By Douglas Anele
Before I go into the subject of our discourse today, it is important to make some classifications in order to avoid possible misunderstandings about my motive for deciding to review a book written by a Muslim scholar concerning the death, resurrection and ultimate fate of Jesus, the alleged founder of Christianity.
To begin with, my decision does not imply either preference of Islam to Christianity or endorsement of all the views contained in the book we are about to review. Both religions are the products of ancient superstitious peoples who were trying to cope with the vicissitudes of life in the harsh unscientific socio-economic and political milieu in which they found themselves. Moreover, Christianity and Islam are offshoots of Judaism. Therefore, as first cousins, they have a lot in common.
I strongly believe that the three Abrahamic religions are individually and jointly responsible for much of the violence, wars, cruelty, discrimination, irrationality, and oppression of women worldwide. Consequently, the world will be a much better place if their adherents constitute a very small percentage of the world’s population – perhaps, less than one-tenth of one per cent. Of course, there are profound differences between Christianity and Islam.
For example, Islam totally rejects the notion of triune God and redemption by the death of Jesus, which is a cornerstone of Christian creed, whereas the doctrine of “an eye for an eye” prescribed in the sharia is definitely inferior to the idea of “turning the other cheek” preached by Jesus, according to the gospels. But there is no doubt that both religions are based on antiquated myths and unscientific metaphysico-spiritual worldviews prevalent in the ancient Mediterranean world, which signpost a lower stage in the evolution of human spiritual consciousness.
Now, since our column is primarily an avenue for public enlightenment, it makes a lot of sense to see events like eid-el-maolud, eid-el-dhuha, Christmas and Easter etc. as opportunities to wake believers up from their dogmatic slumbers so that they can form the habit of critically evaluating the basis of their faith from time to time.
Hence, as Easter celebrations are a few days away, we invite Christians who are going to read this essay and the subsequent ones that will follow to do so with an open mind and decide for themselves whether the author has or hasn’t made a good case for his interpretation of the crucifixion. The book we are reviewing is, Where Did Jesus Die? written by the late J. D. Shams, former Imam of the London Mosque (1936-1946).
It was published in 1989 by Islam International Publications Limited, Surrey, United Kingdom. The opening pages of the book (v-xxiii) contain “Publisher’s Note”, “Foreword”, “Introduction”, and “Preface”. These are followed by 14 chapters which run from page 1 to page 124. Two appendices and a bibliography (pp. 1235-136) complete the text. The “Foreword”, written by Dudley Wright, sets the tone for the main argument of the book, which is that there is enough scientific and scriptural evidence to prove that the alleged death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ are fictions.
In the “Introduction,” the author builds on the theme adumbrated by Wright. He summarises interpretations of the crucifixion event from the perspectives of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. According to him, the Jews believe that by nailing Jesus on the cross and putting him to what they accepted as an accursed death, they have proved conclusively that he was a false prophet. Christians turned the Jewish belief on its head by accepting the notion that Jesus died to save humankind.
The Holy Quran declares that Jesus was a messenger sent by Allah to the lost sheep of Israel, but that he was saved from accursed death and later died a natural death. Shams made the following general points regarding biblical accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus: (a) that the Councils of Nicea and Laodecia were held about 350 years after the time Jesus was said to have lived; the books that now make up the New Testament of the Holy Bible were more or less selected arbitrarily by ‘yeas’ and ‘nays’ of the people that were present at the meetings, just as legislators vote for a law. The two councils rejected several books, and the ones which had a majority of votes were canonised as the Word of God.
Had members voted differently, for example, by voting for the Apocrypha, the people who have been calling themselves Christians ever since would have believed a different set of doctrines, because their belief is dependent on the outcome from Nicea and Laodecia, (b) the New Testament does not contain the Word of God, and the early evangelists did not make such claim, (c) the various books, especially the gospels, were written several decades after the alleged crucifixion and death of Jesus took place when it was virtually impossible for the writers to document the event accurately and distil reliable data from the whirlpool of fuzzy impressions in their minds during the rapid succession of occurrences which culminated in the climax of Calvary,
(d) numerous inconsistencies and contradictions in the gospel accounts indicate that they may be correct or incorrect, (e) research has shown that none of the authors of the four gospels was a disciple of Jesus – indeed, the original Hebrew version of the book of Matthew was lost and the author of the present version is unknown, (f) strictly speaking, there is no completely objective historical account of events, since such reports are often influenced by the personal beliefs and mentality of the historian,
(g) the gospel narratives must be examined with the same standards used in analysing other historical documents. Evidence must be carefully scrutinised to differentiate hard facts from fiction so that one can accept what appears reasonable and acceptable to human reason in the light of similar cases, (h) finally, the gospels were written when the majority of the early Christians had already accepted that Jesus died on the cross. Therefore, any event in the gospels which contradicts that belief must have been so well-known that it could not be easily left out from the story of the crucifixion.
To be continued.