The publication of a scholarly edition (1) of the Italian The Gospel of Barnabas, with an English Translation, Introduction and Notes, has given a fresh impetus to the interest felt in this work in the East.
The name (though not the contents) of this strange book had long been known in India (2) and was not unknown in Egypt. Though it was only a name, it has been freely cited in these countries by interested parties, who cited a book they had never seen or read, and almost certainly never would have heard of, except for a chance mention of it in Sale's Introduction to the Qur'an ("The Preliminary Discourse"). Moreover it has been triumphantly cited by opponents of the Christians religion as the book which most of all confuted the New Testament and demonstrated all that our Muslim friends have alleged against the Christians Book and again Christianity in general. It would seem that such men, therefore, have been guilty of using as one of their most valued weapons a book about which they knew nothing other than the name!
Now, however, as easily accessible edition has been given to the world. There are many signs that the interest in this book will increase, especially in the Muslim East. Translations are appearing in India and Egypt (3) and people are indulging in the wildest talk regarding the historical value of this book. It is very said that in religious controversy, where the desire for truth should reign supreme, men will commit themselves to reckless assertions, suppression of facts and downright falsehood, as is well seen in the matter that now engages our attention.
1. The scholarly edition referred to is the one by Laura and Lonsdale Ragg. The Gospel of Barnabas, edited and translated from the Italian Manuscript in the Imperial Library at Vienna (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907). A pirated edition of this translation with a new brief introduction and three appendices was published in 1973 by Lt. Col. M.A. Rahim on behalf of the Begum Aisha Bawany Waqf in Karachi.
2. Mawiana Rahmat Ullah al-Hindi mentioned "Barnabas" in his Izhar ul-Haqq, which was written as a reply to Pfander's Mizan ul-Hagg Rahmat Ullah derived his information about this pseudo-gospel from George Sale's preface, introduction and explanatory notes of his translation of the Holy Qur'an. The Maktabah Dar Ullah's book in three volumes under the title Bible se Qur'antak in 1968.
3. See the Preface by the editor.
Truth, however, will win. We are, therefore, honestly glad that translations of this romance (for this "Gospel" is simply a romance) are appearing, since there is now some chance of our hearing the last of The Gospel of Barnabas in religious controversy. We believe that when honest men throughout the East know the contents of the book, they will assign to it its true historical value as a gospel…..which is exactly nil.
The following chapters are intended to supply the reader with the materials for forming his judgment in this matter. We shall give a history of the only extant manuscript, an Italian one, and discuss the external evidence which exists for determining its date and authorship. Then we shall examine its contents and see what light internal evidence throws on the same subject.
But first of all we must clarify the meaning of the term "Gospel". For so often in religious controversy people contend vigorously about something for a long period of time, while failing to understand that the same term may have different meanings to different persons. It is essential to define one's terms in all serious work on behalf of truth. As the term "Gospel" has been foolishly used by friends and foes, at the very outset of our study we must come to a perfect understand as to what "Gospel" really means and does not mean.