“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.

26 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

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      • Yes, it is on the Book of Act.
        Two of messengers in Surah Yasin are Simon Peter and John the apostle. Then, the third one is James the brother of the Lord.
        Then, the one who was coming from the end of the city and stoned and be martyr was Stephanus.
        And the city which God destroyed afterwards was Jerusalem.
        If you read Book of Act and Surah Yasin, they are quite same in the story of the martyrdom of Stephanus.

        But most of Tafseer refers this event in Surah Yasin to the city of Antioch and the martyr named Habib Annajr.
        But I disagree with this, since Antioch never be destroyed by God for unbelieving.

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  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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    • That theory from Ali Ataie certainly won’t do. The Arabic word translated as ‘crucify’ refers to hanging something up, whether or not that something is killed. The implications of this choice of word are that Jesus was not hung up on the cross at all, not for a little time, and not till he was killed.
      To put the point another way: an Arabic speaker would never be inclined to use this language if events had unfolded the way Ataie thinks they did., for to do so would be misleading, and Allah does not mislead us in His Book.

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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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    • Yes. Nasara was related with Nazareth. Jews called christians as נצרים notsrim in their Talmud and this term in arabic as Nasarani.

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  4. Hey Taha,

    I was wondering if I could get your thoughts on something I’ve come across while I’ve been studying the Quran. In 3:55, God tells Jesus that he is going to take him and raise him to himself. Now, I understand that in traditional Islamic eschatology that Jesus is supposed to come back to earth in the end times and fight the dajjal and he isn’t supposed to die until later on afterward.

    Now here’s the thing that confuses me: in 3:55, the word that’s used in Arabic (mutawaffī) literally means to take in death or cause to die. I know that some translations simply render it as to take, but all the instances I’ve seen of the word in this particular form always mean cause to die. And other translations also render the wording here as cause to die.

    I know too that in early Islam that there was some debate over whether or not Jesus died before God raised him to heaven. I’m tending to think that he caused him to die before he took him up based on the word order (first the taking, then the raising).

    But what do you make of all this? Did God cause Jesus to die before he took him up or is he supposed to die in the future?

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    • I’ve seen a few interpretations here. I suppose the dominant one that comes under traditional interpretations is that this is talking about the future— So when Jesus comes back, he will die and God will raise him to heaven (like any other human being I suppose). You’re right that mutawaffīka generally means to cause to die, however there is one usage in the Qurʾān where it refers to God taking souls by night and returning them. I’ve also seen some interpretations in tafsīr saying that mutawaffīka and rāfiʿuka refer to the same action; thus “we took you by raising you…”

      In a (less traditional) reading, I guess this is supposed to closer to the resurrection in the gospels. Thus, God causes him to die, then raises him from the dead and brings him up to himself. After a lot of thinking about it I actually think this is a plausible way to read all the Qurʾānic verses on the topic, especially due to the Talmudic intertext mentioned here.

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      • Wait wait wait…

        Are you saying that the quran acknowledge the resurrection of jesus?

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      • I think it’s possible to read the Qur’anic ayat both ways (though noting that there is nothing that allows for any theological significance given to the resurrection). I have not had a look at the historical data in detail, so I don’t commit to anything.

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      • So what you’re saying is that it is possible that God caused Jesus to die, raised him and took him to heaven? To me, it does sound like he took his soul (sort of like I read how Enoch had his soul taken when he was in the fourth heaven) and then took him up.

        The one thing I wonder though if this interpretation is correct, doesn’t this kind of challenge the traditional Islamic understanding that God raised Jesus up, will send send him back to fight the dajjal, he reigns on earth for a while, then dies and is resurrected with the rest of humanity? If Jesus already died, wouldn’t he be incapable of dying again? Is there a way to resolve this apparent conflict? Is there a conflict?

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    • Surah 3:55 says that God has announced Jesus that he will die “mutawaffika” and will raised again “rafa'”.
      As in Matthew 17:22-23, Jesus has told that he will be killed and raised.
      So, Quran and Injil have agree each other that Jesus knew that he will die and raise again.

      While in Quran 4:157-158, God told specifically to Jews who though that they killed Jesus.
      In 2:154, God says that the one who died in the way of God (fi sabilillah) / martyr / syahid is not died, but he alive.
      So, the martyr who was killed physically in the way of God is not killed spiritually, but he alive spiritually.

      Same as Jesus, he died physically but not spiritually. Because he died on the way of God, martyr.
      As in surah Yasin, even though he was killed physically, but he still live spiritually in the paradise.

      Let see in Quran 19:15 and 19:33.
      Yahya / John the baptist and Jesus have the same salutation from God. In the day they born (wld), the day they die (mwt), the day raised alive (b’ats hyy).
      As we know, Yahya has been born and died, but not raised alive. And Jesus has been born and died, and according to christian he raised alive after three days.
      But Yahya hasnt raised alive yet.
      I thought that the term raised alive (b’ats hyy) is different with raised in term of rafa’ which regard to ascension.
      Ba’ats hyy refers to second coming.
      In my perspective, Jesus will coming again, and also Yahya.
      But with different person. Such Yahya / John the baptist was the raising Elijah.
      So, Yahya may be Imam Mahdi or Qa’im which come before Jesus, as Book of Malachi prophesied.

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  5. Asalamualaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatahu,

    I was reading Surah 5:110, and I found that the verse had a lot of similariies with Isaiah chapter 61. I was wondering if you can give me your thoughts on a) whether the similarities between Surah 5:110 and Isaiah chapter 61 are intentional and b)why the Qu’ran would be alluding to this chapter. The following are a list of connections I was able to find:

    Strong connections

    1. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Isaiah 61:1) – ” “How I supported you with the holy spirit”(Surah 5:110)

    2.”to Proclaim Glad Tidings(“Glad Tidings” translated as “Gospel” in Luke 4:18) to the Poor (Isaiah 61:1 septuigant)” – “so you spoke to people in ˹your˺ infancy and adulthood. How I taught you writing, wisdom, the Torah, and the Gospel (Glad tidings)” (Surah 5:110)

    2.Point of Similarity: Isa(as) learned the Gospel(Glad Tidings)from Allah(SWT) and prolcaimed this in infancy/maturity, the speaker in Isaiah proclaimed the good news (which translated as gospel by NT authors)

    3.”to proclaim liberty to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind;”(Isaiah 61:1 septuigant) – How you healed the blind and the lepers—by My Will.

    Areas of Weaker Connections:

    4.And they shall build the old waste places they shall raise up those that were before made desolate, and shall renew the desert cities, even those that had been desolate for many generations(Isaiah 61:4)(Hosea 6:2)- How you brought the dead to life—by My Will (Surah 5:110)

    While I think this is a weaker connection, the Qu’ran does describe a town in ruins becomming alive again and refers to this meaning that the dead came back to life(Surah 2:259), and so I don’t think its that far fetched for there to be a connection between Isaiah 61 where the ruined town is revived, could be alluding to Isa(as) reviving the dead by his will.

    5.”For he has clothed me with garments of salvation(Yesha) Isaiah 61:10-“How I prevented the Children of Israel from harming you when you came to them”, garments of salvation in isaiah refers to the children of Israel being rescued by God, and God mentions how he rescued Isa(as) from bani israel.

    These are all the connections I could come up with I’d appreciate your thoughts on this issue

    Liked by 1 person

      • My personal thoughts is that the Qu’ran is distancing Isa(as) from the notion of a conquering davidic king messiah which was the expectation of 2nd temple jews, and instead depicting Isa(as) as the prophet-messiah who like Elijah,Elisha and Isaiah were sent with several miracles, prophecies and in charge with preaching to the israelites to turn back to the worship of the true god.

        I do think the Qu’ran could be pointing to how Jesus fufilled the role as the old testament messiah, thought I’m not sure how to argue Isa(as) is typologically referenced in Isaiah 61, analogus to how Muhamamad(SAW) is typologically referenced in Isaiah 42.

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      • I also wanted to ask you about Surah 3:33, specifically Allah(SWT) choosing the Family of Imran.

        In the bible, the descendants of Imran(as)[The father of Amramites] were chosen to keep the priesthood. Do you think the Qu’ran was alluding to the notion of the sons of Aaron being chosen by God to function as God’s caretaker of the temple?

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      • The family of Imran refers to Amram descendent who charge as Levite who keep the temple.
        Prophet Zechariah in Quran is Levite or may be Kohen, as he served on Temple (Mihrab).
        The parent of Mary is also Levite. They pray that her daughter (she expected son) will serve on Temple. Then, Mary served on Temple (Mihrab) and she called sister of Aaron in chapter 19. The sister of Aaron means that she is Aaron lineage, the levite.
        As in Luke, Elizabeth was from Levite or the tribe of Aaron, and Mary is her relative. So, Mary could possibly from the tribe of Aaron, and Quran says she is the sister of Aaron.

        That’s interesting since Jesus and Muhammad was descendent from the keeper of Temple and their family are the name of Surah.
        Ali imran for keeping Jerusalem Temple.
        Quraysh for keeping Meccan Temple

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