The Gospel of Barnabas and the Gospel according to the Hebrews
James Scott Trimm
While doing some recent research I discovered that the Gospel of Barnabas (a sort of Islamic apocryphal Gospel from the Middle Ages) seems to have embedded in it some elements from the Gospel according the Hebrews, the original Jewish Gospel used by the ancient Nazarenes.
At this point, I want to make it very clear that the Gospel of Barnabas is a false Gospel. The fact that I am making academic use of it, should in no way be misinterpreted as losing site of that fact. This point cannot be made too clearly.
This relationship is not a complete surprise, some scholars have maintained that there was a relationship between the ancient Ebionites and the roots of early Islam (and Barnabas has its closest affinity with the Ebionite version of GH). Moreover the editor of Barnabas is likely to have used some earlier Gospel(s) as his source material, since GH was certainly in existence, we should not be surprised that it was used as a source text.
My first clue came from Barnabas’ account of the immersion of Yeshua (or at least its reworking of that account). Barnabas reworks the immersion story into a story about how Yeshua (i.e. “Jesus”) received the “Gospel”. In Islamic belief the “Gospel” was a book that “Jesus” received from Gabriel in much the same way that Mohammed is supposed to have received the Quran. In keeping with this idea Barnabas reworks the immersion account into an account of Yeshua receiving his book in much the same way that Muhammed supposedly received the Quran:
Jesus having come to the age of thirty years, as he himself said
unto me, went up to Mount Olives with his mother to gather
olives. Then at midday as he was praying, when he came to these
words: ‘Lord, with mercy . . . ,’ he was surrounded by an exceeding
bright light and by an infinite multitude of angels, who were
saying: ‘Blessed be God.’ The angel Gabriel presented to him as it
were a shining mirror, a book, which descended into the heart of
Jesus, in which he had knowledge of what God hath done and what
hath said and what God willeth insomuch that everything was laid
bare and open to him; as he said unto me: ‘Believe, Barnabas, that I
know every prophet with every prophecy, insomuch that whatever I
say the whole bath come forth from that book.’
Jesus, having received this vision, and knowing that he was a
prophet sent to the house of Israel, revealed all to Mary his mother,
telling her that he needs must suffer great persecution for the honour
of God, and that he could not any longer abide with her to serve her.
Whereupon, having heard this, Mary answered: ‘Son. Ere thou west
born all was announced to me; wherefore blessed be the holy name
of God. Jesus departed therefore that day from his mother to attend
to his prophetic office.
This account has many subtle parallels to the immersion account in the Gospel according to the Hebrews, which is fully examined in my previous blog Restoring the Original Hebrew Gospel Account of Yeshua’s Immersion.
Now immediately we may take note of the fact that in Barnabas, as in GH, it is mentioned that Yeshua’s mother is present at the event, we may also note that both Barnabas and GH indicate that Yeshua was thirty years old.
The phrase “was surrounded by an exceeding bright light” in Barnabas recalls the phrase “a great light shone around the place” in GH.
The phrase “a book, which descended into the heart of Jesus” in Barnabas recalls: “the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending and entering into him” in the Ebionite version of GH.
The phrase “everything was laid bare and open to him” (Barnabas) recalls “the heavens were opened” in GH (and Matthew).
The phrase “Son. ere thou west born” (Barnabas) recalls “…Son… I have begotten” (GH Ebionite) and “My son… my firstborn son” (GH Nazarene).
“That day” (Barnabas) recalls “this day” (GH Ebionite)
These parallels cannot be mere coincidence. The account in Barnabas is clearly a corruption based (at least in part) in the account of Yeshua’s immersion in GH.
Within Barnabas we also find a solution to a long time GH mystery. The Ebionite version of GH had the following quote:
“I am come to do away with the sacrifices,
and if you cease not sacrificing
the wrath of God will not cease from you.”
(This quote only appeared in the Ebionite version and was not in the original
Scholars have long been curious about where this quote belonged in the text since there was no obvious parallel or context in the canonical Gospels. However similar material occurs in Barnabas which could easily be the home of this quote:
‘For ye say unto them: “Bring of your sheep and bulls and lambs to
the temple of your God, and eat not all, but give a share to your
God of that which he hath given you”; and do not tell them of the
origin of sacrifice, that it is for a witness of the life granted
to the son of our father Abraham, so that the faith and obedience of
our father Abraham, with the promises made to him by God and the
blessing given to him, should never be forgotten. But by Ezekiel the
prophet saith God: “Remove from me these your sacrifices, your
victims are abominable to me.” For the time draweth near when that
shall be done of which our God spoke by Hosea the prophet,
saying: “I will call chosen the people not chosen.” And as he saith
in Ezekiel the prophet: “God shall make a new covenant with his
people, not according to the covenant which he gave to your fathers,
which they observed not and he shall take from them a heart of
stone, and give them a new heart”: and all this shall be because ye
walk not now in his law. And ye have the key and open not: rather do
ye block the road for those who would walk in it.’
The priest was departing to report all to the high priest, who
stood nigh unto the sanctuary, but Jesus said: ‘Stay, for I will
answer thy question.’
Of course this would have been part of the apostate Ebionite version of GH and not the original Nazarene Version.
Barnabas also offers a solution to another great GH mystery. Scholars have long noted that the quotes from GH seem to switch from a third person account, to a first person account from the Emissaries, to a first person account from Yeshua himself, but how this took place was a mystery. For example Epiphanius quotes the Ebionite version of GH as reading:
There appeared a certain man named Jesus of about thirty years
of age, who chose us. And when he came to Capernaum, he
entered into the house of Simon whose surname is Peter, and
opened his mouth and said: “As I passed the Lake of Tiberias, I
chose John and James the sons of Zebedee, and Simon and Andrew
and Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the Iscariot, and
you, Matthew, I called as you sat at the receipt of custom, and
you followed me. You, therefore, I will to be twelve apostles for
a testimony unto Israel.”
(Epiphanius, Panarion 30.13.2-3)
Here we see this shift taking place, but in other passages it is not so simple to understand how this shift took place. For example Origin quotes GH as follows:
“Even now did my mother the Holy Spirit take me by one of mine
hairs, and carried me away unto the great mountain Thabor”
(Origen; on Jn. 2:12)
Now this appears to be an account of the Temptation, but all three canonical accounts of the Temptation are in the third person, how could GH have worked in a first person account?
Again Barnabas gives us the solution. In Barnabas the flowing third person narrative is at times interrupted by a first person account by an emissary (Barnabas- in the Gospel of Barnabas, Baranabas is misidentified as an Apostle) recalling and recounting a first person account of the events given them by Yeshua.
In Barnabas, for example, we read:
“…as he said unto me: ‘Believe, Barnabas, that I know every
prophet with every prophecy, insomuch that whatever I say
the whole bath come forth from that book.'”
Barnabas and GH must both have had such interspersed interruptions suddenly shifting from the third person into a first person account of an emissary (or emissaries) recalling a first person account they received from Yeshua. This makes especially good sense when we realize that the “Church Fathers” sometimes referred to GH as the Gospel of the Twelve.
So despite the fact that the Gospel of Barnabas is a false, apostate, Islamified Gospel, on an academic level, it may still provide us with some subtle clues concerning the Gospel according to the Hebrews.
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