Recently I finished reading “The Gospel of Barnabas” which is an Islamic leaning text about the life and ministry of Jesus. If you are not familiar with the Islamic tradition, the Jesus of Islam is not exactly the same as the Jesus in Christianity. While there are a lot of similarities, the main difference is that Jesus (Isa) in Islam is a prophet, and even messiah, but is not Son of God like he is portrayed in Christianity. This Gospel has a storied past and most scholars pass it off as a medieval forgery. Personally, any text that bestows some wisdom, I’m all for regardless of any historical authenticity. That being said, this post is not covering the Gospel of Barnabas. I wanted to make mention of it’s ending and how it compares to various Gnostic texts. Yes, Gnosticism has some influences in the Muslim faith (a quick google search will bring up quite a few parallels and it’s a fascinating rabbit hole to go down). Various Gnostic texts talk of how Jesus did not die on the cross but another was in his place. The Quran mentions Jesus not dying on the cross but rather Allah raised him into the heavens and another took his place. From the Surah An-Nisa 157 & 158:
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. Rather, Allah raised him up to Himself. And Allah is Almighty, All-Wise.
The “Gospel of Barnabas” takes it a step further and even mentions who took Jesus’s place…..Judas Iscariot! This is quite the story and I will present it in full.
215. When the soldiers with Judas drew near to the place where Jesus was, Jesus heard the approach of many people, wherefore in fear he withdrew into the house. And the eleven were sleeping. Then God, seeing the danger of his servant, commanded Gabriel, Michael, Rafael, and Uriel, his ministers, to take Jesus out of the world. The holy angels came and took Jesus out by the window that looketh toward the South. They bare him and placed him in the third heaven in the company of angels blessing God for evermore. 216. Judas entered impetuously before all into the chamber whence Jesus had been taken up. And the disciples were sleeping. Whereupon the wonderful God acted wonderfully, insomuch that Judas was so changed in speech and in face to be like Jesus that we believed him to be Jesus. And he, having awakened us, was seeking where the Master was. Whereupon we marvelled, and answered: 'Thou, Lord, art our master; hast thou now forgotten us?' And he, smiling, said: 'Now are ye foolish, that know not me to be Judas Iscariot!' And as he was saying this the soldiery entered, and laid their hands upon Judas, because he was in every way like to Jesus. We having heard Judas' saying, and seeing the multitude of soldiers, fled as beside ourselves. And John, who was wrapped in a linen cloth, awoke and fled, and when a soldier seized him by the linen cloth he left the linen cloth and fled naked. For God heard the prayer of Jesus, and saved the eleven from evil. 217. The soldiers took Judas and bound him, not without derision. For he truthfully denied that he was Jesus; and the soldiers, mocking him, said: 'Sir, fear not, for we are come to make thee king of Israel, and we have bound thee because we know that thou dost refuse the kingdom.' Judas answered: 'Now have ye lost your senses! Ye are come to take Jesus of Nazareth, with arms and lanterns as [against] a robber; and ye have bound me that have guided you, to make me king!' Then the soldiers lost their patience, and with blows and kicks they began to flout Judas, and they led him with fury into Jerusalem. John and Peter followed the soldiers afar off; and they affirmed to him who writeth that they saw all the examination that was made of Judas by the high priest, and by the council of the Pharisees, who were assembled to put Jesus to death. Whereupon Judas spake many words of madness, insomuch that every one was filled with laughter, believing that he was really Jesus, and that for fear of death he was feigning madness. Whereupon the scribes bound his eyes with a bandage, and mocking him said: 'Jesus, prophet of the Nazarenes,' (for so they called them who believed in Jesus), 'tell us, who was it that smote thee?' And they buffeted him and spat in his face. When it was morning there assembled the great council of scribes and elders of the people; and the high priest with the Pharisees sought false witness against Judas, believing him to be Jesus: and they found not that which they sought. And why say I that the chief priests believed Judas to be Jesus? Nay, all the disciples, with him who writeth, believed it; and more, the poor virgin mother of Jesus, with his kinsfolk and friends, believed it, insomuch that the sorrow of every one was incredible. As God liveth, he who writeth forgot all that Jesus had said: how that he should be taken up from the world, and that he should suffer in a third person, and bthat he should not die until near the end of the world. Wherefore he went with the mother of Jesus and with John to the cross. The high priest caused Judas to be brought before him bound, and asked him of his disciples and his doctrine. Whereupon Judas, as though beside himself, answered nothing to the point. The high priest then adjured him by the living God of Israel that he would tell him the truth. Judas answered: 'I have told you that I am Judas Iscariot, who promised to give into your hands Jesus the Nazarene; and ye, by what art I know not, are beside yourselves, for ye will have it by every means that I am Jesus.' The high priest answered: 'O perverse seducer, thou hast deceived all Israel, beginning from Galilee even unto Jerusalem here, with thy doctrine and false miracles: and now thinkest thou to flee the merited punishment that befitteth thee by feigning to be mad? As God liveth, thou shalt not escape it!' And having said this he commanded his servants to smite him with buffetings and kicks, so that his understanding might come back into his head. The derision which he then suffered at the hands of the high priest's servants is past belief. For they zealously devised new inventions to give pleasure to the council. So they attired him as a juggler, and so treated him with hands and feet that it would have moved the very Canaanites to compassion if they had beheld that sight. But the chief priests and Pharisees and elders of the people had their hearts so exasperated against Jesus that, believing Judas to be really Jesus, they took delight in seeing him so treated. Afterwards they led him bound to the governor, who secretly loved Jesus. Whereupon he, thinking that Judas was Jesus, made him enter into his chamber, and spake to him, asking him for what cause the chief priests and the people had given him into his hands. Judas answered: 'If I tell thee the truth, thou wilt not believe me; for perchance thou art deceived as the (chief) priests and the Pharisees are deceived.' The governor answered (thinking that he wished to speak concerning the Law): 'Now knowest thou not that I am not a Jew? But the (chief) priests and the elders of thy people have given thee into my hand; wherefore tell us the truth, that I may do what is just. For I have power to set thee free and to put thee to death.' Judas answered: 'Sir, believe me, if thou put me to death, thou shalt do a great wrong, for thou shalt slay an innocent person; seeing that I am Judas Iscariot, and not Jesus, who is a magician, and by his art hath so transformed me.' When he heard this the governor marvelled greatly, so that he sought to set him at liberty. The governor therefore went out, and smiling said: 'In the one case, at least, this man is not worthy of death, but rather of compassion.' 'This man saith,' said the governor, 'that he is not Jesus, but a certain Judas who guided the soldiery to take Jesus, and he saith that Jesus the Galilean hath by his art magic so transformed him. Wherefore, if this be true, it were a great wrong to kill him, seeing that he were innocent. But if he is Jesus and denieth that he is, assuredly he hath lost his understanding, and it were impious to slay a madman.' Then the chief priests and elders of the people, with the scribes and Pharisees, cried out with shouts, saying: 'He is Jesus of Nazareth, for we know him; for if he were not the malefactor we would not have given him into thy hands. Nor is he mad; but rather malignant, for with this device he seeketh to escape from our hands, and the sedition that he would stir up if he should escape would be worse than the former.' Pilate (for such was the governor's name), in order to rid himself of such a case, said: 'He is a Galilean, and Herod is King of Galilee: wherefore it pertaineth not to me to judge such a case, so take ye him to Herod.' Accordingly they led Judas to Herod, who of a long time had desired that Jesus should go to his house. But Jesus had never been willing to go to his house, because Herod was a Gentile, and adored the false and lying gods, living after the manner of unclean Gentiles. Now when Judas had been led thither, Herod asked him of many things, to which Judas gave answers not to the purpose, denying that he was Jesus. Then Herod mocked him, with all his court, and caused him to be clad in white as the fools are clad, and sent him back to Pilate, saying to him, 'Do not fail in justice to the people of Israel!' And this Herod wrote, because the chief priests and scribes and the Pharisees had given him a good quantity of money. The governor having heard that this was so from a servant of Herod, in order that he also might gain some money, feigned that he desired to set Judas at liberty. Whereupon he caused him to be scourged by his slaves, who were paid by the scribes to slay him under the scourges. But God, who had decreed the issue, reserved Judas for the cross, in order that he might suffer that horrible death to which he had sold another. He did not suffer Judas to die under the scourges, notwithstanding that the soldiers scourged him so grievously that his body rained blood. Thereupon, in mockery they clad him in an old purple garment, saying: 'It is fitting to our new king to clothe him and crown him': so they gathered thorns and made a crown, like those of gold and precious stones which kings wear on their heads. And this crown of thorns they placed upon Judas' head, putting in his hand a reed for scepter, and they made him sit in a high place. And the soldiers came before him, bowing down in mockery, saluting him as King of the Jews. And they held out their hands to receive gifts, such as new kings are accustomed to give; and receiving nothing they smote Judas, saying: 'Now, how art thou crowned, foolish king, if thou wilt not pay thy soldiers and servants?' The chief priests with the scribes and Pharisees, seeing that Judas died not by the scourges, and fearing lest Pilate should set him at liberty, made a gift of money to the governor, who having received it gave Judas to the scribes and Pharisees as guilty unto death. Whereupon they condemned two robbers with him to the death of the cross. So they led him to Mount Calvary, where they used to hang malefactors, and there they crucified him naked, for the greater ignominy. Judas truly did nothing else but cry out: 'God, why hast thou forsaken me, seeing the malefactor hath escaped and I die unjustly?' Verily I say that the voice, the face, and the person of Judas were so like to Jesus, that his disciples and believers entirely believed that he was Jesus; wherefore some departed from the doctrine of Jesus, believing that Jesus had been a false prophet, and that by art magic he had done the miracles which he did: for Jesus had said that he should not die till near the end of the world; for that at that time he should be taken away from the world. But they that stood firm in the doctrine of Jesus were so encompassed with sorrow, seeing him die who was entirely like to Jesus, that they remembered not what Jesus had said. And so in company with the mother of Jesus they went to Mount Calvary, and were not only present at the death of Judas, weeping continually, but by means of Nicodemus and Joseph of Abarimathia they obtained from the governor the body of Judas to bury it. Whereupon, they took him down from the cross with such weeping as assuredly no one would believe, and buried him in the new sepulchre of Joseph; having wrapped him up in an hundred pounds of precious ointments.
I guess the love your enemies bit went out the window with this version of the story, lol. In these instances, the body swapping of Jesus is to rid him of the “Son of God” position and just present him as a prophet and to denounce followers of Christianity. So I understand the reasoning of it. What about the Gnostic stories? First up is the “Apocalypse of Peter”:
When he had said those things, I saw him seemingly being seized by them. And I said "What do I see, O Lord? That it is you yourself whom they take, and that you are grasping me? Or who is this one, glad and laughing on the tree? And is it another one whose feet and hands they are striking?" The Savior said to me, "He whom you saw on the tree, glad and laughing, this is the living Jesus. But this one into whose hands and feet they drive the nails is his fleshly part, which is the substitute being put to shame, the one who came into being in his likeness. But look at him and me." But I, when I had looked, said "Lord, no one is looking at you. Let us flee this place." But he said to me, "I have told you, 'Leave the blind alone!'. And you, see how they do not know what they are saying. For the son of their glory instead of my servant, they have put to shame." And I saw someone about to approach us resembling him, even him who was laughing on the tree. And he was <filled> with a Holy Spirit, and he is the Savior. And there was a great, ineffable light around them, and the multitude of ineffable and invisible angels blessing them. And when I looked at him, the one who gives praise was revealed.
And from the “Second Treatise of Seth”:
For Adonaios knows me because of hope. And I was in the mouths of lions. And the plan which they devised about me to release their Error and their senselessness - I did not succumb to them as they had planned. But I was not afflicted at all. Those who were there punished me. And I did not die in reality but in appearance, lest I be put to shame by them because these are my kinsfolk. I removed the shame from me and I did not become fainthearted in the face of what happened to me at their hands. I was about to succumb to fear, and I <suffered> according to their sight and thought, in order that they may never find any word to speak about them. For my death, which they think happened, (happened) to them in their error and blindness, since they nailed their man unto their death. For their Ennoias did not see me, for they were deaf and blind. But in doing these things, they condemn themselves. Yes, they saw me; they punished me. It was another, their father, who drank the gall and the vinegar; it was not I. They struck me with the reed; it was another, Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder. I was another upon Whom they placed the crown of thorns. But I was rejoicing in the height over all the wealth of the archons and the offspring of their error, of their empty glory. And I was laughing at their ignorance. And I subjected all their powers. For as I came downward, no one saw me. For I was altering my shapes, changing from form to form. And therefore, when I was at their gates, I assumed their likeness. For I passed them by quietly, and I was viewing the places, and I was not afraid nor ashamed, for I was undefiled. And I was speaking with them, mingling with them through those who are mine, and trampling on those who are harsh to them with zeal, and quenching the flame. And I was doing all these things because of my desire to accomplish what I desired by the will of the Father above.
The Gnostic stories are used as an allegory (ignorance of the blind) and that Jesus is more than just flesh, but rather spirit. Now various groups had different opinions on the crucifixion, so this does not apply to all, just within these particular texts.
Below is a meme I found regarding the Apocalypse of Peter that I thought was very well done and gets the point across:
I must say though, it does some kind of messed up that Jesus would laugh when another is being crucified in his place. I get why there is laughter and it’s not really directed at the person being crucified, but……