Gospel of Barnabas & Dead Sea Scrolls

By Dr. Afnan Hussein Fatani
Publication Date: 
Fri, 2002-06-21 03:00

An apology: Apologies to readers of my article "The Ides of May II" published in Arab News on June 9, 2002. Due to a proofreading oversight, the date of the Dead Sea Scrolls was inadvertently substituted for the date of the Gospel of Barnabas. This cut-and-paste error occurred during my typing of the article, when a large portion of information contained within parenthesis was deleted. The date 2nd century B.C. properly refers to the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were dated from the 2nd century BC through the 1st century A.D. by the script in which they were written and by the archaeological investigations of the settlement near the Qumran Caves where they were discovered alongside the most ancient copy of the Old Testament available today. This date does not refer to the Gospel of Barnabas which dates to the 1st century A.D. during the time of John the Baptist who was a cousin and a contemporary of Jesus. I wish to thank (SZ – USA) for alerting me to this error. However, SZ seems to be outraged at my mere mention of The Gospel of Barnabas and the Dead Sea Scrolls much more than any inadvertent substitution of dates:

"The Gospel of Barnabas is a medieval forgery written to promote Islamic beliefs about Jesus, not one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls are from a Jewish Temple sect, most scholars consider to be the sect called the Essenes in history. The scrolls do not mention Jesus. The Gospel of Barnabas has two manuscripts, one in Spanish and one in Italian. The Dead Sea Scrolls are written in Hebrew and Aramaic…

"I suspect the quotations which are said to be Jewish in that article are equally spurious, but someone more erudite will correct them. This paper has a habit of publishing forged anti-Jewish sources, as the forged letter from Ben Franklin and false quotations from Jefferson you printed.

"I find a certain irony in highly legalistic Arab claims for justice for the Palestinians. To read the Arab media, you could believe that the Palestinians are the first people in the world to have lost their land in a war with another people."

Although the authenticity of the Barnabas Gospel is not a topic that I ever wished to discuss at length, I find myself compelled to refute SZ’s erroneous claims in view of all the hatred and indignation vented against articles published in Arab News in his lengthy e-mail to the editor. The article I am writing now is not meant as a vengeful attack or an attempt to discredit the faith of Christianity or Judaism in any way; as a Muslim that would be blasphemous. Nor is it meant to incite hatred of the West whatsoever. On the contrary. What I sincerely believe is that wishful thinking about peaceful solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict will never bring about a change in current Israeli practices. However, speaking out against radical non-mainstream views and rage-inflamed Zionist propaganda is a form of passive and non-violent resistance that might at least act as an eye-opener for those in decision-making positions. My discussion of The Barnabas Gospel and the Dead Sea Scrolls is merely an attempt to correct a misconception that is based on intolerance and ancient prejudices and to offer some historical background that might perhaps guide us toward a better understanding of monotheism; as Jesus says in the Bible, "Seek the truth and the truth shall set you free."

The Gospel of Barnabas and the Dead Sea Scrolls have often been associated and confused since they do have something in common apart from the overlapping of dates. The Gospel of Barnabas is believed by many historians to be part of the collection of Dead Sea scrolls. According to early sources of the 1950s and early 60s before the 1967 Israeli invasion of Palestine when the Archeological museum was overrun and all the publication of scrolls were blocked, a copy of the Barnabas Bible was discovered by Bedouin shepherds in the Qumran caves along with 30 other scrolls which included handwritten gospels, religious writings, as well as lengthy accounts of buried treasures such as the famous Copper Scrolls. These were sold to two Bethlehem antiquities dealers Kando and Feidi Salahi who in turn sold them to the Syrain Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem. To date, all of the books of the Bible are represented in the Dead Sea Scrolls collections except Esther. Hence, contrary to SZ’s claim, the Dead Sea Scrolls not only mention Jesus, they in fact contain much significant and hitherto unknown biblical information about the ministry of Jesus, his disciples and the early Christians of the 1st century.

Unfortunately, this historic discovery of the Barnabas Gospel among the Qumran scrolls cannot be fully collaborated today since direct access to the scrolls, most of which has still not been published, is limited to members of the International Team of Scroll Editors who currently work under the auspices of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). For example, the vast majority of scrolls from Cave 4 (4Q), which contain by far the largest and most diverse surviving cache of scrolls in the area, have only been available to the scholarly community at large since about 1993. To date, there is no general agreement among scroll scholars as to the origin, authors and provenance of the numerous scrolls discovered in Qumran. While the group producing the scrolls is believed by many to be the Essenes, there are other scholars who state that there is too little evidence to support the view that one sect produced all of the material. Since the early 1990s, curiosity about the scrolls was heightened by mounting evidence that there was an on-going and systematic campaign to control the interpretation of the scrolls by suppressing their contents and limiting access to the evidence. Note that when the Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered, many Israeli historians immediately challenged the antiquity of the scrolls and claimed they were all forgeries (see Solomon Zeitlin, "The Alleged Antiquity of the Scrolls," Jewish Quarterly Review 40-41, 1950). There are several theories about who was suppressing and what. Among the most popular theories relevant to our discussion is that the Israel Antiquities Authority, which has had nominal control of the scrolls since the 1967 war, might be trying to suppress certain unflattering commentaries concerning Hebrew practices or embarrassing facts about the important historical personages from Jerusalem or Judea. (For sources see www.flash.net/-hoselton/deadsea/deadsea.htm)

As for the authenticity of the Gospel of Barnabas, here’s some basic background information that can help us assess the situation more objectively. This ancient manuscript recounts at length the life and ministry of Jesus the Messiah by Barnabas, a disciple of Christ, and the historical author of "Epistle of Barnabas" (A.D. 70-90). It quotes Jesus as saying that there was a prophet to come after him whose name is composed of the Aramaic consonantal word HMD (translated as Greek parakletos or "the praised one") from which the Prophet Muhammad’s name is derived. In John 15:26, Jesus says: "When the parakletos comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the spirit of the truth that proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness of me." (According to Walter Kaufmann in his book Religions, The King James Bible renders the Greek term "the Comforter," the Revised Standard Version has "the Counselor," and the Roman Catholic Jerusalem Bible has "the advocate.") The Hebrew word for Muhammad, Mahammuddim, also appears in the Song of Solomon 5:16 and is translated as "altogether lovely" in the Authorized Version of the Bible. (See Ahmad Deedat, What the Bible Says about Muhammad.) Naturally, origins of this challenging document are immediately questioned. Because of its reference to the Prophet Muhammad by name and its similarity to the monotheistic teachings of the Qur’an, Barnabas’ Gospel was specifically labeled a Muslim forgery.

However, although Western scholars have repeatedly discredited the Barnabas manuscript as a Muslim forgery of the 15th or 16th century, there is much evidence to support its authenticity and its circulation during the 1st and 2nd century of Christianity. For one thing, Iranaeus, an Early Church Father (130-200), quoted extensively from it. Barnabas is also mentioned in secular history by the Jewish historian Josephus who wrote around 90 A.D. in his long work The Antiquities of the Jews. Another early reference to Barnabas can be found in the fifth century work, Decretum Gelasianum (Gelasian Decree, by Pope Gelasius, A.D. 492-95), where "Evangelium Barnabe" is included in the list of forbidden books. Prior to that it had been forbidden by Pope Innocent in 465 A.D. and by the Decree of the Western Churches in 382 A.D. (for all information and sources cited see M.A. Rahim (ed.), The Gospel of Barnabas, appendix 3 p. XV).

Hence, we have established two main facts; that Barnabas was by no means a fictitious character, however disliked his views were, and that the theologians of the first few centuries of Christianity noted that Barnabas had written a Gospel that was distributed in the 1st century. In other words, contrary to popular Western belief, there does exist an ancient manuscript and ancient quotes from this Gospel to suggest that it was written in the 1st century. What do we know of the historical Barnabas? In the Acts of the Apostles 4: 36-37 we are told that Barnabas was a Jew born in Cyprus. His name was Joseph, and due to his devotion to the cause of Jesus, the other apostles had given him the surname of Barnabas, translated as "Son of Consolation." He was close to Jesus and was a prominent member of the small group of disciples in Jerusalem who had gathered together after the disappearance of Jesus. They incurred the enmity and wrath of the Herodian dynasty, a ruthless family of despotic Jews who ruled over Palestine from 40 B.C. until around 100 A.D, who felt that they would undermine their authority. And so began the Herodian campaign spurred on by Roman Legions to destroy these disciples and to obliterate all traces of their existence including books and churches. It is a known historical fact that the monastery at Qumran, the home of the Essenes, suffered a violent and deliberate destruction by fire in 8 B.C, for which Herod may have been responsible just as he was surely responsible for the slaughter of the infants of Bethlehem. Herod’s son Antipas is the Herod that Pilate sent Jesus to and the same Antipas who killed John the Baptist as punishment for denouncing as unlawful his marriage to his niece Herodias. (Luke 23:7; Mt 14:6; Mk 6:22). Agrippa is best remembered for the death of Jesus’ brother James (Acts 12:21).

In all likelihood, the Barnabas Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden in the Qumran caves by pious Jews in a desperate attempt to preserve the truth for all posterity. Only two known manuscripts of the Barnabas Gospel existed before any copies were made from the texts available to us today. As many historians have pointed out, the gospel of Barnabas was accepted as a Canonical Gospel in the churches of Alexandria up until 325 A.D. when hundreds of original Gospels in Hebrew script were destroyed by the Nicene Council under the auspices of the Pagan Emperor Constantine. An Edict was issued that any one in possession of these Gospels would be put to death. Fortunately, the Pope secured a copy of the Barnabas Gospel in 383 A.D. and kept it in his private library. This Italian manuscript passed through different hands till it reached Prince Eugene of Savoy in 1713. It now rests in Hofbibliothek in Vienna. Another copy of the Barnabas Gospel was discovered in 478 A.D. when the remains of Barnabas were discovered and a copy written by his own hand was found placed upon his breast. (Acia Sanctorum Boland Junii Tom II, Pages 422 and 450. Antwerp 1698.) The Latin text was translated into English by Mr. and Mrs. Ragg and was printed at the Clarendon Press in Oxford. It was published by the Oxford University Press in 1907. However, this English translation mysteriously disappeared from the market. Two copies of this translation are known to exist, one in the British Museum and the other in the Library of Congress (For all quoted information and sources see www.barnabas.net/how_survived.htm)

The question is: How could the Muslims have forged this Gospel a good six centuries before the advent of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, or the introduction of the Muslim faith? Are we to believe that the Muslims of the 7th century had desecrated the grave of the historical Barnabas in the 5th and miraculously implanted a copy of their forgery for posterity to discover. Even if we assume that this Gospel was written in the 15th century and not in the 1st, are we to believe that a Muslim fanatic had sneaked into the Vatican, wrote the manuscript in Latin or Italian and then left it to be conveniently found in the Pope’s bookshelves?

What is certain is that none of the Medieval Arab scholars of Islam between the seventh and fifteenth centuries ever referred to the Barnabas Gospel. This is not because they had only forged it in the 15th century as many biased historians have insinuated, but basically because they had not known of its existence until after a lengthy Italian edition surfaced in Italy in the 16th century. Since that date, many Western scholars have gone to great lengths to prove that the Barnabas Gospel was a plagiarized 15th century document and not an authentic text of the 1st century A.D. For example, they have cited as evidence of Muslim forgery what they believe to be direct quotes from Dante’s Inferno and direct similarities to Dante’s description of the "seven circles of hell" in the third canto. The fact of the matter is that Dante had lifted wholesale from many sources including the translated versions of the 7th century Arabic Qur’an and the written accounts of the Prophet Muhammad’s journey of ascension to Heaven (Al-israa wa Al-mi’raj), even to the extent of copying the rhetorical technique of inserting mysterious alphabetical letters such as "alm" and "alr" at the opening of certain surahs or chapters, a characteristic and original linguistic feature of the Qur’an. In effect, the similarities between Barnabas and Dante’s Inferno only serve to further endorse the authenticity of the former since Dante’s global plagiarism is evident and cannot be ignored by any unbiased scholar.

In terms of language, as SZ informs us, the Barnabas Gospel was written in Italian and Spanish. However, it was also written in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, which is in essence the proto-language or root language of both Arabic and Hebrew. In deed all the branches of the Semitic people had a common speech. How could the tribes of Arabia have understood Abraham and Ishmael and Lot had the Arabic tongue been different from Aramaic? Much as Western theologians would like to deny, Aramaic and Arabic are essentially the same language but different dialects; they share the same alphabet and the same rules of grammar. In fact, of all the Semitic languages, Arabic is considered to be the most conservative and hence the closet to Aramaic in both diction and grammar since it has remained pure and free of interferences from other languages. Many native speakers of Arabic would be able to understand Aramaic even today because it is very similar to the classical Arabic of the Qur’an. Just for starters, the Aramaic word "beit" is the common Arabic word for "house" till today; so is "warda" (flower), "talmeedh" (pupil) and "najjar" (carpenter). And so it follows that Hebrew and Arabic are so-called sister languages. The word "Messiah" comes from the Arabic and Hebrew verb masaha which means to rub or to anoint. In the Hebrew Bible, God is called El rahum (the merciful) in Exodus 34:6 and Deuteronomy 4:31 which corresponds to the Arabic al-rahman, the proper name for God in the Qur’an. Both words are derived from the same consonantal root RHM. Other lexical similarities include Hebrew Al-lohiem or Elohim (our God), which corresponds to Arabic Allahum. It is important to keep in mind that the word Allah is not only a proper name in the Qur’an; it is also the Arabic word for God as it is in Old Hebrew as well. (See Walter Kaufmann, Religions in Four Dimensions, 1976.)

To return to our outraged friend SZ. One of the main reasons why die-hard Zionists want to discredit the Gospel of Barnabas as a forgery is basically to cover up how the Jewish scribes had switched names to illegitimize their hated and long-time rival Ishmael. The Barnabas Gospel affirms in clear terms that Ishmael was the legitimate son of Abraham, that God’s covenant was not only with Isaac, and that it was really Ishmael, Abraham’s first-born son, who was to be sacrificed and not Isaac. The truth of Ishmael’s status as sacrificial son can be further endorsed by the whole Abrahamic ritual of the Haj which is in effect a vivid and detailed re-enactment of Ishmael’s near sacrifice, including Abraham’s three-fold stoning of Satan as he attempts to dissuade him from carrying out God’s directive. The annual pilgrimage of the Haj which has continued unabated for over two thousand years since the time of Abraham till the present is further proof of the authenticity of the Barnabas Bible. It is technically impossible for such detailed ritual practices commemorated in the ancient sacred sites of Bacca valley to be a mere forgery or a perversion of history. This Zionist policy of ascribing to the Chosen people of Israel any saying or legend or historical fact that seemed good enough to be worthy of them, is the basic cause behind all past and present persecutions, defamations and accusations of forgery and anti-Semitism.

Here’s a final thought-provoking ending to this article. The World Zionist Organization (WZO) has decided to send Jewish communities from abroad headed by their local rabbis to reinforce efforts to populate West Bank settlements. As reported by the Israeli daily Maariv, the project, entitled, "Rise to Israel of the Rabbi and his Community," will begin in late June when some 70 to 100 families will arrive from New York, led by their rabbi Mordechai Tendler. They will move into the Kochav settlement, north of Jerusalem. A second group of around 50 families is expected in Israel shortly afterward from the French city of Marseilles, led by their community rabbi Abraham Maimon. For those readers like SZ from USA who have accused me of being a radical who offers no hope of solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, let me offer a very simple and peaceful one. If ending the brutal Israeli occupation of Palestine is too radical a measure for you, let’s start with the basic step of dismantling the illegal settlements of the West Bank instead of their deliberate and full-scale population by non-Israeli squatters from New York and Marseille.

Dr. Afnan Hussein Fatani is professor of stylistics at King Abdul Aziz University. Currently she is a visiting professor at Dar Al-Hekma College, Jeddah.

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