The Gospel of Barnabas contends that Jesus denied his divinity and didn’t die on the cross. Conspiracy theories have revolved around this manuscript for centuries.
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In Amsterdam in 1709, philosopher John Toland set his eyes upon a remarkable manuscript—what he described in Nazarenus as “a Mahometan [i.e., Muslim] Gospel, never before publicly made known among Christians.”
Associated with the apostle Barnabas, the text essentially retold the life of Jesus in terms familiar from the New Testament, but with some major departures. It contended that Jesus denied his divine status; that he had predicted the coming of the prophet Muhammad; and that Judas died in his place on the cross. Combing Christian canon lists and literature, Toland found references to an otherwise unknown “gospel under the name of Barnabas,” and he concluded that this “Gospel of the Mahometans… very probably is in great part that same book.”
For Toland, this was not just another apocryphon. From this “Turkish Gospel being fathr’d upon Barnabas,” he claimed to have been led to recover “the original plan of Christianity” as centered on Jewish-Christian beliefs that “Jesus did not take away or cancel the Jewish Law in any sense whatsoever.”
This, Toland argued, was the very oldest form of Christianity, only it was lost to history when “converts from the Gentiles… did almost wholly subvert” it. On the basis of the Gospel of Barnabas, Toland characterized the most ancient Christianity as harmonious with Islam as well: its account of Jesus, after all, was
perfectly conformable to the traditions of the Mahometans [i.e., Muslims], who maintain that another was crucified in his stead; and that Jesus, slipping thro’ the hands of Jews, preach’d afterwards to his disciples, then was taken to heaven.