Jesus, Thomas & the Crucifixion Plot
H. Abdul Al-Dahir
Contradictions abound in the gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ death by crucifixion. The gospels that record the crucifixion of Jesus also declare that many people witnessed Jesus talking to his companions, walking about in the area and even eating lunch soon after he was supposedly crucified. These witnesses included his closest friends as eleven of his disciples, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother James, and Salome as well as Cleophas and his companions. However, the very book, the Bible, which narrates these post crucifixion encounters between the healthy and lively Jesus and various witnesses also insists that Jesus died on the cross. Eye witness accounts insist that Jesus was not not crucified, yet the gospel narratives insist that he had died. This is a glaring inconsistency in the narrative which must be explored.
According to the canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), Jesus, the son of Mary, was crucified in order to atone for the sins of humanity. This doctrine of vicarious atonement is central to Christian doctrine even though the Bible declares vicarious atonement to be contrary to the laws of the Torah which occur in the Pentateuch or the first 5 books of the Bible. Deuteronomy 24:16 declares that no one can be put to death for another person’s sins as “every man shall be put to death for his own sin.” According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus would have vigorously upheld this law as he personally warned of the punishment for breaking even the least of these commandments which he stated would endure as long as the heavens and the earth endured. Matthew 5:17-19 states:
17 “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Furthermore, according to the Gospel of Matthew 15:24, Jesus declared that his mission was solely to Israel:
“But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
As a prophet zealous for the law, Jesus would not have been anxious to ‘save’ anyone but those who ascribed to the doctrines in the TaNaKh (Old Testament). The TaNaKh heartily condemns the ‘goyim’ or those not recognized as Hebrews. Isaiah 34:2 states:
“2 For the indignation of the Lord (yhwh) is upon all nations (goyim), and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter.”
Furthermore, crucifixion upon a cross hewed from a tree would have invited upon the crucified victim the curse of God as well as the defilement of the land and its people, an act that would have nullified any supposed benefit such an action would bring. According to Deuteronomy 21:22,23:
22 “And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree:23 His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.”
It is blatantly obvious from the above Biblical passages that Jesus could not have volunteered himself as a victim for the vicarious atonement of humanity’s sins as Christian doctrine proclaims. Such a doctrine would have been anathema to a Jew who so vigorously supported the Torah. One must conclude that the Gospel narratives have been altered to support a foreign doctrine which advocated the sacrifice of a demigod who volunteered to undertake crucifixion in order to benefit humanity. One such god was the Greek Titan Prometheus who, according to the myth, stole fire from the gods and gave it to humanity. His punishment was permanent crucifixion upon a rock where Zeus’ eagle ate his liver which was nightly renewed so that the punishment would be interminable. The Romans retold this tale so Prometheus became a part of Roman mythology. Since the Greeks and the Romans occupied Palestine for a period of approximately 900 years (330 BCE – 637 CE), it is little wonder that this myth became imbedded into the culture of occupied Palestine. The upshot is that the researcher must look for an alternative explanation for the crucifixion tale as it is told in the Gospels. One such explanation can be found in the Holy Quran Surat Al Nisa (IV), Aya 157:
That they (the Jews) said: “We killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, The Messenger of Allah.” But they did not kill him nor did they crucify him. Instead (it was) a resemblance (of Jesus). And those who differ are full of doubts with no knowledge but only conjecture for surely they did not kill him.
The above verse is fully confirmed in the New Testament Gospel of Mark. Mark is the earliest of the canonical gospels. The author obviously believed that Jesus was crucified. However, he leaves for the careful reader, the order of the true events which are enumerated in chapters 14, 15 and 16. According to chapter 14, Jesus and his disciples were in Judea or southern Palestine:
“It was two days before the festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread, and the chief priests and the scribes were trying to devise some scheme to seize him (Jesus) and put him to death. “It must not be during the festival,” they said, “or, we should have rioting among the people.” Jesus was aware of the plots of his Jewish enemies for it states in the same chapter that while he was in the house of a follower undergoing an anointing by a female disciple, he stated: “She has done what lay in her power; she has anointed my body in anticipation of my burial.” Judas Iscariot, one of the original twelve disciples, then went to the chief priests to betray Jesus. So, Jesus was well aware of what was afoot. Accordingly, in the same chapter, Jesus gathered his disciples for a Passover feast.
During that feast, the author of the Gospel of Mark made it very clear that Jesus knew the very disciple who had betrayed him. At this time, Jesus intsructed his disciples to meet him in Galilee (northern Palestine) after he was raised up (vs 28). Galilee, Jesus’ home town, was a safe haven as he could count on his family and relatives for protection. Jesus’ disciples were also from Galilee, so their families would also provide refuge for them. In Mark 14:28 Jesus says:
“But after I have risen (from the tomb), I will go before you into Galilee.”
Jesus knew that the Temple officials were determined to be rid of him. He was attracting a large following and he was preaching against the officials of the temple cult. He was denouncing the Scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees calling them vipers and other unflattering epithets (Matthew 23). He had earlier led a mild revolt in the temple itself where he and his disciples managed to blockade access to its precincts (Mark 11:15,16):
“And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold pigeons; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.”
According to the Gospel of Mark, after the Passover meal, Jesus proceeded to the Mount of Olives where his demeanor underwent a remarkable transformation. From the resigned and assured prophet, he morphed into a despairing man who was sobbing, overwhelmed with horror and anguish (vs 34,35) and begging God to rescue him (vs 36). (This un-prophetly despair is most acutely expressed in chapter 15:34, where the author has Jesus actually accusing God of deserting him.). Judas appeared with an armed crowd sent by the chief priests, scribes and elders. Judas instructed them to nab the person he identified with a kiss. Jesus was led away to be tried by his Jewish accusers who then turned him over to the Roman authorities. Jesus was tried by the Roman governor, Pilate, and then led to be crucified. After the crucifixion, he was buried in a tomb, which his female followers found empty except for a youth who instructed them: “But go and say to his disciples and to Peter: He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see him, as he told you.” (Mark 16:7)
There are many points of disconnect in the above narrative. The first and most obvious is the abrupt change in Jesus’ personality from a confident Prophet of God to an emotional wreck who is struggling to commit to his God ordained commission. The second disconnect is the strange instruction of Jesus to his followers to meet him Galilee; a 63 mile journey from Jerusalem in Judea. According to the Gospel of John 20:27, Jesus would have made this trip on foot with huge nail holes in his hands and feet as well as a gash in his side caused by the insertion of a Roman lance.
The third disconnect involves the manner of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus to the ‘crowd’ sent from the chief priests, scribes and elders. These people knew Jesus well, not only by reputation but by sight. They knew him from his preaching in the synagogues and public places where throngs gathered to hear him. They knew him from his public procession into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. They knew him from his attempt to cleanse the temple and from the numerous verbal jousts he had with these very people. So, one must question the necessity of Judas to identify him to the people who knew him so well. This Gospel’s tale is too disconnected to be true as told. However, the Quran unravels the mystery.
According to the Quran, Surat Al Nisa, Aya 157, the Jews did not crucify Jesus or kill him. The person crucified resembled Jesus. This person who resembled Jesus was such a close match to Jesus’ physical appearance that he was known as the twin; Taowm in Aramaic and Thomas in Greek. (The gospels were all written in Greek.). The status of Thomas as the twin and brother (brother meant not only sibling, but any male relative who was descendant from a common male ancestor) of Jesus is confirmed in the Nag Hamadi gospel, The Book of Thomas the Contender, which was originally written around 150 AD. This gospel states:
“The secret words that the savior spoke to Judas Thomas which I, even I, Mathaias, wrote down, while I was walking, listening to them speak with one another. The savior said, “Brother Thomas while you have time in the world, listen to me, and I will reveal to you the things you have pondered in your mind. “Now, since it has been said that you are my twin and true companion, examine yourself, and learn who you are, in what way you exist, and how you will come to be. Since you will be called my brother, it is not fitting that you be ignorant of yourself.”
The realization that Thomas was a male relative, who closely resembled Jesus explains the first disconnect in the personality of Jesus in the Mount of Olives episode. Thomas was not a prophet and did not have the assurance of revelation that Jesus had. He was a very loyal follower who volunteered to take Jesus’ place so that Jesus could escape, and Jesus with the rest of the group could re-assemble in Galilee. As matter of fact, according to the Gospel of John:11, Thomas had earlier volunteered to die with Jesus when Jesus, upon hearing of the death of Lazarus, proposed to return to Judea where there was a previous attempt to stone him to death:
Jhn 11:7 Then after this he (Jesus) said to the disciples, “Let us go into Judea again.” Jhn 11:8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews of late sought to stone you, and are you going there again?”… Jhn 11:16 Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
It is evident from the above verses in the Gospels of Mark, John and Thomas the Contender, that Jesus and his disciples had devised a plan so that they could control the hostile situation created by the officials of the temple cult instead of waiting for their enemies to strike. The plan was put into action when Judas went to the temple officials and apparently offered to betray Jesus. The plan was that Judas would identify Jesus’ double, Thomas, as Jesus. Meanwhile, Jesus would be hiding in a newly built tomb. When the temple officials and the Romans were convinced of his death, he would escape to Galilee where he and his followers would reassemble under the protection of friends and relatives.
The proposal that Thomas was Jesus’ double also explains the third disconnect; the necessity for Judas to identify Jesus to the crowd sent by Jesus’ enemies. Judas identified Thomas as Jesus and the crowd fell for the subterfuge because Thomas’ resemblance to Jesus was so matched that Thomas could easily be mistaken for Jesus. Judas was obviously one of Jesus’ most trusted companions or he would not have been entrusted with such a mission. Unfortunately, this loyal disciple has been vilified for more than two thousand years for successfully accomplishing his mission.
The mission was overwhelmingly difficult and Thomas did follow through with his commitment. He not only volunteered to endure a crucifixion, he had to impersonate Jesus in such a way that the ruse would not be discovered by either the temple officials or by Pilate. According to Mark 14 and 15, Thomas as Jesus accomplished this feat by remaining silent before the priests except to affirm that he was the Messiah. He also remained silent before Pilate. Thomas confirmed that he was the Messiah to assure the chief priests that he was Jesus, thus preventing any further search. He probably remained silent before Pilate as there were too many present (Mark 15:8) who had heard Jesus speak. Thomas may have feared, that where his appearance would not betray him as an imposter, his voice might.
The ruse succeeded and Thomas successfully replaced Jesus on the cross. Thomas’ stoic dedication to his role in the plot held intact until the pangs of death caused him to utter what has often been wrongfully interpreted as a statement of despair; his belief that God had deserted him. However, the statement: “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?” or Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? is actually a misquotation of Psalm 22 which reads ‘Eli ‘Eli lamah `azab’tani”. Jesus would not have made such a mistake as he was preaching the Torah and the Tanakh in the synagogues. This misquotation is an affirmation that it was not Jesus on the cross. This misquotation may have been a subtle scoff to the chief priests, the teachers of the law, the elders as well as other jeering by standers who were mocking him (Matt 27:41, Mark 15:31, Luke 23L45) that they had crucified the wrong man.
The crucifixion lasted only 3 hours, which was not enough time to kill the victim. Even Pilate, when informed that Jesus died after such a short time, refused to believe that a crucified victim could expire so quickly (Mark 15:44). So, it may be that Thomas was not fatally wounded and survived the ordeal.
The second disconnect or Jesus’ command to his followers to meet him in Galilee after the crucifixion is solved once we understand that Jesus was not crucified, but instead he had arranged for his double, Thomas, to take his place, so that he and the disciples could escape safely. Prior to the crucifixion, Jesus arranged to be hidden in a tomb. This plan is hinted at in the Gospel of Matthew 12:40 where Jesus says: “Just as Jonah was in the whale’s belly for three days and three nights, so the son of man (Jesus) will be three days and three nights in the bowels of the earth.” This tomb is where Jesus, along with a young follower, hid until it was safe to flee to Galilee. Jesus left the young man at the tomb knowing that some of his followers, who were not informed of the plan, might return to the tomb to complete the burial rites, which were impossible to implement due to the start of the Sabbath. The young man duly informed the women to remind the disciples that Jesus, as was planned, would meet his companions in Galilee.
At this juncture the question of the disposal of Thomas’ body must be addressed. It is obvious that Thomas’ body was brought to the pre-arranged tomb where Jesus was hiding as this was the location to which the women went to anoint the body. These women, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome (Mark 16:1), witnessed the crucifixion from afar (Mark 15:40) and were unable to have a clear view of the victim. They were also not informed that it was Thomas on the cross and not Jesus. To prevent the plot from being exposed, only the disciples were aware of the arrangement. According to Mark, the women only viewed the body after Joseph of Arimathaea had wrapped it in fine linen. The women then followed the funeral procession to the tomb with the other disciples (Mark 15:45-47).
When the loyal followers brought the body to the tomb, Jesus had already fled. It was safe for Jesus to start his journey to Galilee as there were numerous witnesses who unwittingly testified that it was Jesus who had been crucified. Because all but the plotters thought Jesus was dead, nobody was looking for a fugitive Jesus, so it was safe for him to flee Jerusalem for Galilee. However, it was necessary that the mourners, who followed the funeral procession, witness the interment. It was also crucial that the body remain enshrouded and without the anointing ritual as the women, who performed this ritual, were unaware of the plot and would recognize that it was not Jesus who was on the cross. If the truth were gossiped about, the lives of Jesus and his disciples would all be forfeit to the officials of the temple cult as well as the Roman authorities. Thus, the anointing was delayed until after the Sabbath. By that time, Thomas’ body had been removed to another location; perhaps to Lazarus’ tomb which, according to John:11, had been emptied when, upon being called forth by Jesus, he walked away from his place of interment.
Perhaps Thomas had survived the crucifixion and was carried to a location where he could recover from his wounds. In any case, when the women returned to anoint the body, they found a tomb without a body to anoint. It was occupied only by Jesus’ young companion who advised them to remind the disciples that Jesus had gone to Galilee, the location where they agreed to meet after the crucifixion. According to Mark 16:8, the women were so terrified that they did not deliver the message. Perhaps, they suspected the truth of the crucifixion plot and were frightened that the authorities would include them as accomplices should they discover that the tomb was empty, so they remained silent. Another reason for their continuing silence may have been that the wounded Thomas was entrusted to their care.
Somehow, rumors of the empty tomb spread abroad. Speculation on the whereabouts of the crucified Jesus led to a belief that he had experienced an immediate resurrection. As believers in the resurrection, the women may have even bolstered the rumor that Jesus was not in the tomb because God had taken him to heaven body and soul as He had previously done to the ancient Prophet Elijah. The story of Elijah’s miraculous journey to heaven was a belief required of every Jew, and it was a precedent for a belief in a resurrection prior to the appointed Day of Resurrection. In any case, exactly how and when the resurrection rumor became a Biblical ‘fact’ is unknown. However, the trip to Galilee may have been referenced by the historian, Titus Flavius Josephus (37-100AD) in his book, Jewish Antiquities 18.85-87.
One must ask whether Jesus actually made the trip to Galilee successfully. According to Josephus, a man whom he identifies as the Samaritan Prophet attempted, along with his followers, to lay the cornerstone for a Samaritan center of worship on Mount Gerizim in 36AD or approximately three years after Jesus’ flight to the area. This act closely parallels the attempt by Jesus and his disciples to occupy and control the temple in Jerusalem (Mark 11:15,16). Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, interpreted this attempt as a revolt against the Roman occupation. He sent his army to the location and dispersed the crowd. Pilate claimed to have executed the ring leaders. If Jesus was the Samaritan Prophet, he may have escaped with the crowd. Eventually, as He does with all of his prophets, Allah (swt) raised Jesus to Himself upon his death, whenever that took place. Indeed, Quran 3:55 specifically states that Allah (swt) caused Jesus to die:
Idh qaalallahau yaa iisaa, “Inni mutawaffika wa raafiuka ilayya….
When Allah said: ” O Jesus, Lo! I am causing you to die and causing you to ascend to me…
Quran 3:55 confirms Quran 19:33 where Jesus predicts his own death:
Was-salaamu alayya yawma wulittu wa yawma amuutu wa yawma ubathu hayyaa.
“Peace on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised to life.”
Many Muslim scholars interpret Aya 158 of Sura Nisa – “But Allah took him up unto Himself. Allah is ever Mighty, Wise” – to mean that Allah (swt) immediately rescued Jesus from crucifixion by causing him to ascend to Him body and soul. However, Allah (swt) is not addressing the beliefs of the Christian (Gnostic) tribes in the Arabian Peninsula in this verse. He is addressing the Jewish tribes who not only believed that they crucified the Messiah, but that very crucifixion condemned Jesus to damnation according to the laws of the Torah stated in Deuteronomy 21:22,23. This theme of Jesus’ damnation as an apostate sorcerer is elaborated upon in the Jewish Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a. Allah (swt) is refuting this Jewish doctrine of the damnation of Jesus by stating that He raised Jesus’ soul to Himself after his death as a holy prophet of God. So, the above aya clearly lists the order of events, i.e., 1) birth, 2) death and 3) resurrection. In other words Jesus, whose soul resides with Allah (swt), would be resurrected in body once and that event would take place on the Day of Resurrection at which time Allah (swt) would resurrect him body and soul and then raise him to Himself.
It is also interesting to note that many of the early Gnostic Christian communities did not believe that Jesus was crucified, but another took his place on the cross. According to the Wikipedia article, Simon of Cyrene, who is mentioned in Matt 27:32, was one such person:
“According to some Gnostic traditions, Simon of Cyrene, by mistaken identity, suffered the events leading up to the crucifixion, and died on the cross instead of Jesus. This is the story presented in the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, although it is unclear whether Simon or another actually died on the cross. This is part of a belief held by some Gnostics that Jesus was not of flesh, but only took on the appearance of flesh.”
The Gnostics, who specifically taught that Simon of Cyrene was crucified in place of Jeues, were the Basilideans; the followers of Basilides who taught from 117-138 AD. Others who taught a similar doctrine were the Docetics, who preached that Jesus was not crucified, but that a phantom appearance took his place on the cross. Docetism was already in existence when the New Testament (canonical gospels, epistles etc.) was being written.
The foregoing explanation clarifies the crucifixion stories in the Gospels. Allah (swt) never fails to leave incontrovertible evidence which proves the truth of the Holy Quran, His final revelation to His Holy Prophet, Muhammad (peace be upon him).