Islamic view of crucifixion

Crucifixion is a method of execution on a wooden cross or beam and hanging until final death enters. The victim is tied or nailed to the wood and the suffering is severe because of exhaustion and breathing problems. This punishment was used by the Roman Empire, but not by the Jews. The gospel describes that Jesus the Messiah was crucified, died on the cross, and was buried outside Jerusalem. Then he rose from the dead and was raised to heaven. Most Muslims believe that Jesus did not die on the cross because there is a verse in the Quran that denies that Jesus was killed. Muslims are trying to find an explanation for the crucifixion of Jesus according to a verse from Quran 4:157 that Jesus was not killed or crucified, but that it appeared to them that way. On the other hand, Muslims want to be as close to the gospel as possible because the Quran says they are God's revelations too. When they come close to the gospel, it is also easier to refute Christians. Therefore, a series of theories have been proposed to refute the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. This needs to be validated.

Problem for a Muslim with the crucifixion of Jesus

Qur’an

Islam is a book religion centered on the Qur’an. Qur’an 4:157 says: “and for boasting, “We killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the messenger of Allah.” But they neither killed nor crucified him—it was only made to appear so. Even those who argue for this crucifixion are in doubt. They have no knowledge whatsoever—only making assumptions. They certainly did not kill him.” For most Muslims, this verse is the reason they cannot support the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There have been Muslims who even deny all the historical facts in the New Testament, saying, “not a single one of the Christians was a witness with them (the Jews). Rather the apostles kept a distance through fear, and not one of them witnessed the crucifixion.” [1] Mufassir gives an Islamic account of the crucifixion of Jesus: “Muslims believe that Jesus was not crucified. It was the intention of his enemies to put him to death on the cross, but God saved him form their plot.” [2] A Muslim needs to find a rational solution to the question why Jesus was not crucified, died and and rose again. It is not easy to come with an alternative for the execution of Jesus, because many prophets have been tortured to death. John the Baptist (Yahya) was beheaded and died as a martyr. Furthermore the Qur’an says that the Previous Scriptures are from God, so a Muslim wants to be in line with the Gospel.

Crucifixion as failure of God’s prophet

Muslims believe that Jesus was sentenced to death and that there were only people who thought that he was executed on the cross, because they believe that Qur’an 4:157 is true that Jesus was not crucified. It is too difficult for Muslims to accept the image of a suffering Messiah. They believe that God would use his power to prevent the righteous Jesus from suffering. The Qur’an gives an ideal picture of the perfect life of prophets and messengers who follow the Law of God that prevents them from suffering. Therefore, Jesus who was crucified on the cross for the forgiveness of sins has no meaning for a Muslim. For a Muslim, everything is under Allah's control. The life-changing decision to surrender life to the moral principles of God is not a practice in Islam.

Islamic alternative 1: Substitution theory

Introduction

This theory mentions another person who was crucified in the place of Jesus. Jesus was taken to heaven without being crucified. The idea has been suggested that God created a man who had the same appearance as Jesus, who was hung on the cross instead of Jesus. The real Jesus, according to most Muslims, immediately ascended to heaven with this body. Within Islam, this theory is the favorite way to describe the end of Jesus' life on earth.

Identity for a Jesus lookalike

According to the subsitution theory it was not Jesus who was crucified, but another person. No identity is given in the Qur’an about this person. It is a person who volunteered to impersonate Jesus and allowed himself to be crucified in his place [3]. The requirements for such a replacement would have to be a person of absolute moral standard, superior to the faultless Jesus, the Word of God. However, this replacement of Jesus, a super-Jesus is a contradiction in the Qur’an, because Jesus is faultless (Qur’an 19:19) and of extreme dignity in this world and the other world (Qur’an 3:45).

Candidates for a replacement of Jesus

Under Muslims is no agreement about the identity of Jesus’ substitute. It has been suggested that there was a Jesus lookalike who died on the cross instead of Jesus. Most support is for one of the disciples, including Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus or Simon of Cyrene. Basilides of the Gnosis sect suggested that Simon of Cyrene be executed instead of Jesus [4] However, this assumption of near death and replacement by another man contradicts all accounts in the Bible and historical research. Those concepts of gnosis sects were available in the time of Muhammad. It cannot be a coincidence that they can be the source for Qur'an 4:157 on the substitute statement of Jesus by another. Therefore, many Muslim commentators think in terms of Jesus' natural death with reference to Quran 19:33. They also suggest that God took Jesus to heaven at the right time and according to Quran 3:55. The Jesus substitute as Judas Iscariot comes from the Gospel of Barnabas, a false document of a Spanish Muslim in the Middle Ages. Another candidate for Jesus replacement on the cross is Simon of Cyrene, because according to the synoptic gospels, he carried the cross of Jesus to the place of execution. However, this was by order of the Roman soldiers, who were in control of the execution process. This excludes the substitution theory from a logical standpoint that Jesus was not crucified.

Islamic alternative 2: Rescue theory

Introduction

This theory holds that Jesus was saved from the cross and ascended to heaven. It means that God prevented to attack Jesus. God intervened to take Jesus to heaven after accusations and threats from his enemies because he had a holy life [5]. A famous Quran commentator, Tabari, states that Jesus was carried off from the earth to a place with God. The adherents of this theory have referred to Quran 3:55: “[Mention] when Allah said, "O Jesus, indeed I will take you and raise you to Myself and purify you from those who disbelieve and make those who follow you [in submission to Allah alone] superior to those who disbelieve until the Day of Resurrection. Then to Me is your return, and I will judge between you concerning that in which you used to differ” (Qur’an 3:55). Also 4:158: “Rather, Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise”. For Muslims this showed the reward for the faithfull believers and confirms the pattern of good deeds and reward [6].

Details rescue action

According to an Islamic story, Jesus went to heaven wearing a woolen dress made by his mother Mary. When he arrived in heaven, they said to him, “O Jesus, cast away from you the adornment of the world” [7]. It is an indication that things of this world are different in compared to the life in heaven. However, no evidence or record has been found that a miraculous intervention was done at the last minute. It is unlikely, because Jesus' enemies and friend witnessed the crucifixion.

Islamic alternative 3: Swoon theory

Introduction

This theory is an attempt to explain the resurrection of Jesus with the claim that Jesus survived the method of execution on the cross. It means that Jesus did not die on the cross, he passed out or fainted for several hours, but later returned to a conscious position in the same body. First, Jesus was hung on the cross. Then the Jews thought he died on the cross because Jesus looked like someone who was dead, but they weren't sure. The swoon theory assumes that Jesus did not die. As a result, Jews failed in their plan to kill him.

Variants

The founder of the Ahmadiyya sect in Islam, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, launched the idea that Jesus survived the crucifixion on the cross, went to India to die in that country [8]. Ahmed Deedat commented crucifixion of Jesus in the four Gospels and proposed an alternative scenario that can be seen as a swoon theory [9]. Deedat support the swoon theory with arguments Dean Farrar, who argues in that Jesus was only for 3 hours on the cross and then taken down [10]. Islam promotor Zakir Naik used the swoon theory in a debate with Pastor Henry Pio Ruknuddin. Naik used many of the arguments of Dean Farrar and Ahmed Deedat [11]]. However, medical researchers state that it is not unlikely that Jesus died during the crucifixion. [12]

Problems with this theory

Jesus had not slept the night before, had not eaten well, was tortured and crucified. Crucifixion is a severe punishment that must result in death. The crucifixion practice of the Roman Empire was that Jesus was first given a heavy whip on his shoulders, back and legs. The whip was reinforced with metal to inflict further injuries and tear open the skin. After he survived this attack and the bleeding had stopped, the Roman soldiers put a crown of thorns on his head, so that the bleeding started again in an even more vital place, his head. Then they beat him again. It is therefore unlikely that Jesus survived the cross. The Gospel records that Jesus was not buried until the Roman soldiers were certain that Jesus died: “But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs” (John 19:33). There are verses in the gospel that Jesus was martyred and crucified (Mark 15:15; Matt 27:26; John 19:1). He died earlier than expected (Mark 15:44). The Gospel mentions the torture and cruel treatment Jesus received before the crucifixion.

General problems with Islamic alternatives

Alternative explanation of Qur'an verses

t is possible that in the time of Muhammad Nehemiah 9 was used as a quote in a discussion against pro-Persian Jews. This could have resulted in it being added in Qur’an 4 [13]. Jews of apocalyptic poetry in the time of Muhammad saw in Micah 5:1, 4 a prophecy that the Assyrians would conquer the land of Israel and be associated with a Davidic leader [14]. Muhammad had to become involved in Jewish discussions when he migrated from pagan Mecca to Jewish-dominated Medina in 632. Mohammed did not want to demonize all Jews and claimed that they did not kill Jesus in Quran 4:157. He had to be friends with the Jews Reading the context of Qur'an 4:157, we come to the conclusion that the Jews are accused of murdering Jesus and that the Qur'an states that they did not actually kill Jesus. This is also a historical truth, because the Roman soldiers killed Jesus. Another support for crucifixion comes from Qur’an 19:33: “And peace is on me the day I was born and the day I will die and the day I am raised alive.". The order of this Qur’an verse is (1) born, (2) died and (3) rose alive [15]. In this Qur’an verse there is support that Jesus was crucified, died and resurrected. The Jews did not kill Jesus (Luke 23:24-25), Jesus was crucified (Luke 23:33, Matthew 27:35-38) , died on the cross (Mark 15:37-39, John 19:32-33) and resurrected (Luke 24:34). Death on the cross for God's most powerful man seems ugly. However, we must look at the full picture that God raised Jesus from the dead and this is the sign that the glorious Jesus Christ had made a triumph over the Jewish unbelievers. This is a great victory of the Supreme Being and there is support in the Qur’an as well: “And the disbelievers planned, but Allah planned. And Allah is the best of planners” (Qur’an 3:54).

Historical support for crucifixion

1. Flavius Josephus

Jewish historian wrote in 94 AD: “And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him” [16].

2. Cornelius Tacitus

Historian of the Roman Empire mentioned crucifixion in 115 AD [17]: “Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. 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 Judæa, the first source 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”.

3. Mara Bar-Serapion

Philosopher from Syria has written [18]: "What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burying Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise king die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given" [19].

4. Thallus

Roman historian wrote about crucifixion of Jesus: "Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away the darkness as an eclipse of the sun--unreasonably, as it seems to me." [A solar eclipse could not take place during a full moon, as was the case during Passover season.] This is an indication for the miraculous darkness at Jesus’ crucifixion [20].

5. Babylonian Talmud

The Talmud (second century) records the execution of Jesus [21]: "On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, 'He is going forth to be stoned because he has practised sorcery and enticed Israel to apostacy. Anyone who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.' But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover".

6. New Testament

The New Testament records in 1 Thessalonians 2:15–16 that the Jews killed Jesus:

“Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”

The original source dates from before 55 AD, a hiatus with crucifixion even of less than 33 years. According to historians, the testimony of the crucifixion of Jesus is reliable. For secular historians, in the case of the Diodorus manuscript on the death of Alexander the Great, there is a gap of 323 years [22] Other orginal sources of the crucifixion are before 100 AD, including:

They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha (John 19:17)

When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left (Luke 23:33)

There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between (John 19:18)

And they crucified Him, and divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots for them to decide what each man should take (Mark 15:24)

And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots (Matthew 27:35)

Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece (John 19:23)

It was the third hour when they crucified Him (Mark 15:25) Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, "Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews." (John 19:19)

And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, "This is Jesus the king of the Jews" (Matthew 27:37)

Now there was also an inscription above Him, "This is the king of the Jews." (Luke 23:38)

So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs (John 19:32-33)

Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!" (Matthew 27:54)

Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God, saying, "Certainly this man was innocent." (Luke 23:47)

Witnesses in the Bible that Jesus was crucified and that he died So the other disciples were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." (John 20:25)

For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2)

I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. (Revelation 1:18)

Conclusion

Most Muslims try to find a rational explanation for Qur’an 4:157 which states that Jesus did not die on the cross, but went straight to heaven. A direct approach to the substitution theory that a man other than Jesus died fails because there is no record of this man. The ascension theory has no support because there is no evidence that Jesus was saved from the cross and ascended to heaven. A favorite of contemporary Islam promoters is the swoon theory, but medical research has disproved it. What all alternatives to crucifixion have in common is the fact that there is no Biblical support. Even atheistic scholars agree: “Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable” [23]. There are reasons to believe that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross as the Bible mentions, including: “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” (Revelation 5:9)

Notes