The most enigmatic figure in the Qur’an is ‘Isa ibn-Maryam, Jesus the son of Mary. On many occasions he is said to be no different to all his peers, the other prophets of Islam, but time and again things are said about him that distinguish him from all other human beings who have ever lived, including the prophets, which strongly suggest that there is far more to him than meets the eye. He is given a number of titles that are not given to any of the other prophets that the Qur’an mentions, one of which actually defines him – al-Masihu ‘Isa, the Messiah Jesus. It’s not just that no other prophet shares this unique title, the striking factor here is that no prophet (including Muhammad) is given any title preceding his name other than Jesus.
Some of the events in his life that the Qur’an mentions also presuppose that there is something very unique about him. Even the beginning and end of his life are described in such supernatural terms that that they seriously imply a supernatural element to his person and character. Events like miracles and exorcisms testify to his supernatural powers, but others like his virgin-birth and ascension to the very presence of God himself imply that Jesus himself is a supernatural personality, one who came from another realm to earth and returned there when his time on earth was completed.
It takes little time, when reading what the Qur’an has to say about Jesus, to discover that these supernatural elements are not unexplained, mysterious characteristics that are left purely to the imagination of the reader. They are all, without exception, unique Christian factors that, studied in their original context, tell us exactly who Jesus was and why he was substantially distinguished from all the ordinary (ordinary, that is, in comparison with him) prophets who went before him. In the Christian scriptures these unique characteristics and titles define the original Jesus.
He is the Son of God who came from heaven, from the Father himself, and became the Son of man, being born uniquely of a virgin woman. His miracles and exorcisms can be matched with those of other famous religious personalities, but his sinlessness is exceptional. His ascension to heaven, right back to the very presence of his Father in the highest heaven, likewise testifies to his exalted status as a divine spirit who became the man, Jesus of Nazareth. All of these factors undergird his unique mission – not to call people purely to belief in God and obedience to him, but rather to believe in him, the revealed Son of God, who came to solve the supreme and hitherto insoluble problem, human sinfulness. He came not as just another in the line of a number of prophets who, to use one of the Qur’an’s favourite expressions, called people ‘to worship Allah, my Lord and yours.’
The Jesus of the Christian scriptures is the true historical Jesus. He is the one whom the contemporary records of his life disclosed to the world. The various creeds that subsequently defined him and all that he revealed about the Triune God – the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed, the Athanasian Creed, etc. – are Christian to the core of their testimony. They are the foundation of Christian Christology, focusing on his deity and atoning work, which define him best simply as Lord and Saviour of the world. It was Jesus who changed the image of the eternal God from being God the Creator (of a past awesome creative work) to God the Redeemer (of a future glorious transformation, creating a new heavens and a new earth wherein the redeemed will live forever).
It is not just that the Qur’an concedes the unique titles and events in Jesus’ life that testify so strongly to the Christian Saviour without commenting on them, the paradox here is that, having conceded them, it constantly downplays them and endeavours to eliminate their uniqueness. Having stated that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel, it promptly (and without defining this title) dogmatically declares that he was no different to any other messenger who went before him! It does this sort of thing all the time as we shall see.
There is no such thing as a Muslim Christology, only a denial of any uniqueness to Jesus as it packs him into the catalogue of simple (by comparison with him) messengers of God who preceded him like Abraham, Moses, David and Solomon. These men looked forward to his day, they anticipated his redeeming work, and rejoiced in their hope of sharing the glory of God with him. To him all the prophets bore witness that whoever truly believes in him receives forgiveness of sins in his name. In place of a Muslim Christology based on the unique features conceded to Jesus, Islamic history has merely served up a sequence of scholars who have fallen back on denial-polemics and Islamic dogmatics to circumvent his exalted status and make no distinctive contribution to an Islamic understanding of who he really was.
We will analyse the teachings of the Qur’an about Jesus to discover not only why it concedes so much to him that testifies to his uniqueness, but also why it denigrates his heritage and makes historically false statements about him. We will discover many sources – Gnostic, apocryphal, Arian and others – that explain why the Qur’an missed the true Jesus and why, in finalising our study, we can only conclude that the Qur’an itself is as much an apocryphal source for the details of Jesus’ life as those it relies on, and how it diminishes him as they do by twisting the details of his personality and life in such a way as to leave his glorious person and mission almost completely overlooked.
We will see that the Quranic Jesus is yet another reinvented Jesus, redefined out of context completely with the original historical Jesus, not much different to all the other reinventions of Jesus that pockmark the pages of history and which continue even to this day to produce new and hitherto unknown definitions of who he originally might have been. By analysing the Quranic Jesus against the background of the historical Jesus, the one revealed in the pages of the canonical gospels, we will see that this Jesus is simply another parody of him, a heavily diluted version that leaves him no different to the other prophets of God despite the unique titles and characteristics of his life that the Qur’an otherwise acknowledges and concedes.
In this book the following are the major collections of Gnostic and other apocryphal works which have been used to disclose the later legendary texts on which the Qur’an relied for so many of its misconceptions about Jesus. They are identified in this book by the initials attributed to them:
The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, edited by Marvin Meyer, published by HarperOne (a division of HarperCollins Publishers), New York, 2007.
This is effectively the Gnostic Bible. It contains all the texts found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945 as well as a number of other known Gnostic works. Only the Pistis Sophia and a few other Gnostic texts are omitted from this standard collection of Gnostic literature.
The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations, edited by Bart D. Ehrman and Zlatko Pleše, published by Oxford University Press Inc, New York, 2011.
This is a similar work, containing a selection of the most well-known forgeries of later centuries known today as Christian apocryphal literature. These works are known to be legendary and full of teachings about Jesus that have no parallels in the canonical gospels. They are universally regarded as fictitious compositions of no historical value. So many of their fables and folklore found their way into the Qur’an that it has to be concluded that the Muslim Jesus was constructed without any distinction being made between original historical works and later legendary fabrications.
Euangelium Infantiae; Vel Liber Apocryphus de Infantia Servatoris, edited by Henricus Sike, published by Trajecti ad Rhenum, 1697.
This book, generally known as the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy (because the only copy of it surviving today was written in Arabic), was omitted from Ehrman and Pleše’s collection, but it is a valuable source for determining apocryphal material that found its way into the Qur’an. The book consulted is an interlinear Arabic-Latin work published more than three centuries ago.
All quotations from the Christian scriptures are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible and, occasionally, New Revised Standard Version. Used by permission, copyright 1949-1952 and 1989 respectively, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. All translations of quotations from the Qur’an are generally my own and are rendered as close to the original text as possible without undermining the general meaning of each text.
Benoni, South Africa
16th October 2014