Crucifixion of Jesus has the one of the oldest debates between Muslims and Christians. What do Islam and Christianity tell about it?
Islamic Belief in the Crucifixion of Jesus
God said in the Quran:
And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah.” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. (Holy Quran 4:157)
As we clearly see from the above verses, the Jews didn’t crucify Jesus (Peace be upon him) himself, but the one crucified was made to appear to them as Jesus (Peace be upon him) that they though he was Jesus, but actually he wasn’t, while Jesus (Peace be upon him) was ascended to Heaven alive, and he will come back as a sign for the Hereafter.
Is there a strong historical evidence for Jesus’ crucifixion?
First of all, as Muslims, we needn’t give historical evidence that Jesus didn’t die on the cross, since we believe that the one on the cross had the appearance of Jesus (Peace be upon him), so it may have happened that they were deceived and thought that the one crucified was Jesus (Peace be upon him). Besides, if you want a historical evidence for Jesus not crucified, I think that you also need historical evidence for the huge events happened during crucifixion:
Matthew 27:51 And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake; and the rocks were rent; 52 and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints that had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming forth out of the tombs after his resurrection they entered into the holy city and appeared unto many.
I think that something like that must have been very huge event, especially when it accompanies crucifixion, I want to ask, is there a historical evidence for it? Actually no, Christians may cite what was mentioned about Thallus, a Roman historian who lived in the first century. But actually there is no reference for the writings of Thallus except for some vague quotes from later Christian writings, so it is not considered to be non-Christian evidence, as we don’t have what Thallus actually said. Note also that even the Gospels of Mark and John didn’t mention this event.
Early Christian Writings telling that Jesus wasn’t crucified but exchanged
Not all early Christian sects believed that Jesus (Peace be upon him) was crucified, we find for example that the Basilides who believed that Simon of Cyrene who was crucified; Jesus exchanged forms with him on the way, and, standing unseen opposite in Simon’s form, mocked those who crucified him, and then ascended to heaven. (Source here)
Also Gospel Judas which tells that Jesus told Judas:
“Truly [i] say to you, Judas, [those who] offer sacrifices to Saklas [… exemplify …] everything that is evil. But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man thatclothes me. Already your horn has been raised, your wrath has been kindled, your star has shown brightly, and your heart has [been hardened…]” (Source here)
So according to the Gospel of Judas someone will cloth Jesus, which seems to be talking about dying on the cross.
Of course this doesn’t mean that Muslims must agree with the Basilides or Gnostics in their beliefs, or that they actually had the true belief, but this is a proof that the belief that the one who was crucified was Jesus didn’t have that consensus, what happened was that Christians took the Romans’ testimony who didn’t even believe in Jesus (Peace be upon him).
Evidence adopted by Christians:
The evidence is taken either from the Bible, or from the Jews, or from the Romans, or from Josephus. As for the Bible, when we look at the story of crucifixion in the four gospels, we find many contradictions in the story of crucifixion between Gospels as the way Judas gave Jesus, the way Judas died, the hour of crucifixion, who went to the tomb after crucifixion, it seems that everyone heard narrations and wrote them without making sure if these were really narrations or not.
As for the Jews, the Quran itself testifies that they said that they killed Jesus, and this was because they hated him, and tried to show that they were victorious over him, but actually they were not since God saved him, and made him rise to Heaven.
The same thing for the Roman historians, both of them were born after crucifixion, for example Tacitus was born in 56 AD, and Lucian of Samosta was born in 125 AD, both of them didn’t live at that time, and they may have taken this from what people say. Besides, did they give the account confirming the huge events Gospel Matthew tells in Matthew 27:51? I don’t think so.
As for what Josephus said concerning Jesus, there is a very serious problem in authenticity of this testimony, even the Early Church Fathers didn’t know about it till Eusebius, but at the same time, we find Origen -who was familiar with writings of Josephus saying nothing about that testimony.
The conclusion is that saying that Jesus was the one crucified were only narrations that were transmitted between people, and it lacks much accurate evidence, as God said in the Quran:
And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. (Holy Quran 4:157)