The crucifixion of Christ

December 2020

The Muslim professes not to believe in the death of Jesus, at least that is the view of the preponderating orthodox party. The vast majority of Muslim people have always held and do still hold that God took Jesus up to heaven, so that He escaped death that day at the place called Golgotha.

> “That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”; but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise” (An-Nisa 4:157, 158)

The orthodox view – Jesus did not die: Another was taken and crucified instead of Christ

This belief is based on the traditional interpretation of the most interesting of four passages, namely 4:157. It is argued that God would never have permitted Jesus to die so shameful a death, otherwise He would have been “accursed of God” (Deuteronomy 21:23); an impossible fate for a prophet of God. What actually happened was that “one was made to appear to them like (Jesus)” or as Yusuf Ali says: “but so it was made to appear to them.” The latter goes on to say:”The Quranic teaching is that Christ was not crucified nor killed by the Jews, notwithstanding certain apparent circumstances which produced the illusion in the minds of some of his enemies ………………………..  but thatthere was confusion at the time as to who was really crucified. Thus the Quran says that “They who differed about him were in doubt concerning him no sure knowledge had they about him, but followed only an opinion”.

The phrase just quoted has provoked amongst Muslim writers the most remarkable speculations. Baidawi, for instance, remarks that while some Jews maintained that Jesus was justly crucified, others said that it was not he who suffered, but another who resembled him in features. Much is said about the identity of the person mistakenly crucified in place of Jesus; thus Baidawi mentions Titanus as the individual but others have suggested Faltianus, and Shuyugh, the King of the Jews. (Qisasu’l-Anbiya, pp 274-5). In any case it is stated that it was God who changed these men into the form or appearance of Jesus. Tabari, commenting on this passage, quotes Ibn ‘Abbas to the effect that Jesus in Gethsemane asked, “Is there anyone who will offer himself in my stead? I will promise him a place in heaven”. Thereupon one of the disciples, Sergius by name, gave himself up to Jesus to be transformed into his likeness and to be crucified instead of him. After the crucifixion the disciples discovered that one of their number was missing. It was then that Judas went away and hanged himself, because he realized that he had been the means of a fellow disciple’s death.

In the spurious Gospel of Barnabas (Muslims often mistakenly, and at times wilfully, confuse this so called Gospel with the Epistle of Barnabas; the latter was compiled between AD 96-120, but wrongly attributed to Barnabas) Judas is the one to suffer crucifixion because of mistaken identity: He (Jesus) was in the house and they took him “out by the window”…..… “and placed him in the third heaven in the company of angels blessing God for evermore”. Judas impetuously entered the chamber while the disciples were sleeping, “whereupon the wonderful God acted wonderfully, insomuch that Judas was so changed in speech and face to be like Jesus that we believed him to be Jesus. And he having awakened us was seeking where the Master was. Whereupon we marvelled, and answered: “Thou, Lord, art our Master, hast thou now forgotten us?” And he, smiling said: “Now are ye foolish that know not me to be Judas Iscariot!” Thereupon the soldiers entered and laid their hands upon him “because he was in every way like to Jesus”, When Judas protested, “the soldiers lost their patience, and with blows and kicks they began to flout Judas and they led him with fury into Jerusalem”.

Words attributed to Jesus in the gospel account of the trial and crucifixion are then adapted for use by Judas, and finally he is led away and crucified. Enough has been quoted to show that this so-called “Gospel”, to which Muslim writers repeatedly refer, is nothing but a clumsy fabrication. The earliest form of it known to us is in an Italian manuscript. This has been closely analysed by scholars and is judged to belong to the 15th or 16th century, i.e. 1,400 years after the time of Barnabas. It is believed to be the work of a renegade European, with little knowledge of Christianity and still less of Islam. Sale, who referred to it 200 years ago in the Preface to his English translation of the Quran, there stated that “it appears to be a barefaced forgery”.

The influence of Gnostic Writers

Undoubtedly Muslim writers have been influenced by the speculations of the Gnostics and Docetists in the sub-apostolic period. For instance, a very similar view of this mistaken identity theory is to be found in the heretical teachings of the Manichaeans, centuries before the rise of Islam. Mani (3rd cent) and before him Basilides, taught that it was Simon of Cyrene, who took the place of Jesus and was crucified. The Gnostics of the second century contended that Jesus had no real share in the material side of human life and was “an abstract phantom” and so therefore claimed that he took on a different guise to different onlookers, at different times.

Here is what Mr. Yusuf Ali says in his comment on Surah 4:157: “The Orthodox Christian Churches make it a cardinal point of their doctrine that his (Jesus’) life was taken on the cross, that he died and was buried, that on the third day he rose in the body with his wounds intact, and walked about and conversed, and ate with his disciples, and was afterwards taken up bodily to heaven. This is necessary for the theological doctrine of blood sacrifice and vicarious atonement for sins, which is rejected by Islam. But some of the early Christian sects did not believe that Christ was killed on the cross. The Basilidans believed that some one else was substituted for him. The Docetae held that Christ never had a real physical or natural body, but only an apparent or phantom body, and that his crucifixion was only apparent, not real. The Marcionite Gospel (about A.D. 138) denied that Jesus was born and merely said that he appeared in human form. The Gospel of Barnabas supported their theory of substitution on the Cross.”

The Gospels

Our earliest and only historical documents on the subject are the gospels; why not be guided by these? With one voice these proclaim that Jesus of Nazareth was put to death on the cross, by the orders of Pontius Pilate, at the instigation of the Jews. In those records there is not the remotest suggestion either of confusion of identity, or of substitution, nor yet the slightest doubt but that Jesus actually died on the cross. But no, rather than face the fact, the Muslim prefers to dally with an admitted heresy and to attest it instead of the only historical account of the event which the world possesses. The pity of it.