When analyzing a particular problem, it is often helpful to approach the situation from an alternate, but related perspective. For example, LDS scholars are often unable to accept textual arguments against the authenticity of the Book of Mormon because of an emotional attachment to the Book. These scholars generally are unable to be objective, because their faith requires them to protect the reputation of their Prophet, no matter what the cost.
It is thus instructive to consider the case of another text, purported to be historical by its author, but which turns out to be a forgery on closer examination. LDS scholars might be able to appreciate the force of the arguments against authenticity for this document, as they have no emotional stake in the outcome of the test. Having thus being able to appreciate the marks of historical forgery in an objective setting, these scholars may then be able to understand the force of these arguments as applied to the Book of Mormon.
The Gospel of Barnabas is a medieval document claiming to be an account of the life of Jesus. It displays a distinctly Muslim bias, and purports to show that Jesus was not the Son of God, nor the Messiah. The document is generally regarded by most scholars as a forgery. The reasons that these scholars give for rejecting the Gospel of Barnabas are instructive, because the Book of Mormon displays many of the same problems.
A Gospel of Barnabas is first mentioned on a list of heretical books dating from the fifth century. No further information is given, and no manuscript survives from that date. The next mention of the Gospel occurs in the fifteenth century. An Italian and Spanish version were located in that time period.
The Gospel displays a distinctly Muslim bias. Jesus is portrayed as a prophet, who never claimed to be the Messiah, nor the Son of God. This Jesus did not die on the cross, but Judas was crucified in his place. In this Gospel, Jesus predicts the coming of Mohammed, and refers to him by name.
For this reason, many Muslim scholars defend the Gospel as being historical, and often quote from it to support the claims of the Koran against the New Testament.
The Gospel of Barnabas displays a number of internal problems and external anachronisms that firmly fix its origin in the fourteenth century, somewhere in Western Europe. These problems can be divided into several categories.
Although mentioned in the fifth century, the earliest manuscript copies of the Gospel date from the fifteenth century. In addition, the Gospel is not quoted prior to this time, either by Muslim apologists, nor any of the Church Fathers.
The Book of Mormon similarly has a complete lack of a textual history. The book appears suddenly in 1830, with no prior references. The book was allegedly translated from a set of metal plates, obtained by divine means, and returned to Heaven shortly after the translation was completed. There is thus no way to determine the accuracy of the translation, nor even to determine if the plates actually existed.
The Gospel of Barnabas makes a number of historical and geographical blunders. The Gospel asserts that Jesus was born while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea. Secular history tells us that Pilate did not become governor until 26 or 27 AD. The Gospel describes Nazareth as a coastal city, when in fact it is located in the hill country, some distance from the Sea of Galilee. Palestine is described as a beautiful, lush country during the Summer. In fact, Palestine has a Winter rainfall, and much of the countryside is barren desert.
The Gospel also makes the putative author, Barnabas, one of Christ's disciples. However, the New Testament records that Barnabas only received his name after Christ's ascension (Acts 4:36).
The Book of Mormon, too, has some very well known geographical problems. In fact, there are a number of different proposals for a Book of Mormon geography, although all are speculative. No Book of Mormon site has yet been positively identified in the New World. New World history and archaeology are completely silent on the subject of Jaredites, Nephites or Lamanites.
The Book of Mormon locates the Red Sea near the Sea of Galilee (II Nephi 19:1), when it is, in fact, over 200 miles to the south.
The Gospel of Barnabas contains a number of anachronistic terms. For example, wine is described as being kept in wine-barrels, although such items were unknown during the first century. In fact, wine was kept in wineskins. A system of coinage of sixty mites to a denarius is asserted for first century Palestine. In fact, no such system was used in Palestine, but a similar system was used in medieval Spain.
The Gospel displays some confusion about the terms 'Christ' and 'Messiah'. Although Jesus, in the Gospel of Barnabas, asserts that he is not the Messiah, he still refers to himself as 'Christ'. The author of the Gospel was obviously unaware that these two words are synonymous.
The Gospel also asserts that the Jewish feast of Jubilee was celebrated every hundred years. In fact, the feast was celebrated every fifty years (Lev 25:11), but was changed to every hundred years by a papal bull in the Fourteenth century.
The Gospel often appears to indicate that feudalism was practiced in First Century Palestine. Vassals and Lords appear in the Gospel, as well as other feudal terms and practices.
The Book of Mormon, too, is replete with anachronistic terms. The Book ascribes the use of horses, cattle, sheep, wheat, chariots and steel swords to the American natives, although it is clear that these items were only introduced in Columbian times. The Book of Mormon, too, often refers to 'Christ' as a proper name (II Nephi 10:3), while using 'Messiah' as a title (I Nephi 1:19).
The Book of Mormon asserts that the Jewish expatriates in the New World kept the Law of Moses in all its points (II Nephi 25:24), yet never once explicitly refers to any of the regular Jewish feasts, sacrifices or other cultic practices.
A cursory reading of the Gospel of Barnabas reveals a number of quotes from Dante's Inferno. Terms such as 'false and lying gods' and 'raging hunger' appear in the Gospel, and Hell is described as consisting of seven centers. The 'circles of hell' are also referred to.
It has also been shown that the Biblical text quoted in the Gospel follows the text of the Catholic Vulgate, which was translated about 400 AD.
The Book of Mormon, for its part, reveals a deep connection to the English King James Version. The Book quotes some large sections of Isaiah, often almost verbatim from the King James Version. In addition, the Book of Mormon often follows KJV translation errors and archaisms. It can also be shown that New Testament quotes abound in the Book of Mormon, despite the fact that its proposed authors were separated from the Old World centuries before the New Testament was written.
The Book of Mormon ascribes to the ancient Americans an origin in the Old World, specifically in Israel. This theory was propounded at length in the early nineteenth century in New England, by a number of different writers. Among them were Ethan Smith, James Adair and Josiah Priest. Scientific inquiry soon revealed this theory to be in error.
Historical forgeries are difficult to produce, for the simple fact that the author is required to be intimately familiar with his target time-period. It is almost impossible to prevent something of the author's real background from leaking into the document; it is equally difficult to get all the minute details of the remote time-period correct.
Both the Gospel of Barnabas and the Book of Mormon graphically portray these problems. Both authors have allowed something of their backgrounds to color the text. In the case of the anonymous author of the Gospel, we find references to fourteenth century medieval Europe in the narrative. In the case of Joseph Smith, we find that almost all the traits that he gives to his mythical Nephites have counterparts in his own background, or in the Bible that he used so frequently.
Gospel of Barnabas (Abdul Saleeb)
Origins and Sources of the Gospel of Barnabas (John Gilcrest)
The Medieval Gospel of Barnabas - Full Text, Resources & Discussion
Contents Copyright 1997 Curt van den Heuvel
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