Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Anatomy of Pseudo-Barnabas’ Mistakes: Part 1

The Curse of the Evangelists: Confusion and contradiction

Masud Masihiyyen

An unknown figure of the medieval period that had his peculiar reasons to betray his Christian faith decided to devise a new Gospel compatible with the Islamic creed and tradition and attributed his forgery to the Apostle Barnabas, naming his fake writing the “Gospel of Barnabas”. Although we cannot know with certainty the real name of the author, we know that he had never read the Islamic scripture in his lifetime, but based his partly-Islamic propaganda on the Islamic traditions concerning Christianity and Judaism. While penning a Gospel that would challenge and rival the canonical scriptures of Christianity and cast doubt upon the reliability of the Christian creed, fake Barnabas chose a strategy that would be both beneficial and detrimental to him: using the canonical Gospels and some other writings of the New Testament as his primary source and framework.

Apart from the cultural and linguistic problems reflecting its anachronistic nature and medieval environment, some of the errors detected in this forgery are a result of the author’s inevitable dependence on the material drawn from the canonical Christian scripture. We can liken the author of this forgery to a naughty kid that played with fire and burned himself. All of the errors that we shall analyze in this article stemmed from Pseudo-Barnabas’ reckless distortion of the canonical Gospels. While tampering with the original texts and narratives, he also tried to unite differing accounts by working them into one single volume, which caused him more trouble because reconciling some accounts necessitated the deletion or replacement of some others in accordance with his dream of creating a perfect and Islamic Gospel.

The examination of Pseudo-Barnabas’ mistakes reveals that his eagerness to counter the canonical Gospels and make some corrections in them for the sake of his theory impelled him to make more mistakes. Thus, the very mistakes that stemmed from the correction and improvement of the supposedly fallacious and weak narratives in the four Gospels depict Pseudo-Barnabas as a person who was punished by God in return for his tampering with the original and inspired scriptures. In this respect, there will be nothing wrong with drawing a parallelism between Muhammad and Pseudo-Barnabas, both of whom not only plagiarized from Christian sources, but also modified the borrowed material during incorporation into their scripture. In Muhammad’s case, it was the apocryphal writings of Christianity that were changed and adapted whilst in Pseudo-Barnabas’ case the canonical scriptures of Christianity. Both these figures invented new and falsified accounts that aimed to repudiate and replace basic Christian doctrines while struggling to devise an error-free narrative through the removal of some parts that seemed troublesome and irreconcilable with their teachings. As we discussed at length in our article concerning the source and structure of Surah 19, the writers of the apocryphal Gospels, figuratively speaking, imposed a curse on Muhammad and his scripture, which compelled the new Islamic version of the narratives to contain absurdities and errors. The same is valid for Pseudo-Barnabas’ work, which is replete with errors and anomalies due to the curse imposed on him by the four Evangelists.

Betrayal of textual coherence: The contradiction concerning the route of Jesus’ mission

While penning his forgery, fake Barnabas sometimes borrowed more than enough material from the canonical Gospels in an effort to convince his reader that his writing was the original text that the other Evangelists plagiarized from. He had the same motive for collecting differing accounts from the canonical Gospels and presenting them in a unified form through the elimination of the differences in details. These were natural things that a crafty writer would be expected to do while producing a fake copy of the scriptures in order to make his version seem original. However, this strategy became detrimental to Pseudo-Barnabas since he did not take into account the significance of textual coherence. The Evangelists were individually inspired to commit the Gospel to writing in a way peculiar to them. This is why they gave priority to the textual unity of their writings and tried to apply coherence within their respective texts before caring about the differences that would occur in the narration of an incident or worrying about the possibility that another Evangelist would record the same account in quite a different way.

For example, in the Gospel of Luke the theme of traveling from Galilee to Judea with a religious motive is dominant even in the accounts of Jesus’ nativity and infancy. Right after the annunciation, Jesus’ mother departed from Nazareth and went to the hill country of Judea to visit her relative Elizabeth (1:39-40). Likewise, Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, but went to Jerusalem on two different occasions to observe religious rituals in the Temple (2:22 and 41-42).

More, in the Gospel of Luke Jerusalem, which is in Judea, is highlighted as Jesus’ final destination more than in the other synoptic Gospels. It is most likely due to this reason that in Luke, unlike in Matthew, Jesus’ third and final temptation is said to have taken place in Jerusalem (4:1-13, compare this with Matthew 4:1-11).

Similarly, only Luke records the detailed information that during Jesus’ transfiguration Moses and Elijah talked with Him about His Exodus that would occur in “Jerusalem” (9:30-31). Again, it is not surprising to see that the pair of Galilee and Jerusalem occurs in Jesus’ warnings about the fate of sinners (13:1-4) and that this material is peculiar to Luke.

Finally, Luke is the only Evangelist to lay emphasis on the stages of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, which binds the journey to the mission of salvation (13:31-33). In accordance with these data peculiar to Luke, we read in Luke’s Gospel alone that the crowds provoked by the Jewish religious authorities were aware of the stages of Jesus’ journey and His route, for they said:

“He incites the people by teaching throughout all Judea. It started in Galilee and ended up here!” (Luke 23:5)1

Although not present in the other canonical Gospels, this particular statement referring to the starting point of Jesus’ mission is true and in line with what all the other Evangelists recorded. Even John the Apostle, whose Gospel differs from the others because of the teaching that Jesus had been to Jerusalem a few times before His final entrance into the city on the occasion of the Passover, confirmed that Jesus performed His first miracle in Galilee (2:1-11).

Pseudo-Barnabas, on the other hand, disregarded all these consistent teachings and argued that Jesus’ prophetic ministry started and continued in Jerusalem until the time He returned to Galilee on the occasion of His first visit to Nazareth. This is in sharp contrast to the following data given in the canonical Gospels:

  1. Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove. (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:1-18, John 1: 19-28)
  2. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where He fasted for forty days and was tempted by Satan. (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4: 1-13)
  3. Jesus left Judea and returned to Galilee when He found out that John the Baptist had been cast into prison. (Matthew 4:12, Mark 1:14)
  4. Jesus performed His first miracle by turning water into wine during a wedding in Galilee. (John 2:1-11)

The writer of the medieval forgery tried to replace the chronological data in the canonical Gospels with his concocted and faulty chronology:

  1. Jesus went up to Mount Olives with His mother on the occasion of gathering some olives (what a trivial reason preparing the occasion of the divine manifestation!). (10)
  2. The Book of Prophecy descended into Jesus’ heart in the form of a shining mirror. (10)
  3. On His way back from the mount Jesus performed His first miracle by healing a leper. (11)
  4. Right after healing a leper, Jesus went to the Temple to deliver His first sermon. (12)
  5. Jesus was led to Mount Olives by Gabriel for another heavenly vision. (13)
  6. Jesus left Jerusalem and went to the farther side of Jordan, where He fasted for forty days and was tempted in the wilderness. (14)
  7. At the end of the temptation Jesus returned to Jerusalem and chose the twelve. (14)
  8. Jesus turned water into wine in Jerusalem. (15)
  9. Jesus gave His Sermon on the Mount in Jerusalem. (16-19)
  10. Jesus went to Galilee and visited His hometown (Nazareth). (20)

In short, in the work of Pseudo-Barnabas, Jesus delivered His first sermon and wrought His first miracle in Jerusalem rather than in Galilee. As a result of a curse imposed on him by Luke, while re-writing the canonical narratives of Jesus’ passion and plagiarizing from them for distortion, fake Barnabas forgot about the vital difference between his forgery and the teachings of the canonical Gospels with regard to the starting point and route of Jesus’ ministry and produced the following sentences:

Judas answered: ‘I have told you that I am Judas Iscariot, who promised to give into your hands Jesus the Nazarene; and ye, by what art I know not, are beside yourselves, for ye will have it by every means that I am Jesus.’ The high priest answered: ‘O perverse seducer, thou hast deceived all Israel, beginning from Galilee even unto Jerusalem here, with thy doctrine and false miracles: and now thinkest thou to flee the merited punishment that befitteth thee by feigning to be mad?’ (GOB 217)2

Obviously, the statement uttered by the high priest in Pseudo-Barnabas is the slightly modified form of the following verse in Luke:

“He incites the people by teaching throughout all Judea. It started in Galilee and ended up here!” (Luke 23:5)

As a foolish and careless writer, spurious Barnabas borrowed a sentence recorded by Luke and incorporated it into his forgery without realizing that it would not be in line with his peculiar and contradictory teaching concerning the starting point of Jesus’ ministry. Since Pseudo-Barnabas asserted that Jesus began teaching His doctrines and making His miracles in Jerusalem instead of Galilee, the high priest’s statement in view seems awkward and makes no sense. Here we see fake Barnabas as a person who suffered from short memory and made a mistake due to borrowing too much from Luke, being unable to understand that Luke 23:5 would not be compatible with his earlier contention about the spatial peculiarities of Jesus’ ministry.

Combination of different accounts and people: Simon the Pharisee replaced with Simon the Leper

According to the accounts in the canonical Gospels, Jesus was anointed twice:

a) An unnamed woman of bad reputation anointed Jesus’ feet in Simon the Pharisee’s house. (Luke 7:36-50)

b) Lazarus’ sister Mary anointed Jesus’ head prior to the week of His passion and death in Simon the Leper’s house. (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, John 12:1-8)

Some Christians, however, started to consider these two separate incidents identical or at least related (sequential) due to the apparent similarities of the elements they contained. In both cases Jesus was anointed by a woman and in the house of a man named Simon. Despite the fact that these two narratives employed a totally different theme (the theme of Jesus’ compassion in the former versus the theme of Jesus’ burial in the latter) and the implausibility of the allegation that a Pharisee would be called a leper, the Church tradition in the West, unlike that of the Greeks and the other Eastern Churches, tended to identify the unnamed woman in Luke 7:36-50 as Lazarus’ sister Mary from Bethany. This process of combination and assimilation later involved Mary Magdalene since her name appeared in the narrative following the story of the sinful woman in Luke:

Some time afterward he went on through towns and villages, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and disabilities: Mary (called Magdalene), from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Cuza (Herod’s household manager), Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their own resources. (Luke 8:1-3)

As a result, the Roman Church jumped into the conclusion that Mary Magdalene was the same person as both Lazarus’ sister and the repentant sinful woman whose salvation is recorded by Luke in 7:36-50 (source). This tendency to work the three separate women in view into one single person naturally became so dominant in the medieval era that even Pseudo-Barnabas included it into his forgery, doing his best to convince the reader that the two incidents of Jesus’ anointing by a woman were sequential and carried out by Mary Magdalene, the sister of Lazarus and Martha! To see how fake Barnabas presented a traditional and speculative teaching of the Roman Church as an indispensable and official doctrine of apostolic origin, the following passages should be read:

And having said this, Jesus prayed, lifting up his hands to the Lord, and the people said: ‘So be it! So be it!’ When he had finished his prayer he descended from the pinnacle. Whereupon there were brought unto him many sick folk whom he made whole, and he departed from the temple. Thereupon Simon, a leper whom Jesus had cleansed, invited him to eat bread. The priests and scribes, who hated Jesus, reported to the Roman soldiers that which Jesus had said against their gods. For indeed they were seeking how to kill him, but found it not, because they feared the people. Jesus, having entered the house of Simon, sat down to the table. And while he was eating, behold a woman named Mary, a public sinner, entered into the house, and flung herself upon the ground behind Jesus’ feet, and washed them with her tears, anointed them with precious ointment, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. (GOB 129)

Whereupon, as they sat at meat, lo! Mary, who wept at the feet of Jesus, entered into the house of Nicodemus (for that was the name of the scribe), and weeping placed herself at the feet of Jesus, saying: ‘Lord, thy servant, who through thee hath found mercy with God, hath a sister, and a brother who now lieth sick in peril of death’. Jesus answered: ‘Where is thy house? Tell me, for I will come to pray God for his health.’ Mary answered: ‘Bethany is the home of my brother and my sister, for my own house is Magdala: my brother, therefore, is in Bethany.’ Said Jesus to the woman: ‘Go thou straightway to thy brother’s house, and there await me, for I will come to heal him. And fear thou not, for he shall not die.’ The woman departed, and having gone to Bethany found that her brother had died that day, wherefore they laid him in the sepulchre of their fathers. (GOB 192)

While Jesus was supping with his disciples in the house of Simon the leper, behold Mary the sister of Lazarus entered into the house, and, having broken a vessel, poured ointment over the head and garment of Jesus. (GOB 205)

Evidently, fake Barnabas produced a patchwork by drawing material from different canonical narratives in a foolish attempt to re-shape the Gospel in accordance with the traditional teachings of the Roman Church concerning Mary Magdalene’s identity and to provide a more unified and consistent Gospel so as to replace the supposedly contradictory and divided evangelical accounts. This kind of a reconciliation of the canonical Christian scriptures compelled spurious Barnabas to claim that Jesus was anointed by the same woman twice in the same location (Simon the Leper’s house). Thus, medieval Barnabas was crafty enough to replace Simon the Pharisee in the original account of Luke (7:36-50) with Simon the Leper, knowing that the two Evangelists (Matthew and Mark) referred to a leper named Simon, who was never mentioned by Luke. In his reasoning, Luke made a mistake and caused a discrepancy when he referred to Simon as a Pharisee rather than a leper, for the relation between the two incidents of anointing stipulated that they have taken place in the same person’s house.

Luke the Evangelist was definitely unaware of both fake Barnabas’ expectations and faulty reasoning and the assumptions of the Roman Church regarding the name of the repentant harlot anointing Jesus since he never intended to associate this particular account with the accounts of Jesus’ unction in Bethany recorded by the other Evangelists.3 More to the point, Simon was a very common name in Israel, but the most effective side of the narrative in Luke 7:36-50 was the set of contrasts stressed by Jesus Himself between Simon and the repentant harlot on the basis of their love towards Him. Simon’s being a leper would not make any contribution to the effectiveness of this story whilst his being a Pharisee would make the contrasts more meaningful.

Pharisees were generally depicted in the canonical Gospels as religious authorities considering themselves righteous and criticizing Jesus for His merciful approach to the sinners. It was by no means a coincidence that Luke had highlighted the same contrast between Pharisees and sinners with regard to the notion of salvation through repentance while quoting Jesus’ discourse on John the Baptist and inserted this account right before that of the repentant harlot’s salvation in a Pharisee’s house:

(Now all the people who heard this, even the tax collectors, acknowledged God’s justice, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. However, the Pharisees and the experts in religious law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.) (Luke 7:29)

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is vindicated by all her children. (Luke 7:33-35)

Now one of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. Then when a woman of that town, who was a sinner, learned that Jesus was dining at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfumed oil. (Luke 7:36-37)

Similarly, the three parables emphasizing the significance of repentance and the salvation of sinners (the parable of the lost sheep, lost coin, and the prodigal son) are recorded only by Luke along with the Pharisees’ objection to “Jesus’ eating with the tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 15:1-31). The narrative of the repentant harlot and that of the repentant tax collector named Zacchaeus, which occur only in Luke’s Gospel (19:1-10), may also be linked to Jesus’ parable recorded in Matthew 21:28-32, which was meant to rebuke the religious leaders of Israel for their lack of faith in John the Baptist and highlight the significance of repentant sinners’ salvation. Strikingly, this parable bears thematic similarities to Jesus’ discourse and teachings in Matthew 11:7-19 and Luke 7:24-35. One of the major differences is that in Matthew 21:28-32, Jesus talks particularly of the tax collectors and “prostitutes” while referring to two major groups of people that were considered foremost sinners in Israel although in the other instances He simply talks of the tax collectors and “sinners”. This kind of a usage is apparently linked to the repentant woman’s identification as a “sinner” in Luke 7:37, the narrative containing a few elements that implicitly associate her sins with prostitution.

These points prove not only that the Gospels were textually coherent both within themselves and one with another, but also that Simon’s designation as a Pharisee in Luke 7 was crucial and meaningful for the integrity of the Gospel narratives. Pseudo-Barnabas, on the other hand, disregarded all these remarkable points and turned Simon the Pharisee into Simon the Leper in an irrational effort to reconcile and combine independent narratives, failing to maintain in his forgery the significant contrast between a religious leader and a repentant sinner’s attitude towards Jesus.

Finally, replacing Simon the Pharisee with Simon the Leper condemned fake Barnabas to another serious mistake that undermined his basic allegation concerning the historicity and apostolic origin of his Gospel. Mary Magdalene’s traditional and speculative designation as the sinful woman in Luke 7:37 in the West dates back to the papal reign of St. Gregory the Dialogist. Orthodox Wiki provides the following information on Mary Magdalene’s confusion with the other women of the New Testament and ascribes this traditional view to Pope Gregory the Great:

Frederica Mathewes-Green writes: “She is not Mary of Bethany (a city south of Jerusalem), the sister of Martha and Lazarus, who anointed Jesus’ head. She is not the prostitute who anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. These two understandably get confused, and historically in the West all three women are lumped together under Mary Magdalene’s name, a confusion continued in the Last Temptation of Christ, The Da Vinci Code, and other works.” Karen Rae Keck writes: “St. Gregory the Dialogist (Pope Gregory the Great) is believed to have begun the tradition in the Western Church, not accepted in the Eastern Church, which identified St. Mary with the ‘sinful woman’ in the seventh chapter of Luke.” (Source)

Pope Gregory the Great (aka Gregory the Dialogist) remained in the papal office from 590 till his death in 604 (*), and these dates suffice to rebut the basic allegation in the Gospel of Barnabas that it was penned by Barnabas the Apostle, who lived in the first century. True Barnabas would not have been aware of a speculative teaching that would come to existence five centuries after him! This gross example of anachronism is one of the several elements that cost Pseudo-Barnabas his credibility.

Funnily enough, Pseudo-Barnabas walked in the footsteps of Muhammad, whom he mistakenly proclaimed the Messiah descended from Ishmael, when he attempted to correct and reconcile the Christian scriptures by assimilating one account to another on the basis of a few similarities between them. Muhammad, fake Barnabas’ false Messiah, had tried to do the same thing some centuries before the medieval forgery came into existence and struggled to replace Jesus’ true Gospel with his new version of the stories about Christ in his Qur’an. Although Muhammad and spurious Barnabas plagiarized from and distorted different kind of material (the former drew heavily from non-canonical Christian literature whilst the latter from canonical Christian writings!), they at the end invented a new version that contained many mistakes and was inferior to the original. In short, they ironically fell into error and burned their hands while endeavoring to correct and improve the writings of the Christian faith.

Falling into error while struggling to reconcile and correct the supposedly inconsistent accounts: Judas Iscariot’s conferring with the Jewish leaders

Pseudo-Barnabas thought that some Gospel narratives needed corrections and improvement and that his forgery would perfectly reconcile the differing accounts and clear all doubts and questions about them. This he did particularly while talking of Judas Iscariot and his betrayal. Unlike Matthew, Mark, and Luke, fake Barnabas taught that Judas conversed with the Jewish religious figures three times about betraying Jesus and handing Him over to them. The vital question that must be posed here is what drove Pseudo-Barnabas to make Judas Iscariot confer with the Jewish priests specifically three times in his medieval forgery and what kind of absurdities his new version of the story caused.

According to the Gospel of Barnabas, Judas Iscariot went to the Jewish religious figures for the first time when Jesus fled from Israel after a miracle (142). This particular account, which is missing from the canonical Gospels, is actually a fabrication devised by Pseudo-Barnabas in an effort to give information on the motives of Judas Iscariot’s betrayal with the help of the material drawn from John’s Gospel. It is noteworthy that medieval Barnabas mostly made use of the material about Judas Iscariot in John’s Gospel, who stressed Judas’ treacherous character more than the other Evangelists by recording Jesus’ harsh critique of Judas’ actions even prior to his treason. For instance, John recorded that Jesus had once identified Judas Iscariot as “the devil”:

Jesus replied, “Didn’t I choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is the devil?” (Now he said this about Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for Judas, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.) (John 6:70-71)

Judas Iscariot’s depiction as the devil by Jesus took place at the end of His discourse on the Bread of Life (John 6:25-70), which had been preceded by and thematically related to Jesus’ miraculously feeding a huge crowd (John 6:1-13). Pseudo-Barnabas plagiarized this account from John not without major modifications. To compare and contrast:

In John’s Gospel:

  • A large crowd followed Jesus because they witnessed the miraculous signs He wrought on sick people. (6:2)
  • Jesus fed the huge crowd miraculously.(6:5-13)
  • Some people from the crowd wanted to appoint Jesus their king because of His latest miracle, as a result of which Jesus left even His disciples and withdrew to the mountain. People looked for Him. (6:15, 24)
  • Jesus went to Capernaum and gave His Sermon on the Bread of Life. (6:26-59)
  • Some of Jesus’ disciples left Him, but the twelve remained. Jesus implicitly predicted Judas Iscariot’s betrayal when He said one of the twelve was the devil. (6:60-71)

In the Gospel of Barnabas

  • A huge crowd sought and found Jesus because they had no bread after worms had eaten all the corns. (138)
  • Jesus miraculously caused an abundant harvest through prayer and fasting. (138)
  • The people, having seen the miracle of harvest, wanted to catch and make Jesus their King, as a result of which Jesus left even His disciples and fled to Damascus (!) (138)
  • Jesus was re-united with some of His disciples in Damascus. He predicted Judas Iscariot’s betrayal. (He referred to a host of devils preparing for Him) (139)
  • Judas Iscariot conferred with the Jewish priests to betray Jesus because he lost his hope of becoming powerful when Jesus fled and did not want to become a king. (142)

The amazing links between John (6:1-70) and the medieval Gospel (chapters 138-142) show that even fake Barnabas’ inventions lacked originality as he relied heavily on the texts of the Evangelists for supposedly correcting and improving them.4

According to Pseudo-Barnabas, Judas Iscariot conferred with the Jewish religious authorities two more times until his supposed substitution for Jesus through a miracle of transformation. The narrative of Judas Iscariot’s second visitation to the Jewish high priest for betraying Jesus is mostly plagiarized from the Gospel of John (12:1-7) and combined with the Synoptic accounts of Judas’ conferring with the Jewish leaders right after Jesus is anointed in the house of Simon the Leper (Matthew 26:14-15, Mark 14:10-11).

Everyone ate with fear, and the disciples were sorrowful, because they knew that Jesus must soon depart from them. But Judas was indignant, because he knew that he was losing thirty pieces of money for the ointment not sold, seeing he stole the tenth part of all that was given to Jesus. He went to find the high priest, who assembled in council of priests, scribes, and Pharisees; to whom Judas spake saying: ‘What will ye give me, and I will betray into your hands Jesus, who would fain make himself king of Israel?’ They answered: ‘Now how wilt thou give him into our hand?’ Said Judas: ‘When I shall know that he goeth outside the city to pray I will tell you, and will conduct you to the place where he shall be found; for to seize him in the city will be impossible without a sedition.’ The high priest answered: ‘If thou wilt give him into our hand we will give thee thirty pieces of gold and thou shalt see how well I will treat thee.’ (GOB 205)

Interestingly, Pseudo-Barnabas said that Judas Iscariot went to the high priest for the third and last time to get some soldiers and lead them to the place where Jesus was with the eleven apostles:

Judas, accordingly, knowing the place where Jesus was with his disciples, went to the high priest, and said: ‘If ye will give me what was promised, this night will I give into your hand Jesus whom ye seek: for he is alone with eleven companions.’ The high priest answered: ‘How much seekest thou?’ Said Judas, ‘Thirty pieces of gold.’ Then straightway the high priest counted unto him the money, and sent a Pharisee to the governor to fetch soldiers, and to Herod, and they gave a legion of them, because they feared the people; wherefore they took their arms, and with torches and lanterns upon staves went out of Jerusalem. (GOB 214)

Although the canonical Gospels related Jesus’ arrest by the soldiers who were accompanied by Judas Iscariot, they did not record the final conversation that occurred between the betraying apostle and the Jewish leaders unlike fake Barnabas, who produced the account above by duplicating Matthew 26:14-15 in a careless manner and caused an inconsistency. Of the four Evangelists, only Matthew stated the precise amount of the money given to Judas Iscariot by the Jewish authorities in return for his betrayal (26:14-15). Fake Barnabas inserted this particular detail into his narrative of Judas’ second visitation to the high priest in 205, but claimed that the payment was made during Judas’ third and final conversation.

The comparison of the two dialogs between Judas Iscariot and the Jewish high priest in the Gospel of Barnabas, however, gives the impression that the high priest suffered from short memory, for he asked Judas how much money he wanted in 214 although he had previously determined how much money would be given to Judas in 205! This inconsistency is a result of fake Barnabas’ desire to reconcile Matthew 26:14-15 with Luke 22:4-5 through the invention of a third account that necessitated Luke’s dependence on Matthew’s text. As usual, this forceful reconciliation through careless combination betrayed medieval Barnabas’ efforts to devise an alternative and supposedly improved Gospel.

Omission of the canonical sections and awkward transfers: Circumcision in the Temple

One of the most bizarre and blatant mistakes of fake Barnabas’ Gospel appears in Jesus’ infancy narrative, which, as usual, seems like an edited and suited version of the canonical accounts. In a quite baffling manner, medieval Barnabas claimed that Jesus was taken by His parents to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem on the eighth day of His birth for the ritual of circumcision:

When the eight days were fulfilled according to the law of the Lord, as it is written in the book of Moses, they took the child and carried him to the temple to circumcise him. (GOB 5)

This teaching is erroneous as the “Book of Moses” does not have a precept that obligates the circumcision of infants in the Temple. The lack of such an obligation enables us to conclude that Pseudo-Barnabas fabricated a rule and inserted it into the Mosaic Law, trying to distort the Hebrew Bible with the help of his systematic perversion of the New Testament writings. A closer analysis of the Torah with regard to the ritual of circumcision reveals that fake Barnabas did not only invent a religious prescription alien to the Law of the Lord, but also disregarded the divine commandment that implicitly forbade the circumcision of an infant in the Temple:

The Lord spoke to Moses: “Tell the Israelites, ‘When a woman produces offspring and bears a male child, she will be unclean seven days, as she is unclean during the days of her menstruation. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin must be circumcised. Then she will remain thirty-three days in blood purity. She must not touch anything holy and she must not enter the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled.’” (Leviticus 12:1-4)

In sharp contrast to what fake Barnabas taught, the Law of the Lord considered a woman ritually unclean and did not allow her to enter the sanctuary until the days of her purification, which occurred on the 40th day of the baby’s birth. How would it be possible for an apostle of Jesus who was chosen and commissioned to write the true Gospel to be ignorant of the biblical verses above? How could Apostle Barnabas have made such a mistake? This simple example of ignorance proves that the author of the Gospel of Barnabas was not truly Apostle Barnabas, but someone who abused his name to mislead people.

At this point, it is crucial to ask how come medieval Barnabas could make such a mistake. What compelled him to contradictorily argue that Mary could go to the Temple to get Jesus circumcised before the days of her purification? Since Jesus’ circumcision is related only by Luke, it is easy to understand that Pseudo-Barnabas followed Luke’s Gospel while talking of the same event:

And after eight days were accomplished, that the child should be circumcised, his name was called JESUS, which was called by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:21)

Unlike Pseudo-Barnabas, Evangelist Luke did not say that Jesus was carried by Joseph and Mary to the Temple for circumcision on the eighth day of His birth, but, in accordance with the divine commandment in Leviticus 12, related Joseph and Mary’s journey with baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem for the ritual of purification on the 40th day of the birth:

And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord: As it is written in the law of the Lord: Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord: And to offer a sacrifice, according as it is written in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. (Luke 2:22-24)

Thus, According to Luke, Jesus was carried by His parents to the Temple on the occasion of His presentation rather than circumcision, and Luke’s narrative is perfectly compatible with the ritual of purification prescribed in the Mosaic Law. Medieval Barnabas, however, awkwardly replaced the ritual of purification with Jesus’ alleged circumcision in the Temple because he chose to omit the narrative of Jesus’ presentation in Luke due to its heavily Christian content. Having been bothered by the overt Christian themes and elements employed in it (inspiration by the Holy Spirit, a female prophetess, salvation through Jesus the Messiah, the prediction of Jesus’ death and Mary’s sorrow), fake Barnabas simply decided to get rid of the whole account. Nevertheless, he also felt obliged to refer to the Temple TWICE in Jesus’ infancy since Luke the Evangelist, whom he tried to copy and correct, originally did so. The solution that spurious Barnabas could find necessitated the combination of the account of Jesus’ circumcision with that of His presentation and the transfer of the setting and some other elements of the second narrative to the first so that the circumcision could make up for the omission of the presentation.

In addition to transferring the setting of the account of Jesus’ presentation in Luke (Temple) to that of His circumcision in his forgery, Pseudo-Barnabas copied some sentences from the same account in Luke and awkwardly attached them to his innovated version. To compare:

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel and for a sign which shall be contradicted. (Luke 2:34)

Mary and Joseph perceived that the child must needs be for the salvation and ruin of many. Wherefore they feared God, and kept the child with fear of God. (GOB 5)

The superiority and originality of Luke’s Gospel is evident through the comparison of the verses above since Pseudo-Barnabas’ weird version cannot explain how Joseph and Mary perceived with the help of Jesus’ circumcision in the Temple that He would be for the salvation and ruin of many.


The unknown writer of the medieval Gospel of Barnabas was an incompetent writer who wanted to replace the canonical Gospels of Christianity with his forgery. While producing his fake book, he fell into error quite often not only because he lived in the medieval era instead of first century, but also because he betrayed the original evangelical accounts and tampered with them recklessly. When coupled with his aims of perversion, his dependence on the narrative style of the canonical Gospels caused him to blunder and undermine his basic allegations.

Some examples of medieval Barnabas’ mistakes we chose for analysis in this first article resulted from his careless and hasty plagiarism from the canonical Gospel accounts, his disregarding the notion of textual coherence, his weird confusion and replacement of figures, his desire to combine and unify the narratives having similar themes and motifs, and his omission of certain evangelical accounts that bothered him. In our second article on the GOB we shall select the foremost geographical mistake of this medieval production along with a historical blunder and discuss the reasons underlying these major confusions.


Jesus’ infancy narrative in Matthew enabled Pseudo-Barnabas to claim that Jesus left Israel because some Jews considered Him their King and because this expectation prompted the religious authorities to get Jesus arrested and killed:

Jesus was found by him who writeth, and by James with John. And they, weeping, said: ‘O Master, wherefore didst thou flee from us? We have sought thee mourning; yea, all the disciples seek thee weeping.’ Jesus answered: ‘I fled because I knew that a host of devils is preparing for me that which in a short time ye shall see. For, there shall rise against me the chief priests with the elders of the people, and shall wrest authority to kill me from the Roman governor, because they shall fear that I wish to usurp kingship over Israel. Moreover, I shall be sold and betrayed by one of my disciples, as Joseph was sold into Egypt.’ (GOB 139)

This account, which is peculiar to fake Barnabas, is obviously derived from the repetition of the narrative in Matthew 2:1-23 with some modifications and replacements. The elements of Jesus’ consideration as a king by some visitors after His birth, Herod’s reaction to this designation, his convening with the elders and scribes, his plot to find and kill infant Jesus, Joseph’s taking Mary and Jesus with him and going to a distant country, Jesus’ staying in a distant country (Egypt) for some time and returning to Nazareth through an angel’s command can be found repeated in Pseudo-Barnabas’ account of Jesus’ fleeing to Damascus.

While contending that Jesus’ consideration as a king by some Israelites caused Him to flee Israel in His adolescence in the same way as in His infancy, medieval Barnabas did not forget to suggest a different place of refuge than Egypt and stated that Jesus fled to Damascus the second time He was threatened by His enemies. Why specifically Damascus? The answer to this significant question can be linked to fake Barnabas’ habit of borrowing material from the Acts of the Apostles, which is the fifth book in the New Testament canon.5 Interestingly, Damascus appears in Acts as an important place of Jewish settlement that gains more Biblical significance with the help of its affiliation with Paul, whose conversion occurs on the way to Damascus (9:3), who spends some time with the disciples in Damascus (9:19), and who proves that Jesus is the Christ in Damascus (9:22).

Despite the anti-Pauline tone and elements of his forgery, Pseudo-Barnabas does not shock us the least when he presents Damascus as an important destination in Jesus’ life rather than in Paul’s, for he sometimes delights in replacing Paul with Jesus by copying material from Paul’s writings and ascribing them to Jesus in his book. For example, fake Barnabas teaches that Jesus was carried to the third place of heaven when Judas came with the soldiers to arrest Him:

The holy angels came and took Jesus out by the window that looketh toward the South. They bare him and placed him in the third heaven in the company of angels blessing God for evermore. (GOB 215)

Jesus’ assumption specifically to the third heaven is alien to the Islamic scripture, being a teaching about an unnamed man who was referred to in the New Testament only in one of Paul’s letters:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows) was caught up to the third heaven. (2 Corinthians 12:2).

According to some scholars and a certain apocryphal text, this unnamed man who was carried up to the third heaven was no one else than Apostle Paul himself (source1, source2).

This simple example proves that fake Barnabas ascribed to Jesus in his book what had been ascribed to Apostle Paul in Christian tradition in accordance with the interpretation of a verse in one of his epistles. Consequently, medieval Barnabas would see nothing wrong with transferring Damascus from Acts to his forgery as a destination related to Jesus although in the original text the same place was related to Paul and his conversion.

The insertion of Damascus into Jesus’ life as a place of refuge displays fake Barnabas’ incompetence in distortion and fabrication, for the transfer of the Damascus motif from Acts to the Gospel seems awkward due to the lack of elements that would make Damascus a crucial place for Jesus’ temporary settlement. Ironically, all of the elements present in the account of Jesus’ fleeing Israel are thematically compatible with Egypt rather than with Damascus. The miracle of harvest, which prepares the way for Jesus’ departure, reminds one of the scarcity of food in Egypt during Joseph’s time. Likewise, it is by no means a coincidence that fake Barnabas made Jesus associate His betrayal and temporary settlement in a foreign country with Joseph, who was sold by his brothers and went to Egypt.

Further, Jesus’ discourse on death, referring to the theme of exile, the disciples’ mourning all reflect the influence of the infancy narrative in Matthew, which depicts infant Jesus in exile, recounts the massacre of the infants, and the mourning of their parents. In short, Pseudo-Barnabas made a mistake when he asserted that Jesus fled to Damascus although he could never explain why specifically Damascus was chosen as the place of Jesus’ second exile and why in his innovated narrative all the thematic properties pointed at Egypt rather than Damascus.

Continue with Part 2.


1 All biblical references in this study come from the NET Bible.

2 For all the references to the Gospel of Barnabas, Lonsdale & Laura Ragg’s English translation (1907) is used. For online availability see Editions of the Gospel of Barnabas.

3 In the Gospel of Barnabas, Simon the Leper’s house is located in Jerusalem rather than Bethany since Pseudo-Barnabas does not allow Jesus to leave Jerusalem after His final entry on the occasion of the Feast of the Passover (Compare 127 and 129 with 200 and 202). This is most likely related to fake Barnabas’ attempt to reconcile Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9 with John’s peculiar chronology concerning the time of Jesus’ anointing and His entrance into Jerusalem.

4 The analysis of a similar and thematically relevant error can be found in the Appendix.

5 One of the best examples illustrating fake Barnabas’ borrowing some material peculiar to Acts and blending it with the Evangelical accounts can be found in the 156th chapter of his book. While recounting the story of the man born blind, Pseudo-Barnabas mostly followed the narrative in John’s Gospel (9:1-12), but additionally said that the man was blind “from his mother’s womb” and that the people knew him as “the man sitting at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple.” These details were actually copied by fake Barnabas from Acts 3:1-10, where Luke narrated Peter and John’s healing a man who was lame “from his mother’s womb” and recorded that the people witnessing this miracle recognized the healed man as “the one sitting and begging at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple”.

Examining the Gospel of Barnabas
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