When Muslims seek to tie you up in knots concerning the crucifixion
Six hundred years after the events recorded in the gospels Muhammad claims to have had a revelation that Christ was not crucified. This revelation is supposed to supercede the eye witness accounts of the followers of Jesus and Muslims use all types of methods to try and convince the world that events occurred in a different way. Here we look at some of the recent approaches used by Muslim apologists to remove the offence of the cross.
> “That they said (the Jews 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” (An-Nisa 4:157)
Muslims appeal to early philosophies and heresies
We are told that in the early days of Christianity the followers of Christ never believed that he was crucified and Muslims support their position by using a methodology based on reference to early Christian sects as the teachings of Neo-Platonism, Gnosticism and the Docetic heresy are held up as the foundational beliefs of the early Christians.
Plotinus (205-270), the originator of Neoplatonism which was the last pagan system to challenge Christianity in
the 4th century, is said to have read a book called ‘The Journey of the Apostles’, which relates the traditions of Peter, John, Andrew, Thomas and Paul who here all assert Jesus was not crucified. Like the Muslims of today Plotinus was scouting around for support for his philosophical monism and his anti-Christian philosophy and found one reference in a non-extant book which he could re-produce as an argument against the crucifixion and the resurrection.
Muslims appeal to Christian groups which were in fact Gnostic
The Basildes was a Gnostic thinker who taught a Gnostic myth during the reign of Hadrian (117-38) which he claimed had come from the Apostle Peter. His organisation adopted a church-like form and was characterised by practices of magical ritual. This group denied the crucifixion. The Basildians were opposed by the church fathers Iraneus and Hippolytus. The discovery of the Nag Hammadi Gnostic Library Scrolls broadly confirms this view that the Gnostic appeal was devised on a system that used Christian, Jewish and Pagan sources. authentic voice of Christianity is said to be expressed through various Christian groups who were known under such names as the Basildians, the Carpocratians and (Cerinthus). On investigation we discover that these groups were not Christian at all, but Gnostic, and because many tenets of their Gnostic teaching attached themselves to the Christian revelation they are claimed to be Christian.
Muslims also say that Cerinthus, a contemporary of Peter, Paul and John denied Christ died on the cross. Actually Cerinthus (a docetic) believed that Christ (having no real physical body) descended on Jesus at his baptism but left before his crucifixion so it was only Jesus who suffered and rose again, the Christ did not die!
No reliable textual evidence is produced by any of these Gnostic writers all they do is devise a Christ that can fit into their system just like Muhammad devised a Christ that could fit into his system of Islam.
The views of the Gnostics are ruled out because Jesus’ identity is rooted in history. In Gnosticism Jesus would be one Lord amongst many but according to the gospel Christ’s uniqueness and the claims of his lordship emerge out of his historicity.
The ‘Redeemer Myth’
The principal Pagan feature concerned the ‘redeemer myth’ theory. This held that a supernatural being descended to earth to reveal the way of salvation to help men regain the ‘divine spark’ which was planted in some souls. It was unthinkable in the Gnostic system that a redeemer could be crucified as the redeemers were not men who were associated with evil.
Muslims point to this type of material. They find support in for example The Treaties of Seth which assert that Jesus not crucified but that Simon of Cyrene was killed in his place. There is also the Second Treatise of Seth which is an apocalypse/dialogue work and these works clearly show that the Sethanians, like other Gnostics, believed in the ‘redeemer myth.’
Muslims also point to the Gnostic Carpocrations who were founded by Carpocrates of Alexandria (around A.D 135) and are only known through the writings of the Church Fathers, principally Irenaeus of Lyons and Clement of Alexandria. Again their Gnostic and syncretistic views made no provision for a crucified Christ in their system.
Muslims appeal to a re-interpretation of Scripture
Some Muslims turn to the Bible for evidence that Christ was not crucified. The Christian finds this remarkable for each of the gospel narratives leads the reader in one direction only, and that is to the crucifixion. The gospels monitor all the events that lead up to the cruel death. Christ predicted it himself; he set is face to Jerusalem and acknowledged his hour had come. Judas clearly recognised him and betrayed him with a kiss; it was the same Jesus who faced the trial before Annas, Caiphas and the Sanhedrin; the same Jesus who was sent to Pilate for further interrogation. It was the same Jesus who was handed over to the Roman centurion who ensured Jesus was dead and then reported it back to Pilate. Members of the Sanhedrin went to mock Jesus on the cross and recognised that this was the same person they had deliberated over in council. Mary his mother was in deep grief as she stood by the cross of Jesus for a while and her heart was pierced in her sorrow. Friend and foe recognised him during those days of trial, betrayal and suffering. The gospels do not consider his departure from this life happened in other way yet Muslims claim the event was unclear and another was crucified. Simon Cyrene and Barabbas are put up as suitable candidates.
a) Simon is selected as experiencing crucifixion because in Mark 15:21 he ‘bore the cross.’ We are told that to bare the cross meant he was crucified while the Greek word ai’pw ‘to take up, lift, raise, bear, carry’ relates to the physical occurrence of lifting up the cross.
b) Regarding Barabbas, Muslims claim that because his name means ‘son of the father (abba) it was he who was crucified. There is certainly a variant reading supporting the view that Barabbas was also called ’Jesus Barabbas’ (’son of the father’ (abba) and Origen supports this longer name in Matthew 27:16, 17 but this is not found in the majority texts. While Jesus may have addressed his Father as abba (Mark 14:36) he never used it in a patronymic way (son of Abba). Nowhere in the N/T is Jesus called ’Son of the father.
The texts make it clear that it was Jesus who was crucified and not Barabbas. The choice as candidate for crucifixion was between (Jesus) Barabbas and Jesus which is called Christ. Barabbas was a lestes (lit. ’one who seizes and plunders’) he had taken part in a bloody insurrection (Mark 15:7). The crowd demanded the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus (v 20-22) and concludes:
> ‘Then they released Barabbas, scourged Jesus and delivered him up to be crucified.’ (Mark 15:26)
Emphasis of the death of Christ in the New Testament – the gospels (perhaps a little overstated) are passion narratives with an introduction.
1. Biographical material of the time was designed to portray the real personality of their subjects, for example Suetonius’ details of the death’s of the Caesars and their famous last words. A tenth of the Agricola, a sixth of Cato Minor and a quarter of Apollonius of Tyana are devoted to these great men.
2. The death of Jesus is intrinsic to the account of his life. Death is the inevitable destiny of his life.
3. Crucifixion was an unmentionable mode of execution used to restrain the lower orders within the empire. Cicero stated that ‘the very word “cross” should be removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears (Pro Rabiro 9-17). Yet, none of the gospels attempt to disguise the vile mode of Jesus’ death. Even a Roman centurion pronounced that Jesus was the son of God as he stood at the foot of the execution pole. The cross is now a symbol of Christianity back then it was a most cruel and disgusting penalty (Cicero, Verres 2.5.165).
4. The place given to the death of Christ in the gospels is quite consistent with that given in the New Testament letters. The proclamation of Jesus’ death, and that by crucifixion was without parallel in the Graeco-Roman world and was thought to be ridiculous in their eyes.
5. Jesus did not die as a martyr, but as one who knowingly died redemptively, for the sins of others, to set people free
It is disturbing to find that Islam finds no place for the fact of the crucifixion of Christ and therefore no place for the redemptive meaning of the historical act. Anyone who seriously considers who Christ is and what he does must finally face the question: How does the holy and loving God turn away my sin?
Non-Christians Comments about the Crucifixion
Muslims finally claim that references of the crucifixion made by Josephus and Tacitus should be rejected for they were not eye-witnesses yet the only evidence they themselves produce comes from Gnostic sources which were far removed from the eye-witnesses of the Gospels.
Josephus and the Cross: Writing from Rome in AD 95 he gave an account of what happened 60 years earlier pointing out that the ‘tribe of Christians’ …. has still not disappeared.’ Though this Jesus was merely a wise man (a rabbi) and a miracle worker, it was claimed – either by him or his followers, or both that he was the Christ.’ For this he was executed by Pilate upon information from the Jewish leaders.’ Although there are some suggestions of later interpolation into the text Josephus remains mystified that the movement has not died along with its founder.
Great fire of Rome AD 64: Tacitus was only a boy of seven when it occurred He became a consul of Rome and was well placed to know the official account of the fire and the onslaught against the ‘superstition.’ He wrote this account in his ‘Annals of Imperial Rome’ – he viewed Christians as having a ‘hatred of the human race’ and takes a moment to give an account of their beginnings mentioning a certain Christ had been executed (for treason, one supposes) in Judea by the governor Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius. His concerns seem to be political.
Graffiti: Alexamenos worships his God: The ‘Alexamenos graffito’ (around 3rd Century A.D) is an inscription carved in plaster on a wall near the Palatine Hill in Rome. It is believed to be among the earliest known pictorial representations of the Crucifixion of Christ. The image depicts a human-like figure attached to a cross and possessing the head of a donkey. To the left of the image is a young man, apparently intended to represent Alexamenos, a Roman soldier/guard, raising one hand in a gesture possibly suggesting worship.
Jesus and the Talmud: The gospels show a divisiveness in the ministry of Jesus as some reacted negatively. His own family declared him mad ((Mark 3:21), religious leaders regarded him as demon possessed (Mark 3:22), a false teacher and a blasphemer (Mark 2:6,John 9:16, 10:33); these are consistent with the views expressed in the Talmud, namely, that he was a false teacher who led Israel astray, and who was hanged on the eve of the Passover (Sanhedrin 43a).