Christians believe that the New Testament authors wrote their books under the guidance of God. They consider the Qur’an to be the handwork of Muhammad, probably written with the help of others who had knowledge of Jewish and Christian scriptures and apocryphal writings. Because some statements in the Qur’an resemble passages in non-canonical writings, it is claimed that the latter are among the sources used by the Qur’an’s author. Because these apocryphal writings, by definition, are considered inauthentic and inferior to the New Testament, the Qur’an stands accused not only of copying texts, but also using the wrong ones.
The Qur’an, on the other hand, claims that the Torah, which God revealed to Moses, and the Injil, which is Jesus’ divine book, were changed by the Jews and Christians. The Five Books of Moses in the Old Testament and the Gospels in the New Testament are very different books that have almost nothing of the original revelation. Additionally, the Biblical books are not necessarily more accurate or factual than apocryphal sources, and a non-canonical book may have a seed of truth that is missing from the canonical writings. The view that the canonical Gospels are superior to the apocryphal ones is not a statement of fact but an expression of faith.
Similarly, the centuries-old popular perception in Western culture that the Gospel accounts of Jesus are confirmed by history — and thus all different accounts, such as the Qur’an’s and apocryphal sources’ are unhistorical — is nothing more than an urban myth. It would come as a big surprise to many to know that there are only a few mentions of Jesus in historical sources from the first century CE, and that this information cannot be shown conclusively to be independent of Christian influence. Not even the most famous incident of the crucifixion has testimony in history that can be confidently described as independent. What most people believe about Jesus is derived from the Gospels, which ultimately won the battle against the many other alternative gospels that were available in the first few centuries after Jesus as they became “canonized.” The reliability of this belief depends very much on the credibility of the Gospels, and these are anything but credible sources. The perception that history supports the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life is an instance of confusing assumptions with facts and mistaking tradition for history.
This book presents an alternative history of Jesus based on the Qur’an. It also reads the New Testament, relevant apocryphal writings, and history in the light of the Qur’anic account. But does not this assume that the Qur’an is a reliable book? It does, but then Jesus’ history cannot be studied without starting from a major assumption. What is the difference, then, between an image of the historical Jesus that presumes the reliability of the Qur’an and one that assumes the reliability of the New Testament? The Qur’an provides a coherent and consistent image of Jesus, whereas the Gospels draw conflicting images. In fact, the image of Jesus even within any one Gospel is inconsistent. Furthermore, the Qur’anic image makes much more sense of the limited historical information on Jesus than his images in the Gospels do. This approach, which I call the “Qur’anic approach,” is discussed in detail — along with alternative approaches to studying the historical Jesus, including the “Biblical approach” — in Chapter 1.
The book makes every effort to clearly state its assumptions and to distinguish between the scriptural passages and independent facts it cites and their interpretations. It discusses in detail not only its arguments, but also counterarguments. This should make it easier for the reader to assess the strength of the arguments of the book and to pursue different lines of interpretation of those passages and facts if she so wishes.
The book should be suitable for both the general reader and the specialist. It is intended to appeal to Christians, Muslims, people of other faiths, and the non-religious. It is for anyone who is interested in the historical Jesus. It does not require prior familiarity with the Qur’an or the Bible.
This book is a complete study of the Qur’anic Jesus in the sense that every verse that talks about him directly or indirectly is analyzed. The same applies to the verses that talk about his mother and two other relevant figures, Zechariah and his son John (the Baptist).
I have chosen to avoid studying other Islamic literature, including the sayings of Prophet Muhammad. As I explain in the first chapter, this literature is extremely unreliable. I cite a few alleged Prophetic sayings in Chapter 20, but mainly to show problems they have.
I need to explain some of the stylistic choices in the book. Each Qur’anic verse has been followed by a combination of two numbers identifying its sura (chapter) and its position in that chapter. For instance, the combination 5.110 refers to the 110th verse of the 5th chapter.
I have consulted some of the available English translations of the Qur’an, but the translations I used are mine. I had to use my own translations of the Qur’an because translation is an act of interpretation, reflecting the translator’s understanding of the text. Translations of all other cited Arabic texts are also mine.
I have also added in square brackets any explanatory text needed to clarify the translation. Round brackets have been used to add alternative texts, such as the English meaning of a term that is cited in its Arabic origin.
A number of different printing styles are used in the book. A special font has been used for the Qur’anic text and another for the canonical and apocryphal Jewish and Christian scriptures. Roman transliterations of Arabic terms are in italics.
When I needed to cite a passage that exists in Mark and any or all of the other three Gospels, I chose Mark’s version. Also, when quoting from more than one Gospel I cited Mark first, followed by Matthew and Luke, and finally John. This reflects the consensus that Mark is the earliest Gospel, which Matthew and Luke are partly based on, whereas John is the latest.
Finally, I would like to give a quick overview of the chapters of the book. A brief, but still more detailed, summary of the content of each chapter has been added to the beginning of each one.
Chapter 1 identifies and discusses the main approaches in studying history in the Bible and the Qur’an. This introductory chapter is necessary to clarify what assumptions are employed by each approach. It also shows the main problems with what I term as the secular, Biblical, and secular-Biblical approaches before introducing the Qur’anic approach, which is followed in this book.
Chapter 2 focuses on Mary’s childhood — that is, before she received the news about her conception of Jesus. As this period of Mary’s life is not covered in the Gospels, the chapter focuses only on apocryphal writings, along with the Qur’an’s account.
Zechariah is the subject of Chapter 3. He is portrayed as a priest in both the Gospel of Luke and apocryphal gospels. The Qur’an states that Zechariah became Mary’s guardian.
Zechariah is also the father of John the Baptist, who has a distinct presence in the story of Jesus in Christian sources. John is the subject of Chapter 4. Like his father, John is also a prophet in the Qur’an.
In Chapter 5 we study the delivery of the news to Mary about her miraculous conception or the “annunciation,” which is confirmed in Christian sources and the Qur’an. This is one of the events that the Qur’an recounts in more detail.
The virginal conception is then looked in Chapter 6. This particular miracle has become one of the most disputed aspects of Jesus’ story, with those who deny that it happened or could have happened seeking supportive arguments from the Gospels themselves, history, and science. The Qur’an unequivocally confirms that Mary’s conception of Jesus was virginal.
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke agree that the Holy Spirit was involved in Mary’s virginal conception. The Qur’an gives a different role to Gabriel, who is described a “Spirit,” in this miracle. Chapter 7 examines the concept of “spirit” in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic scriptures.
The exact relationship between Joseph and Mary has been the subject of so much debate. Joseph is the subject of Chapter 8. There is no such figure in the Qur’anic story of Mary and Jesus. The Qur’an also strongly implies that Mary never got engaged or married.
Another controversial topic that is related to that of Joseph is Jesus’ brothers and sisters. These are references to them in the Gospels and Paul’s letters. Whether they are meant to be Jesus’ siblings or not, Chapter 9 shows, has had scholars argue for centuries. There is no mention of any sibling of Jesus in the Qur’an, and its implication that Mary never got married means that Jesus had none.
Jesus’ birth is recounted only in two of the four canonical Gospels. These accounts and the significantly different one of the Qur’an are discussed in Chapter 10. The possibility of dating of Jesus’ birth is also discussed.
Matthew and apocryphal gospels claim that King Herod the Great committed a massacre of small boys to ensure the death of baby Jesus whom he saw as a threat to his reign. Chapter 11 looks critically at these accounts. No such massacre is recorded in the Qur’an.
The New Testament calls Jesus a “Nazarene.” This term appears in the plural only in the Qur’an. Chapter 12 examines the differences between the meanings of this term in both sources.
While Judaism does not accept that Jesus was the Messiah, both Christianity and Islam do. The different images of the Messiah in the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Qur’an are discussed in Chapter 13.
The form of Christianity that prevailed is the one that declared Jesus to be divine. Chapter 14 studies the divine qualities that the New Testament confers on Jesus and discussed how this man was turned into a god.
Chapter 15 focuses the light on the human image of Jesus in the Qur’an. His deification is completely rejected by the Qur’an. Judaism also does not believe in the divinity of other than God.
The Gospels, apocryphal gospels, and the Qur’an all attribute many, albeit different, miracles to Jesus. These wonders are discussed in detail in Chapter 16.
Contrary to what Christian sources say, the Qur’an says that God revealed to Jesus a book called the “Injil.” It also suggests that this is the real meaning of the term “gospel.” These and other aspects of Jesus’ book are discussed in Chapter 17.
Chapter 18 studies the account of Jesus’ crucifixion in the New Testaments. It also examines the reliability of the records of this alleged event in early non-Christian sources.
Jesus’ death on the crucifixion is denied in the Qur’an whose alternative account of what happened to Jesus is discussed in Chapter 19.
Christian and Islamic sources, but not the Qur’an, expect Jesus to return before the end times. The second coming is the subject of Chapter 20.
Having studied what the Qur’an says about Jesus in the previous chapter, Chapter 21 focuses on what the Qur’an says about Christians.
Chapter 22 is a recap of the story of Jesus as this book has presented it.
The book has three appendices. Appendix A is an introduction to the Qur’an’s characteristic style in recounting history. Appendix B introduces the five apocryphal gospels that were often used in the book. The last appendix is a table of the abbreviations used.
The modern, classic, and apocryphal sources that the book cited are all included in the references.
Finally, for the reader’s convenience, the book has five separate indexes for Qur’anic verses, Biblical passages, other religious texts, ancient texts, and names and subjects.
Copyright © 2007 Louay Fatoohi
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