4. Who Really Composed this Forgery?
There are only two known manuscripts of the Gospel of Barnabas which existed before any copies were made from the texts available to us. The Italian version is in a library today in Vienna whereas only fragments remain of the Spanish version. George Sale, in his comments on the Gospel of Barnabas in his Preliminary Discourse to the Koran and a further short preface in his book, speaks of a complete Spanish version in his lifetime which he saw for himself. It appears that the Spanish version may well have been the original one. In the introduction to this version it is claimed that it is a translation of the Italian version but numerous spelling errors in the Italian version - typical of an author using Italian as a second language - certainly show at least that the author was more at home in Spain than Italy. Nevertheless this does not prevent the possibility that someone from Spain tried his hand at composing an original in Italian. This possibility is made all the more real by two considerations.
Firstly, as the author often quotes the Vulgate (the Latin translation of the Bible) and has borrowed many of his stories from the Scriptures, he might well have found it more convenient to use the Italian language medium for his own contrived composition.
Secondly, he might have thought that his book would look far more authentic if it was written in Italian. It would serve to substantiate the introduction of the Spanish version where it was alleged that the Gospel of Barnabas was originally hidden in the Pope's library before it was discovered in rather questionable circumstances by a certain Fra Marine who allegedly became a Muslim after reading it. The Italian text may have been written to give some credence to this story - if the Gospel was to appear in Spain first of all, it would be far more suitable to have it written in the foreign tongue in the land of its alleged origin, rather than in the local dialect. This latter alternative might have cast immediate suspicion on its real origin - especially if an Italian version could not be produced to verify the claim that the original came from Italy.
Certain features, however, substantiate the suggestion that this book was first written in Spain by a Spaniard, no matter what language he originally wrote it in. The Gospel of Barnabas makes Jesus say:
The Italian version divides the golden “denarius” into sixty “minuti”. These coins were actually of Spanish origin during the pre-Islamic Visigothic period and openly betray a Spanish background to the original Gospel of Barnabas.
No one knows who actually wrote the Gospel of Barnabas but what is known, without shadow of doubt, is that whoever it was, it most certainly was not the Apostle Barnabas. It was most probably a Muslim in Spain who, possibly the victim of the reconquest of his country, decided to take private revenge by composing a false Gospel under the assumed name of Barnabas to give his obnoxious forgery some measure of apparent authenticity. He probably first composed the Italian script to maintain this appearance of genuineness but simultaneously composed (or arranged for such a translation) a Spanish version for distribution in his own country. He may well have been the notorious Fra Marine or he may have been the translator Mustafa de Aranda, or indeed he may well have been both - using the two names for the same expedient ends as those he sought to achieve through using the name of Barnabas as the author of his book. He most certainly was someone far more at home in Spain in the Middle Ages rather than in Palestine at the time of Jesus Christ.
Whatever the Gospel of Barnabas may claim to be, whatever it may appear to be, whatever the Muslim world would like it to be, a general study of its contents and authorship shows that it is a poor attempt to forge a life of Jesus consonant with the profile of Jesus in the Qur'an and Islamic tradition. The Muslim world will do well to reject this book as a clear forgery - for that is what it unmistakably proves to be.