Friday, August 20, 2010

Explaining the Gospel of Barnabas's Identification of Mohammed as 'the Messiah'

First the Wikipedia explanation of the Gospel of Barnabas:

The Gospel of Barnabas is a substantial book depicting the life of Jesus; and claiming to be by Jesus's disciple Barnabas, who in this work is one of the twelve apostles. Two manuscripts are known to have existed, both dated to the late sixteenth century and written respectively in Italian and in Spanish; although the Spanish manuscript is now lost, its text surviving only in a partial eighteenth-century transcript. Barnabasis about the same length as the four canonical gospels put together (the Italian manuscript has 222 chapters); with the bulk being devoted to an account of Jesus' ministry, much of it harmonised from accounts also found in the canonical gospels. In some key respects, it conforms to the Islamic interpretation of Christian origins and contradicts the New Testament teachings of Christianity.

And now an article I found quite interesting.

The so-called Gospel of Barnabas (abbreviated in this article with the capital letters GB; GBI= the Italian, GBS the Spanish text, etc...) is a forgery by all definitions. I quote by way of example the following definition from the article "Literary forgery" in the Encyclopaedia Britannica: "A forgery is essentially a piece of work created or modified with an intention to deceive" (Fn01). The 1907 critical edition of this gospel by Lonsdale and Laura Ragg established this fact with such force of conviction that it had "the effect of a death-blow to scholarly regard in the West" (Fn02). That was the reason why their critical edition went further unnoticed in Western theological scholarship, though copies of it remained on the shelves of libraries and were never removed, destroyed or hidden, as some Muslim polemists have claimed.

The young Spanish scholar Prof.Dr Luis Bernabé wrote two major studies about the GBS, one in Spanish the other in German. I refer to him as Luis Bernabé lest author and reader get confused (nomen est omen sometimes) about who is meant Paul's apostolic companion, the supposed author of the Spanish and Italian gospels we are dealing with in this article, or the learned Spaniard who tried to unravel this mystery. He himself attempts to avoid this confusion by referring to the supposed author as San Bernabé, Saint Barnabas. But he will agree that this is not really a way out. The Saint Barnabas we know from the Bible has nothing to do with these forgeries and the one who borrows his name and title to provide coverage for his literary crime is far from deserving sainthood. Would it not have been simpler to put the word 'San' in quotation marks? But this is only a minor point. Already in 1987 Luis Bernabé had proved his competence in the field of Morisco studies by analysing a great Islamic poem by the important Morisco author Ibrahim Taybili, already referred to by L.Cardaillac and Epalza (see above).

In this poem Luis Bernabé noticed a reference to Muhammad as the Messiah! On 3 June 1992 Luis Bernabé defended a thesis on 'Edicion Y Estudio del Manuscrito Español del Evangelio de Bernabe Evangelio hispano-islámico de autor morisco (siglos XVI-XVII)' in the university of Alicante. His advisers were Miguel Angel Lozano and Míkel de Epalza. His research is in line with the earlier publications on the GBS by his teacher and now his colleague Professor Epalza (see the preface to this article). The manuscript of Luis Bernabé, of which I received a copy, consists of five parts and 834 pages. Part B1 of his thesis contains a textcritical edition of the incomplete Spanish manuscript of the GB of Barnabas which was found in Sydney, Australia, to which he added his own translation from Italian into Spanish of the parts missing in the Sydney text. This Spanish translation is not found in the book Dr Bernabé published at the end of 1995 which I received in March 1996.

His scholarly edition of the Spanish text of the GB is in the press. But surprisingly in the mean time a Muslim in Mexico published a translation in Spanish which is based on the English translation of Laura and Lonsdale Ragg of the Italian Manuscript. My summary of Dr Bernabé's findings is based on his book: El Evangelio de San Bernabé Un evangelio islámico español (Fn16) and on his article which contains a German translation of a further elaboration of his thesis (Fn17). The latter article was published in September 1996 in volume 4 of Religionen im Gespraech (Religions in dialogue): Zur Wahrheit und Echtheit des Barnabasevangeliums (Concerning the truth and authenticity of the Gospel of Barnabas).

The thrust of Dr L.Bernabé's studies is that the contents of both the GBI and the GBS can be fully explained in all details when we assume that the GB originated in a Morisco milieu and was written by a Morisco scholar. This thesis excludes, in his view, all often very ingenious speculations by Cirillo and others, mainly Muslim apologists, about a supposedly early Christian basic text, which was obviously used by a late medieval author for his pro-Muslim treatise. He agrees with De Epalza that all Jewish and Christian roots found in the GB belong to a common religious legacy of Jewish, Christian and Muslim Spain. A hypothetical "Urtext" is completely unneccesary to explain the origins and the contents of this so-called gospel.

In the introduction he states that he does not deal with the question how the GB has affected Christian-Muslim relations, but that he wants to analyse the GBS as a literary Spanish entity which contained the creative and dynamic capacity to shape an "evangelical" text which agrees with islam (16). In the first chapter he traces the complicated history of the Italian and the (incomplete) Spanish texts, the former ending up via Amsterdam in the Imperial library in Vienna, the latter via various libraries and auctions ending up in Sydney. The Dutch author and islamicist Adriaan Reeland already in 1705 seems to have heard of a new gospel compilation in an Arabic/Spanish manuscript (26). Chapter II deals with the apostolic figure Barnabas (Acts 4, 34-37) and the works which were attributed to him in history and legends about him in the early church. Luis Bernabé reduces the conflict of Barnbas with St Paul to its due proportions (Acts 15: 36-40). Barnabas's connection with the church in Cyprus will play its part in the history of other Morisco forgeries preceding the GB (see below).

Chapter III contains a detailed analysis of the GBS (pp.53-159). It shows that there is hardly a chapter among a total of 222 which does not contain an Islamic dimension. Luis Bernabé explains the extraordinary length of the GB, not so much by comparing it with long gospelharmonies (Diatessaron, etc...), - which possibility in my view should not be fully excluded -, but as an answer to the Muslim claim that the four gospels are incomplete. They do not contain a comprehensive code of life as does the Qur'ân combined with the Hadith. The unknown author of the GB makes up for that by using various devices. One is the question and answer method of Jewish rabbis and their pupils, the other is by lengthy moral and dogmatic discourses which disrupt the dynamics of the gospel narrative found in the four canonical gospels. By using a lot of material from the prophets in the Old Testament and by referring in the preface to early church Fathers he creates an 'isnad' (= chain of transmitters in hadith literature) of authority and achieves at the same time an Islamic purpose by demonstrating that the GB and its Old Testament predecessors pass on an essentially identical message which finds its final expression in the Qur'ân.

Chapter IV about Islam and the Gospels shows how cleverly the author combines Christian and Muslim notions about what makes a true gospel. Already at the end of Jesus lifetime it becomes clear that the original gospel which descended upon Jesus heart with the help of the angel Gabriel and which functioned as a 'reflecting mirror' was irretrievably lost. Therefore the GB is not the 'Indjil' of Jesus, but as close to it as the circumstances allow. The original but lost Gospel would have been a worthy predecessor of the Qur'ân. That is why Jesus returns to earth to assign to Barnabas as his most reliable disciple the task to write down what he remembers. The author of the GB opts for a 'Christian' solution. The form of his gospel tallies with Christian concepts.

The disciples have to make up for the loss. But Jesus own intervention in favour of Barnabas in one move disqualifies the four canonical gospels as subject to 'tahrif' or intentional changes in a Pauline direction. St Paul being the person responsible for changing the original message of Jesus (Fn18). But still the result will be a book which is inferior to the Qur'ân! By choosing the Christian model and using and retouching a lot of material taken from the four gospels in an islamic sense the author tried to show how close the church and Islam are. In other words the text may serve to help Moriscos to find a legitimate place next to Christians in Spain. The Gospel of John takes a prominent place as source of the GB.

Chapter V on the Qur'ânic christology of the GB offers an explanation why the Morisco author(s) speak(s) of Muhammad rather than Jesus as the promised Messiah. In line with suggestions by De Epalza, Luis Bernabé shows from within the dynamics of the GB itself why the title Messiah is denied to Jesus ( NB: in Jesus' own words!) and given to Muhammad. The title Messiah (Al-Masih) in the Qur'ân was hardly more than a name and a title for Jesus of which 'mufassir'- give various interpretations. So what was possible in the Qur'an was no longer possible almost a thousand years later in a (new) gospel in a religious context which attributed great importance to the title Messiah. For the Roman Catholic Church in Spain during the conflict between inquisition and Moriscos the title Messiah implied finality of revelation and fulfilment of all the Old Testament prophecies, incarnation, divine sonship, sharing in the Holy Trinity and saviourhood.

All these "high" christological connotations of the word Messiah are denied by Islam and consequently by a Morisco author such as al-Taybili who is quoted by Luis Bernabé (209). What about Muhammad? He for Islam is the final prophet, who brings the conclusive message, his mission is meant for the whole world whereas Jesus' mission was limited to Israel. Muhammad therefore deserves the title Messiah more than Jesus. The high christological 'honorary' titles of Jesus are of course not transferred to the Prophet Muhammad. The name Messiah in his case is adorned with fully Islamic high titles. Jesus' inferior position becomes clear because he, in the Muslim view, according to both Qur'ân (Ahmad 61, 2) and Bible (John 14, 26 and parallels), predicts the coming of Muhammad. That is exactly what Jesus does in the GB! The Morisco authors were well aware of the practice of Muslim apologists of combining John's speaking of the Paraclete (or Periclytos) as referring not to the Holy Spirit but to Muhammad with Jesus' prediction in Sura 61, 2. Jesus is thus reduced to the status of forerunner-messenger and is assigned the role of John the Baptist, who completely disappeared from the gospel. Jesus (not John the Baptist) is quoted saying: "O Mohammed, God be with thee, and may he make me worthy to untie thy shoelatchet, for obtaining this I shall be a great prophet and holy one of God." Cf. Mark 1:7 on John the Baptist and 1:24 about 'the Holy One of God'.

In a final sixth chapter Luis Barnabé describes the 'plot' leading to the gospel. It started on the 18th of March 1588 when workers discovered a leadbox under the ruins of a minaret in Granada (a church will be built on the same place; this is of course highly symbolic for the situation of conflict between a dominant party and a minority J.S.) containing a bone (of St.Stephen) a painting and a parchment supposedly written by the patron saint of Granada Cecilio containing a text in Latin, Arabic and Castilian, with a prophecy of Saint John meant for Granada. The Morisco Miguel de Luna translator for King Philip II is asked to translate the Arabic. Two other specialists were invited to check his translation. Pope Sixtus V (the same in whose library the GBI would be found; this is no coincidence; Sixtus V was moreover responsible for an important edition of the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible) gives permission to continue the investigations on the authencity.

The archbishop of Granada is thrilled because the finds increase the prestige of his see (Fn19). He therefore ignored warnings mentioning Miguel de Luna and Alonso del Castillo as possible forgers. A copy of a letter warning him has been preserved. Miguel de Luna was the author of a controversial history of Rodrigo the last Visigothic king in which the Muslims are portrayed as the true liberators from barbarism. Seven years later in February 1595 twenty-two leadbooks are found in Granada. The texts relate the arrival of St James in Spain with his disciples among them again patron saint Cecilio. One book about the "Truth of the Gospel" is attributed to the mother of Jesus. Mary received it from Gabriel in a splendid light (a motive returning in the GB). St James gets the task to hide this book in Spain lest it falls victim to alterations. The book will later be discovered by a holy priest, who will be helped in this task by Arabs, God's last chosen people.

The great champion of this gospel will be a great conqueror king of the Arab kings but not an Arab king himself (probably a reference to the Ottoman Sultan by whom the Moriscos expected to be rescued). This 'king of kings' will call a council on the island of Cyprus and have the book " Truth of the gospel" and another book accepted by it. Cyprus as is wellknown was the island of St Barnabas, where according to legend his body with the gospel of Matthew on his breast was discovered between 480-490). Why was Barnabas chosen as the author and not the real patron saint of Spain, Saint James (of Compostella). Luis Bernabé argues, because the leadbooks in which St James had a central place were already suspected and scrutinized. Though it was not until 1682 that Rome passed judgement on these books because of Islamic ideas found in the text, as e.g. the frequently occurring formula: "There is no god but God". Luis Bernabé mentions several names of Morisco scholars who possessed the learning in both religions which would have enabled them to write the GB. He mentions several possible candidates: Miguel de Luna, Ahmad al Hayari Bejarano and most likely Ibrahim Taybili a man of double culture. The scene seemed to be set for launching the Gospel of Barnabas, which as we know for certain existed in 1634, because it was mentioned in a book written by the Morisco scholar Taybili.

Why was the GB never published and diffused? Luis Bernabé has a simple and ingenious answer. He assumes that the plotters (including the author) were so surprised by the measures of the Spanish government between 1609 and 1614 to expel all Moriscos that there whole plan had lost its meaning. The syncretistic text of the GB made it useful for Moriscos in Spain but not in exile in Morocco, Tunis or Turkey. Preparing a forgery such as the GB must have taken years of preparation. So one could not expect the GB to be ready very soon after the succesful forgeries of 1588 and 1595. What a disappointment it was for the forgers that the whole Morisco milieu in Spain in which it could have functioned disappeared by this royal order to leave the country. An important question to be discussed remains why the forgers needed two texts, one in Spanish and one in Italian. De Epalza already suggested that an Italian version linked with the same Pope Sixtus V who had given permission to make inquiries about the origins of the discoveries in Granada in 1588 and 1595 would lend support to the claim for authenticity of the text of the GB.

In other words the Spanish preface stating that the Spanish text was translated from an Italian original is found in the Pope's library was a "literary device" (Van Koningsveld). It was meant to deceive and to mislead. It mixes truths and lies. The supposedly Italian original had to come from the central place of ecclesiastical authority that is from the Pope himself. The original could therefore not be Spanish. That is why the Spanish preface (a preface is lacking in the Italian MS) states that it is a translation. But it is the other way round. For this thesis De Epalza and L.Bernabé also present several linguistic arguments. This explains most probably why the Italian manuscript in Vienna has empty pages where the Spanish has a preface, as I was able to see myself during a visit of the Viennese national library on the 15th of May 1997. The translator was either suddenly stopped completing the preface or, as seems more likely, he did not know what to write. If as the Spanish text claims the Italian is the original, what was the original of this original supposed to be: Latin, Greek, Aramaic? To this question no answer is given. Because the answer would have given him away! After these personal reflections I continue my review of the thesis of L.Bernabé.

He assumes that the Italian manuscript in Vienna is most probably the one supposedly surreptiously taken away from the Papal library by Fra Marino. Moreover Pope Sixtus V had both a personal record with the inquisition and he was the founder of the great papal library. Thus there were two more reasons to target him in the preface besides his involvment in the Granadan affair. Luis Bernabé has one more brilliant suggestion to identify not Fra Marino as a person but his prototype. In the Spanish preface Fra Marino is portrayed in the role of a great scholar who in the direct service of the Pope gets the chance to rewrite church history by finding a very early document, just as in the case of the leadbooks in Granada. Luis Bernabé recognized the prototype of this monk Fra Marino in the great orientalist scholar Fray Marco Marini (1542-1594).
Within the context of this article it was impossible to do full justice to the thorough investigations of Dr Luis Bernabé. That is why I hope he will start publishing in English as well, because his opponents publish mainly in that language. Via the medium of English it will reach also those who write in Arabic, Urdu etc.. In conclusion in my view De Epalza, L.Bernabé and G.Wiegers (see below) have decisevely demonstrated that there can be only one milieu in which the Gospel of Barnabas can have come into existence: the community of the Moriscos in Spain, which had to leave between 1609-1614 for North Africa and Istanbul.

Whether we will ever be able to identify exactly who the author could have been seems less important. The fact that a limited number of Morisco scholars could have qualified for this role is in itself a compliment to the detective reasoning of Luis Bernabé. The number is therefore limited because only the most intelligent person(s) in the Morisco community would have been able to accomplish such a clever forgery. Even if the reconstruction of the intellectual face of the forger(s) seems closely recognizable, the scholar detective can only be sure if he finds the missing link.

Dr L.Bernabé, had, as we noticed in the previous paragraph his own, in my view convincing, explanation why the GB calls Muhammad rather than Jesus the Messiah. Dr.Wiegers in Leiden raised the question whether we can trace this idea in the writings of other (than the author of the GB) Morisco authors. Before I present his argument I quote Dr.Wiegers' conclusion in his own words: "Nevertheless we may conclude that in the seventeenth century the idea of Muhammad as the Messiah really was confined to a small group of Morisco writings and the Gospel of Barnabas" (Fn20).

In his research Dr.Wiegers came across another manuscript in the same collection in Madrid as consulted by Cardaillac, De Epalza and L.Bernabé but not described by them namely BNM MS no 9655 which though not mentioning the GB shows a number of remarkable parallels with the Gospel of Barnabas. The fact that it does not mention the GB may be an indication to the fact that BNM MS 9655 preceded the GB and was used by its author as one of its sources. Dr.Wiegers' argument is too detailed to reproduce at great length. The key issues will, however, be presented. From other contemporary Muslim sources it is known that the author of MS 9655 was Juan Alonso from Aragon, a child of Christian parents, master of theology who turned Muslim and left for Tetuan. He displays a thorough knowledge of the Christian heritage. Several works meant for the Morisco community were written by this Juan Alonso. The original was written between 1602 and 1612.

The first date because in 1602 the Protestant Bible translation was published which Alonso used. Several Morisco authors used Protestant books and arguments against the Roman Catholic Church. Juan Alonso is no exception. The second date 1612 because in that year Alonso himself referred to the anti-Jewish and anti-Christian text contained in MS 9655 which cannot be dated later. The manuscript is in Spanish in Latin characters. "The Arabic of the marginal notes is in a cursive Maghribi hand". Unfortunately the beginning and end of the MS are missing, but so much is left that it allows the reader to follow Alonso's five arguments against the divine nature of Jesus. He does so within the context of a refutation of the Apostolic Creed.

When Jesus spoke about himself as the Son of God he meant it in a metaphorical way. Alonso calls Jesus "the messiah of the gospel" (Spanish: evangelico mesias), Elijah redivivus, whose mission is limited to Israel as distinguished from the universal Messiah Muhammad (Spanish: mesias general) Cf. Barnabas chapter 82, where exactly the same con trast is made by Jesus himself. Jesus mission is limited to Israel, Muhammad's mission is universal. Several times the author of this MS claims that the texts of both the present Old- and the New Testament are corrupt.

As in the GB this theme returns again and again. The author also compares other rituals in the three monotheistic religions such as prayers, ablutions, fasting, etc.. One of the signs of corruption of the church is that it punishes those who circumcise their children as the Moriscos and Marranos (= crypto-Jews) do secretly in Spain. This is a big issue as well in the GB (preface; chapters 5, 23 etc.). Wiegers underlines both similarities and differences. The author of the MS writes about Islamic rituals in non-Islamic, often Christian, terminology. The Al-fâtiha prayer for example is called the Lord's prayer. A similar use of terminology is found in the GB. I may add a example I found myself the author of the MS uses the word cenophega for the feast of the tabernacles and so does GB chapter 30.

All three monotheistic religions confess that there is one God, he concludes, with twenty attributes. The number twenty comes from kalâm or Muslim theology. They define faith in much the same way and believe that all prophets were sent as a light and guidance for the world. A long section is devoted to the differences between canonical and apocryphal books. In the early church these books were hidden (the theme of concealing books returns in the GB). Apocryphal books in Juan Alonso's view are thosen taken away from the canonical ones and excluded from the 'regula fidei'. Anti-trinitarian gospels are in his view more authentic than others. The book breaks off in the middle of the discussion about the polemical issue concerning Israel and Ishmael. This theme returns too in the GB. Alonso also quotes from Pérez de Chinchón who under the cloak of attacking the Qur'ân tried to introduce Erasmian ideas. For the latter reason his book was put on the index.

Alonso's books contain errors both while describing Islamic and Christian ideas. This happens also in the GB, because it is of course extremely difficult to be equally well informed about two religions. Some Morisco authors belonged to this rare category of scholars who more or less mastered two religious systems in great detail. The watermark of the Italian MS of the GB, so Wiegers, is identical to the one contained in Morisco manuscript BNM MS 6016. The Italian MS of the GB was written in an Ottoman milieu. "The marginal notes in Arabic consist of a nearly complete series of Arabic chapter-titles (called sûras). "The impression is thereby created of a gospel which really deserves to be seen as a worthy precursor of the Qur'ân." Wiegers concludes.'

A striking similarity between the Spanish and Italian manuscripts is moreover that the GBS mentions the archangels Azrael and Azrafel, as if writing for Muslims, the GBI reads Rafael and Uriel, as if writing for Christians, but the marginal notes in Arabic of the GBI has again Azrael and Azrafel. This proves the unity of the texts and probably identical authorship, but certainly the same scribe. These marginal notes interpret the main text in Islamic fashion. e.g. on chapter 44 on Ishmael and Isaac.

Returning to the similarities between the text of Juan Alonso and the GB, Wiegers stresses that the concept both in BNM 9655 and the GB of Muhammad as the Messiah is closely linked with the denial that Jesus is the Son of God. Further in both manuscripts Jesus was a manifestation of Elijah. Both texts are equally anti-clerical and if we include the preface to the GBS where Pope Sixtus is mentioned, anti-papal. Both texts make of Jesus a Muslim 'avant la lettre'. In both books Psalm 110 plays an important part in proving the Messiahship of Muhammad. Both texts often speak of textual corruption by Jews and Christians. Both BNM 9655 and the preface of the GBS mention Irenaeus and Ignatius as opponents of St Paul. Critics have drawn attention to the fact that the GBS and GBI call Pilate presidente or preside. But so does BNM 9655 while following Valera's Protestant Bible translation into Spanish.

Wiegers rightly concludes: "The similarities between the Gospel of Barnabas and MS 9655, which cannot be mere coincidence, seem to indicate the existence of an influence from MS 9655 upon the Gospel of Barnabas rather than vice-versa." The major reason for assigning influence upon the GB rather than the other way round may be the fact that MS 9655 has a "King Jesus of Damascus" substituting for Jesus rather than Judas as happens at the end of the GB at the time of the crucifixion. The reason for this 'correction' consisting of the replacement of Jesus by Judas was of course more in line with Islamic exegesis of Sura 4, 157 and fitted better into a gospel context. The story of this "King Jesus" had moreover too many details in common with the Greek myth of Oedipus Rex to be convincing anyhow. But both MS 9655 and the GB link Damascus with the gospel story. [original source]

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