Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog



As we look at the following quotations showing the beliefs held by the author of Barnabas on the composition of human beings, the structure of the universe, etc., we must keep two opposing ideas in mind. First of all, are these descriptions consistent with modern 20th century experimental knowledge of these subjects – knowledge supported by man-made trips around the world and rocket probes into space, for example. Or, do they really reflect the ideas held in other times, including the end of the Middle Ages, and thus give support to the information found in the last chapter – information indicating a date of composition in the 15th century?

A. Chemical, Anatomical and Medical Errors

i) The Composition of Human Beings

In Chapter 123 of the Gospel of Barnabas we find the following ideas:

Our God, to show to his creatures his goodness and mercy and his omnipotence, with his liberality and justice, made a composition of four things contrary the one to the other, and united them in one final object, which is man – and this is earth, air, water, and fire – in order that each one might temper its opposite. And he made of these four things a vessel, which is man’s body, of flesh, bones, blood, marrow, and skin, with nerves and veins, and with all his inward parts...

And in Chapter 167 we read,

Tell me, why is it that, while water extinguisheth fire, and earth fleeth from air, so that none can unite earth, air, water, and fire in harmony, nevertheless they are united in man and are preserved harmoniously?

What shall we say about this? The author of Barnabas speaks of earth, air, fire, and water as four things contrary the one to the other. Water extinguishes fire. Earth flees from air. Does earth flee from air? We know that the earth spins around in space with the air sitting on top of it. Or supposing “flee” means “not mix”? Would that be true?

Let us consider the following facts. The earth is made up of many metals, usually found in combination with oxygen or as salts. One of them is iron. Does iron flee from air? No. It rushes to combine with the oxygen in the air, especially in the presence of water, and we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to paint bridges and other things so they will not rust. Does water flee from air? No, it evaporates into the air and mixes with it. Without this there would be no rain, no water cycle. Or let us consider kaolin which is used to make dishes. It contains a large amount of aluminum silicate which has the formula Al2O3, 2SiO2-2H2O. What does all that tell us? It means that the “earth” aluminum (we would say element or maybe mineral) combined with “air” oxygen and then mixed with the “earth” silicon combined with “air” oxygen which in turn combined with H2O or water. The Gospel of Barnabas talks of four things that do not mix and yet an ordinary thing like kaolin is made of three of them – earth, air and water. Now let us consider fire. What is it? It is only the heat and resultant light given off when “earth” and “air” are combining. The “earth” magnesium burns or unites with “air” oxygen to light up the country side at night in a magnesium flare.

We see that in many situations earth, air, fire and water do mix or unite, and the author of the Gospel of Barnabas clearly contradicts modern science.

ii) The Origin of the Larynx (Adam’s Apple)

At the end of the 40th Chapter, the Gospel of Barnabas represents Satan as saying,

But if thou and thy companion do according to my counsel, ye shall eat of these fruits even as of the others, and... like God ye shall know good and evil... Then Eve took and ate of those fruits, and when her husband awoke she told all that Satan had said; and he took of them... Whereupon, as the food was going down, he remembered the words of God; wherefore, wishing to stop the food, he put his hand into his throat, where every man has the mark.

Now what is this “mark” which “every man” has on his throat? There is no mark on the skin of each man’s throat. But every man does have another kind of mark. It is the protrusion of the male “voice box” at the front of the throat. Women have one too, but it is much less prominent. In English it has a popular name, the “Adam’s apple” (in French la pomme d’Adam), which is derived from an old folk idea that the protrusion represents the apple which stuck there when Adam tried to stop swallowing it.

But everyone with even a small amount of scientific knowledge knows that the “Adam’s apple” is really a part of the larynx. To use correct medical terminology it is a projection of the thyroid cartilage at the front of the throat. It contains the vocal chords which allow us to speak, and has nothing to do with the esophagus where the apple would have passed. Further, in a healthy person it would be impossible to stop the apple from going down the esophagus.

As for the phrase, “he put his hand into his throat, where every man has the mark”, putting his fingers into his throat to cause vomiting, or on the outside of his throat, would not leave a mark nor cause any enlargement of the larynx. One can only conclude that this is an unscientific folk tale about the origin of the Adam’s apple which has no place in a book which claims to have come by revelation.

iii) The Origin of a Human’s Navel or Umbilicus

At the end of Chapter 35 we read,

And in his departing Satan spat upon that mass of earth, and that spittle the angel Gabriel lifted up with some earth, so that therefore now man has the navel in his belly.

Scientifically we know that the “navel” or umbilicus is the remains of the umbilical cord by which the tiny baby was connected to the placenta, and indirectly to its mother. It contains one vein and two arteries, which run deep into the baby’s abdomen to connect with the fetal circulation. For this reason it must be tied tightly when cut by the mid-wife or doctor, or the new baby would soon bleed to death.

Whether Adam and Eve had an unused umbilicus or “navel”, we don’t know. Artists in the Middle Ages used to argue about whether to paint an umbilicus on Adam or not. But the Gospel of Barnabas is talking about all human beings for the writer says, “So that therefore now man has the navel in his belly”. “Now” is talking about the moment when the writer wrote. This is clearly not true. Men and women have an umbilicus because they were attached to their mother, not because Satan spat on some bit of earth. Here again we are dealing with an unscientific folk myth which does not conform to 20th century reality.

iv) Medical Healing of a Fistula

In Chapter 119 we read the following:

As God liveth in whose presence we are, a man without prayer can no more be a man of good works than a dumb man can plead his cause to a blind one; than a fistula can be healed without unguent...

Now if the author were talking about miraculous healing by prayer, there would be no objection, but he is using a medical treatment as an example. So let us consider his statement and see how it stands up to modern medical knowledge and experience.

As even nonmedical people know, a fistula is a narrow tube or canal formed in the body by incomplete closure of an abscess, or wound, or bone infection. Because there is still infection inside the body, there is a continuous flow of fluid such as pus, or the liquid from some organ or bodily cavity. The body tries to close the opening, but is unable to do so because of the uncontrolled flow from the bottom of the fistula. The author of the Gospel of Barnabas says flatly that a fistula cannot be healed without unguent (ointment – usually with an oil or fat base). The truth is that a fistula cannot be healed with an unguent because the unguent will not reach down into the infected area through the small opening. Even in our modern era, the use of antibiotics which act from inside, will rarely heal a fistula. There is almost always dead necrotic tissue at the bottom of the fistula and the only way to promote healing is to operate. The doctor opens the infected area widely, usually cutting out the fistulous tube at the same time. He then scrapes out the dead material and packs the hole wide open and the body must heal the wound from the bottom up to the skin. Therefore, the author’s statement is doubly wrong. The truth is that a fistula will not heal with an ointment and it will heal without an ointment.

B. Errors in Astronomical Facts and Heavenly Distances

i) The Earth Rests on Water

Barnabas believes that the earth rests on water. We see this very clearly in Chapter 167 where we read the following:

I will disclose to you a “wherefore”. It is this. Tell me, wherefore cannot a (single) stone rest on the top of the water, yet the whole earth rests on the top of the water?... If, then, ye know not this, nay, all men, as men, cannot know it – how shall they understand that God created the universe out of nothing with a single word?

It is true that God created the world out of nothing. It says this in the Torah of Moses and in the Epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament. But that the earth rests on water is clearly a mistake on the part of the author of Barnabas, and represents a belief held in many former times, including the Middle Ages.

ii) Size of the Sun Relative to the Earth

In Chapter 179 we find the following statements:

When the prayer was done, Jesus called Peter and told him and all the disciples what he had seen. And to Peter he said: ‘Thy soul, which is greater than all the earth, through one eye seeth the sun, which is a thousand times greater than all the earth.’

The diameter of the Earth is about 8000 miles. The diameter of the sun has been calculated as about 865,000 miles, or about one hundred times more. But when we calculate the volume of the earth and the sun, we find that the sun could hold one million earths in its center and still have room left over for another 264,000. To say that the sun is 1000 times bigger than the earth is completely false. The sun is 1 million times larger than the earth. The Gospel of Barnabas is mistaken not by 50% or 100% but by 1,264 times 100%.

iii) Heavenly Distances

In Chapter 105 we read,

I tell you, then, that the heavens are nine and that they are distant from one another even as the first heaven is distant from the earth, which is distant from the earth five hundred years’ journey. Wherefore the earth is distant from the highest heaven four thousand and five hundred years’ journey...

The subject is mentioned again in Chapter 178 where we read,

Paradise is so great that no man can measure it. Verily I say unto thee that the heavens are nine, among which are set the planets, that are distant one from another five hundred years’ journey for a man: and the earth in like manner is distant from the first heaven five hundred years’ journey. But stop thou at the measuring of the first heaven, which is by so much greater than the whole earth as the whole earth is greater than a grain of sand. So also the second heaven is greater than the first, and the third than the second, and so on up to the last heaven, each one is likewise greater than the next. And verily I say to thee that paradise is greater than all the earth and all the heavens (together), even as all the earth is greater than a grain of sand.1

I think that we can summarize this information with the following statements:

  1. The first heaven is a hemisphere (or sphere) with a radius of a five hundred year journey and the earth floating on water as the center. Each successive heaven has an added radius equal to the distance which one can cover in 500 years.
  2. The planets are set in these nine heavens at a five hundred years journey from each other.
  3. This journey is the ”journey for a man”.

Since the Gospel of Barnabas is supposed to be an eye-witness account written during or just after the life of Christ, that is between 30 and 50 AD, we will follow out two hypotheses for “a journey for a man”. We will consider a 1st century speed of 30 miles a day (50 kilometers) and a 21st century futuristic man going at the speed of light. This latter being a possibility if the writer of this book was really a prophet writing a prophecy under the guidance of the Holy Spirit of God.

Hypothesis A.  30 miles (50 km) per day

30 miles x 365 days per year = 10,950 miles or 18,250 km in one man-year.

10,950 miles x 500 man-years = 5,478,750 miles or 9,125,000 km to the first heaven.

5,478,750 miles x nine heavens (4500 man-years) = 49,308,750 miles or 82,125,000 km from earth to the 9th heaven.

We will round these distances off to 50 million miles and 80 million kilometers. The first thing that strikes us is that this is only a little more than half the distance from the earth to the sun. As we learn in secondary school, the sun is 93,000,000 miles (149,000,000 km) away. In other words according to hypotheses A as seen in Figure 5: all the planets, all the heavenly bodies (sun, moon, and stars) and all the nine heavens – whether spiritual or material – are closer to us than the sun.

Our current knowledge about the distance of the planets from each other is summarized in millions of miles and millions of kilometers in Table 1.

Table 1. The Nearest Distance to which
Each Planet Approaches the Earth

Planet Miles Kilometers
Mercury 56 60
Venus 28 45
Mars 47 74
Jupiter 391 628
Saturn 791 1272
Uranus 1693 2723
Neptune 2706 4354
Pluto 3581 5761

Fig. 5  Hypothesis A

From Table 1 and Figure 5, it can quickly be seen that only two of the planets – Venus and Mars – ever come within 50 million miles of the earth. All the rest, plus the sun and all the stars are outside the ninth heaven of the Gospel of Barnabas. So this hypothesis is clearly false.

Hypothesis B.  A man traveling at the speed of light – 186,000 miles per second (300,000 km per second)

The reader will probably realize that this is one of the measuring units in actual use in modern astronomy. Because the distances are so great we speak of light years or how far light can travel in a year as the measure of distance. The nearest star to our sun is 4.3 light years away. If one uses the period at the end of this sentence to represent the sun, then a similar tiny dot 10 miles (16 km) away would represent Alpha Centauri, the nearest star.

At this speed the first heaven would be 500 light years away – or well outside our solar system and the ninth heaven would be 4500 light years away. This seems a little closer to the facts, but it still leaves two very bad – in fact, insurmountable, problems.

The first is that the planets were also stated to be 500 years journey apart from each other. They would then be 500 light years apart and completely outside the solar system. In fact they would be way beyond the closest stars. The second error is that 4500 light years is still way too small to include all the stars. Our galaxy, which is called the milky way, is 120,000 light years across all by itself. Beyond it are many other galaxies. Using the largest telescope stars have been seen which are up to 1.6 billion light years away. 4500 light years is nothing.


The descriptions of the heavens and the composition of human beings as found in the Gospel of Barnabas are wrong when compared with modern science. On the other hand, Pseudo-Barnabas’ descriptions of the earth floating on water, and human beings being composed of earth, air, fire and water, are in complete agreement with the ideas of former times, including the Middle Ages. As for the belief in 10 heavens, we have already seen that this description of the universe originated in medieval times (*).

Taken as a whole the “scientific” ideas analyzed in this chapter give strong support to a date of composition after 1300 AD. Surely no one would want them associated with the Qur’an or expect to find them in a valid testimony to the prophethood of Muhammad.



1 As we saw in Chapter I this contradicts the 7 heavens described in the Qur'an, but we will make the analysis anyway.

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