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The Gospel of Barnabas is a text that turned up in the form of a couple 16th century manuscripts in Spanish and Italian. It makes a claim to originate from the witness of Barnabas the disciple of Jesus. To my knowledge, every major Christian tradition categorically rejects the veracity of that claim and it's relevance to Christian doctrine. It is however, quite popular with the secular culture and various media outlets like to trumpet its alternate narrative of ancient events and teachings.

Every time it makes the rounds in popular media, the issue is raised that it's teachings are actually parallel to those of Islam rather than Christianity. However, I have never heard any Islamic teaching that actually embraced it.

Do any Islamic teachings directly speak to approve or reject the claims of this text? Do any scholars consider its content reliable in any way or relevant to understanding teaching before the rise of Islam? If so, which sects do they represent, to what extent do they give the text any authority, and what basis do they claim for that authority? Do any other sects specifically reject it or claim that it does not have value? If so what arguments do they forward?

According to official Islamic teaching, could a devote believer in the teachings of the Gospel of Barnabas be considered a Muslim? Would they be Ahul-kitab?

Please note that this question is less about the debate as to dating, authorship, textual reliability and so on as it is about any official positions in regard to the text and its teachings from a authoritative Islamic sources.

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This is a great question. It might be a little more answerable on this site if you can add some of the claims made in this gospel, or the core ways in which it departs from the other gospels. –  Ansari Jul 11 '12 at 17:15
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@Ansari: You may be right and I'm willing to consider doing that, but first let me say that I intentinally avoided that. I specifically want to know if there are official positions about that text in particular, not general ones about the teachings it contains. I know what the teachings are and which ones agree and disagree with Islam. What I don't know is whether any official position has been taken by any Islamic sects on the validity/authority of that particular text. Does that make sense? I'm afraid if I summarize its content people will make up a position on the spot based on my notes. –  Caleb Jul 11 '12 at 17:51
    
I'm not aware of any text from the Qur'an or hadith that explicitly refers to the gospel of Barnabas. Nor am I aware of any classical scholar who has addressed that gospel (but this is more than likely just my ignorance). As for modern positions, they would all be general ones based on the supposed content, although I don't know of any senior scholar who has issued any such position. And frankly, I don't think anyone will, either, because it is fruitless. If one takes a position now, a few years down the line the authenticity might be disproven, or the text might change, or anything –  Ansari Jul 11 '12 at 17:58
    
@Ansari: Hmmm. That's interesting actually, and might be a legitimate answer rather than comment. "There isn't a position and won't ever be because ___, but you can derive a position based on the content of any text like this _____". That reminds me of another question... –  Caleb Jul 11 '12 at 18:00
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I stand corrected - I found a modern Muslim preacher-scholar who has made a statement about this :) –  Ansari Jul 11 '12 at 18:17
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3 Answers

This is a great question.

I'm not aware of any text from the Qur'an or hadith that explicitly mentions the gospel of Barnabas. Nor am I aware of any classical scholar who has addressed that gospel (but this is more than likely just my ignorance). As for modern positions, I don't know of any apart from the position taken by Yusuf Estes here and here:

But that is all nonsense, because the so-called "Gospel of Barnabas" is "Bogabas" (fake). The translators of this old manuscript were not convinced of any authenticity within it.

Most of the content deals with the mission of Jesus and his message and is quite compatible with all four gospels, another reason to doubt authenticity. Although the synoptic gospels are quite similar in many aspects, scholars have always insisted on Mark being the oldest, and most likely more authentic, and even then Mark is said to have been taken from another, much older document referred to only as "Q". The gospel of St. John is nothing like the others and is held to be in a class by itself by scholars. So, this begs the question; "How did a document all of a sudden surface 1500 years later, in Spanish (just after the time of the Catholic conquest of Muslim Spain in January of 1492) that brings together a melding together of all the gospels and the Quran and offers the same Islamic interpretation of Christian origins, all at the same time?"

Some scholars and academics from both Christians and Muslims have considered this gospel to be late and pseud epigraphical - But, others say it may contain remnants of earlier apocryphal (hidden from the public) work that was likely edited to conform to Islamic teachings, maybe from Gnostic or Ebionite or perhaps Diatessaronic sources. Some Muslim scholars have thought it to be a surviving version of a hidden apostolic original. Some Muslim academics have referred to it in support of their view of Jesus.

There are other works, not related but with similar names and are associated with apocryphal writings. These include the surviving Epistle of Baranabas and Acts of Barabas and even an earlier (unrelated) "Gospel" of Barnabas. Although there are many "theories" being offered about this document, I seriously doubt it has the necessary credentials to be considered anything more than a very old manuscript that was translated by two people, Lon and Laura Ragg, along with their comments about 100 years ago.

Yusuf Estes is a former Christian preacher who became Muslim a while ago. Today he a popular Muslim preacher.

Frankly, I don't think many other serious scholars will take a position on this because it is fruitless. If one takes a position now, a few years down the line the authenticity might be disproven, or the text might be shown to have changed, or anything along those lines. Yusuf Estes is unique in that he is studied in the Christian tradition, so he may have the expertise to formulate an opinion.

Finally, the official position in Islam about Christian and Jewish texts (narratives on historical events, to be precise) are to neither affirm them nor to deny them. So for example the Bible has much more detailed narrations of historical events, and when we read those details, the Prophet (pbuh) told us to neither affirm them nor to deny them. I imagine a similar principle might apply in this case.

A reason that someone might say Islam does have a position on this is that in several places the Qur'an quotes Jesus and Moses (peace be upon them) as announcing the good news of another messenger (e.g. 61:6) and if I remember correctly, another place about this being recorded in the Books as well. And of course the Qur'an insists that the Books in their original form contained the message of monotheism and not any message deviating from that. Now whether the Gospel of Barnabas corresponds to the text that the Qur'an refers to, we don't know (and I argue, we cannot know until the Day of Judgment).

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Generally Gospel of Barnabas lacks historical evidence to support its authenticity, the earlist versions currently available date back 16th and 17th century, and because of this many scholars avoid enduring it as the correct Injil or relying on it. Typically scholars require historical/textual-analysis support for authenticity before accepting it. However its teachings are more consistent with the teachings of Islam than the four canonical ones. This has lead to the claim that the author was probably a Muslim or was influenced by Islam.

There is a Persian translation of it with a long introduction by Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani. I don't think the introduction is available in English and I don't have access to a copy of it at the moment, but AFAIR (I have read it long time ago) he considers it a valuable resource and hopes for discovery of earlier versions of it to support its authenticity.

It is also reported that Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Bahjat had a positive view of it although he has said that in a few cases it is not consistent with Islamic views.

The followers of it will not be considered Muslims (in the usual sense, i.e. followers of Mohammad (PBUH)) unless they satisfy the general requirements for being a a Muslim like accepting Quran and the prophethood of Mohammad (PBUH) and also follow Islamic laws.

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NOOO the Gospel of Barnabas is an Italian forgery!

It says that Jesus claimed he was not the Christ, but that Muhammad was. Anybody can easily tell this is a big lie. On top of that, the Quran uses the name Ahmad in the Jesus prophecy.

The Injil is the fragments of the Gospels we have available now and the Quran says the Christians were to judge by them in Muhammad's time.

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"NOOO İslam doesn't have a position on the text?" What question are you answering here? I asked a bunch of pointed questions related to this, as far as I can tell you've answered none of them. –  Caleb Feb 28 '13 at 6:30
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