As Christians it is incumbent on us to refer to our holy book as the main
source of our belief. Both the historical and archaeological evidence strongly
supports the Biblical claims. These provide us with substantial facts that we
need to present to a sceptic or a Muslim who does not accept our Biblical record
alone. Let us also examine some of the Biblical references pertaining to our
First, the concept of atonement has never been a Christian novelty. It has
been an essential part of religious practices even among the heathens. According
to the Old Testament, these practices were primarily divinely ordained rites
enacted by God after the fall of Adam and Eve. As they confessed their sins and
realised that they violated God's law, God took an animal, skinned it and made
garments for Adam and Eve to clothe them (Genesis 3:20). Linguistically, the
word atonement means ``to cover or to hide''. Thus, according to Scripture the
entire concept of atonement began with God as the result of man's failure to
live up to God's standard. Evidently this ordinance persisted in religious
rituals and worship. Abel and Cain both offered their sacrifices to God, but God
accepted Abel's sacrifice and rejected Cain's because Cain's sacrifice was based
not on blood but on his own deed. Likewise, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all
offered animal sacrifices as God ordained. Later, during the time of Moses,
these ceremonial sacrifices became a written law. Biblical scholars affirmed
that those sacrifices were ritual symbols to the great and final sacrifice, that
is, the crucifixion of Christ. Pagan nations took these liturgies from the
devout men of God and offered them to their idols. They distorted their purpose,
though basically they continued to be a symbol for expiation.
Atonement in Islam is founded on good deeds. Charity and good work
obliterate offences. Also, the performing of the five pillars, fighting for the
cause of Allah and the reciting of the Quranic chapters purchase the forgiveness
But there is another theme in Islam that is worth examining before we
conclude this part of our study: the theme of ransom. Maybe the most outstanding
reference to this subject is found in Sura al-Saffat 37:107, in the context of
the story of Abraham and his son who consented to be offered as a sacrifice:
And we ransomed him with a mighty sacrifice.
Al-Baydawi illustrates this verse by saying: ``that is, by what is
sacrificed instead of him, thus the act by that is fulfilled.''
In his exposition of this verse, al-Razi cites a tradition: ``The Suddi
said: `Abraham was called out, he looked around and all of a sudden he saw a ram
intermixed with white and black, descending from the mountain. He got up from
beside him (his son), took the (ram), slaughtered it and freed his son. He said:
``My son, today you were given to me as a gift.''...it was said that the (ram)
was called momentous for its great status since God...accepted it as a ransom
for Abraham's Son.'?''
How was the son given to Abraham as a gift? That black and white ram was
slain as a ransom for Abraham's son. It was the substitute. Thus he was given a
new life. Also the ram was great, firstly, because God was the one who prepared
it, and secondly, because it was a symbol for the greatest and the final
sacrifice, that is, Christ the Redeemer of all humanity. He is the one about
whom John the Baptist said: ``Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of
the world!'' (John 1:29, NKJ)
In his book Ihya of Ulum al-Din, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, the greatest Islamic
theologian who ever lived, states:
But be informed that slaughtering the sacrifice is (a means) to draw nearer
to God...by way of obedience. Therefore perform the sacrifice and hope for God
to liberate from hell by each part of it, a part of you. For as thus came the
promise: The bigger the sacrifice is and the more numerous its parts are, the
more fully your redemption from hell is.
In this same book al-Ghazali urges Muslims to seek God's nearness by
sacrificing an animal. He says:
Seek nearness of God by sacrificing an animal. Try to sacrifice an animal
which is strong and stout...the Prophet said: Nothing is dearer to God on the
Day of Sacrifice out of the actions of men than the sacrifice of an animal. It
will come on the resurrection day with its hoofs and horns and its blood falls
in a place near to God before it falls on the ground. So purify your soul by
sacrifice. There is in Hadith (Prophet's Tradition): There is reward for every
hair of the sacrificed animal and for every drop of blood, and it will be
weighed near God. So give good news. The prophet said: Sacrifice a good animal,
as it will be your carrier on the Resurrection Day.
Second, the Old Testament is full of prophecies concerning Jesus' death and
resurrection. It is enough to have a general look at the Book of Isaiah to
realise that Old Testament prophets were aware of this great event and looked
forward to it. Since we do not have sufficient room to point to the ample
references predicting Christ's death, agony and resurrection, I would like to
refer the reader to some helpful sources pertaining to this theme.
Third, Christ Himself talked about His death and His resurrection. The
Gospel accounts are crowded with verses where Jesus predicted His crucifixion
and suffering. In this case when He talked about His death He was either a liar,
insane and confused, or an honest person who declared the truth. Indeed, neither
Christ's mortal enemies nor any Muslim dared or would dare to accuse Him of
lying or insanity. It remains for us to say that Jesus was truthful in all that
He preached and ascribed to Himself. It is
futile here to claim that all the information recorded in the Gospel about
Jesus' death are the invention of the disciples or the fathers of the early
church. The integrity and honesty of Christ's disciples have never been
questioned or doubted. John the
Evangelist ascertains in his first Epistle 1:1--2, NKJ:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen
with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled, concerning
the Word of Life---the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness,
and declare to you that eternal life, which was with the father and was
manifested to us---
The rest of the disciples reiterated the same testimony, especially the
apostle Peter. All of them are honest eye-witnesses. But the greatest testimony
we cite in the context of this study is Christ's testimony about Himself. Jesus
quoted the prophecies of the Old Testament and applied them to Himself. He also
expounded them in lucid language to dispel any doubt that may cloud the minds of
His audience. He was accustomed to say, ``That the scripture may be fulfilled,''
or ``As it is written,'' or something similar. As He quoted Old Testament
prophecies, He would explain to the disciples, along with the multitudes who
gathered together to hear Him, how these prophecies were fulfilled in Him. For
instance, in one speech to His disciples He said:
These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that
all things concerning me must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of
Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled... Then He said to them,
``Thus it is written and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to
rise from the dead the third day.'' (Luke 24: 44--46, NKJ)
The above verses include two important facts. First, the prophecies in the
entire Old Testament refer to Jesus and not to any other prophet. When Jesus
pointed to the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms, He covered the whole
Old Testament with the exception of the historical books. He documented all His
claims by quoting these familiar prophecies and explained them to the astonished
disciples. It is very interesting to see how Muslims selected some of these
prophecies which Christ ascribed to Himself to prove to the Jews that he was the
Messiah, and applied them to Muhammad. In the opinion of the author, based on
the interpretations of Jesus and the disciples, the Islamic claims are invalid
Second, Jesus Himself made it clear to the disciples that He had to be
crucified and die, and then be raised from the tomb on the third day. Jesus here
attests to His crucifixion and defies any other claim that denies or rejects
this historical fact. It is very hard for the sceptic to look Jesus in the eye
and say to Him, ``You are a liar.''
There are many historical documents attesting to the death of Christ. His
crucifixion is mentioned in , Jewish, Gnostic and Christian literature. The
evidence of Christ's existence and mode of death is multiple yet consistent. We
will examine the crucifixion of Jesus through the writings of various
The pagan documents play an eminent role in the story of the crucifixion,
primarily because the authors do not belong to any Christian sect and do not
take its side. The relevant passages quoted from such literature are more in
contempt of Christianity rather than in praise, especially in the first era of
Most pagan documents available to us are the product of the first two
Christian centuries. They attest to events that took place in the life of Christ
and during His time.
It is worthwhile to analyze the testimonies of these political writers and
chroniclers in the light of the political and religious events of the age.
Among those outstanding authors who documented and shed light on the
crucifixion of Jesus are:
Cornelius Tacitus (ca. A.D. 55--120), a Roman historian famous for
his integrity and goodness. He outlived six emperors and was called the greatest
historian of ancient Rome. His best known books are the Annals and the
Histories. The Annals is composed of
18 books and the Histories of 12 books. Tacitus held the offices of Praetor
in A.D. 88, Consul in 97 and Proconsul in 122. F.F. Bruce indicates that Tacitus
might have received his information about Christ and Christians from the
official records to which he had access. In his two major historical works,
Tacitus recorded three references to Christ and Christianity. The most important
one is found in his Annals:
Consequently to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted
the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called
Christians by the populous. Christus, from whom the name had its origin,
suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of
our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus
checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first of the
evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of
the world find their centre and become popular.
It is obvious from this historical document that Christianity derived its
name from Christ, and that the procurator Pontius Pilate is the one who
sentenced Jesus to death. The mischievous superstition or the evil rumour to
which Tacitus alluded was doubtless the resurrection.
Thallus (ca. A.D. 52) was also one of the great ancient Roman
chroniclers who reported the death of Christ. This author wrote a book about the
history of the eastern Mediterranean world from the Trojan War to his own time.
Only a few fragments of this historical work are preserved in the quotations of
other authors, among them Julius Africanus. It seems that Julius was familiar
with Thallus' work. In the context of his report about Christ's crucifixion and
the darkness that enveloped the land when Jesus entrusted his spirit to the
hands of his Father, Julius referred to a statement made by Thallus concerning
this incident. He said:
Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as
an eclipse of the sun---unreasonably, as it seems to me.
Julius rejected this explanation in A.D. 221 on the basis that a solar
eclipse ``could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was at the
season of the Pascal [Easter] full moon that Jesus [was crucified].''
Thallus was not the only one who mentioned this darkness. Several other
ancient authors also reported it. Dionysius the Areopagite said when he saw this
darkness, ``Either the god of nature is meditating now, or he is lamenting
someone dying.'' In the second century, Philophone, the astrologer, pointed to
it, saying, ``The darkness that occurred when Jesus was crucified, nothing like
it happened before....'' The Muslim chronicler al-Hafiz Ibn Kathir referred to
it in his book al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya [Vol. 1, p. 182]. In his Annals, Ibn
al-Athir recorded it on the authority of the narrators and expositors.
Lucian the Greek, a prominent Greek satirist of the second century,
commented derisively on Christ and Christians. Since he followed the Epicurean
philosophy, he failed to comprehend the true nature of the Christian faith. He
could not understand the readiness of Christians to die for the sake of their
beliefs. He regarded them as deluded people who yearned for the hereafter
instead of enjoying the pleasures of the present world. He said:
The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day---the distinguished
personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that
account...and then it was impressed on them by their original law-giver that
they are all brothers, from the moment they are converted, and deny the gods of
Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.
It is evident from the above quotation that the crucifixion of Christ was
not a disputable issue even among the heathens who ridiculed the Christian
faith. To them it was an historical event and not a myth. They never had a trace
of doubt as to who the crucified one was.
In his First Apology, Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 150) affirmed that
Christ's crucifixion could be confirmed by Pilate's report. He also referred to
Jesus' miracles and acts of healing, and added: ``And that he did those things,
you can learn from the Acts of
Pontius Pilate.'' Tertullian (ca. A.D. 200) also pointed to the same
Another ancient author who mentioned the crucified Christ is Suetonius, the
chief secretary of Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117--138). His office allowed him to
inspect the official records and to become well acquainted with the different
reasons that led to the
persecution of the Christian communities, specifically their faith in
Christ's crucifixion, death and resurrection. Also among the governmental
officials who became interested in the status of the Christian community was
Pliny the Younger, the governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor. In his tenth book
(A.D. 112), he referred to Christ as a deity worshipped by Christians. Another
Epicurean philosopher, Celsius (ca. A.D. 140), who was a mortal foe of
Christianity, attested the fact of the crucifixion in his book, The True
Discourse, though he derided its purpose. He said, ``Christ endured the anguish
of the cross for the welfare of humanity.''
Mara Bar-Serapion, in a letter sent to his son from prison, said:
What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king?... Nor did
the wise king die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.
It seems that this letter was written sometime between the late first
century and the third century. Naturally the pagan Mara viewed Christ as one of
the philosophers, like Socrates and Plato, as the rest of the letter revealed.
In all these writings there is no mention of the Shabih as the Muslims
claim. The authors of these pagan documents recognised that the crucified one
was indeed Jesus of Nazareth.
The Jewish documents have a special significance despite their negative
tone. It was very natural that the Jewish political and religious leaders would
harbour a hostile attitude toward Jesus. They were the ones who compelled the
Roman procurator to crucify Him. They realised that His revolutionary teachings
threatened their political and religious status. Despite this, these documents
are proof of the credibility of the crucifixion record as it is reported in the
Gospel. In this part of our study, we intend to examine them as historical
testimonies of the authenticity of the greatest event in human history.
Josephus (A.D. 37--97): In his Antiquities, which was written about
A.D. 90--95, Josephus recorded a passage pertaining to the crucifixion of
Christ. This historical piece created a heated debate among the paleographers.
Some believed that zealous Christians might have interpolated some phrases which
could not have been said by a Jew about Christ. But in 1972 an important Arabic
manuscript was discovered and later published, which scholars believed to be a
very close translation of the original text. Josephus said:
At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was
good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and
other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to
die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship.
They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and
that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the messiah concerning whom the
prophets have recounted wonders.
Josephus' testimony preceded the testimonies of most pagan authors. Though
he presented his report from a Jewish perspective, he proved to be objective and
realistic in his approach. As we consider it, it becomes apparent to us that
this is a reliable piece of historical evidence.
The Talmud is divided into two main bodies: the Mishnah and the Gemara. The
Mishnah is the oral traditions handed down from one Jewish generation to another
until the time they were first recorded in the second century A.D. The Gemara is
the compilation of the ancient commentaries on the Mishnah. The material in the
Talmud concerning the disputed legal questions is known as the Halakah. The
legends, anecdotes and other sayings used to illustrate the traditional laws are
called the Haggadah. In Tractate Sanhedrin, it is stated:
Jesus was crucified one day before the Passover. We warned him for 40 days
that he would be killed because he was a magician and planned to deceive Israel
with his delusions. We asked whoever wished to defend him, to do so. When none
did, he was crucified on the eve of the Passover. Does anyone dare to defend
him? Was he not the stirrer of evil? It is said in the prophets, Deuteronomy:
13:8: ``To a person such as this do not listen, nor shall your eye pity him, nor
shall you conceal him, but you shall kill him.''
Evidently the Talmud identifies the crucified person as Christ Himself. We
do not find any trace of doubt about His identity in this testimony.
There is another Jewish hostile manuscript called Toledoth Jeshu.
This manuscript does not refer to Jesus only, but it also relates to us a
fictitious story about what happened to his body after His death. Its author
claimed that Jesus' disciples plotted to steal Christ's body, but a certain
gardener, whose name was Judas, discovered the conspiracy. He came secretly and
removed the body from Joseph's tomb and relocated it in a newly-dug grave. When
the disciples came to the original tomb and found it empty, they proclaimed that
He had risen from the dead. Soon after, the Jewish leaders also approached
Joseph's tomb and found it empty. The gardener then took them to the newly dug
grave and showed them Jesus' body.
Though this tradition was not compiled before the fifth century A.D., it
undoubtedly echoed an earlier Jewish tradition that was widespread among the
Jewish circles after the resurrection of Christ (Matthew 28:11--15). This
manuscript, despite its hostility to Christianity, is strong evidence for
Christ's crucifixion, death and resurrection, because it is the testimony of an
In his book, Biography of Jesus the Nazarene, Yohanan Bin Zakkai, a disciple
of the famous Rabbi Hillel, wrote:
The king and the Jewish rabbis had condemned Jesus to death because he
blasphemed when he claimed that he was the Son of God...and God.
Then he added:
When Christ was on his way to death the Jews shouted in front of him, `May
You destroy Your enemies, O Lord!'
The word gnosis is a Greek term for ``knowledge''. Gnosticism is a religious
philosophical movement including under its umbrella diverse groups who may agree
or disagree on any number of principles. Knowledge was the main concept on which
this movement built its religious doctrine.
We have already mentioned the theory of the Shabih as was taught by
some of the Gnostics, the Ebionites and the Docetists. We also believe that
their teachings had great impact on shaping the Islamic view of crucifixion. Yet
the teaching of the likeness theory in Gnosticism stemmed from the controversy
about the two natures of Christ. Gnostics believed that Jesus was God incarnate,
thus He could not be subject to crucifixion because His body was a divine body
unlike ours. So, they asserted that the one who was crucified could not be
Christ but somebody else.
Islam does not deny the crucifixion but it denies that Christ was crucified,
not on the basis of His divine nature, but because the whole concept of
redemption has no place in Islamic theology. Muslims believe that man is born
innocent, therefore there is
no need for a saviour or a cross. According to Islam, God lifted Jesus up to
heaven alive before His enemies could arrest Him; then God cast His likeness on
somebody else who was crucified instead.
But not all the Gnostics believed in the theory of the Shabih. It
seems that the early religious and literary work of the Gnostics attested to the
veracity of the Gospel record. They provide us with more evidence supporting
Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, especially The Gospel of Truth (A.D.
135--160), The Apocryphone of John (A.D. 120--130) and The Gospel of Thomas
(A.D. 140--200). Though these apocryphal gospels are not inspired by God and are
regarded by the church as pseudo-Christian scriptures, they all referred to
Christ as the Logos and as God and Son of Man. In The Gospel of Truth, for
instance, we read the following paragraph:
Jesus was patient in accepting suffering...since he knew that his death is
life for many...he was nailed to a tree; he published the edict of the father on
the cross.... He draws himself down to death through life...eternal clothes him.
Having stripped himself of the perishable rags, he put on imperishability which
no one can possibly take away from him.
We also read in The Secret Book of James:
The Lord answered and said: ``I tell you the truth: no one will be saved who
does not believe in my cross, for the kingdom of God belongs to those who
believe in my cross.''
So the cross and the crucifixion were in the centre of the Christian faith,
even among the heretical sects of the early phase of the church.
The Christian religious, literary and historical documents are generally
accurate records that reflect the deep faith of the early fathers of the church.
They unquestionably believed in all the teachings and information they received
from the disciples, either by way of transmission or authorised tradition, or
the written word. Some of them were even the disciples' pupils, such as Clement
of Rome (A.D. 30?--100), Ignatius (A.D. 35?--107), Papias (A.D. 60?--130) and
Polycarp (A.D. 65?--155). The writings of the early fathers of the church are
conclusive evidence of the authenticity of the Gospel's events and doctrines,
especially those pertaining to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just
as these two events occupied a large part of the New Testament, they were also
the focal point of the writings of the fathers of the early church.
Indeed these manuscripts emphasise the many prophecies related to the death
of Christ and His resurrection, as does the Bible. By studying the writings of
the early church since the first century and compiling their quotations from the
New Testament, the entire text of the New Testament, with the exception of only
seventeen verses, can be reconstructed. These texts do not differ from the texts
of the New Testament we possess, particularly the passages relating to Christ's
divinity, death and resurrection.
In addition to that there is no other book in the world (even the Quran)
which is supported by thousands of ancient manuscripts as the Bible is. The
discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has further added to the credibility of the
Among the writings of the early fathers of the church are the two epistles
of Clement, Bishop of Rome, and the two short letters written by Ignatius which
he delivered to churches and individuals during his trip from Antioch to Rome
before his martyrdom. The Didache, or ``The Teaching of the Apostles'', is an
early handbook that deals with practical matters concerning Christian ethics and
church order. There is also a letter ascribed to Barnabas in which he criticised
those who do not reinterpret the Jewish law ``in light of its fulfilment in
Christ.'' In the Shepherd of Hermas the main character claims that he ``received
visions, commands and parables of Christian doctrines from an angel of the
Lord.'' In the Apologies of Justin Martyr, he stated several Gospel facts,
especially about the person of Christ, His earthly life, crucifixion and
resurrection; the historian Eusebius quoted selections from Quadratus' Apology
(2nd Century A.D.) as he addressed the emperor Hadrian. Among those selections
is the following:
The deeds of our Saviour were always before you, for they were true
miracles; those that were healed, those that were raised from the dead, who were
seen, not only when healed and when raised, but were always present. They
remained living a long time, not only whilst our Lord was on earth, but likewise
when he had left the earth. So that some of them have also lived to our times.
Some of the early church writers were students trained under the auspices of
the disciples. They undoubtedly received the indisputable facts from the
disciples and may also have witnessed some of the miracles performed by the
disciples in the name of Christ.
It is quite obvious from all these writings that those fathers of the early
church, who were ready to sacrifice their lives for their faith, did not believe
in a myth.
In addition to the writings we have already discussed, early church history
and archaeology can be examined. This would provide more significant evidence of
the beliefs of the first century Christians about the crucifixion, death and
resurrection of Jesus. Drawings and inscriptions of the cross can be seen in the
catacombs and vaults of Rome. These underground locations were the secret
meeting places where early Christians gathered together to worship, away from
the surveillance of the government's spies.
Early Christians also began to engrave the emblem of the cross on their
tombs to distinguish them from the pagans' tombs. Had these Christians not been
sure of Christ's crucifixion they would never have adopted the cross as their
emblem. Though the cross was a symbol of shame to both the Jews and the Romans,
after the crucifixion of the righteous Christ it became a symbol of hope and
faith to the Christians. If the cross was not a fact deeply-rooted in the faith
of these Christians, they would not have endured all the sufferings of
persecution, even death, for the sake of their Saviour.
Some of those martyrs were eye-witnesses of the crucifixion. Others received
these facts from the disciples or through the written words of the Gospel
accounts and the Epistles which were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The ordinances of the Lord's Supper and Baptism are also historical evidence
of Christ's death and resurrection. On the night in which Judas Iscariot
betrayed Jesus, He Himself performed this first ordinance and requested His
disciples to continue it in His memory (Matthew 28:19). Since then the Lord's
Supper has occupied an important place in the practices of the church through
the ages. The real significance of this ordinance, as Christ interpreted it, is
that it is a symbol of His crucifixion and death. When Christians exercise this
ordinance, they always commemorate His death (Matthew 26:26--29; Mark 14:22--25;
Luke 22:14--20; First Corinthians 11:23--27).
The same thing could be said about the ordinance of Baptism. It is a symbol
of the Christian's death to the old life and resurrection with Jesus Christ.
These two ordinances were practised by the disciples in compliance with Christ's
commandment and are still practised by the church until this very day.
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