The date and authorship of every book is settled by external and internal evidence. A title, we once again point out, does not settle the question of the authorship of any book.
External evidence consists of all evidence for the existence of the book in question gathered from sources outside itself, such as the mention of the book or citations from it in contemporary literature or the literature of subsequent generations. The external evidence for the Qur'an, for example, consists of the numerous allusions to that book and citations from it which are found in Arabic literature from the time of the appearance of the Qur'an onwards.
Internal evidence is the evidence supplied by the contents of the book itself. These contents are sure to bear the mark of a particular age. The style and the subject matter of the book will alike betray it. Most probably it will itself claim to have been written at a particular time and that claim will be sustained or rejected by its congruity with the contents and style of the book itself.
Like every other book, the "Gospel of Barnabas" must submit to this criticism of external and internal evidence. We must see: 1. If there are any allusions to such a book in the literature of the first, second or subsequent centuries. 2. If the contents of the book itself lead us to any conclusion about its date. This is the science of criticism, a science which, it may be said, still hardly exists in the East. Nevertheless, it must be acquired; for it is primarily the absence of it that still makes it possible to cite this "Gospel of Barnabas" erroneously as a first century work.
The present chapter discusses the available external evidence; the remaining chapters analyze the internal evidence; the contents of the "Gospel" itself.
A. Only one manuscript of this "Gospel" is now in existence; it is in the Italian language.
It was acquired by a scholar named Cramer in Amstersam in the year 1709 A.D. After changing hands more than once, it found its way to the Imperial Library at Vienna where it is not kept.
The year 1709 A.D. is thus the earliest actual mention of this manuscript,. But we can push its history further back by inference. (For the age of volumes may be judged by their handwriting or print, binding and quality of paper.) In the case of this Italian manuscript the experts tell us that all the evidence of script, binding and the watermark of the paper point to the fact that this manuscript was written in the sixteenth century A.D.
Of course, this gives no clue whatever to the date of the original composition of the book. The printing, or writing, of a copy of the Qur'an in 1907.A.D. does not prove that the Qur'an first appeared only then. We only mean to say that the present Italian manuscript, as external evidence, fails to take us back to a time beyond the sixteenth century.
B. Let us turn to another line of evidence. Sale's Introduction to his translation of the Qur'an informs us that in his time another manuscript of "Barnabas" existed. (4). But this manuscript was in Spanish, not Italian.
(4). See Sale's "The Preliminary Discourse", Section IV. For the Spanish background of "Barnabas" see the Preface of this new edition, Section 4.
It has disappeared at the present time and we therefore have to rely on Sale's account of it. This, however, we may safely do from what we know of Sale's scrupulous accuracy in literary matters.
Sale says that the Spanish manuscript had a title page on which it was claimed to be a translation from the Italian by a Spanish Muslim named Mustafa. We may notice here that neither in the Italian not the Spanish manuscript is there any word about an Arabic original.
In the preface of the Spanish manuscript there is a story, ostensibly by the discoverer of the manuscript from which the Spanish translation was made. In this the spokesman is an Italian monk named Fra Marino, who claims to tell us the history of his discover of the original manuscript in the time of Pope Sixtus David (A.D. 1585-1589). He is represented as saying that:
having accidentally met with a writing of Irenacus……wherein he speaks against St. Paul, allotting for his authority the Gospel of St. Barnabas, he became exceeding desirous to find this Gospel; and that God …..having made him very intimate with Pope Sixtus David, one day as they were in that Pope's library, His Holiness fell asleep, and he…..reaching down for a book to read, the first he laid his hand on proved to be the very gospel he wanted. Overjoyed…..he scrupled not to hide his prize….and, on thePope's awakening, took leave of him, carrying with him that celestial treasure, by reading of which he became a convert to Muhamadanism.
Such is the story found in the preface of the (last) Spanish edition. The story is curious. But reflection elicits the following considerations:
1. It may be an invention of Mustafa's, the Spanish Muslim translator, for we are unable to check it by referring to the supposed original. Moreover, it is most remarkable that the existing Italian manuscript says nothing about it. This casts a suspicion upon the historicity of the story.
2. The story itself contains absurd touches; the sleep of the Pope, the chance discovery, the theft. All these touches look like the details of a romance rather than a real incident. And where does Irenaeus speak against St. Paul and allege a "Gospel of Barnabas"? The orthodox Irenaceus (5) recognized St. Paul's writings as inspired, and laid down succinctly that none but our present "four" were or ever had been given by God. How, then, could he write against St. Paul or rely on a "gospel" Bible someone other than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. This one thing is sufficient to discredit the story printed in the preface of the (lost) Spanish manuscript.
3. If it is possible that Mustafa invented this story in the interests of Islam, it is, of course, also possible that he did not invent it, and that it is really to be traced to this Fra Marino somewhere between A.D. 1585-1589. If this is so, we should have little hesitation in saying that Fra Marino, not Mustafa, was the deceiver. We are, however, left with conjecture for the scent at this point fails us; nothing is said about the language of this supposed manuscript of the Vatican library, nor is there any further description about it.
(5) Voluminous writings of his are extant.
To sum up: two lines of evidence have independently carried the book before usback to Italy and to the sixteenth century. In one of the two lines of evidence occurs a story which affirms an earlier history for the book. But that story possesses such doubtful external authority (it is found in the Italian manuscript) and such questionable internal trustworthiness (it contains such fabulous details) that it is impossible to rely on it.
Indeed, on the assumption that there was an Italian monk of the sixteenth century called Fra Marino, we should feel strongly tempted on the basis of his testimony to consider him a knave, and possibly the composer, or forger, of the "Gospel of Barnabas".
Internal evidence, however, points to a rather earlier date for the "Gospel", as we shall see; viz., about A.D. 1300-1350. (6) It is, therefore, not impossible that Fra Marino (if he existed) did find a copy of the work at Rome and read it. If on the strength of it he really became a Muslim, we may truly wonder whether his conversion was really in service to Islam. This point will be clear to our readers after we have finished studying together the contents of this "Gospel".
However, before passing to the internal evidence, we must say a word about a supposed Arabic "Gospel of Barnabas". In the first place, we may dismiss at once all idea that the book before us has anything to do with such a book, if it ever existed; for:
A. No such thing is ever even claimed, either by the existing Italian manuscript or by the existing Italian manuscript or by the lost Spanish manuscript, or by Fra Marino (if he ever existed) for the version he found (if he ever found it) in the preface he wrote (if he ever wrote it). The reader should clearly understand that the present work is totally silent about its source or origin, apart from called itself "The Gospel of Barnabas". The title itself, as we have said, proves nothing.
(6) For a later date see J. Slomp, op. cit., p. 117 and the Preface of this new edition.
B. Moreover, though we build little on this argument, the actual style of the Italian work before us suggests neither an Arabic original nor anything else but an Italian original. The Arabic marginal notes, of course, have nothing to do with the questions. They are in a Europan hand and are full of blunders. They are evidently attempts of a Europeau tyro to translate some of the phrases of the Italian into Arabic.
C. The scholars who discovered the Spanish manuscript repeatedly challenged the Muslims of that day to produce the Arabic original, it existed. None was produced.
Briefly, the "Gospel" before us never had an Arabic original; nor does it claim to have had one.
In the second place, was there ever an Arabic ""The Gospel of Barnabas" different from the book before us? This, of course, is strictly outside our enquiry, for we are concerned only with the book before us. The questions of another book of the same name has nothing whatever to do with the point, more especially as such a gook, if it ever existed, has totally disappeared for centuries.
But still, for the sake of completeness, we will note all there is to be said about the subject.
A. There is a late and worthless legend that, when the relics of Barnabas the Apostle were discovered in Cyprus in the fifth century A.D., there was found lying on his breast a copy of the Gospel according to Matthew, written by Barnabas' own hand. (7) We give this legend, not because it has anything to do with a ""The Gospel of Barnabas", but because it shows us how the legend of Barnabas as a "Gospel" writer perhaps began.
(7) Thomas Mongey A.M., Rector of St. Nicholas in Guilford, London came already to this conclusion in his remarks upon Nazarenus by John Toland. Mongey's remarks were published in 1718 in Bibliotheque Angloise ou Historic Literaire de la Grande Bretagne, Tome IV, Part 1, pp. 327-336. See also the Preface to this new edition, Section I; this Bibliotheque Angloise was edited by Jean Leclerq, a friend and colleague of Philip van Limborch who was the possible owner of the manuscript discovered in 1709. See J. Slomp, op cit., p. 111.
B. The sixth section of the so-called "Decree" attributed to Pope Gelasius (A.D. 492-496), mentions an Evangelium Barnabe in it's index of prohibited and heretical books. But there is the gravest doubt about the genuineness of this "Decree", and there are other weighty arguments to support the belief that the ""The Gospel of Barnabas" mentioned in the Decree had no objective existence at all.
Here also we allude to the strange fact that none of the earlier Muslim writers ever referred to this Arabic ""The Gospel of Barnabas" inspite of the fact that many of them reject the Christian Book and accuse Christians of having corrupted the Gospel. Surely this ""The Gospel of Barnabas" would have been the handiest possible weapon for them, had they known of its existence. Witness the extreme eagerness with which it is quoted today! Of old Muslim writers, whose silence is an absolute proof of their ignorance of this "Gospel", we should first mention Ibn Hazm, who mercilessly condemns the four Evangelists and "declares that the names of the Apostle are quite unknown". How is it that he failed to cite the book that beyond all others would have given him some specious support? Abu-Fadl as-Saudi and al-Ja'fari are two other Muslim writers who deal with the four Gospels. Apparently they assume their genuineness but reject the Christian interpretation of them. Neither of them alludes to any Gospel called ""The Gospel of Barnabas". Stranger still, the Bibliography of Hajji Khalifa (obit 1067 A.H.) is utterly void of any such reference, whereas we might certainly have expected to find some allusions here to so congenial a work. Besides, the whole huge mass of Muslim commentaries, and other works which condemn Christianity and accuse it of having corrupted the Gospel, are utterly silent on this matter. they make no allusion whatever to an Arabic ""The Gospel of Barnabas". Their silence can have only one possible explanation. They were utterly ignorant of its existence. If so, it may be conclusively stated that this "Gospel" was never extant in their times.
In fact, from the time of Gelasius to our own time not a single soul is known ever to have even set eyes on such a book.
C. Beyond the shadowy mention in the fifth or sixth century A.D. of a book with this title, we have the amazing fact that neither f5rom the first century, nor from the second century with its many spurious books, nor the third, nor the fourth, does there come to us a single voice even alluding to a book entitled ""The Gospel of Barnabas" .
From this we conclude:
a) That no Arabic ""The Gospel of Barnabas" ever existed.
b) That an early pre-Islamic ""The Gospel of Barnabas" probably never had any existence outside the pages of the so-called "Gelasian Decree".
c) That in any case the present Italian ""The Gospel of Barnabas" has nothing whatever to do with the matter. We cannot insist too many times to the reader, especially to the innocent and inexpert one, that identity of title means literally nothing. A man may write a romance entitled "Yusuf and Zulaikha" today. does this identify his book with any of the scores of "Yusuf and Zulaikha's" written between now and the early centuries? Or, if the book is in the form of an autobiography, does this necessitate its being attributed to Yusuf, the son of Yaqub.? Yetthis is the precise conclusion reached by those who, without thought, take any book called ""The Gospel of Barnabas" as necessarily identical with one supposed to have existed 500 A.D. and with one supposed to have been written by Barnabas in the first century.
Final conclusion from the external evidence: The book is to be traced to the Middle Ages, not to an earlier date. The internal evidence, which we shall now consider, will prove it actually to belong to the Middle Ages. Our final conclusion will be that the ""The Gospel of Barnabas" is a forgery of the Middle Ages by a man
who knew Christianity well and Islam little;
who wished to damage Christianity and exalt Islam;
who was therefore probably a Christian convert to Islam, like the Fra Marino of the Spanish manuscript..