Saturday, May 11, 2013

Was Jesus Even Crucified? Part 1.

It is a staple of Muslim understanding that the same Jesus whom the Christians and Jews maintain was crucified, most certainly was not. As it says in their Qur’an in these two translations:

…and for their boast, “Behold, we have slain the Christ Jesus, son of Mary, [who claimed to be]an Apostle of God!” However, they did not crucify him, but it only seemed to them [as if it had been] so, and verily those who hold conflicting views thereon are indeed confused, having no real knowledge thereof, and following mere conjecture. For, of a certainty, they did not slay him.

Surah 4,156 (Muhammad Asad) 1

…and their saying, “It is we who killed the Christ Jesus son of Mary, the messenger of God” – they killed him not, nor did they crucify him, but so it was made to appear to them. Those who disputed concerning him are in doubt over the matter, they have no knowledge thereof but only follow conjecture. Assuredly they killed him not.

Women (Surah 4), 156 (Tarif Khalid) 2
Indeed, Mr. Asad explains how it seemed to have been so; that it was a matter of legends accreting over time. Indeed, we have already seen how the Roman suspension-torture-execution crux (Priapus stake) transmutated into a tropaeum (victory cross) and then it kept the name crux (votive cross)! For in Christianity, it is no longer the suspended criminal who was the trophy, but the cross itself! But back to Mr. Asad:

The story of the crucifixion as such has been succinctly explained in the Quranic phrase wa-lakin shubbia lahum, which I render as “but it only appeared to them as it had been so.” – implying that in the course of time, long after the time of Jesus, a legend had somehow grown up… to the effect that in the course of time, long after the time of Jesus, a legend had somehow grown up… to the effect that he had died on the cross in order to atone for the “original sin” with which mankind is allegedly burdened, and this legend becomes so firmly established among the latter-day followers of Jesus that even his enemies, the Jews, began to believe it…. This, to my mind, is the only satisfactory explanation of the phrase wa-lakin shubbiha lahum, the more so as the expression shubbiha li, “[a thing] became a fancied image to me,” i.e., “in my mind” – in other words, “[it] seemed to me.” (See Qamus, art. Khayala, as well as Lane II, 853 and IV, 1500. 3 (removal of diacritics mine)
It could have been a matter of diegetic transposition of the exposition of the wax image of Julius Caesar on a tropaeum.4 A clue that this may be so is buried in Galatians, where Paul berates the Galatians for returning to the observance of Torah, wherein he says, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.” (Gal. 3:1 NIV) The language of this passage with the use of the word “portrayed” and the phrase “before your very eyes,” of course, implies a theatrical production.4 Perhaps the “Judaizers,” whom Paul berates throughout the entirety of the letter, had said otherwise.

Indeed, Harper’s Bible Dictionary admits that the final days of Jesus’ life and how the political authorities, both Roman and Jewish, decided to have the man executed by torture-suspension, are devoid of detail: “The details of Jesus’ last days or of the political processes that led to his crucifixion are no longer recoverable.”5 Yet, the article puts the onus on the “political authorities, no doubt mistrusting his teaching about the Kingdom [of God] and mistrusting his popularity,” who “decided that Jesus should be put to death,” and goes on to explain the putative details of his arrest, trials and execution at Golgotha “in the presence of other criminals.” The details cited are not dissimilar to those in the Gospels’ accounts.6

Despite admitting that “Originally the ‘cross’ was an upright stake to which the to which the corpse of an executed criminal was bound for public display on which the living body of a condemned person was affixed to await death” 7 (either by nailing the person to the pole’s surface or more likely by impaling him onto one end), Harper’s also has an astonishing amount of detail of Roman crucifixion in general, and of the crucifixion of Jesus himself, some of which comes from the Canonical Gospels, and some of which are, as Gunnar Samuelsson has shown,8 could be from mere conjecture, which go as far back as the German scholar Hermann Fulda, John Pearson and even Justus Lipsius. And the canonical Gospels? The earliest, gMark, dates from 70 CE, with the crucifixion account missing from the 2nd Century and 3rd century papyri.9 Even so, according to gMark, none of the disciples who were with Jesus the night he was allegedly arrested saw him suspended and then tortured to death by the instrument of his own suspension:

And they all forsook him, and fled.

(gMark 14;50, KJV)
There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; (Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem.

(gMark 15:40-41, KJV)

So the male disciples were not there, and the women were allegedly looking at the Crucifixion of Jesus from afar off (NIV: from a distance); the literal meaning of the Greek adverb μακρόθεν is “from a (long) distance, afar.10 So unless they were looking at a long distance from some height somewhere, they scarcely could have gained a clear view, and even if they were they still could have mistaken somebody else for Jesus!

Worse is gMark 16, of which most serious New Testament scholars will tell you that verses 9-20 are a later tackon by some medieval scribes. Basically, the earliest version has verses 1 through 8 only, which describes the women going to the tomb, in order that they may anoint him.11 When they get there, a young man dressed all in white, says that he has risen, just as he had said, and is going ahead to meet the disciples that he is going to meet him in the Galilee, as he had also said. The women, of course, fly off and don’t tell anybody, “for they were afraid.”12 So what are we to make of this? The only logical conclusion is that gMark, when it first appeared, even though Paul’s letters were supposed to have been circulating for up to twenty years at this time, must have been the first time anyone ever heard of the life and times and even the events of the Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, because reportedly the women didn’t tell anybody anything!

In conclusion, the Muslims have a very valid reason to disbelieve the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, because the New Testament record is very, very iffy.


1. Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur’an. Bristol, England: The Book Foundation,, 2003, pp. 153-4
2. Tarif Khalid The Qur’an: A New Translation. New York: Penguin Books, 2008, p. 80.
3. Asad, p. 154, n. 171.
4. Francesco Carotta, Jesus Was Caesar, Ch. III, “Crux.”
5. Paul A. Achtemeier, Gen. Ed. Harper’s Bible Dictionary. New York: Harper and Row, 1985, pp. 475-87, “Jesus Christ,” p. 487.
6. Ibid.
7. Harper’s, pp. 194-5, “Crucifixion,” p. 195.
8. Gunnar Samuelsson, Crucifixion in Antiquity, Tubigen, Mohr Siebeck, 2010. The publisher’s blurb at reads as follows:
Gunnar Samuelsson investigates the philological aspects of how ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts, including the New Testament, depict the practice of punishment by crucifixion. A survey of the ancient text material shows that there has been a too narrow a view of the "crucifixion" terminology. The various terms are not simply used in the sense of "crucify" and "cross," if by "crucifixion" one means the punishment that Jesus was subjected to according to the main Christian traditions. The terminology is used much more diversely. Almost none of it can be elucidated beyond verbs referring vaguely to some form(s) of suspension, and nouns referring to tools used in such suspension. As a result, most of the crucifixion accounts that scholars cite in the ancient literature have to be rejected, leaving only a few.

The New Testament is not spared from this terminological ambiguity. The accounts of the death of Jesus are strikingly sparse. Their chief contribution is usage of the unclear terminology in question. Over-interpretation, and probably even pure imagination, have afflicted nearly every dictionary that deals with the terms related to crucifixion as well as scholarly depictions of what happened on Calvary. The immense knowledge of the punishment of crucifixion in general, and the execution of Jesus in particular, cannot be supported by the studied texts.
9. Wikipedia, List of New Testament Paryri. Cf. Wikipedia, Paryrus P-45. The earliest listed manuscript (fragment) or papyrus that contains content from gMark is P-45 dated around 250 CE +/- 50 years. This papyrus contains gMark 4-9 and 11-12. It also contains gMatthew 20-21 and 25-26, Luke 6-7 and 9-14, and John 4-5 and 10-11. Nota bene: None of the Crucifixion accounts are present in this papyrus or any other listed prior to 350 CE.

10. Strong’s Greek 3113 μακρόθεν (makrothen): from a distance or afar, afar off, from far. and Tufts Perseus Greek Word Study Tool (click on LSJ and Middle Liddell tabs).

11. Strong’s Greek 218 ἀλείψωσιν (aleipswsin) more properly, to rub, smear, massage olive oil on a body – this is a poor choice of a word. Did Jews ever massage dead bodies on the third day? The very idea of it is ludicrous! and Tufts Perseus Greek Word Study Tool (click on the LSJ, Middle Liddell and Autenrieth tabs).

12. Mark 16:1-8, KJV

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