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
"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
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
"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
57. Gen. xlix. 10 (Peshitta with slight
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,
63. Here as above on p. 31 the Arab, a`udhu
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
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
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
of part 4