Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog


BETWEEN 1300 AND 1634 AD

In Chapter I we saw that the Gospel of Barnabas speaks of 10 heavens, and it was pointed out that in addition to contradicting the Qur’an which speaks of seven heavens, this idea was unknown until the time of Dante in the 13th century. In Chapter II where we discussed the many things which were impossibilities for a first century Jew, we found that several of these erroneous statements coincided with customs from the Middle Ages; e.g., a dinar as a gold coin, and the Jubilee which was celebrated every 100 years for the first time in 1300 AD.

In this chapter we are going to look in greater detail at certain beliefs found in Barnabas and their evolution in time. These are Christian beliefs, doctrines, and customs which evolved over the years. If a person is familiar with the Christian literature up through the Middle Ages it is possible to make an educated estimate as to the time when Pseudo-Barnabas was actually written.

I am not highly familiar with this literature. Therefore, I have asked for and received permission from Frere J. Jomier O.P. to utilize material from his article “L’Evangile Selon Barnabé” for the arguments in this chapter.1 I have taken the liberty of shortening some sections; and lengthening others by giving the complete quotation from Barnabas rather than giving just the reference. Otherwise, it represents the very fine work of Jomier and his associates. I mention his associates because a note on p. 219 reveals the extensive work necessary even for Catholic Christians familiar with the literature. It reads,

The proceeding study was undertaken by the R.R.P.P. Robillard and Kenzeler whom we thank very sincerely. They spent several days without claiming to have made an exhaustive search. No doubt there exist many other references.

At What Time and in What Place
Did the Author of the Gospel of Barnabas Live?

The question that we will consider now is quite distinct from the preceding one. Until this moment we have compared certain statements of Pseudo-Barnabas with what history teaches us about the Palestinian milieu during the first century of the Christian era. From this examination we were able to conclude with certainty that it was not composed in Palestine at the time of Jesus. This conclusion is purely negative, but it is sufficient to speak in an absolute fashion against the authenticity of the work.

Now it is necessary to see what can be said further about this work. As we examine the text it will become clear that the most likely hypothesis is that it was written by an Italian2 between the 14th and the 16th century. Only the discovery of new documents would permit one to make a more certain pronouncement on the date and place of composition. But, to repeat again, any question of authenticity is completely and incontestably closed.

Elements Which Betray a Western Milieu During the End of the Middle Ages or the Renaissance

i) Tears

Certain details of the Gospel of Barnabas are not purely medieval; however they are not out of place at this epoch. Crying is a sign of pain or of emotion. It is a fundamental human reaction. Nevertheless, we know that a whole current of spirituality, coming from the Christian monastic circles, insisted on tears. In the West, this tradition was still alive in the Middle Ages, and one sees in the lives of the saints the importance of the gift of tears. To pour out “as many tears as the sea holds water and to wish to cry still more” for one’s sins as Pseudo-Barnabas states in Chapter 103, may be an expression which seems a bit exaggerated to us. But it was probably not so on the lips of a preacher in the Middle Ages and on into the 16th century, at a time when certain saints wrote down daily the favours which God had accorded them of this type.

Here is the essential of what the Rev. P. Robillard wrote to us on this subject.

Tears have a great importance in the Christian east (I. Hausherr, Penthos, La doctrine de la componction dans l’Orient Chrétien, [Roma, 1944]). Crying is the duty of the monk, resulting from the exercise, from the practice of the commandments. This tradition passed to the west through Cassien who died about 435, (Conference 9, de la priere, ch.29 [P.L., Migne, t.49, 804-805]) and through St. Gregory the Great (Dialogues, L.3, ch.34), in about 600 AD. Compunction (regret or remorse), according to St. Gregory the Great, comes to mind at the memory of sin, at the fear of hell, at the thought of misery of this life, at the desire of heaven.

Saint Bernard (died about 1153) marks a new step in the history of this type of spirituality. He gives to tears a mystical signification (cf. In Epiphania Domini, Sermon 3, P.L., 183, col. 152)... Soon we have works describing the mystical itinerary as a function of tears and their more or less great nobility. Thus the discussion of tears inserted in the Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Sienne (died in 1380)... Finally St. Ignace de Loyola, in his spiritual diary, notes the tears which he has poured out (see especially the second book from the 13th of March 1544 to the 27th of February 1545 in St. Ignace, Journal Spirituel, translated and commented on by M. Gieliani, [Paris, Desclee-de Brouwer, 1959]).

Pseudo-Barnabas speaks of tears because of sin (cf. Chapters 12, 47, 50, 70, 103, 117, 195, etc.), because of the miseries of this life (Chapter 27), because of divine punishment (Chapters 41, 203-204), because of hell (Chapters 55, 57-58), because of the desire of paradise (Chapter 112), etc. It mentions crying for a friend or a brother (Chapters 188, 193), the tears of Mary for her son (Chapters 209, 219). The crying because of devotion is also found, but it is relatively rare.

ii) Philosophical Expressions

In Chapter 83, Pseudo-Barnabas represents Jesus as praying,

I confess you are God alone... that has no likeness among men, because in your infinite goodness you are not subject to motion nor to any accident.

In Chapter 133, Jesus is made to say,

Of that father of a family, I tell you verily that he is God our Lord; Father of all things, for that he hath created all things. But he is not a Father after the manner of nature, for that he is incapable of motion, without which generation is impossible.

And again in Chapter 106 we read,

Then said Jesus, ‘As God lives, in whose presence stands my soul, many are deceived concerning our life. For so closely are the soul and the sense joined together, that the more part of men affirm the soul and the sense to be one and the same thing, dividing it by operation and not by essence, calling it the sensitive, vegetative, and intellectual soul.’

Finally in Chapter 174 there is a discussion as to whether there is putrefaction (rotting) in Paradise.

These philosophical expressions employed in the Italian manuscript do not permit us to date the text with great accuracy. Their presence only shows that the composition took place at a time when educated believers had already reflected on the contents of their faith and placed it in relation to philosophy. Among Christians, the first attempts of this type started in the third century in Alexandria. Among Muslims we find a similar effort by the Arab philosophers.

At first this type of thought was restricted to a limited circle. In contrast we note that Pseudo-Barnabas seems to address himself to a public which already possesses a fairly complete philosophical understanding. He uses a vocabulary which the scholastic teachers of the Middle Ages had made familiar among the educated people in the west by the 13th or 14th century.

To speak of the end, of movement, of accident, of the division of the soul according to essence or operation, and the tripartite aspect of the soul (which we saw mentioned in the above quotations) would have no meaning, unless these ideas were already well understood among his readers. Such a fashion of speaking would not be out of place for an educated preacher at the end of the Middle Ages or the beginning of the Renaissance. However, it would be clearly out of place in the mouth of Jesus as he spoke to the people of first century Palestine, just as it seems out of place to us because we do not speak this way in the 20th century either.

iii) Passages Which Point to a Medieval Social Structure

One passage, in which Jesus attacks the doctors of the law, the scribes, the Pharisees, and the priests, has a clearly medieval appearance. Found in Chapter 69 it presupposes a refined society in which the leading classes live in luxury and where the religious leaders only think of imitating them. It also assumes a society in which the knights are often at war, and where the religious leaders in question are unmarried.

And Jesus continued, saying: ‘O Doctors, O scribes, O Pharisees, O priests tell me. You desire horses like knights, but you don’t want to go forth to war. You desire fair clothing like women, but you don’t want to spin and nurture children. You desire the fruits of the field, and you don’t desire to cultivate the earth. You desire the fishes of the sea, but you don’t desire to go a fishing. You desire honour as citizens, but you desire not the burden of the republic; and you desire the tithes and first fruits as priest, but you don’t desire to serve God in truth.’

A tirade such as this would have been out of place in Palestine at the time of Jesus. Scribes and Pharisees, even though they were village leaders, led a simple life, traveling on foot, or using donkeys or mules, and each one nourishing his own family. This type of reproach would be very unnatural.

And this question of war! War against whom? Are we to believe that Jesus spoke in this way at a moment when only the Romans possessed an army, and where even those in sporadic revolts were unable to find mounts on which to meet the cavalry. Again such a reproach is absolutely out of place.

On the other hand, we can easily imagine such a scene in the Italy of the republics of the Renaissance. From the 14th century on these reproaches would apply perfectly to the worldly clergy and the bad pastors. We need only listen to the reproaches that Catherine de Sienne (died in 1380) addressed to such clergy to exhort them to repentance and conversion. After having rebuked and stigmatized their ambition and their desire for honours and high offices in the church she continues:

All the revenues of the church are used to buy sumptuous clothes in order to be seen dressed with delicacy and style, not as church scholars and religious men obedient to their vows, but as Lords and Ladies of the court. Their taste is for beautiful hair-styles, numerous gold and silver vases for their homes... They dream only of feasts and they make a God of their bellies. (Dialogue, II, 55.)

These are approximately the same reproaches as in the Italian manuscript – thirst for honours, use of church revenues for luxury and ostentation. There is of course one difference. Only Barnabas mentions, “not wishing to nurture children”. Perhaps he wishes to attack celibacy, which the Catholic Christian Saint Catherine de Sienne obviously did not question. In summary, the two texts match the same situation – a situation found in Italy and western Europe in the 14th century and on into the Renaissance.

Other passages which reflect the political and social situation of medieval Italy are found as follows:

In Chapter 131, the Apostle John speaks of himself as “a poor fisherman, ill-clad, sitting among the king’s barons.”

In Chapter 133 where Jesus explains the parable of the seed sown on stony ground we read,

It falls upon the stones when it comes to the ears of courtiers for by reason of the great anxiety these have to serve the body of a prince, the Word of God does not sink into them.

Finally in Chapter 194 where the Jewish leaders want to kill Lazarus after Jesus raised him from the dead it says,

But because he was powerful, having a following in Jerusalem, and possessing with his sister Magdala and Bethany, they knew not what to do.

With these phrases Lazarus is pictured as a mighty feudal lord of Magdala and Bethany. Herod is sitting among his barons. And the only interest of the courtiers is to serve the body of a prince. This was beautiful and excellent preaching for medieval Italy or Spain, but Jesus never said these phrases in 1st century Palestine.

iv) Definition of Hypocrisy

In Chapter 45, the Italian manuscript places the following words in the mouth of Jesus,

As God lives, in whose presence I stand, the hypocrite is a robber and commits sacrilege, inasmuch as he makes use of the law to appear good, and steals the honour of God, to whom alone pertains praise and honour for ever.

He defines hypocrisy, and especially the hypocrisy of the religious scholars, as a theft of the honour of God and a sacrilege. His position here is very clear.

Now, in the history of spirituality we can follow the evolution of ideas. (And by this means have an idea of the time when a document was written). Hypocrisy and theft have been associated with each other for a long time. Saint Gregory the Great, pope from 590 to 604, compared the hypocrite to a ravisher who,

While he commits a sin desires to be honoured as a saint; he steals the praises for a life that is not his.3

For him, the hypocrite is a thief; he steals goods which consist of unmerited praises. The influence of Saint Gregory persisted during the whole Middle Ages, but there was no mention of the honour of God.

In the fourteenth century, however, the idea of the honour of God began to have an important place in certain books about spirituality. Saint Catherine de Sienne (died in 1380) insisted very strongly on this point. The soul, she taught, which does not have the gift of discernment, runs the risk of “robbing God, like a thief, of the honour that belongs to Him, in order to attribute it to himself and accept the glory.”4 Here, the idea of stealing “the honour of God” appears in complete clarity.

Later in the 15th century, we find Denys le Chartreux (died in 1471) associating hypocrisy with the idea of sacrilege. He says, in substance, that the religious scholars who pretend humility in order to have a better possibility of obtaining ecclesiastical honours are sacrilegious persons, “les sacrileges”, who abuse sacred things.5

The definition of hypocrisy given by Pseudo-Barnabas includes all of these ideas. This leads us again to the same date in the west. But this time the Rev. P. Robillard, to whom we owe so much for the present study, leans toward the end of the 15th or the beginning of the 16th century.

In order not to prolong this study indefinitely, we will finish with two other examples.

v) The Preliminary Signs of the Final Judgement

In Chapter 53, Jesus is represented as speaking of the end of the world. After mentioning the classic trilogy of calamities – plagues, famine; and war; he describes the cosmic cataclysms which occur during the last fifteen days before the day of judgement. This theme of distributing catastrophes throughout the last fifteen days is found in the works of numerous medieval authors in Western Europe. It appears during the 11th and 12th centuries in two forms which later writers continued to reproduce, and thus it became a widely known idea.6

An extremely detailed inventory of the themes and images of the apocalypse used by the Jews, made by Professor Volz7 revealed no such beliefs. Almost certainly, therefore, this represents one of those medieval legends whose source is completely unknown. Repeated by Pseudo-Barnabas, this theme, found everywhere among medieval authors, brings us to the same date of composition – the end of the Middle Ages, or later.

vi) Capital Sins in the Description of Hell

The description of hell will also give us some very valuable indications as to the date of the text. The idea that hell is divided into regions is certainly not new. For a long time authors have localized the punishment of the damned in separate well-defined places where each group of sinners would endure torments appropriate to its sin. However one detail is very revealing. The place of damnation, according to Chapter 135 of Pseudo-Barnabas, is composed of seven centers each one below the other. At each of the centers the punishment corresponds to one of the seven sins which Christian spirituality of the Middle Ages called “the seven capital sins”, meaning the seven “principal” sins. But by associating them with hell, Pseudo-Barnabas turned them into mortal sins. He lists these capital sins in the following order – starting with the worst: pride, envy, avarice, lust, laziness, gluttony, and anger.

This doctrine of the capital sins was born in Christian monastic centers. Its purpose was to put the monks on guard against the faults which were the most dangerous for their souls, and especially those which indirectly could lead the guilty ones on to other sins – each one worse than the last one. We find this idea in the writings of the eastern Christians like Cassien (died in 432), but at that time he spoke of eight capital sins. Later, in both the east and the west this number was reduced to seven.

Saint Gregory the Great was one of the first in the west to mention seven capital sins starting with pride. This number became standard in the west, but the order varied according to the author, except for pride. Everyone placed this at the head of the list. Beginning in the 13th century envy began to be standard in the second place, just as we find in the Italian manuscript. During the height of the Middle Ages these seven sins were considered the greatest dangers which could threaten the spiritual life, but one did not speak of them in relation to a place in hell. The idea that these capital sins each had a special place in hell – or in other words that they were mortal sins – was a late idea. M. Bloomfield, after having studied the question at great length, concluded categorically, “The association of the seven capital sins with visions of hell was a late European phenomenon.”8 The “Divine Comedy” of Dante (1265-1321) is the most outstanding and well-known example. Before the 14th to the 16th centuries, these seven sins were always capital and never mortal.

The Gospel of Barnabas, therefore, describes hell and Christian spirituality in a manner that was unthinkable before the 14th century. We see this displayed very clearly in the chart shown in Figure 4.


  1. 10 Heavens – also contradicts the Qur’an written between 609 and 622 AD.
  2. Jubilee every 100 yrs for the first time in 1300 AD.
  3. Tears and Weeping.
  4. Philosophical Expressions.
  5. Mediaeval Social Structure.
  6. Hypocrisy – as theft.
  7. Hypocrisy – as theft of the honour of God.
  8. Hypocrisy – as sacrilege.
  9. 15 days of signs before the final judgement.
  10. Capital sins.
  11. Capital sins become mortal.



From this chart it is clear that the Gospel of Barnabas contains many doctrines that were unknown at the time of Christ in the 1st century, and some that were unknown until after 1300 AD. Therefore the date of writing has to be between 1300 AD and 1634 AD – the date when the present Gospel of Barnabas was first mentioned.

Fig. 4 Time Chart Showing Beginning of Various Doctrines


The historical study of the spiritual theme and images has led us each time to the same result. Ideas that were not found among the Christians of the first century, or the 5th century, or the 10th century, or even the 12th or 13th century are found in the Gospel of Barnabas. Therefore it is impossible that the writer of this false gospel could have written it before the end of the western Middle Ages. It could only have been written after the 13th century and was probably written after the 15th century.



1 MIDEO (Melanges; Institute Dominicain d’Etudes Orientales du Caire), Vol. 6 (1959-61), pp. 209-225.

2 Documents found since Jomier wrote his article in 1959 point to a Spanish origin, rather than an Italian.

3 Moralia,, 18, Ch. 7; Patrologie Latine, Migne, t.76, col. 44.

4 Dialogue, I, 35.

5 Denys le Chartreux, Erarratio, in Chap. VI Matth., Opera Omnia, T.9, pp. 76-77.

6 For further documentation on the history of this theme in medieval Christian literature see Jomier, “L’Evangile Selon Barnabé,” p. 219.

7 Die Eschatologie der jüdischen Gemeinde im neutestamentlichen Zeitalter, (Tübingen: Mohr, 1934).

8 Bloomfield, The Seven Deadly Sins, (Michigan: State College Press, 1952).

The Gospel of Barnabas
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