Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Gospel of Barnabas

There are a lot of people ranting and raving about the Gospel of Barnabas (mostly Muslims) and they say that it portrays the truth about Jesus.  But is document authentic?  Was the Gospel of Barnabas written by someone who walked and talked with the Jesus of Nazareth two thousand years ago?   

      In a word, NO

The so called Gospel of Barnabas is a forgery written sometime between the 14th and 16th centuries and there are some Muslim scholars who agree with this dating.  So how can we know the date and the age that the book was first written?

There are two main things used to determine the date of the composition of document and these are external evidence and internal evidence:

“External Evidence” - this is where other documents make reference to or quote from the document in question. 

As far as the Gospel of Barnabas is concerned, there is absolutely no external evidence to even suggest that this book ever existed prior to the 14th century.

“Internal Evidence” - evidence within the text itself. A proper examination of the document can reveal more that what you would think when it is aligned with what is already known about history, geography, language, manner of writing etc.

For example:
If a document was presented and was said to have been created in the early 1950s and yet this document used the word “Facebook” and the term “social networking” you would know that the document was actually written in 2004 or later.  

If another document was to be found referencing “TCP/IP” and “ARPANET” (as a going concern), you would have to assume that document was written after 1969 and before 1989 when the “ARPANET” was resigned to the history books.  

So what can the text within the Gospel of Barnabas tell us?

The Gospel of Barnabas claims to have been written by a disciple of Jesus called Barnabas, so if this writing was authentic, it would be reasonable to expect that the author would be very familiar with the basic facts of Jewish life in 1st century Israel. However the author of the so called “gospel” did not understand the language, history or geography of 1st century Israel. 

1.) Geography 
In the first half of chapter 20 we find “Jesus went to the Sea of Galilee, and having embarked in a ship sailed to his city of Nazareth” and after Jesus calmed the storm “arrived at the city of Nazareth the seamen spread through the city all that Jesus had wrought”.

By definition, to sail a ship you need water (and a lot of it). However the city of Nazareth is 25 km inland from the Sea of Galilee, more than 500m higher in altitude and situated on a mountainous ridge half way between Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea.  It is impossible to sail a ship to city of Nazareth as you cannot sail a ship without water.  

2.) Christ / Messiah
The word “Christ” is the Greek translation for the Hebrew word “Messiah”. Both these words when translated into English mean the Anointed One or the Chosen One. This word is not an obscure or rarely used word, on the contrary it is one of the most famous words in the Jewish and Christian religions. There is no doubt that if the author had been a disciple of Jesus, he would have been very familiar with this word.

However in the very opening of the book we find Jesus announced as God’s “prophet Jesus Christ”. And later in chapter 24 “Jesus confessed, and said the truth: 'I am not the Messiah.'”  It is clear that the author did not understand the language spoken by Jesus and the 1st century Jews

3.) History 
In chapter 3 we are told that Herod and Pilate both ruled in Judea at the time of Jesus' birth: “here reigned at that time in Judaea Herod, by decree of Caesar Augustus, and Pilate was governor.”

This is historically wrong for Herod and Pilate never ruled Judea at the same time. Herod ruled Judea alone from 37 to 4 B.C., while Pilate ruled thirty years later from 26 to 36 A.D. The real Barnabas lived during the rule of Pilate, so if he really was the writer of this book, how could he make such a simple mistake?

4.) Anachronisms and other internal evidence
Anachronisms are things that show that this document was written at a much later time in history than claimed in this so called gospel, and there are many anachronisms that show the book was first written many, centuries later.

For example:
In the so called Gospel Barnabas, wooden barrels are mentioned as a method for storing wine. However, in the Near East, leather wineskins were used as wooden barrels were not available till after the third century.

And the other internal evidence of the book suggests it was written sometime in the 14th to 16th centuries. The Gospel of Barnabas contains quotations from Dante Alighieri, references to an edict from Pope Boniface, and descriptions of feudalism and lots of other discrepancies. Therefore, scholars place the date of authorship around the fifteenth century.

5.) Mistakes
There are a lot of mistakes that show that the author just did not know about first century Israel and was therefore not from the first century Israel as claimed, these include the following:

  • According to the description in the Gospel of Barnabas, Nineveh lies near the Mediterranean coast. It, however, is to be found in the interior on the banks of the Tigris more than 600 kilometres from the Mediterranean.
  • The Gospel of Barnabas reports 600,000 Roman soldiers in Palestine. There were, however, perhaps so many soldiers only in the entire Roman Empire, but certainly not in Palestine.
  • The Gospel of Barnabas also reports 17,000 Pharisees at the time of the Old Testament. However the party of the Pharisees, originated only in the second century before Christ. The last book of the Old Testament was written by Malachi around 450 B.C.
  • The Gospel of Barnabas describes a European summer: “everything bears fruit”. In Palestine, however, it rains in winter, and in the summer the land is dry.
  • The Gospel of Barnabas cites Bible verses according to the Latin Vulgate translation, which was completed only at the end of the fourth century and became the official Catholic Bible.
  • The Gospel of Barnabas reports that Jesus and his disciples had “kept the forty days”. The forty-day fast before Easter was introduced only in the fourth century and is supposed to be a reminder of the suffering and death of Jesus, which was impossible before his death.
  • The Barnabas gospel mentions a gold coin: the dinar, comprised of 60 minuti. This coin was used for just a short time in medieval Spain, a point of argument which appears to support the thesis of a Spanish origin for the Gospel of Barnabas.
  • The forbidden fruit in Paradise, which the Old Testament does not specify by name, is said in the Gospel of Barnabas to be an apple, also a development from later church history.
  • There are conspicuous parallels between the Barnabas gospel and the works of the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321),
  • According to the description in the Gospel of Barnabas, the “year of jubilee” is celebrated every one hundred years, while the Old Testament names a period of fifty years. In the year 1300, Pope Boniface VIII fixed the date for the celebration of the year of jubilee as once in every hundred years. But already in 1343, Clement VI shortened the period to fifty years and announced the next jubilee celebration for 1350. Thus, the interval between celebrations of the year of jubilee was fixed at one hundred years, as the Gospel of Barnabas describes it, only in the period between 1300 and 1343.

 And the list goes on

The so called “Gospel of Barnabas” is not an authentic Gospel of Jesus. The book is a rewrite of the Biblical Gospel most likely by a Muslim around the 14th, 15th or 16th century who wanted to portray Jesus as a Muslim who taught Islam and predicted the coming of Muhammad.

(Note:  It’s important that we not confuse the Gospel of Barnabas with the Epistle of Barnabas.  These are two separate documents with two very different authors - the Epistle of Barnabas was written A.D. 70–90).

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