Gospel of Barnabas

Gospel of Barnabas

The Gospel of Barnabas is a book depicting the life of Jesus, and claiming to be by Jesus' disciple Barnabas, who in this work is one of the twelve apostles. Two manuscripts are known to have existed, both dated to the late 16th century and written respectively in Italian and in Spanish-- although the Spanish manuscript is now lost, its text surviving only in a partial 18th-century transcript. Barnabas is about the same length as the four Canonical gospels put together (the Italian manuscript has 222 chapters), with the bulk being devoted to an account of Jesus' ministry, much of it harmonized from accounts also found in the canonical gospels. In some key respects, it conforms to the Islamic interpretation of Christian origins and contradicts the New Testament teachings of Christianity.

This Gospel is considered by the majority of academics, including Christians and some Muslims (such as Abbas el-Akkad) to be late and pseudepigraphical;[1] however, some academics suggest that it may contain some remnants of an earlier apocryphal work (perhaps Gnostic[2], Ebionite[3] or Diatessaronic[4]), edited to conform to Islam. Some Muslims consider the surviving versions as transmitting a suppressed apostolic original. Some Islamic organizations cite it in support of the Islamic view of Jesus.

This work should not be confused with the surviving Epistle of Barnabas, nor with the surviving Acts of Barnabas.


Textual history

The earliest document mentioning a Barnabas gospel which is generally agreed to correspond with the one found in the two known manuscripts is reported to be contained in Morisco manuscript BNM MS 9653 in Madrid, written about 1634 by Ibrahim al-Taybili in Tunisia.[5] While describing how the Bible predicts Muhammad, he speaks of the "Gospel of Saint Barnabas where one can find the light" ("y así mismo en Evangelio de San Bernabé, donde se hallará la luz"). It was mentioned again in 1718 by the Irish deist John Toland, and was mentioned in 1734 by George Sale in The Preliminary Discourse to the Koran:

The Mohammedans have also 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 Koran. Of this Gospel the Moriscoes in Africa have a translation in Spanish; and there is in the library of Prince Eugene of Savoy, a manuscript of some antiquity, containing an Italian translation of the same Gospel, made, it is to be supposed, for the use of renegades. This book appears to be no original forgery of the Mohammedans, though they have no doubt interpolated and altered it since, the better to serve their purpose; and in particular, instead of the Paraclete or Comforter, they have, in this apocryphal gospel, inserted the word Periclyte, that is, the famous or illustrious, by which they pretend their prophet was foretold by name, that being the signification of Mohammed in Arabic; and this they say to justify that passage in the Koran where Jesus Christ is formally asserted to have foretold his coming under his other name Ahmed, which is derived from the same root as Mohammed and of the same import.[6]

Sale here appears to allude to reports of both the known manuscripts: the Italian and the Spanish; although it is to be noted that the specific terms paraclete or periclyte are not explicitly found in the text of either version. Sale could, however, have found the term periclyte transliterated into Arabic in one of the marginal notes to the Italian manuscript. Subsequent to the preparation of the Preliminary Discourse, the known Spanish manuscript came into Sale's possession.

Earlier occurrences of a Gospel of Barnabas

A "Gospel according to Barnabas" is mentioned in two early Christian lists of apocryphal works: the Latin Decretum Gelasianum[2] (6th century), as well as a 7th-century Greek List of the Sixty Books. These lists are independent witnesses. In 1698 John Ernest Grabe found an otherwise unreported saying of Jesus,[7] attributed to the Apostle Barnabas, amongst the Greek manuscripts in the Baroccian collection in the Bodleian Library; which he speculated might be a quotation from this lost gospel; and John Toland claimed to have identified a corresponding phrase when he examined the surviving Italian manuscript of the Gospel of Barnabas in Amsterdam before 1709. Subsequent scholars examining the Italian and Spanish texts have been unable, however, to confirm Toland's observation.

This work should not be confused with the surviving Epistle of Barnabas, which may have been written in 2nd century Alexandria. There is no link between the two books in style, content, or history other than their attribution to Barnabas. On the issue of circumcision, the books clearly hold very different views, that of the epistle's rejection of the Jewish practice as opposed to the gospel's promotion of the same. Neither should it be confused with the surviving Acts of Barnabas, which narrates an account of Barnabas' travels, martyrdom and burial, and which is generally thought to have been written in Cyprus sometime after 431.

In 478, during the reign of the Emperor Zeno, archbishop Anthemios of Cyprus announced that the hidden burial place of Barnabas had been revealed to him in a dream. The saint's body was claimed to have been discovered in a cave with a copy of the canonical Gospel of Matthew on its breast; according to the contemporary account of Theodorus Lector, who reports that both bones and gospel book were presented by Anthemios to the emperor.[7] Some scholars who maintain the antiquity of the Gospel of Barnabas propose that the text purportedly discovered in 478 should be identified with the Gospel of Barnabas instead; but this supposition is at variance with an account of Anthemios's gospel book by Severus of Antioch, who reported having examined the manuscript around the year 500, seeking to find whether it supported the piercing of the crucifed Jesus by a spear at Matthew 27:49 (it did not). According to the 11th century Byzantine historian Georgios Kedrenos an uncial manuscript of Matthew's Gospel, believed to be that found by Anthemios, was then still preserved in the Chapel of St Stephen in the imperial palace.[7]

In 1985, it was briefly claimed that an early Syriac copy of this gospel had been found near Hakkari.[8] However, it has since been asserted that this manuscript actually contains the canonical Bible.[9]

The manuscripts

Italian manuscript

Prince Eugene's Italian manuscript had been presented to him in 1713 by John Frederick Cramer;[10] and was transferred to the Austrian National Library in Vienna in 1738 with the rest of his library. The pages of the Italian manuscript are framed in an Islamic style, and contain chapter rubrics and margin notes in ungrammatical Arabic;[11][12] with an occasional Turkish word, and many Turkish syntactical features. Its binding is Turkish, and appears to be original;[13] but the paper has an Italian watermark,[2] which has been dated between 1588 and 1620.[14] The same scribe wrote both the Italian text and the Arabic notes, and was clearly "occidental" in being accustomed to write from left to right. The Italian spelling is idiosyncratic in frequently doubling consonants and adding an intrusive initial "h" where a word starts with a vowel (e.g. "hanno" for "anno").[15] There are catchwords at the bottom of each page, a practice common in manuscripts intended to be set up for printing. The manuscript appears to be unfinished, in that the 222 chapters are provided throughout with framed blank spaces for titular headings, but only 27 of these spaces have been filled. This Italian manuscript formed the basis for the most commonly circulated English version, a translation undertaken by Lonsdale and Laura Ragg and published in 1907. The Raggs' English version was quickly re-translated into Arabic by Khalil Saadah, in an edition published in Egypt in 1908.

Spanish manuscript

The known Spanish manuscript was lost in the 18th or 19th centuries; however an 18th century copy of it was discovered in the 1970s in the University of Sydney's Fisher Library among the books of Charles Nicholson, labelled in English "Transcribed from ms. in possession of the Revd Mr Edm. Callamy who bought it at the decease of Mr George Sale...and now gave me at the decease of Mr John Nickolls, 1745".[16]


The main difference between the text in the surviving Spanish copy and that in the Italian manuscript is that in the Spanish copy chapters 121 to 200 are noted as being missing in the exemplar — although it appears that these chapters had still been present in the Spanish original when it was first examined by George Sale.[17] The Spanish text is preceded by a note claiming that it was translated from Italian by Mustafa de Aranda, an Aragonese Muslim resident in Istanbul. The Spanish manuscript also contains a preface by one assuming the pseudonym 'Fra Marino', claiming to have stolen a copy of the Italian version from the library of Pope Sixtus V.[18] Fra Marino reports that, having a post in the Inquisition Court, he had come into possession of several works, which led him to believe that the Biblical text had been corrupted, and that genuine apostolic texts had been improperly excluded. Fra Marino also claims to have been alerted to the existence of the Gospel of Barnabas, from an allusion in a work by Irenaeus against Paul; in a book which had been presented to him by a lady of the Colonna family (Marino, outside Rome, is the location of the Palazzo Colonna).[19]


Some students of the work argue for an Italian origin,[20] noting phrases in Barnabas which are very similar to phrases used by Dante[21] and suggesting that the author of Barnabas borrowed from Dante's works; they take the Spanish version's preface to support this conclusion.[17] Other students have noted a range of textual similarities between passages in the Gospel of Barnabas, and variously the texts of a series of late medieval vernacular harmonies of the four canonical gospels (in Middle English and Middle Dutch, but especially in Middle Italian); which are all speculated as deriving from a lost Vetus Latina version of the Diatessaron of Tatian .[4] This would also support an Italian origin.

Other students argue that the Spanish version came first, regarding the Spanish preface's claims of an Italian source as intended to boost the work's credibility by linking it to the Papal libraries. These scholars note parallels with a series of Morisco forgeries, the Sacromonte tablets of Granada, dating from the 1590s; or otherwise with Morisco reworkings of Christian and Islamic traditions, produced following the expulsion of the Moriscos from Spain.[22]

A detailed comparison between the surviving Italian and Spanish texts shows numerous places where the Spanish reading appears to be secondary, as for example, where a word necessary for the meaning is missing in the Spanish text but present in the Italian. Bernabé Pons, arguing for the priority of the Spanish version, maintains that these are due to transcription errors perpetrated by the 18th century English scribe who created the Sydney manuscript.[23] Joosten, however, while accepting that the carelessness of the English scribe is the most likely explanation for most such instances, nevertheless argues that a minority of such readings are due to translation errors in the Spanish text: as, for example, where the Italian text employs the conjunction pero, with an Italian meaning 'therefore'; while the Spanish text also reads pero, with a Spanish meaning 'however'; the Italian sense being the one demanded by the context.[24] There are, however, other passages where the Spanish text makes sense, while the Italian does not, and many features of the Italian text that are not found in the Spanish; such as the titles for chapters 1 - 27. Joosten argues that this indicates that both the 16th century Italian and Spanish texts must depend on a lost Italian original, which he, in comon with the Raggs, dates to the mid 14th century. Joosten states:

A systematic comparison of the Italian and Spanish texts of the Gospel of Barnabas leads to the conclusion that the Spanish was translated from the Italian at a date somewhat removed from the original.[25]

The lost Spanish manuscript claimed to have been written in Istanbul, and the surviving Italian manuscript has several Turkish features;[26] so, whether the language of origin was Spanish or Italian, Istanbul is regarded by most students as the place of origin of the present text.

Following the conquest of Moorish Granada in 1492, Sephardi Jews and Muslim Mudéjar were expelled from Spain. Although some found initial refuge in Italy (especially Venice), most resettled in the Ottoman Empire, where Spanish speaking Jews established in Istanbul a rich sub-culture with a flourishing Hebrew and Ladino printing industry. Numbers were further augmented after 1550, following campaigns of persecution by the Venetian Inquisition against Italian anti-Trinitarians and Jews.[27] Although Muslim teaching at this time strongly opposed the printing of Islamic or Arabic texts, non-Muslim printing was not, in principle, forbidden; indeed attempts were made in the 1570s by anti-Trinitarian Christians to establish a printing press in the Turkish capital to publish radical Protestant works.[28] In the Spanish preface, Fra Marino records his wish that the Gospel of Barnabas should be printed, and the only place in Europe where that would have been possible in the late 16th century would have been Istanbul.

A minority of students – such as David Sox[29] – are, however, suspicious of the apparent 'Turkish' features of the Italian manuscript;[30] especially the Arabic annotations, which they adjudge to be so riddled with elementary errors as to be most unlikely to have been written in Istanbul (even by an Italian scribe). In particular, they note that the glossing of the Italian version of the shahada into Arabic, does not correspond exactly with the standard ritual formula recited daily by every Muslim. These students are inclined to infer from these inconsistencies that both manuscripts may represent an exercise in forensic falsification, and they tend to locate their place of origin as Rome.

Few academics argue that the text, in its present form, dates back any earlier than the 14th–16th centuries; although a minority see it as containing portions of an earlier work, and almost all would detect the influence of earlier sources—over and above the Vulgate text of the Latin Bible. Consequently most students would concur with a stratification of the surviving text into at least three distinct layers of composition:[31]

  • an editorial layer dating from the 1590s; and comprising, at the least, the Spanish preface and the Arabic annotations,
  • a layer of vernacular narrative composition, either in Spanish or Italian, and dating from no earlier than the mid 14th century,
  • a layer derived from earlier source materials, almost certainly transmitted to the vernacular author/translator in Latin; and comprising, at the least, those extensive passages in the Gospel of Barnabas that closely parallel pericopes in the canonical gospels; but whose underlying text appears markedly distinct from that of the late medieval Latin Vulgate[32] (as for instance in the alternative version of the Lord's Prayer in chapter 37, which includes a concluding doxology, contrary to the Vulgate text, but in accordance with the Diatessaron and many other early variant traditions);

Much of the controversy and dispute concerning the authenticity of the Gospel of Barnabas can be re-expressed as debating whether specific highly transgressive themes (from an orthodox Christian perspective) might already have been present in the source materials utilised by a 14th–16th century vernacular author, whether they might be due to that author himself, or whether they might even have been interpolated by the subsequent editor. Those students who regard these particular themes as primitive, nevertheless do not generally dispute that other parts of the Gospel may be late and anachronistic; while those students who reject the authenticity of these particular themes do not generally dispute that other parts of the Gospel could be transmitting variant readings from antiquity.


This work clearly contradicts the New Testament biblical accounts of Jesus and his ministry but has strong parallels with the Islamic faith, not only mentioning Muhammad by name, but including the shahadah (chapter 39). It is strongly anti-Pauline and anti-Trinitarian in tone. In this work, Jesus is described as a prophet and not the son of God,[33] while Paul is called "the deceived". Furthermore, the Gospel of Barnabas states that Jesus escaped crucifixion by being raised alive to heaven; while Judas Iscariot the traitor was crucified in his place. These beliefs; in particular that Jesus is a prophet of God and raised alive without being crucified; conform or resemble Islamic teachings which say that Jesus is a major prophet and he did not die on the cross but was taken alive by angels to God (Allah).

Other passages however conflict with the text/teachings of the Qur'an; as for instance in the account of the Nativity, where Mary is said to have given birth to Jesus without pain;[34] or as in Jesus's ministry, where he permits the drinking of wine and enjoins monogamy,[35] though the Qur'an acknowledges each prophet had a set of their own laws that might differ in some aspects from each other. Other examples include that hell will only be for the committers of the seven death sins (Barnabas: 4-44/135), anyone who refuses to be circumcised will not enter paradise (Barnabas 17/23), that God has a soul (Barnabas 6/82), that there are 9 heavens (Barnabas 3/105).

If the Gospel of Barnabas is seen as an attempted synthesis of elements from both Christianity and Islam, then 16th and 17th century parallels can be suggested in Morisco and anti-Trinitarian writings.

Religious themes

The Gospel of Barnabas was little known outside academic circles until recent times, when a number of Muslims have taken to publishing it to argue against the orthodox Christian conception of Jesus. It generally resonates better with existing Muslim views than with Christianity:[36] it foretells the coming of Muhammad by name; rather than describing the crucifixion of Jesus, it describes him being raised up into heaven,[37] similar to the description of Elijah in 2 Kings, Chapter 2; and it calls Jesus a "prophet" whose mission was restricted to the "house of Israel".

It contains an extended polemic against the doctrine of predestination (Chapter 164), and in favour of justification by faith; arguing that the eternal destination of the soul to Heaven or Hell is neither pre-determined by God's grace (as in Calvinism), nor the judgement of God, in his mercy, on the faith of believers on Earth (as in Islam). Instead it states that all those condemned at the last judgement, but who subsequently respond in faith, who demonstrate unfeigned penitence, and who make a free choice of blessedness, will eventually be offered salvation (Chapter 137).[35] Only those whose persistent pride prevents them from sincere repentance will remain forever in Hell. Such radically Pelagian beliefs in the 16th century were found amongst the anti-Trinitarian Protestant traditions later denoted as Unitarianism.[38] Some 16th century anti-Trinitarian divines sought to reconcile Christianity, Islam and Judaism; on the basis of very similar arguments to those presented in the Gospel of Barnabas, arguing that if salvation remains unresolved until the end times, then any one of the three religions could be a valid path to heaven for their own believers. The Spaniard, Michael Servetus denounced the orthodox Christian formulation of the Trinity (demonstrating the only explicit reference to the Trinity in the New Testament to be a later interpolation); and hoped thereby to bridge the doctrinal divide between Christianity and Islam. In 1553 he was executed in Geneva under the authority of John Calvin, but his teachings remained very influential amongst Italian Protestant exiles. In the late 16th century many anti-Trinitarians, persecuted both by Calvinists and by the Inquisition, sought refuge in Transylvania,[39] then under Turkish overlordship and with close links to Istanbul.[40]

Included in chapter 145 is "The little book of Elijah";[41] which sets out instructions for a righteous life of asceticism and hermetic spirituality. Over the succeeding 47 chapters, Jesus is recorded as developing the theme that the ancient prophets, specifically Obadiah, Haggai and Hosea, were holy hermits following this religious rule;[42] and contrasting their followers – termed "true Pharisees" – with the "false Pharisees" who lived in the world, and who constituted his chief opponents. The "true Pharisees" are said to congregate on Mount Carmel. This accords with the teaching of the medieval Carmelites,[43] who lived as an eremetic congregation on Carmel in the 13th century; but who claimed (without any evidence) to be direct successors of Elijah and the Old Testament prophets. In 1291 the Mamluk advance into Syria compelled the friars on Carmel to abandon their monastery; but on dispersing through Western Europe they found that Western Carmelite congregations – especially in Italy – had largely abandoned the eremetic and ascetic ideal, adopting instead the conventual life and mission of the other Mendicant orders. Some students consider that the ensuing 14th-16th century controversies can be found reflected in the text of the Gospel of Barnabas).[44]

The Gospel also takes a strongly anti-Pauline tone at times, saying in the Italian version's beginning: "many, being deceived of Satan, under pretence of piety, are preaching most impious doctrine, calling Jesus son of God, repudiating the circumcision ordained of God for ever, and permitting every unclean meat: among whom also Paul has been deceived."

Prediction of Muhammad

The Gospel of Barnabas claims that Jesus predicted the advent of Muhammad, thus conforming with the Qur'an which mentions:

And remember, Jesus, the son of Mary, said: O Children of Israel! I am the apostle of Allah (sent) to you, confirming the Law (which came) before me, and giving Glad Tidings of a Messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad. But when he came to them with Clear Signs, they said, this is evident sorcery!
—Sura 61:6 [1]

(Ahmad is another name of Muhammad.) A Muslim scholarly tradition links this Qur'anic passage to the New Testament references to the Paraclete (John 14:16, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7). The Greek word "paraclete" can be translated as "Counsellor", and refers to the Holy Spirit, which is mentioned also by name explicitly. Some Muslim scholars, without critical evidence from the Greek, have noted the similarity to the Greek "periklutos" which can be translated as "admirable one"; or in Arabic, "Ahmad".[45]

The name of "Muhammad" is frequently mentioned verbatim in the Gospel of Barnabas, as in the following quote:

Jesus answered: "The name of the Messiah is admirable, for God himself gave him the name when he had created his soul, and placed it in a celestial splendour. God said: 'Wait Mohammed; for thy sake I will to create paradise, the world, and a great multitude of creatures, whereof I make thee a present, insomuch that whoso bless thee shall be blessed, and whoso shall curse thee shall be accursed. When I shall send thee into the world I shall send thee as my messenger of salvation, and thy word shall be true, insomuch that heaven and earth shall fail, but thy faith shall never fail.' Mohammed is his blessed name." Then the crowd lifted up their voices, saying: "O God, send us thy messenger: O Admirable One, come quickly for the salvation of the world!"

The Italian manuscript replaces "Admirable One" with "Muhammad".[2]

However, while there are many passages where the Gospel of Barnabas sets out alternative readings to parallel pericopes found in the canonical gospels, none of the references to Muhammad by name occurs in such a synoptic passage; and in particular, none of the "Muhammad" references in Barnabas corresponds to a "Paraclete" reference in canonical John. There is only one instance where the Gospel of Barnabas might be understood as "correcting" a known canonical pericope, so as to record a prophecy by Jesus of the (unnamed) Messenger of God:

Then Jesus said: "I am a voice that cries through all Judea, and cries: 'Prepare you the way for the messenger of the Lord', even as it is written in Esaias." They said: "If you be not the Messiah nor Elijah, or any prophet, wherefore do you preach new doctrine, and make yourself of more account than the Messiah?" Jesus answered: "The miracles which God works by my hands show that I speak that which God wills; nor indeed do I make myself to be accounted as him of whom you speak. For I am not worthy to unloose the ties of the hosen or the ratchets of the shoes of the Messenger of God whom you call 'Messiah', who was made before me, and shall come after me, and shall bring the words of truth, so that his faith shall have no end."
—Chapter 43

This passage corresponds closely with the canonical John 1:19-30, except that in that passage, the words are spoken by John the Baptist (in the Qur'an; Yahya ibn Zakariya) and refer to Jesus.

Muhammad as the Messiah

According to one version[specify] of the Gospel of Barnabas:

Then said the priest: "How shall the Messiah be called?" [Jesus answered] "Muhammed is his blessed name".
—Chapter 97[46]


Jesus confessed, and said the truth: "I am not the Messiah."

As mentioned above, these pronouncements contradict Islamic belief. Some Muslim scholars[citation needed] argue that the Gospel of Barnabas has been modified, thus inconsistency is observed. Also, some may argue that the word "Messiah" can be a formal title for Jesus Christ, but the meaning "anointed" can be attributed to others, such as King David, anointed to kingship, and his son Solomon. Some Muslim scholars[citation needed] state that this references the Mahdi, a messianic character in Islam who will descend down with Jesus to defeat the "Masih al-Dajjal" (literally "the false messiah", viz. the Antichrist) whose name is also supposed to be "Muhammad" according to Mohammedan "hadith" traditions, which they believe contain an accurate record of the sayings and practises of Mohammed.

In the Koran, however, it is clearly stated that the messiah will be named "Isa" (note that Arabic-speaking Christians use the name Yasu, cognate to the Hebrew Yashua, to refer to Jesus Christ: the character of "Isa" is present solely in Islamic tradition):

(Remember) when the angels said: "O Maryam (Mary)! Verily, Allah gives you the glad tidings of a Word ["Be!" - and he was! i.e. 'Îsa the son of Maryam, daughter of Imran (Amram - Moses' father)] from Him, his name will be the Messiah 'Îsa, the son of Maryam, held in honour in this world and in the Hereafter, and will be one of those who are near to Allah." - Surah 3:45, Yusuf Ali translation.

Ishmaelite Messiah

According to one version of the Gospel of Barnabas, Jesus denied being the Messiah, claiming rather that the Messiah would be Ishmaelite (i.e. Arab):

Whereupon Jesus said: "Ye deceive yourselves; for David in spirit calleth him lord, saying thus: 'God said to my lord, sit thou on my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool. God shall send forth thy rod which shall have lordship in the midst of thine enemies.' If the messenger of God whom ye call Messiah were son of David, how should David call him lord? Believe me, for verily I say to you, that the promise was made in Ishmael, not in Isaac."
—Barnabas 43:10 [3]

Hajj Sayed (Senior Member in CIMS), in his new book in Egypt, compares this to the following statement from the canonical Bible:

"What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?" "The son of David", they replied. He said to them, "How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him 'Lord'? For he says, 'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet."' If then David calls him 'Lord,' how can he be his son?"

According to the canonical Gospels, Jesus was the "son" (descendant) of David; thus, Hajj Sayed argues that this statement confirms the Gospel of Barnabas' point.

The idea of the Messiah as an Arab is also found in another chapter of Gospel of Barnabas:

If I work iniquity, reprove me, and God will love you, because you shall be doing his will, but if none can reprove me of sin it is a sign that you are not sons of Abraham as you call yourselves, nor are you incorporate with that head wherein Abraham was incorporate. As God lives, so greatly did Abraham love God, that he not only brake in pieces the false idols and forsook his father and mother, but was willing to slay his own son in obedience to God. The high priest answered: "This I ask of you, and I do not seek to slay you, wherefore tell us: Who was this son of Abraham?" Jesus answered: "The zeal of your honour, O God, inflames me, and I cannot hold my peace. Truly I say, the son of Abraham was Ishmael, from whom must be descended the Messiah promised to Abraham, that in him should all the tribes of the earth be blessed." Then was the high priest wroth, hearing this, and cried out: "Let us stone this impious fellow, for he is an Ishmaelite, and has spoken blasphemy against Moses and against the Law of God."
—Barnabas 208:1-2 [4]

Here, one version of the Gospel of Barnabas also quotes Jesus as saying that the sacrificed son of Abraham was Ishmael not Isaac, conforming to Islamic belief but disagreeing with Jewish and Christian belief. A connection might also be drawn between the last paragraph's statement that "in him should all the tribes of the earth be blessed", and the meaning of the name "Muhammad", the "Praised (or Blessed) One". (Cf.Life of Prophet Muhammad).

Jesus not God or Son of God

According to the Gospel of Barnabas, Jesus foresaw and rejected his own deification:

And having said this, Jesus smote his face with both his hands, and then smote the ground with his head. And having raised his head, he said: "Cursed be every one who shall insert into my sayings that I am the son of God."
—53:6 [5]
And having said this Jesus went out of the Temple. And the common people magnified him, for they brought all the sick folk whom they could gather together, and Jesus having made prayer gave to all their health: whereupon on that day in Jerusalem the Roman soldiery, by the working of Satan, began to stir up the common people, saying that Jesus was the God of Israel, who was come to visit his people.
—69:6 [6]
Jesus answered: "And you; what say you that I am?" Peter answered: "You are Christ, son of God". Then was Jesus angry, and with anger rebuked him, saying: "Begone and depart from me, because you are the devil and seek to cause me offences."
—70:1 [7]
Jesus said again: "I confess before heaven, and call to witness everything that dwells upon the earth, that I am a stranger to all that men have said of me, to wit, that I am more than man. For I am a man, born of a woman, subject to the judgment of God; that live here like as other men, subject to the common miseries."
—94:1 [8]
Then answered the priest, with the governor and the king, saying: "Distress not yourself, O Jesus, holy one of God, because in our time shall not this sedition be any more, seeing that we will write to the sacred Roman senate in such wise that by imperial decree none shall any more call you God or son of God." Then Jesus said: "With your words I am not consoled, because where you hope for light darkness shall come; but my consolation is in the coming of the Messenger, who shall destroy every false opinion of me, and his faith shall spread and shall take hold of the whole world, for so has God promised to Abraham our father."
—97:1 [9]

This conforms entirely with Muslim belief, according to which Jesus is a human and a prophet. According to some ahadith, he will come back to earth in the future and declare to the world that he is "a Servant of God". According to the Qur'an:

At length she brought the (babe) to her people, carrying him (in her arms). They said: "O Mary! truly an amazing thing hast thou brought! O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste!" But she pointed to the babe. They said: "How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle? He said: "I am indeed a servant of Allah (God). He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)!" Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they dispute. It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah (God) that He beget a son. Glory be to Him! when He determines a matter, He only says to it, "Be", and it is.

Paul and Barnabas

Hajj Sayed argues that Galatians's description of the dispute between Paul and Barnabas supports the idea that the Gospel of Barnabas existed at the time of Paul. Blackhirst has suggested, by contrast, that Galatian's account of this argument could be the reason the gospel's writer attributed it to Barnabas.[10] Paul writes in (Galatians Chapter 2):

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
—Galatians 2:11-14 [11]

Paul was attacking Peter and Barnabas for "trying to satisfy the Jews" by sticking to their laws, such as circumcision. This shows that, at that point, Barnabas was following Peter and disagreeing with Paul. Some feel it also suggests that the inhabitants of Galatia at his time were using a gospel or gospels disagreeing with Paul's beliefs, which Gospel of Barnabas could be one of them (although the Gospel of Peter would seem a more natural candidate, as in the light of the second letter.) To Galatian's account we may compare the Introductory Chapter of Gospel of Barnabas, where we read:

Dearly beloved the great and wonderful God hath during these past days visited us by his prophet Jesus Christ in great mercy of teaching and miracles, by reason whereof many, being deceived of Satan, under presence of piety, are preaching most impious doctrine, calling Jesus son of God, repudiating the circumcision ordained of God for ever, and permitting every unclean meat: among whom also Paul hath been deceived, whereof I speak not without grief; for which cause I am writing that truth which I have seen and heard, in the intercourse that I have had with Jesus, in order that ye may be saved, and not be deceived of Satan and perish in the judgment of God. Therefore beware of every one that preacheth unto you new doctrine contrary to that which I write, that ye may be saved eternally.
—Introduction to the Gospel of Barnabas [12]

From the previous passages, we can also infer that in the beginning, Paul and Barnabas were getting along with each other; however, at the end, they started to depart in their beliefs to give to the importance of the Jewish law.

Other non-canonical differences

According to the following passage, Jesus talked to Barnabas and gave him a secret:

Jesus, weeping, said: "O Barnabas, it is necessary that I should reveal to you great secrets, which, after that I shall be departed from the world, you shall reveal to it." Then answered he that writes, weeping, and said: "Suffer me to weep, O master, and other men also, for that we are sinners. And you, that are a holy one and prophet of God, it is not fitting for you to weep so much."

Jesus answered: "Believe me, Barnabas that I cannot weep as much as I ought. For if men had not called me God, I should have seen God here as he will be seen in paradise, and should have been safe not to fear the day of judgment. But God knows that I am innocent, because never have I harboured thought to be held more than a poor slave. No, I tell you that if I had not been called God I should have been carried into paradise when I shall depart from the world, whereas now I shall not go thither until the judgment. Now you see if I have cause to weep.

"Know, O Barnabas, that for this I must have great persecution, and shall be sold by one of my disciples for thirty pieces of money. Whereupon I am sure that he who shall sell me shall be slain in my name, for that God shall take me up from the earth, and shall change the appearance of the traitor so that every one shall believe him to be me; nevertheless, when he dies an evil death, I shall abide in that dishonour for a long time in the world. But when Muhammad shall come, the sacred Messenger of God, that infamy shall be taken away. And this shall God do because I have confessed the truth of the Messiah who shall give me this reward, that I shall be known to be alive and to be a stranger to that death of infamy."

Also according to the Gospel of Barnabas, Jesus charged Barnabas to write the gospel:

Jesus turned himself to him who writes, and said: "Barnabas, see that by all means you write my gospel concerning all that has happened through my dwelling in the world. And write in a similar manner that which has befallen Judas, in order that the faithful may be undeceived, and every one may believe the truth."



Some readers have noted that the Gospel of Barnabas contains a number of apparent anachronisms and historical incongruities:[48]

  • It has Jesus sailing across the Sea of Galilee to Nazareth – which is actually inland; and from thence going "up" to Capernaum – which is actually on the lakeside (chapters 20-21); though this is contested by Blackhirst, who says that the traditional location of Nazareth is itself questionable.
  • Jesus is said to have been born during the rule of Pontius Pilate, which began after the year 26.
  • Barnabas appears not to realize that 'Christ' and 'Messiah' are translations of the same word (christos), describing Jesus as "Jesus Christ" yet claiming that 'Jesus confessed and said the truth, "I am not the Messiah"' (ch. 42).
  • There is reference to a jubilee which is to be held every hundred years (Chapter 82), rather than every fifty years as described in Leviticus: 25. This anachronism appears to link the Gospel of Barnabas to the declaration of a Holy Year in 1300 by Pope Boniface VIII; a Jubilee which he then decreed should be repeated every hundred years. In 1343 the interval between Holy Years was reduced by Pope Clement VI to fifty years.[13]
  • Adam and Eve eat an apple (ch. 40); whereas the traditional association of the Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis: 2) with the apple rests on the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Latin, where both 'apple' and 'evil' are rendered as 'malum'.
  • The Gospel talks of wine being stored in wooden casks (chapter 152). Wooden casks were a characteristic of Gaul and Northern Italy, and were not commonly used for wine in the Roman empire until after 300 CE; whereas wine in 1st century Palestine was always stored in wineskins and jars (Amphorae). The Pedunculate or English Oak (quercus robur) does not grow in Palestine; and the wood of other species is not sufficiently airtight to be used in wine casks,[49]
  • In Chapter 91, the "Forty Days" is referred to as an annual fast.[32] This corresponds to the Christian tradition of fasting for forty days in Lent; a practice that is not witnessed earlier than the Council of Nicaea (325). Nor is there a forty days' fast in Judaism of the period (see Mishnah, Tractate: Taanith "Days of Fasting").
  • Where the Gospel of Barnabas includes quotations from the Old Testament, these correspond to readings as found in the Latin Vulgate;[50] rather than as found in either the Greek Septuagint, or the Hebrew Masoretic Text. However, it should be noted that the Latin Vulgate translation was a work that St. Jerome began in 382 AD, centuries after the death of Barnabas.
  • In Chapter 54 it says: "For he would get in change a piece of gold must have sixty mites" (Italian minuti). In the New Testament period, the only golden coin, the aureus, was worth approximately 3,200 of the smallest bronze coin, the lepton (translated into Latin as minuti); while the Roman standard silver coin, the denarius, was worth 128 leptons. The rate of exchange of 1:60 implied in the Gospel of Barnabas was, however, a commonplace of late medieval interpretation of the counterpart passage in the canonical Gospels (Mark 12:42), arising from the standard medieval understanding of minuti as meaning 'a sixtieth part'.
  • Ch. 91 records three contending Jewish armies 200,000 strong at Mizpeh, totalling 600,000 men, at a time when the Roman army across the entire Empire had a total strength estimated as 300,000.
  • In Chapter 119 Jesus instances sugar and gold as substances of equivalent rarity and value. Although the properties of sugar had been known in India in antiquity, it was not traded as a sweetener until industrial-scale production developed in the 6th century. From the 11th to 15th centuries, the sugar trade into Europe was an Arab monopoly, and its value was often compared with gold. From the mid 15th century, however, large scale sugar estates were established in the Canary Islands and the Azores, and sugar, although still a luxury item, ceased to be exceptionally rare.

Despite the inaccuracies above, one can see that (a) the writer of the manuscript is of an Italian origin, (b) it is possible that the revisions from time to time were based on the teaching of the Gospel of Barnabas.

Islamic perspectives

Some Muslim religious organizations cite this work in support of the Islamic view of Jesus; in particular, the Islamic apologists Rashid Rida in Egypt and Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi in Pakistan gave it qualified acceptance. In addition, the Gospel of Barnabas is commonly cited by Muslims, as an attempt to counter the canonical Gospels used by Christian missionaries.

Standard Muslim teaching asserts that the Injil, the prophetic Gospel delivered through the prophet Isa (Jesus of Nazareth), has been irretrievably corrupted and distorted in the course of Christian transmission; and that consequently, no reliance can be placed on any text in the Christian tradition (including the four canonical gospels of the Christian New Testament) as truly representing the teachings of Jesus. Since from an orthodox Islamic perspective, the Gospel of Barnabas is clearly a Christian work, as is demonstrated by its many points of difference from the Qur'an; it too may be expected to have undergone corruption and distortion. Consequently, no orthodox Muslim writer[dubious ] accepts the Gospel of Barnabas as transmitting the authentic Injil; and few deny that the known Italian text contains substantial elements of late fabrication. Nevertheless, Muslim writers[who?] are gratified to note those elements of the Gospel of Baranabas that accord with standard Qur'anic teaching, such as the denial of Jesus as being Son of God and the prophetic prediction by Jesus of the coming Messenger of God; and consequently many Muslims[who?] are inclined to regard these specific elements as representing the survival of suppressed early Jesus traditions much more compatible with Islam.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Joosten, Jan (January 2002). "The Gospel of Barnabas and the Diatessaron". Harvard Theological Review 95 (1): 73–96. 
  2. ^ a b c Ragg, L & L (1907). The Gospel of Barnabas. Oxford. xiv. ISBN 1881316157. 
  3. ^ Cirillo, Luigi; Fremaux, Michel (1977). Évangile de Barnabé. Beauchesne. pp. 202. 
  4. ^ a b Joosten, Jan (January 2002). "The Gospel of Barnabas and the Diatessaron". Harvard Theological Review 95 (1): 73–96. 
  5. ^ Wiegers, G.A. (April–June 1995). "Muhammad as the Messiah: A comparison of the polemical works of Juan Alonso with the Gospel of Barnabas". Biblitheca Orientalis LII (3/4): 274. 
  6. ^ Sale, George (1877). The Koran: Preliminary Discourse. Frederick Warne. pp. 79. ISBN 0524079420. 
  7. ^ a b c Cirillo, Luigi; Fremaux, Michel (1977). Évangile de Barnabé. Beauchesne. pp. 244. 
  8. ^ Bektaş, Hamza (March–April 1985). "Barnabas Bible Found". Ilim ve Sanat Dergisi. 
  9. ^ Ron, Pankow (March–April 1985). "The Barnabas Bible". Arabia. 
  10. ^ Ragg, L & L (1907). The Gospel of Barnabas. Oxford. pp. x. ISBN 1881316157. 
  11. ^ Slomp, Jan (1978). "The Gospel in Dispute. A Critical evaluation of the first French translation with an Italian text and introduction of the so-called Gospel of Barnabas". Islamochristiana 4 (1): 82. 
  12. ^ Ragg, L & L (1907). The Gospel of Barnabas. Oxford. xlix. ISBN 1881316157. 
  13. ^ a b Ragg, L & L (1907). The Gospel of Barnabas. Oxford. xiii. ISBN 1881316157. 
  14. ^ Cirillo, Luigi; Fremaux, Michel (1977). Évangile de Barnabé. Beauchesne. pp. 41. 
  15. ^ Cirillo, Luigi; Fremaux, Michel (1977). Évangile de Barnabé. Beauchesne. pp. 77. 
  16. ^ Fletcher, J.E. (1976). "The Spanish Gospel of Barnabas". Novum Testamentum XVIII: 314–320. 
  17. ^ a b Ragg, L & L (1907). The Gospel of Barnabas. Oxford. xii. ISBN 1881316157. 
  18. ^ Sox, David (1984). The Gospel of Barnabas. Allen & Unwin. pp. 65. ISBN 0042000440. 
  19. ^ Wiegers, G.A. (April–June 1995). "Muhammad as the Messiah: A comparison of the polemical works of Juan Alonso with the Gospel of Barnabas". Biblitheca Orientalis LII (3/4): 278. 
  20. ^ Cirillo, Luigi; Fremaux, Michel (1977). Évangile de Barnabé. Beauchesne. pp. 88. 
  21. ^ Ragg, L & L (1907). The Gospel of Barnabas. Oxford. pp. xi. ISBN 1881316157. 
  22. ^ Wiegers, G.A. (April–June 1995). "Muhammad as the Messiah: A comparison of the polemical works of Juan Alonso with the Gospel of Barnabas". Biblitheca Orientalis LII (3/4): 245–292. 
  23. ^ Bernabé Pons, Luis F (1998). , El texto morisco del Evangelio de San Bernabé. Universidad de Granada. pp. 155. 
  24. ^ Joosten, Jan (April 2010). "The date and provenance of the Gospel of Barnabas". Journal of Theological Studies 61 (1): 200–215. doi:10.1093/jts/flq010. 
  25. ^ Joosten, Jan (April 2010). "The date and provenance of the Gospel of Barnabas". Journal of Theological Studies 61 (1): 214. 
  26. ^ Cirillo, Luigi; Fremaux, Michel (1977). Évangile de Barnabé. Beauchesne. pp. 533. 
  27. ^ Cirillo, Luigi; Fremaux, Michel (1977). Évangile de Barnabé. Beauchesne. pp. 50. 
  28. ^ Burchill, Christopher (1989). The Heidelberg Antitrinitarians. Bibliotheca Dissidentum: vol XI. pp. 124. 
  29. ^ Sox, David (1984). The Gospel of Barnabas. Allen & Unwin. pp. 73. ISBN 0042000440. 
  30. ^ Ragg, L & L (1907). The Gospel of Barnabas. Oxford. pp. xv. ISBN 1881316157. 
  31. ^ Cirillo, Luigi; Fremaux, Michel (1977). Évangile de Barnabé. Beauchesne. pp. 176. 
  32. ^ a b Ragg, L & L (1907). The Gospel of Barnabas. Oxford. xxxiii. ISBN 1881316157. 
  33. ^ Wiegers, G.A. (April–June 1995). "Muhammad as the Messiah: A comparison of the polemical works of Juan Alonso with the Gospel of Barnabas". Biblitheca Orientalis LII (3/4): 285. 
  34. ^ Ragg, L & L (1907). The Gospel of Barnabas. Oxford. xxix. ISBN 1881316157. 
  35. ^ a b Ragg, L & L (1907). The Gospel of Barnabas. Oxford. xxxv. ISBN 1881316157. 
  36. ^ Cirillo, Luigi; Fremaux, Michel (1977). Évangile de Barnabé. Beauchesne. pp. 216. 
  37. ^ Ragg, L & L (1907). The Gospel of Barnabas. Oxford. xxvii. ISBN 1881316157. 
  38. ^ Cirillo, Luigi; Fremaux, Michel (1977). Évangile de Barnabé. Beauchesne. pp. 53. 
  39. ^ Slomp, Jan (1978). "The Gospel in Dispute. A Critical evaluation of the first French translation with an Italian text and introduction of the so-called Gospel of Barnabas". Islamochristiana 4 (1): 83. 
  40. ^ Burchill, Christopher (1989). The Heidelberg Antitrinitarians. Bibliotheca Dissidentum: vol XI. pp. 110. 
  41. ^ Cirillo, Luigi; Fremaux, Michel (1977). Évangile de Barnabé. Beauchesne. pp. 230. 
  42. ^ Ragg, L & L (1907). The Gospel of Barnabas. Oxford. xxxvi. ISBN 1881316157. 
  43. ^ Cirillo, Luigi; Fremaux, Michel (1977). Évangile de Barnabé. Beauchesne. pp. 233. 
  44. ^ Pulcini, Theodore (2001). "In the Shadow of Mount Carmel: the Collapse of the 'Latin East' and the origines of the Gospel of Barnabas". Islam and Christianity 12 (2): 191–200. doi:10.1080/09596410120051773. 
  45. ^ Ragg, L & L (1907). The Gospel of Barnabas. Oxford. xxxi. ISBN 1881316157. 
  46. ^ Wiegers, G.A. (April–June 1995). "Muhammad as the Messiah: A comparison of the polemical works of Juan Alonso with the Gospel of Barnabas". Biblitheca Orientalis LII (3/4): 246. 
  47. ^ Wiegers, G.A. (April–June 1995). "Muhammad as the Messiah: A comparison of the polemical works of Juan Alonso with the Gospel of Barnabas". Biblitheca Orientalis LII (3/4): 279. 
  48. ^ Slomp, Jan (1978). "The Gospel in Dispute. A Critical evaluation of the first French translation with an Italian text and introduction of the so-called Gospel of Barnabas". Islamochristiana 4 (1): 94. 
  49. ^ Ragg, L & L (1907). The Gospel of Barnabas. Oxford. xxxix. ISBN 1881316157. 
  50. ^ Ragg, L & L (1907). The Gospel of Barnabas. Oxford. xxiv. ISBN 1881316157. 

Further reading

The complete Italian text is transcribed with an English translation and introduction:

  • Ragg, L and L – The Gospel of Barnabas (Clarendon Press, Oxford, England, 1907).

A second Italian edition – in parallel columns with a modernised text:

  • Eugenio Giustolisi and Giuseppe Rizzardi, Il vangelo di Barnaba. Un vangelo per i musulmani? (Milano: Istituto Propaganda Libraria, 1991).

The complete text of the Italian manuscript has been published in photo-facsimile; with a French translation and extensive commentary and textual apparatus:

  • Cirillo L. & Fremaux M. Évangile de Barnabé: recherches sur la composition et l'origine, Paris, 1977, 598p

The text of the Spanish manuscript has been published with extensive commentary:

  • Luis F. Bernabé Pons, El texto morisco del Evangelio de San Bernabé (Granada: Universidad de Granada, 1998), 260p

External links and text

Christian perspectives

Islamic perspectives

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