THE GOSPEL OF BARNABAS: A PRODUCT OF MEDIEVAL ITALY
1. The Centenary Jubilee
In reply to a question put forth by the Samaritan woman, Christ is represented by "Barnabas" to have said:
I am indeed sent to the house of Israel as a prophet of salvation; but after me shall come the Messiah……for whom God hath made the world. And then through all the world will God be worshipped, and mercy received, insomuch that the years of jubilee, which now cometh every hundred years, shall by the Messiah be reduced to every year in every place.
"Barnabas" thus makes the jubilee a centenary event! The Jewish jubilee, it will be remembered, was celebrated every fifty years. How are we therefore to account for such a mistake?
The only solution is that the reference is to the Centenary Jubilee of Pope
Boniface VIII, which was celebrated in 1300 A.D., being the very first of the series. Owing, however, to its financial success, Pope Clement VI altered the intention of Boniface, which was avowedly to make it every hundred years, shortened the period and celebrated the next jubilee in 1350. It is clear, therefore, that "Barnabas" falls after 1300, but before 1350, and that he refers to the jubilee of his times. In other words, he must have been a contemporary of Dante, who witnessed the celebration of the centenary jubilee when he was twenty-five, but died long before the jubilee of 1350.
2. Quotations from Dante
Quotations from Dante are another evidence proving a late authorship of this"Gospel". They cannot be accidental coincidences, since they are of great number. Of these we may mention a verse which is clearly a quotation from Dante: "They go and serve false and lying gods", which has been quoted by "Barnabas" in two places (78, 217). The expression "raging hunger" (60) is probably another specimen of such a directquotation.
But we find a stronger evidence in the close coincidence of the doctrines of Dante and of "Barnabas". The only hypothesis for such a phenomenon is that the latter had a wide knowledge of the works of the former, which he must have absorbed. Examples of this are not lacking. The description of the joys of paradise and the horrors of hell, and the pains which the unbelievers suffered in the latter, recall to us Dante's descriptions of the same. (Compare "Barnabas" 59 and 60 with lines 22 and 103, Canto III of Dante'sInferno.)
Stranger still is the coincidence between Dante's "circles" of hell and those of "Barnabas". "Barnabas" has Jesus saying to Peter:
Know ye therefore, that hell is one, yet hath seven centuries one below another. Hence, even as sin is of seven kinds, for as seven gates of hell hath Satan generated it; so are there seven punishments therein. (135)
This is exactly what Dante says in Canto David, VI, etc. of his Inferno.
Again, "Barnabas" says that God, having created the human senses, condemned them "to hell and to intolerable snow and ice". (106; see Dante's Inferno, Canto XXVIII and III, line 22).
The description of human sins and their returning at the end like a river to Satan, who is their source, is another indirect quotation from Dante's description of the rivers of hell. Similarly, the passage about the believers going to hell, not to be tortured but to see the unbelievers in their torments, recalls to us Dante's picture of the same.
The denial of forgiveness to the sinners who, at the very moment of repenting contemplates new sins in his heart, is identical with the same idea expressed by Dante. (Compare "Barnabas" 36 with the Inferno, Canto XXVII). Similarly, the differentiation of the degrees of glory and the absence of all feuds and jealousies in heaven are taken entirely from Dante's Paradise. (Compare "Barnabas" 176 with Paradise, Canto III, line 70).
But still stronger evidence that "Barnabas" quotes directly or indirectly from Dante is his description of the "geography of Heaven". Here "Barnabas" agrees with Dante and contradicts the Qur'an. The Qur'an (2:29) say that the Heavens are seven in number, while "Barnabas" gives the number as nine. (178).
Though there are other possible quotations from Dante, the number of the foregoing is quite sufficient to prove that our "Barnabas" was either a contemporary of, or a successor to, Dante; how else can we account for such numerous similarities; it would certainly be wrong to say that these similarities are mere random coincidences.
3. Traces of Medieval Doctrines
In addition to the above evidence there are traces of medieval doctrines, which also help to prove a late authorship of this forgery. These traces are more or less indicative of the disputes which arose among medieval scholars about such topics as mysticism, predestination, free-will, etc. The question of free-will, it will be remembered, played a great role in medieval controversies. "Barnabas" views on this subject seem to be contradictory to those of the Qur'an. According to him, man is endowed with a free-will; whatever, therefore, happened to him depends on his own actions. On the other hand the Qur'an says: "Whoso willeth taketh the way of his Lord, gut will it ye shall not, unless God will it." (76:29, 30: compare Barnabas 163, 164).
Asceticism in "Barnabas" bears traces of medieval times. In no way can it be said to breathe the first century atmosphere.
4. Traces of Medieval Society
No reader of this ""The Gospel of Barnabas" can fail to observe the clear traces which it exhibits of medieval society in Europe, especially in Italy. It is true that5 the general contents of the book may intentionally suggest other periods; but we may say on the whole, and that with confidence, that the book breathes a medieval Italian atmosphere, which is a clear proof that the writer is an Italian who lived in medieval times. Such traces are bound to appear in spite of all precautions, and must be considered as an indisputable internal evidence of the real date and authorship of the book in questions. It is just as much against internal evidence to date back our "Gospel" beyond medieval times as to assign Milton's Paradise Lost to an early century. We can do nothing better than reproduce here some of the traces to which we refer.
There is the picturesque description of the summer season in the fields and valleys (169), much more suggestive of beautiful Italy than of Palestine in summer, when the fields are utterly burnt up!
There is also the reference to stone-quarries (109), which, everybody knows, are characteristic of Italy. Indeed, stone-quarrying is one of the chief occupations of the Italian labourer, and Italy's fame in quarries is worldwide. But Jewish literature takes little or no account of quarrying. (8)
(6) Here Gairdner makes a mistake, Stone quarries were found in Palestine in Jesus' days, as excavations clearly indicate.
The reference to (ocean) ships and sailors (103) does not suggest the relevant atmosphere of the first century.
Again, we find soldiers occupying their time during peace by drilling and practicing military tactics. Medieval Italy swarmed with professional soldiers, whose tactics must have been one of the most familiar of sights. But in the literature of the first century, especially the writings of the Jews, the technical details of military routine in peace time are never thought worth mentioning. Here again, therefore, the imagery suggests Italy rather than Palestine.
Among the clearest of all these traces are those of the system of feudalism, which was in full vogue in medieval times. According to this system land was divided amount the different feudal lords, who in turn subdivided their property into minor divisions and rented them to vassals who owed them a perpetual allegiance, above all, in times of war. The writer of the "The Gospel of Barnabas" represents to us Mary, Martha and Lazarus as feudal lords, in whose private hands was the proprietorship of whole villages! (194).
Thus there is a description of the vassal who owes to his liege or padrone a portionof his crop (22). This is quite in accordance with the laws of feudalism, but it is foreign to the practice obtaining in Gospel times, when the "servants" were mere labourers and had to give the whole produce up to their "lord". In fact, this reference alone should settle all disputes as to the real date of this book. It is a true description of the vassals of the medieval ages, not of the serfs or salves of the first century.
Clearer still, the references to wine-casks is more suggestive of Italy than of Oriental lands (152). It may, however, be argued that the reference is to "skins", which were commonly used in the East. But "Barnabas" reference is to casks of wood, or barrels, which are rolled "when they are washed to refill them with wine" (152). Skins are incapable of being similarly rolled about. This reference also is almost sufficient by itself to settle the question.
Another trace is that referring to medieval court procedure where the arrested prisoner is questioned by a magistrate, while a notary jots down memoranda of the evidence. (121).
The reference to the duel between two rival lovers reminds one of the age of chivalry (99). It will be remembered that chivalry was a creation of medieval society and played its role for a considerable period. The incident is utterly foreign to Orientals of the first century.
All these traces - and there are many more - are a clear proof of the real atmosphere in which the book was written, and a conclusive argument against a pre-medieval date. (9)
(7) Gairdner did not deal with the odd size of pseudo-Barnabas: 222 chapters. The Italian text was modeled after the Tuscan and Venetian diatessarons or gospel-harmonies. These 13th and 14th century harmonies were widely used in Italy. See J. Stomp, op cit. pp. 121-126.
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