“They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him”— A Qur’anic response to Jewish tradition on Jesus

Here is another interesting observation about how the Qurʾān responds to Jewish and Christian tradition. This time, I’ll be looking at the alleged killing of Jesus – and the subsequent ‘boast’ by the Jews which the Qurʾān so vehemently condemns in sūrah al-Nisāʾ, verse 157:

وَقَوْلِهِمْ إِنَّا قَتَلْنَا الْمَسِيحَ عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ وَمَا قَتَلُوهُ وَمَا صَلَبُوهُ وَلَٰكِنْ شُبِّهَ لَهُمْ ۚ وَإِنَّ الَّذِينَ اخْتَلَفُوا فِيهِ لَفِي شَكٍّ مِنْهُ ۚ مَا لَهُمْ بِهِ مِنْ عِلْمٍ إِلَّا اتِّبَاعَ الظَّنِّ ۚ وَمَا قَتَلُوهُ يَقِينًا

And for their saying, “We have killed the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary!” They killed him not, and they did not crucify him — it appeared to them as if it were so. Indeed, those that differ over it are in doubt – They know nothing except the following of speculation. They assuredly did not kill him.”

This verse is interesting, particularly the line, “they killed him not, and they did not crucify him” (wa mā qatalūhu wa mā ṣalabūhu). Of course, anyone who is familiar with the New Testament accounts of Jesus’s crucifixion may wonder about this apparent redundancy— The killing of Jesus is the same event as the crucifixion. So why does the verse treat them separately here?

One answer becomes obvious when we consider Jewish tradition on the matter. Peter Schafer, in his book “Jesus in the Talmud”, provides an interesting discussion on the manner in which Jesus was killed according to Jewish tradition. He notes the following:

It is clear for the authors of our Bavli narrative that Jesus was first stoned and then hanged. This is fully concurrent with the mishnaic Halakha. The same is true of the reason for his stoning and hanging: he was a sorcerer and enticed Israel into idolatry.(Schafer, p. 68)

The evidence for this found in Sanhedrin 43a (source text here; https://www.mechon-mamre.org/b/l/l4406.htm – translation from Schafer, p. 64):

  וכרוז יוצא לפניולפניו אין מעיקרא לא:  {והתניא בערב הפסח תלאוהו לישו הנוצרי והכרוז יוצא לפניו מיום קודם שהוא יוצא ליסקל על שכישף והסית והדיח את ישראל כל מי שיודע לו זכות יבא וילמד עליו ולא מצאו לו זכות ותלאוהו בערב הפסח

Translation by Schafer:

And a herald goes before him etc.: indeed before him, but not beforehand!

However, (in contradiction to this) it was taught (tanya): On (Sabbath eve and) the eve of Passover Jesus the Nazarene (Yeshu ha-noṣrī) was hanged (telaʾuhu). And a herald went forth before him 40 days (heralding): Jesus the Nazarene is going forth to be stoned because he practiced sorcery (kishshef ) and instigated (hissit) and seduced (hiddiah) Israel (to idolatry). Whoever knows anything in his defense, may come and state it. But since they did not find anything in his defense, they hanged him on (Sabbath eve and) the eve of Passover.

Here in the Talmid Bavli, the killing of Jesus (by stoning) and his subsequent ‘hanging’ (i.e. crucifixion) are separate events. Firstly, an announcer had to declare that Jesus was to be stoned – then the text gives the time of his hanging. Both the stoning to death and the crucifixion occurred according to the Rabbis — This is consistent with rabbinic law where blasphemers and idolators were to be stoned and then hanged (see relevant passages in Schafer, p. 66). Schafer (p. 67) also provides the biblical precedent:

Both R. Eliezer and the Sages, however, presuppose that “hanging” is a postmortem punishment (after the convicted criminal has been stoned to death), following the biblical instruction, which, after relating the stoning of the rebellious son, continues: “If someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed (namely by stoning), and you hang him on a tree” (Deut. 21:22, continuing with v. 23: “you must not leave his corpse on the tree”)

Thus, the Qurʾānic account is replying to this Jewish tradition with precision: The Jews say (qawlihim) that they have killed and crucified Jesus. The details of how the Jews had believed to have done so is in the Talmud: They first stoned him to death, then they crucified his corpse. Thus, the Qurʾān responds to this claim by denying both events in order of chronology— that firstly, ‘They did not kill him’ and secondly, ‘nor did they crucify him!’

Of course, this passage may still be read without the Talmudic background. Without presupposing any knowledge of Jewish tradition, one may read the Qurʾānic verses as a sort of emphatic denial: That is, the reason for mentioning both the ‘killing’ and ‘crucifying’ separately is for rhetorical effect, such as to say “you really did not kill him – you did not even come close”. However, given that the Qurʾān is responding to Jewish claims here, the interpretation that is supported by the Talmudic ‘intertext’ seems to make more sense, especially given that the Qurʾān typically dialogues with Jewish and Christian tradition in rather specific ways.

Bibliography

Jesus in the Talmud, by Peter Schafer. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.

12 thoughts on ““They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him”— A Qur’anic response to Jewish tradition on Jesus

    • Salam alaikum, your comment reminded me of surah Yasin (which according to some refers to disciples of Jesus pbuh) and the verse :
      قِيلَ ادْخُلِ الْجَنَّةَ ۖ قَالَ يَا لَيْتَ قَوْمِي يَعْلَمُونَ ﴿٢٦﴾ بِمَا غَفَرَ لِي رَبِّي وَجَعَلَنِي مِنَ الْمُكْرَمِينَ ﴿٢٧﴾

      Isn’t also “Luke” the author of the Book of Acts, where similar narrative to the one in Surah Yasin is found?

      Sorry I am new to these type of studies and English is not my native language so I apologise if this is not something new or if expressed myself incorrectly

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Assalamualaikum, I need help responding to the two verses below :

    In a Tablet, Guarded. (85:22)

    and

    In a Book well-guarded, (56:78)

    Is the Qur’an inscribed in the Preserved Tablet or Book?

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  2. I wonder what you make of Ali Ataie’s theory that JC may have been crucified after all but that Allah took his soul before natural death on the cross set in, thus potentially even accommodating the resurrection? I find the latter part pretty neat, as it would shoe that the “historicity of the resurrection” would only amount to proof of Christianity in the absence of evidence for the truth of Islam!!

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    • I’m not sure what to think about the theory. I was initially hesitant to the idea. At the moment, I’m neutral, I think it could go either way to be honest.

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  3. Asalamualaikum,

    A friend of mine came acrosss something intresting but he lacks knolwedge in aramaic so I was wondering if you could help him verify some info.

    Basically he has found a website where some NT scholarship argues that the title “Nazarene” was not after the city of “Nazareth”, and rather the city of “Nazareth” was given its name after the time of Jesus. He mentions that in spite of Josephus doing an indepth search of several cities in Judea he never mentions the city of Nazareth as being one of the cities that already existed.

    He also cites Acts 24:5 where Paul is called the ringleader of Nazarenes, even though Paul is not from the city of Nazareth, and the jewish people in acts called the followers of Isa(as) Nazarenes.According to his research the original meaning of Nazarene was “helper” and in Surah 3:52 the huawariyoon of Isa(as) state they are the “ansar” or “helpers of allah”, and hence the Qu’ran was stating that the original etymological root of Nazarene meant “helper”, and that the Qu’ran calls the disciples of Isa(as) as being “nasara” not Jesus himself, which suggests the helpers of Jesus or his earliest followers and not Jesus were called Nazarenes. According to Moore in his commentary on Mathew 2:23,” “Jesus was called Nazaraeus not only because his home was in Nazareth, but because he was the Saviour, ‘Servator,’ fromnasar, ‘servare,’” (Moore, 1920: 430).”, which suggests the original meaning of the term “Nazarene” was servers or those who aided, but later on due to corruption and change of words, the historical background behind “Nazarene” was lost, while early christians noticed that there was a town by the city of Nazareth, and noting the similarities between the term “Nazareth” and “Nazarene”, the early christians did not believe this similarity in etymology was accidental and hence took this oppurtunity to make the origin of Jesus from the city Nazareth so as to fufillold testament prophecies of Jesus originated from the branch( nazar) of the root of Jesse in Isaiah 11:1-2.

    Do you it could be argued that the original term nazarene meant helper and the Qu’ran in surah 3:52, was alluding to the notion that the term nazarene meant helper.

    Moore, G. F. (1920). Nazarene and Nazareth, In: F. J. Foakes Jackson & K. Lake (eds.), The Beginnings of Christianity, Part I, vol. 1: Prolegomena I; the Acts of the Apostles, London: Macmillan & co., 426‑432.

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    • Sorry for the late response, was busy.

      The premise that Nazareth wasn’t named such until after the time of Jesus seems a bit… of a stretch? It’s simply possible that the early Christians are called “Nazerenes” because Jesus is “of Nazareth” (mark 10:47).

      Still I think naṣāra /anṣār is obviously wordplay. Although, I think nazareth would have نظر as the arabic equivalent of the root rather than نصر.

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      • “Still I think naṣāra /anṣār is obviously wordplay. Although, I think nazareth would have نظر as the arabic equivalent of the root rather than نصر.”

        Is ansar similar to any aramaic word for helper?And if you think think نظر is closer to nazarene, then what do you think is the wordplay between nasar/ansar

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