According to the Koran Jesus was never crucified. Instead the Muslim argues that the early disciples were deceived and that Allah delivered Jesus. According to Sura 4:156-157:
“And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.”
As far as I know, no professional historian (from the radicals to the conservatives, and all those who fall in-between) doubts that Jesus was crucified, an event attested to at least in 11 independent sources and that is further supported by persuasive arguments (in terms of archaeology and several criterion of authenticity). This means that Muslim apologists, in order to protect their faith, must paddle against the current of professional scholarship on a historical fact that is obvious to all. And a historical fact that musters good evidence in its favour.
However, the difficulty intensifies when one considers the nature of the evidence. For example, early attestation in textual sources for alleged events of history is a prized possession for historians, as professor David Fisher explains that a “historian must not merely provide good relevant evidence but the best relevant evidence. And the best relevant evidence, all things being equal, is evidence which is most nearly immediate to the event itself” (1). Of course, the closer the testimony to the purported events the more likely it has its roots in historical fact. This considered, how does the Koran, which claims Jesus was never crucified, compare in earliness to our best historical evidence?
We must realize the earliness and abundance of our evidence for the crucifixion. The crucifixion is attested to in at least 11 independent sources, the Pre-Mark Passion Narrative, Mark, Q, John, Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter 2:24, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Josephus Flavius, & Cornelius Tacitus. Of these 11 sources three of them are very early & independently attested as in a creedal formula (1 Cor. 15:1-11), hypothetical Q, and Pre-Markan Passion Narrative. This data falls between just five years (1 Cor. 15: 3-8 creed) to 85 years (Tacitus). That is solid data if we compare dates and the number of sources to many other figures of history. Agnostic historian and Professor Bart Ehrman claims that “Historians prefer to have lots of written sources, not just one or two. The more, obviously the better. If there were only two or two sources you might suspect that the stories were made up. But if there are lots of sources-just as when there are lots of eyewitnesses to a car accident-then it is hard to claim that any of them just happened to make it up” (2). We have this kind of corroboration and evidence for Jesus’ crucifixion.
However, when we consider the testimony of the Koran one is expected to believe that a 7th century text some 500 to 600 years removed from the latest of the above mentioned sources gets it right, and that the early sources get it wrong. In other words, we are to favour the late Koran over our early New Testament writers, church fathers, and ancient historians. The Muslim apologist will ignore all the evidence against the Koranic tradition in Sura 4 due to his theological belief that the angel Gabriel revealed to Muhammad the words of Allah. And that, for the Muslim, settles it. But for outsiders of Islam we don’t have to agree. In fact, we are able enough to weigh the evidence and come to our own informed conclusions grounded upon evidence.
One is simply left with two choices in this debate. Either one trusts the Koran despite its centuries late testimony, or one trusts an abundant body of textual evidence all agreeing on the central fact of Jesus crucifixion that dates well within 100 years of his death.
1. Fisher, D. 1970. Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought. p. 62.
2. Ehrman, B. 2012. Did Jesus Exist. p. 40-41.