This is the “Introduction” to the book The Mystery of the Crucifixion: The Attempt to Kill Jesus in the Qur’an, the New Testament, and Historical Sources
Christianity is the largest religion in the world, with about two billion people describing themselves as Christians. For these followers, Jesus is the most important character in history. He is the focus of their devotion and the means of their salvation. He is both god and man.
In Islam, the second major religion of the world with about one billion claiming to follow it, Jesus is also highly honored and venerated. But Muslims consider Jesus only as a prophet, albeit a special one. He is only a man.
Reverence for Jesus brings together these two great religions, but significant differences about his nature and message set them apart. The crucifixion of Jesus, which is given so much importance in the Gospels but whose historicity is denied by the Qur’an, is at the heart of the differences between how Christianity and Islam view Jesus and ultimately their respective teachings. The crucifixion is therefore a highly interesting subject for about a third of the world population.
Christianity treats the crucifixion and subsequent resurrection as the most important events in Jesus’ life. Jesus’ very mission is understood in terms of these events. The apostle Paul, to whom Christianity owes its development to what it came to be, summarized this theology, which he promoted, as follows: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17).
Historians also have shown a great interest in studying all records of Jesus’ crucifixion and trying to reconstruct the events leading to and following it. While there are no historical records from Jesus’ days about the crucifixion, there are quick references to this event in reports from the late 1st century and second century. Christian writings, and more specifically the four Gospels, remain the main sources on the crucifixion. Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John are dated to 70, 80-90, 70-100, and early 2nd century CE, respectively.
The fact that the Qur’an rejects the historicity of Jesus’ crucifixion is well known. But the Qur’an’s version of events has not been studied seriously by historians. The general reason for this attitude is the view that the Qur’an has little historical value because it is thought to be based on Jewish and Christian sources. The specific reason behind ignoring what the Qur’an says about the crucifixion is the strong belief in the historicity of this incident, so the Qur’an’s rejection of its historicity is seen as a confirmation of its unreliability.
One aim of this book is to show that accepting the historicity of the crucifixion can only stem from a degree of faith in the Gospel narratives, as there are no reliable, independent historical sources to establish the historicity of this event. The book will also show that the Christian accounts of the crucifixion are contradictory, make many unhistorical claims, and are riddled with inaccurate information. This is how this book will argue that the historicity of the crucifixion is more of an unjustified assumption than a proved conclusion; a perception that cannot be substantiated by facts. It will then study in detail the Qur’anic version of events and show its plausibility.
The book makes a number of stylistic choices. Each Qur’anic verse has been followed by a combination of two numbers identifying its sura or “chapter” and its position in that chapter. For instance, the combination 4.158 refers to the 158th verse of the 4th chapter.
I have consulted some English translations of the Qur’an, but the translations used are mine. I always use my own translations of the Qur’an because translation is an act of interpretation, reflecting the translator’s understanding of the text.
Square brackets have been used to enclose explanatory texts that are needed to clarify the translation. Alternative texts, such as the English meaning of a term that is cited in its Arabic origin, are enclosed in round brackets.
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 Biblical passages. Roman transliterations of Arabic terms are in italics.
Let’s now take a quick look at the contents of the book. The book consists of three parts. Part I focuses on the crucifixion in the New Testament and consists of five chapters. Chapter 1 examines in detail the main differences and contradictions between the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. Historical problems in these narratives are studied in Chapter 2.
Chapter 3 discusses what the New Testament says about the roles of the Jews and the Romans in the crucifixion. It also examines modern attempts to shift the blame for executing Jesus from the Jews to the Romans. The possible range of dates of the crucifixion is discussed in Chapter 4. This part then concludes with Chapter 5 which focuses on the theology that Paul developed and based on Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. The conflict of the theology of the cross with the Gospels is also discussed.
Part II, which consists of two chapters, examines the crucifixion in non-scriptural sources. Chapter 6 presents the earlier historical records in which the crucifixion is mentioned and discusses their unreliability and likely influence by Christian sources. Those who do not believe the story of the resurrection have proposed alternative scenarios to explain Jesus’ empty tomb and his appearances after the crucifixion. These theories are the focus of Chapter 7.
Part III consists of five chapters and deals with the Qur’anic account of the crucifixion and related events. Chapter 8 explains the Qur’an’s assertion that Jesus was never crucified. The Qur’an’s explanation that there was a crucifixion but of someone who was mistaken for Jesus is discussed in Chapter 9. Early Christian sources that, like the Qur’an, have advocated the substitute theory are also introduced.
Chapter 10 focuses on what happened to Jesus’ after the crucifixion. Having examined in chapter 5 the theology of the cross and its conflict with the Gospels, Chapter 11 discusses problems in Paul’s theology from the Qur’an’s point of view. The part concludes with Chapter 12 which summarizes the findings of the book about the crucifixion and what really happened to Jesus.
For the reader’s convenience, the book has three indexes for the Qur’anic verses, Biblical passages, and general names and subjects.
Copyright © 2008 Louay Fatoohi
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