بسم الله الرحمـن الرحيم
Was Jesus Crucified?
Allah Most High says:
وَقَوْلِهِمْ إِنَّا قَتَلْنَا الْمَسِيحَ عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولَ اللَّـهِ وَمَا قَتَلُوهُ وَمَا صَلَبُوهُ وَلَـٰكِن شُبِّهَ لَهُمْ ۚ وَإِنَّ الَّذِينَ اخْتَلَفُوا فِيهِ لَفِي شَكٍّ مِّنْهُ ۚ مَا لَهُم بِهِ مِنْ عِلْمٍ إِلَّا اتِّبَاعَ الظَّنِّ ۚ وَمَا قَتَلُوهُ يَقِينًا ﴿١٥٧﴾
And their saying: “Indeed, we killed the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, the Messenger of God.” But they killed him not, nor did they crucify him, rather, it was made to appear so to them. And indeed, those who differ in it are surely in doubt about it. There is no knowledge for them in it except the following of assumption. And they certainly did not kill him.
While the Holy Quran emphatically denies that Jesus of Nazareth was killed by those who claim to have murdered him, i.e., the Jews: “His blood is on us and on our children” [Matthew 27:25], it nevertheless affirms the fact that it at least appeared as though Jesus was crucified. There is considerable difference among the Muslims regarding the details of this. The majority believe that that someone else was killed who was made to resemble Jesus, either one of his enemies such as Judas Iscariot, or else one of his own disciples who volunteered to sacrifice himself in order to save Jesus. However, all narrations to this effect are legendary accounts known as Israeliyat and are not authoritative in Islamic creed. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ has certainly not narrated such an idea in any Hadith that has reached us. Another view is that Jesus was indeed killed on the cross, but Allah has negated the act of killing to the people, since in reality it was He who caused Jesus to die. This is like how Allah told the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and his companions after their victory at Badr:
فَلَمْ تَقْتُلُوهُمْ وَلَـٰكِنَّ اللَّـهَ قَتَلَهُمْ
So you did not kill them, but it was Allah Who killed them
This is indeed a strong and valid interpretation of the Verse. But there is also a third view which is that Jesus was indeed put on the cross, but he survived and was taken down the cross alive, though it appeared to the spectators that he had died. Known as the swoon theory, this third view was first championed by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, and more recently by Ahmad Deedat, who wrote several books in defense of this view, such as Crucifixion or Cruci-Fiction?, Resurrection or Resuscitation?, and What was the Sign of Jonah?. The contemporary apologist, Dr. Zakir Naik, cites the arguments of Ghulam Ahmad and Ahmad Deedat, especially concerning the ‘Sign of Jonah’ against Christians in debates about the crucifixion. There is a lot of internal evidence for the ‘swoon theory’ within the canonical Gospels themselves, such as the fact that Jesus was only on the cross for a few hours, the news of his apparent death surprising and confusing Pontius Pilate himself. Normally a person wouldn’t die so quickly due to crucifixion, which was meant to be a slow, agonizing death. Furthermore, the legs of Jesus were apparently not broken unlike the legs of the criminals who were being crucified alongside him to ensure their immediate death before taking them down from the cross. Finally, the claim in the synoptic Gospels that Jesus was seen alive in his corporal body after having apparently been ‘killed’ on the cross, if taken to be true, would more rationally be explained as meaning that Jesus simply survived the crucifixion rather than having been supernaturally resurrected.
Coming back to the Verse of the Quran [4:157], Allah Most High simply says that they did not kill Jesus, though it appeared to them as if they had. Regrettably, some translations of the Quran interpolate an unsubstantiated view into the text, for example, the English translation of Hilali & Khan: “but the resemblance of 'Iesa (Jesus) was put over another man (and they killed that man)”. It is quite evident that the actual text of the Verse doesn’t mention “another man” at all. This is an example of how translators of the Quran dishonestly and deceptively interpolate their own folk beliefs into the text of the Scripture. The truth is that all of the four synoptic Gospels place Jesus of Nazareth on the cross. There are, of course, many inconsistencies among them regarding the details, especially about the more spurious accounts relating to his alleged resurrection a few days after. But nonetheless, there is some degree of corroboration from early independently written accounts about Jesus which makes it likely that the historical Jesus was indeed hung on the cross. Technically, the Holy Quran doesn’t deny that Jesus was put on the cross, only that his enemies succeeded in killing him, either because he survived the crucifixion or because the death of Jesus on the cross is to be directly attributed to God Himself. In other words, it was not the crucifixion itself which was the cause of Jesus’s death, rather, Jesus’s soul departed his body while he happened to be on the cross, by God’s command. There is some indication of this in the synoptic Gospels, for example: “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.” [Luke 23:46] This is in accordance with the Hadith of the Prophet ﷺ: “No soul of a Prophet is taken until he has been shown his place in Paradise and then he is given the choice.” A strong indication that Jesus was put on the cross is the Hadith narrated by Abdullah b. Mas’udRA that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ spoke of a previous Prophet who was severely beaten and wounded by his own people, and he said: “My Lord, forgive my people, for they do not know.” This corresponds to the words attributed to Jesus while he was on the cross, or about to be crucified: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” [Luke 23:34], and Allah knows best.