Why did Jesus warn about religious leaders?

When Jesus prophesied Mohammed

A gospel in which none other than Jesus speaks of someone who would come after him who would be more important? And then, as it turns out in the course of the further presentation, justament Mohammed, the founder of Islam?

What sounds very absurd actually exists. The so-called "Gospel of Barnabas" has become known to a broad public at least since the beginning of the 20th century, when the Anglican priest Lonsdale Ragg published the book "The Gospel of Barnabas", which he wrote with his wife Laura. In it, the Italian text of the Gospel is edited and provided with an extensive introduction.

Enthusiastic reception in the Islamic world

The Gospel of Barnabas soon found an extremely enthusiastic reception in the Islamic world, in the course of which numerous translations into various Islam-relevant languages ​​were created. The most important of these was published at the instigation of the important Egyptian reformist Rashid Rida (1865-1935), who was enthusiastic about the text.

At last the truth about the life story and actual task of Jesus, who also has an important role as a prophet in Islam, would be found. This argumentation is related to the Islamic tradition around the so-called "Tahrīf", which refers to the alleged falsification of an originally correct revelation to the prophets before Mohammed. This concerned the writings of Christianity, but also those of Judaism, whose Torah is also an important revelation text according to Islamic theology.

The unknown "apostle" Barnabas

The fascination with the Gospel of Barnabas continues to the present day. It wasn't until 2007 that a film was released in Iran that is present in international distribution with the title "The Messiah" (in Persian actually: Bishārat monji, literally something like: "Good news of the Savior"). It has been interpreted as a kind of response to Mel Gibson's much-discussed film "The Passion of the Christ" and is intended to present an Islamic perspective on Jesus. The director Nader Talebzadeh consciously used elements of the Barnabas Gospel, which led to some violent protests by Christians there when the film was broadcast in Lebanon. Based on Turkish media reports, an alleged text find of an "original" Aramaic Gospel of Barnabas made the rounds in Eastern Anatolia in 2012, which, however, has not yet been made available to the public - and, according to the photos published so far, does not give the impression that the supposed original is closed be.

The fact that this text was only encountered at the beginning of the 20th century or, in a few cases, as early as the middle of the 19th century, and that not a single Islamic author, either of the classical period or afterwards, knew anything about this ominous gospel, would have been but have to make suspicious. And it should, because according to all scientific findings, this undoubtedly fascinating text is certainly not one thing: an authentic description of the life of Jesus, written by the "apostle" Barnabas, as the text suggests in its introduction.

A (supposed) original of the Gospel of Barnabas does not yet exist and it will never be found. Rather, the text is available in two manuscripts that were clearly written late. One of them - the only completely preserved - is in the manuscript collection of the Vienna National Library and actually comes from the extensive private library of Prince Eugene. It is a text in wild Tuscan Italian with Venetian dialect touches with numerous marginal notes in a sometimes horrible Arabic.

Attempts at dating vary between the 14th century and the 16th century, and its exterior shape is most likely to suggest Istanbul as the place where it was made. In addition to this clearly older Italian text, some Spanish versions have been known since the 18th century, a fragment of which was discovered in the University Library of Sydney in 1976, comprising roughly half the text. It differs from the Italian text in many ways and appears to be something of a clarifying translation.

Waiting for Mohammed

What does the preserved text of this "Gospel" contain? Actually it is a very extensive life description of Jesus in 222 chapters from his birth to the crucifixion. The basic structure and much of the content is based to a large extent on the well-known Gospels of the New Testament. However, all of this has been expanded to include content in essential places that put the work of Jesus in a completely different light.

His real task would have been to point out the imminent arrival of a much more important religious founder who will come after him. And in the second half of the Gospel at the latest, the person referred to is called by name: it is none other than Mohammed, the later founder of Islam.

In addition, there are materials that essentially do not come from the Christian tradition, for example a rather curious expansion of the legend about the biblical patriarch Abraham and his rebellious youth, or the representation of a group of "true Pharisees" who already refer to the Old Testament Prophet Elijah is said to go back and has always been committed to absolute monotheism. A finale furioso the text finally has a rewritten Passion story, which cancels the essential contents of the Christian tradition. The crucifixion does take place, but not Jesus but Judas is crucified. This was namely changed by God personally into Jesus in an unnoticed moment and despite repeated assurances that he was not the right one, he was finally hung on the cross - as a just punishment for betrayal.

Origins in the Moriskan culture?

The Gospel of Barnabas is undoubtedly a curiosity in the history of literature and religion. Where can such a text come from? Who goes to such trouble, starts such an extensive undertaking to allegedly correct the Christian gospels? Investigations into the factual origin of the Italian text have so far not produced any real results. The first descriptions of the manuscript date from the late 17th century and connect the text with a free-thinking, anti-Trinitarian milieu in Amsterdam, where all traces are lost.

So far there has only been a single attempt at an explanation that can establish a specific religious milieu in which the creation of such a text at least seems plausible and also has parallels. These are the ones mentioned moriscos, these are the Muslims of Spain who were forcibly converted to Christianity. After the "Reconquista" of the Iberian Peninsula by the "Catholic Kings" with the capitulation of Granada in 1492, the many Muslims of the former al-Andalus had to come to terms with the new situation. Initially, the practice of their religion was tolerated, but from 1502 onwards, forced conversion and the expropriation of Muslim religious institutions began. Incidentally, the Muslims fared here in a similar way to the Jews, who were forced to join the conversos were. Because it was assumed that many continued to practice their faith in secret and only convert outwardly to Catholicism, one of the tasks of the Spanish Inquisition was then to transfer these hidden Muslims. All of this ended between 1609 and 1614 with the final expulsion of the so-called still remaining moriscos (literally actually "little moors"). These dispersed into a diaspora, where, in addition to the North African region, the then Islamic empire of the Ottomans was relevant.

There are now amazing text finds that are related to the Morisk culture and that allow a unique insight into a very peculiar religious tradition. Most fascinating are the so-called "Aljamiado" texts, which are written in various Ibero-Romance languages ​​but in Arabic letters - which was a way of obscuring their content. Today's remnants of this literature offer, in part, extremely sophisticated literary evidence, for example poems about biblical figures such as Joseph or legends about various historical figures.

Besides these attempts at concealment, another option of the suppressed moriscos was active literary attack. The most sensational episode in this context were the so-called "lead books" or "lead books from the Sacromonte" (Plomos or Libros plúmbeos del Sacromonte). Between 1595 and 1606, 22 "books" were found in caves under the monastery on the Sacromonte in Granada - directly opposite the famous Muslim Alhambra.

They were described in a strange mixture of Arabic and Latin and told an incredible story: The Virgin Mary would have turned to the apostles James and St. Cäcilius and entrusted them with the Christianization of Spain as early as the first century. And this ancient Spain would have had a completely different character: Arabic would have been the language of the inhabitants even then and the first Christians in Granada were actually Arabs. The finds were initially received with great enthusiasm by the local clergy because they seemed to prove that Granada was dominant over all other Christian centers. But many remained skeptical and after the texts were transferred to Rome in 1642 and examined in detail, they were discarded as forgeries in 1682. Today it is assumed that they come from intellectuals from the Morisk milieu, since they wanted to suggest the close connection between Spain and the Arabs and to prove it in a Christian way.

Claim to truth

This intellectual and highly literary milieu could best be linked to the emergence of the Gospel of Barnabas. An attempt was even made to give a specific name. For example, Miguel de Luna (circa 1545-1615), who was born in a Morisk family, would be a potential candidate who has already presented a sensational forgery: In his book La verdadera historia del rey Rodrigo ("The true story of King Roderic") he presents an alternative version of the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, which seeks to positively occupy the Arabs and Islam. A rewritten new Christian gospel would be a welcome continuation of this venture.

The counterfeit character of this Gospel could now be brought to the fore. Indeed, with products of this type, one can show the fortune-telling demeanor, the chutzpah of the authors and their trust in one mundus vult decipi - the world wants to be cheated - not to be ignored. However, terms like "forgery" or the like are difficult to define in the history of religion. All religions are full of texts that make claims that are beyond any verifiability and verifiability. Attributions to authors and the recourse to religious authorities are common property of almost all religious literature. Therefore this text should perhaps be interpreted more as a result of the millennia-old struggle between genetically closely related religions, as an amalgam that developed at the many possible interfaces and transition fields of the closely related religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam. (Franz Winter, August 23, 2017)


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