Arabic Traditions on Christian Origins

'Know... that these Christian sects are the most ignorant people in the world with regard to Christ, his history and that of his mother and that everyone among the authors of these Gospels learnt whatever he has written only a long time after Christ and after the death of his companions from (people) who lacked knowledge and were ill-informed.' (Tathbit 95a)

References to early Nasarene beliefs and practices are extremely rare in western literature. The few we find in Epiphanius' unsympathetic Panarion and other such "Christian" propaganda literature, represent the "party line" against the original Essene Nasarene Way.

The Christian movement was relatively thorough, even ruthless, in destroying all original documents and indicators of its true origins. The only things we are given to know are what they wanted us to know. Farther east, in the Islam world, their influence was not so strong and perhaps not so thorough. It appears as if some original documents, traditions and legends have survived in Islamic literature, notably the Tathbit Dala'il Nubuwwat Sayyidina Mahammad, (The Establishment of Proofs for the Prophethood of Our Master Mohammed'), written in Arabic by 'Abd al-Jabbar (10th century Mu'tazilite) and recently translated by Shlomo Pines.

Within this manuscript there are over 60 folios on Christianity. Some of these folios seem to contain older, non-Moslem and possibly Nasarene, material from the fifth century or earlier. It is evident from the text that 'Abd al-Jabbar has only edited, or interpolated a few of his own comments, on much older Nasarene like legends and material. In a passage concerning Mani the text mention that this heresiarch quoted passages from the Gospels which prohibit sacrifices and the eating of meat; but those represented in this text clearly considered that these passages were not authentic. This may indicate that the material is not from a pure Essene Nasarene stream, but rather from the semi converted Jewish (Pharisee) "Nasarenes" mentioned by Epiphanius as his contemporaries. Whatever the tradition represented by this text, it is evident that they shared the Ebionite belief in the corruption of the Pauline branch of Christianity:

'He (Isha, or Yeshua) and his companions behaved constantly in this manner, until he left this world. He said to his companions: "Act as you have seen me act, instruct people in accordance with instructions I have given you, and be for them what I have been for you." His companions behaved constantly in this manner and in accordance with this. And so did those who (came) after the first generation of his companions, and (also) those who came long after (the second generation). Then they began to make changes and alterations, (to introduce) innovations into the religion (al-din), to seek dominion (ri`asa), to make friends with people by (indulging) their passions, to (try) to circumvent the Jews and to satisfy the anger (which) they (felt) against the latter, even if (in doing so) they (had) to abandon the religion. This is clear from the Gospels which are with them and to which they refer and from their book, known as the Book of Praxeis (Acts). It is (written) there: A group (qawm) of Christians left Jerusalem (bayt al-maqdis) and came to Antioch and other towns of Syria (a1-Sham). (Tathbit 70a)

Shlomo Pines, the translator of this text, sees four or five categories within the manuscript. He classifies these as:

"1. An attack on the Christians for having abandoned the commandments of the Mosaic Law and having adopted different laws and customs.

2. Polemics against the dogmas, or, more precisely, the Christology of the three dominant Christian sects, i.e., the Jacobites, the Nestorians and the Orthodox, sometimes called Rum, i.e., the Romans or the Byzantines.

3. An outline of the early history of Christianity, or at least of certain notable events which are part of this history.

4. Malicious stories about the habits of monks and priests and Christian laymen. While some of these stories may have been contributed by 'Abd al-Jabbar, a certain number of others obviously antedate hint or are based on an intimate knowledge of Christian usages and habits which probably few Moslems, if any, possessed.

A fifth category could be provided by the numerous and sometimes extensive quotations from the four canonical and other unknown apocryphal Gospels."

(Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities II, No.13;The Jewish Christians of the Early Centuries of Christianity According To A New Source)

The first few bold paragraphs contain important references pertaining to the evolvement of the New Testament canon and the rise of the Roman Christian Church.

[Excerpts from:]

Tathbit Dala'il Nubuwwat Sayyidina Mahammad

(The Establishment of Proofs for the Prophethood of Our Master Mohammed')

by 'Abd al-Jabbar

The Romans (a1-Rum) reigned over them. The Christians (used to) complain to the Romans about the Jews, showed them their own weakness and appealed to their pity. And the Romans did pity them. This (used) to happen frequently. And the Romans said to the Christians: "Between us and the Jews there is a pact which (obliges us) not to change their religious laws (adyan). But if you would abandon their laws and separate yourselves from them, praying as we do (while facing) the East, eating (the things) we eat, and regarding as permissible that which we consider as such, we should help you and make you powerful, and the Jews would find no way (to harm you). On the contrary, you would be more powerful than they."

The Christians answered: "We will do this." (And the Romans) said: "Go, fetch your companions, and bring your Book (kitab)." (The Christians) went to their companions, informed them of (what had taken place) between them and the Romans and said to them: "Bring the Gospel (al-injil), and stand up so that we should go to them." But these (companions) said to them: "You have done ill. We are not permitted (to let) the Romans pollute the Gospel. (71b) In giving a favorable answer to the Romans, you have accordingly departed from the religion. We are (therefore) no longer permitted to associate with you; on the contrary, we are obliged to declare that there is nothing in common between us and you;" and they prevented their (taking possession of) the Gospel or gaining access to it. In consequence a violent quarrel (broke out) between (the two groups). Those (mentioned in the first place) went back to the Romans and said to them: "Help us against these companions of ours before (helping us) against the Jews, and take away from them on our behalf our Book (kitab)." Thereupon (the companions of whom they had spoken) fled the country. And the Romans wrote concerning them to their governors in the districts of Mosul and in the Jazirat al-'Arab. Accordingly, a search was made for them; some (qawm) were caught and burned, others (qawm) were killed.

(As for) those who had given a favorable answer to the Romans they came together and took counsel as to how to replace the Gospel, seeing that it was lost to them. (Thus) the opinion that a Gospel should be composed (yunshi'u) was established among them. They said: "the Torah (consists) only of (narratives concerning) the births of the prophets and of the histories (tawarikh) of their lives. We are going to construct (nabni) a Gospel according to this (pattern).

Everyone among us is going to call to mind that which he remembers of the words (ajfar) of the Gospel and of (the things) about which the Christians talked among themselves (when speaking) of Christ." Accordingly, some people (qawm) wrote a Gospel. After (them) came others (qawm) (who) wrote (another) Gospel. (In this manner) a certain number of Gospels were written. (However) a great part of what was (contained) in the original was missing in them. There were among them (men), one after another, who knew many things that were contained in the true Gospel (al-injil al-xahih.), but with a view to establishing their dominion (ri'asa), they refrained from communicating them. In all this there was no mention of the cross or of the crucifix. According to them there were eighty Gospels. However, their (number) constantly diminished and became less, until (only) four Gospels were left which are due to four individuals (nafar). Every one of them composed in his time a Gospel. Then another came after him, saw that (the Gospel composed by his predecessor) was imperfect, and composed another which according to him was more correct (axahh), nearer to correction (al-xihha) than the Gospel of the others.

Then there is not among these a Gospel (written) in the language of Christ, which was spoken by him and his companions (axhab), namely the Hebrew (al-`ibraniyya) language, which is that of Abraham (Ibrahim), the Friend (khalil) of God and of the other prophets, (the language) which was spoken by them and in which the Books of God were revealed to them and to the other Children of Israel, and in which God addressed them.

(For) they have abandoned (taraka) (this language). Learned men (aI-`ulama') said to them: "Community of Christians, give up the Hebrew language, which is the language of Christ and the prophets (who were) before him, peace be upon them, (72a) and (adopt) other languages." Thus there is no Christian who (in observing) a religious obligation recites these Gospels in the Hebrew language: he does not do so out of ruse (using) a stratagem, in order to avoid (public) shame.

Therefore people said to them: The giving-up (the language: al-`ud-l `anha) occurred because your first masters (axhabukum al-aw-walun) aimed at deception in their writings (maqalat) using such stratagems as quotations from counterfeit authorities in the lies which they composed, and concealing these stratagems. They did this because they sought to obtain domination (ri'asa). For at that time the Hebrews (al-`ibraniyya) were people of the Book and men of knowledge. Accordingly, these individuals (nafar) altered (ghayyara) the language or rather gave it up altogether, in order that the men of knowledge should not grasp quickly their teaching and their objectives. (For if they had done so these individuals) would have been disgraced before having been (able) to consolidate their teaching and their (objectives ) would not have been fulfilled. Accordingly, they gave up (Hebrew and took up) numerous other languages which had not been spoken by Christ and his companions. (Those who speak these languages) are not people of the Book and have no knowledge concerning God's books and commandments. Such were the Romans (al-Rum), the Syrians, the Persians, the Armenians and other foreigners. This was done by means of deception and ruse by this small group of people who (wanted) to hide their infamy and to reach the goal of their wishes in their aspiration for dominion (which was to be won) through (the instrumentality of) religion.

If this were not so they would have used the language of Abraham, of his children and of Christ, through whom the edifice had been constructed and to whom the books had been revealed. In establishing a proof (meant) for the Children of Israel and the unbelievers among the Jews (al-yahud) it would have been better that a call be made to them in their own tongue (lisan) and a discussion engaged with them in their language (lugha), which they would not have been able to refuse. Know this; it is a great principle.

Know-may God have mercy upon you-that these three sects do not believe that God revealed to Christ in one way or another a Gospel or a book. Rather, according to them, Christ created the prophets, revealed to them the books and sent to them angels. However, they have with them Gospels composed by four individuals, each one of whom wrote a Gospel. After (one of them) came (another ) who was not satisfied with (his predecessor's) Gospel and held that his own Gospel was better. (These Gospels) agree in certain places and disagree (72b) in others; in some of them (there are passages) which are not (found) in the other. There are tales concerning people-men and women-from among the Jews, the Romans, and other (nations, who) said this and did that. There are many absurdities, (many) false and stupid things and many obvious lies and manifest contradictions. It was this which people have thoroughly studied and set apart. However, a person who reads it becomes aware of this if he examines it carefully. Something-but little-of the sayings, the precepts of Christ and information concerning him is also to be found there.

As for the four Gospels: one of them was composed by John (Yuhanna) and another by Matthew. Then, after these two came Mark (M.r.q.s.) who was not satisfied with their two Gospels. Then, after these came Luke (Luqa), who was not satisfied with these Evangels and composed (still) another one. Each one of them was of the opinion (wa-kana `inda kull wahid min ha`ula') that the man who had composed a Gospel before him, had given a correct account of (certain) things and had distorted (akhalla) others, and that another (Gospel) would be more deserving of recognition and more correct. For if his predecessor had succeeded in giving a correct account, there would have been no need for him to compose another, different from that of his predecessor.

None of these four Gospels is a commentary upon another (Gospel); (it is not a case of) someone who coming after (someone else) comments upon his predecessor's book, giving first an account of what the latter had said, and then (proposing) a commentary. Know this: (he who composed a Gospel) did this, because another man had fallen short of success (qaxxara) (at his task).

These (Christian) sects are of the opinion that these four (Evangelists) were companions and disciples of Christ. But they do not know, having no information (on the subject), who they were. On this (point) they can (merely) make a claim. For Luke mentions in his Gospel that he had never seen Christ. Addressing (the man) for whom he composed his Gospel---he is the last of the four (Evangelists)--- he says: "I knew your desire of good, of knowledge and of instruction (al-adab), and I composed this Gospel because I knew this and because I was close to those who had served and seen the Word (al-kalima)." Thus he says clearly in the first place that he did not see the Word---they signify by this word Christ; thereupon he claims to have seen people) who had seen Christ. But his having seen them is a (mere) assertion (on his part). If he had been someone deserving of trust, he would not have-in view of the (kind of) information (which was at his disposal)---composed anything at all. In spite of this he mentions that his Gospel is preferable to those of the others.

(73a) If the Christians would consider these things, they would know that the Gospels which are with them are of no profit to them, and that the knowledge claimed (on their behalf) by their masters and the authors (of the Gospels) is not (found) in them, and that on this point) things are just as we have said---it is a well-known (fact) which is referred to here (namely the fact that they have abandoned the religion of Christ and turned towards) the religious doctrines of the Romans, prizing and (seeking to obtain) in haste the profits which could be derived from their domination and their riches.'

They called upon the people (to obey) the law (al-sunna) of the Torah, to forbid offering sacrifices to those who have not the necessary qualifications (laysa min ahliha) (to practise) circumcision, to observe the Sabbath, to prohibit pork and other things (forbidden) by the Torah. These things were regarded as burdensome by the Gentiles 96 and they took little notice (of the exhortations). Thereupon, the Christians of Jerusalem forgathered to take counsel as to the stratagems which were to be employed with regard to the Gentiles in order (to make) the latter respond and obey them. They were of the opinion that it was necessary to mix with the Gentiles, to make them concessions (rukhs), to descend to (the level of) their erroneous beliefs, to eat (a portion) of the sacrifices they offer, to adopt their customs and to approve of their way (of life). And they composed a book on this.'

(66b) 'A sect among the Jews considers that Jesus, son of Maryam, who is regarded by the Moslems as a prophet and by the Christians as the Lord, he who was crucified and killed, was the son of Joseph the Carpenter. He is considered by them to have been a just and pious (man) and to have had a leading position among the Jews. Some of the latter, being jealous of him because of his position, slandered and vilified him until he was unjustly killed.

(According to the opinion of this sect which is) in contradiction to the allegations of the Christians or of the Moslems, he did not claim to be the Christ or a prophet.

They say: Do you not see that he was examined as to this (point) by Herod (Hiridus) and Pilate (Filat.s) and that be has denied all this. If he had been a prophet he would have proved it by means of a demonstration and of miracles. As for the annunciation concerning him and (the belief that) he was born without (fecundation by) a male, they say: What is the confirmation for this? The Christians [45] say in the Gospels that this Jesus (Ishu') said to his disciples: "What do people say about me?" They said: "Some say that you are Elijah. Others say that you are John the Baptist." And he said: "And you my companions, what do you say about me?" And they said: "In our opinion, you are Christ." And he said: "Do not say this."

Do you not see that be himself forbade them to say that he was the Christ (al-masih)? Hereupon what (is it that) remains clear? They say:
The Jews have harassed him with their quarrels for three years and have lodged with the kings a complaint against him. (And yet) (no) declaration (which affirmed) to his prejudice that he had claimed to be the Christ or a prophet could be obtained. Neither his friends (67a) nor his enemies have testified against him on this point. As for the prodigies and miracles which as the Christians claim (were worked) by him, all this is baseless. He himself did not claim (to have worked) them. Nor is there in his time or in the generation which followed any disciple who claimed (that Jesus had worked miracles). This was first claimed only a very long time (ba`d... al azman wa'l-ahqab) after his death and after the death of his (direct) disciples; similarly the Christians have claimed that the Jew Paul (Bul.s al-yahudi) (has worked miracles and this) in spite of his being known for his tricks (hiyal), his lying (kadhb) and his baseness;171 they have done the same for George (J.urj.s) and for Father Mark, and they do the same at all times with regard to their monks and nuns. All this is baseless.'

(94b) 'It (is said) in the Gospel that when Christ was born he was circumcised after eight days and that Joseph the Carpenter took him (together) with his mother and went off with them (kharaja bihima) to Egypt. He stayed there twelve years, then he took them and returned with them to Jerusalem.

It (is also said) there: Joseph entered his house and asked Maryam: "Where is the boy (sabi)?" that is to say, Jesus Christ. She said to him: "I thought he was with you." And he said: "I thought he was in the house and beside you." Both were worried, being afraid that he was lost, and they went together to search for him. And Joseph the Carpenter said to Maryam: "Take one road, and I shall take another. Perhaps (fa-la`alla) one of us will find him." And they went full of anxiety.191 Maryam, his mother, found him and said: "My son, where have you been? I thought you were with your father, and your father thought you were with me. When he did not see you, we were anxious. Your father took (another) road, and I took this road. Where were you and with whom? Your father is full of anxiety on your account." He said: "I was in Jerusalem, and I studied (ata'allam)." ' [51]

(78a) 'It is written in your Gospel: Satan imprisoned Christ and held him captive in order to subject him to a trial; and Christ refrained from eating and drinking because of his fear that Satan's stratagem with regard to him would be carried out.'

(78a) 'Then Satan brought him to the town of Jerusalem and placed him on the roof (?) of the Temple.'

(78b) 'if you will fall down upon your face in order to worship me, I will give you all this world, just as I gave to those who were before you.' [52]

(78b) 'Then God sent an angel, who removed Satan from his place and threw him into the sea, and who freed the road before Christ.'

(65a) .... If the Christians would refer to the information (they have) and to what is written in their Gospels, they would know, as they give credence to the latter, that it was not Christ who was killed and crucified.'

(65a) 'When the Gospels speak of him who was killed and crucified and of the crucifixion they say: On the Thursday of Passover, the Jews went to Herod (Hayridh.s), a companion of Pilate (Filat.s) the king of the Romans, and said to him: "There is a man here, one of us, who has corrupted and led astray our brethren. We stipulate accordingly with regard to you that you should give us power over (the man) whose way is (as described) so that we should carry out our judgment on him." Accordingly, Herod said to his auxiliaries: "Go with them, and bring their opponent (here)." Thereupon the auxiliaries went forth with the Jews and came to the gate of that government house. The Jews turned to the auxiliaries an asked them: "Do you know our opponent?" They said: "No. The Jews said: "Neither do we know him. However, come with us. We shall not fail to find somebody who will show him to us." Accordingly they went, and Judas Iscariot met them. He was one [53] of the intimates and followers of Christ, one of his greatest disciples, one of the Twelve. He said to them: "Do you search for Jesus the Nasarene (Ishu` al-nasiri)?" They said: "Yes." He said:

"What shall I get from you, if I show him to you?" One of the Jews wanted to give him monies which he had with him, counted thirty pieces and said: "They are yours." Judas said to them: "As you know, he is my friend, and I would be ashamed to say: that one, that's he. However, be with me and look at (the man) to whom I shall give my hand and whose head I shall kiss. Take hold of him as soon as my hand will let go his and lead him away."

There was a great (crowd) of people in Jerusalem where, (coming) from all places, they gathered to celebrate that feast. Judas Iscariot took the hand of a man, kissed his head, (65b) and as soon as his band let go that of (the other), he plunged into the crowd. Then the Jews and the auxiliaries seized (the man). He said to them: "What do you want from me?" and felt a poignant anguish. They answered him: "The government wants you." He said: "What have I to do with the government ?" And they led him away and made him come before Herod. But the man's reason had flown because of his fear and anguish. He wept and had no self-control. Having become aware of his fear, Herod pitied him and said: "Let him be." He asked him to come nearer, made him sit down and tried to make him feel at ease. Thanks to him (the man) became calm. Herod said to him: "What do you say with regard to the claim (about which they speak), namely that you are the Christ, king of the Children of Israel? Have you said this, or appealed to the people on this subject ?" He denied that he had said or claimed this. In spite of this, his perturbation was not quieted, although Herod tried to tranquillize him. Herod said to him: "Remember what is yours and try [54] to convince (people) if it is really yours." He did not want to make him deny (the thing). For it was not (the man) who had said it; they, and not he, had said it, and they had wronged him through what they had claimed and said with regard to him.

Accordingly Herod said to the Jews: "I do not see that he agrees with you, that he says what you claim. I only see that you attribute to him utterances (that were not his) and that you wrong him. There is a basin and water for me to wash my hand in (so that it should be innocent) of this man's blood."

(Then) Pilate the great king of the Romans addressed Herod. He said to him: "Information has come to me that the Jews have had an opponent of theirs, a man of education (adab) and knowledge, conducted before you for judgment. Give him over to me, so that I should probe him and see what is the matter with him." And Herod gave him over to Pilate.

Thus (the man) who was (still) in a state of perturbation, fear and anguish, was brought before Pilate. The king tried to tranquillize him and asked him as to what the Jews had asserted with regard to him, namely that he was the Christ. He denied having said this. (Pilate however) did not cease asking him and trying to make him feel at ease, so that he should give an explanation about himself and that (Pilate) should hear from him a witty saying (adab) or a precept. However, he could not allay the perturbation, fear, anguish, the weeping and the sobbing (of the man) and he sent him back to Herod, saying to the latter: "I have found in this man nothing that has been ascribed to him. There is nothing good in him. "And he explained this (by referring) to the man's deficiency (66a) and ignorance. Herod said: "It is now night. Conduct him to prison." And they conducted him (there). The next day the Jews became importunate, seized him, proclaimed his infamy, tormented him, inflicting upon him various tortures, then at about the end of the day they whipped him and brought him to a melon-patch (mabtakha) and a vegetable garden (mabqala). There they crucified him and pierced him with lances in order that he should die quickly. As for him, crucified upon a piece of wood as he was, he did not cease crying out as loudly as he could: "My God, why did you abandon me, my God, why did you forsake me" until he died.

Then Judas Iscariot met the Jews and said to them: "What did you do with the man you seized yesterday?" They said: "We have crucified him." Judas was amazed at this, and thought (the thing) hardly credible (istab'ada). But they said to him: "We have done it. If you want to know it (for sure), go to a certain melon-patch." He went there, and when he saw him, he said: "He is an innocent man." He insulted the Jews, got out the thirty pieces which they had given him as a reward and threw them in their face. And he went to his (own) house and strangled himself.'

(56b) 'Both the Christians and the Jews assert that Pilate (Filat.s) the Roman, king of the Romans, seized Christ, because the Jews had maligned him, and delivered him up to them. They led him away upon an ass, with his face turned towards the ass' hind quarters, put upon his head a crown of thorns and went around in order to [58] make an example out of his punishment. They beat him from behind, attacked him from before and said to him in mockery: "King of the Children of Israel, who has done this to you?" Being thirsty because of the fatigue and the distress which afflicted him, he humbled himself and said to them: "Give me water to drink." And they took a bitter tree, pressed out its juice, put into it vinegar and gave this to him to drink. He took it (57a), thinking that it was water, tasted it, and when he perceived that it was bitter, spat it out. They for their part, made him inhale this drink (or according to another possible interpretation: "forced him to drink it") and tortured him one whole day and one whole night. When the next day came---it was a Friday, the one which they call Good Friday they asked Pilate to have him whipped; which he did. Thereupon, they got hold of him, crucified him and pierced him with lances, while he, being crucified upon a piece of wood, did not cease from crying: "My God, why did you abandon me? My God, why did you forsake me?" until he died. (Then) they brought him down and buried him.'

(95a) 'It is (said) in their Gospels and in their narratives (akhbar) that, when Christ was crucified, his mother Maryam came to him with her sons James (Ya'qub), Simon (Sham'un) and Judah (Yahudha), and they stood before him. And he, (while attached) to the piece of wood, said to her: "Take your sons, and go away (insarifi)."'

(47a) 'They say: When John (Yuhanna) baptized him in the Jordan the gates of heaven were opened and the Father cried out: "This is my son and my beloved (habibi) in whom my soul rejoices." '

(94a) '(According) to their prevalent (traditions)... people thought that Jesus was a son of Joseph up to the time when John baptized him in the Jordan and the voice came from the heaven "This is my son in whom my soul rejoices." '

(67a) '(It is said) there: Maryam al-Majdalaniyya and the other Maryam refrained from sending (ba'tha) perfume to our master (lisayyidina) the Christ on a Sabbath day because of the commandment (sunna) with regard to the observance of the Sabbath.'

(67b) '(It is said) there: He said to the Children of Israel: "0' serpents, children of vipers, you profess the Scripture, and you do not understand. You wash the outside of the vessel, and its inside is full of filth. You seek on land and on sea, in the plain and in the mountain, a disciple, and when you find one, you teach him your ways, so that he becomes worse than you. You have not entered yourselves the Kingdom, and you have not let (other) people enter the Kingdom of Heaven---since you have not entered (it)." '

The Nazarenes of  Mount Carmel
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