Review of: , Gospel of Barnabas, (unknown author) (Granada, c. 1350 A.D.)
Review: Gospel of Barnabas
Textual Evidence - earliest data & photos
Contents - evidence of forgery
Authorship - possible sources
Gospel of Barnabas and the Pericope De Adultera:
The Adultery Story - John 8:2-11 in Barnabas
Editing Process - Nature and Purpose of Changes
Conclusion - Relevance for Authenticity of PA
The so-called Gospel of Barnabas (GB) is attested by only two textual witnesses;
(1) an Italian manuscript, GB-Ital (c. late 16th cent.), presently kept in Vienna, and
(2) a Spanish manuscript, GB-Span (c. 18th cent.), incomplete, recently rediscovered in Sydney. 1
Very little is known, however, about the origins of the writing; dates assigned to it range from antiquity to the early seventeenth century. 2
Some Pages from Published Facsimile (Italian MS)
The Spanish MS: note from Englishman who made the handwritten copy at the bottom of page reads: "Cap [Chapters] 121 to 200 missing"
The Italian MS: Showing marginal notes in Arabic
There are apparently no known quotations from earlier writers that are openly associated with the GB and confirmed, or else positively identified as probable quotations from this surviving version. An obvious difficulty is that with most unidentified quotations, we can't be absolutely certain whether an early writer is quoting Matthew, Luke, John, or some other Christian work, rather than our extant Gospel of Barnabas. The likelihood is that almost all unreferenced quotations would be from the former group.
One supposed Greek fragment, often given in some modern printings of English translations, has no historical references and does not appear to be from the book at all. Nonetheless for completeness we give it here:
Βαρναβας ο αποστολος εφη εν αμιλλαις πονηραις αθλιωτερος ο νικησας διοτι απερχεται πλεον εχων της αμαρτιας
"Barnabas the Apostle said that in evil contests the victor is more wretched because he departs with more of the sin."
(Rahim, p.43, see below)
Translation: John Lee
Apparently at least some early references to an (unknown) Gospel of Barnabas are legitimate. Some are given below:
(1) In the Glasian (sic) Decree[?] of 496 A.D., the Evangelium Barnabe is included in the list of forbidden books. ...
(2) The Stichometry of Nicephorus also has a few references to Barnabas as follows:
Serial No. 3, The Epistle of Barnabas ... Lines 1, 300.
and again in the list of Sixty Books as follows:
Serial No. 18. Epistle of Barnabas.
Serial No. 24. Gospel According to Barnabas.
Muhammad `Ata ur-Rahim,
Jesus a Prophet of Islam
(B.A.B.W, 1981), p 41-43
These references have apparently been checked by Samuel Green, 3 however, there is no certainty at all that the Gospel of Barnabas condemned as forbidden in the 5th century is the same as our extant version here. The distinct features of the extant GB are certainly post-Islam (i.e., later than 630 A.D.) and many features suggest the 13th to 15th centuries.
The Epistle of Barnabas is well known; it is an early, thoroughly Christian work and has no relation to the current text.
1 The Italian manuscript was edited with an English translation by Lonsdale and Laura Ragg, The Gospel of Barnabas (Oxford: Clarendon, 1907). A facsimile of the manuscript, with a French translation, is given in Luigi Cirillo and Michel Frémaux, Évangile de Barnabé (Paris: Beauchesne, 1977).
The Spanish manuscript is available in the edition of Luis F. Bernabé Pons, El texto morisco del Evangelio de San Bernabé (Granada: Universidad de Granada, 1998). For a description of this 2nd MS and its history, see John Fletcher, “The Spanish Gospel of Barnabas,” NovT 18 (1976) 314–20.
2 See the review of recent publications in Jan Slomp, “The ‘Gospel of Barnabas’ in recent research,” Islamochristiana 23 (1997) 81–109. Online: http://home.t-online.de/home/chrislages/barnarom.htm.
Contents of GB
Generally speaking, the Gospel of Barnabas purports to be a large 'Gospel' in the normal Christian sense of the word (unlike many other early "gospels", Gnostic writings, and forgeries). That is, it retells the events of Jesus' life, much as in the real Gospels.
However, it is very long, and overly complete, due to its being largely a 'harmony' of the Four Canonical (Biblical) Gospels. Many sections appear near-verbatum borrowings from other gospels, with small but significant changes. Other portions, like the unique "Sermon on the Mount" appear to be complete re-workings, with original creative changes and ideas added.
A more detailed account can be found elsewhere, for instance in various articles analyzing Gospel of Barnabas. For our purposes, we can offer a brief list of problematic passages, in conflict with both early Christianity and Islam:
Conflicts with Christianity:
Key Christian doctrines are contradicted in the Gospel of Barnabas, in its surviving form:
(1) Coming of Islam: Near the middle of the book (ch 42a, see also 97b), a section modeled seemingly around Jn 1:19-29 has Jesus predict the coming of Muhammad, as found in the Qur'an (Qur. 7:157, 61:6).
(2) Son of God?: Instead of praising Peter for recognising Him as the Son of God (Matthew 16:13-17), "Barnabas" has an angry Jesus send Peter away (ch.70). The Qur'an (Qur. 9:30) also teaches that Jesus is not the Son of God.
(3) Non-Death of Jesus: Judas is crucified in Jesus' place (ch. 216-217). The Qur'an (Qur. 4:156-157) also teaches that Jesus was not crucified and did not die on the cross.
It appears that "Barnabas" has rewritten the gospels partly to conform to Islam.
Conflicts with Islam:
On the other hand, "Barnabas" also appears to be confused on key points regarding Islam.
(1) Muhammad as Messiah?: The Qur'an (Qur.3:45) teaches that Jesus IS the Messiah, as does the NT. But "Barnabas" has Jesus deny He is the Messiah (ch 42), and name Muhammad as the Messiah instead! (ch 97).
(2) No Extra Wives: Like Paul (whom "Barnabas" blames for basic Christian doctrines elsewhere), GB teaches one man one wife (ch 115), whereas the Qur'an (Qur. 4:3) allows multiple wives and unlimited female servants (Qur. 70:30).
(3) Mary's Birth Pains: The Qur'an (Qur.19:22-23) says Mary had pirth pain during delivery of Jesus, whereas GB says Mary gave birth without pain (ch. 3).
(4) 7 or 9 Heavens?: The Qur'an (Qur. 17:44) teaches there are seven heavens. GB says there are actually 9 heavens (ch 178), as in Dante's The Divine Comedy (14th cent.).
Anachronisms Suggesting Forgery:
(1) The Jubilee Year: In the Torah the Jubiliee is to be observed every 50 years (Lev.25:10-11), but in GB it is given as every 100 years (ch. 82). In 1300 A.D. Pope Boniface VIII proclaimed that the Jubilee should be celebrated by Christians every 100 years instead of 50 years. However the next Pope, Clement VI, changed it back to every 50 years, and so it was celebrated in 1350 A.D. So at one time there was a 50-year period when the Jubilee was thought by many to be every 100 years.
(2) Spanish Coins: Coins in chapter 54 (a golden denarius divided into 60 minuti ) seem to have been Spanish denominations. As one researcher puts it: "The two extant texts are full of historical, geographical and numismatic mistakes." (http://www.chrislages.de/barnarom.htm)
(3) Medieval Terms: Adam's Apple (ch 40), pilgrimage (ch.89), infinity (ch.26), barons (ch 131), knights (ch 69), leg-hose (ch.147), penance (ch.121), Fistula (ch.120), are all terms not invented until later, and having little to correspond to in the original languages and little to justify their usage in supposed translation.
Historical and Geographical Errors:
(1) Jesus Sails to Nazareth: (ch 20). Unfortunately, Nazareth is an inland town in the hills of Samaria, 18 km SW of the Sea of Galilee.
(2) Barnabas was a Disciple of Jesus: (ch 19, 72, 83, 88). The real Barnabas never met Jesus.
(3) The Penitent Listeners of Jesus called Nazarenes: (ch 193-4). Both penance and "Nazarene" are anachronistic here.
(4) Angels Uriel and Raphael: (ch 209) from Book of Enoch? or more likely, Medieval angelology.
(5) Roman Senate forbids calling Jesus 'Son of God': (ch.98,157,210).
(6) Great Famine in Israel during Jesus' Ministry: (ch 138).
Authorship of GB
There are many intriguing possibilities as to authorship of Gospel of Barnabas. We can only give a sample here of current thinking on this.
A detailed website with a readable history of the Gospel of Barnabas can be found here:
The following is excerpted for review from Jan Slomp The "Gospel of Barnabas" in recent research (http://www.chrislages.de/barnarom.htm)
Prof.Mikel de Epalza in an article in memory of Emilio Garcia Gomez (1905-1996) as scholar, translator of Arabic literature and publicist graciously gives full credit to the fact that Garcia Gomez already in 1962 during a conference in Beirut claimed Spanish authorship for the GB. But not until 1981 did Garcia Gomez present arguments for his thesis while contradicting the assertions of L.Cirillo and M.Frémaux about a Middle Eastern early Christian core text of the GB (Fn14). Mikel de Epalza himself explored this thesis about a Spanish authorship first briefly in 1963 in the Journal Al-Andalus (Madrid, XXVIII, 479-491) and in 1982 with many new data and convincing arguments in Islamochristiana (see for the source the preface to this article).
The author of the GB is to be found in communities of the Moriscos who were scattered all over Spain. For those not familiar with the term, Moriscos were Moors (Muslims) who stayed on and were baptized unwillingly after the fall of Granada in 1492. These forced conversions started in the early 16th century. But many of them continued to adhere secretly to Islam. The last of these crypto-Muslims as they were also called were expelled between 1609 and 1614. But the name Moriscos continued to be applied as they were dispersed in Muslim countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, until they had lost all the characteristics which disguished them from their new environment. The earliest mention of the GB was found by Louis Cardaillac in Morisco manuscript BNM MS 9653 in Madrid written about 1634 by Ibrahim al-Taybili in Tunisia (Fn15). His Spanish name was Juan Pérez and he originated from Toledo. Taybili was a very prolific translator and author bridging two cultures, Arabic and Spanish. Though one of the most prominent Morisco scholars he was not the only one with such qualifications. De Epalza mentions several similar interesting personalities.
Some of these authors were not fully at home in both cultures and religions. That is why they make mistakes on both sides of the religious fence between Christianity and Islam. This is the case with the GB. It betrays great familiarity with both Islam and Christianity but contains at the same time factual errors about both religions. Al-Taybili claims that Spanish Christians are not allowed to read the Bible in their own language lest they discover the truth in it about Muhammad. That is why the Bible is in Latin, he says. The same thing (finding the truth about Muhammad) applies according to al-Taybili to the "Gospel of Saint Barnabas where one can find the light" ("y asi mesmo en Elanjelio de San Barnabé donde de hallara luz"). De Epalza shows that Morisco literature before the expulsions often had a syncretistic character, whereas publications meant for the first generations of expelled Moriscos in their new Muslim environment who knew better Spanish than Arabic are rather polemical. In the freedom of exile the minds of these Moriscos had to be purged from Christian accretions before they could be better grounded in the faith of their Muslim ancestors.
The GB obviously belongs to the fist category. A fellow countryman of al-Taybili, alias Juan Pérez, Mustafa de Aranda claims in the preface of the GBS that he translated the GBI into Spanish while he worked in Istanbul, another centre to which many Moriscos had fled. De Epalza mentions a special type of Morisco forgeries of the 16th centuries the so-called jofores. These are "prophecies" often attributed to important Muslims from the past, foretelling a Muslim reconquest of Spain. A few of these jofores are attributed to Christian authors of the past but always containing texts which are in favour of the Muslims of al-Andalus. Granada was the last important centre of Islamic culture and it was there that the cultural and religious pressure on the Muslim population to make them conform to their new Spanish Catholic environment was more relentless than elsewhere. It is therefore not surprising that the Morisco reaction to this pressure was strongest in Granada.
In 1588 and between 1595-1599 a number of texts were discovered which threw a more or less Islamic light on the early history of Christianity in general and on the history and role of Spain in particular (for details see below the paragraph on L.Bernabé's thesis). He assumes with strong arguments, which cannot all be repeated here, that the place of origin of the GB must be the community of Moriscos in Spain most probably Granada. He expects that comparison of the Italian and Spanish texts (rediscovered in Australia) will throw new light on what he modestly calls his hypothesis of a Spanish origin of the GB. Already in 1963 and again in 1982 De Epalza has reasons to think that contrary to what is said in the preface of the GBS not the Italian but the Spanish text is the original. He suggests names of travelling scholars and diplomats who might have been instrumental in bringing the GBI and the GBS to England and the Netherlands in the early 17th century.
The Woman Taken in Adultery
Though the story has been heavily edited, it still shows a very strong and clear literary interdependance with the original version found in John. Even in Latin (Italian) translation, word-for-word copying is visible for many spans of text.
Most of the differences are plainly deliberate edits, and there is no evidence of the gradual accruing of accidental errors, or any other indication of development or evolution over a long period.
The changes found in the Gospel of Barnabas also show obvious secondary features, indicating its dependance upon John's Gospel as a source. We can still easily detect blocks of the standard text underlying this author/editor's imposing activity.
The editing is directed and purpose-driven, but nonetheless crude and stilted, and there is no attempt to completely rewrite the story smoothly. Instead, re-usable portions are simply interspersed with new material, in their regular order.
The Gospel of Barnabas and the Traditional Text of John are placed below in parallel columns. We have put the differences between the two texts (additions, omissions, substitutions) in blue, allowing easy comparison.
Gospel of Barnabas Traditional Text
Jesus having entered into the Temple,
the scribes and Pharisees brought to him a woman taken in adultery.
And at dawn Jesus came again into the Temple,
and all the people were coming to Him; and having sat down, He was teaching them.
And the scribes and Pharisees bring to Him a woman having been taken in adultery;
They said among themselves: "If he save her, it is contrary to the Law of Moses, and so we have him as guilty, and if he condemn her it is contrary to his own doctrine, for he preaches mercy.' Wherefore they came
And having set her in the midst,
to Jesus and said: "Master, we have found this woman in adultery.
Moses commanded that [such] should be stoned: what then say you?"
They say to Him,
"Teacher: This woman was taken in the very act, - committing adultery; and in the Law Moses commanded us that such be stoned; You then, what do you say?"
And this they said testing Him, that they might have something to accuse Him of.'
Then Jesus stooped down and with his finger made a mirror
on the ground
wherein every one saw his own iniquities.
But Jesus stooped down and with the finger wrote
upon the ground,
They still pressed for the answer, Jesus lifted up himself and pointing to the mirror with his finger, said:
'And when they continued pressing Him, having bent back, He said to them,
"He that is without sin among you, let him be first to stone her."
And again he stooped down, shaping the mirror.
"He that is without sin among you, Let him cast the first stone upon her!"
And again having leaned down, He was writing in the earth:
The men, seeing this, went out one by one, beginning from the eldest, for they were ashamed to see their abominations.
and they, having understood, being convicted by conscience, went forth one by one, beginning from the elders, even to the last.
And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst of the crowd.
Jesus having lifted up himself, and seeing no one but the woman, said:
"Woman, where are they that condemned you?"
But Jesus, having bent Himself back, and seeing no one but the woman, said to her,
" ...where are they, - your accusers? Did no one condemn you?"
The woman answered, weeping: "Lord, they are departed; and if you will pardon me as God lives, I will sin no more."
And she said, "No one, Lord."
Then Jesus said: "Blessed be God! Go your way in peace and sin no more, for God has not sent me to condemn you."
And Jesus said to her,
"Neither do I judge you: Go, and sin no more."
Editing Process Examined
(a) Skipping the Mount of Olives:
The first selective decision of our editor is to limit the extent of the insertion to Jn 8:2-11. This is in fact the natural choice of the Lectionary text, in which the passage was read as an independant stand-alone piece. "Barnabas" has no use for the original bridge-verses (7:53-8:1). He has already used the motif of Jesus ascending the Mount of Olives, teaching His disciples, and descending again in the early part of the book (Ch. 16-19a), to introduce his own "Sermon on the Mount".
(b) Omitting the Teaching of Crowds:
For the same reasons, "Barnabas" omits most of the opening scene in Jn 8:2.
(c) Explanatory Expansion of Pharisee plot:
Here "Barnabas" feels compelled to explain the difficult question of what exactly the 'test' was; He shows his true character as expositor rather than Evangelist. As a bonus, the uncomfortable focus upon "the Law" in the original dialogue is lessened by insertion here.
(d) Paraphrase from "Teacher" (Rabbi) to "Master": (Jn 8:4)
Overly Jewish features fade. This may simply be a result of translation into Italian/Latin.
(e) Removal of Redundant Narrative Aside: (Jn 8:6a)
John's original brief narrative note on motive is now omitted, as redundant.
(f) "Magical" Mirror: (Jn 8:6b/8/9)
Truly a unique and startling addition to the story, but conveniently removing the only two references to Jesus' writing. "Barnabas" has already made Jesus illiterate at the age of 12 (chapter 9), seeming to reveal some ignorance of Jewish life in Palestine. More problematic, the mirror's revelation becomes the reason for the retreat in shame of Jesus' opponents, rather than the (obviously superior) words of Jesus, which cause trouble to expositors to this day. Again "Barnabas" solution has no real connection to the story and even less credibility than John's original.
(g) Jesus alone, Woman Standing - Omitted:(Jn 8:9b)
Another problematic feature of the original is simply dropped, solving the problem, both of who remained, and unwanted focus on the woman's dignity.
(h) Jesus' Questions Combined &Shortened, Response Altered: (Jn 8:10b,11a)
All the ambiguous and undesirable features of the woman's behaviour is now dealt with in one swoop, by having the woman weep, beg for pardon, and promise to "sin no more". The original justification for her release (lack of witnesses) is cleverly removed, adding the need for the plea and promise.
(i) Jesus becomes Messenger of God, instead of Judge: (Jn 8:11b)
An explicit referral by Jesus to "God" removes any danger of divinity claims. His role as "Judge" is also neatly avoided.
Summary of Editing
"Barnabas" is clearly not hostile to the passage itself, for he has chosen to include it in his 'gospel' harmony. However, in that process he has felt compelled to address most of the major perceived problems of the passage, including its possible misuse to excuse sin or refusal to submit to authority. He shows a keen awareness of critiques of the passage and its interpretation, yet no awareness at all of its supposedly "doubtful status" as Holy Scripture belonging to John's Gospel.
This seems to indicate an attitude born inside the Church at a time when this passage was widely recognised as part of John. It also is in harmony with the character of "Barnabas" revealed elsewhere, in which he is familiar with many aspects of both Christianity and Islam, but his knowledge of each is greatly flawed.
Relevance to the Authenticity of the PA
That "Barnabas" may have used a previously composed "harmony" of the Gospels, similar to Tatian's Diatessaron cannot be ruled out by any means, but the final form of this 'gospel' still remains consistent with a late date of composition. It is tantalizing however, to note that if "Barnabas" has indeed used a previous work as a base, then this would become evidence of a much earlier acceptance and circulation of this passage. That would also be completely compatible with our knowledge of its popularity and circulation in the 5th century, in its normal location in John.