Islamic views on Jesus' death
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The issue of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus (Isa) is rejected by most Muslims, but similar to Christians they believe that Jesus will return before the end of time. Most Muslims believe Jesus was not crucified, but was raised bodily to heaven by God. A similar belief is found in the Gospel of Basilides, the text of which is lost save for reports of it by other early scholars like Origen (c. 185 – c. 254). Basilides, a theologian of Gnostic tendencies, taught in Alexandria in the second quarter of the second century. However, this view is disregarded by mainstream Christianity which only accepts the four gospels contained in the New Testament as genuine.
Depending on the interpretation of the following verse, Muslim scholars have abstracted different opinions. Some believe that in the Biblical account, Jesus's crucifixion did not last long enough for him to die, while others opine that God gave someone Jesus's appearance or someone else replaced Jesus and the executioners thought the victim was Jesus, causing everyone to believe that Jesus was crucified. A third explanation could be that Jesus was nailed to a cross, but as his body is immortal he did not "die" or was not "crucified" [to death]; it only appeared so (this view is rare). In opposition to the second and third foregoing proposals, yet others maintain that God does not use deceit and therefore they contend that crucifixion just did not occur. The basis of all of these beliefs is the interpretation of this verse in the Qur'an:
That they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah";- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-
Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise;-
- 1 Earliest reports
- 2 Jesus lives
- 3 The Islamic interpretation of the events at the end of Jesus' earthly life
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
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Most Islamic traditions, save for a few, categorically deny that Jesus physically died, either on a cross or another manner. The contention is found within the Islamic traditions themselves, with the earliest Hadith reports quoting the companions of Muhammad stating Jesus having died, while the majority of subsequent Hadith and Tafsir have elaborated an argument in favor of the denial through exegesis and apologetics, becoming the popular (orthodox) view.
Professor and scholar Mahmoud M. Ayoub sums up what the Quran states despite interpretative arguments:
The Quran, as we have already argued, does not deny the death of Christ. Rather, it challenges human beings who in their folly have deluded themselves into believing that they would vanquish the divine Word, Jesus Christ the Messenger of God. The death of Jesus is asserted several times and in various contexts.— 3:55; 5:117; 19:33.
Some disagreement and discord can be seen beginning with Ibn Ishaq's (d. 761 CE/130 AH) report of a brief accounting of events leading up to the crucifixion, firstly stating that Jesus was replaced by someone named Sergius, while secondly reporting an account of Jesus' tomb being located at Medina and thirdly citing the places in the Qur'an (3:55; 4:158) that God took Jesus up to himself.
An early interpretation of verse 3:55 (specifically "I will cause you to die and raise you to myself"), Al-Tabari (d. 923 CE/310 AH) records an interpretation attributed to Ibn 'Abbas, who used the literal "I will cause you to die" (mumayyitu-ka) in place of the metaphorical mutawaffi-ka "Jesus died", while Wahb ibn Munabbih, an early Jewish convert, is reported to have said "God caused Jesus, son of Mary, to die for three hours during the day, then took him up to himself." Tabari further transmits from Ibn Ishaq Bishr: "God caused Jesus to die for seven hours", while at another place reported that a person called Sergius was crucified in place of Jesus. Ibn-al-Athir forwarded the report that it was Judas, the betrayer, while also mentioning the possibility it was a man named Natlianus.
Qur'anic commentators seem to have concluded the denial of the crucifixion of Jesus by following material interpreted in Tafsir that relied upon extra-biblical sources, venturing away from the message conveyed in the Qur'an, with the earliest textual evidence having originated from a non-Muslim source; a misreading of the Christian writings of John of Damascus regarding the literal understandings of Docetism (exegetical doctrine describing spiritual and physical realities of Jesus as understood by men in logical terms) as opposed to their figurative explanations. John of Damascus highlighted the Qur'an's assertion that the Jews did not crucify Jesus being very different from saying that Jesus was not crucified, explaining that it is the varied Quranic exegetes in Tafsir, and not the Qur'an itself, that denies the crucifixion, further stating that the message in the 4:157 verse simply affirms the historicity of the event.
Ja’far ibn Mansur al-Yaman (d. 347 AH/958 CE), Abu Hatim Ahmad ibn Hamdan al-Razi (d. 322 AH/935 CE), Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani (d. 358 AH/971 CE), Mu'ayyad fi'l-Din al-Shirazi (d. 470 AH/1078 CE ) and the group Ikhwan al-Safa also affirm the historicity of the Crucifixion, reporting Jesus was crucified and not substituted by another man as maintained by many other popular Qur'anic commentators and Tafsir.
In reference to the Quranic quote "We have surely killed Jesus the Christ, son of Mary, the apostle of God", Muslim scholar Mahmoud Ayoub asserts this boast not as the repeating of a historical lie or the perpetuating of a false report, but an example of human arrogance and folly with an attitude of contempt towards God and His messenger(s). Ayoub furthers what modern scholars of Islam interpret regarding the historical death of Jesus, the man, as man's inability to kill off God's Word and the Spirit of God, which the Quran testifies were embodied in Jesus Christ. Ayoub continues highlighting the denial of the killing of Jesus as God denying men such power to vanquish and destroy the divine Word. The words, "they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him" speaks to the profound events of ephemeral human history, exposing mankind's heart and conscience towards God's will. The claim of humanity to have this power against God is illusory. "They did not slay him...but it seemed so to them" speaks to the imaginations of mankind, not the denial of the actual event of Jesus dying physically on the cross.
The denial, furthermore, is in perfect agreement with the logic of the Quran. The Biblical stories reproduced in it (e.g., Job, Moses, Joseph, etc.) and the episodes relating to the history of the beginning of Islam demonstrate that it is "God's practice" (sunnat Allah) to make faith triumph finally over the forces of evil and adversity. "So truly with hardship comes ease", (XCIV, 5, 6). For Jesus to die on the cross would have meant the triumph of his executioners; but the Quran asserts that they undoubtedly failed: "Assuredly God will defend those who believe"; (XXII, 49). He confounds the plots of the enemies of Christ (III, 54).
Jesus lives after having died
In regard to the interpretation of the Muslims who accept the crucifixion, Mahmoud Ayoub states:
The Qur'an is not here speaking about a man, righteous and wronged though he may be, but about the Word of God who was sent to earth and returned to God. Thus the denial of killing of Jesus is a denial of the power of men to vanquish and destroy the divine Word, which is for ever victorious.
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|Death and Resurrection of Jesus|
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Unlike the Christian view of the death of Jesus, most Muslims believe he was raised to Heaven without being put on the cross and God transformed another person to appear exactly like Jesus who was crucified instead of Jesus. Muslims believe Jesus ascended bodily to Heaven, there to remain until his Second coming in the End days.
The identity of the substitute has been a source of great interest among Muslims. One proposal is that God used one of Jesus' enemies. Judas Iscariot, Jesus' betrayer, is often cited, and is mentioned in the Gospel of Barnabas. The second proposal is that Jesus asked for someone to volunteer to be crucified instead of him. Simon of Cyrene is the person most commonly accepted to have done it, perhaps because according to the Synoptic Gospels he was compelled by the Romans to carry Jesus' cross for him (there is no indication in the Gospels that he volunteered). Al-Baidawi writes that Jesus told his disciples in advance that whoever volunteered would go to heaven
Ibn Kathir's version of events
Ibn Kathir (d. 1373 CE/760 AH) follows traditions which suggest that a crucifixion did occur, but not with Jesus. After the event, Ibn Kathir reports the people were divided into three groups following three different narratives; The Jacobites believing ‘God remained with us as long as He willed and then He ascended to Heaven;’ The Nestorians believing ‘The son of God was with us as long as he willed until God raised him to heaven;’ and the third group of Christians who believing; ‘The servant and messenger of God, Jesus, remained with us as long as God willed until God raised him to Himself.’
Ibn Abbas said, "Just before God raised Jesus to the Heavens, Jesus went to his disciples, who were twelve inside the house. When he arrived, his hair was dripping with water (as if he had just had a bath) and he said, 'There are those among you who will disbelieve in me twelve times after you had believed in me.' He then asked, 'Who among you will volunteer for his appearance to be transformed into mine, and be killed in my place. Whoever volunteers for that, he will be with me (in Paradise).' One of the youngest ones among them volunteered, but Jesus asked him to sit down. Jesus asked again for a volunteer, and the same young man volunteered and Jesus asked him to sit down again. Then the young man volunteered a third time and Jesus said, 'You will be that man,' and the resemblance of Jesus was cast over that man while Jesus ascended to Heaven from a hole in the roof of the house. When the Jews came looking for Jesus, they found that young man and crucified him. Some of Jesus' followers disbelieved in him twelve times after they had believed in him. They then divided into three groups. One group, the Jacobites, said, 'God remained with us as long as He willed and then ascended to Heaven.' Another group, the Nestorians, said, 'The son of God was with us as long as he willed and God took him to Heaven.' Another group of Christians who said, 'The servant and Messenger of God remained with us as long as God willed, and God then took him to Him.' The two disbelieving groups cooperated against that third Christian group and they killed them. Ever since that happened, Islam was then veiled until God sent Muhammad." - Al-Nasa'i|Al-Kubra, 6:489
At another place in his Quranic exegesis, Ibn Kathir narrates the story as follows:
(The people conspiring against Jesus) envied him because of his prophethood and obvious miracles; curing the blind and leprous and bringing the dead back to life, by God’s leave. He also used to make the shape of a bird from clay and blow in it, and it became a bird by God’s leave and flew. `Jesus performed other miracles that God honored him with, yet some defied and belied him and tried their best to harm him. God’s Prophet `Jesus could not live in any one city for long and he had to travel often with his mother, peace be upon them. Even so, some of the Jews were not satisfied, and they went to the king of Damascus at that time, a Greek polytheist who worshipped the stars. They told him that there was a man in Bayt Al-Maqdis misguiding and dividing the people in Jerusalem and stirring unrest among the king’s subjects. The king became angry and wrote to his deputy in Jerusalem to arrest the rebel leader, stop him from causing unrest, crucify him and make him wear a crown of thorns. When the king’s deputy in Jerusalem received these orders, he went with some Jews to the house that `Jesus was residing in, and he was then with twelve, thirteen or seventeen of his companions. That day was a Friday, in the evening. They surrounded `Jesus in the house, and when he felt that they would soon enter the house or that he would sooner or later have to leave it, he said to his companions, “Who volunteers to be made to look like me, for which he will be my companion in Paradise.”’ A young man volunteered, but `Jesus thought that he was too young. He asked the question a second and third time, each time the young man volunteering, prompting `Jesus to say, “Well then, you will be that man.” God made the young man look exactly like `Jesus, while a hole opened in the roof of the house, and `Jesus was made to sleep and ascended to heaven while asleep. God said, “O `Jesus! I will take you and raise you to myself.” When `Jesus ascended, those who were in the house came out. When those surrounding the house saw the man who looked like Jesus, they thought that he was Jesus. So they took him at night, crucified him and placed a crown of thorns on his head. They then boasted that they killed Jesus`. Some Christians accepted their false claim, due to their ignorance and lack of reason. As for those who were in the house with Jesus, witnessed his ascension to heaven, while the rest thought that the Jews killed `Jesus by crucifixion. They even said that Marry sat under the corpse of the crucified man and cried, and they say that the dead man spoke to her. All this was a test from God for His servants out of His wisdom. God explained this matter in the Glorious Quran which He sent to His honorable Messenger, whom He supported with miracles and clear, unequivocal evidence. God is the Most Truthful, and He is the Lord of the worlds Who knows the secrets, what the hearts conceal, the hidden matters in heaven and earth, what has occurred, what will occur, and what would occur if it was decreed. - Kathir I. , Tafsir Ibn Kathir
Barnabas' version of events
The Gospel of Barnabas (dated to the late 16th or early 17th centuries), also promotes a non-death narrative. The Gospel of Barnabas has been considered to be pseudo-biographical, or a false work, to the majority of western scholars. However, some academics suggest that it may contain some remnants of an earlier work (perhaps Gnostic, Ebionite or Diatessaronic), redacted to bring it more in line with Islamic doctrine.
According to the Gospel of Barnabas it was Judas, not Jesus, who was crucified on the cross. This work states that Judas' appearance was transformed to that of Jesus', when the former, out of betrayal, led the Roman soldiers to arrest Jesus who by then had already ascended to the heavens. The narrative states this transformation of appearance was unnoticed by the followers of Christ and his mother Mary. The Gospel of Barnabas then mentions that after three days since burial, Judas' body was stolen from his grave with rumors spreading of Jesus being risen from the dead. In following with Islamic lore, when Jesus was informed in the third heaven about what happened he prayed to God to be sent back to the earth, and later descended and gathered his mother, disciples, and followers and told them the truth of what happened. He then ascended back to the heavens, with the narrative continuing Islamic legend mirroring Christian doctrine of returning at the end of times as a just king.
A less common opinion among Islamic scholars hold that the crucifixion of Jesus was just an illusion. Accordingly, Jesus' body was really put on the cross, but his spirit did not die, but ascended to heaven. Thus the Jew erred because they did not recognized the "Messiah", the spiritual form of Jesus. Docetists were some sects of early Christians who believed that Jesus' physical body was an illusion, as was his crucifixion; that is, Jesus only seemed to have a physical body and to physically die, but in reality he was incorporeal, a pure spirit, and hence could not physically die.
The Gospel of Peter is a docetic gospel. F. F. Bruce writes in a commentary of this gospel (Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, p. 93):
"The docetic note in this narrative appears in the statement that Jesus, while being crucified, 'remained silent, as though he felt no pain', and in the account of his death. It carefully avoids saying that he died, preferring to say that he 'was taken up', as though he - or at least his soul or spiritual self - was 'assumed' direct from the cross to the presence of God. (We shall see an echo of this idea in the Qur'an.) Then the cry of dereliction is reproduced in a form which suggests that, at that moment, his divine power left the bodily shell in which it had taken up temporary residence."
Another scholar, Leirvik, believes that Quran and Hadith to have been influenced by the non-canonical ('heretical') Christianity that prevailed in the Arab peninsula and further in Abyssinia.
"If the substitutionist interpretation (Christ replaced on the cross) is taken as a valid reading of the Qur'anic text, the question arises of whether this idea is represented in Christian sources. According to Irenaeus' Adversus Haereses, the Egyptian Gnostic Christian Basilides (2nd century) held the view that Christ (the divine nous, intelligence) was not crucified, but was replaced by Simon of Cyrene. However, both Clement of Alexandria and Hippolytus denied that Basilides held this view. But the substitutionist idea in general form is quite clearly expressed in the Gnostic Nag Hammadi documents Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter and The Second Treatise of the Great Seth."
Acts of John is also a docetic gospel. It is a collection of narratives and traditions ascribed to John the Apostle, who was the author of the Gospel of John. It is long known in fragmentary form. Together with the Acts of Paul it is considered one of the most significant of the apostolic Acts in the New Testament apocrypha. It was condemned as a Gnostic heresy by the Church.
Chapter 101 of this work continues with phrases like "Therefore I have suffered none of the things which they will say of me", "You hear that I have suffered, yet I have suffered not," and "(they say) that I was pierced, but I was not wounded; that I was hanged, but I was not hanged; that blood flowed from me, yet it did not flow; and, in a word, those things that they say of me I did not endure.
Some modern Muslim scholars believe that Jesus was actually crucified on the cross but didn't die, instead pretending to be dead, or that he fell unconscious ("swooned") and was later revived in the tomb in the same mortal body. Accordingly, His appearances after three days in the tomb were merely perceived to be resurrection appearances. These types of theories are also known as swoon theory. These theories were first proposed by 17th or 18th century western scholars.
Muslim preacher Ahmed Deedat of South Africa wrote several books, one particularly entitled Crucifixion or Cruci-fiction along with many video lectures widely printed and distributed all over the Muslim World. He takes a critical look at the events from the canonial four Gospels and theorizes an alternative scenario of what really happened, a scenario very similar to the swoon theory.
The Islamic interpretation of the events at the end of Jesus' earthly life
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Some Islamic scholars like Sheikh Mohammed al-Ghazali (not Imam al-Ghazali) and Javed Ahmad Ghamidi argue that Jesus was rescued but was given death by God before he was ascended bodily as God never allows His messengers to be dishonored, even their dead bodies.
Thomas McElwain states that the context of the verse is clearly within the discussion of Jewish ridicule of Christians, not in context of whether or not Jesus died. He continues that the text could be interpreted as denying the death of Jesus at the hands of Jews rather than denying his death. He adds, however, "the expressions against the crucifixion are strong, so that to interpret the meaning for Romans rather than Jews to have committed the act is also suspect" and that if this meaning is correct, "it would have been more effective to state that the Romans killed Jesus, rather than to emphasise that the Jews were not in possession of the facts."
According to some translations, Jesus says in the Qur'an:
I said not to them except what You commanded me - to worship Allah , my Lord and your Lord. And I was a witness over them as long as I was among them; but when You took me up, You were the Observer over them, and You are, over all things, Witness. - Qur'an, sura 5 (Al-Ma'ida) ayah 117
The majority of Muslims translate the verb "mutawafik" (متوفيك) "to terminate after a period of time" while others translate it "to die of natural causes". Islamic scholars like Javed Ahmad Ghamidi consider it as the physical death of Jesus, and hence question the return of Jesus. Geoffrey Parrinder discusses different interpretations of the Qur'anic chapter 19, verse 33 and writes in his conclusion that "the cumulative effect of the Qur’anic verse is strongly in favor of a real death". This verse could also refer to the Second Coming of Jesus.
One should note, the claim that Jesus will die after his Second Coming is in direct opposition to Christian teaching. Christians believe that Jesus will reign supreme over the nations forever and they also view Isa, known as Yeshua or Jesus, as the son of God.
The following minority of translations or translators translate "to die":
- The Quran As It Explains Itself
- Muhammad Asad
- George Sale
- Mohamed Ahmed
- Maulana Muhammad Ali
- Free Minds Muslims
- John Medows Rodwell
- Abdul Majid Daryabadi
- Ghulam Ahmed Pervez
Ibn Babawayh (d.991 CE) in Ikhmal ad Din recounts that Jesus went to a far country. This was adapted by the Ahmadiyya as the basis of their Jesus in India theory This is promoted also by writers such as Holger Kersten (1981). They claim Jesus is buried at the Roza Bal shrine in Srinagar. However, the Sunni Muslim authorities at the shrine deny this as heretical and say that it is a Muslim saint buried there. The claims of the theory have been examined in documentaries and generated tourist visits to the site. Scholarly reception has consistently dismissed the theories, such as Norbert Klatt (1988), and labelled speculation by Indologist Günter Grönbold (1985).
David Marshall Lang stated in his 1957 book The Wisdom of Balahvar that confusion in diacritical markings in Arabic documents resulted in confusing Kashmir and Kushinara (the place of Buddha's death) with the place of the death of Jesus. Lang has stated that the term Budhasaf (Buddha-to-be) became Yudasaf, Iodasaph, and then Yuzasaf, and resulted in the assertions of Jesus being buried in Srinagar. In 1981 (in Jesus i Kashmir: Historien om en legend) and then in 2011, Per Beskow also stated that confusion about the traditions regarding Gautama Buddha in the Bilawhar wa-Yudasaf legend had resulted in the confused assumption that Jesus was Yuzasaf and was buried in Kashmir.
Similar to mainstream Islamic views, the Ahmadiyya Movement consider Jesus was a mortal man, but go a step further to describe Jesus as a mortal man who died a natural death in India as opposed to having been raised alive to Heaven.
The view of Jesus having migrated to India had also been researched in the literature of authors independent of and predating the foundation of the movement but has almost universally been dismissed.
- Lawson, Todd (1 March 2009). The Crucifixion and the Quran: A Study in the History of Muslim Thought. Oneworld Publications. p. 12. ISBN 1851686355.
- Ayoub, Mahmoud M. (April 1980). "TOWARDS AN ISLAMIC CHRISTOLOGY II: THE DEATH OF JESUS, REALITY OR DELUSION (A Study of the Death of Jesus in Tafsir Literature)". The Muslim World. Hartford Seminary. 70 (2): 106. doi:10.1111/j.1478-1913.1980.tb03405.x.
- Watt, William Montgomery (1991). Muslim-Christian Encounters: Perceptions and Misperceptions. London and New York: Routledge. p. 39. ISBN 0415054109.
- Zahniser, A. H. Mathias (30 October 2008). The Mission and Death of Jesus in Islam and Christianity. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books. p. 34. ISBN 978-1570758072.
- Watt 1991, p. 47.
- Robinson, Neal (31 July 1991). Christ in Islam and Christianity. New York: State University of New York Press. p. 122. ISBN 0791405591.
- Ayoub 1980, p. 108. [Muhammad b. 'Ali b. Muhammad al-Shawkani, Fath al-Qadir al-Jami bayn Fannay al-Riwaya wa 'l Diraya min 'Ilm al-Tqfsir (Cairo: Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi, n.d.), I, 346, citing Ibn Asakir, who reports on the authority of Ibn Munabbih.]
- Lawson 2009, page 12.
- Lawson 2009, page 7.
- Lawson 2009, page 12.
- Ayoub 1980, p. 117.
- The death of Jesus: Reality or Delusion. Muslim World 70 (1980) pp. 91–121
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- Reynolds, Gabriel Said. "The Muslim Jesus: Dead or alive?" Bulletin of SOAS, 72(2) (2009), 243-44.
- Reynolds, Gabriel Said. "The Muslim Jesus: Dead or alive?" Bulletin of SOAS, 72(2) (2009), 242.
- Muhammad Saed Abdul-Rahman The Meaning and Explanation of the Glorious Qur'an (Vol 10) MSA Publication Limited 2009 ISBN 978-1-861-79670-7 page 93
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- Geoffrey Parrinder, Jesus in the Quran, p.121, Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 1996. ISBN 1-85168-094-2
- Schäfer, Peter; Cohen, Mark R. (1998). Toward the Millennium: Messianic Expectations from the Bible to Waco. Leiden/Princeton: Brill/Princeton UP. p. 306. ISBN 90-04-11037-2..
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- Miller, Sam (27 March 2010). "Tourists flock to 'Jesus's tomb' in Kashmir". BBC. Retrieved 27 November 2010.
- Norbert Klatt, Lebte Jesus in Indien?, Göttingen: Wallstein 1988.
- In The Journal of Ecclesiastical History Volume 18, Issue 02, October 1967, pp 247-248, John Rippon summarizes the work of David Marshall Lang on the subject as follows: "In The Wisdom of Balahvar Professor Lang assembled the evidence for the Buddhist origins of the legends of the Christian saints Barlaam and Josephat. He suggested the importance of Arabic intermediaries, showing that confusion of diacritical markings turned Budhasaf (Bodhisattva, the Buddha-to-be) into Yudasaf, Iodasaph, Yuzasaf and Josaphat. By a curious roundabout journey this error reappears in once Buddhist Kashmir where the modern Ahmadiyya Muslims, well known for their Woking mosque, claim that a tomb of Yus Asad was the tomb of Jesus who died in Kashmir, after having been taken down live from the cross; though the Bombay Arabic edition of the book Balahvar makes its hero die in Kashmir, by confusion with Kushinara the traditional place of the Buddha's death."
- Per Beskow in The Blackwell Companion to Jesus ed. Delbert Burkett 2011 ISBN 140519362X "During the transmission of the legend, this name underwent several changes: to Budhasaf, Yudasaf, and finally Yuzasaf. In Greek, his name is Ioasaph; in Latin, Josaphat, ..."
- Jesus in Heaven on Earth An account of Jesus' life and death in Kashmir