By Douglas Anele
Chapter 13, the penultimate chapter, has as its title “Yus Asaph and Jesus.” In it, Shams states that a certain prophet named Yus Asaph came to Kashmir around 1900 years ago, died and was buried in Srinagar at the age of 120 years. Based on the writings of Ghulam Ahmad, the author concludes that Yus Asaph is none other than Jesus of Nazareth (p. 109).
Enlarging on the same theme by citing both Islamic and non-Islamic sources, he compares the story of Jesus to a well-known narrative in Kashmir about a strange prince (who was also prophet) that came to the area almost two thousand years ago and preached to the Israelites. The prophet eventually died and was buried there. The final chapter of the book (pp. 118-124), focuses on “A Paramount Prophesy”.
In it the author points out that Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, prophesied that after him the messiah would appear among Muslims at a place east of Damascus, that is, India, and that he would prove the falsehood of orthodox Christian doctrines concerning the purported death of Jesus on the cross. He reports how some sections of the Muslim community doubted the prophethood of Muhammad, on the ground that “Had Muhammad been a prophet, he would not have died” (p. 119).
But the sceptics were convinced that Muhammad was a genuine prophet of God when they realised that all prophets before him had died also. Shams referred to various verses of the Quran which indicate that Jesus died a natural death (pp. 119-121). He reiterates again and again the messiahship of Ghulam Ahmad, who he claims has broken the cross of Christianity. The author also referred to Ahmad’s claims on the prospects of “one religion for the world and one leader” (p. 123).
He then ended the book with Ghulam’s prayer, in which the latter pleaded that God should forgive Christians for believing false dogmas concerning Jesus (p. 124). There are two annexures in the book. The first one contains further references which suggest that Jesus could not have died on the cross; the second refers to “latest research” on the shroud of Turin. The “Bibliography” is listed in the last three pages. The book, Where Did Jesus Die?, is written in simple, easy-to-understand English.
It contains a plausible reconstruction of the events connected to the crucifixion of Jesus and its aftermath which deviates substantially from orthodox Christian teachings. The author, especially in chapter 2, admirably discusses contradictions in the gospels’ accounts of these events. In chapters 8 and 9 he offers a credible account of “pagan” doctrines in Christianity which Paul, in his aggressive efforts to convert the gentiles, introduced into the new faith.
Shams explained that the alleged virgin birth, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus into heaven are adaptations of religious doctrines from Mediterranean communities, beliefs which were alien to what Jesus taught his disciples. His story about how and why Jesus left Palestine and went eastwards to Kashmir might be true, although the authenticity of his sources were not established in the text.
However, the book contains some grammatical infelicities and errors in the execution of mechanics of scholarship (see, for example, pp. 3, 13, 20, 72, 120). The author wrote from the background of Islam, which compelled him to assume the inerrancy of the Quran. Indeed, Shams appears to be a pious and devoted member of the Ahmadiyya movement. Of course, his criticism of Christian doctrines regarding the life and mission of Jesus is satisfactory.
But he failed to notice that all the objections against Pauline Christianity are, mutatis mutandis, applicable to Islam as well. For instance, Huston Smith, in The Religions of Man, and Ibn Warraq, in Why I am not a Muslim, and many other scholars have shown that the Quran is redolent with “pagan” ideas drawn from the Arabian culture from which Islam originated.
Therefore, despite Sham’s patronizing claim on p. 71 that Islam is “the religion of reason and wisdom”, all religions, including the Abrahamic religions, represent antiquated metaphysico-spiritual outlooks of unscientific peoples of bygone periods in history. “Messiah”, “prophet”, “sin”, “divine revelation” etc. – all these are concepts associated with religious consciousness which signposts man’s fumbling, essentially futile, attempts to cope with the world by invoking supernatural explanations of natural and social phenomena.
With respect to the notion that Jesus merely fell into coma but was subsequently revived (swoon theory) and later travelled to India in search of the lost tribes of Israel, some experts in New Testament scholarship have expressed scepticism about its veracity. For example, James D. Tabor, in The Jesus Dynasty, asserted that the theory “has no basis in reliable historical sources” (p. 205).
Furthermore, some investigators of the shroud of Turin have questioned the widespread view, accepted by Shams, that it was the cloth used to wrap the body of Jesus. Instead, they claim that it was a medieval or renaissance artifact created with the main purpose of eliciting appropriate emotions of piety in Christian worshippers who already had accepted Orthodox Church doctrines about Jesus.
Thus, a plausible case can be made against Shams for uncritically accepting the claims of Muhammad and Ghulam, particularly with respect to the aftermath of the crucifixion of Jesus without considering other sources of information that contradict those claims. At any rate, one can understand his predicament.
As a Muslim and member of the Ahmadiyya movement, his religious prejudices could not have allowed him to question the most important personages of Islam. All said and done, Where Did Jesus Die? is an interesting controversial book which Christians and non-Christians alike should read with open minds.