See J. M. Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Library in English (1988).
This Gospel is considered by the majority of academics, including Christians and some Muslims (such as Abbas el-Akkad) to be late and pseudepigraphical; however, some academics suggest that it may contain some remnants of an earlier apocryphal work edited to conform to Islam, perhaps Gnostic or Ebionite or Diatessaronic ; and some Muslim scholars consider the surviving versions as transmitting a suppressed apostolic original. Some Islamic organizations cite it in support of the Islamic view of Jesus.
The earliest document mentioning a Barnabas gospel which is generally agreed to correspond with the one found in the two known manuscripts, is reported to be contained in Morisco manuscript BNM MS 9653 in Madrid, written about 1634 by Ibrahim al-Taybili in Tunisia . While describing how the Bible predicts Muhammad, he speaks of the "Gospel of Saint Barnabas where one can find the light" ("y así mismo en Evangelio de San Bernabé, donde de hallará la luz"). It was mentioned again in 1718 by the Irish deist John Toland, and was mentioned in 1734 by George Sale in The Preliminary Discourse to the Koran:
This appears to allude to versions of both the known manuscripts: the Italian and the Spanish.
A "Gospel according to Barnabas" is mentioned in two early Christian lists of apocryphal works: the Latin Decretum Gelasianum (6th century), as well as a 7th-century Greek List of the Sixty Books. These lists are independent witnesses. In 1698 John Ernest Grabe found an otherwise unreported saying of Jesus , attributed to the Apostle Barnabas, amongst the Greek manuscripts in the Baroccian collection in the Bodleian Library; which he speculated might be a quotation from this lost gospel; and John Toland claimed to have identified a corresponding phrase when he examined the surviving Italian manuscript of the Gospel of Barnabas in Amsterdam before 1709. Subsequent scholars examining the Italian and Spanish texts have been unable, however, to confirm Toland's observation.
This work should not be confused with the surviving Epistle of Barnabas, which may have been written in 2nd century Alexandria. There is no link between the two books in style, content or history other than their attribution to Barnabas. On the issue of circumcision, the books clearly hold very different views, that of the epistle's rejection of the Jewish practice as opposed to the gospel's promotion of the same. Neither should it be confused with the surviving Acts of Barnabas, which narrates an account of Barnabas' travels, martyrdom and burial; and which is generally thought to have been written in Cyprus sometime after 431.
In 478, during the reign of the Emperor Zeno, archbishop Anthemios of Cyprus announced that the hidden burial place of Barnabas had been revealed to him in a dream. The saint's body was claimed to have been discovered in a cave with a copy of the canonical Gospel of Matthew on its breast; according to the contemporary account of Theodorus Lector, who reports that both bones and gospel book were presented by Anthemios to the emperor . Some scholars who maintain the antiquity of the Gospel of Barnabas propose that the text purportedly discovered in 478 should be identified with the Gospel of Barnabas instead; but this supposition is at variance with an account of the Gospel by Severus of Antioch, who reported having examined the manuscript around the year 500, seeking to find whether it supported the piercing of the crucifed Jesus by a spear at Matthew 27:49 (it did not). According to the 11th century Byzantine historian Georgios Kedrenos an uncial manuscript of Matthew's Gospel, believed to be that found by Anthemios, was then still preserved in the Chapel of St Stephen in the imperial palace.
In 1985, it was briefly claimed that an early Syriac copy of this gospel had been found near Hakkari . However, it has since been asserted that this manuscript actually contains the canonical Bible
Italian Ms. Prince Eugene's Italian manuscript had been presented to him in 1713 by John Frederick Cramer ; it appears to date to the end of the sixteenth century . It was transferred to the Hofbibliothek in Vienna in 1738 with the rest of his library, and still survives there, in the Austrian National Library. The pages of the Italian manuscript are framed in an Islamic style, and contain chapter rubrics and margin notes in ungrammatical Arabic : ; with an occasional Turkish word, and many Turkish syntactical features. Its binding is Turkish, and appears to be original ; but the paper has an Italian watermark . The same scribe wrote both the Italian text and the Arabic notes, and was clearly "occidental" in being accustomed to write from left to right. The Italian spelling is idiosyncratic in frequently doubling consonants and adding an intrusive intitial "h" where a word starts with a vowel (e.g. "hanno" for "anno"). There are catchwords at the bottom of each page, a practice common in manuscripts intended to be set up for printing. The manuscript appears to be unfinished - in that the 222 chapters are provided throughout with framed blank spaces for titular headings, but only 27 of these spaces have been filled. It is the Italian version that the Raggs' 1907 translation, the most commonly circulated in English, is based on. It was followed in 1908 by an Arabic translation by Khalil Saadah, published in Egypt.
Spanish Ms. The known Spanish manuscript was lost in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries; however an eighteenth century copy of it was discovered in the 1970s in the University of Sydney's Fisher Library among the books of Sir Charles Nicholson, labelled in English "Transcribed from ms. in possession of the Revd Mr Edm. Callamy who bought it at the decease of Mr George Sale...and now gave me at the decease of Mr John Nickolls, 1745".
Its main difference from the Italian manuscript is that the surviving transcript does not record a substantial number of chapters—which had, however, still been present in the Spanish original when it was examined by George Sale . The Spanish text is preceded by a note claiming that it was translated from Italian by Mustafa de Aranda, an Aragonese Muslim resident in Istanbul. The Spanish manuscript also contains a preface by one assuming the pseudonym 'Fra Marino', claiming to have stolen a copy of the Italian version from the library of Pope Sixtus V . Fra Marino, reports that, having a post in the Inquisition Court, he had come into possession of several works, which led him to believe that the Biblical text had been corrupted, and that genuine apostolic texts had been improperly excluded. Fra Marino also claims to have been alerted to the existence of the Gospel of Barnabas, from an allusion in an work by Irenaeus against Paul; in a book which had been presented to him by a lady of the Colonna family (Marino, outside Rome, is the location of the Palazzo Colonna) .
Some students of the work argue for an Italian origin , noting phrases in Barnabas which are very similar to phrases used by Dante and suggesting that the author of Barnabas borrowed from Dante's works; they take the Spanish version's preface to support this conclusion . Other students have noted a range of textual similarities between passages in the Gospel of Barnabas, and variously the texts of a series of late mediaeval vernacular harmonies of the four canonical gospels (in Middle English and Middle Dutch, but especially in Middle Italian); which are all speculated as deriving from a lost Old Latin version of the Diatessaron of Tatian . This would also support an Italian origin.
Other students argue that the Spanish version came first, regarding the Spanish preface's claims of an Italian source as intended to boost the work's credibility by linking it to the Papal libraries. These scholars note parallels with a series of Morisco forgeries, the Sacromonte tablets of Granada, dating from the 1590s; or otherwise with Morisco reworkings of Christian and Islamic traditions, produced following their expulsion from Spain The lost Spanish manuscript claimed to have been written in Istanbul, previously Constantinople, and the surviving Italian manuscript has several Turkish features; so - whether the language of origin was Spanish or Italian - Istanbul is regarded by most students as the place of origin of the present text. This view has added credibility, in that many early Christian and patristic texts might still be found, in the 16th century, in the Greek libraries of ancient Constantinople - and the city contained substantial Greek, Italian and Spanish speaking communities.
Following the conquest of Moorish Granada in 1492, Sephardi Jews and Muslim Mudejar were expelled from Spain. Although some found initial refuge in Italy (especially Venice), most resettled in the Ottoman Empire, where Spanish speaking Jews established in Istanbul a rich sub-culture with a flourishing Hebrew and Ladino printing industry. Numbers were further agumented after 1550, following campaigns of persecution by the Venetian Inquisition against Italian anti-Trinitarians and Jews . Although Muslim teaching at this time strongly opposed the printing of Islamic or Arabic texts, non-Muslim printing was not, in principle, forbidden; indeed attempts were made in the 1570s by anti-Trinitarians to establish a printing press in the Turkish capital to publish radical Protestant works . . In the Spanish preface, Fra Marino records his wish that the Gospel of Barnabas should be printed, and the only place in Europe where that would have been possible in the late 16th century would have been Istanbul.
A minority of students - such as David Sox - are, however, suspicious of the apparent 'Turkish' features of the Italian manuscript ; especially the Arabic annotations, which they adjudge to be so riddled with elementary errors as to be most unlikely to have been written in Istanbul (even by an Italian scribe). In particular, they note that the glossing of the Italian version of the shahada into Arabic, does not correspond exactly with the standard ritual formula recited daily by every Muslim. These students are inclined to infer from these inconsistencies that both manuscripts may represent an exercise in forensic falsification, and they tend to locate their place of origin as Rome.
Few academics argue that the text, in its present form, dates back any earlier than the 14th–16th centuries; although a minority see it as containing portions of an earlier work, and almost all would detect the influence of earlier sources—over and above the Vulgate text of the Latin Bible. Consequently most students would concur with a stratification of the surviving text into at least three distinct layers of composition:
Much of the controversy and dispute concerning the authenticity of the Gospel of Barnabas can be re-expressed as debating whether specific highly transgressive themes (from an orthodox Christian perspective) might already have been present in the source materials utilised by a 14th–16th century vernacular author, whether they might be due to that author himself, or whether they might even have been interpolated by the subsequent editor. Those students who regard these particular themes as primitive, nevertheless do not generally dispute that other parts of the Gospel may be late and anachronistic; while those students who reject the authenticity of these particular themes do not generally dispute that other parts of the Gospel could be transmitting variant readings from antiquity.
This work bears strong parallels with the Islamic faith, not only mentioning Muhammad by name, but including the shahadah (chapter 39). It is strongly anti-Pauline and anti-Trinitarian in tone. In this work, Jesus is described as a prophet and not the son of God , while Paul is called "the deceived". Furthermore, the Gospel of Barnabas states that Jesus escaped crucifixion by being raised alive to heaven; while Judas Iscariot the traitor was crucified in his place. These beliefs; in particular that Jesus is a prophet of God and raised alive without being crucified; conform with Islamic beliefs.
Other passages however conflict with the text/teachings of the Qur'an; as for instance in the account of the Nativity, where Mary is said to have given birth to Jesus without pain ; or as in Jesus's ministry, where he permits the drinking of wine and enjoins monogamy , though the Quran acknowledges each prophet had a set of their own laws that might differ in some aspects from each other. Others examples include that hell will only be for the committers of the seven death sins (Barnabas: 4-44/135), anyone who refuses to be circumsized will not enter paradise (Barnabas 17/23), that God has a soul (Barnabas 6/82), that there are 9 heavens (Barnabas 3/105).
If (as most students surmise) the Gospel of Barnabas is seen as an attempted synthesis of elements from both Christianity and Islam, then sixteenth and seventeenth century parallels can be suggested in Morisco and anti-Trinitarian writings.
The Spanish version includes an account of the discovery of the Gospel of Barnabas in the private study of Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590).
It contains an extended polemic against the doctrine of predestination (Chapter 164), and in favour of justification by faith; arguing that the eternal destination of the soul to Heaven or Hell is neither pre-determined by God's grace (as in Calvinism), nor the judgement of God, in his mercy, on the faith of believers on Earth (as in orthodox Islam). Instead it states that all those condemned at the last judgment, but who subsequently respond in faith, who demonstrate unfeigned penitence, and who make a free choice of blessedness, will eventually be offered salvation (Chapter 137) . Only those whose persistent pride prevents them from sincere repentance will remain forever in Hell. Such radically Pelagian beliefs in the sixteenth century were found amongst the anti-Trinitarian Protestant traditions later denoted as Unitarianism. Some sixteenth century anti-Trinitarian divines sought to reconcile Christianity, Islam and Judaism; on the basis of very similar arguments to those presented in the Gospel of Barnabas, arguing that if salvation remains unresolved until the end times, then any one of the three religions could be a valid path to heaven for their own believers. The Spaniard, Michael Servetus denounced the orthodox Christian formulation of the Trinity (demonstrating the only explicit reference to the Trinity in the New Testament to be a later interpolation); and hoped thereby to bridge the doctrinal divide between Christianity and Islam. In 1553 he was executed in Geneva under the authority of John Calvin, but his teachings remained very influential amongst Italian Protestant exiles. In the late sixteenth century many anti-Trinitarians, persecuted both by Calvinists and by the Inquisition, sought refuge in Transylvania: ; then under Turkish overlordship and with close links to Istanbul .
Included in chapter 145 is "The little book of Elijah; which sets out instructions for a righteous life of ascetisim and eremetic spirituality. Over the succeeding 47 chapters, Jesus is recorded as developing the theme that the ancient prophets, specifically Obadiah, Haggai and Hosea, were holy hermits following this religious rule ; and contrasting their followers - termed "true Pharisees" - with the "false Pharisees" who lived in the world, and who constituted his chief opponents. The "true Pharisees" are said to congregate on Mount Carmel. This accords with the teaching of the medieval Carmelites, who lived as an eremetic congregation on Carmel in the 13th century; but who claimed (without any evidence) to be direct successors of Elijah and the Old Testament prophets. In 1291 the Mamluk advance into Syria compelled the friars on Carmel to abandon their monastery; but on dispersing through Western Europe they found that Western Carmelite congregations - especially in Italy - had largely abandoned the eremetic and ascetic ideal, adopting instead the conventual life and mission of the other Mendicant orders. Some students consider that the ensuing 14th-16th century controversies can be found reflected in the text of the Gospel of Barnabas) .
The Gospel also takes a strongly anti-Pauline tone at times, saying in the Italian version's beginning: "many, being deceived of Satan, under pretence of piety, are preaching most impious doctrine, calling Jesus son of God, repudiating the circumcision ordained of God for ever, and permitting every unclean meat: among whom also Paul has been deceived."
(Ahmad is another name of Muhammad.) A Muslim scholarly tradition links this Qur'anic passage to the New Testament references to the Paraclete (John 14:16, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7). The Greek word "paraclete" can be translated "Counsellor"; and in the Christian tradition, is said to refer to the Holy Spirit. Some Muslim scholars have noted the similarity to the Greek "periklutos" which can be translated as "admirable one"; or in Arabic, "Ahmad .
The name of "Muhammad" is frequently mentioned verbatim in the Gospel of Barnabas, as in the following quote:
However, while there are many passages where the Gospel of Barnabas sets out alternative readings to parallel pericopes found in the canonical gospels, none of the references to Muhammad by name occurs in such a synoptic passage; and in particular, none of the "Muhammad" references in Barnabas corresponds to a "Paraclete" reference in canonical John. There is only one instance where the Gospel of Barnabas might be understood as "correcting" a known canonical pericope, so as to record a prophecy by Jesus of the (unnamed) Messenger of God:
This passage corresponds closely with the canonical John 1:19-30, except that in that passage, the words are spoken by John the Baptist (in the Qur'an; Yahya ibn Zakariya) and refer to Jesus.
As mentioned above, these pronouncements appear to contradict Islamic belief. However, the well-known Muslim scholar of comparative religion, Sheikh Ahmed Deedat argues that, since "Messiah" merely means "anointed", it can be attributed to any prophet, and Jesus would have meant Muhammad was anointed by God.
According to the canonical Gospels, Jesus was the "son" (descendant) of David; thus, Hajj Sayed argues that this statement confirms the Gospel of Barnabas' point.
The idea of the Messiah as an Arab is also found in another chapter of Gospel of Barnabas:
Here, one version of the Gospel of Barnabas also quotes Jesus as saying that the sacrificed son of Abraham was Ishmael not Isaac, conforming to Islamic belief but disagreeing with Jewish and Christian belief. A connection might also be drawn between the last paragraph's statement that "in him should all the tribes of the earth be blessed", and the meaning of the name "Muhammad", the "Praised (or Blessed) One". (Cf. Life of Prophet Muhammad).
This conforms entirely with Muslim belief, according to which Jesus is a human and a prophet. According to some ahadith, he will come back to earth in the future and declare to the world that he is "a Servant of God". According to Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki in his audio lessons Lives of the Prophets, the first thing that prophet Jesus said when he was in the cradle "I am a servant of God", and the first thing that Jesus will say when he will come back to earth will be the same "I am a servant of God". According to the Qur'an:
Paul was attacking Peter and Barnabas for "trying to satisfy the Jews" by sticking to their laws, such as circumcision. This shows that, at that point, Barnabas was following Peter and disagreeing with Paul. Some feel it also suggests that the inhabitants of Galatia at his time were using a gospel or gospels disagreeing with Paul's beliefs, which Gospel of Barnabas could be one of them (although the Gospel of Peter would seem a more natural candidate, as in the light of the second letter.) To Galatian's account we may compare the Introductory Chapter of Gospel of Barnabas, where we read:
In this context, supporters also note that Peter was from the original 12 disciples of Jesus, and Barnabas was one of the early disciples of Jesus, while Paul, a Roman, hadn't lived with Jesus, and had been accustomed to persecute his followers before his conversion.
From the previous passages, we can also infer that in the beginning, Paul and Barnabas were getting along with each other; however, at the end, they started to depart in their beliefs.
In conclusion, some Muslim scholars believe that those differences between the Gospel of Barnabas and the belief of Paul might be the reason that the Gospel of Barnabas and other gospels were not added to the New Testament.
Although the Gospel of Barnabas is, in several respects, inconsistent with Islamic teaching, some Muslim scholars cite this as evidence of the genuineness of the gospel by arguing that no Muslim would fake a document and have it contradict the Qur'an. They believe the contradictions of the Qur'an in the Gospel of Barnabas are signs of textual corruption (which Muslims already ascribe for a majority of the Bible), but that the Gospel of Barnabas would not be as corrupt as other religious works, and would still maintain the truth about Jesus not being crucified and not being God or son of God.
The complete Italian text is transcribed with an English translation and introduction: Ragg, L and L - The Gospel of Barnabas. (Clarendon Press, Oxford, England, 1907).
A second Italian edition - in parallel columns with a modernised text: Eugenio Giustolisi and Giuseppe Rizzardi, Il vangelo di Barnaba. Un vangelo per i musulmani? (Milano: Istituto Propaganda Libraria, 1991).
The complete text of the Italian manuscript has been published in photo-facsimile; with a French translation and extensive commentary and textual apparatus: Cirillo L. & Fremaux M. Evangile de Barnabe: recherches sur la composition et l'origine, Paris, 1977, 598p
The text of the Spanish manuscript has been published with extensive commentary: Bernabe Pons L. F. El Evangelio de San Bernabe; Un evangelio islamico espanol, Universidad de Alicante, 1995, 260p