Did Jesus really die on the cross?

The Apparent Death Hypothesis according to Dr. William Lane Craig

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

 

This article is a response to a section of a debate that took place on the subject of the resurrection of Jesus between the Islamic scholar Dr. Shabir Ally and the Christian scholar Dr. William Lane Craig which can be viewed here. The following is a transcript of the section that this article aims at addressing:

“The first one, the crucifixion is universally agreed upon by all historians and here Shabir says that he doesn’t deny that Jesus was crucified but what he suggests is that he was taken down alive from the cross and God raised him out of the tomb into heaven. This is a fantastic hypothesis and an incredible concession on the part of an Islamic theologian to Christian claims about Jesus. Basically it is an attempt to resurrect the old Apparent Death theory which was popular among German rationalists during the late 17th hundreds and I’ve got to say no historian or New Testament scholar would defend this Apparent Death theory today. It’s sort of the theological equivalent of the flat earth theory. Why is this hypothesis abandoned? Well, one thing is that there is simply no doubt that the crucifixion was fatal. The Romans were professional executioners and they ensured the deaths of their victims by a spear thrust into the heart of the victim so that even if the victim had simply lapsed into a comatose state on the cross he would certainly be killed by the thrust of the spear into his heart and this is exactly what happened in Jesus’ case.”

Is the crucifixion universally agreed upon by all historians? No, it isn’t. Bruno Bauer, J.M. Robertson, Paul-Louis Couchoud, Earl Doherty, Tom Harpur and G.A. Wells have all argued against the existence of Jesus although Wells have actually revised his original position. It goes without saying that if Jesus did not exist then his alleged crucifixion did not happen. This means that there are those from among non-Muslim historians and Biblical scholars who do in fact disagree that Jesus was historically crucified, hence demolishing Dr. Craig’s confident declaration that it is “universally agreed upon by all historians”. Dr. Craig describes Shabir Ally’s proposition as fantastic without actually specifically qualifying what he meant by this. In any case, is the idea that Jesus survived the crucifixion and was later assumed to heaven any more stupendous than the Christian claim that Jesus came back alive after being dead for three days and then went up into heaven? Both are remarkable theological claims and for a Christian to suggest that Shabir’s proposition is fantastic to the point of unbelief is unwarranted. To compare the so called Apparent Death theory to the flat earth theory is simply absurd. Whilst there is possibility for the former in the realm of logic and reason there is no possibility for the latter. Dr. Craig said that the Apparent Death theory has been successfully refuted and buried because “there is simply no doubt that the crucifixion was fatal”. At this point it is clear that Dr. Craig forgot Mark 15:44. Here we have Pilate himself who was responsible for condemning Jesus to death doubting that Jesus had died. The verse says, “Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died.” If as Dr. Craig would have it that there is no doubt that the crucifixion was fatal then why was Pilate surprised at hearing Jesus’ alleged death? The answer is quite simple, that is, the crucifixion is only truly fatal if the victim is left on the cross for a sufficiently long enough period which was not at all the case with Jesus. In fact, we know that there are those who were fixed on the cross for three days and yet they were still alive. A particularly pertinent account is recorded by Josephus. The New Testament expert, Geza Vermes mentions the story:

Yahweh was the Golden Calf as Aaron, God’s spokesperson, declares in Exodus 32

Was the Golden Calf worshipped as Yahweh?

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

  Once in a while, one might hear some misinformed non-Muslim questioning the origin of Allah’s identity. Certain critics, in their ignoble efforts to blemish and besmirch Allah’s name, may even boldly propose, as many have, that Allah was a false idol worshipped by polytheists and pagans before the arrival of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. Some critics, such as Robert Morey, have been more direct and specific in their attacks and have propelled such ideas as Allah being a moon god in pre-Islamic Arab communities. Such claims that are bereft of any evidence of any kind continue to plague non-Muslim sites and apologetics material against Islam. It seems, those who simply despise Islam, for reasons best known to them, would cling to any idea at all, however far fetched or untrue, so long as they can use it to confuse others and paint an ugly picture of Islam. In any case, this article shall turn the tables on those conniving detractors, who try to use this in their game to demonise and discredit Islam, and ultimately show that their point, which says that when Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. came to the scene, he simply adopted one of the many idols worshipped by polytheists in their idolatry (so the Muslim God in this faulty argument as we shall demonstrate is contended to be just an idol of ancient times deserving of rejection by claimants of monotheism), is absolutely devoid of proof and without any historical or archaeological evidence.

  The answer that we can offer to clarify the confusion that these critics have concerning Allah is quite easy and simple: there is absolutely no historical documentary evidence, not even a scintilla of proof anywhere or archaeological artifact that has ever been discovered that shows that there was ever an image or an idol that was fashioned by the hands of men to represent Allah or that was labelled as such. There are no statues, no manuscripts, no references anywhere, no inscription. There is absolutely zilch amount of data to support this baseless assumption and this cannot be stressed enough.

Allah tells us in the Qur’an unequivocally, “They worship besides Allah, that which can neither profit them nor harm them, and the disbeliever is ever a helper against the Lord.” (25:55)

 ويعبدون من دون الله مالا ينفعهم ولايضرهم وكانالكفرعلى ربه ظهيرا

Tafsir Ibn Kathir:

“Allah tells us how ignorant the idolaters are: instead of worshipping Allah, they worship idols which do not possess the power either to harm or benefit… So, they take these idols as protectors and fight for their sake, and they oppose Allah and His Messenger and the believers for their sake.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir [Abridged], page 179)

According to the Qur’an and the above tafsir (interpretation by Ibn Kathir), it is evidently clear that the polytheists in pre-Islamic Arabia rejected Allah and so would not have had an idol of him that they would have worshipped. Nobody worships a God that they reject or do not really believe in, unless there is some form of compulsion involved, which would render the worship disingenuous anyway, but this is a different issue that can be discussed at a later time elsewhere. The point of the matter is, the Qur’anic evidence, which is the primary source for historical information concerning the belief system and practices of the Arab idolaters during that time, shows clearly that the Arabs couldn’t have made Allah into an idol since they didn’t bother worshipping him as a valid deity to begin with. But even if for the sake of argument we were to agree and accept that there was a time when Allah was made into an idol and worshipped as such, that is by no means an argument against the validity of Allah as God’s true name. It would be an inconsequential historical hiccough to the truth and reality of Islam. That is because it is a fundamental belief and doctrine in Islam that it came, in different phases throughout time to selected men called prophets, to correct the errors and mistakes of past nations and lead those at present to true guidance, therefore, if there was in fact a nation that erroneously made Allah into an idol and worshipped Him in that form, Islam, through many of its clear cut passages and exhortations such as Surah al-Ikhlas, came to correct and perfect that which was made imperfect through years of misguidance and misunderstanding.

Abul-Fazl Ezzati captures the essence of the above in a nutshell:

“But, as the final divine message to mankind, Islam came to correct and perfect those previous messages.” [1]

Does Titus 2:13 finally prove Jesus is God?

 

Examining Titus 2:13 in light of biblical scholarship

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

“waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,”

(Titus 2:13) (emphasis added)

  The Trinitarian Christian believer that happily and gloriously believes in the divinity of Jesus will joyously cling to this verse and shout with utter elation that here is proof that the New Testament teaches that Jesus is God and as such, he deserves our religious adoration and worship. The academic Trinitarian will be more scholarly in his approach, maintaining a cool air of calmness, yet affirming the above elation as expressed by the ordinary Christian Trinitarian believer, by pointing out to the so called Grandville Sharp grammar rule in Greek which says that when two items are governed by only one definite article then it may simply only refer to one person that is present. This position, which heavily relies on the use of the Grandville Sharp rule is by no means a full proof approach that one may use to understand this verse. Alternatively, there are equally able and authoritative scholars who differ with the use and application of the Grandville Sharp rule in Titus 2:13 whereby both epithets (‘Great God’ and ‘Saviour’ due to the existent of only one article) would fall on Jesus, and would instead propose that two persons rather than one are in view here in spite of the absence of two articles to indicate the presence of two individuals. They argue that there is evidence for their position in Greek literature of the past and that there is no certainty that the modern developed idea or grammatical concept of the so called Grandville Sharp rule was applicable and in vogue at the time of the writing of Titus 2:13. Scholars who favour the application of the Grandville Sharp rule which then leads to Jesus being specifically identified as “our great God” include such notable theologians and scholars of Greek such as Daniel Wallace, who is often the point of reference for Trinitarian writers and speakers today when discussions pertaining to this verse come up. We need not mention other writers who are in support of Wallace as they number in the dozens, if not hundreds including the late eminent textual critic Bruce Metzger, Bart Ehrman’s mentor and teacher at Princeton University. On the other hand, we have equally great experts of the Greek language and highly qualified biblical scholars in their own right who would champion the alternative view as stated above and they include individuals such as Dr. Nigel Turner, Henry Alford, G. B. Winer and others. In the following lines, we shall have a look at what these scholars, who oppose the mainstream Christian Trinitarian take on Titus 2:13,  say despite the fact that their own personal theology belong to that of mainstream Christianity, that is, they themselves were Trinitarians in belief and practice, yet their scholarly conclusions depart dramatically from those other Trinitarians due to the weight they give, after careful consideration and analysis, to the alternative position when inspecting Titus 2:13.

Before we proceed to cite and reference those scholars that we have just mentioned, it is noteworthy that the above quoted verse at the beginning of the article is a version that would reflect the mainstream reading of the text favouring the Grandville Sharp rule, and that agree with Wallace’s approach to the text, making the verse appear to identify the subject as Jesus who is the owner of the two descriptors “great God and “Saviour”. There are alternative translations or versions of the text that differ from the above and capture instead the essence of the alternative view which posits the existent of two persons rather than one. The following is one example of such rendering of the verse:

“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;” (Titus 2:13, King James Version; other versions or translations that reflect the alternative view include the Aramaic Bible in Plain English, the American Standard Version, the Douay-Rheims Bible and Webster’s Bible Translation)

Did the Prophet Isaiah truly walk naked for three long years?

A close examination of Isaiah 20:2: Did he indeed have to walk absolutely naked according to the passage?

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

   “at that time the LORD spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,” and he did so, walking naked and barefoot. Then the LORD said, “As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt.” (English Standard Version, Isaiah 20:2-4) [emphasis added]

A reader or an observer without any bias or vested interest in the Bible or Christianity, would hesitate little to come to the plain meaning as conveyed by the above excerpt from Isaiah 20: that the Prophet Isaiah, however strange as it may be, received admonition from his God to strip himself naked to the point of baring his rear end (buttocks) and to also walk completely barefoot, essentially then stark naked, as a shocking display to warn the Egyptians and the Cushites of impending doom that shall befall them where they too shall have to be stripped completely naked from top to bottom.

The avid Christian or believer in the Bible on the other hand, in this day and age, would be utterly shocked at this passage and may well dismiss the apparent meaning of the excerpt and scramble to find an alternative explanation, so as to satisfy his faith in a God that would only give sane commandments to His people, most especially His specially chosen ones, the Prophets, and would not in His Loving Kindness damn them to shame and embarrassment. None can capture the above conservative or fundamentalist sentiment better than the Reverend Daniel Waterland, D.D., who served as the Master of Magdalene College in Cambridge, Canon of Windsor and Archdeacon of Middlesex. He writes:

Isaiah XX. 3, 4.

  AND THE LORD SAID, LIKE AS MY SERVANT ISAIAH HATH WALKED NAKED AND BAREFOOT THREE YEARS FOR A SIGN AND WONDER UPON EGYPT AND UPON ETHIOPIA; SO SHALL THE KING OF ASSYRIA,&c. The Objector hereupon says: “How many commands did God give his Prophets, which, if taken according to the letter, seem unworthy of God, as making them act like madmen, or idiots!” As for instance, “the Prophet Isaiah walked for three years together naked for a sign.” The Objector, to do him justice, is not singular in finding fault with this place of the Prophet, nor in his so construing it as if the Prophet went stark naked, and for three whole years together, if the literal interpretation is to be admitted: and upon that supposition, he has some colour for saying, that such a command “seems unworthy of God,” as making the Prophet act like a madman, or an idiot.” [1]

We may understand from the above, that the staunch Bible Thumper, the Christian conservative or the fundamentalist, may strongly wish to dismiss the meaning of the text as plainly conveyed by the words therein so as to avoid painting a picture of a deity that is prone to exhortations of lunacy upon his prophets, to have them perform acts of insanity. And to this effect, many apologists and interpreters have come up with clever interpretations simply to evade the plain meaning of the text as it stands. And there are typically three different excuses, to satisfy Christian sensibilities, that are posited as alternative meanings to what is scripturally evident:

1. The ‘nakedness’ is only partial, in that he was only commanded to make bare the upper part of his body, while the lower part remained clothed apart from the feet that were to be barren too. This view finds its place in such individuals as Joseph Benson in his commentary where he writes, “Not wholly naked, but without his upper garment, as slaves and prisoners used to do, whose condition he was to represent. This action was both agreeable to the mode of instruction made use of in those times, and, as it was intended to excite the attention of the Israelites, was like very well adapted to promote that intention.”

Matthew’s Jesus performs a circus trick

Matthew’s Jesus performs a circus trick: Matthew 21:5 has Jesus riding on two donkeys into Jerusalem

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

  One of the most telling verses in the Gospel According to Matthew is verse 5 of chapter 21 and verse 7 of the same chapter confirms Matthew’s confusion of a quotation from the Old Testament that he tries to apply on Jesus. Herein lies evidence that Matthew had the capacity to invent history rather than report honestly events in a historical manner. Let us have a look at the verse in question.

“Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'”

The above translation comes from the New International Version. Some Bible translations try to blur the evident difficulty by omitting the conjunction between “donkey” and “colt”, thus making it appear as if Matthew understood the intention and meaning of the original verse that he quotes from the Old Testament in Zechariah 9:9. I have chosen the above translation as it captures more accurately the meaning of the original Greek than those amelioratory translations that placate fundamentalist and conservative believers of the Bible. The original Greek reads thus:

Εἴπατε τῇ θυγατρὶ Σιών Ἰδοὺ ὁ Βασιλεύς σου ἔρχεταί σοι πραῢς καὶ ἐπιβεβηκὼς ἐπὶ ὄνον καὶ ἐπὶ πῶλον υἱὸν ὑποζυγίου. (emphasis added)

The bold and underline segment of the verse in the original Greek above says ‘epibebekos epi onon kai epi polom’ which literally means “mounted on a donkey and on a colt”. Maarten J. J. Menken gives an accurate rendering of the original Greek into English in his work ‘Matthew’s Bible’: Tell daughter Zion: Behold, your king is coming to you, meek and riding on a donkey and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” [1]

As mentioned above, the quotation in Matthew 21:5 is derived from Zechariah 9:9. The original text of Zechariah 9:9 shows that only one animal is intended as the one to be rode upon by the king, who is supposed to be Jesus in Matthew’s mind, and that the original text actually employs a Hebraic poetic device of parallelism of which Matthew was evidently unaware. Not understanding the concept of parallelism in Hebrew, Matthew commits the mistake of thinking that two animals were intended rather than one. The text of Zechariah reads as follows:

“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The Hebrew reads:

גִּילִ֨י מְאֹ֜ד בַּת־צִיֹּ֗ון הָרִ֙יעִי֙ בַּ֣ת יְרוּשָׁלִַ֔ם הִנֵּ֤ה מַלְכֵּךְ֙ יָ֣בֹוא לָ֔ךְ צַדִּ֥יק וְנֹושָׁ֖ע ה֑וּא עָנִי֙ וְרֹכֵ֣ב עַל־חֲמֹ֔ור וְעַל־עַ֖יִר בֶּן־אֲתֹנֹֽות׃ (emphasis added)

The bold and underline part in the verse above says, “werokeb al hamor we’al ‘ayir ben ‘atonot” which means “and riding on a donkey and on a colt, the foal of a donkey”. That would be a literal rendering of the Hebrew (but it should be noted that ‘atonot אֲתֹנֹֽות actually means ‘she-asses’ in its literal sense) and to the uninitiated it would appear to correspond to Matthew 21:5. But in fact, it does not. The ‘waw’ used in the verse between ‘hamor’ (donkey) and ”ayir’ (colt) is understood, in context and in language, as an explicative (even) rather than a connective or a conjunction (and). Biblical scholar Lee Martin McDonald explains:

“In Matthew’s telling of the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, he, like the other evangelists, quotes a passage from Zechariah 9:9, but apparently interprets that passage to indicate that there are two animals brought to Jesus and he rode on both of them. Mark, Luke, and John all have but one animal involved. It would appear that Matthew understood the Hebrew letter waw in Zechariah 9:9 to be a connective rather than an explicative (“and” instead of “even” or “especially”), which the context in Zechariah demands and the other Gospels recognize. Matthew is probably using the Greek text of Zechariah in this instance, since the Greek kai (“and” or “even”) can be understood as an explicative (even) or a connective (and).” [2]

The rivals of Paul who were followers of Jesus

2 Corinthians 11:4 provides a clue to the existence of a powerful rival group that opposed Pauline Christianity

by Ibn Anwar BHsc (Hons), MCollT

   The text of 2 Corinthians 11:4 reads as follows:

“For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.”

From this verse, we may glean that there was at least one group that was prominent enough to receive Paul’s attention and compel him to spend ink on it that was teaching a different Jesus and a different gospel than what Paul was teaching as James Dunn writes, “Similarly in 2 Cor. 11.4 the “other Jesus” preached could refer to a differently interpreted Jesus tradition.” [1] Though little detail is given concerning this group, we may reasonably speculate about their fundamental beliefs that disconcerted Paul by looking at the content of the context of 2 Corinthians 11:4, with particular focus on what points that Paul emphasise therein.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, one of his primary concerns is with the crucifixion of Jesus, the belief that Jesus suffered and died as a sin offering. As James Dunn writes, “The most distinctive emphasis of Paul’s preaching on Jesus, however, was on Jesus’ crucifixion… in 1 Cor. 2.2 Paul recalls how ‘I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. For in Cor. 15:2 he recalls the message he had preached to the Corinthians, including the message that ‘Christ died for our sins…” [2] From the emphasis Paul puts on this theme, we may discern that those mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11:4 may well have opposed this belief that Paul was propagating. To this effect, commenting on the phrase “another Jesus” in 2 Corinthians 11:4 the scholar Colin Kruse writes:

“It may well be that in their preaching Paul’s opponents stressed the power and glory of Christ to the virtual exclusion of the fact that he had also known weakness, humiliation, persecution, suffering and death. Paul preached Christ crucified as Lord, so a proclamation like that outlined above would seem to him to be the preaching of another Jesus.” [3]

This means that anyone who did not preach that Christ was crucified as Lord, that he suffered humiliation, persecution, suffering and ultimately death on the cross was antithetical to Paul’s ministry and was therefore preaching another Jesus.

David Garland who is Dean of George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University, likewise, writes:

“Another Jesus” refers to a different interpretation of Jesus that is not congruent with with the facts of Jesus’ life and death. Paul’s emphasis in 13:4, that Christ was “crucified in weakness,” suggests the possibility that the rivals presented a Jesus who was not “weak, suffering and humiliated.” They may talk about Christ, but Christ crucified is not the heart of their gospel nor does it influence the way they live.” [4]

Is ‘Isa a fake name of Jesus invented by Islam?

Refuting the falsehood that ‘Isa is not the real name of Jesus

by Ibn Anwar, BHSc (Hons.), MCollT

     In my rather long experience in engaging with Christians, they have often questioned the validity of identifying Jesus with the Qur’anic name that is given to him: ‘Isa (عيسى). They would argue that Arab Christians have long identified this individual that we today generally know as Jesus as Yasu’ (يسوع) and so there is no historical basis for the name ‘Isa. In this brief article we shall examine the validity or lack thereof of the Islamic usage of the term ‘Isa as the historical name of the son of Mary who lived some 2000 years ago in Palestine.

    Before we begin looking at the various names that are attributed to the son of Mary, we should have a little grasp of the historical context within which the son of Mary lived, with particular focus on the language that was used, at the time in the son of Mary’s locality and what his own native language would have been. We now know for certain that the language used by Jesus and those around him in Palestine was Aramaic. This fact is attested by the Catholic theologian Lucien Deiss who writes, “Jesus’ mother tongue was Aramaic.” [1] Similarly, Robert H. Stein writes, “Gustav Dalman at the turn of the century clearly demonstrated that the native tongue of Jesus was Aramaic.” [2] And Sang-ll Lee makes it rather unequivocal that, “…the consensus of modern New Testament scholars…Jesus spoke Aramaic as his matrix language.” [3] We have thus established that the language that was used by Jesus and his local compatriots was in fact Aramaic (or sometimes called Syriac).

  A pertinent question that may follow from the above elucidation would thus be, “What was the name of Jesus in Aramaic?” And from this question we may certify whether the Arabic name ‘Isa has any historical validity or not. Before we answer this question however, we may well ask, “Where did the name Jesus come from?” How is this a relevant and valid question? Well for starters, when Jesus lived in Galilee, Palestine the letter ‘J’ that we are so familiar with in our Roman alphabet did not exist. In the time of Jesus, the local dialect that was spoken, that is, the language of the common folk was Aramaic and we cannot stress this enough. Hebrew on the other hand was the language of the learned elite that was used by the Pharisees for learning and liturgical purposes. So in Hebrew, Jesus’ name would have been Yeshua or Yehoshua (ישוע or יהושע) and this was then rendered into Iesus (Ἰησοῦς) in Greek as the New Testament authors, who spoke Greek, started writing about Jesus. This then was borrowed into Latin and much later, when English became the more prominent language that eventually replaced Latin, the term Iesus (or in its genitive form Iesu e.g. initium evangeli Iesu Christi Filii Dei in Mark 1:1) took the form of Jesus. From this short historical account of the formation of the name Jesus, we may say that there is a rather huge gap between the original name of Jesus with the much later invention of his name, that is, Jesus in English.