but it appeared so [shubbiha] unto them; and lo!
Those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof;
they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of conjecture;
they slew him not for certain. (Q. 4:157)
“Although Muslims believe in the words of God, that the son of Mary was neither killed nor crucified, they too ask questions about the circumstances of the crucifixion and the identity of the victim if, indeed, there was one and the whole crucifixion was not an illusion. In common with the early Christian sects that doubted the reality of the crucifixion, Muslims also have proposed many theories about who may have been crucified in place of Jesus. We find the commentators of the Quran offering contradictory theories about this. Some say it was a companion of Jesus who volunteered to be crucified in his place. This theory can be found in the famous commentary of the Quran by Ibn Kathir. In it, he mentions a strong chain of narrative going back to Ibn Abbas, who is known in the Islamic world as a great interpreter of the Quran.
“Yet in the commentary of Ibn Abbas, it is reported that he said: God destroyed their man Tatianos… God made Tatianos look like Jesus and so they killed him instead of him [Jesus]… certainly they did not kill him,” thereby contradicting the Ibn Kathir’s version noted above. So, clearly we can see the conflict in the commentaries. Others say it was Simon of Cyrene, a Roman soldier, or even that it was Judas Iscariot. This last theory is found in the Gospel of Barnabas. Unfortunately, there is no factual evidence to prove any of these theories. The Quran challenges us, Say: Bring your proof if ye have been speakers of the truth! (Q. 2:111)Consequently, with so many different and incompatible traditions flying about, the matter of the true meaning of theQuranic verse cannot be considered closed and one may feel free to argue other possibilities, as I shall do below.”
So, who was the man who was identified, tried, and put on the cross? We are told in the Quran that it was not the son of Mary, but someone (or something) resembling him. Who would likely to have resembled him more than a relative? If not Jesus, could it have been his cousin Yahya? The victim does not die on the cross but is taken down from the cross when the Roman soldiers mistakenly think that he is dead. An indication of this may be found in Mark where we read that a certain Joseph of Arimathea went to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea, and asked for the body of a man on the cross whom many assume to have been Jesus. What is interesting to note is that he asks to take down the body(soma), while Pontius Pilate had told him to take the corpse (ptoma). There are many signs in the New Testament that suggest that the man crucified that day did not die on the cross.
What does all this mean? Keep in mind that Yahya in Arabic suggests life, “he lives.” The victim survives and continues to teach in secret after this ordeal. God tells Yahya, … hold fast the Book (Q. ) What does this mean? It suggests that Yahya may have been given a special book or task and will face great opposition.
All Muslims agree that Jesus did not die on the cross; rather, what the witnesses of the crucifixion saw was a deception, a similitude, or a substitution. It is my belief that they saw a substitution. By using the method of explaining the Quran by the Quran, (as should be done with regards to the crucifixion in relation to the word shubbiha), I examined this word shubbiha more closely, and if there were anyone more similar or shared any kind of resemblance to Jesus, it would have been Yahya, the son of Zechariah, and no one else. Here are some of those distinct similarities:
Both were born miraculously: (About Yahya) He said: ‘My Lord! How can I have a son when age hath overtaken me already and my wife is barren?’ (The angel) answered: ‘So (it will be). God doeth what He will.’ (Q. 3:40) and (about Jesus): ‘She said: My Lord! How can I have a child when no mortal hath touched me?’ He said: ‘So (it will be). God createth what He will. If He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is.’ (Q. 3:47)
Both were given unique names: And the angels called to him as he stood praying in the sanctuary: God giveth thee glad tidings of (a son whose name is) John, (who cometh) to confirm a word from God, chief, concealer [of secrets], a prophet of the righteous (Q. 3:39) and he whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, illustrious in the world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near (unto God).” (Q. 3:45)
Both were given significant titles by God: Yahya: … chief, concealer [of secrets], a prophet of the righteous(Q. 3:39) and Jesus whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, illustrious in the world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near (unto God). (Q. 3:45)
Both Yahya and Jesus received mercy:In regard to Yahya: … And compassion from Our presence, and purity; and he was devout. (Q. 19:13) and in regard to Jesus: … and a mercy from Us, and it is a thing ordained. (Q. 19:21)
Both were prophets of God: In regard to Yahya: …a prophet of the righteous. (Q. 3:39) and Jesus: He spake: ‘Lo! I am the servant of God. He hath given me the Scripture and hath appointed me a Prophet.’ (Q. 19:30)
Both were righteous: Yahya: … a prophet of the righteous. (Q. 3:39) and Jesus: … and he is of the righteous.(Q. 3:46)
Both were given sagacity: Yahya: And we gave him wisdom when a child. (Q. 19:12), Jesus: And He will teach him the Scripture and wisdom… (Q. 3:48)
Both were associated with the Word of God: Yahya: … who confirms a Word from God (Q. 3:39); Jesus: God gives glad tidings of a Word from Him. (Q. 3:45)
Both were respectful to their parents: Yahya: … and (he was) dutiful toward his parents (Q. 19:14); Jesus: And (God) hath made me dutiful toward her who bore me. (Q. 19:32)
Both were humble: Yahya: and he was not arrogant, rebellious(Q. 19:14); Jesus: and (God) hath not made me arrogant, villainous.(Q. 19:32)
In addition, both were saved as infants from death; both were unknown when they returned to Judaea (Yahya) and to Galilee (Jesus). One baptized with water (Yahya) and the other with the Holy Spirit (Jesus). Both had followers and disciples; both were sinless; and both were sent to the Children of Israel. Both finished and completed their missions successfully and were elevated and honored with God's peace: Yahya: Peace be upon him the day he was born, and the day he dies and the day he shall be raised alive!(Q. 19:15) and Jesus: Peace be upon me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive!(Q. 19:33)
Moreover, there are parallels in the conditions of Mary and Zechariah. Both reacted with incredulity when given the news of their future offspring: (Zechariah: (Zechariah) said: My Lord! How can I have a son when my wife is barren and I have reached inform old age? (Q. 19:40; see also Q. 3:40) Mary: (Mary) said: How can I have a son when no mortal hath touched me, neither have I been unchaste? (Q. 19:20; see also Q. 3:45)
If anyone was substituted for Jesus, as has been suggested above, then the substitute must have been Yahya. One cannot dismiss the implications of the circumstantial evidence which points to the Prophet Yahya and explains why it was possible to mistake the identity of one for the other. There is no factual evidence for the belief that it was any of the other men mentioned in the commentaries when explaining this verse (Q. 4:157). Keep in mind that the word shubbiha also has the meaning of “to be doubtful, dubious, uncertain, or obscure.” Circumstantial evidence may be weaker than fact in a court of law, but when facts are absent, strong circumstantial evidence is often enough to prevail.
This brings us to the question of the mistaken identity. Turning to the New Testament, we read in John: “And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who art thou?’ He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Art thou Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Art thou the prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’ They said to him then, ‘Who art thou? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What dost thou say about thyself?’ He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” as the prophet Isaiah said.’ (Jn. 1:19-23)
It is quite clear from this passage that John was causing quite a stir; why else would the Jews be sending their priests and Levites to him? His position of authority is confirmed in the Quran with the title “chief” (sayyid), given to him not by man, but by God (Q. 3:39). Zachariah had prayed to God for a “protector” (wali)from HisPresence (Q. 19:5). The Arabic word so used in the Quran in this context denotes one with authority. Yahya’s prominence is well known from the passages about him in the Antiquities of Josephus, as well as in other traditions. Yet, perhaps the most important part of this passage is that he does not mention his name. He conceals his identity from them; hence, the Quranic reference to him as hasur. Let us continue with John:
“Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, ‘Then why art thou baptizing, if thou be neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I baptize with water; but among you is one whom ye do not know, even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.’ This took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” (Jn. 1:24-28)
This passage would indicate that in addition to his baptizing, his powerful preaching was of a special kind, and not as it was usually heard by the Jews. It also appears that what he was saying touched upon something they had found in their traditions concerning the signs of a messiah; hence, the gospel passage: “and all men questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he were the Messiah.” (Lk. 3:15) If we look more closely, not only had John not revealed his own identity, but he also had not disclosed the identity of his contemporary, Jesus. Note, too, that the people mentioned by Luke must have thought that the man they had just met was worthy of consideration as a potential messiah, so much so that they wondered about his real identity.
One cannot miss the appearance that John is concealing something (hasur) here. Why is that? Though the messiah is present, he is not yet to be revealed. There is a reason for this, that is, if we follow scriptures. According to the Quran, after the birth of Jesus, when Mary brought her infant to her people, they accused her of fornication. This accusation is also recorded in extra-Biblical Jewish tradition. Does this have anything to do with Jesus’ identity not being revealed?
According to Jewish law, “and the daughter of a priest, if she profanes herself by playing the harlot, profanes her father; she shall be burned with fire” (Lev. 21:9). If the accusation mentioned in the Quran against Mary were true , then accordingly, Jesus would have been labeled illegitimate. Jewish law states that “no bastard shall not enter the assembly of the Lord, even to the tenth generation, none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord” (Deut. 23:2) Jesus never revealed his identity just as John never revealed his. That is why we never find in the gospels either of them mentioning their own names. Little wonder that Jesus is also mysterious to the point that today some even deny the reality of his very existence.
That Jesus was present, but not known, does not remove him from the picture. He continued his mission in secret, while John filled the office of “protector” (wali) and “chief” (sayyid). He was designated as such by God and given command over his people.
What does this have to do with shubbiha? As was mentioned above, the Jews did not know who Jesus and John were. John’s own testimony is sufficient. We have also shown above from the text of the Quran the complementary natures of Jesus and Yahya. One can see that it was quite possible for one to be mistaken for the other. It was John’s authority and reputation that certain factions among the Jews wished to do away with. It is for this reason that I believe that John the Baptist was put on the cross. Consider the meaning of shubbiha in this context. And God knows best!
 The passages from the Quran quoted in this article are based primarily upon Mohammad M. Pickthall’s translation, with an occasional change when warranted by the context and with the uniform replacement of the Arabic word Allah by the English God. We have used the Revised Standard Versionof the Holy Bible(RSV) as the standard for Biblicalquotations, also with occasional changes and the uniform replacement of you when singular with thou, with attendant changes for case (thee, thy, thine) and in associated verbs. References and quotations from the editor’s own work The New Testament: An Islamic Perspective are designated by his name: “Crook, p…”
shubbiha is derived from an Arabic trilateral verbal root sh, b, h with the general meaning of “resemblance” or “resembling.” It is the masculine third-person singular of the Passive form of the Active Form II verb shahhaba. Form II verbs are usually transitive and often causative in meaning. In this case, the Active form means “to make equal or similar, to compare or liken.” The Passive form, shubbiha, means “to be doubtful, dubious, uncertain, or obscure, to appear like or as though.”
 Ibn Kathir: well-known 14th-century CE Syrian commentator.
 “chain of narrative” Arabic sanad: the chain of authorities going back to the Prophet or his Companions upon which the reliability of a tradition is based.
 Ibn ‘Abbas, a Companion of the Prophet, died 687 CE. The 11th-century Persian commentator Surabadi gives us his version of this story: “…when Gabrielcame to carry off Jesus, Jesus(who appears in this tradition to have been imprisoned with his disciples) asked which of them would volunteer to be crucified in his place. Only Simonvolunteered. Then Jesusnamed Simon as his successor. Simon was then transformed into the image of Jesus. When they came to take Simon, thinking he was Jesus, this image of Jesuswas transferred to the executioner. Simonfled, while the executioner was executed in his place, and the people disputed about it. The ending of both versions, with the people disputing about what happened, is to explain the ending of the Quranicverse: those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain (Q. 4:157).” (Crook, pp. 298-9.) (See also Note 8 below.)
 The commentary attributed to Ibn Abbas, a 7th-century CE Companion of the Prophet, Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir ibn Abbas, was almost certainly not written by him. More probably, it was based on traditions he reported and collected (probably with some extraneous material) by the 15th-century CE Muhammad Ibn Ya‘qub Firuzabadi.
 Tatianos (or Tatyanus): Probably Titus, the Roman general who destroyed the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE. He went on to become the ruler of the Roman Empire, reigning from 79 to 81 CE.
Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir ibn Abbas for Q. 4:157. The 11th century Persian Commentator Surabadi gives a fuller version of this tale: “In his version, Herod, the king of the Jews, had locked Jesusup and erected a gallows for a public execution. When the time appointed for the execution arrived, Tatyanus the executioner entered the cell to bring out Jesus. Gabrielcame, carried Jesusaway through an aperture, and transported him to the fourth heaven. Then he caused Tatyanus to assume the outward form of Jesus. When he came out of the cell and told the people that Jesushad escaped, the people looked at him and said that he was himself Jesus. He tried to fight off the people with magic, but failed and was executed. After this was over, the people looked about for the executioner and then began to have doubts.” (Crook, p. 298.) (See also Note 5 above.)
 “It has been suggested that the absence of the pericope about Simon the Cyrene’sbearing Jesus’ cross in Johnand John’semphatic statement that Jesuswent out “bearing his own cross” (Jn. 19:17) is a refutation of the Gnostictradition that Simon of Cyrenewas crucified instead of Jesus. That story was already in circulation by the last decade of the 1st century CE, if not earlier. Proof of the antiquity of this story is found in the writings of early fathers of the church. Irenaeus(c. 130-200 CE) mentions the teaching of the Gnosticheretic Basilides who was active about 120 CE: “that (Jesus) had not suffered and that a certain Simon of Cyrene had been compelled to carry his cross for him and that this man was crucified through ignorance and error, having been changed in form by him so that it should be thought that he was Jesushimself. (Crook, p. 302.)
 “It has been suggested that Judas Iscariot, the alleged betrayer of Jesus, was a Zealot, and that his surname Iscariot derives from Sicarii, although other derivations—perhaps more plausible—have been proposed.” (Crook, p. 74) He is supposed to have committed suicide in remorse for his betrayal (Acts. 1:13).
The Gospel of Barnabas:Almost certainly not by the Barnabas mentioned by Paul in the New Testament. “The manuscript that was the basis of [the] edition was an Italian16th century CE Venetian copy of an earlier Tuscanmanuscript. No Greekor Latintexts are known to exist and there is no manuscript evidence that pushes the history of the text nearer to the time of the putative author, St. Barnabas, the companion of Paul, who was active in the 1st century CE. The Raggs [the editors of the text] cite a reference to a 100-years Jubilee as a clue that the gospel may have been written some time between 1300 and 1350 CE. The first Church jubileewas held in 1300 and the Church originally planned to hold a jubilee every century. However, in 1350, another jubilee was held and the interval was changed to every 50 years. This points to a date of composition between 1300 and 1350 CE.” (Crook, p. 160.) In Barnabus, Judas is transformed into the image of Jesus and mistaken for him by the other disciples. It was he who was arrested and brought before Pilate, condemned and crucified and buried in the tomb arranged by Joseph of Arimathaea. (See David Sox, The Gospel of Barnabas, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1984, pp. 44-47.)
 Joseph of Arimathea: “… hemay have been a member of the Sanhedrin; if he was not, he was certainly a local worthy. Joseph’s motives have been much discussed. It has been suggested that he was impelled by the rabbinical traditions that a dead body should not remain unburied, in which case it was an act of piety that does not necessarily indicate that he was otherwise connected with Jesusand his followers. He may also have been prompted, again out of piety, by the Mosaic injunction in Deuteronomy: “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and thou hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt bury him the same day, for a hanged man is accursed by God; thou shalt not defile thy land which the Lord thy God gave thee for an inheritance.” (Deut. 21:22-23) One might question whether he would have used the tomb he had prepared for himself for such a purpose. Markstates that he “was also himself looking for the kingdom of God.” (Mk. 15:43) Commentators have usually taken that to indicate that he was connected with the Jesusmovement. However, the IDB article also points out that the phrase could equally mean that he was a good Pharisee, probably sympathetic to Jesus. (Joseph of Arimathea, Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Nashville, Vol. 2, pp. 980-1.) (Crook, Note 791.)
 Pontius Pilate: Pontius Pilatewas the procurator of Judaeafrom 26 to 36 CE, the Passion—in the tradition which Tacitusis recording—must have occurred between 26 and 36 CE, which fact negatively gives credence to a date around 30 CE. Unfortunately, Tacitusdid not specify which year in the reign of Tiberius the event was supposed to have occurred. (Crook, Note 350.)
 The difference between Greek soma and ptoma parallels the difference between body and corpse in English: A “body” can be living or dead, whereas a “corpse” is always dead.
 “rebellious”: the Arabic is ‘asiyan. It is from a root connoting disobedience and rebellion.
“villainous”: the Arabic is shaqiyan. The word can mean being miserable, wretched, unhappy, and also villainous, criminal, rogue, etc.
 In the Bible, Matthew (Mt. 2: 7-19)tells of the dangers to the infant Jesus posed by the fear and anger of Herod the Great that prompted the flight to Egypt. In that apocrypha, we find that John the Baptist was encompassed by the same threat and his mother Elizabeth fled to the hill country with, not returning until it was deemed safe (Protevangelium of James in James, M.R., The Apocryphal New Testament, Oxford University Press, London (1953), p. 48.)
 Josephus wrote more about John the Baptist, at least in the present form of the text if we disregard interpolations, than he did about Jesus: “Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment for what he did against John that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him who was a good man and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to Him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or remission] of some sins [only,] but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness.
“Now, when [many] others came to crowd about him, for they were greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it should be too late.
“Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure against him.” (Josephus, Antiquities, XVII, 5.2.)
 For example: It could very well be an answer to the statements in the Talmudand otherwise circulating amongst the Jewsthat Jesuswas a bastard: “Rabbi Shimeon ben Azzaisaid, I found a genealogical roll in Jerusalemwherein was recorded, Such-an-one [a euphemism in the Talmud for Jesus, made out of fear of Christian reprisals] is a bastard of an adulteress.” (Dunkerley, Roderic. Beyond the Gospels. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1957, p. 52.)
Another point should be considered when judging the possibility of a case of mistaken identity: in an age in which there was no photography, no mass media, and no instant communication, as was the case in the Ancient World, identities could easily be mistaken or even forged. According to Mark, the oldest of the four gospels, Jesus was active and preaching only in Galilee and the Jordan valley for the first two and a half years of his mission. He did not actually go to Jerusalem until the season of the third Passover, during which he was arrested and then supposedly crucified. (Other gospels mention a few earlier visits of Jesus to Jerusalem.) He was not well known in Jerusalem and he had to be identified by a traitorous disciple for the men who came from the priests and elders to arrest him. But if the disciples were part of a plot, the identification could have been pre-arranged to save Jesus by providing a substitute. There were not many in Jerusalem who have been able to positively identify him, especially if there were any familial resemblance.
On the other hand, with respect to John, it is clear from the passages quoted above that those coming down to meet him from Jerusalem did not know what he looked like. John, though in Judaea of which Jerusalem was the chief city, had spent most of his life away in the wilderness and along the edges of the Jordan valley.