino the Venetian who is referred as inquisitor in a manuscript from 1549, and a Fra Marino Moro who served also as a inquisitor in Venice but somewhat later (d. 1597).

[56]          Mikel de Epalza, Sobre un posible autor espaol ... and Le milieu hispano-moresque ... (see note 9 above).

[57]          Gerard A. Wiegers, Muhammad as the Messiah. A comparison of the polemical works of Juan Alfonso with the Gospel of Barnabas, Bibliotheca Orientalis vol. LII, no. 3-4 (1995), p. 245-292.

[58]          See note 8 above.

[59]          Jan Slomp, book review of El Evangelio de San Bernab: un evangelio islmico espaol, Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 1 (1997), p. 105-106. Cf. Slomps fuller review of recent research in The Gospel of Barnabas ....

[60]          Luigi Cirillo and Michel Frmaux, vangile de Barnab, Recherches sur le composition et l'origine. Texte et traduction (Paris: Beauchesne, 1977).

[61]          The Gospel of Barnabas often refers to Damascus as a place of retreat for Jesus and the disciples. Similarly, Roy Blackhirst has suggested a Jewish-Christian, Ebionite source behind the present gospel, whereas John Bowman has argued in favour of a medieval Samaritan origin (cf. Slomp: The Gospel in Dispute ..., p. 103-105). In his articles about the Barnabas controversy, Jan Slomp has given a critical response to Cirillo and Frmaux as well as to Bowman and Blackhirst. Jacques Jomier has also responded critically to Cirillo and Frmaux. See Jaques Jomier, Une nigme persistante:  lEvangile dit de Barnab, MIDEO vol. 14 (1980), p. 271-300.

[62]          Theodore Pulcini, In the Shadow of Mount Carmel: the Collapse of theLatin East and the Origins of the Gospel of Barnabas, Islam and Christian           -Muslim Relations vol.12 , no. 2 (2001), p. 191-209.

[63]          Cf. his critical edition of the Spanish version (Bernab Pons, El texto morisco ...).

[64]          A contemporary Muslim commentary on the lead book affair, made by Ahmad ibn Qsim al-Hajar, is found in P. S. van Koningsveld, Q. al-Samarrai and G. A. Wiegers, Ahmad ibn Qsim al Hajar (d. after 1640): Kitb nsir al-dn al'l-qawm al-kfirn (The Supporter of Religion Against the Infidel), Fuentes Arbico-Hispanas, 21 (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientficas, 1997), p. 68-91, cf. 36.

[65]          Also Mikel de Epalza pays much attention to al-Taybil in this regard, see de Epalza: Le milieu hispano-moresque ..., p. 174-178 and de Epalza, Sobre un posible autor espaol ....    

[66]          BNM Ms. 9653 -- cf. de Epalza: Le milieu hispano-moresque ..:, p. 176 and Bernab Pons, Zur Wahrheit und Echheit ..:, p. 174.

[67]          Cf. Bernab Pons, Zur Wahrheit und Echheit ..:, p. 151f.

[68]          Wiegers, Muhammad as the Messiah ..., p. 245-292. Wiegers deals especially with BNM Ms. 9655.

[69]          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.

[70]          Wiegers, Muhammad as the Messiah ..., p. 247.

[71]          Slomp: The Gospel of Barnabas in recent research.

[72]          For situated reading and the poetics of location, see Fernando F. Segovia and Mary Ann Tolbert (eds.), Reading from this Place (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995).

[73]          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).

[74]          James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance. Hidden Transcripts (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1994).

[75]          Ibid., p. 25.

[76]          Ibid., p. 155, 215.

[77]          Ibid., p. 215.

[78]          Heikki Risnen: Marcion, Muhammad and the Mahatma (London: SCM Press, 1997).

[79]          Ibid., p. 15.

[80]          Ibid., p. 118ff.

[81]          Cf. Mary Ann Tolbert: When Resistance Becomes Repression: Mark 13:9-27 and the Poetics of Location, in Segovia and Tolbert (eds.), Reading from this place, vol. 2, p. 331-346.



Oddbjrn Leirvik

Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo

Box 1023, N-0315 Oslo