The Forgery of the Gospel of Barnabas
May 2012 version
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! What is the evidence (if any) of authenticity and chain of transmission, why should it not be rejected, just as other historically late fanciful hadiths and other alleged writings of Mohammed are rejected?
The rest of this paper gives the precise reasons why all orthodox Muslims and Christians should agree that the Gospel of Barnabas is a Medieval forgery.
The Gospel of Barnabas is known only in Italian, and no ancient writer ever referred to it. It mentions things that were not used until centuries later. Furthermore, other gospel forgeries written in Arabic were also found in Granada. They were discovered after 1588, and the forgers were Moors. Though one Muslim writer, Ata ur-Raham, has confused this with another writing called the Letter/Epistle of Barnabas, there is no similarity except for the name.
Contradicting both the Bible and Qur’an
Some Other Differences with the Bible
Some Other Differences with the Qur’an
These contradictions with the Qur’an or unusual teachings not present in the Qur’an also might make Muslims wary of appealing to this "Gospel".
General Errors - Sailing to Inland Cities
These mistakes demonstrate the author knew very little about the geography and history of Palestine.
Historical problems mention European things of the Middle Ages, which are out of place in Jesus’ time.
These "more than a few" errors prove that the book was written during the Middle Ages in Europe.
Clues on Who Wrote This Forgery
An Italian printer named Arrivabene in 1547 published the first Italian translation of the Koran. The writer of the Gospel of Barnabas was not well versed in Biblical history nor in orthodox Muslim theology, but apparently he (or she) was very knowledgeable of European Medieval customs. The Italian of the Gospel of Barnabas had evidence of both Venetian and Tuscan dialects. Latin spellings showing Latin Vulgate influence. There are also influences from Dante’s works.
There were Arabic notes in the margin. However, as David Sox (p.51) mentions, they were not written by an orthodox Muslim. The Raggs conjecture that since the dark green, oriental-type binding is very similar to the binding of a Turkish document of 1575 in the Venetian archives, the binding and marginal notes could both have been done in Constantinople.
First Suspect: Fra Marino was the father inquisitor of Venice from 1542 to 1550, and perhaps his motive was revenge (Sox p.68). Felice Peretti (the future Pope Sixtus V) was a severe, devoted inquisitor of Venice who made many enemies. In the sixteenth century there were 843 trials for Protestantism and Anabaptism, 65 for blasphemous speech and 148 for sorcery in Venice alone. (Sox p.57) In the 1530’s Venice was criticized for its tolerance. An Augustinian friar was punished for teaching heresy at the Church of St. Barnabas in Venice. (Sox p.59) A handwriting analysis of Fra Marino’s handwriting and the Gospel of Barnabas show they could have come from the same person according to Sox p.70.
Second Suspect: Anselmo Turmeda (who later became Abd-Allah ibn Abd Allah) from Majorca, Spain, studied in Bologna for ten years. In his biography, written 1383-1390, he claimed to be a priest before his conversion to Islam. His teacher at Bologna was a crypto-Muslim. De Epalza (p.63-64) says he was a converted Franciscan who took revenge on Christianity after his conversion to Islam. The mention of Spanish coins in the Gospel of Barnabas supports this theory.
Other Suspects: Other Gospel forgeries, these at least written by Moors in Arabic, are from Grenada. None was known prior to 1588 though.
Imagine you were a Muslim who was told that someone found a lost "book" from God. Among other things, this "Sura" mentioned that Mohammed sailed on a boat to Mecca, and this Sura contradicted the teaching of the Bible and contradicted the Qur’an on ten points. The oldest manuscript of the alleged Sura was written in Italian, which is both not a Mideastern language and did not even exist in the time of Mohammed. Finally, this supposed Sura had some historical customs, which did not occur until 1,000 years later in Europe.
It is safe to say a Muslims would probably have a few questions, to say the least. Before you embrace this medieval forgery as an authentic work that shows the "real" teachings of Jesus, remember that this work contradicts the Qur’an, too.
Geisler, Norman and Abdul Saleeb. Answering Islam. (Baker Books) 1993.
Gilchrist, John. Origins and Sources of the Gospel of Barnabas (Jesus to the Muslims) 1979.
Ragg, Lonsdale and Laura (translators). The Gospel of Barnabas. Bakhtyar Printers, Lahore, Pak., 1981.
You can read the Gospel of Barnabas in English online athttp://www.answering-christianity.com/barnabas.htm http://www.islam101.com/barnabas/chapter_index.htm http://www.latrobe.edu.au/arts/barnabas/Barnmain.html
The Gospel of Barnabas is mentioned in Yusuf Ali’s translation of the Qur’an p.268,334 and Sahih Muslim volume 4 footnote 2468 p.1254.