The Muslim Jesus

There seems to be no lack of Jesus movies but a new one has come out that should capture some attention. It is called the Messiah and it was made by Iranian filmmaker Nader Talebzadeh. You can get some more information on this film and read an interview with Talebzadeh here.  This film attempts to show audiences the Muslim view of Jesus.

In many ways, Muslims have a high view of Jesus. Jesus is one of the greatest prophets, perhaps second only to Muhammad. Muslims affirm the virgin birth, Jesus’ role as the Jewish Messiah and his ministry of healings and miracles. However, Muslims do not accept Jesus as the Son of God. That is not surprising as most non-Christians, religious or non-religious would deny Jesus’ deity. What is surprising is that Muslims do deny something that most people would accept – that Jesus died on the cross. This is based on a passage from the Qur’an. This passage is a response to Jewish claims to have killed Jesus.

That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”—but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not—Nay, Allah raised him unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise. (Sura 4.157-158)

The idea is that God substituted someone else on the cross for Jesus, as Jesus was too good to suffer thus. Many Muslims believe it was Judas who died on the cross, while God took Jesus to heaven without dying, similar to what God did for Elijah in the Old Testament. There are a number of problems with this. First of all, there is not agreement in the Qur’an on this. In Sura 19.33 we read these words of Jesus: “So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day I shall be raised up to life (again)!” This seems to affirm the traditional three-fold stage of birth, death and resurrection that Christians hold for Jesus. Qur’anic translator A. Yusuf Ali comments on this passage by saying “Christ was not crucified. But those who believe that he never died should ponder over this verse.” This goes against what Muslims say about Jesus’ escape from death.

Secondly, Jesus’ death is not a minor aspect of his ministry in the New Testament. The Gospel of Mark has been described as a Passion Narrative with an extended introduction. The story of Jesus dying for his people is firmly planted in an Old Testament tradition that includes Passover traditions, Day of Atonement theology, Psalm 22 and the Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that Jesus’ death on the cross is the foundation of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).

Another problem with this film is that it is based on something called the Gospel of Barnabas. While on the surface, we might wonder why we should trust the New Testament Gospels and not another Gospel that just happened to not get included in the canon. That is because most people do not know what the Gospel of Barnabas really is.

The so-called Gospel of Barnabas, [is] a text written by a fourteenth-century monk in southern Italy who converted to Islam. In the form of a gospel, he wrote the life story of Jesus, in which he summarized the Islamic conceptions of Jesus and at the same time battled the Christian traditions where they conflicted with the Islamic. Thus, according to Islamic conviction, he lets Jesus prophesy the appearance of Muhammad and warns his community to follow the new prophet, whom he—in contradiction to the Qur’an—calls Messiah (compare Sura 61.6). (Islam: An Introduction for Christians edited by Paul Varo Martinson, p. 191)

While I affirm people’s freedom of religion and their right to portray Jesus the way they want, it is also important that people have the correct information by which to judge each interpretation.

 

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11 thoughts on “The Muslim Jesus”

  1. the verse “So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day I shall be raised up to life (again)!” is clearly show the time…”So peace is on me the day I was born”<<PAST…”the day that I die,”<<We always say, “When i die, so and so”…”and the day I shall be raised up to life(again)!”<<and this one obviously shows that he will die and will be raised in the day of judgment…

    peace

  2. Thank you for your comment. However, taking this verse and the Christian tradition of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection, it seems to me unlikely that Jesus is just talking about the same kind of death and resurrection that everyone will experience. I believe that this verse reflects a time when the basic Christian outline of his life was accepted, something that was later rejected.

  3. Thanks for your introduction to some positions outside of the traditional views of Islam. It was informative. At some point I would like to tackle your claims about the Gospel of Q and the Qur’an. At this point I would like to say that the tradition quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 is older than Q. I know that Muslims reject Paul, but the passage about the witnesses to the resurrection is not Pauline but is an older tradition quoted by Paul. Also, depending on what scholars you look at, the Gospel of Mark is not that far chronologically from Q, is an independent source and still has the crucifixion as central to the story. Muslims are free to believe what they want but the death and resurrection of Jesus belong to the earliest Christian traditions and are not a later tradition.

  4. “The idea is that God substituted someone else on the cross for Jesus”

    Where do you find this idea?! There is substitution, but there is confusion. The confusion happens over time, thus the appearance. It call this the ‘temporal illusion’; my theory is that historical Jesus (the prophet) came before the Babylonian invasion and Crucified Jesus (the carpenter) came in the Roman time.

    “However, taking this verse and the Christian tradition of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection, it seems to me unlikely that Jesus is just talking about the same kind of death and resurrection that everyone will experience”
    But the same thing was said bout John, compare 19:15 and 19:33 (wiki source).

    Plus you can’t mix Islamic source with Christian beliefs to arrive at pre-determined conclusion, it is just philosophically shaky.

  5. If Muslims believe that someone died on the cross and it was not Jesus, I do not know how else to word it.

    Where is your evidence for a Babylonian Jesus? I would love to see your sources.

    As for mixing Islamic and Christian beliefs, Christian beliefs were included in Islamic traditions and so it is not so shaky. Nothing exists in a vacuum and so aspects of different belief systems will always affect each other.

  6. “If Muslims believe that …”
    Who said Muslims believe that? My point is that one shouldn’t see in the text what he wants to see.

    “Where is your evidence for a Babylonian Jesus? I would love to see your sources.”
    Sources? Hmm… hmm… hmm…I guess this is my source, if he was sent to the sons of Israel then he must have lived before the Babylonian invasion because after that there were no more ‘sons of Israel’ but only Jews. This is the shortest argument I can give. Let me also recommend two great books: Early Israel and the Surrounding Nations & Patriarchal Palestine

    “As for mixing Islamic and Christian beliefs”
    I didn’t say mixing Islamic and Christian beliefs, my point was that your argument mixes an Islamic source with Christian dogma, hence the argument is shaky not the beliefs; I guess I am more interested in philosophy than religion…Did you compare the two verses, what do you think?

  7. Your thesis that Jesus must have lived before the Babylonian invasion because of the mention of ‘Israel’ rather than the more specific ‘Jews’ is deeply flawed.

    First of all, even if you were right, you would have to mean the Assyrians as they were the ones that exiled the northern tribes, not the Babylonians who exiled the Jews.

    Secondly, you fail to understand the wide meaning of the word ‘Israel’ in the Bible. It can mean:
    1) The 12 tribes before the division of north and south.
    2) The 10 northern tribes after the division.
    3) The 12 tribes as a spiritual entity but not a political entity after the division.
    4) The ideal description of the people of God.
    5) (For Christians) Followers of Jesus who have been ingrafted into the people of Israel.

    Jews after the exile, after the return from exile and during the time of Jesus used the term ‘Israel’ even though technically the 10 tribes were lost. Take a look at Philippians 3:5. Paul (who we can date securely to the 1st century), describes himself as an Israelite and a Benjaminite, even though Benjamin was politically a part of Judah and not Israel. Paul is speaking of Israel as the covenant people of God and not as a designation for the 10 northern tribes.

  8. Where is your evidence for a Babylonian Jesus? I would love to see your sources.
    One can, also, find him in the Bible, but it is much harder to do; this is why for the quick and short answer above I started with the position of the Quran, but I guess that won’t really satisfy you.

    The Bible presents the challenge of three different characters:
    One: The Israelite Jesus.
    Two: The Jewish Jesus.
    Three: The Christian Jesus.
    The challenge is to separate them. Both the first and second lived shortly before war destroyed society and caused major upheavals; the first lived just before the Babylonian invasion while the second just before the Roman destruction of Jerusalem; most important of which is the change of population and thus the language: the first spoke Hebrew while the second Aramaic, itself being replaced by Greek.

    The two books I cite above (both written by The Rev. A. H. Sayce) are really helpful in understanding the historic conditions of the Israelites and thus recognizing it in the Bible. The best advice I can give is this: follow the path of John to find Jesus; John’s story is the key to understanding who Jesus was.

    I hesitated when you asked for “sources” but I must confess that this view I discovered myself and did not read in any source.

  9. I think we are at about the end of our conversation. The logic you use is deeply flawed. ‘Israel’ is not just a technical term for the 10 northern tribes and it did not lose its meaning at the Assyrian exile. Paul was even comfortable including the New Testament people of God under the term ‘Israel.’ No biblical scholar suggests that there is a Babylonian Jesus described in the Gospels (Sayce was an Assyriologist not a biblical scholar). If your view was correct, we might as well divide up Paul’s lettrs among the Israelite Paul and Jewish Paul, as he uses both terms to describe himself.

  10. even if you were right, you would have to mean the Assyrians
    I am only sure that it wasn’t after the Babylonian invasion, whether it was before the Assyrian invasion or not I don’t know; I guess you are right about this one.

    3) The 12 tribes as a spiritual entity but not a political entity after the division.
    This is what I mean with the ‘sons of Israel’ that I mention in my second comment.

    even though technically the 10 tribes were lost.
    But even the last two remaining tribes were ‘dissipated’ by the time of the Romans; by that time the ‘sons of Israel’ (common parentage regardless of religion) had become the Jews (common religion regardless of parentage).

    …apologies for the late response…

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