by Anders Nissen
October 19 2000 a debate was held between Shabir Ally and Jay Smith on the truth about Jesus (see http://www.facultylinc.com/national/fslf.nsf). Is it the Quran or the Bible that presents the true Jesus? Jay Smith opened the debate by presenting reasons for holding the biblical texts as historically superior to the Quran. Shabir Ally actually never addressed the issue of historical reliability of the Quran. Instead Ally focused on the picture of Jesus in the New Testament and asserted that the Bibles view of Jesus is self-refuting and can therefore not be accepted.
A main point in Ally's presentation, repeated several times was this: a crucified Messiah is a contradiction in terms. In his opening Ally quotes from Jay Smiths paper "Evidence for the Resurrection", written in April 97: "The rule was, that if your messiah was killed then obviously he was not the true messiah". Ally continues by saying that if Jesus rose from the dead, then there is no problem. But until Jay Smith proves the resurrection Ally will continue to believe that "a crucified Messiah is as self refuting as a square circle, a four sided triangle or a married bachelor". According to Shabir Ally the Messiah was expected to be victorious, but Ally claims that if the Messiah was killed by his enemies he could not have been victorious. Since the New Testament speaks of a crucified Messiah and the Quran speaks of a Messiah that was not crucified, the Quran must be preferred, at least until the resurrection is proven. Jay Smith took up Shabir's challenge and gave reasons for accepting the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This paper will instead focus on Ally's basic assumption, that a crucified Messiah is illogical. To answer the question whether the New Testament picture of Messiah is believable I will break down this question into smaller questions.
Does Shabir Ally show that a crucified Messiah a contradiction in terms?
As noted above, Shabir Ally quotes from a paper by Jay Smith about the resurrection of Jesus. In context, Jay is talking about others who claimed to be the Messiah and were killed. The normal thing to do if the alleged Messiah was killed was to abandon the belief in him as the Messiah. While Jay is totally correct in this assertion, Shabir Ally's assertion does not follow.
All that is stated is how the Jews normally reacted when an alleged Messiah was killed. But we cannot decide who the true Messiah is from what the Jews expected of the Messiah. The point Jay Smith is making is that the belief in Jesus as Messiah, despite his death, is quite extraordinary, NOT that it is contrary to reason. The question is whether the concept of a crucified Messiah contradicts the Old Testament, not if it contradicts some of the expectations the Jews had about the Messiah.
What did the Old Testament actually foretell about the Messiah?
The Old Testament was the sacred Scriptures of the Jews in Jesus' times (and it still is). It is in the Old Testament we are to look for predictions about the Messiah. Since Ally's case is depending on the assertion that the Messiah was not to be crucified, let's see if the Old Testament agrees. Does the Old Testament say that the Messiah will not be killed, but instead that he will prosper? One text that does speak about the Messiah being successful is Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Let's take a closer look at this text! (Quoted from the RSV.)
"Behold, my servant shall prosper." (52:13a) So, the Messiah actually will prosper. But how will this happen? 53:3 tells us that he was "despised and rejected by men". Verse 4 speaks of him carrying our sorrows, while we believed him to be smitten by God. "But", verse 5 continues, "he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed." What does all this mean? It seems to mean that the Messiah will suffer in the place of others. In verse 9a we are told "they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death". This means that he actually would die and be buried. But it does not end here. As a consequence of his faithful acts, the Messiah will be vindicated by God. "Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors." (v.12a)
According to this passage then, the Messiah will prosper and we are told how this will happen. First he will be rejected then he will suffer in the place of others even until death. But after being buried he will be vindicated by God. But doesn't this sound pretty much like what the New Testament says about Jesus? He was rejected, and he suffered and was killed, but God vindicated him by raising him from the dead. Thus, far from being a contradiction in terms, a crucified Messiah fits well into the Old Testament picture of the Messiah.
Can a non-crucified, non-dead man rise from the dead?
It seems like Ally is refuting Smith's evidence for the resurrection on the basis that Jesus never was crucified. Without the assumption that Jesus was not killed on the cross, statements like »the empty tomb proves nothing« or the proposal that the crucified man that appeared to Thomas (John 20:24-29) could have been »any crucified man just walking around« are quite unbelievable. On the basis that Jesus was not crucified, however, they make sense (although I don't find the explanation of the Thomas incident very likely even on that basis).
But if Ally refutes the resurrection on the basis that Jesus was not crucified, isn't he just arguing in a circle? If the crucifixion did not occur, then there could be no resurrection. And if the resurrection is not proven, Ally says that he will not believe it. But how could the resurrection be proven to someone who does not believe that Jesus died? Unless you believe in Jesus' death on the cross, his resurrection is not only unlikely but virtually impossible a living man cannot be brought back from the dead, since he is not among the dead!
Throughout his debate with Jay Smith, Shabir Ally claimed that the concept of a crucified Messiah is self-refuting. As I have shown in this paper, quite the contrary is true. If Jesus were the Messiah, we would on the Old Testament prediction expect him to suffer and die and a crucifixion fits well into this scheme.
Ally's arguments against the resurrection seem to be based on the idea that Jesus was not crucified. But here, besides arguing in circles, Ally does not consider what the Scriptures actually foretold about the Messiah: that he would be suffer and die and be vindicated!
Even though I did not present a case for the historical credibility of the resurrection, such a case can and has been stated a number of times. For a good presentation of such a case, check out the books of William Lane Craig (www.amazon.com). Some of the material in his books can be found in his articles on the subject at his homepage (http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/menus/historical.html). See also Jay Smith's paper on the subject at http://www.debate.org.uk/topics/theo/resurrec.htm.
A second note
I realize that not all scholars want to accept the servant of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 as being identical to the Messiah. There are, however, good reasons to interpret the passage as referring to the Messiah.
Firstly, Jesus himself interprets this passage as referring to him. Jesus said: "For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, And he was reckoned with transgressors; for what is written about me has its fulfilment" (Luke 22:37, RSV). The quoted verse is Isaiah 53:12.
Secondly, alternative interpretations does not do justice to the entire passage. For example, one of the most common alternative interpretation is the suggestion that the text refers to the nation of Israel, rather than to an individual. This interpretation does not take into consideration that the servant is spoken of as distict from the people (53:6,8).
Thirdly, both Christians and Jews have interpreted the passage Messianically. In his commentary on Isaiah, Delitzsch quotes the Jewish interpretation of Abravanel: "Christian scholars interpret this prophecy as referring to that man who was crucified in Jerusalem about the end of the second temple, and who, according to their view, was the Son of God, who became man in the womb of the Virgin. But Jonathan ben Uziel explains it as relating to the Messiah who has yet to come; and this is the opinion of the ancients in many of their Midrashim." This is quite extraordinary, since the natural conclusion should be that Jesus is the Messiah since he fulfilled the prophecy. Delitzsch comments Abravanels words: "So that even the synagogue could not help acknowledging that the passage of the Messiah through death to glory is predicted here." (Delitzsch, Franz, Commentary to the Old Testament in ten volumes: Vol VII Isaiah Part 2. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, translated 1877, reprinted 1976, p. 303)
Responses to Shabir Ally and his "Islamic Information"
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