Gospel of Barnabas

The gospel of Barnabas is a book muslims claim to be the true gospel of Jesus. It depicts Jesus in ways that mostly contradicts the biblical stories and instead corresponds with the stories in the Quran. In some places it even contradicts the Quran itself. Since it was translated into Arabic in 1908 it has been widely spread in the muslim world. Barnabas, the one who claims to be the author, describes himself to be one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. But the book contains so many errors, both geographical, historical and theological, that it is hard not to laugh when reading it. I will present a few of them here. In chapter 3 the author gives an account of the time prior the birth of Jesus:

There reigned at that time in Judaea Herod, by decree of Caesar Augustus, and Pilate was governor in the priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. Wherefore, by decree of Augustus, all the world was enrolled; wherefore each one went to his own country, and they presented themselves by their own tribes to be enrolled. Joseph accordingly departed from Nazareth, a city of Galilee, with Mary his wife, great with child, to go to Bethlehem (for that it was his city, he being of the lineage of David), in order that he might be enrolled according to the decree of Caesar.

The historical error here is that Pontius Pilate was not governor at the time of Jesus’ birth. He was governor in Judea from 26 to 36 CE, i.e. about 30 years after Jesus was born. If Barnabas was born in Israel and walked with Jesus, he would have known this historical fact. The author goes on and writes in chapter 20 that Jesus went by boat to Nazareth:

Jesus went to the sea of Galilee, and having embarked in a ship sailed to his city of Nazareth; whereupon there was a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was nigh unto sinking. 

But if you look on a map you will quickly realise that this cannot be a true story. It is impossible to go by boat to Nazareth because the city is situated inland, far from the sea of Galilee. This means that the so-called Barnabas could not have been there with Jesus. It’s obvious that he didn’t know the geography of Galilee. In chapter 42 Christians will find one of the most controversial theological statements in this so-called true gospel:

Then the disciples wept after this discourse, and Jesus was weeping, when they saw many who came to find him, for the chiefs of the priests took counsel among themselves to catch him in his talk. Wherefore they sent the Levites and some of the scribes to question him, saying: ”Who are you?” Jesus confessed, and said the truth: ”I am not the Messiah.”

Here the author seems to be confused, because in the introduction of his book he writes the following:

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.

He must have forgotten (or was confused) that the titles ”Messiah” and ”Christ” are the same. Even if the first comes from a Hebrew word and the second from a Greek word, they both have the same meaning. So according to the author, Jesus is the Messiah and at the same time is not the Messiah. Hmmm! In chapter 105 he mentions how many heavens there are:

I tell you, then, that the heavens are nine and that they are distant from one another even as the first heaven is distant from the earth, which is distant from the earth five hundred years’ journey.

The statement ”the heavens are nine” contradicts the Quran which says that ”he completed them as seven heavens within two days and inspired in each heaven its command” (41:12). The author goes on by mentioning the Pharisees during the time of the prophet Elijah:

As God liveth, in the time of Elijah, friend and prophet of God, there were twelve mountains inhabited by seventeen thousand pharisees; and so it was that in so great a number there was not found a single reprobate, but all were elect of God.

The problem is that the Pharisees as a religious sect did not exist during the time of Elijah (9th century BCE). They entered the scene from the middle of the 2nd century BCE until the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. So this is another historical error made by the so-called Barnabas. It is obvious that he couldn’t have been a Jew familiar with his own history. If he was born and raised in Israel he would for sure have known this historical fact. In chapter 152 the author describes an encounter between Jesus and some Roman soldiers in Jerusalem:

They (the Roman soldiers) were fain to stretch forth their hands against Jesus. Then said Jesus: ”Adonai Sabaoth!” Whereupon straight-way the soldiers were rolled out of the Temple as one rolleth casks of wood when they are washed to refill them with wine; insomuch that now their head and now their feet struck the ground, and that without anyone touching them. And they were so affrighted and fled in such wise that they were never more seen in Judaea.

The author says that the soldiers were rolled ”as one rolleth casks of wood when they are washed to refill them with wine”. But at the time of Jesus casks of wood were not used to store wine. Wine was always stored in wineskins and terracotta jars. It would take some centuries before casks of wood would come in use.

In sum, because of all the errors in the gospel of Barnabas it can’t be considered a reliable book. And the errors I have presented here are only a fragment of all there are. Because of all the geographical, historical and theological errors this so-called Barnabas made, he could not have been living in Israel and be one of Jesus’ disciples. It’s impossible! According to scientists it was probably not written earlier than the 14th century CE in Europe. Because of all the errors in it this seems very likely. 

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