Misha’al Ibn Abdullah and What Did Jesus Really Say (1996, 2001)

                                                 Ehteshaam Gulam

Around 1996, Misha’al Ibn Abdullah wrote a book called What Did Jesus Really Say? The book was popular among Muslims, several of my Muslim friends had it and it was widely being sold in ISNA and Muslim Book Shops. The book later got revised into a second edition in 2001 it was published again by IANA books, right where I live, in Michigan. I first read the book back in 2005 when I started to do serious research on Christianity, Islam and Atheism. I found in the Islamic section in my local libarary, the Canton Public Libarary. I have to say when I first read it, I loved it. I thought, that this Book had everything to refute Christianity and prove that Jesus is not God. And the author does do a good job in documenting that the New Testament Gospels don’t point to Jesus’s divinity. It’s a well known fact that Jesus never said “I am God” or Worship Me. As a matter of fact we have several statements in which Jesus refers to himself as a Prophet of God and as a ordinary man (a view consistent with Islam’s position on Jesus).
I started to re-read it in 2006, when I started to write my own book on Christianity and Islam.

And after a year and a half of research, I was shocked to come to the conclusion that Misha’al Ibn Abduallah got several things wrong in his book. The biggest problem with Misha’als book is his scholarship. Most of his scholarship is shaky at best and is pretty much outdated. As a matter of fact when I read the Da Vinci Code, I felt that most of Misha’al’s arguments came from that novel (although the Da Vinci Code was written in 2003)! I don’t think he did much independent research when citing various sources on Christianity. For example he claims that the early Christian church was Unitarian or Monotholic. That’s simply not true. There were many early Christian churches in the 1st century such as the Church of Rome, The Church of Galtia, the Church of Lyons, The church of Damascus, the Church of Corith, Antioch, Jerusalem, etc. How Misha’al made this historical mistake is something I am still wondering about. Other mistakes, faluts and omissions in his book include:

Misha’al doesn’t always tell the reader what his sources are.
Misha’als work is usually sloppy and it seems like he didn’t know how to do references correctly.
Misha’al quotes the Gospel of Barnabas. The problem is that it’s a very late piece of work and Muslims wrote most of it—not Christians.
Misha’al states that the Dead Sea Scrolls agree with the Gospel of Barnabas—instead of Jesus, Judas was put on the cross. The problem is that the Dead Sea Scrolls most likely weren’t talking about Judas—rather James (the brother of Jesus).
Misha’al makes the claim that Constantine picked out most of the books in the New Testament. This isn’t true. Although it is true that at the Council of Nicea (325 CE) steps were taken to canonize the New Testament, in no way did Constanine pick out the books that made it into the New Testament. Rather this was a very long process.
Misha’al claims the first Christians were unitiarians (not true) and that they were persecuted by Trinitarian Christians (who support the Trinity—again not true). Misha’al also got a lot of information about early Christian groups completely wrong.
The Early Christian Group Ebionites did not believe that Jesus is a prophet of God. Rather they believed that God is one and Jesus was a human who was the adopted son of God (which agrees with the Islamic position about Jesus). Misha’al makes the claim that Jesus was considered only a prophet by the Ebionites with no proof of this claim.
Misha’al makes the claim that there were many pagan gods who were exactly like Jesus, before Christianity. However the only Pre-Christian three pagan gods I know of who were like the Biblical Jesus (crucified, resurrected, and ascended) are Osrisis, Thracian god Zalmoxis, and the Sumerian goddess, Inanna. Richard Carrier documents the problems with saying that Christianity copied off Pagan Religions here.
Osama Abdullah (runner of answering-christianity.com) makes the same mistakes Misha’al makes—he doesn’t do proper research on his claims and is usually sloppy and inconsistent with his writings.
Misha’al at times doesn’t support his claims with hard facts.

This is not to say that there is nothing good in Misha’al’s book. There is some good stuff in it, like Textual problems with the New Testament Gospels, New Testament passages which disprove Jesus’s alleged divinity, etc. However the problems with the book is that its not supported by historical scholarship and Misha’al’s writing is kind of difficult to understand at times. Above are just some of the problems with Misha’als book. Inshallah (God Willing) in the future I will cover more.