The Forgery of the Gospel of Barnabas
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
|Jesus is not the Messiah. ch.83 p.181 ch.97 p.223 ch.42 p.97 (Jesus is called the Messiah/Christ in Suras 5:75; 5:17 (2x), 3:45; 4:157, 171, 172, 9:30)|
|The Messiah is Mohammed. ch.97 p.225-227|
|A prophet’s words are only to the people they were sent to. ch.43 p.101 (Sura 4:150-151 says not to separate between messengers)|
|Ishmael was the ancestor of the Messiah. ch.190 p.425; ch.191 p.407; ch.208 p.459; ch.43 p.103|
|God created all things for Messiah. ch.191 p.427|
|God created everything for Mohammed ch.39 p.91 "[Mohammed] shall be my messenger, for whom I have created all things; who shall give light to the world when he shall come; whose soul was set in a celestial splendour sixty thousand years before I made anything."|
|"The messenger of God [Mohammed] shall answer: ‘O Lord, I remember that when thou didst create me, thou saidst that thou hadst willed to make for love of me the world and paradise, and angels and men, that they might glorify thee by me thy servant."ch.55 p.131. Also ch.56. p.133|
|Without faith in Mohammed, none will be saved. (Most Muslims do not believe you should have saving faith in Mohammed.) ch.192 p.429|
Some Other Differences with the Bible
|Jesus is a voice in the wilderness. ch.42 p.97|
|Angels "rolled" the soldiers away for Jesus. ch.153 p.355|
|Mohammed is coming. Ch.44 p.105|
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".
|Faithful Muslims who do not have works will be in Hell for 70,000 years. ch.137 p.319|
|Mohammed will go to Hell and be terrified as he beholds the punishment of others. ch.135 p.315|
|Mary gave birth to Jesus without pain. ch.3 p.9|
|Unlawful to hate anything except sin. ch.86 p.199|
|God is a father. ch.133 p.307|
|God is our Father. (-no sons, though) ch.17 p.31,33|
|There shall be no envy in Heaven ch.177 p.401|
|Jesus would sleep in like manner [die] and be speedily awakened. Ch.193 'Weep not, for Lazarus sleeps, and I am come to awake him.' The Pharisees said among themselves: 'Would to God that you did so sleep!' Then Jesus said: 'My hour is not yet come; but when it shall come I shall sleep in like manner, and shall be speedily awakened.' Then Jesus said again: 'Take away the stone from the sepulchre.' Said Martha: 'Lord, he stinks, for he has been dead four days. 'Jesus said: 'Why then am I come hither, Martha? Believe you not in me that I shall awaken him?'|
General Errors - Sailing to Inland Cities
These mistakes demonstrate the author knew very little about the geography and history of Palestine.
|Jesus went to the Sea of Galilee, and having embarked in a ship sailed to his city of Nazareth. ch.20 p.41 (Nazareth is inland.)|
|Romans said the idols were almighty. ch.152 p.353|
|Canaanites despised Pharisees. ch.144 p.335|
|Pharisees in Jesus’ time were very strange in their ascetism. ch.145 p.337-339|
|Funny things about Pharisees. ch.143 p.343-345|
|Rome has 28,000 gods. ch.152 p.353|
|Roman Senate decreed that none should call Jesus God of Son of God. ch.98 p.227, or speak of Jesus ch.157 p.367|
|Roman Senate’s decree. ch.210 p.461|
|People who preached penitence were called Nazarenes (after Jesus). ch.194 p.433|
|Judas smiled when the disciples mistook him for Jesus. ch.216 p.471|
|Israel says Jesus was God or the Son of God. ch.138 p.321|
|Barnabas was one of the disciples of Jesus. ch.83 p.191, ch.88 p.205, ch.19 p.39, ch.72 p.167|
|There was a great famine in Israel in Jesus’ time. ch.138 p.321|
|God gave Jesus bad consequences because others called Jesus God. ch.112 p.257|
|The mountains (plural) of Samaria. ch.81 p.189|
Historical problems mention European things of the Middle Ages, which are out of place in Jesus’ time.
|Coins in chapter 54 (golden denarius divided into sixty minuti) were Spanish.|
|Abraham’s father claimed there were an infinite number of gods. (The Sumerians did not have the concept of infinity) ch.26 p.57|
|"Whereupon, as the food was going down [Adam’s throat], he remembered the words of God; wherefore, wishing to stop the food, he put his hand into this throat, where every man has the mark." ("Adam’s apple" was first a Medieval European phrase) ch.40 p.93|
|Pilate was governor when Jesus was born. ch.3 p.7|
|Jews taught to fast, do alms, make prayer, and go on pilgrimage. ch.89 p.207|
|Jubilee is now every 100 years. ch.83 p.191-193|
|Kings’ barons. ch.131 p.301|
|You desire horses like knights. ch.69 p.159|
|The burden of the republic. ch.69 p.161|
|Courtiers. ch.133 p.307|
|After the nightly prayer. ch.131 p.299|
|Pinnacle where the scribes used to preach. ch.127 p.291, ch.129 p.297, ch.12 p.19|
|Prodigal son, new [leg] hose. ch.147 p.241|
|God is not composite. ch.161 p.377|
|Man is composite. ch.168 p.389|
|Lazarus and his two sisters were proprietors in other towns of Magdala and Bethany, just like in the Middle Ages! ch.194 p.433|
|Jesus (really Judas) was dressed as a juggler. ch.217 p.475|
|Fistula (A medical term not used until the Middle Ages for a drainage opening made in the body) ch.120 p.275|
|Jesus could not read at age 12. ch.9 p.15|
|Do penance. ch.121 p.277|
|Jesus made prayer in union with the messenger of God and heard Mohammed’s voice. ch.84 p.195|
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 David 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 at
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.
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