Jesus of Nazareth vs. Jesus of Neverland

Critics of Islam tend to avoid the main question about Islam in favor of secondary questions. The main question is, “Did Muhammad actually receive a revelation from God?” The secondary questions are: “Is Islam a religion of peace?” “Is Islam compatible with modern values?” “Are women treated fairly under Sharia law?” And so on. These are useful questions to ask if you are trying to wake up your fellow citizens to the utterly alien nature of Islam, but they won’t carry much weight with a believing Muslim. Warlike religion? Incompatible with modern values? So what? If that’s the way God wants it, who are we to question his ways?

That’s why the main question needs to be raised. Did God deliver a message to Muhammad, or did Muhammad make it up? It’s a good bet that most Americans believe the latter but are too polite or too prudent to say so. We keep our thoughts on the matter to ourselves, not just out of fear of offending Muslims, but also because the cult of cultural relativism requires us to give lip service to the proposition that all religions are equally valid. Nevertheless, the question about the authenticity of Muhammad’s claim is still the heart of the matter. As long as Muslims believe that Muhammad received his marching orders from God, the threat of Islamic jihad will continue to grow. But take that away and you take away the rationale for Islam’s war against the world.

So it makes sense to lay out the case that Muhammad’s claims are highly improbable. One way to do this is to apply to Islam the same tests of critical reason and historical evidence that we apply to the Christian revelation. Over the centuries, both Christian critics and Christian scholars have subjected the Gospel revelations to a rigorous examination. While this had the effect of shaking up some people’s faith, it also had the effect of strengthening the rational/factual case for Christianity. But when this method of inquiry is applied to the Islamic revelation things fall apart.

For example, take the depiction of Jesus in the Koran and compare it to the depiction of Jesus in the Gospels. Since they flatly contradict each other on essential matters, normal curiosity invites the comparison. Which is the real Jesus? Or better, which of the two accounts seems to describe an actual historical figure?

Jesus is considered a great prophet by Muslims, but one has to wonder why, seeing as he has almost nothing to do or say in the pages of the Koran. He only speaks on six or seven occasions and then, very briefly, and primarily to deny that he ever claimed to be God. But then, the whole point of introducing Jesus into the Koran is to discredit the Christian claim that he is divine—a claim that, if true, invalidates Muhammad’s entire mission. Thus, whenever Jesus is mentioned in the Koran, it’s almost always for the purpose of whittling him down in size. For example, “He was but a mortal whom we favoured and made an example to the Israelites.” (43: 60).

The Jesus of the Koran appears mainly in the role of a counter to the Jesus of the Gospels, but “appears” is really too strong a word. This Jesus doesn’t attend weddings, or go fishing with his disciples, or gather children around him. He has practically no human interactions, and what he has to say is formulaic and repetitive. He is more like a disembodied voice than a person. And, to put it bluntly, he lacks personality. The Jesus of the New Testament is a recognizable human being; the Jesus of the Koran is more like a phantom. When did he carry out his ministry? There’s not a hint. Where did he live? Again, there’s no indication. Where was he born? Under a palm tree. That’s about as specific as it gets in the Koran. Next to the unanswered questions about the Jesus of the Koran, President Obama’s problems over establishing his birthplace seem minor by comparison. In short, Muhammad’s Jesus is a nebulous figure. He seems to exist neither in time nor space. On the one hand you have Jesus of Nazareth, and on the other, someone who can best be described as Jesus of Neverland.

One thing you find in the Gospels which you don’t find in the Koran is a solid geographical and historical context. If the story of Christ was set in some mythical location, long before the age of recorded history, it would be easier to pass it off as…well, a myth. But the story takes place not in some vague neverland but in places that can still be visited today—Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem. Christ doesn’t just go to some indeterminate wedding feast, he goes to the wedding feast at Cana; in his parable about the good Samaritan, he mentions a specific road, the one going from Jerusalem to Jericho. He converses with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in the town of Sychar. He cures one man at the pool of Siloam, and another at the pool with five porticos. Sidon Tyre, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, the Mount of Olives, the Praetorium, Herod’s court, Golgotha—there is a specificity and facticity that you won’t find in mythology.

…Or in the Koran. Take, for example, the differing accounts of the crucifixion. Here is what the Koran has to say: “They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but they thought they did.” (4:157). Well, that’s an interesting take on the crucifixion. Tell us more. Dan Brown has a similar theory about the crucifixion but at least he concocts a story to support it. But inquiring minds who hope to gain some further insight in the Koran will be disappointed. “They did not kill him…but they thought they did?” Why did they think that? And who were “they”? Answer: Muhammad didn’t seem to know who “they” were. Or, if he did know, he didn’t want his followers to know that there existed an entirely different and far more detailed story of the life of Christ than the one he presents. In the Koran account there are no chief priests, no Sadducees, no crowds, no Romans, no Pilate, no Herod, no Peter, James, and John, no Golgotha, no Garden of Gethsemane, no upper room, no Jerusalem, no Nazareth, no Galilee, no preaching in the temple, no sermon on the mount, no calming of the tempest, no last supper, no trial before the Sanhedrin. For that matter, there’s no historical context, no geography, no kind of setting at all. Someone once said of Los Angeles that “there’s no there there.” That’s the feeling you get when you encounter Jesus in the Koran.

The Jesus of the Koran really does exist in a neverland. Set against the Gospel story with all its vivid detail and close attention to persons and events, the Koranic account is vague and vapid in the extreme. And amazingly brief. If you omit the repetitions, the whole of what the Koran has to say about Jesus can be fit on about two or three pages of Bible text. And of that, about half is devoted to denying that he was God’s son.

You don’t have to be a Christian to see that the New Testament looks much more like a historical document than the Koran. It’s curious when you think about it. With all of his audacious claims to be equal with God, the Jesus of the Gospels is far more believable than the Jesus of the Koran. Not only is it difficult to believe in the few claims that are made for Muhammad’s Jesus, it’s difficult to believe in his existence. There’s just no convincing detail.

Which is more likely the true account of Jesus? On the one hand, you have the Koran’s sketchy version; on the other you have a highly detailed narrative with numerous references to historical facts and geographical locations. Which is more believable? An account composed in Arabia some six hundred years after the life of Jesus, or one composed by his contemporaries with the help of numerous witnesses who were on the spot?

Whatever you may think of the claims of Christ, it’s hard not to believe in his existence. As Dinesh D’Souza puts it in What’s So Great about Christianity, “Do you believe in the existence of Socrates? Alexander the Great? Julius Caesar? If historicity is established by written records in multiple copies that date originally from near contemporaneous sources, there is far more proof for Christ’s existence than for any of theirs.” Historical reliability? F.E. Peters in his book Harvest of Hellinism writes that “the works that make up the New Testament were the most frequently copied and widely circulated books of antiquity.” What does that mean? It means that the New Testament survives in some 5,656 partial and complete manuscripts that were copied by hand. And that’s in Greek alone. If you add in the Latin-vulgate and other early versions, there are more than 25,000 manuscript copies of the New Testament in existence. How does that compare with other early histories? Well, there are seven copies of Pliny the younger’s Natural History, twenty copies of the Annals of Tacitus, and ten copies of Caesar’s Gallic Wars. Score: Christianity, 25,000, Caesar, 10. When you render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s in manuscript terms, it doesn’t seem to amount to much.

It’s a little more difficult to check up on the authenticity of the other Jesus, however, since there is no record of anyone in the ancient world declaring himself not to be the Son of God, while simultaneously heralding the coming of a prophet named “Muhammad.” Muslim apologists insist that there is an original, long-lost version of the Gospel which corroborates the account of Jesus that appears in the Koran. Christians, they say, tampered with the original, and manufactured a corrupted version which turned Jesus into God, and left Muhammad out of the story—in effect, the Muslim equivalent of the Da Vinci Code theory. But it’s a general rule of scholarship that you have to work with the records you have, not the hypothetical ones. And in the record we have—the Koran—Jesus seems more like a mythological person than a real one. Subjecting him to the historical/critical method of inquiry would be akin to subjecting Perseus or Achilles to the historical/critical method.

In the Koran, Jesus’ longest monologue is delivered from the cradle when he is only a few days old. In view of the air of unreality surrounding him, it’s worth asking again why he is in the Koran at all, or why he is accorded the status of a great prophet. The answer is that in claiming him as a Muslim prophet, Muhammad is giving Jesus a demotion, not a promotion. John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Muhammad preferred it the other way around. For him to increase, it was necessary that Jesus decrease.

So, although Jesus is supposed to be a great prophet, he does not really come across that way in the Koran. He comes across more like a shadowy government witness at a show trial who has been given some statements to memorize. At one point he is actually interrogated by God:

Then God will say: “Jesus, son of Mary, did you ever say to mankind: ‘Worship me and my mother as gods besides God?’”

“Glory be to You,” he will answer, “I could never have claimed what I have no right to. If I had ever said so, You would have surely known it…I told them only what you bade me.” (5:116-117)

Well, that settles it, then. You see, he never said it. Admits it himself.

Muhammad seems to have realized early on that if Christ is who Christians say he is—the Son of God and the fulfillment of all prophecy—then there is no need for another prophet and another revelation. In one sense, Muhammad’s handing of the Jesus problem is very clever: keep him in the narrative but demote him; and use him to rebut the Christians’ central beliefs. In another sense it was not so clever, because the stage-managed Jesus Muhammad presents is almost totally lacking in substance, and is clearly meant to be nothing more than a prop to the Prophet’s own claims. Christian scholars and Christian critics often talk about the search for the “historical Jesus.” Here’s a time-saving hint: don’t bother looking for him in the Koran.

William Kilpatrick’s articles have appeared in FrontPage Magazine, First Things, Catholic World Report, National Catholic Register, Jihad Watch, World, and Investor’s Business Daily.

  • c4urself

    I think Muhammad was probably a schizophrenic.

    As with many schizophrenics, the disease manifests itself with illusions of grandeur. Accompanied by voices and regularly visual hallucinations. This type of disease can be very difficult to diagnose, but it is common for the subject to appear to be in a trance as the voices and visions manifest.

    Historically, it is said that Muhammad retired to a cave where he "went into a trance" and saw and heard these illusions, then, being an illiterate, he had these things written down by his wife (wives). Muhammad was in fact an illiterate, and very likely a psychotic.

    Did he ever perform anything to prove himself in any way to be a true follower of God or to possess any grand knowledge, insight or wisdom? No, he melded together portions of other religions to form his own following. Some of the words in his Koran are absolute, direct writings from other ancient religious texts. What a nutsack this guy was! He reminds me of the President of the USA, just a big mouthed know-it-all, narcissist trying to make a name for himself.

    If Muhammad and Allah want a Holy War, I say that though it is regrettable, it has been done before. That was done with significant positive results as the Muslim religion was near wiped out. Unfortunately, the Muslims never seem to learn. They will ask for war against the world again. They will likely get what they ask for once Western civilizations wake up to the truth and understand they are already knee dip in $hit with these rag-headed buttwipes.

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  • David

    Muhammed is a likely to have made up the Koran as Paul is to have made up much of what is taken as the word of God in the Bible. And Paul has about as much legitimacy as the exiled elite of Judah did when they pieced together bits and pieces of religious writing and political propaganda to create the Torah in Babylon prior to their return to Jerusalem to rule over a puppet state of the Persian empire. My point is, people have written things down to feel closer to God for thousands of years, and although they may sometimes hit upon deeper truths, we would be better off if we didn't take any of it too seriously. If there is a God, he / she / it is undoubtedly to great to fit into the pages of some dusty old book.

  • Asma

    Terrorists have no religion. They are a misguided people who are sure to end in Hell.
    I am sure you are wise enough to see that I am not led by demons of hate and have nothing but love and more love for all of you.
    I am sure you know it in your heart that Muslims are emotional about Prophet Muhammad PBUH just as Christians and Jewish people are to Jesus PBUH and Moses PBUH respectively. But as you can witness for yourself that we have only positive emotions towards all Prophets PBUT where as the other people of the book hold negative emotions towards prophets other than their own so much so that they cannot stop themselves from hurling verbal abuse at prophet of Islam PBUH . I wonder what would Prophet Jesus PBUH say to his followers here,were he to witness this behaviour. may God bless you with truth and truth alone.

  • Asma

    No Reverend ,I don't agree with you there. I was merely pointing out that people on this forum make false accusations against Islam and prophet Muhammad PBUH. I don't mind people like you saying that they don't consider prophet Muhammad SA (PBUH) as a true prophet, but many Christians and non Muslims use foul language for him accusing him for all sort of vile things without knowing true facts. They also have tried to humiliate me for being a Muslim,so I was saying that what would be the reaction of Jesus PBUH if he were to see how his followers don't follow his teachings.I was also pointing out to you that we Muslims are taught by our prophet PBUH to show respect to all religions and prophets while the Christians don't have such values as is clearly seen on this forum. I am sure Jesus will prefer me to them.
    You are a priest and I ask you what are the fruits of those who practice Christianity?
    What are 160000 good Christian American soldiers doing in Iraq? What did the good Christians Serbs do in Bosnia,killing 13000 innocent Muslims? What did good Christian Hitler do? What did the good Christians do when they went to colonise America and Australia wiping out natives. Go back to any year ,decade,century or millennium and tell me when Muslims killed more Christians, Jews or any other non Muslims than vice versa. In last ten years of this century at least half a million Muslims have been killed by Jesus loving Christians In Iraq and Afghanistan.
    I will not say that Jesus PBUH was not a true prophet because Christians are practising death, destruction and murder. The Prophet Jesus PBUH taught his people all the good things,but if some of his followers chose to bring destruction to Muslims ,Red Indians, Aborigines or other non Christians, its no reflection on him.

  • Tired,ReadyforBattle

    It's not for any human to worship or obey Prophets , it's for you to intensely question everyting they say and do . If anything they say or do , doesn't preserve freedom and life , and says to harm others , they will not be true prophets . If you don't , you have forfeited your free will , and rejected the premise of life as God intended .

    Your anger is no different than anyone elses. Search your Soul , ignore mandates by religions , and listen for God. You will know when you're there….

  • Asma

    PBUH stands for peace be upon him.

  • Asma

    Reverend I am sorry to point out that I merely said that 99% of around 1.66 billion Muslims including myself condemn terrorist attacks in London,New York and Madrid. I did not say that 1.66 Billion Muslims are hard core terrorists. Islam promotes peace and harmony.
    I agree whole heartedly with you about the teachings mentioned by you of Jesus PBUH. I as a Muslim am taught the same things by my religion.
    You say Jihadis are not fighting a conventional war, I agree with you.I will politely point out to you that the drone attacks in sovereign borders of another country is not conventional war either.Two wrongs don't make one right.
    If you read my comment carefully,you will admit that I used the word Uniformed and not uninformed.
    Surely reverend,the world has little to hope for if men of God like you try to justify the killing of half a million Muslims in cold blood in a decade as collateral damage .
    I agree with you that suicide bombing of innocent people is a cowardly act.
    In my humble opinion,the USA has no justification for either invading or staying in these countries.
    I don't think Iraq was ever in terrorist control.The sad invasion of Iraq by USA was based on a wrong assumption that Iraq had chemical weapons of warfare which have deluded them so far as they were never there in the first place. Before USA's ,invasion of Iraq,Iraq was a developed country with an excellent systems for health and education .
    In Afghanistan the Jihadis are the same people who were trained by the United states and Pakistan to fight the Russians when they occupied Afghanistan. The Jihadis are a direct result of wrong policies of USA.
    I will with regret not agree with you when you imply that USA wants to bring Jeffersonian type of freedom to these third world countries. The USA has supported and aided dictators or distorted democracies for its own gain in many of these countries.

  • Asma

    I find God through the teachings of the most blessed prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who has taught me to believe in the oneness of God.
    If freedom means drinking alcohol,gambling,indulging in sex out of wedlock, legitimizing homosexuality,then I don't want such freedom.
    As a Muslim I have all the freedom I want as a human being and as a woman. I have searched my soul which tells me that the path I have chosen for myself is the right path, a path of peace , tranquillity and love.

  • Asma

    Reverend, If love and respect for Jesus(PBUH) is Christianity,then I consider myself more Christian than most Christians I see around me.
    I don't know enough about Christianity to enter into a theological argument with a Reverend. Besides the holy Quran expressly forbids its followers from saying unkind things about other religions.
    I only entered in this discussion because of your argument that false prophets are recognized by their fruits. With all respect Reverend, USA is probably the largest non catholic Christian country in the world and by your argument actions of the US Christians through their government should be a reflection on Christianity and Jesus(PBUH). May Allah forgive me for even suggesting it for a moment that a civilization founded upon genocide of the innocent people , built by slave labour,aspiring to world hegemony through killing millions in Vietnam,Cambodia,Laos,Iraq,Afghanistan,Pakistan and I could go on and on is a great proof of the false prophet hood of Jesus(PBUH).
    As for chemical weapons of mass destruction, The American inspectors eventually came out with the categoric admission that they were no weapons ,Chemical,biological or Nukes.
    9/11 was a criminal act, condemned by all at the time except a handful of nasty people. Those responsible for it could have been caught and punished appropriately. It was the US reaction of launching a war against Islam in the name of war on terror which led to a widespread anti American sentiment.You have asked me that what should the US have done,I ask you What should have the people of Iran done when USA shot down a passenger plane killing over 300 passengers in the Iranian airspace in 1988.? What should Afghanis have done when thousands of daisy cutters were rained on them. What should Pakistanis do when the US has killed 390 people, by drone attacks alone this year.
    I am sorry for saying these unpleasant things, as you cant control the atrocities of US government any more than I can control the jihad-is ,but it helps to see things in their proper perspective. If you attack and occupy other peoples' land,they will resist whether they are Red indians ,Iraqis or Afghanis.
    May you go in peace.