Islam Correct in Denying Jesus’ Death on Cross?
The Quran states that Jesus did not die on a cross (surah 4:157,158). In contrast, the Bible claims that Jesus did die and that he rose again from the dead. Which book is right? One way to examine this issue is to look at what skeptical and non-Christian historians have to say.
Dr. John Dominic Crossan is considered to be on the radical left-wing of historical Jesus scholarship. As a skeptical scholar, he rejects much of what the Bible says about Jesus, yet Crossan still states that Jesus certainly died on a cross.
That [Jesus] was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus… agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.
Crossan is certainly not alone in this view. Dr. Bart Ehrman, Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill, is a former Christian who now identifies as an agnostic. So, like Crossan, he cannot be accused of having a Christian bias. He also states that Jesus definitely died on a cross.
“One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate.”
Why do these scholars take such a strong position? Part of the reason is that non-Christian historians, who were alive in Jesus' era, stated that Jesus died on a cross. Another reason is that the letters of the New Testament clearly state the manner of his death and those letters are dated (even by atheist/skeptical historians) to within a few decades of Jesus’ life. That kind of proximity to the events is close enough that the authors could be eyewitnesses, or in communication with the eyewitnesses. In contrast, the Quran was written about 600 years later. Since historians always prefer accounts that are closer to the events in question, the New Testament letters are clearly to be preferred. Hence, from a historical perspective, there is no uncertainty – Jesus most certainly died on a cross.
John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, 1st ed (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994), 145.
Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 5th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 261–62.