Thursday, May 24, 2012

Matt 24 watch, 153 & Rom 1 reply, 6: Iran's claim that a "Gospel of Barnabas" manuscript is from before Mohammed and "will undermine the Christian church"

There are reports that the church in Iran may be the fastest growing single church in the world, and that there are now a million Christians in Iran. It is against that backdrop of evident desperation to stop the advance of the gospel in Iran and in the wider Muslim world, that we must evaluate a recent announcement by the Iranian authorities, headlined in WND:
 Iran’s Basij Press is claiming that a version of the Gospel of Barnabas, found in 2000, will prove that Islam is the final and righteous religion and the revelation will cause the collapse worldwide of Christianity . . . . This version of the Barnabas Gospel was written in the 5th or 6th century and it predicted the coming of the Prophet Mohammad and the religion of Islam, the Basij Press claims . . . . 

The Barnabas Codex
According to the Barnabas Gospel in Turkey’s hands, Basij Press says, Jesus was never crucified and that not only is He not the son of God, but that He himself predicted the coming of the Prophet Mohammad. The book even predicts the coming of the last Islamic messiah, the report says.

“The discovery of the original Barnabas Bible will now undermine the Christian Church and its authority and will revolutionize the religion in the world,” the Basij report says. “The most significant fact, though, is that this Bible has predicted the coming of Prophet Mohammad and in itself has verified the religion of Islam, and this alone will unbalance the powers of the world and create instability in the Christian world.”

The Basij report concludes that the discovery is so immense that it will affect the world’s politics and that the world powers are aware of the coming effects of this event. [Cf. Daily Mail report.]
In reality, the intent is to poison the atmosphere and polarise the discussion of the gospel among Muslims, by putting an "authoritative" claim on the table from Islamic authorities. 

For, in Islamic law,  the testimony of an "infidel" or a "dhimmi" -- or a woman -- is automatically discounted relative to that of a Muslim man; much less the authoritative voice of Islamic spokesmen. And worse, this sort of claim is part of the rationale offered on which a man like pastor Nadarkhani -- who, according to a Daily Mail report "may be executed at any time without warning," sits in Iranian prisons under an unjust sentence of death for refusing to recant his sincere Christian faith. (Cf KF here.)

But, could this report be possibly or even credibly true?

As touching the substance, not a chance puts the matter in terms that Muslims may appreciate:
Imagine someone claimed to find a new sura in the Muslim Qur’an. However, the earliest copy was not in Arabic, nor in a language of the Bible, but in Italian in the Middle Ages. Imagine there were things in the sura that contradicted what was in the rest of the Qur’an, as well as the Bible. Imagine that it also contained historical errors, and implied that people in Mohammed’s time lived the same way Europeans lived during the Middle Ages.

You might have some questions, to say the least!
Let us clarify. 

First, that a codex (as pictured, from WND) was discovered is probably true. Though, its reported source, a capture from smugglers, makes for serious questions on chain of custody and where it was really found. Similarly, it is probably written in Aramaic; indeed, possibly even with the right style of forming letters for the claimed time. The leather in it may even date -- per C14 dating etc --  to the 5th or 6th Centuries AD.

But the claimed historical substance, to moral certainty, is false. 

Actually, obviously false, and so the document is either a mis-represented manuscript of another writing or it is an outright forgery.

Why can we confidently say that, sight unseen?
1 --> We have a massive historical fact on the ground since C1: the Christian church, founded on the eyewitness testimony to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. What has been in dispute by informed objectors is the resurrection, not the life, betrayal, kangaroo court-ordered execution and death by crucifixion, of Jesus.

2 --> Indeed, by the criterion of embarrassment, this shameful but unjust death of Jesus is not in serious dispute. For instance, 1 Corinthians, c. 55 AD, is the first primary historical document we have regarding the roots of the Christian faith. In chapter 1 it documents:
1 Cor 1: 1 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

 2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours  . . . .

7 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 
 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, 
                    “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
        and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men . . .  [ESV]
3 --> In short, the shame of the death on the cross was an undeniable and embarrassing fact that early Christian spokesmen had to address: "we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles . . . "

4 --> So, plainly, it is only the conviction of God's vindication of the crucified Christ through the resurrection, backed up by over five hundred eyewitnesses, that carried the gospel forward "to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks." Where also, God's shameful foolishness and weakness is wiser and stronger than men.

5 --> Indeed, it is quite plain that the root concept that led the foundational era Muslims to deny the crucifixion of Jesus, was precisely the idea that God's favour could not rest on one who was crucified.

6 --> So, instead of questionable documents from many centuries later, let us note the record Paul made of the core official testimony of the church, c. 35 - 38 AD; within five or so years of the death of Jesus:
1 Cor 15: 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me . . . [ESV]
7 --> But, what about the Gospel of Barnabas? Let us hear Muslim scholar Cyril Glassé in The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, Harper & Row, 1989, p. 64:
 As regards the "Gospel of Barnabas" itself, there is no question that it is a medieval forgery. A complete Italian manuscript exists which appears to be a translation from a Spanish original (which exists in part), written to curry favor with Muslims of the time. It contains anachronisms which can date only from the Middle Ages and not before, and shows a garbled comprehension of Islamic doctrines, calling the Prophet "the Messiah", which Islam does not claim for him. Besides its farcical notion of sacred history, stylistically it is a mediocre parody of the Gospels, as the writings of Baha'Allah are of the Koran.
8 -->  Adding to this summary from a Muslim scholar, Christian apologist John Gilchrist highlights a key flaw that reveals the ignorance and incompetence of the writer of the Gospel of Barnabas; one that is only apparent to one who attends to the text of the Acts of the Apostles, the well-authenticated history of the church's first generation, by Luke:
GOB: Jesus answered: 'Be not sore grieved, Barnabas; for those whom God hath chosen before the creation of the world shall not perish' (The Gospel of Barnabas, p.21).
 9 --> How do we know this is wrong? In Ac 4, shortly after the first confrontation of the Apostles with the Jerusalem leaders, we read of the progress of the church in Jerusalem, in the early 30's AD:
Ac 4: 32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 

34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 

36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet.
10 --> We here first meet Joseph (or, Joses in other renderings), the Levite from Cyprus, who was given the name "Barnabas," by the apostles, in the context of his good works. So, we have here a revealing anachronism, for in GOB, Jesus apparently is viewed as having Barnabas as one of the twelve and as calling him by that name. Here, for instance, are the twelve apostles from Matthew:
Mt 10:These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
11 --> The first is false relative to the lists of the apostles, and the second is out of order in time. This alone -- a typical error of a careless or ignorant forger -- would be sufficient to throw the GOB into discredit.

12 --> Next, GOB repeatedly presents Barnabas as repudiating the teachings of Paul. But in the well-authenticated history in Acts, it is Barnabas who vouches for Paul, it is Barnabas who, in Antioch, goes for Paul to join him in teaching the church, it is Barnabas who goes out as a missionary with Paul, it is Barnabas who stands with Paul in Antioch and at the council in Jerusalem when the debate over circumcision of gentiles comes up. True, there is a dispute over Mark that caused a temporary separation, but that is over the question of giving Mark a second chance. By the time of the later Pauline epistles it is clear that this has long since been reconciled, and both Mark and Barnabas are working in concert with Paul. 

13 --> Mark, of course, recorded the testimony of Peter to Jesus in the gospel of Mark, which definitely presents Jesus as messiah, betrayed, crucified and risen.

14 --> Gilchrist also observes how:
the author of the Gospel of Barnabas has chosen to know nothing of the ministry of John the Baptist in his book but has deviously taken the testimony of John to Jesus in the Bible and changed it into a supposed testimony of Jesus to Muhammad. Whether Jesus ever predicted the coming of Muhammad or not is not at issue here (see Is Muhammad Foretold in the Bible?, No.5 in this series, for a treatment of that subject). What is obvious, however, to anyone who has read the life of Jesus in the Bible, is that the author of the Gospel of Barnabas has tried to make Jesus a herald of the coming of Muhammad in the very mould of John the Baptist who was a herald of the coming of Jesus, and to achieve this he has put Jesus in the shoes of John and has made him say of Muhammad what John really said of him!
15 --> In addition, we see positive evidence of a medieval origin. For instance, as Gilchrist also summarises:
In the time of Moses God ordained that the Jews were to observe a jubilee year twice a century:
A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be to you. Leviticus 25.11
Throughout the centuries this command was observed and the Roman Catholic Church eventually took it over into the Christian faith. About 1300 AD Pope Boniface the Eighth gave a decree that the jubilee should be observed once every hundred years. This is the only occasion in all history that the jubilee year was made to be only once every hundred years. After the death of Boniface, however, Pope Clemens the Sixth decreed in 1343 AD that the jubilee year should revert to once every fifty years as it was observed by the Jews after the time of Moses. Now we find in the Gospel of Barnabas that Jesus is alleged to have said:
'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.' (The Gospel of Barnabas, p.104).
Only one solution can account for this remarkable coincidence. The author of the Gospel of Barnabas could only have quoted Jesus as speaking of the year of jubilee as coming "every hundred years" if he knew of the decree of Pope Boniface.
16 --> Gerhard Nehls gives a more plausible explanation of GOB:
The "Gospel of Barnabas" (G.o.B.) first appeared in Holland in 1709. This manuscript was written in Italian and supplied with footnotes in poor Arabic. The sources of the "Gospel" are unknown. This document is now preserved in the Imperial Museum in Vienna.
George Sale translated the Qur'an from Arabic into English in 1734. In his preface, he mentions another copy of the same "Gospel" in Spanish. This document is lost and all we know about it is what Sale wrote down. It says in a statement on the title page that it was a translation from the Italian by a Spanish Muslim named Mostafa de Aranda (Aranda is a town in Spain). It further mentions that the Italian text had been stolen by a monk, Fra Marino, from the papal library . . .  In 1907 the G.o.B. was translated into English by Laura and Lonsdale Ragg. In the introduction, they provide internal and external evidence to the effect that the G.o.B. was a Medieval forgery.
Since then Arabic and Urdu translations have been produced, all, however, without the introduction by the Raggs. Lt.-Col. M.A. Rahim (Pakistan) reprinted the G.o.B. in English in 1973, again omitting the introduction, but substituting another one written from the Islamic point of view. This has been extensively used to demonstrate that the Bible has been corrupted, when measured against a Gospel that was hidden away for nearly two millennia. Needless to say, the G.o.B. largely confirms the teaching of Islam concerning Jesus.
17 --> Nehls summarises its message:
Jesus Christ is neither the Son of God, nor divine. He is rather: "the voice crying in the wilderness" to prepare the way for the coming Messiah, Mohammed. In the G.o.B. Christ is not the Messiah, but assumes instead a role similar to that of John the Baptist in our Gospel account. John the Baptist is not mentioned in the G.o.B. Consequently, the emphasis in the G.o.B. is on the coming of Mohammed, the saviour of the world (Chapter 96b and 97b, etc.). As might be expected, Christ was not crucified (in agreement with Sura 4:156), but instead Judas was killed in His place. During the period of His supposed arrest, Christ was hiding in a house in the garden of Gethsemane from where He was taken out by four (!) archangels (a much later tradition or legend) through the window and ascended into the third of seven heavens.
18 --> In short, the author of GOB was also not sufficiently familiar with Islamic doctrine to get that part straight either. But, it has been sufficiently close to be used by unfortunately unscrupulous apologists for Islam to try to discredit the C1 New Testament record.

19 --> Norman L. Geisler & Abdul Saleeb give a good summary of the bottomline:
. . . Typical of Muslim claims is that of Muhammad Ata ur-Rahim, who insisted that "The Gospel of Barnabas is the only known surviving Gospel written by a disciple of Jesus.... [--> As in, what were Matthew and John, then? or even what of the clear implication that in Mark we hear the voice of Peter? or that the fourth, Luke, is an eyewitness lifetime history based on eyewitness testimony and records of such?] [It] was accepted as a Canonical Gospel in the churches of Alexandria up until 325 A.D."[3] Another Muslim author, M. A. Yusseff, argues confidently that "in antiquity and authenticity, no other gospel can come close to The Gospel of Barnabas."[4]
These are strange statements in view of the fact that reputable scholars have carefully examined The Gospel of Barnabas and find absolutely no basis for its authenticity. After reviewing the evidence in an article in Islamochristiana, J. Slomp concluded: "in my opinion scholarly research has proved absolutely that this 'gospel' is a fake. This opinion is also held by a number of Muslim scholars."[5] In their introduction to the Oxford edition of The Gospel of Barnabas, Longsdale and Ragg conclude that "the true date lies ... nearer to the sixteenth century than to the first."[6] Likewise, in his classic work "Jomier proved his point by showing beyond any doubt that the G. B. V. contains an islamicised late medieval gospel forgery."[7] . . . . the earliest reference to it comes from a fifth-century work, Decretum Gelasianum (Gelasian Decree, by Pope Gelasius, A.D. 492-95). But even this reference is in doubt.[8] However there is no original language manuscript evidence for its existence! Slomp says flatly, "There is no text tradition whatsoever of the G. B. V." [Gospel of Barnabas Vienna ms.].[9] By contrast, the New Testament books are verified by over 5,300 Greek manuscripts that begin in the second and third centuries A.D. (see Chapter 10).
Second, L. Bevan Jones notes that "the earliest form of it known to us is in an Italian manuscript. This has been closely analyzed by scholars and is judged to belong to the fifteenth or sixteenth century, i.e., 1400 years after the time of Barnabas.''[10] Even Muslim defenders of it, like Muhammad ur-Rahim, admit that they have no manuscripts of it before the 1500s.
Third, this gospel is widely used by Muslim apologists today, yet there is no reference to it by any Muslim writer before the fifteenth or sixteenth century. But surely they would have used it if it had been in existence. As Ragg observes, "Against the supposition that the Gospel of Barnabas ever existed in Arabic we must set the argument from the total silence about such a Gospel in the polemical literature of the Moslems. This has been admirably catalogued by Steinschneider in his monograph on the subject.''[11][ Appendix 3 of Norman L. Geisler & Abdul Saleeb Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross, Baker Books, 1993; pages 295-299. NB: They go on to describe how references to other pseudonymous apocryphal works, the Epistle and Acts of Barnabas, are also used to muddy the waters.]
 So, what we have here in this spectacular announcement from Iran, is little more than sadly unscrupulous Islamist apologetics. A surge from the tidal wave from the East, in short:

It would be wise, then, to heed the warning by Anthony Grafton, as reported by Jan Slomp:
There is more at stake with the GB forgery case than just Christian-Muslim relations, though they are very important, when we realize that Christianity and Islam together represent almost 50% of mankind.
Anthony Grafton, who wrote a historical survey of forgeries in Western scholarship warns in the epilogue of his fascinating book: "A culture that tolerates forgery will debase its own intellectual currency, sometimes past redemption - as happened to Hellenistic Greek admirers of forged alien mysteries and modern German admirers of the literature of the Anti-Semitic International" (Fn04). With the latter he means of course the nefarious part played by the so-called Protocols of the Elders of Zion in both Russia and Nazi-Germany and until the present day in Arabic translation (published in 1927) in feeding anti-Jewish sentiments in the Middle East (Fn05). That Grafton because of his own cultural limitations excluded as he puts it himself, "forgeries among rabbis, imams and Chinese (and Indian? J.S.) literates" does not mean that this phenomenon is absent from the Muslim world.
As far as I was able to trace such forgeries, the Muslim world had its own normal share of ascribing books to others, plagiarisms, literary hoaxes etc. (Fn06). But in the case of the GB forgery and its spread in many translations in the Muslim world, we are facing such an unprecedented uncritical reception that the above quoted lines of Grafton seem justifiably applicable to those sectors of Muslim culture which not only tolerate but promote it, without probably realizing they have introduced a dangerous virus.
Sobering words.

So, now, let us ask: whose report will we believe, why? (Cf. here, here and here with here.) And, what will we -- Christian, Muslim or secular person alike -- then do? END