Two questions from a truth-seeking Muslim on the death of Jesus on the cross: DID He die on the cross, and, if so, WHY did He die on the cross?

[Draft: Oct 24/2009]

I am looking at the Christians are preparing for this Easter. I have known from friends that it was the real Christ on the Cross. But my Muslim friends and our [Muslim] teachings say that He was another man. I trust if the bible says then it is CHRIST

Actually in Muslim faith there are some different stories about crucifixion of Christ. But need to know the reality. Perhaps I need to re read it for better understanding...but it is very important for me to learn about why Christ was crucified. He was able to save himself from the enemies...why did he allow them to beat him and take him to the cross?


First of all, you are right to seek to find out what really happened, and you have also noted that there are many different versions and opinions about the death of Jesus. But as well shall see, the Qur’an actually is clear on the fact that Jesus died (historically), but is ambiguous on what exactly happened at the time of the crucifixion. In general, though, the Qur’an is quite clear in referring to the death of Jesus in several passages, and the one verse which gives rise to the controversy [4.156-157] is admittedly unclear (according to Muslim interpreters over the years).

Before we turn to the controversial passage, let’s look at an overview of what the Qur’an teaches in the other passages mentioning the death of Jesus:

"what does the Qur'an mean in its words about the death of Jesus? This question has been debated down the ages by Muslims and Christians.

The first reference is the Meccan sura 19,34/33: 'Peace is upon me the day of my birth, and the day of my death, and the day of my being raised up alive.'

"This verse speaks of the death of Jesus, which would seem to agree naturally with other verses on the true humanity of the Son of Mary. Being 'raised up alive' might refer to the Gospel story of the resurrection of Jesus. However, the interpretation must be taken along with the earlier verse 19,15, addressed to Zachariah about John the Baptist in virtually the same terms: ' Peace is upon him the day of his birth, and the day of his death, and the day of his being raised up alive.' Here the resurrection would be the general resurrection at the end of the world.

Because of the difficulty of reconciling this verse about Jesus with a later one (4,156/157) early Islam soon interpreted his death as to occur after his second coming. Baidawi said that after the future descent of Jesus he would remain for forty years and then die and be buried by Muslims. This burial, legend has long held, would be at Medina. It must be said that the Qur'an knows nothing of these elaborations. There is no futurity in the grammar of the Qur'an (19,34/33) to suggest a post-millennial death. The plain meaning seems to be his physical death at the end of his present human life on earth.

Next, in the Medinan verse 3,48/55 we read: '(Recall) when God said:" O Jesus, I am going to bring thy term to an end and raise thee to myself, and purify thee from those who have disbelieved; and I am going to set those who have followed thee above those who have disbelieved until the day of resurrection; then to me do ye return and I shall judge between you in regard to that in which ye have been differing".'

'Bring thy term to an end' or 'take thee to me* (mutawaffika) is taken to mean 'cause thee to die'. It is used of men dying (2,241/240), and of believers being called to God in the night, raised up to complete a stated term and returning to him. (6,60) This same verb is used again of Jesus in 5,117:' I was a witness over them as long as I remained amongst them, but when thou didst take me to thyself, it was thou who wert a watcher over them.' So that in two verses the return of Jesus to God is spoken of, and his death clearly in 19,34/33.

"The commentators have had trouble over these verses since they have let themselves be dominated by 4,156/157 which they assumed denied the crucifixion. So Baidawi gave five alternative meanings for 3,48/55: it could mean 'achieve the whole of thy term and tarry till thy appointed end', or 'take thee from the earth', or 'take thee to myself sleeping', or 'destroy in thee the lusts which hinder ascent to the world of spirits', or 'some say that God let him die for seven hours and then raised him to heaven'. This last was said to be held by Christians, but perhaps Baidawi felt that the passage compelled some kind of belief in an actual death. ...

In an important study of this question a modern [Muslim] writer says that in 3,48/55 'God is addressing Jesus and says, "Truly I am he who calls you to death" or "It is I who am causing you to die". The construction is the active participle with the pronoun (object) attached. It is followed by the active participle of the verb rafa' (raise) ... The same verb is used in sura 4,157 ... The deepest point arising from 3,48/55 is the question whether "I am causing you to die and I will receive you beyond death unto myself', may not well describe the actual experience of Jesus in the climax of the rejection that came to its fullness in the Cross. If so, then the passage relates, not to a still future and post-millennial death (which puts it right outside the immediate context of the Injil's events to which the present force of 3,48/55 seems to relate) but rather... in terms belonging to its inwardness as experienced by Jesus. In other words, the cross was both anticipated by Jesus and was an actual event in which he really died. The verse continues, ' I will ... purify thee [or 'clear thee'] from those who have disbelieved'. This vindication of Jesus would be that after his death God raised him to himself. ...” [WR:JIQ, 105-107]

Notice that 3, 48/55 points out that God caused Jesus to die—no matter what kind of death he died or would die (e.g. natural death, death in battle, death as martyr, death as persecuted prophet, crucifixion). No one actually has the power of death except God—regardless of who might ‘brag’ about killing someone. [Compare 3, 145: “No soul can ever die except by God’s leave and at a term appointed.”]

"Mention has been made of other Quranic verses which speak of the death of Jesus. 5,117: 'Take me to thyself or 'cause me to die' (tawaffaitani) has often been interpreted of Jesus dying at some future time, after his second coming. But on this Dr Mahmud Shaltut, late Rector of Al Azhar university, said, 'the expression tawaffaitani is entitled in this verse to bear the meaning of ordinary death . . . There is no way to interpret "death" as occurring after his return from heaven in the supposition that he is now alive in heaven, because the verse very clearly limits the connexion of Jesus to his connexion with his own people of his own day and the connexion is not with the people living at the time when he returns... All that the verses referring to this subject mean is that God promised Jesus that he would complete for him his life span and would raise him up to himself'" [WR:JIQ, 115]

Another Muslim author writes:

"Muslims in general deny the crucifixion although the Qur'an merely states: "They did not slay him, and neither did they crucify him, but it only seemed to them as if it had been so; ... nay God exalted him unto Himself and God is indeed almighty wise." Elsewhere the Qur'an says, "I am about to take you [Jesus] unto Myself and lift you toward Myself" (3.55). Those who argue that Jesus was indeed crucified say that this verse merely denies that "they" (i.e., the Jews) killed him and put paid to their boasts. The second verse is the basis for the notion that Jesus was lifted to God and that he never died a physical death. This may be difficult to reconcile with Q 5.117, where a conversation takes place between God and Jesus on the Day of Judgment and Jesus says to God: "Nothing did I tell them beyond what You ordered me [to say]: 'Worship God [who is] my Sustainer as well as your Sustainer. 'And I bore witness to what they did as long as I dwelt in their midst; But since you caused me to die, You have alone have been their keeper: For you are witness unto everything." [WR:QUG, 155]


“Christ's ascent to heaven has been mentioned twice in the Qur'an. Verse III.48 says: 'God says "O Jesus, I will cause you to die and will take you up to Myself." ' Again verse IV.157, after denying the crucifixion of Christ, says: 'God raised him up to Himself.' According to this quotation Jesus was raised up without dying, but the first quotation clearly makes his ascension follow death. In other words, the ascension is a resurrection from death, which was indeed foretold by Jesus himself when speaking in the cradle: 'Peace was on me on the day I was born; peace will be on me the day I die, and peace will be on me the day I shall be raised up again' (XIX.34). [WR:GCQ, 93-94]

Overall, the Qur’an is pretty clear that Jesus expected and experienced a real human death in history prior to the birth of Mohammed.

Muslim exegetes over the years have had a difficulty trying to understand these verses in light of their assumption that 4.156ff denied the crucifixion/death of Jesus—although the Qur’an doesn’t actually state that, as we shall see.

Two, both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars have noted that the controversial verse is shrouded in linguistic ambiguity.

The verse is precise in that it denies the boasting of the Messiah-rejecting Jews (in the passage) – that they personally, finally, and ultimately killed Jesus—but beyond this we cannot infer much.

Consider some statements on the subject:

“Chapter One was an attempt to correct the assertion of modern non-Muslim students of the Qur'an that the Book denies the crucifixion of Jesus. In a brief discussion of the semantics of 4:157-8, it was also suggested that the Qur'an itself is neutral on the subject of the historicity of the crucifixion and may indeed be read to affirm it.” [WR:CAQ, 143]

“Tobias Mayer (until recently lecturer in Islamic philosophy at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London) suggests that the Qur'anic reference to the crucifixion is in reality "highly ambiguous and does not necessarily contradict the Gospels in itself"..... He quotes some Muslim theologians, such as Wahb ibn Munabbih and Qasim ibn Ibrahim, who accepted the crucifixion at face value and he critiques the reliability of hadith usually offered in support of the "standard" interpretation of the end of Jesus' earthly life. According to Malek also, some Islamic scholars point out that the Qur'an does not say that Jesus was not killed, nor does it say that he was not crucified. What it does say is that the Jews did not kill or crucify him. The events of Calvary, by this reading of the Qur'an, are not necessarily to be denied.” [WR:KC, 345-346]

“This phrase [‘was counterfeited to them’] represents the single Qur'anic usage of this form of the root. As an example of hapax legomenon, it is among some of the most controversial locutions in exegesis." [WR:CAQ, 33]

But the best indication of the ambiguity in this version comes from the comments from the Muslim grammarians and from the wide variance in interpretations of the verse:

For example, those Muslim commentators who were more ‘grammatical’ in their analysis of the Quranic text itself were at odds with those who were dependent on extra-Quranic legends/traditions. They sometimes noted that the language of the Qur’an allowed alternate interpretations (than just simple ‘substitution’):

“YAHYA IBN ZIYAD AL-FARRA' (d. 207/822-3): Yahya ibn Ziyad al-Farra' was the Kufan author of one of the ear­liest extant works on Qur'anic sciences. His sobriquet is a pun. Thus he is remembered as one who 'skins' or rigorously analyses language, not a furrier. His expertise and reputation are con­firmed by the fact that he was appointed tutor to two sons of the Caliph al-Ma'mun (d. 218/833). His Ma 'amal-Qur 'an is mainly concerned with basic grammatical questions, much like the later work of the same title written a century later by al-Zajjaj… At 4:157, al-Farra' is concerned only to say that the pronomi­nal suffix ha' ending the verbal cluster ma qataluhu (the him of they did not kill him) refers to knowledge rather than to Jesus 'as when one says: "I knew it perfectly (qataltu 'ilman)" and it means "I knew it certainly" instead of [mere] opinion, verbal report or conjecture'. We shall see this grammatical explanation repeated or referred to several times in the following pages. The important thing here is that this influential scholar and exemplary Muslim did not find it necessary to include a statement either for or against the Christian belief in the historicity of the crucifixion. As such, his commentary is a good example of the proposition that one of the frequently unacknowledged factors at play in dis­cussions of this issue is that it is simply not as relevant as one might otherwise think. That al-Farra' also explicitly indicates that it is not Jesus whom the Qur'an is saying was not killed is also quite significant as a development in the history of the formal exegesis of the verse.” [WR:CAQ, 63f]

“ABU MUHAMMAD 'ABD ALLAH B. MUSLIM B. QUTAYBA AL-DlNAWARl (d. 276/889): As its name implies, Ibn Qutayba's Kitab tafsir gharib al-Qur'an deals with the difficult passages in the Qur'an. Given the varied interpretations of 4:157 circulating during the time of this author, it comes as no surprise that the verse is treated in this work. What is surprising, however, is that the 'strange' word chosen for comment is not shubbiha or rafa 'a, but yaqman. The entire explication runs as follows: THEY DID NOT KILL HIM/IT certainly (ma qataluhu yaqman) that is: the knowledge ('Urn) that they 'killed the knowledge' of him (lit.). [This means that they did not have absolute, certain knowledge, certain in the way that death is certain. 'Death' in Arabic poetry is known by the euphemism al-yaqm ('the [only thing which is] Certain').] The saying [taqawwuT], 'I killed him certainly (yaqman) and I killed him in knowledge ('ilman)' is a similar metaphor (isti 'am) used in connection [with discussions] of opinion (ra'y), hadlth, and kalam. Thus God says: they did not kill him/it certainly, that is, they were neither sure nor certain about it. The reason for that is that the killing of a thing is by way of vanquishing (qahr), and superiority (isti'la'), and total victory (ghalabd). Thus God is saying: 'They did not know about the killing of the Messiah with true knowledge, thoroughly comprehending the matter; rather it was CONJECTURE.’ This brief commentary makes it clear that the author considers it proper to understand that the Jews were not sure of what they had done. This is contrary to translations that read, 'They certainly did not kill him,' and should be considered an important development in the interpreta­tion of the verse. [WR:CAQ, 65f]

“AL-ZAJJAJ(d. 310/923): Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn al-Sari al-Zajjaj, a contemporary of al-Tabari, was a highly regarded grammarian, living and working for the most part in Baghdad. He was the author of several works on lexicography. In a work on the Qur'an he offers some inter­esting alternative and innovative approaches to the understanding of this verse, specifically a concern with grammar, something we have not seen previously.It is related in al-tafsir that when God wanted to raise Jesus to Himself and purify him from them, Jesus said to his companions: 'Who among you will accept to have my likeness cast upon them and thus be killed and crucified and enter the Garden?' One of the men answered: 'Me!' So his likeness was cast upon him and he was killed while God raised Jesus to Himself. And all of this is not impossible and I have no doubt that HE/IT APPEARED so TO THEM.As for His utterance: AND VERILY THOSE WHO DISAGREE ARE IN GRAVE DOUBT ABOUT IT. This means that those who disagree about his killing are unsure (doubting) because some of them claimed that he was a god and was thus not killed and some of them said that he was killed. Because of this they are doubters (shakkun). THEY HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE THEY FOLLOW ONLY CONJECTURE. This is an accusative of exception... The meaning (al-ma 'no) is they have no KNOWLEDGE, but they follow CONJECTURE. Some of them said: 'the ha' (i.e. the pronoun) refers to [their] knowledge. The meaning here is: "they did not kill their knowledge with certainty (ma qatalu 'ilmahum yaqlnan)" as one says: "I killed something with knowledge." The ta 'wil of this is: "I knew it with perfect knowledge ('ilman tamman)."' And some say: AND THEY DID NOT KILL HIM. The ha' refers to 'Isa, as [God] said: AND THEY DID NOT KILL HIM AND THEY DID NOT CRUCIFY HIM. And both of these readings are permitted. [WR:CAQ, 72f]

AL-ZAMAKHSHARI (d. 538/1144): Widely recognized as one of the great exegetes of his time and indeed of the entire Islamic exegetical tradition, al-Zamakhsharl occupies a unique position in the science of tafsir. … Muslims have generally held his work in high esteem, even those who do not share his doctrines. One of al-Zamakhshari's outstanding achievements is his employment of grammatical and linguistic analysis in dealing with the holy text. This is considered by some to be his most valuable contribu­tion to scholarship… Al-Zamakhsharl then relates the familiar story of how Jesus asked his disciples for a volunteer to be killed in his stead. God cast the likeness of Jesus upon a disciple who was subsequently crucified and killed. The exegete mentions that some believe this to have been Judas, who was substituted for Jesus and crucified as a pun­ishment for his betrayal.That this account is unsatisfactory for al-Zamakhshan is evident when he details the confusion of the witnesses of these events: 'Some said that Jesus was killed and crucified, and some said, "If that is Jesus, where is our companion, or if that is our companion, where is Jesus?" Some said he was raised to heaven and some said that the face is the face of Jesus, but the body is the body of our companion.' It is now that al-Zamakhshari begins the grammatical discus­sion that distinguishes his tafsir. A question, very simply posed, asks: to what subject does the verb shubbiha, as predicate, refer? We are already aware of the centrality of this word in the exege­sis of the verse, having seen the results of previous attempts at its explication in the substitution theories. Al-Zamakhshari states that if shubbiha has Jesus as its subject, then someone or some­thing is likened to him - not the other way around. Since this someone or something is never specified in the Qur'an, such a reading is impossible -presumably because one of the purposes of the Book is to instruct the faithful and an allusion to the unknown cannot be considered instructive. The only alternative then is to read shubbiha as referring to the most readily available object at hand, namely the prepositional phrase lahum. Thus the under­stood subject of the verb is the impersonal pronoun, i.e. 'It [the affair of the crucifixion] was made obscure to them.' The gloss - perhaps an illustration from common parlance - huyyila ilayhi is presented for shubbiha lahum. Thus, the following translation emerges: they killed him not nor did they crucify him, but THE AFFAIR WAS IMAGED SO TO THEM.It is certainly curious that no exegete before al-Zamakhshari expressed an interest in this question. We have seen an interest in grammar before with al-Zajj aj. But it is still true that no one before al-Zamakhshari went into such detail on grammatical problems in their tafsir. If it is 'the affair' that is rendered obscure and not Jesus who is 'made similar' to someone else or someone else who is 'made similar' to Jesus, then this makes room for a break with the substitution legend and its use in solving the linguistic prob­lem in the Qur'an. This amounts, in the event, to the 'grammati­cal acceptance' of the possibility of the Isma'ili tafsir presented earlier, quite apart from what this author may have thought of the Shi'a. In the case of that exegesis, what appeared to them was only the humanity (nasut) and not the divine eternality (lahui) of Jesus. [WR:CAQ, 101-3]

Indeed, some of the Muslim commentaries on this passage admit--at the end of their discussion of this verse—that only God knows what really happened!

So, at the end of Muhammad ibn Ishaq’s commentary on the various contradictory traditions about this verse (d. 150-1/767-8):

“The commentary ends judiciously with, ‘And God knows best how it really was.’” [footnote adds: ‘Assuming that its author here is sincere, and there is certainly no reason not to, it connotes, if not denotes, a certain critical attitude towards the accounts just cited.’) [WR:CAQ, 62]

And even the great al-Razi (d. 606/1209) ends with it:

“In addition to raising the now familiar point about 'miracles dur­ing the time of prophecy', al-Razi's discussion of 4:158 does not go to the same length or depth as his discussion of the preced­ing verse. He offers a list of varying traditions (without asanid), which call for the literal (i.e. dramatic) interpretation of Jesus being physically lifted to heaven. Al-Razi then adds that these are conflicting theories (wujuh) and that God knows best what happened. However, reference to his commentary on 3:55 does offer some clues as to what he might have thought about verse 4:158. [WR:CAQ, 104-106]

Three, there have been and are now strong/credible witnesses—both Muslim and non-Muslim—that the Qur’an itself does NOT deny the crucifixion of Jesus, but that many Muslim interpreters have assumed that it does. It is not the Qur’an itself that denies the crucifixion, but only the interpretation of the Qur’an—and those two are NOT the same in Islamic theology!

Consider some of the historical, modern, and summary statements to this effect:

“… modern Muslims have been less eager to read the Qur’anic text as denying the historicity of the crucifixion than other readers.” [WR:CAQ, 16]

"Muslims in general deny the crucifixion although the Qur'an merely states: "They did not slay him, and neither did they crucify him, but it only seemed to them as if it had been so; ... " [WR:QUG, 155]

“As we shall see below, John of Damascus's interpretation of the Qur'anic account [note: as being substitution] is, in fact, unjustifiable. The Qur'an itself only asserts that the Jews did not crucify Jesus. This is obviously different from saying that Jesus was not crucified. The point is that both John of Damascus and many Qur'an exegetes (Arabic mufassirun), though not the Qur'an, deny the crucifixion. The Qur'anic exegesis of verse 4:157 is by no means uniform; the interpretations range from an outright denial of the crucifixion of Jesus to a simple affirmation of the historicity of the event. The first and by far the most frequent interpretation is that God rescued Jesus from the crucifixion in a miraculous manner and that someone else was substituted for Jesus on the cross - literal Docetism. This explanation is based on various traditions that are sometimes demonized - e.g. by Ibn Kathlr - as intrusive to the Islamic tradition and are generally considered to fall into the category Isra 'iliyyat. This book will show that at a relatively late date a trend developed in tafsir that sought to free the verse from such perceived extra-Islamic influences.[WR:CAQ, 12]

“The point is that much tafsir, not the Qur’an, denies the crucifixion.” [WR:CAQ, 18f]

“The classical commentators generally began with the questionable premise that Q 4:157-9 contains an unambiguous denial of Jesus' death by crucifixion. They found confirmation of this in the existence of traditional reports about a look-alike substitute and hadiths about Jesus' future descent. Then they interpreted the other Qur'anic references to Jesus' death in the light of their understanding of this one passage. If, however, the other passages are examined without presupposition and Q 4:157-9 is then interpreted in the light of them, it can be read as a denial of the ultimate reality of Jesus' death rather than a categorical denial that he died. The traditional reports about the crucifixion of a look-alike substitute probably originated in circles in contact with Gnostic Christians. They may also owe something to early Shi'i speculation about the fate of the Imams.33 [WR:CAQ, 24]

Four. And the fact that the Qur’an is not clear on the subject can also be easily seen from the very wide range of Islamic interpretation of this verse—some denying the crucifixion and some affirming it.

“Similarly the complexity of the statements about the death of Jesus (Q 3:55; 4:157-9) has opened the way to a variety of opinions in the commentary literature. The most widely held opinion is that the Qur'an denies Jesus' death and that, therefore, he is alive and will return, undergoing death before being raised alive with the rest of creation on the day of judgement. Others hold that it is only the reality of the crucifixion that is denied, leaving open the possibility that Jesus died another kind of death, perhaps natural. Others still would interpret the verses in Q 4 as denying neither Jesus' death itself nor the reality of the crucifixion. They see there only an assertion that, even though Jesus died, the end result was that the Jews did not succeed in doing away with him, since God raised him up. Though they boasted of having done so 'it was only made to seem so to them' (Q,4:157).” [WR:CCQ, 89]

"However, there are signs of different opinions. One of the most outstanding modern writers, Dr. Kamel Hussein, says,' the idea of a substitute for Christ is a very crude way of explaining the Quranic text. They had to explain a lot to the masses. No cultured Muslim believes in this nowadays. The text is taken to mean that the Jews thought they killed Christ but God raised him unto him in a way we can leave unexplained among the several mysteries which we have taken for granted on faith alone.' … In fact, it must be made quite plain that the Qur'an itself does not say that Jesus suffered in a false body (in the Docetic fashion), nor does it say that a substitute was made so that somebody else suffered in his place. Any later addition to this is unjustifiable and a perversion of the text. All that 4,156/157 says is shubbiha la-hum, either 'he was counterfeited for them', or, better, 'it appeared to them as such'. [WR:JIQ, 112]

“Unlike Smith's work, which perceived a 'great unity' in the Muslim understanding of 'Islam', the following discussion will reveal a great divergence regarding the understanding by Muslims of the crucifixion in the Qur'an. [WR:CAQ, 22]

The most detailed listing of the historical comments on the 4:157 passage is [WR:CAQ]. Here is a summary listing of the various positions taken by Muslim exegetes over the centuries. I have colored in BLUE the ones who took a different position than the ‘popular’ view of substitution (or at least criticized the position without deciding on a position). One can see that there are representatives from almost ALL historical schools and doctrinal positions in Islam. There was and is no ‘uniform’ Muslim position on this matter.

Notice in the “Theory” column that the entries are:

  1. Substitution (somebody other than Jesus was crucified in his place—other than Him being crucified in the place of every OTHER human sinner in history!)

  2. Dual-spheres (the body of Jesus was crucified, but His soul was not killed—and was victorious as in Sura 2, 149/154 and 3,163/169)

  3. Knowledge (passage is not about Jesus being killed but about knowledge being killed, argued from grammar)

  4. Sovereignty (Jews may have killed Jesus—as opponents did to other great Prophets—but God was in control the whole time, and it was God who ‘caused to die’ His Prophet, as in 3,48/55)

  5. Critical/unsure of Substitution (argues that the position is incorrect or inadequately grounded in reliable tradition; sometimes argues that the substitution theme is a foreign element taken from Jews and Christians and useless in understanding the verse)

  6. Figurative Docetism (same as Dual-spheres)

And if you look at the entries which are ‘substitution’ views, you will find no two interpretations alike. Some portray Jesus as almost cowardly, trying to avoid death—by causing the death of an innocent disciple volunteer, a guilty Judas, various other figures of conjecture or legend, the enemies themselves (Jews or Pilate even!), or random bystanders. There is no consensus on whether it was miraculous (or simply a case of mistaken identity), on how many disciples there were, of who was actually confused, and even of what ‘raised up’ meant…

“Chapter Three described a trend in tafsir that sought to free the Qur'anic text from interpretations based on the extra-Islamic substitution legends. This variation from the more usual patterns of exegesis is one of the principal arguments of the conclusion offered in this book that Muslims have not all agreed on the interpretation of the verses in question. This trend of disagreement about the meaning of these verses was seen to have ended abruptly in the fourteenth century. Chapter Four witnessed to the persistence of modern exegetes in denying the crucifixion, even though many of them disclaimed the utility of early traditions for purposes of exegesis. [WR:CAQ, 143]

“This survey will show that while one particular exegetical stance has held sway over the centuries, Muslim scholars themselves - some of whom are among the most influential in Islamic intellectual history, were certainly divided as to the meaning and significance of these most important of Qur'anic words. [WR:CAQ, 11]

“As we have seen, Muslims themselves do not agree on how to go about interpreting the Qur'anic passages relating to the death of Jesus. … If sura 3:55 were considered on its own, it would rather depict Jesus' elevation to heaven after his death. This was the view of some Muslims in the first generation. The question, therefore, is whether it is possible to understand sura 4:157-159 in a way that fits the apparent meaning of sura 3:55.” [WR:PM, 137-138]

Historically, the early Shi’i community (and those influenced by it) upheld a historical crucifixion of Jesus:

“In what follows we will look at a few selected Isma'ili texts that offer an alternative understanding of Q. 4:157. Before proceeding directly to the Isma'ili authors, it is of interest to note that another representative of the Shi'i community, this time the Zaydis, also appears to have taught a seriously divergent understanding of Q 4:157. The influential scholar and jurist al-Qasim ibn Ibrahim al-Rassi (d. 246/860), founder of the Yemeni Zaydi legal madh-hab, upheld the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus. The precise details of his teaching on this topic are as yet unclear. But there seems to be no compelling reason to doubt that he understood the Qur'an as not denying that the historical Jesus was actually put on the cross and crucified. In one passage he explains and justifies the crucifixion of Jesus as a 'ransom to God'. This indicates that a study of the image and discussion of Jesus in specifically Zaydi literature is likely to yield interesting results … In an important article published in 1932, Louis Massignon brought attention to what might be thought a somewhat anomalous instance of the great 'renewer of religion' (mujaddid), Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, affirming the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus. The authorship of the particular work in which this affirmation occurs, al-Radd al-Jamil, has long been disputed, some prefer­ring to ascribe it to one of al-Ghazali's students, and has recently become once again the topic of vigorous scholarly debate. But there is still no completely compelling reason to fully doubt al-Ghazali's authorship. Even if there were, the important point in this context is that such a work could have been read by genera­tions of scholars as representing the views of al-Ghazali. This has not been sufficiently appreciated in scholarship on the 'Muslim Jesus'. [WR:CAQ, 77f]

ABU HATIM AL-RAZl (d. 322/933-4). This contemporary of al-Tabari was one of the most important early spokespersons for the Isma'ili intelligentsia. His debates with Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariyya al-Razi, 'Rhazes' (d. ca. 313/925 or 323/935), are a seminal chapter in the history of Islamic thought. … The problem of the crucifixion is encountered in the text when the Isma'ili philosopher responds to the great sceptic and physician, who in his Kitab makhariq al-anbiya ' had attacked the Qur'an precisely for denying the cru­cifixion and contradicting the unanimous view of both Christians and Jews (cf. above the argument of Ibn al-Rawandi) as a proof that revealed religion is untrustworthy and probably causes more problems than it solves. How, he asks rhetorically, can we be expected to honour such books as holy and revealed if they cannot agree on a simple matter of history and, though not stated explic­itly but in the context implied, one that is so pivotal in the respec­tive identities of their followers. It is of extreme interest here that Abu Hatim, the Isma'ili missionary, does not invoke the easily available doctrine of textual corruption - tahrif- to explain the difference. Rather, his response is based on a much more subtle and radical hermeneutic. He holds that the key to understand­ing the verse is in its sequel, 4:158: and they did not really (yaqina) kill him, god has raised him up to himself. This must be read in conjunction with two other important verses in which it is promised that martyrs do not die, but rather remain alive with God (Q. 2:149 and 3:169), inasmuch as Jesus died a martyr.He then points out to Rhazes that in fact both scriptures, the Qur'an and the Gospels, agree in letter and spirit. He refers to the Gospel of John (Bushra Yuhanna), which he quotes as 'the Messiah died in the body [bi-al-jasad], whereas he is alive in the spirit [bi-al-ruh]. So they thought that he who died in the body was delivered from sin.' He also quotes the Gospel of Luke (Bushra Luqa), where Jesus is quoted as follows: 'I say to you, oh my dear friends [awliya’i], do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot do more than that.' This is similar to his next quotation from the Gospel of Matthew (Bushra Mata): 'Do not fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul, and do fear the one who can [both] destroy the soul and cast the body into the fire [of hell].’ It is important to note that al-Razi also denies the crucifixion in another work. In that work al-Razi is arguing against another formidable Isma'ili scholar, al-Nasafi. While the exact details of this dispute need not detain us, it has been argued that al-Razi's apparent turnabout must be understood in the con­text of the particular ad hominem debate he is engaged in with his fellow Isma'ili disputant. It is also important to observe that this highlights the important fact that al-Nasafi himself believed in the historicity of the crucifixion. Unfortunately, the original work in which such an affirmation occurs is known only to us through quotation of select passages.Quite apart from some minor discrepancies in the exact word­ing and numbering of verses from the Gospels, Abu Hatim demon­strates that both the Qur'an and the Gospels agree that Jesus was crucified when the problematic phrase wa-lakin shubbiha lahum is properly understood. That which appeared to be crucified was precisely the body, what others will refer to as 'the human dimen­sion' (al-nasut), while the spirit or true reality of Jesus was 'raised' to his Lord. Thus, according to Abu Hatim, 'these passages from the Gospels are consistent with the Qur'an in terms of their actual meaning, since both the scriptures attest that Jesus could not be killed in the full sense, that is, in both body and soul'. [WR:CAQ, 81-83]

“AL-SIJISTANI (d. 360/971). Abu Ya'qub al-Sijistani was first and foremost a member of the Isma'ili underground mission - the da 'wa, as it is known in Arabic - that operated in the Iranian province of Khurasan and Sijistan during the tenth century. In the later part of his life, al-Sijistani was a supporter of the Fatimid imams whose centre was Cairo in the west. Both al-Sijistani and Abu Hatim al-Razi uphold the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus. Abu Hatim does, as we saw above, on the basis of a hermeneutic strategy. It is the same with al-Sijistani, except here the hermeneutic strategy employed is typological figuration. Al-Sijistani, in his Kitab al-yanabi', says that the truth of the present Qa'im was foretold and predicted through the ministry of Jesus:Jesus - may peace be upon him! - gave his community to know that the master of the resurrection (sahib al-qiyamah) is the one of whom he is the sign (al-ladhi huwa 'alamatu-hu)…. Thus the crucified one on the wood became an unveiled one (makshuf), although he was concealed before it (i.e., the crucifixion).’ Thus, Jesus' mission and status were made known to the people of his time primarily through the enormity of the crucifixion. Furthermore, his being crucified foreshadowed the Qa'im's mission of unveiling to all humanity the spiritual realities of the truths hidden in earlier religious law. [WR:CAQ, 84f]

The Brethren of Purity (10th century): The teachings of the Ikhwan al-Safa' on the problem of the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus are quite uncompromising. ‘So Jesus went the next day and appeared to the people and sum­moned them and preached to them until he was seized and taken to the king of the banu isra’il. The king ordered his crucifixion, so his nasut (physical reality) was crucified, and his hands were nailed to the wooden cross and he stayed crucified from morning till evening. And he asked for water but was given vinegar [to drink]. Then he was pierced with a lance and buried in a place near the cross while forty troops guarded the tomb. And all of this occurred in the presence of the disciples. When they saw him they knew that it was he certainly and that he had [not] com­manded them to differ about it. Then they gathered three days later in a place. And Jesus did appear to them and they saw that mark which was known by them. The news was spread among the banu isra'il that the Messiah was not killed. So the tomb was opened and the nasut was not found. Thus the troops differed among themselves and much idle chatter ensued, and the story was complicated.’” [WR:CAQ, 86]

But the later Twelver position sides with the non-crucifixion view:

“These texts demonstrate that there is a serious difference between the Sunni and Shi'i understanding of Qur'an 4:157 and that this difference may not be immediately apparent in a comparison of just the so-called classical works of tafsir. The negative view - that Jesus most certainly was not cru­cified - is upheld in Twelver Shi'i exegetical literature. Thus a certain doctrinal rapprochement is achieved between the classical sources of Sunni and Imami Shi'i scriptural commentary, per­mitting agreement on an important topic between Sunni Islam and Ja'fari or Imami Shi'ism. It is certainly accurate, from one point of view, to assert, with Busse, that 'Shi'i exegsis does not differ substantially from the Sunni.’ But what needs to be emphasized is that this agreement appears to have been achieved as the consummation of a process that had begun much earlier - one that would succeed in virtually silencing and marginal­izing the Isma'ili exegesis. [WR:CAQ, 87]

“For the Isma’ilis, Jesus was crucified; for the Twelvers, he was not.” [WR:CAQ, 97]

Five. In some cases, some Muslim authors seem to argue that Jesus could NOT have been killed (successfully and finally) by the Jewish enemies because God would not abandon one of His great prophets in this way. But this argument or assumption clearly contradicts other clear passages in the Qur’an which indicate the opposite.

“The Qur'an asserts both the rejection of Christ by man, and the power of God. Human sin in trying to destroy the Messiah is met by divine power, so that men could not hold to their victim. As Peter said on the day of Pentecost, 'it was not possible' that Jesus 'should be held' by death. (Acts 2,24) And it is said several times in the Qur'an that men 'kill the prophets wrongfully'. (3,20/21; 2,85/9154,154/155)” [WR:JIQ, 115]

“To the assertion that the denial of the crucifixion is in 'perfect agreement with the logic of the Kur'an', it need hardly be pointed out that while it may indeed be '"God's practice" ... to make faith triumph finally over the forces of evil and adversity', it is also obvious that this triumph may have a more mysterious character than Jesus' putative and chance escape - however exciting - from his misguided opponents. After all, Jesus the prophet, as demon­strated above, is among those in the Qur'an who are vulnerable to physical death, e.g. Muhammad (7:28), Moses (7:155) and Yahya (John the Baptist) (19:15). Moreover, a distinctive characteristic of Qur'anic prophethood is the unremitting opposition that greets those upon whom it is bestowed. That this opposition frequently ends in the murder of a prophet is well known (e.g. 2:61; 2:87; 2:91; 3:21; 3:183; 4:155[!]). [WR:CAQ, 41f]

“As was the case in the previous traditions, these two from Qatada make no attempt to identify or name the substitute. They both agree with Wahb's second account in that they portray Jesus as actively seeking to avoid crucifixion. Why such a portrayal would have been so popular is somewhat puzzling. There is evidence to suggest that al-Tabari himself thought such a thing unlikely, per­haps because it would have been beneath the dignity of a prophet, to flee death. Moreover, the many Qur'anic passages, already cited earlier, which laud death in the way of God (fi sabil Allah) would also seem to argue that such action was unbecoming a true Muslim; and Jesus, according to Islam, was a true Muslim. [WR:CAQ, p. 55]

Six. Several of the more savvy Muslim commentators over the centuries have noted that the substitution legend (i.e. somebody died in Jesus’ place on the Cross) was foreign to the Qur’an and that no reliable/trustworthy Muslim traditions to that effect existed. In fact, some even went so far as to denounce the substitution legends as borrowed from Jews or Christians (in the category of Isra ‘iliyyat). Thus there was no real data to support such a conjecture, and there was real data to suggest that it should NOT be adopted by Muslim believers.

“Having thus criticized the principle of the substitutionist theory, Razi reviews the various opinions without endorsing any of them. He saw these as only conjectures transmitted from one generation to the next; the accept­ance or rejection of any of them would be in itself a matter of opinion. Razi was more concerned with the understanding of Christ, the spirit of God and His Word. [A Muslim View of Christianity: Essays on Dialogue by Mahmoud Ayoub, Irfan Omar (ed). Orbis:2007, p. 164.]

“Substitution legends are not unique to Islam. Some early opponents of Christianity offered similar speculations. According to the second-century church father Frenacus (sic, for Irenaeus) , Basilides the gnostic taught that "at the Crucifixion He [Jesus] changed form with Simon of Cyrene who had carried the cross. The Jews mistaking Simon for Jesus nailed him to the cross. Jesus stood by deriding their error before ascending to heaven." In the third century A.D. Mani of Persia taught that the son of the widow of Nain whom Jesus raised from the dead was put to death in his place. According to another Manichaean tradition, the devil, who was trying to crucify Jesus, himself fell victim to the crucifixion. In the tenth century A.D. Photius wrote about the apocryphal book, The Travels of Paul, in which it was said that another was crucified in Jesus' place.23 [WR:AI, 280]

“Chapter Two made clear that the early exegetes were dependent upon sources other than the Qur'an for their interpretations. These sources were seen to be of either Jewish or Christian origin. Moreover, the early interpretations - often taking the form of substitution legends - were the source for the type of exegesis that denies that Jesus was crucified. Chapter Three described a trend in tafsir that sought to free the Qur'anic text from interpretations based on the extra-Islamic substitution legends. This variation from the more usual patterns of exegesis is one of the principal arguments of the conclusion offered in this book that Muslims have not all agreed on the interpretation of the verses in question. This trend of disagreement about the meaning of these verses was seen to have ended abruptly in the fourteenth century. [WR:CAQ, 143]

“The Qur'anic exegesis of verse 4:157 is by no means uniform; the interpretations range from an outright denial of the crucifixion of Jesus to a simple affirmation of the historicity of the event. The first and by far the most frequent interpretation is that God rescued Jesus from the crucifixion in a miraculous manner and that someone else was substituted for Jesus on the cross - literal Docetism. This explanation is based on various traditions that are sometimes demonized - e.g. by Ibn Kathir - as intrusive to the Islamic tradition and are generally considered to fall into the category Isra 'iliyyat. This book will show that at a relatively late date a trend developed in tafsir that sought to free the verse from such perceived extra-Islamic influences.[WR:CAQ, 12]

“Whatever the original impulse may have been, the substitu­tion legend has been a popular exegetical device ever since the second Islamic century. Kamel Hussein, author of City of Wrong, assesses the legend by saying, 'The idea of a substitute for Christ is a very crude way of explaining the Qur'anic text. The exegetes, we assume, had to explain a lot to the masses.’Hussein's statement is in line with the modern trend to minimize the value of traditions, especially of the Isra'iliyyat, for exegesis. We have also seen that some versions of the substitution legend fall into the category of Isra 'iliyyat inasmuch as they were related on the authority of Christians or Jews. [WR:CAQ, 148f]

[In fact, the earliest authority that some version of the substitution-theory is ascribed to is Ibn Abbas, but this ascription is not considered very trustworthy, because the tafsir associated with this name (Tanwir al-miqbas) is also associated with others—even the identically worded tafsir!

“The work which this study will examine as a test case for the establishment of criteria for dating, but which also has certain intrinsic interests, has seen a large variety of ascriptions. The text, often known as Tanwir al-miqbas min tafsir Ibn 'Abbas, is (1) found listed under Ibn 'Abbas in both Brockelmann and Sezgin; (2) listed under al-Kalbi in both Brockelmann and Sezgin, and studied as such in Wansbrough's Quranic Studies; (3) treated as the tafsir of al-Dinawari by myself in an article on al-Zuhri, where I first raised this issue of ascription and suggested simply that assigning this text to the fourth century made the most sense (a point I now wish to argue more fully and to justify; the relationship between the texts ascribed to al-Dinawari and al-Kalbi was also noted in Wansbrough's work); and (4) listed under al-Firuzabadi, once again in both Brockelmann and Sezgin. … Within the limits of textual transmission, all these texts, ascribed to these four people who lived between the first and the ninth hijri centuries, are identical; there can be no doubt that we have a case here of proliferation of ascription. … The prime fact to keep in mind in the following discussion is very simple: all the texts discussed here are, in essence, identical; only the ascription varies. [Andrew Rippin, The Qur’an and its Interpretive Tradition, Ashgate/Variorum:XV:39f]

“As mentioned above, traditions are of various kinds depending on the ultimate authority to which they are attributed. Research has been unable to produce any ahadith on the crucifixion of Jesus that go back to the Prophet (hadith nabawi), or of that category termed hadith qudsi, i.e. hadith that transmit the direct speech of God. The oldest authority for any tradition on the subject is Ibn 'Abbas. Aside from the tafsir attributed to him, later exegetes cite him as an authority for traditions about this verse. None of these agrees with the Tanwir al-miqbas. This would seem to support, at least partially, Rippin's analysis referred to above. [WR:CAQ, 47f]

This is part of the reason some of the Muslim exegetes cast doubt on the reliability of tradition (over against the force of grammar) in interpreting this verse.]

“WAHB IBN MUNABBIH (d. 114/732). By far the most popular versions of the substitution legend are related on the authority of Wahb. He is the Yemeni scholar of earliest times who is best known for his knowledge of Judaism and Christianity. Ground-breaking scholarship on him and his lit­erary legacy was published by Professor Khoury of Heidelberg. Wahb, highly regarded in many traditional learned circles, is the source of many traditions dealing with other biblical subjects and, in modern times especially (but not exclusively), much of his exegetical and biblical tradition has been anathematized as Isra'iliyyat. In light of this, it is somewhat ironic that the most influential traditions denying that Jesus was crucified are traced to his authority. As the author of several books on various subjects, Wahb acquired a reputation that varied from trustworthy to' auda­cious liar'. [WR:CAQ, p49f; liar cite is: Ahmad b. Muhammad ibn Khallikan]

Al-Maturidi objects to this story (i.e. substitution legend) because it has not been attested by a sufficient number of tradents or witnesses - it is kha-bar wahid, a single report as distinct from khabar mutawatir, a widely attested report transmitted by a variety of different chains of transmission. He further suggests that just because the report is considered mutawatir, one cannot discount that it might be a lie. He says that the confusion (tashbih) in wa-lakin shubbiha refers to the reports about the event rather than to the event itself. That is to say, the Jews did not want to admit that they could not find Jesus, and thus they falsely claimed to have killed him. [WR:CAQ, 74]

Seven. If the majority opinion of Muslims on the street today might be that of substitution, it was rejected by some of the more scholarly, pious, and influential Muslim writers down through the ages.

Consider this discussion by a modern Muslim author:

“The first to seriously question the substitutionist idea altogether was the famous commentator Abu'l Qasim al-Zamakhshari (d. 538/1143). His objec­tions are based only on grammatical considerations. Nevertheless, he pro­vides new arguments for many commentators after him. He begins by asking to what the verb shubbiba refers. If it is made to refer to Christ, then Christ is the one to whom something else is likened, not the one likened to some­thing else. The verb, however, cannot have as its subject the one killed, since he is never mentioned in the Qur'an. Thus it must refer to the preposition "to" (them), that is, "they were made to imagine it." It is possible also to make the verb shubbiha refer to the one slain, as in the clause, "We have surely killed the Christ, Jesus," that is, the one who was made to appear to them like Jesus, His famous disciple, Nasir al-Din al-Baydawi (d. 685/ 1286), repeats the same objections, and then adds, "or it may be that no one was killed; rather his being killed was falsely claimed and spread among men.” Baydawi does not, unfortunately, develop the idea further.

The thinker who really faced the theological and philosophical issue that the substitutionist interpretation implies was Fakr al-Din al-Razi (d. 6067 1209). Razi was not satisfied with repeating the views of his predecessors; rather, he subjected every view to the careful scrutiny of his sharp analytical mind. He begins by raising two questions. The first is the one raised by Zamakhshari, already discussed. The second and more important question concerns what would happen if it is supposed that the likeness of one man could be cast on another. Two problems would result. First, it would open the gate of sophistry so that no social norm such as marriage or ownership rights could be ascertained. Further, this would lead to doubt in historical tes­timony, that is, the ongoing transmission of historical reports (tawdtur). This historical transmission provides a sure source of knowledge, provided that tawdtur is based on concrete data. If, however, we allow the possibility of the occurrence of such confusion of identity, this would necessitate in the end doubt in all sacred laws (shara'i). Nor can it be argued that such an occur­rence is possible only during the ages of prophets. This is because although the age of prophetic miracles (mu'jizat) has ended, nonetheless the age of kardmdt (miracles as divine favors) has not, for miracle as divine favors are possible in every age. "In sum, the opening of such a gate necessitates doubt in tawdtur, and this in turn necessitates doubt in fundamentals (usul), and this in turn necessitates doubt in the prophethood of all prophets. This is a branch (far') necessitating doubt in fundamentals and must therefore be rejected.” … Having thus criticized the principle of the substitutionist theory, Razi reviews the various opinions without endorsing any of them. He saw these as only conjectures transmitted from one generation to the next; the accept­ance or rejection of any of them would be in itself a matter of opinion. Razi was more concerned with the understanding of Christ, the spirit of God and His Word. [A Muslim View of Christianity: Essays on Dialogue by Mahmoud Ayoub, Irfan Omar (ed). Orbis:2007, p. 163-164.]

But, for some reason, these critical and revered Muslim thinkers were all but ignored by later exegetes, when it can to this important verse:

“This review of al-Razi's tafsir has shown a refreshing attempt towards a new understanding of the problems presented in 4:157. Although he certainly stops short of actually affirming the usual Christian idea that Jesus was put on a cross and killed, al-Razi, in his criticism of the substitution legend, moves considerably towards such a position. In view of the enormous weight these tra­ditions exerted, it is remarkable that this Ash'arite Shafi'i scholar went as far as he did. Our brief examination seems to confirm that his tafsir is less a tafsir, in the classical sense, than it is a philo­sophical treatise. What is curious, however, is that his commen­tary on this verse has been virtually neglected by non-Muslims in their missionary efforts. Likewise it is puzzling that this tafsir has had so little influence on later Muslim exegetes. [WR:CAQ, 107]

IBN KATHlR (d. 774/1373). Abu al-Fida' Isma'il b. 'Umar ibn Kathlr was born near Basra in 701/1301. Educated in Damascus, he became an authority on the Shafi'i legal method and composed a universal history for which he is best known. His tafsir exhibits a strong reliance upon tradition and is considered by Muslims one of the most import­ant works in the genre. Although it is well known that this student of the influential revisionist-reformer Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728/1328) was concerned mainly with reiterating the traditional themes of religious science, it is surprising that his tafsir shows nothing of the rational approaches of al-Razi. Although it might appear infelicitous to mention such divergent temperaments in the same paragraph, it may be recalled that al-Razi carries the title of mujaddid for the sixth century, and was an exponent of the same legal school as Ibn Kathir. We also know that the tafsir of al-Zamakhshari had by this time acquired wide fame. It is therefore at least somewhat strange that an exegete writing in the fourteenth century could have avoided reference to such com­mentaries. Nonetheless, this is precisely the case with Ibn Kathir. Ibn Kathir's commentary is replete with vilification of the Jews, missing no opportunity to call down the curse of God on those who mocked and envied Jesus' ability to perform miracles (by God's will). [WR:CAQ, 110-111]

Eight. We have already noted, also, that the grammar of the controversial passage tends to argue against a substitutionist interpretation—as pointed out by outstanding Muslim exegetes of the past (as well as others).

“On the words shubbiha la-hum, this writer [E.E. Elder] comments that 'there is no mention of a substitute here, or anywhere else in the Koran. It seems obvious that it cannot refer to Jesus. It certainly must refer to something else that has been mentioned. Now the phrase could be translated, "it was made a resemblance to them", or more freely, "it was made a misunderstanding—a perplexity to them". In that case the subject understood would refer to his crucifixion. The verse could then be properly translated, "Yet they slew him not, and they crucified him not - but it (his crucifixion) was made a misunderstanding to them". His crucifixion perplexed them. They saw the event, but failed to appreciate its inner meaning. They even thought they had power over his life'. This would be the meaning of the words which follow in this verse: 'and those who differed about him were in doubt concerning him: no sure knowledge had they about him [or it], but followed only an opinion.' [WR:JIQ, 119-121]

As we have noted earlier from Muslim authorities, the grammar of the passage is fairly clear in asserting that (1) the ‘counterfeiting’ would have been from something onto Jesus—and not from Jesus onto a substitute [Al-Zamakhshari]; (2) that the ‘him’ of ‘they did not kill him’ has to refer to ‘knowledge’ and not to Jesus [Al-Farra, Al-Zajjaj]; and (3) that this means the phrase should be ‘the affair of the crucifixion was made obscure to them’ [Al-Zamakhshari, Ibn Qutayba]. All of these grammatical truths would subvert the substitutionist theory.

Nevertheless, English translations or interpretations can sometimes smuggle these extra-Qur’anic elements into the English text (against proper Islamic exegetical beliefs):

“Then, because of their breaking of their covenant; and their rejection of the Signs of Allah; and their seeking to slay the Prophets without cause; and their saying: Our hearts are wrapped up in covers; whereas Allah has sealed them up because of their disbelief, so that they believe but little; and their disbelief; and their uttering against Mary a grievous calumny; and their saying: We did kill the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah; whereas they slew him not, nor did they compass his death upon the cross, but he was made to appear to them like one crucified to death; and those who have differed in the matter of his having been taken down alive from the cross are certainly in a state of doubt concerning it, they have no definite knowledge about it, but only follow a conjecture; they certainly did not compass his death in the manner they allege; indeed, Allah exalted him to Himself; Allah is Mighty, Wise, and there is none among the People of the Book but will continue to believe till his death that Jesus died on the cross, and on the Day of Judgment Jesus shall bear witness against them; (4.156ff); [WR:Q5, Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, 1970.; notice the embellishments to the text, brought in from (perhaps) some strands of Muslim interpretive traditions.]

While other interpretations/translations faithfully preserve the inherent ambiguity in the text:

“157. And their saying: "We have killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary and the Messenger of Allah." They neither killed nor crucified him; but it was made to appear so unto them. Indeed, those who differ about him are in doubt about it. Their knowledge does not go beyond conjecture, and they did not kill him for certain; 158. Rather Allah raised him unto Him. Allah is Mighty and Wise. [WR:Q2, Cairo]

“157 and for their saying, 'We killed the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, the apostle of Allah' —though they did not kill him nor did they crucify him, but so it was made to appear to them. Indeed those who differ concerning him are surely in doubt about him: they do not have any knowledge of that beyond following conjectures, and certainly they did not kill him. 158 Rather Allah raised him up toward Himself, and Allah is all-mighty, all-wise. [WR:Q3, phrase-by-phrase]

But legends were added to the grammatical analysis of the verse—from outside the Qur’an:

“This rather dreary inventory of definitions was thought to be justified for obvious reasons. Although such an idea as 'substitu­tion' could possibly be implicated in the second definition of the active voice, this would seem to be quite a reach in the context of the dictionary meaning of the verb. Of course, the Qur'an existed before dictionaries and lexicons were compiled. It is, therefore, interesting to note that this active voice does appear in a Qur'anic variant (qira 'a) of 4:157. As in the case of the exegetes, the only synonym offered that is not derived from the same root is huyyila. However if, as Lane suggests, the passive voice is synonymous with certain uses of the Vth and Vlllth forms, then some indica­tion of its semantic range may be obtained by reference to extra-Qur'anic usage. The terms tashbih, mutashabihat and mushtabih are frequent technical terms in exegesis and other religious dis­cussions. The first can mean: comparison, allegory, simile, meta­phor, parable or anthropomorphization. The remaining words can mean: obscure, suspicious or doubtful. These latter are generally used when speaking of unclear Qur'anic passages that are some­times interpreted allegorically or metaphorically, or are explained by reference to heretofore unsignalled or extra-Qur'anic events. By this, I am not proposing a semantic leap. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to argue from these facts that the phrase shub-biha lahum should be translated as 'it was allegorized to them'. But the fact is that quite early in the history of the exegesis of this phrase the meaning of the verbal phrase was enhanced with a new layer of drama by way of the substitution legends. The main point here is to highlight the fact that the Qur'an neither supports nor rejects the substitution of another human being for Jesus in this context, being serenely indifferent to the entire question. [WR:CAQ, 35f]

Nine. In opposition to the substitution theory, some Muslim interpreters held what might be called the ‘Dualist’ position—that the Jews crucified the body of Jesus (but this did not stop Him from overcoming death through resurrection), but could not kill the soul of Jesus. This interpretation was popular among early Shi’ia and fits well with other passages/teachings of the Qur’an.

“Others take a different line and say that Jesus died indeed, but his death was only of the body, like that of all true servants of God and martyrs of Islam. Sura 2,149/154 says: 'Say not of those who may be killed in the way of God, "Dead"; nay, (they are) alive, only ye are not aware.' And 3,163/169 says: 'Count not those who have been killed in the way of God as dead, nay, alive with their Lord, provided for.' Others also say that what the Jews could not kill was the soul of Jesus. As it says in the Gospel, ' be not afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body'. (Matt. 10,28) [WR:JIQ, 113]

“The second way in which the term 'Docetic' may be used is as 'figurative Docetism'. Here the 'appearance' refers to the body of Jesus, which was certainly crucified, as distinct from his spiritual and eternal reality that, by its very nature, is invulnerable to suffering and death. It is this figurative Docetism that is evident in the story of the mystic/martyr hero Mansur ibn al-Hallaj (d. 309/922). According to none other than Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 505/1111), al-Hallaj, as he was being crucified in Baghdad for his various sins, uttered our problematic verse from the gibbet: 'They did not kill him and they did not crucify him, it only appeared so to them.' We are to understand from this account that al-Hallaj understood the verse to mean, in the case of both Jesus and himself, that it was only the human element and not the divine that was crucified. [WR:CAQ, 4]

“As we will see below in Chapter Three, the Isma'ili scholars of the tenth and eleventh centuries saw perfect harmony between this Qur'anic verse and the Gospels, as for example when Jesus instructed his followers to fear not the one who can kill the body but fear the one who can kill both the body and the soul. Thus it is equally possible to state that these Muslim exegetes may also have been 'correct'. Such a Docetic reading may, in fact, be behind the following brief Nusayri catechism: Question 75: Was Christ crucified and killed as the Christians say in their account of him? Answer: Know that there is no truth in that, for the Jews (Q. 4:157-8) 'did not slay him, neither crucified him, only a like­ness of that was shown to them ... But God raised him up to Him' as God says (Q. 3:169) 'Count not those who were slain in God's way as dead, but rather living with the Lord, by him provided.’ [WR:CAQ, 6]

One modern Muslim authority espouses this view, while pointing out that the substitution view makes little salvation-history sense:

“In Islam, on the authority of the Koran, Jesus has a mission as a rasul, a Prophet of the highest degree who brings a restatement of God's religion (3:46-60). It is said, too, that he did not die upon the cross: "They slew him not but it appeared so to them" (4:157). A crucifixion took place, but Jesus is alive in a principal state, outside the world and time: "But God took him up to Himself. God is ever Mighty, Wise." (4:158).

“It is in fact the common belief among Muslims that the crucifixion was an illusion, or that someone else was substituted for Jesus. This idea of the cru­cifixion as an appearance, called docetism, was found among Marcionites and in Manicheism. While popular belief cannot be held to account, the crucifixion as a pointless charade can hardly be meet to God's purpose, and two thousand years have not shown what God could have meant by such sleight of hand. Nor does the Koran warrant such a view. Rather, it is that the crucifixion of Jesus does not play a role in the Islamic perspective any more than does his superhuman origin, for sal­vation in Islam results from the recognition of the Absoluteness of God and not from a sacrificial mystery. Since Islam believes that Jesus will return at the end of time, his death was no more than ap­parent and did not, as in Christian belief, involve a resurrection after the event. In Islam it is the ab­solute, or higher, reality that takes precedence in the Koran over the appearances of this world, be they of life or of death. It is this verse about the state of martyrs which holds the key to under­standing "They slew him not": "Say not of those who are slain in God's way that they are dead; they are living but you perceive not" (2:154). Or: "Think not of those who are slain in the way of God that they are dead. Nay! they are living. With their Lord they have provision" (3:169).” [WR:NEI, s.v. “Jesus”]

Ten. Although the dualism approach fits the passage well, an alternative approach—perhaps called the their evil intention versus His sovereignty’ interpretation—seems to me to make the most sense of the passage and the other Qur’anic data, especially Sura 8:17.

In a nutshell, here is a statement of this position:

“To return to our theoretical reader, they could hold a view that, whoever the THEY might be, it is clear that it is God himself who determines such important matters as the fate of his Son. Thus, even if to all outward appearances THEY did actually KILL AND CRUCIFY Jesus, it was only through the mysterious working out of the will of God, what Muslims might refer to as divine permission (idhri). THEY ultimately had no agency in the matter: 'it only appeared so to them'. [WR:CAQ, 8]

"Sobhi Malek certainly takes up this last possibility. He examines the Qur'an's comment on the famous Battle of Badr when the few troops under Muhammad defeated an overwhelmingly large force of Meccans. "It was not you that killed them," declares Sura 8:17, "but God. And when you threw (a handful of dust at the enemy), it was not you, but it was God." Although the odds were greatly against Muhammad and his men, the Quraysh were defeated. How? By God's intention and involvement in the action. So, perhaps, with Sura 4:157, suggests Malek:

“What if this same interpretative principle were to be applied to the controversial verse of sura 4:157? In that case, the verse could read like this: "The Jews said, 'We killed Christ Jesus, son of Mary, the messenger of God.' Yet, it was not the Jews who acted at Calvary, it was God. They did not kill him nor did they crucify him, but it was made to appear to be so. Rather, it was God who prepared him for this very purpose; God sent him to die!

"Some such interpretation actually fits best with the three other Qur'anic statements that speak explicitly about Jesus' death, two of which place the death of Jesus before his resurrection or ascension... The Qur'an asserts, moreover, that some prophets are indeed wrongfully killed (Sura 4:155; 2:87). So why not Jesus? … Tobias Mayer (until recently lecturer in Islamic philosophy at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London) suggests that the Qur'anic reference to the crucifixion is in reality "highly ambiguous and does not necessarily contradict the Gospels in itself". ........ He quotes some Muslim theologians, such as Wahb ibn Munabbih and Qasim ibn Ibrahim, who accepted the crucifixion at face value and he critiques the reliability of hadith usually offered in support of the "standard" interpretation of the end of Jesus' earthly life. According to Malek also, some Islamic scholars point out that the Qur'an does not say that Jesus was not killed, nor does it say that he was not crucified. What it does say is that the Jews did not kill or crucify him. The events of Calvary, by this reading of the Qur'an, are not necessarily to be denied.” [WR:KC, 345-346]

And this position fits well with the Qur’anic witness:

“The third text [Sura 3:55] tells us how God foiled the Jews' plot against Jesus: And [the Jews] plotted and planned, and God too planned, and the best of planners is God. Then God said: 'Jesus, I am causing you to die and I will exalt you to Myself, vindicating you from the unbelievers over whom your followers will have the victory at My hands and then, at the resurrection, is the homecoming of you all. I will be the arbiter of all your disputes.' (3:54-55). Here again, in God's words to Jesus, we have the verb tawaffa, meaning 'to cause to die' or 'to take back'. It is followed by the verb rafa'a, meaning 'to lift up' or 'to exalt'. The order in which these verbs appear suggests that 'lifting up' means resurrection from death towards the One who causes people to die and rise again. If this is the meaning of the verse, then God's triumph over the Jews is his lifting Jesus to himself after raising him from the dead. [WR:PM, 131-132]

“An alternative interpretation. The question, therefore, is whether it is possible to understand sura 4:157-159 in a way that fits the apparent meaning of sura 3:55. … I believe there is a possible explanation that does justice to both texts. In sura 4:157, we have the statement, 'But they killed him not, nor did they crucify him'. The first verb used here is qatala. It denotes the action of causing someone to die violently ('to slay', 'to murder'). The second verb, salaba, expresses the act of crucifying someone, thus condemning him to a dreadful, shameful death, and making him appear an odious criminal. This is in line with what the Torah says: 'If a man guilty of a capital offence is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse' (Deut. 21:22-23; c£ Gal. 3:13). … The Jews wanted to subject Jesus to such a shameful death (cf. Matt. 27:20-23). But did they succeed? They certainly thought they did, but they were under an illusion, for God saved his servant, cleared his name of guilt and justified him by raising him from the dead and lifting him up to be with himself. This amazing act of divine intervention threw the Jews into confusion. Once they realized that the tomb was empty, they no longer knew if they had really killed Jesus. 'Assuredly, they did not kill him' because God had subsequently brought him back to life, vindicated his name and honoured him by raising him to himself. … If we accept this interpretation, the verb rafa'a, 'to lift up' (4:158), would refer to God raising Jesus from the dead as well as raising him to heaven. The thrust of this text about Jesus would in some way be similar to what we find in another Qur'anic text concerning those who die as martyrs. Just as God honoured Jesus by lifting him up to heaven, he honours the martyrs by bringing their souls to himself: 'Do not ever think of those who are killed in the cause of God as being dead — rather as living in the presence of their Lord and in His providence, rejoicing in the blessing God has brought them' (3:169-170). …Again I would stress that this alternative interpretation is only a possible interpretation. It does, however, allow us to interpret the verb tawaffa in sura 3:55 in its common usage as 'to cause to die'.” [WR:PM, 137-138]

“How then can the passage, 4,156/157, be interpreted? In a penetrating article on this subject some years ago, E. E. Elder remarked that' the verse does not say that Jesus was not killed, nor was he crucified. It merely states that they (the Jews) did not kill or crucify him. This is true historically, although the responsibility was theirs, the Roman soldiers actually did the work ... But there is another sense in which neither the Romans nor the Jews crucified Jesus. At Pilate's judgment, Jesus answered ..." Thou wouldst have no power against me, except it were given thee from above" .' (John 19,11) … The Jews thought they killed Christ, though ' they did not certainly kill him'. In fact, men could not kill the Messiah, only God could do that, in his mysterious purposes. There is a parallel to this interpretation in sura 8,17 when the Muslims were rejoicing over the victory at Badr and taking all the credit to themselves. They were sternly reminded that man can do nothing of himself, a doctrine that became deeply rooted in Islam. 'Ye did not kill them but God killed them, and when thou didst throw, it was not thou but God who threw.' [WR:JIQ, 119-121]

“Thus, even if our verse said that Jesus did not die, we would be compelled to ponder the more profound meaning such a statement demands. But it does not say this. The verse states that the Jews did not kill him. The semantic constitution of such a statement strongly points to a reading that would go well beyond the mundane realms of murder and physical death. By extension the same applies to the statement that they did not crucify him inasmuch as the 'him' can be understood, in light of the above quotation, as the eternal reality (khalid/khuld) of Jesus. This will be the thrust of certain 'dissident' Muslim interpretations of this verse by, for example, Abu Hatim al-Razi, al-Sijistani and the Ikhwan al-Saja'... [WR:CAQ, 41]

THEY DID NOT KILL HIM AND THEY DID NOT CRUCIFY HIM, BUT IT appeared so unto them, must be seen as parenthetic in support of the condemnation of kufr, which in this case is located in a few especially reprehensible actions of a group who esteemed them­selves jews. In this context it is no more than an apostrophe meant to underscore the vanity and futility of kufr. As we shall see, this is the way the Muslim specialists, the mufassirun, read it; and it is also the way it is understood by a few Western scholars of the Qur'an. This, of course, raises the question: If the Qur'an insists that the Jews did not really kill or crucify Jesus, then what is it about their actions, depicted in 4:157, that is being condemned? On this point there is near unanimity: they are being condemned for their boast that they were able to contravene the will of God by killing his prophet and messenger, Jesus the son of Mary. Thus the concerns of this verse come more sharply into focus. It is not really a discussion about the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus. [WR:CAQ, 27]

“Finally, it is quite clear that such a death, though seemingly the result of human perfidy, is really a work of less fallible design: No soul can ever die except by God's leave and at a term appointed. Whoso desireth the reward of the world, we bestow on him thereof; and whoso desireth the reward of the hereafter, we bestow on him thereof. we shall reward the thankful. (3:145)” [WR:CAQ, 41f]

I must comment here that the first time I read the Qur’an all the way through, my response to Q4.157 was to understand it as in the Battle Badr passage and this approach was confirmed (to me) in the Zabur, Psalm 44:

O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us, what deeds you performed in their days, in the days of old: 2 you with your own hand drove out the nations, but them you planted; you afflicted the peoples, but them you set free; 3 for not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm save them, but your right hand and your arm, and the light of your face, for you delighted in them.

This principle – that God can use good agents or bad agents to achieve His will – is constantly asserted through the pre-Qur’anic revelation.

One particularly vivid case of this featured in both the Bible and the Qur’an is the story of Joseph. Sura 12 describes how Joseph’s brothers acted treacherously against Joseph and sold him into slavery. God exalted Joseph in Egypt, however, and he was a source of great deliverance for his brothers and his family – and indeed the entire area.

But God used the betrayal of his brothers to get him to Egypt – to deliver a rescue for the area. God was not thwarted by the evil of Joseph’s brothers – He used that treachery for good:

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph should bear a grudge against us and pay us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? “And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. (Genesis 50:15).

A good summary of the above data would include the elements in these statements:

“The cumulative effect of the Quranic verses is strongly in favour of a real death, and a complete self-surrender of Jesus. ' From within the experience of Jesus, on every Quranic hypothesis, there was this drawing nigh unto death, this obedience of steadfastness going forward, in loyalty to vocation, into the storm-centre of Jerusalem's bigoted hostility . . . The Quranic Jesus is one whose words and person were rejected, with all the vehemence of Jewry's will to slay . . . Perhaps we have too long allowed the study of all this to be monopolized by anxious controversy over the sequel (which Heaven knows is urgent enough), yet obscuring all the while the immense Quranic implications antecedent to the Cross.' [WR:JIQ, 119-121]

And, from [WR:CAQ, 24]

“The variety of interpretation, whether by Muslim scholars or scholars from outside the Islamic religious tradition, encountered in the following pages may be arranged under three categories:

1. No one was crucified.

2. Jesus was crucified, but this happened only because God decided so; it was not a result of the plotting of the Jews.

3. A person other than Jesus was crucified. This is the view most widely held in the contemporary Muslim world.

In the main, the position put forth here agrees in part with the recent authoritative discussion found in the Encyclopedia of the Qur 'an:

‘[T]he Qur'anic teaching about Jesus' death is not entirely clear-cut. Three things, however, may be said with certainty. First, the Qur'an attaches no salvific importance to his death. Second, it does not mention his resurrection on the third day and has no need of it as proof of God's power to raise the dead. Third, although the Jews thought that they had killed Jesus, from God's viewpoint they did not kill or crucify him. Beyond this is the realm of speculation. The classical commentators generally began with the questionable premise that Q 4:157-9 contains an unambiguous denial of Jesus' death by crucifixion. They found confirmation of this in the existence of traditional reports about a look-alike substitute and hadiths about Jesus' future descent. Then they interpreted the other Qur'anic references to Jesus' death in the light of their understanding of this one passage. If, however, the other passages are examined without presupposition and Q 4:157-9 is then interpreted in the light of them, it can be read as a denial of the ultimate reality of Jesus' death rather than a categorical denial that he died. The traditional reports about the crucifixion of a look-alike substitute probably originated in circles in contact with Gnostic Christians. They may also owe something to early Shi'i speculation about the fate of the Imams.’

Finally, we should note one other important thing about this issue—that the Qur’an explicitly says that it agrees with prior revelation (e.g. the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament)—as Abu Hatim pointed out in the 4th Islamic century. This has important implications for how we understand both the Qur’anic passage and how we study the ‘why’ of the crucifixion of Jesus in the next part of this article.

Death and ascension. On the subject of Christ's death the Qur'an denies the Jews' claim to have killed him. It says: 'They did not kill him or crucify him but so it was made to appear to them .. . assuredly they did not kill him' (IV.156). The words 'so it was made to appear to them' have been taken by some commentators to mean that a person other than Christ (Judas, according to one conjecture) was given his appearance by God and was crucified in his stead. Here, it has been suggested, lies the explanation of verse III.47 which, after mentioning the Jews' refusal to recognise Jesus, says that they devised a stratagem, but God also devised a stratagem which was better than theirs. The Jews' stratagem is held to have been a plot to kill Jesus, while God's stratagem was to put another person in the place of Jesus, thus deluding the Jews into thinking that they had crucified him. … Verse IV. 156 presents a difficulty in respect of the concordance of the Qur'an with the Gospel. According to the four Gospels, Jesus was crucified and died on the cross. The event is described circumstantially and in terms which cannot be taken in any but the literal sense. The Qur'an on the other hand, refers to the crucifixion as an illusory appearance. This interpretation existed previously in the form of a doctrine adopted by certain heretical Christian sects, to which Rodwell's translation of the Qur'an refers in a footnote under verse IV.156. But a point arises in relation to the Qur'anic version: how can its dissent from the Gospels be reconciled with the clear recognition of the Gospel by the Qur'an as a book containing guidance and light? This point has not received in the commentaries the attention it deserves. [WR:GCQ, 93-94]

“The evidence that Jesus actually died physically on the cross is overwhelming. For one, the Old Testament predicted it (Isa. 53:5-10; Ps. 22:16; Dan. 9:26; Zech. 12:10), and Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah (Matt. 4:14; 5:17-18; 8:17; John 4:25-26; 5:39). Furthermore, Jesus announced it in advance over and over again (Matt. 12:40; 17:22-23; 20:18; Mark 10:45; John 2:19-20; John 10:10-11). Also, all the predictions of his resurrection (Ps. 16:10; Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2; John 2:19-21; Matt. 12:40; 17:22-23) are based on the fact that he would die. Only a dead body can be resurrected. [WR:AI, 274]


Ok, let’s try to summarize this data:

  1. The non-controversial Qur’anic references to the death of Christ are clear in affirming a historical death.

  2. Because of a perceived conflict with an interpretation of 4:157, these verses were re-interpreted (sometimes almost bizarrely).

  3. Muslim and non-Muslim interpreters know that God caused Jesus to die—no human agency could take credit for it.

  4. Muslim and non-Muslim scholars know that the passage is obscure and not clear enough to build such a ‘large’ doctrine on. (Some even add the phrase ‘And God knows best what happened’!)

  5. Scholarly exegetes who were closer/truer to the text tended to reject/criticize the substitution legends.

  6. It is frequently known that it is not the Qur’an that denies the historicity of the Cross, but rather some interpreters of the Qur’an who do so.

  7. The range of interpretation of the verse by Muslims over the years shows that ‘denial of the Cross’ was not an early/reliable and consensus tradition.

  8. Many (most?) modern Muslim scholars do not hold to the non-historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus.

  9. There were several equally plausible ways of understanding the verse, which fit with the other Qur’anic witnesses and the witness of the prior Books.

  10. The early Shi’i community explicitly accepted the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus.

  11. The Qur’an itself shows that the objection that “Prophets are protected by God from such deaths” is false.

  12. Several Muslim intellectuals had argued over the centuries that the substitution legends were illegitimate intrusions into the interpretation, mostly coming from the unreliable Isra ‘iliyyat (from both Jewish and Christian sources). And in some cases the alleged Islamic sources were too suspect themselves to be used for establishing proper Muslim belief.

  13. Several of the most learned, respected, and submitted Islamic scholars in history rejected or criticized the substitution view.

  14. The grammar of the controversial passage militates against it supporting a substitution theory.

  15. Some Muslim scholars/groups held (a few still hold) that Jesus was crucified, but that only His body died—His spirit was alive to God.

  16. But the understanding which makes the most sense out of the passage, the other passages on death, the repudiation of the boasts of the Jews in 4:157, their uncertainty about their success in overcoming/extinguishing a Prophet of God, and the wording about the Battle of Badr (and the passage in the Zabur 44 I cited) is that God caused Jesus to die at the hands of the Jewish enemies—for His own sovereign purposes—but that He cancelled that death and exalted/raised Jesus up to honored status as a Living Teacher, Prophet, and Judge who will come again at the end of time.

  17. This latter understanding agrees with the pre-Qur’anic revelation—in conformity to the claims of the Qur’an itself that it ‘confirms’ the Hebrew Bible and New Testament (as they existed at the time of Mohammed).

So, in this first part of the article, I think we can conclude that the Qur’an does not deny the historical crucifixion of Jesus, but only denies that his Jewish enemies were correct in their boasts to have thwarted God by executing/extinguishing His Messenger with finality. And that the Qur’an does attest to the historical death of the historical Jesus—and that it was special in the eyes of God.

The Qur’an does not discuss the meaning of that death—other than as a martyr before God, as with other prophets—and to understand the meaning of that death we have to look at the pre-Qur’anic revelation/messages of God (i.e. the Hebrew Bible and the Injil).

But we can say this about the Qur’anic portrayal of the death of Jesus—as a mark of His submission to God:

“The Quranic Jesus is one whose words and person were rejected, with all the vehemence of Jewry's will to slay . . . Perhaps we have too long allowed the study of all this to be monopolized by anxious controversy over the sequel (which Heaven knows is urgent enough), yet obscuring all the while the immense Quranic implications antecedent to the Cross.' … So in the Gospel the enemies of Jesus mocked him,' he saved others, himself he cannot save ... He trusted in God, let him deliver him'. (Matt. 27,43). The submission of Jesus to the will of God, 'even unto the death of the cross', is a major clue to the mystery of his suffering. The deep Semitic religious attitude of utter self-surrender to the will of God is here. Jesus is the 'abd, the servant, fully surrendered to God and so truly worshipping him. He is the servant of the servants of God, who 'came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many'. He is the Suffering Servant, 'despised and rejected of men'. He is the Son of Man, the Messiah, truly human, yet exalted, for ' God raised him to himself.” [WR:JIQ, 119-121]

And so now we look for statements in the pre-Qur’anic scriptures about the purpose and meaning of the death of Jesus…

On to Part Two

The Christian ThinkTank...[] (Reference Abbreviations)