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in Heaven on Earth [Journey of Jesus to
Kashmir, his preaching to the Lost Tribes of Israel
and death and burial in Srinagar] by Khwaja
> Chapter 1: Pre-Islamic Sources
Books Section > Jesus in Heaven on Earth [Journey of Jesus to Kashmir, his preaching to the Lost Tribes of Israel and death and burial in Srinagar] by Khwaja Nazir Ahmad > Chapter 1: Pre-Islamic Sources
The sources of the life of Jesus vary in origin, language and importance. The primary sources are the Canonical Gospels, Acts and Epistles. Hebrew sources must, however, come first, since Jesus lived among Jews. The Canonical Gospels must come last; they sum up the events of the life of Jesus and his teachings. Pagan sources, the Apocryphal Gospels, Acts and Epistles and the writings of early Christian Fathers must come in between. I will deal with the facts as given in the Holy Quran and the Hadith last of all.
The Toldoth Yeshu, or, as it is sometimes called, Ma'ash Talui, is a book which the Christians did their best to destroy. The only reference in it which is worth mentioning is that R. Shemin ben 'Azzeri speaks of Mary as esheth ish (Yeb, 4 : 3, 49), a married woman, who had given birth to Jesus.
The silence of Jewish writers regarding Jesus is still more striking. There is, to begin with, Philo of Alexandria, who interested himself in the welfare of Israel and was born about thirty years before the Christian Era and did not die until it had lasted fifty-four years. Yet, in his more than fifty works which have come down to us, it is impossible to find even a single reference to Jesus or his followers. Justus of Tiberias was himself born in Galilee about the supposed date of the crucifixion, and lived in that country amongst men who, it is natural to suppose, were still powerfully stirred by the Gospel preaching. Yet, in his two great works, a history of The War of Independence and a Chronicle of Events from Moses to Agrippa II, who died in 100 CE, he makes not the smallest reference to Jesus.
It has been asserted that we are in a better position with Josephus, the great Jewish historian, who was born in 37 CE and died towards the end of the first century, and who thoroughly knew the history of Galilee. In his remarkable history of the Wars of the Jews, he speaks of twelve persons bearing the name of Jesus, who are other than Jesus of Nazareth, but he does not mention him at all. In his Jewish Antiquities, however, the following remarkable passage occurs:
"At that time there lived Jesus, a holy man, if man he may be called, for he performed wonderful works, and taught men, and they joyfully received the truth. And he was followed by many Jews and many Greeks. He was the Messiah. And our leaders denounced him. But when Pilate had condemned him to the Cross, those who had loved him at first did not deny him. For he appeared to them after having risen from death on the third day. The holy Prophets had, moreover, predicted of him those and many other wonders. The race of the Christians takes its name from him and still exists at the present time" (Josephus, Antiq., 18 : 3).
In another place we find:
"Festus was now dead, and Albious was but upon the road; so he (Ananus) assembled the Sanhedrin of Judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned" (Josephus, Antiq., 20: 9, 1).
Now Josephus was a Jew, and I have italicised the words which no Jew could ever have written. Is this then a blatant Christian forgery?
The style, says Moore, is a clever imitation of Josephus, but he points out that in both places there is a short digression (Moore, Judaism in the First Century of the Christian Era, 1 : 20). Photius, writing in 860 CE, referring to these passages, says:
"However, I have found in some papers that this discourse was not written by Josephus, but by one Caius, a Presbyter" (Photius, Cod. Lile., 48).
Clement of Alexandria, who cited from the Antiquities, never mentioned any of these testimonies. Tertullian was equally silent, implying thereby that these testimonies were not in the copies of his age. He had particular occasion in his disputes with Jews to quote Josephus, above any other writer, to prove the completion of the prophecies of the Old Testament in the destruction of Jerusalem; yet he never quoted the passages mentioned above, though he did refer to other passages in the works of Josephus. But Origen was more definite. He recorded that Josephus did not believe Jesus to be the Messiah. He, therefore, could not have read the italicised words in his copy of the Antiquities. The first ancient author to note these passages was Eusebius (Eusebius : Ecc. Hist., I : 11), who lived in the fourth century. So an early Christian copyist of the third century, who could not bear the idea that Jesus should find no place in the great works of Josephus, interpolated the passages to glorify his god. Dean Farrar, while admitting that these passages were subsequent "forgeries", says:
"Josephus ... a renegade and a sycophant ... did not make any allusion to ... Christ ... His silence on the subject of Christianity was as deliberate as it was dishonest" (Farrar, Life of Christ, 46).
I will only mention the alleged report of Pilate which he is supposed to have sent to Tiberius regarding the death of Jesus, and the notorious Letter of Lentulus, the so-called Governor of Jerusalem, addressed to the Senate and People of Rome concerning the personal appearance and teachings of Jesus. Both these documents are now admitted to be forgeries, and Dobshutz styled the first as "an obvious fabrication" and the second "a preposterous forgery of medieval origin."
The earliest of all Christian sources are the Epistles of Paul. Of about the same period are the Epistles of Peter, James and others contained in the New Testament.
The authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the three Pastoral letters (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) are no longer attributed to Paul. Indeed, their authenticity is not even maintained. They have been excluded by a majority of independent critics from the Pauline Canon.
Paul (or Saul), was one of the contemporaries of Jesus; but he did not know him and had not seen him. He, however, testified to having seen him in a vision on his way to Damascus (Acts, 9 : 2-5). Three years after, he went to Jerusalem for fifteen days and during this time met Peter and James the Just, brother of Jesus, but did not come in contact with any other of the Apostles (Gal., 1 : 17-19).
It would, therefore, not be difficult to conceive that Paul could, and perhaps did, obtain information concerning the life and teachings of Jesus. He knew, by hearsay, of the life of Jesus. Paul, therefore, is a trustworthy witness as to the existence of Jesus, but nothing beyond this. If we bring together all the allusions and references from all of his writings, without examining their truth, we learn from him that Jesus was a Jew (Gal., 3 : 16); that he was made of the seed of David, according to the flesh (Rom., 1 : 3); that he was born of a woman, born under the laws (Gal., 4 : 4); and that he had brothers (1 Cor, 9 : 5), one of whom was James; that he preached only to Israel (Rom., 15 : 8), and was a humble and obedient servant of God (Phil., 2: 8); that he chose twelve Apostles (1 Cor, 15 :5); that he was reviled (Rom., 15 : 3) and crucified (1 Cor 15 : 3) by the Jews because of their malice against him (1 Thess., 2 : 15) and, finally, that he rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor, 15 : 4), and showed himself to Peter and the twelve Apostles and others and to Paul himself (1 Cor, 15 : 5-8), and that he now sits on the right hand of God (Rom., 8: 34) awaiting the great day when he shall come again.
The incompleteness of this reconstructed life of Jesus which Paul gives us becomes all the more apparent when we contrast it with the full Christology contained in his Epistles. The conclusion is forced on us that Paul deliberately sacrificed Jesus to Christ. This becomes all the more conspicuous when we realise that he not only ignored the historical Jesus for the mythical Christ, but that he also maintained his apostolic independence of those who lived with and saw Jesus; and held himself aloof from the teachings of Jesus as contained in the Gospels (Gal., 1 : 11-18). What Jesus may have said and done on earth became almost a matter of indifference to him. Brought up and influenced by the syncretistic mysteries of the Pagans, Paul conceived Christ as the saviour-god, to whom his followers had been united by a powerful rite - his redeeming sacrifice on the cross. Paul set up a creed, of which Jesus knew nothing. Dr. Arnold Meyer, Professor of Theology of Zurich University, while discussing the original efforts of Paul to reconcile Gnostic speculations and Rabbinical arguments, points out that, by gradually developing his doctrine of Justification, Paul has forever shut out the simple faith of Jesus. The Christological and Eschatological system of Paul, he says, has blocked the approach of many simple souls, and of many nations, to the childlike piety of Jesus. Dr. Meyer puts a question to himself : Who is the founder of Christianity? and in unequivocal terms he furnishes the answer:
"If by Christianity we understand faith in Christ as the heavenly Son of God, who did not belong to earthly humanity, but who lived in the Divine likeness and glory, who came down from Heaven to earth, who entered humanity and took upon himself a human form through a virgin, that he might make propitiation for men's sins by his own blood upon the Cross, who was then awakened from death and raised to the right hand of God, as the Lord of his own people, who believe in him, who hears their prayers, guards and leads them, who, moreover, dwells and works personally in each of them, who will come again with the clouds of Heaven to judge the world, who will cast down all the foes of God, and will bring his own people with him unto the home of heavenly light so that they may become like His glorified body - if this is Christianity, then such Christianity was founded by St. Paul and not by our Lord" (Meyer, Jesus or Paul, 122).
Dr. Meyer goes on to say that:
"Paul, it is true, wrought a work of tremendous historical importance in that he raised Jesus from the position of a Jewish Messiah to that of the Divine Redeemer of the Gentiles and of the whole world" (Ibid.).
Dr. Johannes Weiss, of Heidelburg University, also remarked in similar strain, that to Paul, Jesus was not only the prophet but the object of religious veneration, and came to the conclusion:
"Hence the faith in Christ as held by Paul was something new in comparison with the preachings of Jesus; it was a new type of religion" (Weiss, Paul and Jews, 130).
Wrede says that Paul was not the disciple and servant of Jesus, which he professed to be, but of another, the heavenly Christ. He adds:
"The teaching of Jesus is directed entirely to the individual personally. Man is to submit his soul to God and to God's will wholly and without reserve ... The central point for Paul is a divine and supernatural action. He who believes in these divine acts - the incarnation, death and resurrection of a divine being - can obtain salvation. The point which was everything to Paul was nothing to Jesus" (Wrede, Palaus, 6).
But I cannot leave this discussion, like these three eminent scholars have done, by merely pointing out the difference between the teachings of Jesus and the creed which Paul introduced into the world. I must go deeper and probe the basis of his belief, the reasons for it and the extent to which Paul did create it out of his own imagination. Paul himself relied on a vision which he had when he was near Damascus. In his vision, his hallucination as some call it, Paul merely heard a voice saying unto him: "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" (Acts, 9 : 3-7). In this vision, Paul was further asked not to kick against the pricks. The man who was with Paul and other bystanders saw nothing, heard nothing. So terrified was Paul that he could neither hear nor see anything for three days. To cure him Jesus had to appear to Ananias and to direct him to go to Paul:
"For he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles and Kings and the children of Israel" (Acts, 9 : 15).
It is most extraordinary that neither of these incidents is mentioned by Paul himself. If Paul was in fact the chosen vessel, surely Jesus could have announced it to him at the time he appeared to him or he should have appeared again. But supernatural events, they say, happen in a manner beyond the understanding of man. This much is certain, that Paul never had any direct revelation from Jesus and such as he claims to have had was merely the result of his own imagination, because he did not see Jesus again even in his dreams. The audacity and shamelessness of Paul has no parallel in history. He resorted to falsehood, and being conscious of it, protested most vigorously against those who dared charge him with the lies he had told. In his Epistle to the Romans, he wrote:
"For through my lie abounded unto his glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? (Rom. 3 : 7 - Revised Version, 1244).
Such, then, is the foundation upon which Paul built his creed.
Paul's character can be judged from the following incidents. In Jerusalem he was attacked by the Jews. To save himself, and to win their sympathy, he pleaded that he was a Jew of Tarsus (Acts, 22: 3); but when he was taken in custody by the Chief Captain, who had him bound with thongs and ordered his examination by scourging, Paul, with a view to escape the punishment, did not hesitate to tell him a lie and pretend that he was a Roman (Acts, 22: 25). Later in the day, he addressed and declared to the crowds that he was a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee (Acts, 23 : 6), but when produced before Festus he once again urged his Roman citizenship. The Governor had, therefore, to send him to Rome to stand his trial before Augustus (Acts, 25 : 10-12). In Rome, Paul was twice imprisoned for misdemeanour.
From the very beginning, the other Apostles of Jesus were all afraid of Paul and "believed not that he was a disciple" (Acts, 9 : 26), but they received him for a short while on the intervention of Barnabas (Acts, 9 : 27) - whose Gospel, it may be mentioned, Christians disown to this day.
But, leaving these considerations aside, if Paul did wrongly attribute to Jesus a religion other than that which Jesus preached, we ought to find some Apostolic denunciation of the Pauline creed, or, at least, some indication that the Apostles disapproved of his ideas. If we wade through the Epistles for such information we shall not look in vain. Therein we will find a tripartite fight going on between James, brother of Jesus, Peter and Paul, in which Jude also takes a part. Of course, as fellow-workers in the same cause, they objected in the first instance to one another's point of view and did not mention names. Gradually, however, not only were names mentioned but the opposite view was styled as heretical. When, however, the Apostles failed to check by these methods the activities of Paul, they actually, after fourteen years, summoned him to a council, held at Jerusalem, to explain his conduct and to account for his misdeeds. He attended with his supporters and defied them. They had no control over him, their appeals in the name of Jesus failed, and they were left with no alternative but to dissociate themselves from him. Thus came about the first dissolution of the integral faith and different sects of Christianity, each diametrically opposed to the other, saw the first light of the day.
Paul did not believe in the observation of the law (Rom., 2 : 14, 18) for he said that "if righteousness come by the law then Christ died in vain" (Gal., 2 : 21). Paul pointed out that those who were of the Works of the law were under a curse (Gal., 3 : 10). The propagation of these views had a three-fold object: first, to preach that a man is justified by faith alone, without the deeds of the Law (Rom., 3 : 28), secondly, it was a gibe at James, brother of Jesus, who held the opposite view; and, thirdly, it won on Greek soil many licentious adherents to the Pauline creed, for they were assured of salvation without any good deeds. In fact, to such, by way of encouragement, Paul had said:
"Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (1 Cor, 15: 32).
And Paul also told them:
"A man is not justified by the works of the Law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ ... for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified " (Gal., 2 : 16).
In the same Epistle he further encouraged his followers to stand fast to the liberty for which Christ had made them free, and he advised them to "be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage (Gal., 5 : 1). Paul boasted that he had neither written any Gospel, nor had he used any of those which had been written (1 Cor, 9 : 15). Nay, to the contrary he boldly asserted:
"I give my own judgement as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord" (1 Cor, 7 : 25).
Paul, it is true, did claim inspiration in a roundabout way. He claimed that he had it from the Holy Spirit (1 Cor, 2 : 10-16; 1 Thes., 4 : 8), but he also claimed that it had been given to many, nay, to most of the Apostles, though in different degrees (1 Cor, 12: 4-12, 28-30). But no one else claimed it. Paul, however, at places spoke of his own judgement and also of what he said on authority, which he predicated with the assertion : "The Lord says, not I." He also distinguished his judgement by phrases like: " I, not the Lord" or "This I give by permission, not commandment." It has, therefore, been construed that all his writings which are not thus qualified are inspired. But Paul naively pointed out that his Gospel was something different from "the preachings of Jesus Christ (Rom., 16:25). He never stressed these preachings, but at times expressly, though falsely, declared himself to be "speaking by the word of the Lord" when he manifestly was giving out only his own ideas. To give but one example, Paul, while expressing his own belief regarding the approaching end of the world, falsely alleged that he was "speaking by the words of the Lord (1 Thes., 4 : 15-17). We do not, therefore, know which portions of his Epistles are the result of a revelation from Jesus and which are his own inventions and blunders. How can we be certain that the very texts on which the Christians rest their dogmas, their faith and their hopes are not the human and uninspired portions? This is one of the reasons why early Christians rejected the Pauline Canon.
In these circumstances, and since the doctrines of Paul were against the teachings of Jesus, the other Apostles, as already mentioned, denounced Paul and his views. Thus James, brother of Jesus, the head of the Church at Jerusalem, was the first to challenge the views of Paul. We find in his Epistle:
"Whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of good works, this man shall be blessed in his deed" (Jas., 1 : 25).
James further pointed out:
"For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (Jas., 2 : 10).
He raised the question: or whether faith alone, without deeds, could save a man (Jas., 2 : 14). And himself gave the answer that:
"Even so, faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone" (Jas., 2 : 17).
Then we come across James' polemics against Paul:
"Thou believest that there is one God: thou doest well, the devils also believe and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead" (Jas., 2 : 19-20).
And condemned the Pauline creed of Justification:
"Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (Jas., 2 : 24).
And finally he said to Paul:
"Ye rejoice in your boastings; all such rejoicing is evil" (Jas., 4 : 16).
I now turn to Peter. His character is well depicted in his denial of Jesus thrice in one night before the cock crowed. Likewise, here we find him adopting the line of least resistance. In his Epistle he advised his "beloved brother" Paul to be sober in habits and to "watch unto prayer" and be charitable. For such a meek attitude James had to dub Peter aptly as "double-minded." But, as Paul began to exceed all limits, Peter had to style him, of course not by name, as a "false teacher," who had introduced into the faith "damnable heresies," and "pernicious ways." But when the divergence of their views became too apparent, Peter not only attacked his "dearly beloved brother Paul" but also warned his followers against him. Referring to the Epistles of Paul he said:
"As also in all his Epistles speaking in them of these things; in which are some hard to be understood . Ye, therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also being led away with error of the wicked fall from your own steadfastness" (2 Pet., 3 : 16-17).
Jude was equally vehement in his denunciation of Paul. He said:
"For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God unto lasciviousness ... These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men's persons in admiration because of advantage.... These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the spirit" (Jude, 4, 16, 19).
There is another incident which throws some light on the subject. The original name of Mark was John, and he is, as such, referred to in the Acts. Paul and Bamabas had taken him (Acts, 12: 25) from Jerusalem to Antioch, to act as their minister and scribe. After passing through Cyprus, Mark suddenly left them (Acts, 13 : 13) because of his dislike of Paul's inclination towards preaching to the Gentiles" (Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible, 722).
In the opposite camp were John, the Evangelist, and Paul. John, who was always a step ahead of Paul, was the first to attack those, Corinthus in particular, who did not believe in the son-god theory. He wrote:
"Who is a liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is anti-Christ that denieth the Father and Son" (1 John, 2 : 22).
Referring to those who held the opposite view he said:
"And this is that spirit of anti-Christ whereof you have heard that it should come and even now already is it in the world" (1 John, 4 : 3).
Now let me turn to Paul in this connection. He, as one would expect, could not stand this onslaught quietly. In the first instance he contented himself by a simple warning.
"Let no man deceive you with vain words . Be not ye, therefore, partakers with them" (Ephes., 5 : 6-7).
As a result of these divergent views divisions arose, and in Corinth a sect came into being whose followers rejected Paul.
He styled them as "thorn in the flesh," "the messengers of Satan," and wrote:
"For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren ... that there are contentions amongst you.... I thank God that I baptised none of you" (1 Cor, 1 : 11-14).
To the Galatians he said:
"I marvel that ye are soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another Gospel" (Gal., 1 : 6).
To the Romans he appealed:
"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learnt; and avoid them. For they that are such, serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple" (Rom., 16: 17-18).
In another place he questioned his disputants:
"Am I not an Apostle? Am I not free? . . . Mine answer to them that do not examine me is this: Have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other Apostles, and as the brethern of the Lord and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?" (1 Cor, 9 : 1- 6).
I have already mentioned that, after fourteen years, when matters reached a climax James, as head of the Church at Jerusalem, summoned a Council. The proceedings of this meeting are detailed in the Acts and Paul's version is to be found in his Epistle to the Galatians. Paul tells us that on this occasion he was accompanied by Barnabas and Titus. He was taken to James who was sitting in company with the Elders. James charged him with preaching to the Gentiles and for forsaking Moses, i.e., the Law. They asked him to refrain in future from doing so. Paul says that their appeals were so forceful that even `Bamabas was carried away with their dissimulations." (Gal., 2 : 13). But he goes on to say:
"When Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed" (Gal., 2 : 11).
Paul concluded his version of the meeting of the Council, by saying:
"But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel, I said unto Peter before them all ... Compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? ... Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law. . . . But if while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners...." (Gal., 2 : 14, 17).
Paul then rebukes the Galatians:
"O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you that ye should not obey the truth?" (Gal., 3 : 1).
Thus Paul tried to impress the belief on others that his creed was more important than that of James or Peter. To Paul's mind the centre of interest was not the teacher, the worker of miracles, the companion of publicans and sinners, the opponent of Pharisees, but it was the crucified son of God raised from the dead - and none other.
Paul, therefore, is the least reliable for our knowledge of the real life of Jesus. Similarly, the remaining Epistles of James, Peter, John and Jude do not add anything of importance to our knowledge, except that Peter makes Jesus descend into hell to preach to the dead (1 Pet., 3 : 19) and the Transfiguration is recalled (2 Pet., 1 : 17).
The authorship of the Acts of the Apostles has long been in question. Eusebius placed them among his third class of spurious literature. The authorship of the Acts is attributed to Luke, the companion of Paul, and although this assertion has been only recently confirmed by the Papal Biblical Commission of 1913, yet it is curious that we find him totally ignorant of the Epistles of Paul. He even contradicts them. The truth is that we do not know who wrote them, nor when they were written. The first edition might have been written by Luke, but the various mutilations, interpolations and dislocations, which it subsequently suffered at the hands of the unscrupulous early Fathers of the Church, have altered it to such an extent that it is impossible to pick out the original portions.
The Codex Bezae and certain other ancient authorities generally called the Western Manuscripts exhibit a text so different from that of the Canonical version that they may almost be said to constitute a different edition of the Acts (Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible, 815-816).
Loisy places the Acts in the second century of the Christian Era. Harnack dates them back to between 78 and 93 CE Whatever the date be, the Acts tell us little or nothing about Jesus. The author is totally ill-informed. He hardly mentions Jesus, an omission for which he excuses himself at the outset. However, the few references which he makes in the course of his narrative to Jesus are not without significance. He says that Jesus, the Nazarene, was a man approved of God among Jews to be a man chosen of God (Acts, 2 : 22) and that Jesus was born of the seed of David (Acts, 13 : 23), i.e., the fruit of his loins according to the flesh (Acts, 2 : 30). Later, he describes the punishment meted out to Jesus by his enemies. The main emphasis, however, is laid on the resurrection, and it is mentioned that Jesus thereafter did eat and drink (Acts, 10 : 41) and we are thus told that Jesus had a human existence both before and after the resurrection. It is, however, evident that the author, under Pauline influence, believed that the Messianic elevation of Jesus had been made manifest by his resurrection. Luke, however, dates it back to his baptism (Luke, 3 : 21-22) and even earlier still, before the birth of Jesus, in his account of the Annunciation (Luke, 1: 35).
In the Acts the whole career of Jesus from his baptism to crucifixion is summarised in three verses (Acts, 10 : 38-40). No spoken words of Jesus are recorded anywhere except in one verse (8. Acts, 20 : 35). The Acts, therefore, do not give us any help in reconstructing the life of Jesus.
The Apocryphal Gospels, Acts and Epistles:
There were many ancient "Lives of Jesus" which have been excluded from the New Testament. They have survived in fragments, and sometimes little is known of them except their title. But this much is certain, that most of them arose contemporaneously with the New Testament and some are admitted to be even older. Paul was the first to convey the information that even in his time some Gospels had already been written (1 Cor, 9 : 14 - 15). The first Canonical Gospel, that of Mark, was, however, written after the death of Paul. Therefore, the Gospels to which Paul had referred must have been among those which had been rejected by the Church.
Of all the Apocryphal Gospels, the Gospel according to the Hebrews and the Gospel of the Ebionites are of particular importance and claim our special attention. They were, according to Harnack, written about 65 CE. They are, therefore, not later than the Canonical Gospels; and can rank with them. Nay, in many respects, they are superior to them. They were written in Palestine, in Aramaic, for the benefit of Jewish Christians who were still alive to the spirit of Jesus and knew details of his life. These Gospels were rejected by the Church and consequently they retained their originality to a very large extent. It has sometimes been asserted that one is only another edition of the other. They, however, seem to have suffered the disadvantage of being in a language which Jesus spoke. They were, therefore, used in the first instance in congregations in Palestine and Syria only. Subsequent translations did not suit the growing needs of Christianity and they were rejected. They portray the earthly life of Jesus and speak of him as a man.
The other Apocryphal books also rehearse in their own way the deeds and words of Jesus. Unlike the Canonical Gospels, they do not betray a constant desire to interpret anew, to different groups of readers and to varying types of minds, the latest interests of the expanding Christianity, and rarely contain argumentative material which was obviously inserted in the Canonical Gospels as a reply to the sceptics of the time. Further, lack of Canonical dignity does not prove their worthlessness, and these books must be judged by the character of their contents.
Tradition has handed down twenty-six Apocryphal Gospels, seven Acts and ten Epistles. (For their names and full particulars the reader is referred to Hastings' Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, and James' Apocryphal New Testament.) Some of these are admitted to be forgeries (for example: The Acts of Andrew, the Acts of John, the Acts of Paul, the Acts of Peter and the Acts of Paul and Thesla). Some have been rejected by the Church as heretical and as the works of Satan : others have just been brushed aside as they did not suit the new tendencies of the Church. The uncanonical Gospels, however, were accepted by, and read in, various Churches. Of these, apart from the two already mentioned, we know the Gospel of Barnabas, the Gospel of Peter - the Preachings of Peter, as it is sometimes called - the Gospels of the Egyptians, etc.
I have already mentioned the Gospel of the Ebionites, whose leader was James the Just, brother of Jesus. The Ebionites believed Jesus to be a man born, in a normal manner, of Joseph and Mary. From these Gospels, as also from compilations like Protovangelium Jacobi, generally known as the Gospel Relating to the Birth and Infancy of Christ, Evangelium de Nativitate de Maria - The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary, The Gospel of Mary, The History of Joseph the Carpenter, etc., we gather some important material to check and compare the facts and the legends contained in the Canonical Gospels. The first-mentioned is sometimes called: The Gospel of James, or The Book of James. In it the birth, education and marriage of Mary and birth of Jesus are described in some detail.
The Apocryphal narratives were for a long period held as historical by the Church, and were explained equally with the Canonical Gospels. These Gospels "continued to be used, some in outlying communities in public worship, and in some ordinary church circles" (Tucker, The History of the Christians in the Light of Modern Knowledge, 321). They are, therefore, entitled to share with the New Testament the benefit of natural explanation.
It is true that they also show traces of the Pauline creed and at places give way to imaginary and fantastic legends contained in the Canonical Gospels; but the additions and interpolations are so obvious that they can be easily distinguished and separated from the original texts. The early Fathers were too much concerned with putting the Canonical Gospels in order to suit their own views; they, therefore, were not very artistic in committing forgeries in the Apocryphal Gospels and for this reason they can be readily detected.
In reconstructing the life of Jesus from these sources, we have to be very careful, for we have to distinguish facts from the legends which prevailed among the Christians of those days; and also to pick out the original pieces. In drawing from these sources, we must be cautious and ignore Gnostic Gospels, such as the Gospel of Phillip, and the Gospel of Eve, of which, in any case, we have only a few scattered fragments.
The Agrapha, the name given in 1776 by Korner to the uncanonical sayings of Jesus, at the most give us occasional light on the details of the teachings of Jesus. They make no contribution to his biography. It is now almost universally admitted that they are not genuine.
I must also mention here the writings of early Christian Fathers, who wrote before the Canonical Gospels became the prevailing standard. They to some extent aid us in tracing the history of the Canon and the legendary life of Jesus. Justin Martyr composed his Dialogus cum Trypho Judaeo in about 135 CE. In this we find a statement about "Jesus, the son of the Carpenter, making ox goads and ploughs" (Dial., 88). The statements of Papias, the Bishop of Hierapolis, who wrote his Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord about 140 CE, are also of some help. They survive only in fragmentary quotations of Origen and Eusebius.
The Canonical Gospels:
These Gospels, "good news," were written in Greek and were in existence, in some form or another, in the second century of the Christian era: Mark about 65-70 CE, Matthew about 85 CE, Luke about 90-95 CE, and John about 110 CE. (These dates are taken from Peake's Commentary on the Bible, 681, 700, 724 and 744.) Early Christians believed that the end of all things was at hand, and this belief, for a considerable time, prevented them from setting up any written standard of authority. So much so that Papias, writing in the middle of the second century, expressed his preference for the spiritual gifts of Jesus as superior to any written testimony. Justin Martyr also, about the same time, speaks only of the Memories of the Apostles, but nowhere does he refer to them as Gospels. Gradually, however, a lot of material was reduced to writing (Luke, 1 : 1- 4) for the benefit of rich patrons, and not for humanity at large; and a good deal of spurious material was introduced. Eusebius, writing about 325 CE, divided the New Testament into three classes: those acknowledged with authority, those whose authority was disputed and the spurious. He included the Acts and a few other books of the New Testament in the third class. In the East, opposition to the Revelations lingered even in the fourth century; while in the West the books whose authority was challenged included Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews. The subject was much discussed at many councils of the Church, and it was not till the Third Council of Carthage, at which Augustine was present, in 397 CE, that the Canon of the New Testament was finally settled. The naive impudence with which the proceedings of this Council are described provokes a smile. The Church Bishops, gathered at this council, in spite of many prolonged and devotional prayers and concentrations, could not get the Divine blessing of a united decision. As a last resort, at the suggestion of one of them, all the books were placed under a table and the Fathers sat round it, with closed eyes, invoking Divine guidance in the name of their Lord Jesus Christ. And when they had finished their prayers they, on opening their eyes, beheld on the table the four Canonical Gospels and other books now found in the New Testament. Someone in the room must have performed the miracle in the name of Jesus Christ; and so the Canon of the New Testament became settled.
The system of chapters of the New Testament, now in use, was invented by Cardinal Hugo de S. Caro in 1236 CE. The Cardinal also divided each chapter into paragraphs marked by letters, but this was superseded by the Verse-System introduced by Robertus Stephenus in 1551 CE.
This first redaction must have undergone many changes. There are three ancient manuscripts: the Codex Sinaiticus, otherwise known as the Alpha, found by Tischendorff on Mount Sinai in 1859, said to be of the fourth century; the Codex Alexandrinus known as (A) found by Cyril Luker, Patriarch of Constantinople, in 1621, which is traced to the fifth century, and the third, the Codex Vaticanus, otherwise known as (B), said to be of the fourth century. It need hardly be mentioned that they are incomplete and differ from each other inasmuch as some contain such portions of the New Testament as are missing in the others. The Manuscripts now known as Codex Ephraemi Syri (C) and Codex Bezae (D) merely complicate matters further, for they also differ in material particulars.
The Latin Versions, including the Vulgate, fall into two main groups, African and European. Codex Babiensis, Codex Palatinus and Codex Floriacenis, along with the Catholic Epp and Speculum, are conspicuous among the African group. The European group includes, among others, Codex Vercellensis, Codex Veronansis, Codex Monacensis, Codex Amiatinus and some other 8,000 MSS. The Syriac Versions are known chiefly through MSS - the Curetonian, the Sinaitic, the Philoxenian and the Harklean. The Egyptian Versions have Bohairic and Sahidic divisions. There are other numerous versions like Armenian, Gothic, Ethiopic, etc.
The New Testament in Greek was not printed till 1514 CE. This was the work of redactors working under Cardinal Ximenes. Erasmus produced in 1516 a different edition, and the so-called revised text with verses was the work of Stephenus in 1551 CE. It was printed in 1624 CE. Then started a search for the ancient manuscripts and, apart from those already mentioned, two more manuscripts saw the light of day - that of Westcott and Host (1881) and that of Nestle (1901); and they caused all the more confusion.
The first English translation by Wycliff appeared in 1382 CE. He based his translation on the Latin Vulgate. Various other versions also appeared. In 1604 CE, a conference was called by James I at Hampton Court "to set in order things amiss in the Church," and one of the things which had to be put right was the Bible. The Authorised Version thus appeared in 1616 CE. The appearance of the various manuscripts rendered a revision necessary. The work was taken in hand at the suggestion of the Convocation of Canterbury and the Revised Version appeared in 1884. In it such changes were introduced in the text as were required by the new sources of information that had come to light.
The Gospels are entitled "according to Matthew," "according to Mark," and so on. From the time of St. Augustine, some people have interpreted this "according to" as if the books were the work of unknown authors merely utilising information handed down from and traced to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. This "according to" is now admitted as coming from some copyist or other. The clue, it has been suggested, is given by the second line of the Canon of Muratori, which runs: "The third book of the Gospel according to Luke." Thus it is said that there was only one Gospel, though the traditions in the four parts differed according to alleged original sources. Tucker, relying on the Greek Papyri of Oxyrhynchus, says that the Gospels were written by so and so on behalf of so and so, as most of the alleged authors "did not know letters" (Tucker, The History of the Christians in the Light of Modern Knowledge, 252, 27). He refers, by way of illustration, to the fact that all Epistles of Paul were written by others and Paul merely "set his hand" (1 Cor, 16: 21; Col., 4 : 18; 2 Thes., 3 : 17-18) to authenticate them; and that when Paul did not set his hand the name of the scribe was mentioned (Rom., 16: 22).
No one can deny that the early Christians treated the Gospels alike with the Epistles and the Acts, that is, as mere narratives and expression of opinion of authors, and not at all as sacred. Nor even in the later centuries do we find any scrupulous regard for the word of God. Prof. Dummelow of Cambridge, in his Commentary on the Holy Bible, a work in the preparation of which forty-two Christian divines and scholars of fame assisted, while commenting on the authenticity of the text of the New Testament, says:
"A copyist would sometimes put in not what was in the text, but what he thought ought to be in it. He would trust a fickle memory, or he would make the text accord with the views of the school to which he belonged. In addition to the versions and quotations from the Christian Fathers, nearly four thousand Greek MSS. of the New Testament were known to exist. As a result the variety of reading is considerable" (Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible, 16).
I have already quoted Tucker. In another place he says:
"Thus Gospels were produced which clearly reflected the conception of the practical needs of the community for which they were written. In them the traditional material was used, but there was no hesitation in altering it or making additions to it, or in leaving out what did not suit the writer's purpose. An excellent example of such amended Gospel is found in the Gospel of Marcion, which apart from minor changes was the narrative of Luke, with everything omitted that revealed the true humanity of our Lord and his connection with the religion of the Old Testaments" (Tucker, The History of the Christians in the Light of Modern Knowledge, 320).
I refrain from citing many other authorities to show how early Christians changed the original texts to suit their purpose. The object of some of the glaring but pious forgeries will be made clear when I deal with the subject-matter of this book.
The chief and also the most difficult question connected with the Synoptic Gospels is their relation to one another and to their original source. The prolonged investigation of modern critics, extending over more than a century, has not yet reached any final results. Mark is said to be the oldest of the Synoptists. It is also now settled that Matthew and Luke borrowed freely from Mark, and put forward their Gospels according to their beliefs. These conclusions are chiefly based on the fact that Eusebius has preserved to us the following words of Papias, which are the earliest testimony regarding Mark:
"And the Presbyter said this: Mark, the interpreter of Peter, wrote down exactly, but not in order, what he remembered of the acts and sayings of the Lord, for he neither heard the Lord himself nor accompanied him" (Eusebius, Ecc. Hist., 3:39, 15 - 16).
Papias goes on to say:
"Matthew collected the oracles in the Hebrew language and each interpreted them as best he could" (Eusebius, Ecc. Hist., 3 : 39, 15 - 16.)
Papias was quoting John, the Presbyter, who was certainly not referring to "the Gospel according to Matthew" which was written in Greek. So it has been construed that he must either be referring to "the Gospel according to the Hebrews" or something else.
Prof. Weiss agreed that Mark was the oldest of the Synoptic Gospels, but he refused to style Mark as "the original source," and remarked : "It is not a source, but a basin into which other sources flow."
Mark certainly contains some material which is not found in the other two Gospels. Besides, though Matthew and Luke contain all the essentials of Mark, yet they also contain, in common and otherwise, considerable fresh material not to be found in Mark. It must accordingly be concluded that if they did not copy one from the other, they must have borrowed from a common source. This source has been distinguished as the Logia, or Discourses or Sayings of Jesus, since its contents are more didactic than narrative. The Logia is usually referred to as Q from the word Quella - source. Another source is named the Urmarcus. It is now almost universally admitted that the Synoptic Gospels drew freely from these sources and in the words of Papias "each interpreted them as best he could."
Dummelow after taking these facts into consideration, and dealing with the authorship of Matthew says:
"It is evident that the direct authorship of this Gospel by the Apostle Matthew is impossible. If St. Matthew had been the author, he could have probably given his own account of the transactions, and not have laboriously occupied himself with collecting and transcribing from other sources" (Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible, 620).
If Matthew, the evangelist, was the Apostle, he could not have recorded many of the events which he does, for he was not present. Such are the stories of the Magi, the Temptation, the Transfiguration, the prayer in Gethsemane, the denials of Peter, the dream of Pilate's wife, the conversation between Judas and the priests and that between Pilate and the priests and, finally, the talks at the trial and at Calvary.
Matthew alone could have claimed to have seen and heard Jesus, but he is not the author of the First Gospel. The other three Gospels really lose their importance because Mark was converted by Peter, and Luke, a native of Antioch, was a Gentile and was converted by Paul, and neither of them saw or heard Jesus. Of John no one knows who he was or from where he came. He has been, no doubt, confused with one of the disciples and there are passages in the Gospel bearing his name which lend support to this inference. But why should he have kept his identity a close secret and styled himself as one "whom Jesus loved"? Christian writers are compelled to say that the fourth Gospel was, "by whosoever written, composed in the end of the first century."
All the Synoptic Gospels have their doublets: Matthew, the Gospel according to the Hebrew; Mark, the Gospel of Peter and Luke, the Marcion edition mentioned by Justin Martyr; they all have their editorial additions which reveal mutilations, modifications and dislocations of the main traditions: a peculiar circumstance which is unexplainable save on the theory of two sources in each case giving in substance the same account in different forms.
Be that as it may, I have yet to explain the existence of so many Gospels and Epistles. I have already referred to the internal struggle, which started soon after the crucifixion, between James and Paul, and between Peter and Paul, a struggle which left its everlasting mark on Christianity. As a result of this struggle the Ebionites, under James, set themselves against the Samaritans and the Gentiles, the followers of Paul. Thus the Gospel to the Hebrews, which is attributed to Matthew, was written for the Jewish Christians. The Gospel of Luke was written for the followers of Paul and Mark for the followers of the "double-minded" Peter. When the Ebionites succumbed to the opposing and increasing influence of the Gentiles, the Gospel according to the Hebrews, with a good deal of modifications, alterations and additions, became the Gospel according to Matthew. Similarly, the Gospel of Peter became the Gospel according to Mark. Jesus the Nazarene was thus sacrificed for the glorified Christ; Jesus, the man, disappeared and gave place to Jesus, the son of God. Thus the first Christians, who thought it necessary to put the Gospel in writing, had to diminish the traditions in one direction and to enlarge in another. Their motives were not historical, but rather cultural and ethical. The necessity of extreme precautions for correctness of the texts was not felt. The copyists and writers, who had no scruples about altering them and fitting them to suit their own views, had a free hand.
It would be extending the scope of this book if I were to point out the innumerable discrepancies of the four Gospels. I will content myself by mentioning two significant facts only. Whatever is attributed to John by the Synoptic Gospels is omitted by John himself in the Fourth Gospel. Secondly, although churches have been named and festivals kept in honour of the twelve Apostles, and although bishops and priests have all along professed to derive special authority from these first ministers of the Church, yet an effort has to be made, by the Christians themselves, to reconcile and harmonise the original lists, containing the names of the Apostles as given in the Gospels (Cf. Matt., 10 : 2-4; Mark, 3 : 16-19 and Luke, 6 : 14-16; Acts, 1 : 13). John, however, strikes an entirely discordant note by making the first nucleus of these Apostles as having been furnished by the followers of John the Baptist (John, 1 : 35).
It is legitimate, therefore, to question the trustworthiness of the letter of the text of the Gospels. We do not possess the originals, not even the text of the Canon; we know them only as copies of copies. The accuracy of the manuscripts is doubtful, and the carelessness, the ignorance, the conceit and the deceit of many a copyist worked havoc with the texts. We must not overlook the mischief done by the intentional "correction" of the texts made by those who deliberately, under this pretext, modified them in one direction or the other to suit and advance their religious beliefs. The redaction of the most important episodes of the Gospels, the Passion for example, was especially influenced by cultural conditions. As soon as Jesus became Christ, an object of worship, a cultural legend regarding his virgin birth and resurrection became necessary, and the Gospels show a steady progress towards this end. Besides, every attempt was made to establish the fulfilment of all the prophesies of the Old Testament in the person of Jesus. The Gospels were rewritten to serve the purpose of instructing controversial apologetics and organised worship and, strictly speaking, it is to these matters that they owe their birth. The development of Christology raised problems concerning the relations of Jesus to God and to the cosmos. They had also to meet and counteract the vigorous Jewish revival resulting in calumnies heaped against Jesus and his mother: thus were set forth, with a complete absence of restraint or good taste, the edifying legends of popular beliefs.
It is evident that the attempt to adopt the Gospel tradition to the liturgical requirement has most effectively contributed to the introduction of the mythical and the suppression of the historical elements. What is surprising is not that the Synoptics contain so little of the actual life and authentic teachings of Jesus, but that they appear still to preserve some fragments of it. Perhaps this was due to the rivalry, already indicated, of the three Apostles and their followers. And to this must also be attributed the fact that we have three Gospels instead of one blended Gospel like that of John, which really is a religio-philosophical book and which likewise is of little help in reconstructing the life of Jesus. The object of John was to interpret Jesus as Logos (the origin of Logos is attributed by Justin Martyr to mythus), the "Word of God" in its extreme philonic sense. The value of the Gospels is more theological than testimonial. Referring to this aspect Wernle says:
"The fourth Gospel derived its importance, lasting long beyond the time of his birth, from its having bridged over the chasm between Jesus and Paul, and from its having carried the Pauline Gospel back into the life and teachings of Jesus. It is only through this Gospel that Paulinism attained its absolute dominion in the theology of the Church" (Wernle, The Beginning of Christianity, Vol. II, 262)
And he goes on to say:
"The significance of the fourth Gospel consists in the fact that it refers the teachings of Paul back to Jesus Himself. This constitutes its value and its worthlessness, its force and its fatality" (Ibid., 276).
The more thoroughly we study the historicity of the Gospels the less certain we are about their authenticity; but in spite of this we cannot cast wholesale doubt upon them. If we study the Gospels with full knowledge of the mythical and dogmatic atmosphere in which they were written, we can learn what in the Gospels to accept and what to reject; what is early and what is late; what they attribute, under influence of the Pauline creed, to Jesus, and what they have unconsciously preserved of the real Jesus. Only after such a process of selection and elimination can we come to recognise the historical Jesus, the son of man, the Prophet of God, who was born, lived and died like any other man.
This, then, is the history and worth of the New Testament which "containeth the Infallible Word of God, nay, is the word of God" (Revised Version, 15). The claim that it was revealed and, therefore, infallible or was inspired has no foundation or justification. Rev. Professor J. W. Donaldson, after discussing the various arguments in support of this claim, comes to the conclusion:
"We see, there, by a mere statement of the reasoning used in support, that the hypothesis of an infallible literature is as baseless as the fabric of a dream ..." (Donaldson, The Christian Orthodoxy, 156).
The very idea of God having inspired four different men to write different and irreconcilable records of the same events, or rather of many different men having undertaken to write different records, of whom God inspired four only to write, let me suppose, correctly, leaving the others to their own unaided resources and giving us no test by which to distinguish the inspired from the uninspired, certainly appears to be unbecoming of God and anything but natural. Where was the necessity, one might ask, for God to have inspired four different men to differ and cause confusion? In view of the notorious differences only one of them can be correct and perhaps inspired. But which one? Further, as William Greg has pointed out in his The Creed of Christendom:
"The Gospels nowhere affirm or even intimate their own inspiration, a claim to credence which, had they possessed it, they assuredly would not have failed to put forward. Nor do the Apostolic writings bear any such testimony to them."
I must point out that the New Testament presents the paradox of a literature born of a protest against the tyranny of a Canon yet ultimately canonising itself. Jesus set himself to free religion from the deadening influence of the scribes. Little did he know that his followers in name would create a worse system whereby a new set of scribes would attribute to him discourses and acts which he never dreamt of saying or doing.
I have so far endeavoured to discuss Christian sources for the biography of Jesus. I have examined the New Testament and rejected its authority as an authentic or a contemporary record. I have enquired into the origin and history of the Acts and the Epistles and shown that they hardly contain any element of truth. I have referred to those early biographical compilations which can alone be regarded as worthy of some attention; and have pointed out that they also cannot be accepted in their entirety. I have ventured to indicate that genuine passages should be picked out and separated from the innumerable forgeries and that facts should be distinguished from legend and fiction. It would perhaps be safe to accept all such passages, found in the New Testament and other early Christian literature, as go against the popular Christian dogmatic beliefs. If we follow this and the other rules of caution with sagacity, perseverance and impartiality, we shall be able to arrive at a fair approximation of the real facts. Thus the ground work of the career of Jesus will be laid with some confidence and the leading features of his life will become discernible, though many problems will still remain unsolved and many paradoxes will vainly excite curiosity and baffle explanation.
Before dealing with Islamic sources, I would like to quote a few verses from the Holy Quran which disclose the real worth of the Bible. It is very significant that what modern researches have only recently established was in fact disclosed by the Holy Quran about fourteen hundred years ago. The Holy Quran has repeatedly exposed the corruption of the Biblical texts. There are numerous such references but I will quote only a few of them.
Addressing Muslims and speaking of Jews, the Holy Quran says:
"Do you then hope that they would believe in you, and a party from among them indeed used to hear the Word of Allah, then altered it after they had understood it, and they know (this)" (The Holy Quran, 2 : 75).
Referring again to Jews, the Holy Quran says in another place:
"This is because they say: The fire shall not touch us but for a few days; and what they have forged deceives them in the matter of their religion" (Ibid., 3 : 24).
Speaking of Jews and Christians alike, the Holy Quran says:
"And most surely there is a party of them which lie about the Book, that you may consider it to be (a part) of the Book while it is not (a part) of the Book, and they say it is from Allah, while it is not from Allah; and they tell a lie against Allah whilst they know" (The Holy Quran., 3 : 78).
"But on account of their breaking the Covenant, We cursed them and made their hearts hard; they altered the words from their places and they neglected a portion of what they were reminded of; and you shall always discover treachery in them excepting a few of them; so pardon them and turn away; surely Allah loves those who do good to others. And with those who say we are Christians, We made a Covenant, but they neglected a portion of what they were reminded of; therefore, We excited among them enmity and hatred to the day of resurrection; and Allah will inform them of what they did. O Followers of the Book! Indeed Our Apostle has come to you, making clear to you much of what you have concealed of the Book, and passing over much: indeed there has come to you light and a clear book from Allah" (Ibid., 5 : 13-15).
"Woe, then to those who write the Book with their own hands and then say: This is from Allah, so that they may take for it a small price; therefore, woe to them for what their hands have written, and woe to them for what they earn" (Ibid., 2: 79).
in Heaven on Earth [Journey of Jesus to
Kashmir, his preaching to the Lost Tribes of Israel
and death and burial in Srinagar] by Khwaja
> Chapter 1: Pre-Islamic Sources