Shabir Ally has posted a brief article in response to my equally brief review and announcement that I would be going over our debate on The Dividing Line. I would like to offer my response here.
James had to prove three things. First, that Jesus was crucified. Second, that he was crucified as a sacrifice for the sins of God’s people. Third, that he was willing to be this sacrifice. As for the term ‘crucified’, it is clear that in this context it does not mean merely to be hung on a cross, but actually to die on the cross. This is because no Christian doctrine of the cross allows for Jesus to come down from the cross alive and still be a sacrifice for anyone’s sins. It is only by proving all three of these points that James can come out successful.
And may I add that it is truly stretching the meaning of language to posit any meaning of “crucify” in almost any context that does not, in fact, include the meaning of death? I had hoped this would come up, but we might as well address it here. Shabir Ally does not hold the mainstream Islamic view of Surah 4:157 and the death of Jesus. He holds a minority viewpoint that allows Jesus to have been crucified, but, to have survived the crucifixion. Now, let’s think about this for just a moment. How many people survived crucifixion at the hands of the Romans? Or, to put it more directly, what percentage of those the Romans tried to kill on a cross actually died? I know history records a few folks who were purposefully taken down to try to save their lives at the request of a person of influence and power (which is not the case with Jesus), and even then, the majority of them died. But even if someone managed to fool the Romans and fake death upon a cross, tell me, what would the percentage be? Would it not be fair to say that in 99.999% of the cases the Romans proved themselves to be excellent executioners? So, if Shabir is willing to say Jesus was crucified (something the vast majority of Muslims reject), does it not follow that he is then relying upon a tiny fraction of a percentile as the realm of his possible argumentation?
Further, if language and context mean anything, would it not follow that the claims of the Jews would be defined by history itself? That is, if Surah 4:157 is responding to a boast by the Jews, as it says, who can possibly argue that the term as they would be using it would mean “hung on a cross but not killed”? The boast the text is attempting to respond to (rather poorly, to be sure) is that they slew Jesus, the messenger of Allah. But the text says they did not do this, but it was made to appear to them. Here is the text:
So even these words, over half a millennium removed from the time of Christ, are hardly supportive of the idea that in reality Jesus was, in fact, crucified, but, He just wasn’t killed. You don’t say “Yes, he was crucified, but was not killed” by saying “they neither killed him nor crucified him.” The repeated phraseology is far more likely to be a form of strong negation than it is anything else.
As for the first point, James in his report simply concentrates on what he presented in his opening statement and follows that with the incredible assertion that I did not respond to his points.
What I actually said was,
The concensus opinion of those with whom I spoke after the debate (hardly an unbiased group, obviously), was that Mr. Ally never even tried to mount a response to my presentation. In essence, at one point in cross-examination I asked Mr. Ally if he would not agree that all of the genuinely first century sources agree in proclaiming that Jesus died upon the cross, and he agreed that this is the case. Ally’s approach was to go back to his primary argument: he quotes from liberal “Christian” scholars (whether Roman Catholic, Open Theist, you name it) and hammers away on his attack upon the Bible. He even spent a tremendous amount of time, in cross-examination, closing statement, and audience questions, going back to the very same Synoptic issue about Jairus’ daughter that we discussed at Biola! A number of people were very disappointed that he wandered so far from the topic in that way.
Please note I said this was the concensus opinion of those with whom I spoke, and I identified them as a biased group, obviously. So I don’t see how Shabir comes up with “incredible assertion” when I was plainly, in context, speaking of the conclusions of those who observed the debate. But the fact of the matter is, Mr. Ally never argued that the first century evidence was not unanimously in favor of the conclusion that Jesus was crucified. He did not dispute the citations I gave. His response was not to present any counter citations of first century evidence, since there is none. All he could do was present a conspiracy theory, blaming Paul for hi-jacking Christianity, and on that basis present the amazing hyopthesis that somehow Jesus survived crucifixion. How, what Jesus did later, etc., he cannot say. But without a scintilla of evidence (outside of his own minority reading of 40 Arabic words written over a quarter of a million days after the events), Shabir opts for the 0.001% probability that the Romans missed one–a real important one at that. Then he combines this with the assertion that Paul and all the NT writers were simply dishonest (they kept making things up—in fact, anything that doesn’t agree with the Qur’an they made up), and, what is more, the original followers of Jesus, unlike the followers of Muhammad, were illiterate and therefore incapable of fending off the likes of Paul (wait, wasn’t Muhammad illiterate?), so they did not even manage to write a book or warn the world that Paul had taken over! Instead, Paul managed to take a crucified Jewish Messiah and create a world religion. Evidence offered from the first century? Nothing but the fact that naturalistic scholars don’t believe in things like revelation and prophecy.
I hope that reviewers will find that I did in fact respond as follows. I explained that the Quranic verse 4:157 does not require the interpretation that someone else was put on the cross instead of Jesus. Although this has been a widely circulated classical interpretation, I agreed with James that there is no report attributed to the Prophet, on whom be peace, to verify this. In sum, although this is an early interpretation it is not binding on Muslims to hold it. What precisely happened at the cross is not spelled out in the Quran, and it is up to Muslims to investigate the question using credible or available historical sources.
This is indeed Shabir’s position, and as he admits, it is not the majority opinion of classical Islamic theology, nor is it the majority position today amongst Muslims. That is fine. I’m not one to find the majority viewpoint overly comforting. But the fact remains that simply noting this viewpoint does not, in and of itself, constitute a meaningful rebuttal to my presentation that the first century sources are all supportive of the thesis I was defending in the debate. Nor is an attack on the reliability of the NT documents a sufficient argument for a Muslim who in the debate affirmed the perfection of the Qur’an as divine revelation. Shabir may think he can adopt the role of the agnostic and get away with the use of a double-standard. Given his own complaint to Robert Morey in his debate with him wherein he not only demanded (properly) that the Qur’an be read in context (and his appropriate assertion that the hadith likewise needs to be read in context), but he also insisted that one cannot use naturalistic scholarship to attack the Qur’an! The old saying is surely true, you can’t have your cake and eat it too!
( continued )