Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Anatomy of Pseudo-Barnabas' Mistakes: Part 2

The Curse of the Evangelists: Historical and Geographical Errors

Masud Masihiyyen

As we discussed at length and illustrated with the help of a few examples in the first part of our analysis, Pseudo-Barnabas supposed that maintaining the style of the canonical Gospels and changing only their content through the insertion of some basic Islamic teachings would gain his forgery credibility, but this strategy became fatal to him and produced a patchwork full of mistakes. While penning his false Gospel, fake Barnabas mostly combined originally independent Gospel narratives in a careless manner along with the mistake of hasty generalization, avoided some accounts, and misplaced certain elements of such accounts, all of which gave testimony for his dependence on the canonical Gospels and his willingness to replace them through falsification. In short, his disregarding the peculiar writing style of the Evangelists imposed on Pseudo-Barnabas a curse that condemned his forgery to several mistakes and inconsistencies although his aim was to produce a supposedly corrected and improved version of the canonical accounts.

Most of the mistakes in the Gospel of Barnabas, however, are a direct result of its author’s medieval origin and the relevant negative effects of anachronism. The absurdities contained in this forgery are of different nature and generally categorized by scholars into thematic sections. Of these, historical and geographical anomalies take the lead as they depict fake Barnabas as a person who did not live with Christ in the same era and who lacked basic knowledge of the region where Jesus spent His life.

Accordingly, Pseudo-Barnabas’ fallacious claims concerning the time of Pontius Pilate’s reign and the location of Nazareth are generally presented as hard evidence of his ignorance and prevalent examples of his historical and geographical confusions. Although both these mistakes suffice to expose fake Barnabas’ incompetence and send his work to the dustbin, their closer analysis reveals that they came into existence as a result of the reckless author’s wish to rewrite the original narratives in the canonical Gospels so as to bring them in line with the Islamic teachings he obtained through hearsay. His aim to correct and improve the canonical accounts ended in failure thanks to his confusion and hasty distortion, which gave birth to a forgery replete with gross mistakes. When the mysterious source of these errors is figured out, fake Barnabas is once more proven to be a man that was cursed by the Evangelists in return for tampering with Christ’s Gospel and striving to replace it with falsehood.

Historical Mistake: The Time of Pilate’s Reign

Walking in the footsteps of Luke the Evangelist, who provided detailed information on the historic settings of Jesus’ era, Pseudo-Barnabas wrote the following verses in the infancy narrative of his Gospel:

There reigned at that time in Judaea Herod, by decree of Caesar Augustus, and Pilate was governor in the priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. Wherefore, by decree of Augustus, all the world was enrolled; wherefore each one went to his own country, and they presented themselves by their own tribes to be enrolled. Joseph accordingly departed from Nazareth, a city of Galilee, with Mary his wife, great with child, to go to Bethlehem (for that it was his city, he being of the lineage of David), in order that he might be enrolled according to the decree of Caesar. (GOB 3)1

Despite the similarities with the material in Luke’s Gospel, this particular section in the Gospel of Barnabas contains a gross historical mistake that contradicts both secular and religious data about the time of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate’s coming to power in Judea. For instance, in his comprehensive analysis on the Gospel of Barnabas, Dr. Campbell helps readers who are not knowledgeable about the political structure of Jesus’ era detect the gross mistake in the section quoted above:

When we look at secular history we find that Pilate did not become governor until 26 AD and that he held this position from 26 to 36 AD. In other words he was governor when Jesus started preaching, as Luke says correctly in Chapter 3 of his Gospel; but not at time of Jesus’ birth in 4 BC, as Barnabas incorrectly says. (Source)

Actually, this is a twofold mistake as it inaccurately implies that Herod and Pilate ruled at the same time in the same territory:2

In chapter 3 we are told that Herod and Pilate both ruled in Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth: There reigned at that time in Judaea Herod, by decree of Caesar Augustus, and Pilate was governor. This is historically wrong for Herod and Pilate never ruled Judea at the same time. Herod ruled Judea alone from 37-4 B.C., while Pilate ruled thirty years later from 26-36 A.D (source).

Possible objections to this gross historical mistake in the Gospel of Barnabas should be evaluated before we can start questioning why Pseudo-Barnabas fell into such a manifest error. The only plausible solution that could be worked to evade or conceal this mistake may be based on the weak assumption that Pontius Pilate was a name used by different governors in exactly the same way as the name Herod.3 Secular history and the Evangelists testify to the fact that there were a few rulers who were named Herod as a result of their descent from the same royal line. For instance, Matthew makes it clear that Herod the King of Judea died when infant Jesus was in Egypt with His family (2:19) and that his son Archelaus came to power in his father’s place (2:22). Luke records in his Gospel (3:1) that at the time when John the Baptist started his prophetic ministry, two of Herod’s three sons ruled in different regions of Israel. Luke mentions two of Herod’s sons whilst the third son, who was mentioned by name in Matthew 2:22, was sent into exile in 6 A.D. and died 12 years after his banishment. (Source)

The argument that Pontius Pilate could be the name of different political figures is rather weak as it from the start ignores the fact that Herod is both explicitly and implicitly stated to be a name shared by the members of the same dynasty whereas nothing of the sort can be asserted about Pontius Pilate. No Evangelical or secular data refers to first or second Pilate or suggests that more than two rulers had the name Pilate around that period. Even Pseudo-Barnabas does not make any efforts to distinguish the Pilate we know from the supposed other rulers who were identically called Pontius Pilate, disappointing Muslims by depriving them of any support for their theories.  People who approach Luke’s Gospel with doubts in regard to the veracity of the historical claims contained in it can check Jewish historian Flavius Josephus’ writings and see with their own eyes how the information given in Luke about Pilate is compatible with what Josephus wrote concerning the Roman governor.

Josephus’ work testifies to the fact that in first century Israel there was one single Roman governor who was named Pontius Pilate and that he was not in power at the time of Christ’s birth. Consequently, Pseudo-Barnabas’ teaching in view is proven to be historically inaccurate.

It is likewise not at all reasonable to assert that fake Barnabas exclusively knew and revealed a historical fact about the name Pilate that had been kept hidden from the Evangelists as well as Jewish historians. In other words, we cannot presume that the Pilate mentioned in the infancy narrative of the medieval Gospel of Barnabas was a different ruler than the Pilate mentioned in the rest of the book. This is basically because the information given in the sentences below lacks originality due to the author’s heavy and undeniable plagiarism from the Gospel of Luke:

There reigned at that time in Judaea Herod, by decree of Caesar Augustus, and Pilate was governor in the priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. Wherefore, by decree of Augustus, all the world was enrolled; wherefore each one went to his own country, and they presented themselves by their own tribes to be enrolled. (GOB 3)

A person who is familiar with the Gospel of Luke may immediately figure out that Pseudo-Barnabas produced this section by simply putting together the data he collected from different sections of Luke’s text. As we saw in the first part of our analysis, some of spurious Barnabas’ mistakes resulted from his hasty and careless combination of certain Evangelical accounts through basic thematic association. Pseudo-Barnabas reckoned six people while relating the political and religious structure at the time of Jesus’ nativity, but some of these people were mentioned by Luke in different places rather than in one single section primarily because they lived and reigned in different periods. To compare and contrast:

Herod, King of Judea: His name appears in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel and his reign is referred to in association with the birth of John the Baptist:

During the reign of Herod king of Judea, there lived a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah, and he had a wife named Elizabeth, who was a descendant of Aaron. (1:5)4

Caesar Augustus: His name occurs in the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel in the account of Christ’s nativity and related to the census taken at that time:

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus to register all the empire for taxes. (2:1)

Pilate the governor: His name first appears in the third chapter of Luke’s Gospel, where John the Baptist and Christ’s prophetic ministries are introduced after a brief presentation of the political and religious figures of the time:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene (3:1)

Priests Annas and Caiaphas: They are mentioned in the same section as Pilate as the foremost religious authorities in Israel:

During the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. (3:2)

Obviously, there was a temporal gap of around 30 years between the period of John and Jesus’ infancy and that of their public ministry in their thirties, the former having been related in the first two and the latter from the third chapter onwards in Luke’s Gospel. Strikingly enough, Pseudo-Barnabas followed Luke when he said that Jesus started His prophetic ministry at the age of 30 (compare GOB 10 with Luke 3:23), but devised an entirely different account that did not only change the place, instrument, and form of the divine manifestation through which Jesus started His mission, but also excluded all the references made by Luke to the political and religious figures in Israel at the time when Jesus was about thirty years old. (compare GOB 10 and Luke 3:1-23). Thus, instead of keeping faithful to the original account in Luke, spurious Barnabas distorted it and moved some of its components to his innovated version of Jesus’ nativity and infancy narrative, foolishly bridging the temporal gap between the time of Jesus’ infancy and the time when He was in His thirties, that is, in the period of post-baptism.

The following comparative table illustrates the source of fake Barnabas’ gross historical mistake about the time of Pontius Pilate’s reign in Judea:

  Gospel of Luke Gospel of Barnabas
Herod King of Judea     John and Jesus’ nativity     Jesus’ nativity
Caesar Augustus Jesus’ nativity Jesus’ nativity
Pontius Pilate Jesus in His thirties Jesus’ nativity
Annas and Caiaphas Jesus in His thirties Jesus’ nativity

The question that must be posed now is what prompted fake Barnabas to combine two different periods and falsely appoint Pilate a governor in Judea at the time of Christ’s birth and at the same time when Herod ruled in Judea? To put it another way, what forced him to swim in dangerous waters and eventually drown in this gross historical mistake? In order to understand why Pseudo-Barnabas dissociated Pontius Pilate and the priests Annas and Caiaphas from the era of Jesus’ baptism in His thirties and abruptly inserted their names into the era of Jesus’ nativity, we must recall one of the major discrepancies between the canonical Gospels and the medieval Gospel of Barnabas — references to John the Baptist.

Unlike the four canonical Gospels, which designate John as a great prophet and Christ’s forerunner, the Gospel of Barnabas does not make a single reference either to John or his prophetic mission. This is why in contrast to all the Evangelists that narrate John’s mission in the wilderness, his call to repentance, and the ritual of baptism practiced by him for the manifestation of the Messiah to Israel, fake Barnabas ignores anything related to John and contends that at the time Jesus started His ministry, there was no other prophet who prepared His way by preaching a baptism of repentance. Since there is neither a forerunner nor baptizer in the Gospel of Barnabas, Jesus goes not to River Jordan to be baptized by John, but to the Mount Olives with His mother to gather olives, after which He receives the book of prophecy! (Compare GOB 10 with Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34.)

The reason underlying the lack of a reference to John the forerunner in the entire Gospel of Barnabas is later understood to be the spurious author’s aim to replace John the Baptist with Jesus in his forgery. This primary act of substitution serves the greater purpose of Jesus’ replacement with Muhammad, whom Pseudo-Barnabas considers the only true Messiah. In order to turn Muhammad into the Messiah, fake Barnabas identified Jesus as the Messiah’s forerunner and ascribed to Jesus the role of John the Baptist through the reckless distortion of the following particular section in John’s Gospel. Compare and notice how Pseudo-Barnabas assimilated John the Baptist by making Jesus take his place and mission:

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed – he did not deny but confessed – “I am not the Christ!” So they asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not!” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No!” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Tell us so that we can give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John said, “I am the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” (John 1:19-23)

Then the disciples wept after this discourse, and Jesus was weeping, when they saw many who came to find him, for the chiefs of the priests took counsel among themselves to catch him in his talk. Wherefore they sent the Levites and some of the scribes to question him, saying: ‘Who art thou?’ Jesus confessed, and said the truth: ‘I am not the Messiah.’ They said: ‘Art thou Elijah or Jeremiah, or any of the ancient prophets?’ Jesus answered: ‘No.’ Then said they: ‘Who art thou? Say, in order that we may give testimony to those who sent us.’ Then said Jesus: I am a voice that crieth through all Judea, and crieth: Prepare ye the way for the messenger of the Lord”, even as it is written in Esaias.’ (GOB 42)

Actually, most of the innovated and contradictory teachings in the Gospel of Barnabas are founded on the systematic replacement of people and tenets. In the first place, the book came into existence because its author wanted to replace the canonical writings of Christianity with his so-called Islamic version of Christ’s Gospel and put Islamic tenets in place of Christian doctrines. Jesus the Messiah’s replacement with Muhammad the supposed Messiah and John the Baptist’s replacement with Jesus the supposed forerunner are some of the many acts of distortions and substitutions worked out by Pseudo-Barnabas, such as Judas’ substitution for Jesus in the passion narrative, Thomas’ replacement with Barnabas in the list of the apostles, Simon the Pharisee’s replacement with Simon the Leper in the account of the sinful woman (see my first article on the mistakes of the Gospel of Barnabas).

Of the four Evangelists, Luke was the only person to recount John the Baptist’s nativity and his relation to Jesus even prior to the days of Jesus’ mission in His thirties. While producing his false Gospel version, medieval Barnabas both copied and distorted the infancy narrative in Matthew and Luke, but, in particular, the distortion of the latter gave him a great opportunity to replace John son of Zechariah with Jesus even in the period preceding Jesus’ ministry. Fake Barnabas could achieve his goal by simply deleting John from the infancy narrative in Luke and attributing to Jesus what was originally said about John. To compare:

And Zechariah, visibly shaken when he saw the angel, was seized with fear. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son; you will name him John. Joy and gladness will come to you, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go as forerunner before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him.” (Luke 1:12-17)

Joseph being a righteous man, when he perceived that Mary was great with child, was minded to put her away because he feared God. Behold, whilst he slept, he was rebuked by the angel of God saying, ‘O Joseph, why art thou minded to put away Mary thy wife? Know that whatsoever hath been wrought in her hath all been done by the will of God. The virgin shall bring forth a son, whom thou shall call by the name Jesus; whom thou shalt keep from wine and strong drink and from every unclean meat, because he is an holy one of God from his mother’s womb. He is a prophet of God sent unto the people of Israel, in order that he may convert Judah to his heart, and that Israel may walk in the law of the Lord, as it is written in the law of Moses. He shall come with great power, which God shall give him, and shall work great miracles, whereby many shall be saved.’ (GOB 2)

After transforming the original account of the angelic annunciation to Zechariah about John’s nativity in Luke into that of the angelic annunciation to Joseph about Jesus’ nativity in his fake Gospel, Pseudo-Barnabas continued copying further material from the infancy narrative in Luke and made references to the rulers that were in power at the time of Jesus’ birth. This dependence on Luke marked the beginning of trouble for fake Barnabas as he naively believed that there would be nothing wrong with putting all the names of the major political and religious figures mentioned in Luke together in one section that was thematically relevant: Jesus’ nativity. The first result of this tendency was the transfer of Herod’s name from its original place in Luke 1:5 into the sentence having Caesar Augustus’ name in Luke 2:1 and the association of Herod’s rule with Emperor Augustus’ decree concerning the census. Pseudo-Barnabas’ next step was the selection of the names Pontius Pilate, Annas, and Caiaphas from Luke’s third chapter for their inclusion into the account of Jesus’ nativity. This selection, needless to say, made crucial the detachment of the names of the ruling figures in view from the period of Jesus’ baptism in His thirties and came to represent another example of medieval Barnabas’ addiction to substitutions. Of course, spurious Barnabas’ fundamental aversion to John the Baptist was also a major factor that contributed to this replacement. The names Pontius Pilate, Annas, and Caiaphas originally appear in the third chapter of Luke’s Gospel and are thematically linked to the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry, which was deliberately left out in the Gospel of Barnabas. Thinking that these names were too significant to be dismissed altogether, fake Barnabas determined the account of Jesus’ nativity as a better and safe section for their placement, which was unsurprisingly the same section where he had first replaced John the Baptist with Jesus.

To sum up, Pseudo-Barnabas’ historical mistake concerning the time of Pontius Pilate’s administration stemmed from his will to both imitate and distort Luke. He walked in Luke’s footsteps when he made a particular reference to the political and religious rulers of Jesus’ time, but deviated from Luke’s account when he insisted that these figures were in power already at the time of Jesus’ nativity. This ridiculous contention, which gave birth to a prominent historical blunder, was linked to spurious Barnabas’ fundamental ideal of deleting John the Baptist from history by putting Jesus in his stead. Since he knew that referring to the governor of Judea and the high priests in the same context as the beginning of Jesus’ ministry would make his new and false Gospel version more similar to that of Luke’s and highlight the absurd removal of John the Baptist from his forgery, he detached the names Pontius Pilate, Annas, and Caiaphas from the original account in Luke (that he chose to ignore because of John the Baptist’s occurrence) and attached them to the account of Jesus’ nativity and in the same context as the other rulers reigning at that time. This particular strategy of misplacing figures or events was not at all unusual for Pseudo-Barnabas, who followed the same course while erroneously claiming that Jesus was circumcised in the temple on the eighth day of His birth.5

Geographical Mistake: The Location of Nazareth

The geographical mistake concerning the location of Nazareth in the Gospel of Barnabas is undoubtedly one of the most shocking claims of the author that destroys the text’s alleged authenticity.  Since this particular error is based on the basic geographical data that any disciple of Christ would be expected to be familiar with and never be expected to be mistaken about, it could also be considered second to none among Pseudo-Barnabas’ other several absurdities of the same or even similar nature. The problem arises from the medieval writer’s argument that Jesus sailed to Nazareth:

Jesus went to the sea of Galilee, and having embarked in a ship sailed to his city of Nazareth; whereupon there was a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was nigh unto sinking. And Jesus was sleeping upon the prow of the ship. (GOB 20)

The statement that Jesus got into a boat that went to Nazareth is equal to saying that at the time of the Hijrah (migration) Muhammad went to Medina in a boat. Scholars who expose the mistakes of the Gospel of Barnabas highlight the problems that arise from the account of Jesus’ calming a tempest in the sea:

In chapters 20-21 of this book we are told about Jesus sailing to Nazareth and being welcomed by the seamen of that town. He then leaves Nazareth and goes up to Capernaum:

Jesus went to the sea of Galilee, and having embarked in a ship sailed to his city of Nazareth. ... Having arrived at the city of Nazareth the seamen spread through the city all that Jesus wrought (done) ... (then) Jesus went up to Capernaum (chaps. 20-21).

There is a major error in this account. Nazareth was not a fishing village, in fact it was about 14 km from the sea of Galilee and situated in the hills of a mountain range! (Source)

In his comprehensive analysis of the Gospel of Barnabas, Dr. Campbell notes how some Muslims try to cover this gross absurdity by changing the meaning of the verb in the original text through its loose translation into Arabic (*). This proves that Muslims who praise the medieval Gospel of Barnabas make every effort either to conceal or to solve this major problem. One of the remedies that could be tried in addition to inaccurate translations is the supposition that the phrase “sailing to Nazareth” does not necessarily mean Nazareth’s being on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, but its being the final destination that was accessed via a station at the sea. However, the order and chronology in the Gospel of Barnabas refutes this theory as Pseudo-Barnabas carefully noted all the stations of Jesus’ journey from the beginning of His prophetic ministry:

  1. Jesus went up to Mount Olives and started His mission (chapter 10).
  2. Jesus descended from Mount Olives and entered Jerusalem (chapter 11).
  3. Jesus once more went up to Mount Olives (chapter 13).
  4. Jesus passed to the farther side of Jordan and then returned to Jerusalem (chapters 14 and 15).
  5. Jesus attended a wedding and then went up to a mountain to deliver a sermon (chapters 15-19).(Since it is not stated in these chapters that Jesus left Jerusalem, it will be right to infer that He attended the wedding and gave a sermon while staying in Jerusalem.)
  6. Jesus went to the Sea of Galilee, embarked a ship, and sailed to Nazareth (chapter 20).

Further, there is absolutely nothing in the 20th chapter of the Gospel of Barnabas that suggests Jesus’ passing through another town or place on His way to Nazareth. Actually, Pseudo-Barnabas seems convinced about Nazareth’s location on the shore of the Sea of Galilee as he makes Jesus’ journey to Nazareth both start and end on the sea:

Jesus went to the sea of Galilee, and having embarked in a ship sailed to his city of Nazareth; whereupon there was a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was nigh unto sinking. And Jesus was sleeping upon the prow of the ship. Then drew near to him his disciples, and awoke him, saying: ‘O master, save thyself, for we perish!’ They were encompassed with very great fear, by reason of the great wind that was contrary and the roaring of the sea. Jesus arose, and raising his eyes to heaven, said: ‘O Elohim Sabaoth, have mercy upon thy servants.’ Then, when Jesus had said this, suddenly the wind ceased, and the sea became calm. Wherefore the seamen feared, saying: ‘And who is this, that the sea and the wind obey him?’ Having arrived at the city of Nazareth the seamen spread through the city all that Jesus had wrought, whereupon the house where Jesus was, was surrounded by as many as dwelt in the city. (GOB 20)

No matter how the defenders of the Gospel of Barnabas make efforts in their desperation to conceal this absurdity,6 we can proclaim with certainty that spurious Barnabas’ geographical mistake was derived from his misunderstandings coupled with the inept harmonization of the Evangelical accounts, being independent of the allegations or doubts about Nazareth’s exact place in Israel. We owe this certainty to fake Barnabas’ apparent confusion of Capernaum with Nazareth, both of which were significant places in Jesus’ life and prophetic mission. As a natural result of this confusion, in the 21st chapter of the Gospel of Barnabas Capernaum is implied to be an inland city away from the sea when it is said that Jesus went up to it from Nazareth:

Jesus went up to Capernaum, and as he drew near to the city behold there came out of the tombs one that was possessed of a devil, and in such wise that no chain could hold him, and he did great harm to the man. (GOB 21)

In sharp contrast with the geographical information given in the Gospel of Barnabas, Jesus would in fact go to Capernaum by a boat and then up to Nazareth. The discovery of this confusion takes us to the source of Pseudo-Barnabas’ gross geographical mistake and explains why he foolishly depicted Nazareth as a coastal city. This confusion, as usual, came into existence through a curse imposed on medieval Barnabas by a certain Evangelist. In order to find out which Evangelist cursed the writer of the Gospel of Barnabas and in what particular way, it will suffice to read the verses below comparatively:

Jesus went to the sea of Galilee, and having embarked in a ship sailed to his city of Nazareth; whereupon there was a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was nigh unto sinking. (GOB 20)

After getting into a boat he crossed to the other side and came to his own town. (Matthew 9:1)

Obviously, fake Barnabas copied Matthew 9:1, but added the word Nazareth to his version because he mistakenly thought that Jesus’ town referred to by Matthew in that particular verse was Nazareth! However, the phrase “his own town” in Matthew 9:1 pertained to Capernaum rather than Nazareth, which is supported by ample evidence. First, the Greek word used by Matthew in 9:1 is different from the Greek word used in 13:54, where Jesus’ visit to Nazareth is narrated:

καὶ ἐλθὼν εἰς τὴν πατρίδα αὐτοῦ ἐδίδασκεν αὐτοὺς ἐν τῇ συναγωγῇ αὐτῶν (New Testament in Greek)

Then he came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue. (Matthew 13:54)

Καὶ ἐμβὰς εἰς πλοῖον διεπέρασε καὶ ἦλθεν εἰς τὴν ἰδίαν πόλιν.

After getting into a boat he crossed to the other side and came to his own town. (Matthew 9:1)

It should be noted that this distinction in vocabulary was reflected also in the Latin translation of the Bible (known as Vulgate), but Pseudo-Barnabas became pathetically unaware of it despite his use of that particular translation:

Et ascendens in naviculam, transfretavit, et venit in civitatem suam. (Matthew 9:1)

Et veniens in patriam suam, docebat eos in synagogis eorum, ita ut mirarentur, et dicerent: Unde huic sapientia hæc, et virtutes? (Matthew 13:54) (Vulgate)

Second, Evangelist Matthew did not deem it necessary to make an explicit reference to Capernaum in 9:1 since he had already related in his Gospel how and why Capernaum became Jesus’ own town at the beginning of His prophetic ministry:

Now when Jesus heard that John had been imprisoned, he went into Galilee. While in Galilee, he moved from Nazareth to make his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by Isaiah the prophet would be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way by the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, and on those who sit in the region and shadow of death a light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach this message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:12-17)

Fake Barnabas did not take this section into account and erroneously concluded that Jesus’ own town was still Nazareth.7

Third, a comparative reading of Matthew 9:1-8 with Mark 2:1-12 confirms that Evangelist Matthew had in mind Capernaum rather than Nazareth when he used the phrase “Jesus’ own town”, for Mark repeated the account of Jesus’ healing a paralytic in Matthew 9:1-8 only with slight variations and additionally said that this miraculous incident occurred in Capernaum. Thus, the implicit reference to Jesus’ own town Capernaum in Matthew 9:1 was made explicit in Mark 2:1. The interesting point here is that Pseudo-Barnabas narrated the same incident in his false Gospel, but unsurprisingly contended that the place where Jesus healed the paralytic man was His own town Nazareth rather than Capernaum. To compare and contrast:

After getting into a boat he crossed to the other side and came to his own town. Just then some people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Have courage, son! Your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:1-2)

Now after some days, when he returned to Capernaum, the news spread that he was at home. So many gathered that there was no longer any room, not even by the door, and he preached the word to them. Some people came bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. When they were not able to bring him in because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Jesus. Then, after tearing it out, they lowered the stretcher the paralytic was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:1-5)

Jesus having arrived in his own country, it was spread through all the region of Galilee how that Jesus the prophet was come to Nazareth. Whereupon with diligence sought they the sick and brought them to him, beseeching him that he would touch them with his hands. And so great was the multitude that a certain rich man sick of the palsy, not being able to get himself carried through the door, had himself carried up to the roof of the house in which Jesus was, and having caused the roof to be uncovered, and himself let down by sheets in front of Jesus. Jesus stood for a moment in hesitation, and then he said: ‘Fear not, brother, for thy sins are forgiven thee.’ (GOB 71)

This comparison endorses fake Barnabas’ undeniable confusion and his silly eagerness to correct Mark’s text by replacing the word Capernaum with Nazareth, which consolidated his prevalent geographical mistake.

It is without doubt that spurious Barnabas’ aim to work the four canonical Gospels into one single text through distortion and adaptation made him abandon the peculiar order of narratives in a Gospel and contributed to his confusion concerning the location of Nazareth and Capernaum. Below are the steps followed by medieval Barnabas in the forgery of the sections that falsely present Nazareth as a place on the shore of Galilee and Capernaum as a location away from the sea.

Pseudo-Barnabas devised chapters 16-19 by following the outline in Matthew’s Gospel. He linked Jesus’ miracle of healing a leper to the narrative of the Sermon on the Mount in the same way as Matthew by teaching that Jesus wrought this particular miracle right after coming down from the Mount (in Matthew, Jesus’ sermon starts in 5:1 and ends in 7:28, and the healing of the leper is recounted in 8:1-4). Obviously, fake Barnabas had to replace the narrative of Jesus’ healing one single leper in Matthew 8:1-4 with the account of Jesus’ healing ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19 because he had already recounted the former as an incident occurring at the beginning of Jesus’ prophetic ministry and associated it with Jesus’ coming down from the Mount of Olives after receiving the book of prophecy (chapters 10-11). This textual modification, which is based on Pseudo-Barnabas’ weird combination of the material in Matthew with the one in Luke, turns out to be one of the major factors that prompted the medieval author to interpret Jesus’ own town mentioned in Matthew 9:1 as Nazareth.

He produced chapter 20 by drawing heavily from Matthew 8:23-27, but did not keep faithful to the order of the events given by the canonical author since his primary aim was to reconcile Matthew with Luke through hasty combination. As a result, he had to teach that Jesus calmed the storm (Matthew 8:23-27) on the way to His own town (Matthew 9:1) on the occasion of His first visit to Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30). In short, fake Barnabas’ new and twisted order of events that was born of his careless plagiarism from both Matthew and Luke convinced him that Jesus’ own town (Matthew 9:1) could not have referred to Capernaum, but to Nazareth in accordance with the material he copied from Luke (4:16-30).

He devised chapter 21 by following the same strategy and reaching the same mistaken conclusion. All of the three Evangelists narrated the account of the demons and the swine (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39) right after that of Jesus’ calming the storm (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25) and agreed that Jesus’ miracle of casting out demons and sending them to a herd of swine occurred in a place other than Capernaum (Gadarenes in Matthew vs Gerasenes in Mark and Luke with a slight variation in the name of the same Gentile territory). However, Pseudo-Barnabas contradicted the three Evangelists by claiming that this same miracle happened in Capernaum (GOB 21) and right after Jesus’ rejection by the townsfolk in Nazareth (GOB 20). This discrepancy came into existence because fake Barnabas inserted the narrative of Jesus’ first visit to Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30) between that of Jesus’ calming the storm and that of His casting out the demons. In Luke’s peculiar chronology, Jesus first went to Nazareth at the beginning of His ministry and was rejected by His folk (4:16-30), He then went down to Capernaum and healed a demoniac there (4:31-37). This peculiar chronology in Luke compelled medieval Barnabas to change the original place of this miracle from Gaderenes (Gesarenes) into Capernaum with the help of the thematic association he noticed between the two miracles (on both occasions Jesus healed a demoniac).

It is also noteworthy that some sentences uttered by Jesus to the demoniac healed in the Gentile territory and recorded in the canonical accounts seem out of place in the Gospel of Barnabas. As a result, Jesus’ words addressing the healed demoniac in the canonical Gospels are directed at one of the ten healed lepers in the medieval forgery. This textual modification is significant as it displays the degree of medieval Barnabas’ confusion that was caused by his unfaithfulness to the canonical Gospels and predicts his imminent mistakes that will be introduced in the coming chapter:

As he was getting into the boat the man who had been demon-possessed asked if he could go with him. But Jesus did not permit him to do so. Instead, he said to him, “Go to your home and to your people and tell them what the Lord has done for you, that he had mercy on you.” So he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him, and all were amazed. (Mark 5:18-20)

Jesus answered: ‘Ten have been cleansed; where are the nine?’ And he said to him that was cleansed: ‘I am not come to be served, but to serve; wherefore go to thine home, and recount how much God hath done in thee, in order that they may know that the promises made to Abraham and his son, with the kingdom of God, are drawing nigh.’ The cleansed leper departed, and having arrived in his own neighbourhood recounted how much God through Jesus had wrought in him. (GOB 19)

Strikingly, despite his systematic plagiarism from Luke’s Gospel, Pseudo-Barnabas was so obstinate in his false presumptions and mistakes that he ignored Evangelist Luke’s implicit depiction of Capernaum as a coastal town (Luke says Jesus went down to Capernaum from Nazareth) and corrected this supposed mistake by making Jesus go from Nazareth up to Capernaum. Further, he added a new absurdity to his Gospel by asserting that the expelled demons entered into the swine and “cast them headlong into the sea” in Capernaum (GOB 21), which, according to Barnabas, was an inland town far from the coastal town of Nazareth.

To sum up, Pseudo-Barnabas’ prevalent geographical mistake stemmed from his misreading Matthew 9:1, which resulted in his confusion of Capernaum with Nazareth, and got a more complicated nature with the help of the chain of blunders he created while struggling to copy and distort the canonical Gospels. Associating Jesus’ first visit to Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30) with Matthew 9:1 was the first link of that chain whilst ascribing the place of the particular miracle in Luke 4:31-37 to the narrative of a similar miracle in all the synoptic Gospels (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39) became the last.


Of the various mistakes in the medieval Gospel of Barnabas, we have chosen only the most prevalent historical and geographical mistake for analysis in this second part of our study. Our textual examination and comparison of the medieval Gospel of Barnabas with the canonical Gospels of the first century A.D. reveals the source of spurious Barnabas’ mistaken presumption that the Roman governor Pontius Pilate was in power at the time of Jesus’ nativity and that Nazareth was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The cause of these blunders is proven to be Pseudo-Barnabas’ foundational mistake: betraying the canonical accounts and trying to replace them with his forgery. The outcome of this betrayal is a fake Gospel having several absurdities and mistakes penned by a pathetic and confused writer cursed by the Evangelists.



Theological Implications of the Nazareth-Capernaum Pair in Matthew and Luke

Nazareth and Capernaum, which were confused by Pseudo-Barnabas, are significant not only because they are places where Jesus spent some part of His life and which he repeatedly visited during His prophetic ministry, but also because they bear remarkable theological implications as a pair in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke.

All of the four Evangelists, without exception, refer to the town of Nazareth as Jesus’ hometown (Matthew 13:53-58; Mark 6:1-6; Luke 4:16-30; John 1:46) and bind Jesus’ rejection to His being a Nazarene, an inhabitant of Nazareth. This connection is most dramatically manifested in Jesus’ passion narrative in John: His cross had an inscription that identified Him as “Jesus the Nazarene” (John 19:19).

Of the four Evangelists, Matthew and Luke relate Jesus’ nativity and infancy and give different, but related reasons for Jesus’ settlement in Nazareth despite His birth in Bethlehem, the city of King David. According to Matthew, Jesus was brought up in Nazareth because His foster father Joseph chose it as a safer place after returning from Egypt (Matthew 2:19-23), where Joseph and Mary had previously taken refuge while escaping the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:13-18). Luke, on the other hand, implicitly binds Jesus’ identification as a Nazarene to His parents’ being inhabitants of Nazareth prior to His birth in Bethlehem (Luke 1:26; 2:39, 51). These reasons are obviously different, but it is possible to reconcile them by first posing a question about the account in Matthew and then answering it with the help of the information given in Luke. After returning from Egypt and deciding not to settle in Judea, why did Joseph choose particularly Nazareth of all the other Galilean towns? Most probably because Nazareth had been his hometown before going to Bethlehem on the occasion of the census and Christ's nativity (Luke 2:1-5).

Interestingly, in Matthew’s infancy narrative the reason for Joseph’s settlement with Mary and infant Jesus in Nazareth finds a theological basis when it is linked to an Old Testament prophecy concerning the Messiah’s identification as a Nazarene (2:23). This certain prophecy has been the subject of religious debates and accusations targeting the integrity of Matthew’s Gospel, for the Old Testament contains no prophecy that portrays the expected Messiah as a Nazarene or refers to a place named Nazareth. However, this difficulty is surmounted with the help of the unique way this certain prophecy is formulated by Matthew, who uses the word prophet in plural form only while talking of the Messianic prophecies in connection with Jesus’ settlement in Nazareth. Thus, Matthew’s reference to a group of prophets rather than a single prophet shows his awareness of the fact that there was no explicit prophecy associating the Messiah with Nazareth.

Traditionally, two theories are presented to explain what Matthew might have meant when he referred to the word Nazarene in 2:23. The first theory is based on the phonological similarities between the consonants of the word Nazarene in Hebrew and the Hebrew word for “bud” in some Messianic prophecies of Isaiah (*) while the second theory is based on the negative cultural/social implications of being an inhabitant of Nazareth in Israel in Jesus’ period. Thus, the word Nazarene is interpreted in association with the notion of scorn and rejection, which finds support also in the words of one of Jesus’ disciples in the Gospel of John: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (1:46). This peculiar use of the word Nazarene as a derogatory term is thematically combined with the prophecies predicting the Messiah’s rejection by His people in the Old Testament (*).  As a consequence of these connections, we see Nazareth as a representative of the whole nation of Israel, which despised and objected to their promised Messiah.

Further, Matthew is the only Evangelist to state that Jesus left Nazareth for Capernaum when He started His prophetic ministry after His forerunner’s (John the Baptist) imprisonment. The reason for this change in Jesus’ location is theologically linked by Matthew to a prophecy in Isaiah’s book, which predicts the revelation of God’s word to the Gentiles:

“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way by the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, and on those who sit in the region and shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:15-16)

This prophecy, when read along with the one in 2:23, manifests how Nazareth and Capernaum were made into a pair in Matthew’s Gospel due to the similarities drawn by the Evangelist. In both cases Jesus made a settlement in a certain place, which resulted in the fulfillment of some related Messianic prophecies. More, both Nazareth and Capernaum were towns in Galilee. However, as the prophecy quoted by Matthew indicates, Capernaum came to represent the Gentiles because of its population whereas Nazareth the nation of Israel, forming a contrast stressing the enmity between the Jews and the Gentiles.

Amazingly, this contrastive pair of Nazareth and Capernaum and its theological implications were employed also by Evangelist Luke, who narrated Jesus’ first visit to Nazareth as an event occurring right at the beginning of His prophetic ministry (Luke 4:16-30) unlike Matthew and Mark, who located the same incident in the late period of Jesus’ mission (Matthew 13:53-58; Mark 6:1-6). This chronology peculiar to the Gospel of Luke stems from the Evangelist's wish to give primacy to Nazareth in the narration of Jesus’ mission. The narrative in Luke, unlike its parallels in Matthew and Mark, includes a Messianic prophecy uttered by Jesus Himself in a synagogue, which serves to strengthen the tie between Jesus’ hometown (Nazareth) and His rejection by His people in addition to the links between the Messianic prophecies and Jesus’ actions. While responding to the people of Nazareth who object to His Messianic claims and despise Him, Jesus makes an interesting reference to Capernaum:

Then he began to tell them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read.” All were speaking well of him, and were amazed at the gracious words coming out of his mouth. They said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Jesus said to them, “No doubt you will quote to me the proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ and say, ‘What we have heard that you did in Capernaum, do here in your hometown too.’” (Luke 4:21-23).

This is where we can witness Jesus Himself highlight the pair of Nazareth and Capernaum right at the beginning of His ministry and make use of it for a significant theological lesson. In order to support His teaching that “No prophet is acceptable in his hometown” (Luke 2:24), Jesus talked of Elijah and Elisha's prophetic ministries and particularly laid emphasis on the non-Jewish identity of the two people on whom God’s grace was bestowed through Elijah and Elisha. (The two examples given by Jesus also form a pair based on gender as Elisha healed a male officer in the Syrian army whereas Elijah helped a widow, that is, a female foreigner):

But in truth I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up three and a half years, and there was a great famine over all the land. Yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to a woman who was a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, yet none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:25-27)

The people in the synagogue considered these examples scandalous and felt resentful because of the contrast Jesus underlined between the Jews and Gentiles with regard to having faith and salvation. They were not pleased to hear Jesus praise the Gentiles for their faith and rebuke His own people for their disbelief. Having been fuelled by rage, they took Jesus out of their synagogue and attempted to turn their fury into violence:

When they heard this, all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, forced him out of the town, and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But he passed through the crowd and went on his way. (Luke 4:28-30)

The comparative reading of this account with Matthew 4:12-17 clarifies the reason underlying Jesus’ particular reference to Capernaum while delivering a speech in a synagogue of Nazareth: in Jesus’ contrastive pair Nazareth, being His hometown, corresponded to Israel whilst Capernaum, being a territory where the population was mostly non-Jewish, to the Gentiles. The use of Nazareth as the representative of Israel and of Capernaum as the representative of the non-Jewish nations also answers the question why Luke related Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum after the account of His visit to Nazareth (4:31-41) although Jesus’ words in the synagogue “No doubt you will quote to me the proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ and say, ‘What we have heard that you did in Capernaum, do here in your hometown too’” implied that He had already performed some miracles in Capernaum before coming to His hometown (*).

Unsurprisingly, according to the chronology in Luke, Jesus left Nazareth after His rejection by His people and then proceeded to Capernaum (4:29-31). This is in perfect harmony not only with Jesus’ moving from Nazareth to Capernaum after John's imprisonment in Matthew, but also with the major theological implication of Jesus’ making Capernaum His new home after Nazareth: He first went to the house of Israel, but His own people rejected Him. Then He went to the Gentiles and became source of life and salvation for them. This remarkable teaching, which is one of the basic facts of Jesus’ Gospel, is also beautifully expressed in the prologue to John’s Gospel:

He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. But to all who have received him – those who believe in his name – he has given the right to become God’s children. (John 1:11-12)


Further reading: Breaking the Codes of the Gospel of Barnabas


1 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.

2 Careless readers may mistakenly conclude that Luke 3:1 is equally erroneous as it refers to Pontius Pilate and Herod as rulers of the same period, but this faulty presumption is rebutted when it is realized that Herod in this verse is not the same person as the king of Judea mentioned in Luke 1:5. This is why Luke says that Herod was the tetrarch of Galilee when Pilate was in power in Judea. These were different territories.

3 A Turkish website dedicated to the defense and promotion of the Gospel of Barnabas raises this objection: “Another charge of contradiction is brought up about the names of the two Roman governors (Pilate), but it is possible that two governors that came to power in two different periods had the same name”, translation mine of the Turkish material.

4 All Biblical references in this study come from the NET Bible.

5 As we discussed in our first article, Pseudo-Barnabas’ aversion to the narrative of Jesus’ first visitation to the temple on the 40th day of His birth in Luke (2:25-38) caused him to designate the temple as the place of Jesus’ circumcision rather than presentation. Consequently, some major motifs that belonged to the account of Jesus’ presentation in Luke were forced into the account of His circumcision in the Gospel of Barnabas.

6 The other remedy that is tried by Muslims who strive to clear the Gospel of Barnabas of this major geographical mistake is founded on the lack of sufficient evidence that Nazareth was a town away from the Sea of Galilee. In order to cast doubt upon the validity of the charge that this is a mistake, a reference is made to Prof. Blackhirst, who is claimed to have said that “the traditional location of Nazareth itself is questionable” (Wikipedia, 28 October 2010). The link to the source of this challenging remark has been dead for a long time, since the article putting forward that argument was removed from the web already at the end of 2005. Although Prof. Blackhirst deleted that particular article of criticism from his website, it can still be accessed via the web archive (*). People who cling to this contention disregard the significant fact that nobody had heard of a Nazareth on the shore until Pseudo-Barnabas devised his story.

7 In the Gospel of Barnabas, Jesus never relocates anywhere else while the canonical Gospels are clear that Jesus relocates his ministry base after he is rejected in Nazareth.

Examining the Gospel of Barnabas
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