Written by Jason Petersen
There has been a story that has recently resurfaced concerning a 1500 year old Bible that claims that Jesus wasn’t crucified.[acp footnote]1[/acp] Atheists and secularists, of course, are quite excited about the finding. Of course, this article is aimed at showing that the atheists and secularists have nothing to be excited about. The story was first reported in 2012. This Bible contains the controversial Gospel of Barnabas. The Gospel of Barnabas is a book that contradicts the four gospels’ account of Christ’s resurrection. The article will initially the situation in a presuppositional manner, but then we will move on to some of the evidential issues concerning the book. The reader may be shocked to see one obvious detail that was left out. This detail will be brought into light towards the end of the article. Let’s just say that this goes to show that the media and secularists aren’t always diligent about doing proper research.
The first thing that any Christian should notice is the fact that atheists and secularists without question give the 1500 year old Bible more credit than The Bible that we have today. Why is this? Well, it’s because they dogmatically adhere to the assumption that The Bible that Christians have cannot possibly be true. What is the basis in which the atheists can determine which Bible is legitimate and which one is not? To this day, atheists have been unable to find a basis that can be used to determine the legitimacy of any manuscript without appealing to their assumption that The Bible is false. Since the assumption that The Bible is false is not axiomatic in the atheist worldview, this would be considered a fallacious exercise in circular reasoning. This means that if atheists want to be granted that they are able to determine which text is legitimate and which text is not legitimate, they are going to have to provide logically valid and sound methods of making such determinations.
About the 1500 Year Old Bible
According to the first cited article, experts and religious authorities insist that The Bible is original. None of them are named, nor are there any reasons listed as to what they mean by “original.” However, the article points out:
The book itself is written with gold lettering, onto loosely-tied leather in Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ.
The text maintains a vision similar to Islam, contradicting the New Testament’s teachings of Christianity. Jesus also foresees the coming of the Prophet Muhammad, who would found Islam 700 years later.
It is believed that, during the Council of Nicea, the Catholic Church hand-picked the gospels that form the Bible as we know it today; omitting the Gospel of Barnabas (among many others) in favor of the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Many biblical texts have begun to surface over time, including those of the Dead Sea and Gnostic Gospels; but this book especially, seems to worry the Vatican.
Perhaps the most significant fact is that 1500 year old Bible is written in Aramaic. It would seem at first glance, that the Muslim has more to be excited about than the atheist. The implications on Islam will be covered later, but for now, the focus of the article will remain on the atheists. The atheist has no reason to be excited, because the atheist won’t accept either the 1500 year-old Bible or the Canonical Bible. Certainly, the atheist would never accept that Muhammad was truly a prophet. So then, the atheist cannot by his own presupposition, view this 1500 year-old Bible as anymore legitimate or historically accurate as the Christian Canonical Bible. By arguing that the 1500 year old Bible is any more legitimate than the Canonical Bible, the atheist is effectively contradicting himself. Such a realization goes far in exposing the dishonesty behind atheist polemics and apologetics. After all, the atheist must abandon atheism in order to argue that this 1500 year old Bible is anymore legitimate than the Canonical Bible.
Implications on Islam
What about the Muslims? It would seem that the 1500 year old Bible would legitimize the claims of the Qur’an. Certainly not, because the 1500 year old Bible contradicts the Qur’an in the following ways[acp footnote]2[/acp]:
1.) The Qur’an mentions seven paradises, but the Gospel of Barnabas mentions ten.
2.) The Aramaic text states that Mary gave birth to Jesus without experiencing pain while the Qur’an explicitly refers to the pain of childbirth.
So then, since The Gospel of Barnabas contradicts the Qur’an, the Muslim cannot argue that the Gospel of Barnabas is an inspired or reliable account without contradicting the Muslim’s adherence to the inerrancy of the Qur’an.
Is This 1500 Year Old Bible Legitimate?
As Christians, the Canonical Bible should be our first principle. Scripture teaches that God will preserve his Word. (Isaiah 40:8, 1 Peter 1:24-25) Considering the miraculous preservation of the Canonical Bible, we can clearly see that God has kept this promise. One thing that the Christian should be aware of is that the early church rejected the Gospel of Barnabas. This is evidenced by reading the Gelasian Decree(550 A.D.)[acp footnote]3[/acp][acp footnote]4[/acp] It has been shown, however, that the Gospel of Barnabas is actually a sixteenth-century forgery:[acp footnote]5[/acp]
Medieval Sources of the Gospel of Barnabas
It is not hard to prove to Muslims that this Gospel was first compiled many centuries after the times of both Jesus and Muhammad. Three of examples of medieval influences will be considered here.
1. The Centenary Year of Jubilee
One of the laws Moses gave to the people of Israel was that a jubilee year was to observed twice every century when slaves would be liberated and debts cancelled. God ordained it in these words:
A jubilee year shall that fiftieth year be to you. Leviticus 25:11
About 1300 AD Pope Boniface the Eighth decreed that the jubilee year should be reintroduced but that it should only be held at the turn of each century, that is, once every hundred years. After his death, however, Pope Clemens the Sixth decreed that the jubilee year should revert to every fifty years following the Biblical decree and there was talk thereafter of reducing it further. In the Gospel of Barnabas this saying is attributed to Jesus:
And then through all the world will God be worshipped, and mercy received, insomuch that the year of jubilee, which now cometh every hundred years, shall by the Messiah be reduced to every year in every place. Gospel of Barnabas, para 82
The anachronism is obvious – the author of the Gospel of Barnabas could only have spoken of the jubilee year coming every hundred years if he knew of the decree of Pope Boniface. Whoever wrote this Gospel makes Jesus repeat a proclamation which was only made at least thirteen centuries after his time! This proves that the Gospel is a forgery of not earlier than the 14th century AD.
2. Quotations from Dante’s Inferno
Dante was an Italian who lived at about the same time as Pope Boniface. He wrote a well-known classic titled Divina Comedia – the “Divine Comedy”. It was a fantasy about hell, purgatory and heaven according to the beliefs of his time. Many passages in the Gospel of Barnabas show a dependence on his work, one of which is a saying attributed to Jesus of the prophets of old:
Readily and with gladness they went to their death, so as not to offend against the law of God given by Moses his servant, and go and serve false and lying gods. Gospel of Barnabas, para 23
The expression dei falsi e lugiardi (false and lying gods) is found elsewhere in the Gospel of Barnabas. Jesus is recorded as again using this phrase (para 78) while Herod is also said by the author to have “adored the false and lying gods” (para 217). The cliche is found in neither the Bible nor the Qur’an but is a direct quote from Dante! (Inferno 1.72).
In its actual descriptions of heaven and hell the Gospel of Barnabas follows Dante exactly while contradicting the Qur’an. Jesus is said to have declared to Simon Peter:
Know ye therefore that hell is one, yet hath seven centres one below another. Hence, even as sin is of seven kinds, for as seven gates of hell hath Satan generated it: so there are seven punishments therein. Gospel of Barnabas, para 135
Dante gives precisely this description in the fifth and sixth cantos of his Inferno. Speaking of the heavens the Gospel of Barnabas states that they are nine and that Paradise itself is greater than all of them together (para 178). This again parallels Dante who also speaks of nine heavens with an Empyrean, a tenth heaven above them all. These depictions of heaven, however, directly contradict the Qur’an which teaches that after Allah had created the earth, he fashioned paradise as seven heavens (Surah 2:29).
3. The Medieval Environment of the Gospel
Other passages from the Gospel show that the author was more at home in the climate and seasons of southern Europe than in the land of Palestine. He makes Jesus speak of how beautiful the world is in summer-time when the harvest and fruit abound (para 169). This is a fair description of Italy in summer but not of Palestine where the rain falls in winter and the fields are parched in summer.
Likewise the Gospel of Barnabas speaks of storing wine in wooden wine-casks (para 152), a common practice in medieval Europe but not in first-century Palestine where wine was stored in skins (Matthew 9:17). Further proof of the author’s ignorance of the geography of Palestine is found in this statement:
Having arrived at the city of Nazareth the seamen spread through the city all that Jesus had wrought. Gospel of Barnabas, para 20
In this passage Nazareth is represented as a harbour on the Lake of Galilee. After this Jesus is said to have gone “up to Capernaum”. Every disciple of Jesus would have known that Capernaum was the city on the shores of the lake while Nazareth is up in the hills. Jesus would have gone up from Capernaum to Nazareth, not the other way around as the Gospel of Barnabas has it.
These evidences all prove that the Gospel of Barnabas is a forgery compiled in southern Europe sometime around the 16th century after Christ. Let us proceed to examine other evidences that discount the authenticity of this book that calls itself a Gospel.
6.3 Other Evidences Against its Authenticity
Muslim: The Gospel of Barnabas must be the true Gospel since it teaches that Jesus was not to be the final messenger of God to mankind but that this honour would be reserved to our holy Prophet Muhammad who he said would follow after him.
There are numerous other evidences against the authenticity of the Gospel of Barnabas, some of which derive from the very passages where Jesus is said to have foretold the coming of Muhammad. It is very interesting to note that this Gospel makes no mention of John the Baptist – a striking omission, considering the attention given to him as a contemporary prophet to Jesus in the Biblical Gospels. Instead sayings of John are attributed to Jesus, such as “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’” (John 1:23) which is ascribed to Jesus in the Gospel of Barnabas together with the whole conversation that surrounds it (para 42). The author of this Gospel conveniently, but very erroneously, makes Jesus say of Muhammad what John actually said of him.
But wait, what good is demonstrating that The Gospel of Barnabas is a forgery? After all, the article stated that The Bible that was found was 1500 years old. Well, when The Bible was further examined, it was found that the “1500 year old Bible” was written in the 1500s. In fact, on the back of The Bible “1500 A.D.” is inscribed. Researcher Timothy Michael Law from the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish studies remarks[acp footnote]6[/acp]:
Why is this gospel so potentially valuable to Turkey? It contains within it some material that seems to predict the coming of Mohammed, and generally follows the standard Muslim account of early Christianity. So if Turkey can prove it is from 500 AD it obviously scores a huge point since Mohammed doesn’t come until the end of that century, and thus the book would clearly be a prophecy about his coming. Lots at stake then, and no surprise the Turkish authorities are not so readily handing it over to the Vatican and are instead keeping it under military control.
I just spoke with my colleague about this, and after both of us have had the chance to look at it we concur it is impossible this is a 1500 year old Bible. What could be really funny is that at the bottom it appears to read something like 1500 AD. It is admittedly tough to read, but it would quite a mistake to claim it is 1500 years old when it was produced in 1500. This date would also conform to what most scholarship believes anyway, that this gospel was produced around this time.
In order for The “1500 year old Bible” to be 1500 years old, it would need to be written in 500 A.D. The fact that The Bible has “1500 A.D.” inscribed in it demolishes the idea that this Bible is 1500 years old, and, therefore, is consistent with the notion that the Gospel of Barnabas is a medieval forgery. Given that Mohammed’s life was well before the time that the Gospel of Barnabas was written, the gospel could not have predicted Muhammad’s coming, for it was written after Muhammad’s life time. It would seem, therefore, that neither the atheist or the Muslim has any reason to be excited about this finding.