The Crucifixion of Jesus
Docetic and Gnostic Influences
Wa maa Salabuhu – They did not Crucify Him!
Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. Acts 2:36
The crucifixion of Jesus is recorded in some detail in all four canonical gospels and throughout the Book of Acts and the other books of the New Testament. It is one of most widely accepted facts about the life of Jesus. Although the modern so-called ‘questers’ for the historical Jesus, a Jesus shorn of every supernatural facet of his being and ministry, do everything in their power to diminish him and reduce him to being no more than a self-styled apocalyptic preacher, they nevertheless universally acknowledge his crucifixion. It is widely regarded as an indisputable fact of history, the one certain fact of his life. Some of the earliest non-Christian sources also confirm that Jesus was crucified, in particular the critique of the 2nd century Greek satirist Lucian of Samasota. Tacitus, a Roman historian also writing not later than the beginning of the 2nd century, likewise mentioned that Jesus was executed by Pontius Pilate – the only reference he has to Pilate’s governorship of Judea.
Certainly the earliest Christian records confirm it without qualification. Jesus was crucified on the Jewish day of preparation for the Passover, was buried in a tomb nearby, and rose from the dead on the third day thereafter. Therefore it is most surprising to find that, although the Qur’an acknowledges so many of the supernatural elements surrounding Jesus (such as his virgin-birth and miracles), it denies the most obvious natural event in his life, namely his death on a cross.
The Qur’an deals with the crucifixion of Jesus in just one passage. It reads: ‘And they say, “Indeed we killed the Messiah Jesus the son of Mary,” but they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but so it was made to appear to them. And those who differ therein are confused. They have no knowledge of it save to follow a conjecture, for they certainly did not kill him, but Allah raised him to himself. And Allah is the Mighty, the Wise’ (Surah 4:157-158).
Because the Qur’an denies the crucifixion, it by implication denies all that followed from it. It never mentions the resurrection of Jesus, it has no knowledge of the redeeming work that Jesus did (‘The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ – 1 Timothy 1:15), and it is unaware of the fundamental basis of Christian belief in Jesus as the Saviour of the world.
There are two crucial points in the Quranic passage denying Jesus’ crucifixion. The first is the actual denial itself – what is the Qur’an rejecting? The second is, what exactly is the Quranic alternative? The first is very easy to answer. The Qur’an, in this solitary passage dealing with the subject, flatly denies that Jesus was killed or crucified by the Jews. That is the emphatic element of these words: wa maa qataluhu (‘for they did not kill him’), wa maa salabuhu (‘and they did not crucify him’). As the Qur’an nowhere suggests that anyone else might have crucified Jesus, or that he actually was affixed to the cross but didn’t die on it, the dogmatic character of its words here must be taken to be decisive – Jesus was not crucified in any way whatsoever, and was not killed by the Jews.
The world has grown smaller in recent times and a number of Muslim scholars have become increasingly exposed to the Christian faith and its historical records of Jesus’ life. One thing has become obvious to them – the historical truth of Jesus’ crucifixion. To remain loyal to the Qur’an, however, they have endeavoured to avoid its clear teachings here and have come up with all sorts of compromising alternatives. One of the commonest of these is the argument that Jesus did not die on the cross but survived it. This, however, requires considerable torturing of the Arabic words wa maa salabuhu. They contend that these words only mean that Jesus was not killed on the cross but may well have been nailed to it. But ‘to crucify’ someone, in any context, must mean at least to affix him to a cross. All English dictionary definitions of crucifixion carry this basic meaning.
To say, as the Qur’an does, that he was not crucified can only be taken to mean he was never affixed to a cross. Any other interpretation of the emphatic Quranic denial of Jesus’ crucifixion has to be forced on to it and purely to fulfil an alternative agenda – to accept Jesus’ crucifixion while denying that he died on the cross.
Another favourite argument is to claim that this text is only denying that the Jews crucified Jesus, leaving open the door to suggest that the Qur’an is not denying that the Romans might have done it. This interpretation is also one from silence against its emphatic denial that Jesus was crucified, one which it nowhere else attempts to qualify. There are only two other passages in the Qur’an actually dealing with the death of Jesus. The first reads: ‘O Jesus, I will cause you to die, and exalt you in my presence, and deliver you from those who disbelieve, and make those who follow you above those who disbelieve on the Day of Resurrection’ (Surah 3:55). The text, however, says nothing to place Jesus’ death in any kind of historical context. The second is very similar. Jesus will (presumably on the Day of Judgment) say to Allah: ‘But when you caused me to die, you were the watcher over them’ (Surah 5:120). Once again nothing further is said to define the time or circumstances of Jesus’ death, only a confirmation of its occurrence. The same goes for the declarations in the Qur’an that peace will be on both Jesus and John (‘Isa and Yahya) on the days of their births, deaths, and resurrections (Surah 19:15,33).
The Qur’an denies the crucifixion of Jesus emphatically in Surah 4:157 and as it has no teaching remotely to the contrary anywhere else, it must be accepted that the Qur’an goes against all the historical records of Jesus’ crucifixion. The reasons for this will appear when the Gnostic texts dealing with Jesus’ crucifixion are studied and analysed.
Shubbiha Lahum – an Undefined Likeness
If the Qur’an is very definite and emphatic in its denial of Jesus’ crucifixion, it is equally vague and non-forthcoming on what actually happened that fateful Friday. It simply says that it was made to appear to the Jews that they had crucified Jesus without any explanation of how this was done. The words here, wa lakin shubbiha lahum, literally mean: ‘but a likeness of him was made to them’ namely a figure with his appearance.
The Muslim world has always, and almost universally, taken this to mean that someone looking like Jesus was crucified in his place. As the passage goes on to say that Allah raised Jesus to himself, Muslims throughout the world have consistently believed that someone standing by was made to look like Jesus and was mistaken for him, being crucified in his place. With the exception of perplexed Muslim scholars who try to harmonise Jesus’ crucifixion with the Quranic denial of it, the vast majority of Muslims throughout the world continue to hold to the traditional substitution theory.
In one of the earliest accounts of Muslim interpretation of this passage Ibn Ishaq, the famous compiler of the Sirat Rasulullah, reports that Jesus turned to his disciples and said: ‘which of you would like to be my companion in Jannat (heaven) by being made to look like me to the people and by being killed in my place?’ One of them, a disciple named Sergius, responded ‘Ya Ruhullah’ (‘O Spirit of Allah,’ a common Muslim name for Jesus), adding ‘I’ll do it.’ Sergius was duly crucified in Jesus’ place (Jafar Muhammad at-Tabari, Jami bayan fii tafsiru’l-Qur’an, Vol.9, p.371).
In other traditions, all the disciples around Jesus were transformed into his likeness to confuse his persecutors. Some early writers said it was his betrayer (presumably Judas) who was made to look like Jesus, a convenient way of justifying the execution of one of his followers in his place. The Qur’an, however, does not actually say that someone else was taken to be Jesus and crucified instead of him. It only, and very vaguely, says that a likeness was substituted for him.
Most leading Muslim scholars who continue to acknowledge the substitution theory struggle with explanations as to why anyone had to be crucified in Jesus’ place at all. If God was willing to rescue Jesus, why didn’t he just do it? Why, through his own act of transforming the appearance of a bystander to look like Jesus, was that innocent person (innocent, that is, of any supposed crime for which Jesus was being sought) put to death so unnecessarily and unfairly? These scholars often avoid the issues by saying that it was only certain apparent and undefined circumstances that produced the illusion of Jesus’ crucifixion (Yusuf Ali), or that Jesus was miraculously substituted in a way which is not touched upon in the Qur’an (Daryabadi), or that the one who was crucified was somehow or other taken to be Jesus (Maududi).
In passing it is, in the circumstances, rather ironical to find that the Qur’an immediately goes on to insinuate that those who differ about what happened that day are confused and only follow their own conjectures. It is the Qur’an’s own limited and vague statement about what actually happened that has left Muslim scholars confused and uncertain. Unable on any factual grounds to specifically state what took place or who was crucified instead of Jesus, they have to concede that it is not possible to say for certain what transpired that day. On the contrary Christians from all the three major Christian movements (Roman Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox) uniformly and universally accept that it was Jesus himself who was crucified and that he laid down his life willingly as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of all who will believe in him.
The Gnostic Origins of the Substitution Theory
The crucifixion of Jesus is so well attested historically that even the most critical scholars of the Christian scriptures acknowledge it. Why, then, does the Qur’an deny it so emphatically? And why does it offer such a vague and uncertain alternative to something it is otherwise so certain about? One has to turn to other sources which have no factual historical basis, but which preceded the Qur’an in time, to discover the answer. The Qur’an says that a ‘likeness’ of Jesus was made to appear to them and was crucified in his place – what could it possibly be talking about? Is there any practical or logical reason why anyone should believe that Allah changed the facial appearance of a bystander to make him look like Jesus, resulting in his execution instead?
The earliest opposition to the growing Christian faith was the Gnostic movement which had its origins in Platonic dualism and eastern mysticism. It took root in the 2nd century but faded out in the 4th as the Christian faith gained complete ascendancy in Europe. Gnosticism had some similarities with Christianity – it believed that men and women needed to be saved, but it taught that salvation came through self-knowledge to those who had a divine spark in their souls. By truly coming to know himself a man could be saved and become strong enough through self-knowledge (gnosis) to eventually run a gauntlet of evil-minded archons in the heavenly realms and regain unity with the ultimate All-in-All.
The Gnostics had to respond to Christianity. It was outstripping them and they adopted the maxim that, if you can’t beat your opponents, don’t join them – just syncretise the core strength of their faith! Make him one of your own. The result was that Jesus was reinvented into a Gnostic mystic sage whose ministry was not to heal, redeem or actually do anything, but rather just to guide others towards the path of Gnostic wisdom and enlightenment. It produced a Jesus who was no more than a talking head, not someone who did something remarkable for you (as the Christian Jesus did), but someone who only breathes out Gnostic wisdom to assist you, by your own energies and efforts, to find the path of salvation.
The Gnostics never treated the crucifixion of Jesus as a purely historical event. The Gnostic text known as the Secret Book of James quotes Jesus as saying: ‘Remember my cross and my death, and you will live’ (NHS, p.25), which is as close as the Gnostics got to the original Christian awareness that the crucifixion of Jesus was not just a historical event, but the supreme event that secured their eternal redemption. Another Gnostic text, the Gospel of Truth, says: ‘Jesus appeared, put on that book, was nailed to a tree, and published the Father’s edict on the cross. Oh, what a great teaching! He humbled himself even unto death, though clothed in eternal life’ (NHS, p.38). This passage sounds decidedly Christian, but is found in a Gnostic text written almost certainly by Valentinus, a renegade from the Christian faith in the 2nd century, who was pressing Gnostic beliefs and teachings as close to the Christian faith as he could to hopefully convert Christians to the Gnostic cause.
In all these quotations, however, we can see that the crucifixion of Jesus was regarded as a fact of history and, indeed, as more than that. The Gospel of Truth also says of him: ‘For this reason the merciful, faithful Jesus was patient and accepted his suffering to the point of taking up that book, since he knew that his death would be life for many’ (NHS, p.38). The Gnostics seem to have been fully aware that Jesus had died for others so that through his death they might attain to eternal life – which is as close as Gnostic teaching ever got to the original Christian position.
In another Gnostic text, however, we read that Protennoia, the Gnostic symbol of ultimate divine unity, declared: ‘And I put on Jesus. I bore him from the cursed wood and established him in the dwelling places of his father. And those who guard their places did not recognize me’ (NHS, p.735). This is our introduction to what became a fundamental Gnostic teaching about Jesus, namely that the human Jesus was just an ordinary person of flesh and blood, but that a divine Christ figure took him over and possessed him. In the text quoted, Protennoia (the personification of eternal wisdom) said that she bore him ‘from the cursed wood,’ namely the cross, and took his Christ-spirit to his Father’s heavenly realm. Those who did not recognize her are the Roman soldiers who were standing by, guarding the cross of Jesus from any who might attempt to deliver him.
Two other passages from Gnostic writings bring out more precisely what is being said here. The first is the Second Discourse of Great Seth, a decidedly anti-Christian work. Here the eternal Christ-figure says: ‘I was in the mouth of lions. They hatched a plot against me, to counter the destruction of their error and foolishness, but I did not give into them as they had planned. I was not hurt at all. Though they punished me, I did not die in actuality but only in appearance, that I might not be put to shame by them, as if they are part of me’ (NHS, p.480).
This passage shows that only the human Jesus perished. The real Christ-figure, the divine spirit, escaped from him and was raised to heaven. Note these words: I did not die in actuality but only in appearance. This is precisely what the Qur’an says – they did not kill him (the Christ) but a likeness in appearance to him was crucified in his place! Here the Quranic vagueness suddenly begins to take shape. The Christ-figure left Jesus and was raised spiritually to heaven, the one who had possessed Jesus and who had made him what he was. The ‘likeness,’ the physical shell of the human Jesus that remained after he had gone, was crucified instead.
The Muslim substitution theory is based on the premise that someone was made to look like Jesus and was crucified as if he was Jesus, but the Qur’an says only that a likeness of him was substituted for him while he was raptured up to heaven. The Gnostic teaching parallels this: the divine, spiritual Christ-figure was taken to heaven while his likeness, the human Jesus through whom he had previously been known, perished in his place. It is now clear where the Qur’an got its strange idea that Jesus was not crucified but only a likeness to him, a human figure bearing his appearance.
The Qur’an has distanced itself from the historical fact that Jesus was crucified and has, in its place, followed and adapted an apocryphal and legendary story that the mystical Christ was raised up while the human Jesus perished. The Gnostics twisted the crucifixion narratives and substituted their fictitious alternative in its place. The Qur’an regrettably took this perversion of the crucifixion story and restated it, typically changing it even further, in a context devoid of historical truth.
The Christ-figure in the Second Discourse of Great Seth continues: ‘The death they think I suffered they suffered in their error and blindness. They nailed their man to the death.’ This is the Gnostic substitution theory – the Christ-figure was raised, but the human Jesus was crucified in his place. The Muslim substitution theory is merely a further distortion of it – Jesus himself was raised but another person, in his perfect likeness, was crucified in his place.
The Christ-figure continues: ‘As for me, they saw me and punished me, but someone else, their father, drank the gall and the vinegar, it was not I. They were striking me with a scourge, but someone else, Simon, bore the cross on his shoulder. Someone else bore the crown of thorns. And I was on high, poking fun at all the excesses of the rulers and the fruit of their error and conceit. I was laughing at their ignorance.’ Someone else was crucified in his place, but one bearing his likeness. He, however, was raised above them, laughing at their errors. It is quite obvious where the Quranic alternative, a substitution, came from. The Christ-figure declares: ‘I kept changing my forms on high, transforming from shape to shape, so when I was at their gates, I assumed their likeness’ (NHS, p.480).
The Christ-figure continues: ‘The world was not receptive to my visible exaltation, my third immersion in an image that was perceptible,’ meaning it did not recognize him as he possessed the human Jesus, the visible and perceptible image of him. It goes on: ‘They bound this one with many bonds and nailed him to the cross, and they secured him with four bronze nails. He ripped the temple veil with his own hands’ (NHS, p.481). The human Jesus, the exact likeness, was crucified, but the heavenly Christ-figure escaped and was raised back to heaven. The Qur’an says al-Masih, the Christ, was raised up, but one who was his perfect likeness was crucified in his place. The parallel is so clear that it proves the dependence of the Qur’an’s teaching in Surah 4:157-158 on the prior Gnostic text.
The second narrative appears in the Gnostic text known as the Revelation of Peter. The famous apostle, in this forged apocryphal work compiled at least two centuries after his time, is made to say: ‘I saw him apparently being arrested by them. I said, “What do I see, Lord? Is it really you they are seizing, and are you holding on to me? And who is the one smiling and laughing above the cross? Is it someone else whose feet and hands they are hammering”?’ (NHS, p.495-496). The words that have been italicised, and those that follow in the next paragraph, are those that match the teaching of Surah 4:157 in the Qur’an.
The Saviour replies: ‘The one you see smiling and laughing above the cross is the living Jesus. The one into whose hands and feet they are driving the nails is his fleshly part, the substitute for him. They are putting to shame the one who came into being in the likeness of the living Jesus. Look at him and look at me’ (NHS, p.496). It is obvious now where the Qur’an derived its statement that a ‘likeness’ to Jesus was crucified in his place while he was taken up to heaven.
The Saviour finally adds: ‘The one they crucified is the firstborn, the abode of demons, the stone vessel in which they live, the man of Elohim, the man of the cross, who is under the law. But the one who is standing near him is the living Saviour, who was in him at first and was arrested but was set free’ (NHS, p.496). The first is the human Jesus, enslaved in a body of flesh, but the second is the spiritual Christ who was taken up to heaven.
The Gnostic teaching that the Christ was a figure who had come from heaven and who had no physical form but only took on the human Jesus, is an adaptation of the early heresy known as docetism. This suggested that Jesus was at no time a normal human being and that he only appeared to be a man of flesh and blood who could feel no pain or suffering. From this error the substitution theory developed until it found its ultimate home in the Quranic teaching about a likeness, a twin-image, being substituted for the real Jesus as he was raised up to heaven.
Basilides was an early Gnostic who claimed that his teachings were derived from the apostle Matthias (Acts 1:23). Irenaeus says that he taught that the nous (the spirit, or mind) of the eternal Father and the one called Christ appeared on earth in the person of Jesus. As he was carrying his cross to Golgotha the Roman soldiers compelled Simon of Cyrene to carry it in his place (Matthew 27:32). Jesus suddenly performed a miracle and transformed his image to be like Simon’s, while Simon suddenly took on his likeness. Simon was then crucified as a substitute for Jesus who stood by laughing. Here, again, is another story in the Gnostic mould that explains and parallels the Quranic story of the rapture of Jesus to heaven and the substitution of one who was transformed into his ‘likeness’ and crucified as a substitute for him (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.24).
A similar story appears in the fictive and apocryphal book known as the Acts of John. As Jesus hung on the cross, John supposedly suddenly saw his Lord, the Christ, in a cave, who said to him: ‘John, for the people below in Jerusalem I am being crucified and pierced with lances and reeds and given vinegar and gall to drink. But to you I am speaking, and listen to what I speak’ (Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha, Vol.2, p.232). The heresy was widespread and the adoption of its basic essentials into the Qur’an in Surah 4:157-158, modified somewhat but nevertheless incorporating its rapture, likeness and substitution themes, is thereby easily explained. The Quranic alternative is based on folklore, Gnostic docetism and other apocryphal sources, and not on the original historical records of Jesus’ life.
The Ascension of Jesus in the Qur’an
The Qur’an says that the Jews neither killed nor crucified Jesus. On the contrary, Allah raised him to himself (bar-rafa’a hullahu ilayh – Surah 4:158). From the earliest days of Islam down to the present day the Muslims of the world have believed that Jesus was raised to heaven where he remains to this day. Today the Muslims have their own questers for the historical Jesus who are also endeavouring to rationalise everything that the Qur’an teaches about him and to allegorise unique features in Jesus’ life such as his miracles. They do the same with this passage, suggesting that Jesus was only exalted to a high status by Allah, not that he was raised alive physically to heaven.
Surah 4:158 uses a word, however (rafa’a), which consistently has the meaning of something being raised physically to a higher status above the ground (or the surface of the earth). Joseph ‘raised his parents on the throne’ (Wa rafa’a abawayhi ‘alal-‘arsh – Surah 12:100). Here is another typical example: ‘Allah is He who raised the heavens (Allahullathi rafa’a as-samawati – Surah 13:2) without any pillars that you can see.’ The original text literally says that the heavens were raised (rafa’a) without anything visible upholding them. A similar text reads: ‘And the cosmos – how it is raised high’ (wa ila as-sama’i kayfa rufi’at – Surah 88:18). The heavens are contrasted in the following two verses with the mountains (which are fixed) and the earth (which is spread out). Another text reads: ‘Are you harder to create than the cosmos which he made? He raised up its extent (literally ‘ceiling’), perfecting it’ (rafa’a samkaha fasawwaha – Surah 79:28).
An interesting text says: ‘And when We made a covenant with you and raised the mountain above you’ (wa rafa’na fawqakum uth-thur – Surah 2:63). The passage is referring to the dramatic story in Exodus 19:16-25 where the people of Israel stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and trembled. The narrative continues: ‘And Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord ascended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain quaked greatly’ (Exodus 19:18). The Lord then spoke to Israel from the top of the mountain which towered above them. The Israelites had set bounds around the mountain and had consecrated it (Exodus 19:20,23). After delivering the Ten Commandments to the people the Lord said to Moses: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven’ (Exodus 20:22). The word rafa’na used here in the Qur’an means the mountain towered above the people, it was raised above the earth.
The Qur’an repeats the words: ‘And we raised the mountain above them at their covenant’ (Surah 4:154). Significantly this statement comes just before the statement that Allah raised Jesus to himself at the very time when the Jews thought they had killed and crucified him (Surah 4:158). As the mountain had been raised above the Israelites, so Jesus was raised above the earth and taken to the very presence of God himself. The text can only be taken to mean that Jesus was raised to the heavens where God dwells.
Significantly the Qur’an mentions another prophet who was raised up above the earth. It says: ‘And mention Idris in the Scripture. He was faithful, a prophet’ (Surah 19:56). It then goes on to say: ‘And we raised him to a lofty place’ (Wa rafa’nahu makanan ‘aliyyan – Surah 19:57). The text refers to a literal place, not a ‘high station’ or ‘exalted state’ as some modern Muslim scholars choose to assume. Idris in the Qur’an is clearly meant to be Enoch and all the early Muslim commentators so identified him.
The Bible says: ‘Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him’ (Genesis 5:24). A later passage in the Bible comments on this: ‘By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him’ (Hebrews 11:6). Enoch was taken up alive above the earth, he was raptured. The Qur’an uses the same word to define this (rafa’a) that it uses to describe what happened to Jesus. Elijah, likewise, was taken up above the earth in a chariot (2 Kings 2:11). Nonetheless neither Enoch nor Elijah were taken up into the highest heaven, where the throne of God himself is placed.
Jesus said ‘No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man’ (John 3:13), meaning that he alone had come from the highest realms where no one else had ever been (including Enoch and Elijah). But as he had come down from the highest heaven, so he eventually also ascended to it. (Unlike the Qur’an, however, his ascension took place after his crucifixion and resurrection from the dead.) Jesus said: ‘I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father’ (John 16:28). That is what was unique about him – he had come not from one of the lower heavenly realms where Enoch and Elijah might have ascended, he came from the Father himself and was going back to the Father.
The Qur’an constantly says that Jesus was no more than a prophet of Allah and that he was no different to the prophets who had preceded him (Surah 4:163, 5:78). Yet the Qur’an confirms the unique beginning and end of Jesus’ life on earth. It confirms the historical Jesus, the one recorded in the works of his earliest disciples from his own era, the canonical gospels. It is because he was a pre-existent heavenly being, dwelling in the very presence of his Father, that he was born of a virgin woman. His special origin, from the highest heaven, was the reason for his special birth. It is the same reason for the unique way in which his time on earth ended. He was raised up above the earth (the Quranic rafa’a), but he did not ascend to the lower heavenly realms – he returned to the presence of his Father above the heavens and sat down on the right hand side of the throne of God himself.
The Bible teaches that Jesus is he who ascended far above all the heavens (Ephesians 4:9), while Jesus himself declared ‘He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne’ (Revelation 3:21). Peter declared, in the first Christian sermon ever preached: ‘This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear’ (Acts 2:32-33).
In saying that Allah raised Jesus up to himself, the Qur’an confirms the eventual destiny of the historical Jesus. He returned to the very throne of God whence he had come. Jesus was no ordinary prophet of God, he was the eternal Son of God who came into the world and became man so that we might all be reconciled to God through faith in him. The Qur’an knows nothing of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, nor does it remotely comprehend the real meaning of his unique entrance to the world (his virgin-birth) and his unique exit out of it (his ascension to the highest heaven), but it confirms them nonetheless. In doing so it confirms the historical Jesus, the Jesus bequeathed to the world and handed down in the canonical gospels.