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The debate of CHRISTIAN FAITH between patriarch Timothy I and Caliph Mahdi in 781 A.D.



Part 4

Translation. By Alphonse Mingana



And our King asked: "Who is then the rider on an ass, and the rider on a camel?"—And I replied: "The rider on an ass is Darius the Mede, son of Assuerus, and the rider on a camel is Cyrus the Persian, who was from Elam. The King of Elam destroyed the kingdom of the Medes, and passed it to the Persians,51 as Darius the Mede had destroyed the kingdom of the Babylonians and passed it to the Medes."

And our King said to me: "From where is this known?"— And I replied: "From the context. In the preceding passage the prophet said, 'Go up, O Elam, and mountains of Media.' 52 By the words 'Mountains of Media' Darius the Mede is meant, and by the word 'Elam' the kingdom of the Persians is designated. The Book says also in the words that follow, 'And one of the horsemen came and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen,' and shows clearly that the passage refers to Darius and Cyrus, because it is they who destroyed the kingdom of the Babylonians."

And our King said: "Why did he say that the first was riding on an ass, and the second on a camel?"—And I replied: "The reason is that asses are generally more in use in the country of the Medes, while in the country of the Persians and Elamites camels are more in evidence. Through animals the prophet referred to countries, and through countries to the powers and kingdoms which were to rise in them. Further, because the kingdom of the Medes was to be weak and indolent while that of the Persians or Elamites was to be strong and valiant, God alluded to the kingdom of the Medes through the weak ass, and to that of Elamite and Persians through the valiant camel. In the Book of Daniel also God alluded to the kingdom of the Medes through the indolent bear, and to that of the Elamites and Persians through the valiant leopard.53 Again, in the vision of the King Nebuchadnezzar God symbolised the kingdom of the Medes in the malleable silver, while that of the Persians and Elamites in the strong brass.54 In this same way the prophet alluded to the kingdom of Media through the ass, and to that of Elam through the camel."

And our King said to me: "The rider on the ass is Jesus and the rider on the camel is Muhammad."—And I answered his Majesty: "O our God-loving King, neither the order of times nor the succession of events will allow us to refer in this passage the riding on the ass to Christ and the riding on the camel to Muhammad. It is known with accuracy from, the order and succession of the revelations to the prophets that the ass refers to the Medes and the camel to the Elamites, and this order of the revelations and this succession of events impede us from ascribing the words of the scripture to other persons. Even if one, through similarity between adjectives and names, does violence to the context and refers the passage dealing with the ass to Jesus on account of a different passage: 'Lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass,' 55 yet it is not possible to refer the passage dealing with the camel to Muhammad." 56

And our King said: "For what reason?"—And I replied: "Because the prophet Jacob said, 'The sceptre of the kingdom shall not depart from Judah, nor an utterer of prophecy from his seed, until Jesus Christ come, because kingdom is His, and He is the expectation of the peoples.' 57 In this he shows that after the coming of the Christ there will be neither prophet nor prophecy. And Daniel also concurs in saying that for putting an end to all vision and prophecy, and for the coming of Christ, the King, seven weeks and threescore and two weeks will elapse, and then the Christ will be killed, and there will not be any more kingdom and prophecy in Jerusalem.58 In this he showed that visions and prophecies will come to an end with the Christ. And the Christ Himself said: 'The prophets and the Torah prophesied until John.' 59 Every prophecy, therefore, ended with the time of Christ, and after Christ there was no prophecy nor did any prophet rise.60 All the prophets prophesied about Jesus Christ, and the Christ directed us to the Kingdom of Heaven, and it is superfluous that after the knowledge that we have of God and the Kingdom of Heaven we should be brought down to the knowledge of the human and earthly things.

"As to the prophets they prophesied sometimes concerning the earthly affairs and kingdoms, and some other times concerning the adorable Epiphany and Incarnation of the Word-God. As to Jesus Christ He did not reveal to us things dealing with the law and earthly affairs, but He solely taught us things dealing with the knowledge of God and the Kingdom of Heaven. We have already said that all prophecy extended as far as Christ only, as Christ Himself and the prophets asserted, and since from the time of Christ downwards only the Kingdom of God is being preached, as Jesus Christ taught, it is superfluous that after the adorable Incarnation of Christ we should accept and acknowledge another prophecy and another prophet A good and praiseworthy order of things is that which takes us up from the bottom to the top, from the human to the divine things, and from the earthly to the heavenly things; but an order which would lower us from top to bottom, from divine to worldly, and from heavenly to earthly, things, is bad and blameworthy."

And our victorious King said to me: "Why do you worship the Cross?"—And I replied: "First because it is the cause of life."— And our glorious King said to me: "A cross is not the cause of life but rather of death."—And I replied to him: "The cross, is as you say, O King, the cause of death; but death is also the cause of resurrection, and resurrection is the cause of life and immortality. In this sense the cross is the cause of life and immortality, and this is the reason why through it, as a symbol of life and immortality, we worship one and indivisible God. It is through it that God opened to us the source of life and immortality, and God who at the beginning ordered light to come out of darkness, who sweetened bitter water in bitter wood, who through the sight of a deadly serpent granted life to the children of Israel—handed to us the fruit of life from the wood of the Cross, and caused rays of immortality to shine upon us from the branches of the Cross.

"As we honour the roots because of the fruits that come out of them, so also we honour the Cross as the root of which the fruit of life was born to us, and from which the ray of immortality shone 61 upon us. As a decisive proof of the love of God for all, luminous rays of His love shine from all His creatures visible and invisible, but the most luminous rays of the love of God are those that shine from the rational beings. This love of God can then be demonstrated from all creatures, and from the ordinary Divine Providence that is manifest in them, but the great wealth of His love for all humanity is more strikingly in evidence in the fact that He delivered to death in the flesh His beloved Son for the life, salvation, and resurrection of all. It is only just, therefore, O our victorious King, that the medium through which God showed His love to all, should also be the medium through which all should show their love to God." 62

And our King said to me: "Can God then Himself die?"—And I replied to his Majesty: "The Son of God died in our nature, but not in His Divinity. When the royal purple and the insignia of the kingdom are torn, the dishonour redounds to the King: so also is die case with the death of the body of the Son-God."—And our King said to me: "May God preserve me from saying such a thing.63 They did not kill Him and they did not crucify Him, but He made a similitude for them in this way." 64—And I said to him: "It is written in the Surat `Isa, 'Peace be upon me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be sent again alive.' "65 This passage shows that He died and rose up. Further, God said to `Isa (Jesus) "I will make Thee die and take Thee up again to me." 66

And our King said: "He did not die then, but He will die afterwards."—And I replied to him: "Therefore He did not go up to heaven either, nor was He sent again alive, but He will go up to heaven afterwards and will be sent again alive in the future. No, our King, Jesus did go up to heaven a long time ago, and has been sent again alive, as your Book also testifies. If He went up it is obvious that He had died previously, and if He had died, it is known that He had died by crucifixion, as the Prophets had stated before His coming."

And our King said to me: "Which prophet said that He died by crucifixion?"—And I replied to his Majesty: "First the prophet David, who said, 'They pierced my hands and my feet, and my bones cried; and they looked and stared upon me; they parted my garments among them and cast lots upon my vesture.' 67 The Gospel testifies that all these were fulfilled. And Isaiah said, 'He shall be killed for our sins and humbled for our iniquity.' 68 And the prophet Jeremiah said, 'Wood will eat into His flesh and will destroy Him from the land of the living. I gave my body to wounds and my cheeks to blows, and I did not turn my face from shame and spittle.' 69 And the prophet Daniel said, ' And the Messiah shall be killed but not for Himself.' 70 And the prophet Zechariah said, 'And smite the shepherd of Israel on his cheeks,' and 'O sword, awake against my shepherd.' 71 Indeed numerous are the passages in which the prophets spoke of His death, murder, and crucifixion."

And our King said: "He made a similitude only for them in this way."—And I replied to him: "And who made a similitude for them in this way, O our King? How did God deceive them and show them something which was not true? It is incongruous to God that He should deceive and show something for another thing. If God deceived them and made a similitude for them, the Apostles who simply wrote what God had shown to them, would be innocent of the deception, and the real cause of it would be God. If on the other hand, we say that it is Satan who made such a similitude for the Apostles, what has Satan to do in the Economy of God? And who dares to say about the hawariyun 72 that Satan was able to deceive them? The Apostles drove and cast away the demons, who shouted and run away from them on account of the Divine power that was accompanying them. If crucifixion was only an unreal similitude, and if from it death took place, even death would be an unreal similitude; we further assert that from this death there has been resurrection, which in this case would also be an unreal similitude; then out of this resurrection there has been ascension to heaven, which would also be unreal and untrue. Now since the resurrection precedes the ascension, this resurrection is also a reality and not a similitude; and since death was a reality and not a similitude, and since death is preceded by crucifixion, this crucifixion is consequently a reality also, and not an illusion or a similitude."

And our King said: "It was not honourable to Jesus Christ that God should have allowed Him to be delivered to Jews in order that they might kill Him."—And I answered his Majesty: "The prophets have been killed by the Jews, but that not all those who have been killed by the Jews are despicable and devoid of honour 73 is borne out by the fact that none of the true prophets is despicable and devoid of honour in the sight of God. Since it is true that the prophets have generally been killed by the Jews, it follows that not all those who have been killed by the Jews are despicable and devoid of honour. This we assert for the prophets. So far as Jesus Christ is concerned we say that the Jews crucified only the Christ in the flesh, which He delivered to them voluntarily, and His murder was not imposed forcibly upon Him by them. Because He, Jesus Christ, said, 'I have power upon my soul to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; and no man taketh it from me.' 74 In this He showed that He would suffer out of His own free will, and not out of His own weakness or from the omnipotence of the Jews. He who when hanging on the wood of the Cross moved the heavens, shook the earth, changed the dazzling sun into darkness and the shining moon into blood-redness, and He who rent the stones and the graves, raised and resuscitated the dead, could not be so weak as not to be able to save Himself from the hands of the Jews. It is, therefore, out of His own free will that He approached the suffering on the cross and death, and He did not bear the death of crucifixion at the hands of the Jews out of abjection and weakness on His part, but He bore both crucifixion and death at the hands of the Jews out of His own free will."

And our King said: "No blame attaches, therefore, to the Jews from His death, if they simply fulfilled and satisfied His wish."—And I answered his Majesty: "If the Jews had solely crucified Him in order that He might raise the dead and ascend to heaven, they would naturally have been not only free from blame, but worthy of thousands of crowns and of encomia of all kinds, but if these same Jews crucified Him in order not that He might rise up again from the dead and ascend to heaven, but in order that they might intensify His death and obliterate Him from the surface of the earth, they would with great justice be worthy of blame and death. Indeed they crucified Him not in order that He might go up to heaven but go down to Sheol; God, however, raised Him up from the dead and took Him up to heaven."

And our God-loving King said to me; "Which of the two things would you be willing to admit? Was the Christ willing to be crucified or not? If He was willing to be crucified, the Jews who simply accomplished His will should not be cursed and despised. If, however, He was not willing to be crucified and He was crucified, He was weak and the Jews were strong. In this case, how can He be God, He who found Himself unable to deliver Himself from the hands of His crucifiers whose will appeared to be stronger than His? "

And I answered these objections by other questions as follows: "What would our King, endowed with high acumen and great wisdom, say to this: When God created Satan as one of the angels, did He wish this Satan to be an angel or not? If God wished Him to be Satan instead of an angel, the wicked Satan would, therefore, simply be accomplishing the will of God; but if God did not wish Satan 75 to be Satan but an angel, and in spite of that he became Satan, the will of Satan became stronger than the will of God. How can we then call God one whose will was overcome by the will of Satan, and one against whom Satan prevailed?

"Another question: Did God wish Adam to go out of Paradise or not? If He wished to drive him out of Paradise, why should Satan be blamed, who simply helped to do the will of God in his driving Adam from Paradise. On the other hand, if God did not wish Adam to go out of Paradise, how is it that the will of God became weak and was overcome, while the will of Satan became strong and prevailed? How can He be God, if His will has been completely overcome? The fact that Satan and Adam sinned against the will of God does not affect the divinity of God and does not show Him to be weak and deficient, and the fact that God had willed Satan to fall from heaven and Adam to go out of Paradise does not absolve Satan and Adam from blame and censure, and the fact that they did not sin to accomplish the will of God but to accomplish their own will are a good analogy to the case of Jesus Christ. He should not indeed be precluded from being God, nor should He be rendered weak and deficient in strength by the fact that the Jews sinned but not by His will, and that in their insolence they crucified Him; and the fact that the Christ wished to be crucified and die for the life, resurrection and salvation of all should not exempt the Jews from hell and curse.

"The Jews did not crucify the Christ because He willed it, but they crucified Him because of their hatred and malice both to Himself and to the One who sent Him. They crucified Him in order that they might destroy Him completely, and He willed to be crucified so that He might live again and rise from the dead, and be to all men the sign and proof of the resurrection of the dead.

"Another question: What would our victorious and powerful King say about those who fight for the sake of God.76 Do they wish to be killed or not? If they do not wish to be killed and are killed, their death has no merit, and they will not go to heaven; 77 and if they wish to be killed, are their murderers blameworthy or not? If they are not blameworthy, how is it that unbelievers who killed Muslims and believers are not blameworthy, and if they are blameworthy, why should they be so when what they did was simply to fulfil the wish of the victims? The fact is that the murderers of the men who fight for the sake of God are not exempted from fire and hell; indeed, the murderers do not slay them so that they may go to heaven, but they do it out of their wickedness and in order to destroy them. In this way also the Jews will not be exempted from the eternal fire by the fact that Jesus Christ wished to be crucified and die for all. They did not crucify Him because He wished to be crucified, but because they wished to crucify Him. They did not crucify Him in order that He might live again and rise up from the dead, but they crucified Him in order that He might be destroyed once for all. Let this suffice for this subject.

"Jesus was also able to save Himself from the Jews, if He had wished to do so. This is known first from the fact that on several occasions they ventured to seize Him, but because He did not wish to be seized by them, no one laid hands on Him. It is also known by the fact that while He was hanging on the cross, He moved the heavens, shook the earth, darkened the sun, blood-reddened the moon, rent the stones, opened the graves, and gave life to the dead that were in them. He who was able to do all these things in such a divine way, was surely able to save Himself from the Jews. And He who rescued from the mouth of Sheol in such a wonderful way the temple of His humanity after it had lain therein for three days and three nights, was surely able to save and rescue the very same temple from the unjust Jews, but if He had saved it He would not have been crucified, and if He had not been crucified He would not have died, and if He had not died He would not have risen up to immortal life, and if He had not risen up to immortal life, the children of men would have remained without a sign and a decisive proof of the immortal life.

"To-day because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead the eyes of all the children of men look towards an immortal life, and consequently in order that this expectation of the immortal life and of the world to come might be indelibly impressed upon mankind, it was right that Jesus Christ should rise from the dead; but in order that He might rise from the dead, it was right that He should first die, and in order that He might truly die it was imperative that His death should have been first witnessed by all, as His resurrection was witnessed by all. This is why He died by crucifixion. If He were to suffer, to be crucified and die before all, when He had to rise from the dead His resurrection would also be believed by all. Immortal life is thus the fruit of the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead—a resurrection which all believers expect—is the outcome of the death on the cross.

"If He had delivered Himself from the hands of His crucifiers, He would have brought profit to Himself alone, and would have been of no use to the rest of mankind, like Enoch and Elijah who are kept in Paradise beyond the reach of death for their exclusive benefit, but now that He delivered Himself into the hands of crucifiers, and they dared to kill Him on their own account, He conquered death after three days and three nights, rose up to immortal life and brought profit first to His own self and then to all creatures, and He became the sign and proof of resuscitation and resurrection to all rational beings. He put His wish into practice in an Economy full of wisdom, and His crucifiers cannot be absolved from blame any more than the brothers of Joseph can be absolved from blame.

"When Joseph was sold by his brothers as a slave to some men, and he afterwards rose up from slavery to the government of Egypt, it was not the aim of those who sold him that he should govern Egypt. If they had dreamed of this they would never have sold him into slavery. Indeed, those who were unable to bear the recital of Joseph's dreams on account of their intense jealousy and violent envy, how could they have borne seeing him at the head of a Government. They sold him into slavery but God, because of the injustice done to him by his brothers, raised him from slavery to power. This analogy applies to the Jews and to Satan their teacher: if they had known that Christ would rise again to life from the dead and ascend from earth to heaven after His crucifixion, they would never have induced themselves to crucify Him, but they crucified Him out of their own wicked will."

"What would you say to this, O King of Kings: If your Majesty had a house and wanted to pull it down in order to rebuild it again, if an enemy came and pulled it down and burned it with fire, would you give thanks to that enemy for his action in pulling down the house, or |47 would you not rather inflict punishment on him, as on one who had demolished and burned a house belonging to your Majesty?"—And our King replied: "The one who would do such a thing would deserve a painful death."—And I then answered: "So also the Jews deserve all kinds of woes, because they wished to demolish and destroy the temple of the Word of God, which was anointed and confirmed by the Holy Spirit, which was divinely fashioned without the intervention of man from a holy virgin, and which God raised afterwards to heaven. God showed in all this its thorough distinction from, and its high superiority over, all else. As the heaven is high above the earth, the temple of the Word of God is greater and more distinguished than all angels and children of men. If Jesus Christ is in heaven and heaven is the throne of God, it follows that Jesus Christ sat on the throne of God."



51. Read l-Parsaye. 

52. Is. xxi. 2.

53. Dan. vii. 5-6.

54. Dan. ii. 31 sqq.

55. Ezech. ix. 9.

56. A great deal is made of this prophecy of Isaiah concerning the rider on an ass and the rider on a camel in Ibn Rabban's Apology the Kitab ad-Din (pp. 95-97 of my edition). The author concludes his references to it in the following words of my own translation: "Are not men of intelligence and science amongst the People of the Book ashamed to attribute such a clear and sublime prophecy to some rude and barbarous people? . . . Did not the adversaries feel abashed in saying that the rightly guided prophets of the family of Isaac prophesied about the Kings of Babylon, Media, Persia, and Khuzistan, and neglected to mention such an eminent Prophet and such a great and Abrahamic nation?"

57. Gen. xlix. 10 (Peshitta with slight changes).

58. Dan. ix. 24 sqq.

59. Matt. xi. 13.

60. The last of the prophets, according to Muslim apologists, is Muhammad: "If the prophet had not appeared the prophecies of the prophets about Ishmael and about the Prophet who is the last of the prophets would have necessarily become without object." Ibn Rabban's Apology, the Kitab ad-Din, p. 77 of my edition et passim.

61. Read we-azlegh with a waw.

62. This subject of the worship of the Cross is also alluded to at some length by the Christian apologist Kindi in his Risalah, p. 139.

63. Here as above on p. 31 the Arab, a`udhu billahi.

64. Kur'an, iv. 156. The Kurra apparently read the verb as shabbaha and not shubbiha in the time of the Patriarch Timothy.

65. Kur'an, xix. 34.

66. Kur'an, iii. 48. The Syriac marfa` from Arab, wa-rafi`uka. 

67. Ps. xxii. 16-18 (Peshitta).

68. Is., liii. 5 (Peshitta).

69. Cf, Jer. Lam., iii. 4 and 30 etc.

70. Dan. ix. 26. Read laih. 

71. Zech. xiii. 7.

72. The Arabic word often used in the Kur'an to express "Apostles." It is of Ethiopic origin.

73. The word "Jew " has been, and is often in our days, a term of derision in the East, where also it indicates weakness and powerlessness.

74. John x. 18.

75. The Arabic Kur'anic word iblis.

76. The Arabic: mutawwa`in bi-sabil il lahi.

77. Syr. ganntha from which the Kur'anic Arabic jannah.


 End of part 4