The Incoherence of an ‘Ahistorical’ Worldview – Ahmadiyya Muslims, Part 1

Over the last couple of years, I have had the opportunity to get to know and dialogue with members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. In spite of our differences in regard to our worldviews and beliefs, I consider these members as friends, as I believe they do me. Our discussions have been framed in ”gentleness and respect,” (1 Pet. 3:15) and we’ve come to understand each other’s beliefs in a more comprehensive way than we did before our dialogue began. I have also had the opportunity to peruse several of the books written by the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, that were gifted to me. It is from these writings that I will offer my assessment of the truth claims of the Ahmadiyya faith and where I, and many religious scholars, see an incoherence in their worldview.

Scripture instructs us to ‘speak the truth in love’ (Eph. 4:15). Sharing the truth with a friend or acquaintance is the greatest manifestation of love one can offer, as Jesus so aptly stated, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…who the Son has set free, is free indeed’ (John 8:31-32, 36). In this two-part series, I will use the definition of truth as that which corresponds to reality, or to use the standard definition from philosophy put forth by Aristotle:

To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false,
while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.[1]

Professor of Philosophy Douglas R. Groothuis adds clarity to the definition of truth as to that which corresponds to factual reality:

Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Jesus Christ made this statement after Pontius Pilate had interrogated him prior to the crucifixion (John 18:37, NIV). Pilate then famously replied, “What is truth?” and left the scene…This historic exchange raises the perennial question of the very nature of truth itself. What does it mean for a statement to be true? Or, to put it another way: What does it take for a statement to achieve truthfulness?

The correspondence view of truth, held by the vast majority of philosophers and theologians throughout history, holds that any declarative statement is true if and only if it corresponds to or agrees with factual reality, with the way things are. The statement, “The desk in my study is brown”, is true only if there is, in fact, a brown desk in my study. If indeed there is a brown desk in my study, then the statement, “there is no brown desk in my study”, is false because it fails to correspond to any objective state of affairs…So, “What is truth?” Truth is what corresponds to reality. When this is established, we can move on to considering which particular statements are true and reasonable and which are not.[2]

I posit these definitions to determine what truth is and is not, and its vital importance to any discussion of history or worldviews.

The focus of this series will be two-fold:

1) The disregard of the historical evidence of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, resulting in an ahistorical worldview.
2) Mirza Ghulum Ahmad’s self-understanding as the ‘Promised Messiah’.

Defining what ‘appeal to authority’ is and is not

As a brief preface to this series, I will address an objection my Ahmadi friends have raised during our discussions, which is the reference to experts in the field of history when presenting the historicity of Jesus’ death by crucifixion and His resurrection. In doing so, I have been told that just because a person says something is true, that doesn’t necessarily make it true, to which I agree, as this would be using the ‘appeal to authority fallacy’ and could therefore weaken my position. However, this is not the case in my use of the experts in the field which I am presenting, as these experts fulfill the criteria of appeal to a legitimate authority, and the claims being made by the individual authority are consistent with other experts in the field. The fallacious appeal to authority most often occurs when an illicit appeal is made to the authority’s competence from one field to another which is not the case with the scholars cited in this article.

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s ahistorical worldview
[Definition: ahistorical: not concerned with or related to history, historical development, or tradition; historically inaccurate.]

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad begins his book Jesus in India by stating,

“I have written this book so that by adducing proofs from established facts, conclusive historical evidence of proven value, and ancient documents of other nations, I might dispel the serious misconceptions which are current among Christians and most Muslim sects regarding the earlier and later life of Jesus.”[3]

In reading Jesus in India, it becomes apparent early on that the “proofs, established facts and historical evidence” Ahmad claims to be privy to regarding the later life of Jesus are speculation and conjecture at best, and a blatant disregard of the true “proofs, established facts and historical evidence.” Ahmad relies on legends and documents which include a number of clear historical errors, in an attempt to make a case for Jesus surviving crucifixion and eventually traveling to India, where He supposedly died. This is in contradiction to the historical evidence, the analysis of preeminent historians (see below), the eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ followers of His life, death, resurrection and ascension, found in the historical, and independently attested narratives of the New Testament, as well as the extra-biblical sources found in the writings of historians and scholars of the 1st century.

As I mentioned in previous posts, The Jesus Seminar–A ‘New Gospel, New Fiction’-The Making of a Fabricated Jesus, and Did Jesus Die on the Cross?, the claim by Ahmadiyya Muslims can be concisely summarized as:

* After surviving crucifixion, Jesus fled to Galilee (along with several disciples);
* He later left Palestine to further preach the Gospel to the Lost Tribes of Israel that had scattered as far as Afghanistan and northern India (mistakenly using John 10:16 as support);
* where he eventually settled in Kashmir and was given the name Yuz Asaf, meaning ‘Leader of the Healed’/ ‘Son of Joseph’, and there died.

While this fictional narrative may be of interest to some, there is no historically reliable evidence for the claim that Jesus traveled to India, Tibet or the surrounding areas as the following list of preeminent scholars affirm:

• J. Gordon Melton–Religious historian, Baylor University, states that having assumed the mujaddid (faith renewer) appellation in the 1880s, and having declared himself the Promised Messiah for the Christians, Ghulam Ahmad simply picked up the legend that Jesus had visited India to increase his self-identification with Jesus.
• Gerald O’Collins–Research professor, Jesuit Theological College, Australia, states that, “no historical evidence has been provided to support Ghulam Ahmad’s theory that Jesus died in India.”
• Simon Ross Valentine–Professor at Leeds University and Bradford University, classifies the theory as a legend and considers the burial of Jesus in Roza Bal a myth in the scale of the legend of Joseph of Arimathea taking the Holy Grail to Britain.
• Paul C. Pappas–West Virginia Institute of Technology, states that from a historical perspective, the Ahmadi identification of Yuzasaf with Jesus was derived from legends and documents which include a number of clear historical errors… (e.g. confusing the reign of Gondophares) and that “it is almost impossible to identify Yuz Asaf with Jesus”.
• Robert Van Voorst–Professor, states that modern scholarship has “almost unanimously agreed” that claims of the travels of Jesus to Tibet, Kashmir or rest of India contain “nothing of value”.
• Marcus Borg–Co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, states that the suggestions that an adult Jesus traveled to Egypt or India and came into contact with Buddhism are “without historical foundation”.[9]
• John Dominic Crossan–Co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, states that none of the theories presented about the travels of Jesus to fill the gap between his early life and the start of his ministry have been supported by modern scholarship.
• Leslie Houlden–British Anglican scholar, states that although modern parallels between the teachings of Jesus and Buddha have been drawn, these comparisons emerged after missionary contacts in the 19th century and there is no historically reliable evidence of contacts between Buddhism and Jesus.
• Paula Fredriksen–Historian and religious scholar, Boston University, states that no serious scholarly work places Jesus outside the backdrop of 1st century Palestinian Judaism.
* Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University, states, “I cannot prove a negative. I cannot prove that Jesus never traveled. But there is absolutely no evidence from the ancient record that he went to India. It seems unlikely that he visited India, because if there had been even the slightest vague memory of an ancient tradition claiming that Jesus visited India—then the Christians living in India would not have claimed that Thomas founded their church. They would have claimed that Jesus founded it. And the tradition about Thomas as founder has distinct, well-known, long-running historical roots”

As one can see from this list of the broad range of scholars, there is no historical basis to substantiate Ahmad’s claim that Jesus traveled to and died in India. The Ahmadi logic and position does not find any support in early historical evidence and is therefore ahistorical. As the preeminent New Testament scholar N. T. Wright so aptly stated, “Historical facts prevent faith from becoming fantasy.” In jettisoning the historical facts, Ahmad has created an ahistorical worldview of fantasy of his own making.

A particular point of interest regarding the ‘lost years of Jesus’ and his having traveled to India after crucifixion is that a number of these narratives were being floated by others during Ahmad’s lifetime, including Louis Jacolliot (1869), Nicolas Notovich (1887), Levi H. Dowling (1908) and Swami Abhedananda (1922). It would appear that Ahmad found support from these narratives while developing his own reinterpretation of the historical Jesus. These attempts to link Jesus with the East were found to be historically and evidentially unsubstantiated, and were therefore discarded.

The failed ‘swoon theory’

The pillar on which Ahmad’s theory of Jesus surviving crucifixion and traveling to and dying in India is the ‘swoon theory’. Proposed by Heinrich E.G. Paulus in The Life of Jesus published in 1828 (just seven years before Ahmad’s birth), the swoon theory proposes that Jesus was not actually dead when He was removed from the cross. Instead, He had fallen into a coma-like state (a swoon) on the cross and was then buried in a tomb in that condition. He later revived, rolled away the tombstone from the inside, evaded the Roman guards, and escaped. He then appeared to His disciples proclaiming He had conquered death.[4]

J. N. D. Anderson says this theory, “…has been resuscitated in recent years in a slightly different form by a heterodox group of Muslims called the Ahmadiyya. Their explanation runs like this:

Christ was indeed nailed to the cross. He suffered terribly from shock, loss of blood, and pain, and He swooned away; but He didn’t actually die. Medical knowledge was not very great at that time, and the apostles thought He was dead. We are told, are we not, that Pilate was surprised that He was dead already. The explanation assertedly is that He was taken down from the cross in a state of swoon by those who wrongly believed Him to be dead, and laid in the sepulchre. And the cool restfulness of the sepulchre so far revived Him that He was eventually able to issue forth from the grave. His ignorant disciples couldn’t believe that this was a mere resuscitation. They insisted it was a resurrection from the dead.[5]

No reputable historian denies the fact of Jesus’ death by Roman crucifixion under Pontius Pilate—not even the most liberal scholars (i.e. Jesus Seminar) dispute this. John Dominic Crossan states, “Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if no follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixion we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus.”[6]

According to Cambridge scholar Murray Harris: “the ‘swoon theory’ or the ‘apparent death theory,’ enjoyed considerable popularity among eighteenth and nineteenth-century German rationalists… but the theory is now totally discredited.”[7] As John Foster reports, claims that Jesus didn’t die on the cross “have been laughed out of court by serious scholars.”[8] J. N. D. Anderson concludes: “This theory does not stand up to investigation.”

Jesus’ death by crucifixion is affirmed for principally three reasons:

(1) Jesus’ crucifixion and death are abundantly attested in multiple, early, independent sources.
(2) Had Jesus not died via crucifixion, it is unfathomable that the early Christian movement would have invented a story about his end so repelling to those they sought to win, both Jews and Gentiles alike.
(3) Paul’s dramatic reversal of worldviews, from persecutor to proclaimer. Paul experienced a glorious appearance of the risen Jesus—a swooned Jesus, even if healed, would not appear gloriously and therefore be unconvincing.

The evidence for the historicity of Jesus’ death by crucifixion is so powerful that one of the world’s leading Jewish theologians, the late Pinchas Lapide, who taught at Hebrew University in Israel, declared himself convinced on the basis of the evidence that the God of Israel raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead![9]

T. J. Thorburn describes what Christ suffered at the hands of Pilate as follows:

“The Agony in the Garden, the arrest at midnight, the brutal treatment in the hall of the High Priest’s palace and at the praetorium of Pilate, the exhausting journeys backwards and forwards between Pilate and Herod, the terrible Roman scourging, the journey to Calvary, during which He fell exhausted by the strain upon His powers, the agonizing torture of the Crucifixion, and the thirst and feverishness which followed…It would be difficult to imagine even the most powerful of men, after enduring all these, not succumbing to death. Moreover, it is recorded that the victims of crucifixion seldom recovered, even under the most favourable circumstance”[10]

Let’s review the historical facts of the crucifixion as reported by the eyewitnesses and 1st century historians:

• Jesus was severely beaten by the whip used by the Roman guards. Jesus was so weak after His torture that He couldn’t carry the patibulum of His cross to the crucifixion site.
• Jesus had spikes driven through His wrists and feet and hung bleeding for six hours.
• The Romans thrust a spear deep into Jesus’ side, confirming beyond doubt that Jesus was dead.
• Jesus was prepared for burial according to exacting Jewish custom. His body was encased in wrapped linen and spices.
• Jesus was then entombed, and a massive, heavy rock was rolled across the tomb entrance. A unit of highly trained Roman guards vigilantly guarded the entrance—knowing they would be punished if Jesus’ body went AWOL.
• The ‘swoon theory’ suggests that the cool, damp air of the tomb somehow revived Jesus after three days and He decided to exit. Despite not having access to desperately needed medical care and nourishment, Jesus supposedly managed to unwrap His dressings and then, in the total darkness of the tomb, locate and roll away the mammoth stone sealing the tomb entrance. Still unnoticed by the guards, Jesus then supposedly walked away, on feet punctured by the cross nails, to rejoin His disciples.

The most significant problem with this theory is that it greatly underestimates the severity of Jesus’ wounds. Historical sources confirm that Jesus was horribly tortured—and declared dead by several sources before He was removed from the cross. Jesus died more quickly than other crucifixion victims because of his unique pre-crucifixion experience. As a result, his early death is reasonable and expected.

The ‘swoon theory’ dies from lack of explanatory power

The swoon theory entails the hypothesis that, after somehow duping the disciples into thinking he was resurrected (and somehow duping them into thinking that he’d ascended to God the Father), Jesus “abandoned all those who loved and trusted him, leaving them to their own fate, and crept away out of Palestine with his tail between his legs . . .” Such a theory is ad hoc, implausible, and strongly disconfirmed by our evidence about Jesus’ character. Finally, any suggestion that Jesus had help—whether divine (according to some Muslims) or secular (according to Drange)—turns the swoon theory into a conspiracy theory. Indeed, to explain away the reports of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, the swoon theory requires (and is thus a worse explanation than) either a conspiracy theory or some sort of delusion theory, since “the disciples testified that Jesus did not swoon, but really died and really rose.” [11]

As many scholars observe, a Jesus who swooned on the cross lacks the explanatory causal power to account for the resurrection appearances or the origin of the disciples’ belief in the resurrection:

• J.N.D. Anderson is skeptical that “instead of proving the inevitable end to His flickering life, that he would have been able to loose Himself from yards of grave-clothes weighted with pounds of spices, roll away a stone that three women felt incapable of tackling, and walk miles on wounded feet.” [12]

• Gary R. Habermas: “A crucified but still-living Jesus would have been in horrible physical shape: bloodied, bruised, pale, limping, unwashed, and in obvious need of medical assistance. Such a condition would have hopelessly contradicted the disciples’ belief that Jesus had appeared to them in a resurrected body.” [13]

• J.P. Holding asks us to consider “the fact that the temperature in the tomb was probably about 56–58 degrees Fahrenheit, which would cause death by exposure on its own after 36 hours (note that linen is not much of a protector in this context) . . . lain out shivering and losing energy in a tomb . . . after hanging for hours on a cross (how do those dislocated shoulders and/or strained muscles feel about pushing anything?).” [14]

• Karl Theodor Keim: “Then there is the most impossible thing of all; the poor, weak, sick Jesus, with difficulty holding himself erect, in hiding, disguised, and finally dying—this Jesus an object object of faith, of exalted emotion, of the triumph of his adherents, a risen conqueror, the Son of God! Here, in fact, the theory begins to grow paltry, absurd, worthy only of rejection.” [15]

• John Stott: “are we to believe that after the rigours and pains of . . . flogging and crucifixion He could survive thirty-six hours in a stone sepulchre . . . then rally sufficiently to perform the superhuman feat of shifting the boulder which secured the mouth of the tomb.” [16]

Christ did indeed die on the cross, according to the judgment of the soldiers, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus. Jesus’ disciples did not perceive Him as having merely revived from a swoon. Skeptic David Friedrich Strauss, himself certainly no believer in the resurrection, gave the deathblow to any thought that Jesus revived from a swoon:

It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to his sufferings, could have given to the disciples the impression that he was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which he had made upon them in life and in death, at the most could only have given it an elegiac voice, but could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship.[17]

In regards to the medical evidence that confirms Jesus dying while on the cross, Doctor William D. Edwards and his team at the Mayo Clinic offer the following evaluation:

“Thus, it remains unsettled whether Jesus died of cardiac rupture or of cardiorespiratory failure. However, the important feature may be not how he died but rather whether he died. Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.” [18]

Professor Charles Foster states, “The overwhelming conclusion of the mainstream literature, even that written by virulent opponents of Christianity, is that Jesus did indeed die on the cross.”[19] The historical assessment of the following scholars, some virulent opponents of Christianity, attest to the historicity of Jesus death by crucifixion:

• Reza Aslan: “Jesus was executed by the Roman state for the crime of sedition.”[20]
• Raymond E. Brown: “Except for the romantic few who think that Jesus did not die on the cross but woke up in the tomb and ran off to India with Mary Magdalene, most scholars accept the uniform testimony of the Gospels that Jesus died . . .”[21]
• John Dominic Crossan: “Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be.”[22]
• Bart Erhman: “Was Jesus killed? Yes. By the Romans? Yes. By crucifixion? Yes.”[23]
• A.N. Wilson: “The Cross, and the Crucifixion, are at the very centre of this religious vision, not as an airy concept or a metaphor, but as a bloody death actually recollected.”[24]
Paul Little: “It is significant that not a suggestion of this kind has come down from antiquity among all the violent attacks which have been made on Christianity. All of the earliest records are emphatic about Jesus’ death.” [25]

As a final conclusive point of evidence for Jesus’ death from crucifixion, when the Roman soldiers approached Jesus’ cross, he was no longer pulling himself up in order to breath, which means he was dead, a fact the centurion confirmed and reported to Pilate. (John 19:32-37; Mark 15:42–45).

Jesus Foretells of His Death

Claims by Ghulam Ahmad, and current members of the Ahmadiyya community, that Jesus was ‘speaking metaphorically of His death’ and that He was referring only to His suffering, extreme physical hardship, or near death experience, are by definition completely unfounded and should therefore be dismissed. Such claims lack an exegetical and/or hermeneutical treatment of the text, and instead use an eisegetical approach of interpreting the text, or portion of the text, in such a way that introduces the Ahmadiyya’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into and onto the text, based on Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s writings. (For more on the historicity of the crucifixion, please see my page on the topic, here.)

Muslims who support the ‘theistic swoon theory’ (or the substitution hypothesis) have a choice to make—either Jesus was a true prophet or He was a false prophet. We know that a true prophet, which the Qur’an states that Jesus was, cannot lie. If one holds to the position that Jesus only ‘swooned’ (or was substituted) and did not die on the cross as He clearly stated He would, then they have no other choice but to declare Jesus (Isa) a liar and false prophet. However, if one holds to the words and prophecies of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel regarding His death and resurrection, then they can confidently declare Him to be a true prophet, and His death and resurrection did indeed happen as He said they would. Even the Jesus (Isa) of the Qur’an said, “And peace be on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I am raised alive.” (Sura 19:33)

[Before reading the following scriptures, it must be noted that every time the word ‘kill(ed)’ or ‘die’ or ‘slain/slew’ is found in the Gospels (Injeel), it is a direct translation from the Greek word, apokteino—which means: To kill in any way whatever, To destroy, to allow to perish, To inflict mortal death— In the New Testament apokteino is used: Kill (55x), slay/slew (14x), put to death (6x) There is therefore no ambiguity as to what the New Testament writers mean when they use the word apokteino.]

All four eyewitness Gospel narratives attest to Jesus foretelling of His death: Mark 8:31; Mark 9:31; Mark 10:33, 34; Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22, 23; Luke 9:22; Luke 18:31, 32; John 12:30-33

The New Testament clearly states that Christ “died” (Mark 15:44–45, Acts 3:15, Rom. 5:8) and rose “from the dead” on the third day (Acts 10:40–41, 1 Cor. 15:3–4, 1 Pet. 1:21) as Jesus himself stated. Scripture never says he only “appeared” or “seemed” to die, nor do any extra-biblical sources make such a claim. As per the scriptures above, on a number of occasions, Jesus predicted his death and resurrection—not his injury and recovery (Mark 8:31, 9:9, 31, 10:34, 45, 12:1-12, 14:22-25).

It is interesting to note that Ahmad contradicts himself on a point held by Ahmadi apologists as one of the proofs that Jesus did not die on the cross: the time that Jesus was on the cross. It is clear from Mark 15:24–37 that Jesus spent at least six hours on the cross:

And it was the third hour (9 AM) when they crucified him…And when the sixth hour (12 noon) had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. (3 PM) And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”…And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.

However, instead of relying on the multiply attested eyewitness accounts of this historical event, 1800+ years later, Ahmad develops two contradictory time sequences regarding the time that Jesus hung on the cross:

It was only after a few minutes that Jesus was taken down from the cross. Ahmadiyya publication-Izalatal-Auham, 1891, p. 380

Jesus hung on the cross for two hours. (Ahmadiyya publication-Review of Religion, Vol. ii, p. 49, between, 1902-1908)

Clearly both these statements cannot be true; however, both statements can be false, which in light of the eyewitness testimony and extra-biblical material, they are. This is one of many examples in which Ahmad is the “attester and the attestee, both the truth and the criteria by which it is attested.” In so doing, he fabricates an historically unhinged narrative of his own choosing.

Ahmad’s solution to Jesus’ ‘resuscitation’– The ‘ointment of Jesus’

Ghulam Ahmad has staked his claim of Jesus resuscitating in the tomb on what he refers to as the ‘ointment of Jesus,’ or, Marham-i-Isa. Although he places a great deal of importance on the ‘ointment’, stating that this was the burial spices referred to in John 19:39–40 and Luke 23:56–24:1, these spices were not an “ointment” for healing Jesus’ wounds as he was already dead. It was Jewish custom to use spices to mask the smell of decay (see John 19:40, 2 Chron. 16:14).

Also, the ‘ointment of Jesus’ which is more commonly referred to as the ‘Apostles’ Ointment’ or the ‘Ointment of Venus’ was commonly used for skin diseases and other such maladies, but certainly not for healing the wounds inflicted by Roman torture, flagellation and crucifixion. If this ointment could achieve such a feat, it seems that every doctor and hospital in the world would be utilizing it to heal third degree burns, resuscitating the comatose, etc. The formula for the ointment was first attributed to Avicenna, a Persian physician who lived in the 10th and 11th century, 1,000 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, death and burial! Although Ahmad excitedly lists a number of books in which the ‘ointment of Jesus’ is mentioned, once again he has detached himself from history and is ‘grasping at unsupported straws’ to support his misplaced historical worldview, as a number of the books he lists are from the 10th century or later, with several as late as the 19th century.

After making the claim that the list of books and references of the prescription for the ‘ointment of Jesus’ “was known to millions of people of different nationalities”, Ahmad claims that “this ointment was prepared for Jesus by his disciples.” Ahmad states that the ‘revelation’ of the ‘ointment of Jesus’ is one of the proofs of his claim to be the Promised Messiah! He states, “True, until the coming of the Promised Messiah, it did not occur to any of these people to make use of the historical importance of this ointment…” [26] Ahmad’s claim is another example of recreating an historical event in his own image. There are no 1st century historical documents that validate Ahmad’s claims regarding the use of the ‘ointment of Jesus’ as it pertains to Jesus’ crucifixion.

In his book, Masih Hindustan Main, Jesus in India, Ahmad claimed to have invented the ‘ointment of Jesus’ under the influence of divine inspiration. He believed this to be the ointment which had been used to heal Jesus’ wounds. He even suggested that the ointment was a remedy for a plague that was spreading in India at the time. This ointment disappeared from the market when government officials started raiding the bogus medicine shops, pursuant to an order from the deputy commissioner of Lahore, dated 19th October 1899, which was later upheld by a decision of the Chief Court of the Punjab, in an appeal case dated 8th June 1900.

In his excellent book, From Sufism to Ahmaddiyya—A Muslim Minority Movement South Asia, professor Adil Hussain Khan, confirms that there is no evidence to substantiate Ahmad’s claims relating to the ‘ointment of Jesus’, either in history, or in connection with Jesus’ burial:

Although the notion of dressing the wounds of the dead may be counterintuitive, the historical authenticity of the marham-i ῾īsā is difficult to verify. I was unable to find further discussion of the marham-i ῾īsā in more appropriate sources, such as in the works of scholars of early Christianity, regarding the origins and intended uses of the marham-i ῾īsā in relation to the crucifixion of Jesus. Even though the name of the ointment suggests some link to Jesus, the original marham-i ῾īsā might not have been used to dress Jesus’s wounds after crucifixion. Many products, including miracle ointments, have been falsely attributed to great religious figures, like Jesus, in the past. It is difficult to find references to the ointment of Jesus prior to the medieval period, aside from the expected accounts of perfumes and oils routinely used in ancient burials. For this reason, there are no conclusive testimonials to substantiate the origins of the marham-i ῾īsā and Ghulam Ahmad’s claim. [27]


In his milestone work, The Resurrection of Jesus — A New Historiographical Approach, Dr. Michael Licona posits the following conclusion regarding the ‘swoon theory’:

While open to possibilities, historians must be guided by probabilities. Given the strong evidence for Jesus’ crucifixion, without good evidence to the contrary the historian must conclude that the process killed him. This is the conclusion shared by virtually all scholars who have studied the subject. John McIntyre comments, “Even those scholars and critics who have been moved to depart from almost everything else within the historical content of Christ’s presence on earth have found it impossible to think away the factuality of the death of Christ.” McIntyre is quite correct. Atheist Gerd Lüdemann writes, “Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.” Crossan, who denies the authenticity of a large majority of the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the canonical Gospels, comments that there is not the “slightest doubt about the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius Pilate” and, “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.” For the Jewish scholar Geza Vermes, “The passion of Jesus is part of history.” The rather skeptical scholar Paula Fredriksen writes, “The single most solid fact about Jesus’ life is his death: he was executed by the Roman prefect Pilate, on or around Passover, in the manner Rome reserved particularly for political insurrectionists, namely, crucifixion.”

In summary, the historical evidence is very strong that Jesus died by crucifixion. The event is multiply attested by a number of ancient sources, some of which are non-Christian and thus not biased toward a Christian interpretation of events. They appear in multiple literary forms, being found in annals, historiography, biography, letters, and tradition in the form of creeds, oral formulas, and hymns. Some of the reports are from very early and can reasonably be traced to the Jerusalem apostles. Finally, the probability of surviving crucifixion was very low. Only a few have ventured to suggest that Jesus may not have died as a result of his crucifixion. Their proposals have not received a following from either the academic or medical communities…It is one thing to claim that a person who has been “severely injured” and is nearly dead as a result may be restored to full health given proper medical care and time. However, it is an entirely different thing to claim that a victim of severe torture and crucifixion may have been restored to full health, especially when there is no evidence that Jesus was removed from his cross alive or that he was provided any medical care whatsoever. D. F. Strauss’s critique is every bit as pertinent today as it was on the day he offered it.[28]

In his doctrinal thesis, A Critical Study of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam professor Dr. Alfred Mall concludes:

The truth of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s case is attested only by himself. He is both the attester and the attestee, both the truth and the criteria by which it is attested. He has no conception of the truth of reality, by which he could enhance his case and set the standard in accordance with which later claims and beliefs could form a continuous relationship to truth…The strength of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad rests in his prophecies, not in his person, deeds, and words. Therefore he prevaricates, interpolates, and rationalizes, in order to adapt the prophecies to his method of interpretation. The attempt at scholarship on the part of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and his followers is…to find references in the Quran and in the Bible, and by rationalizing them they extract the appropriate meanings for their own ends.[29]

The ahistorical position of Ahmad is highlighted by his complete disregard of the earliest and trustworthy records of Jesus’ death in favor of a patchwork of late questionable and error prone documents of persons thousands of miles and centuries removed from the actual event.

John W. Montgomery writes, concerning history and Christianity, that “the weight of historical probability lies on the side of the validity of Jesus’ claim to be God incarnate, the Savior of man, and the coming Judge of the world. If probability does in fact support these claims (and can we really deny it, having studied the evidence?), then we must act in behalf of them.” [30]

You may be asking why Ahmad is so zealous in making his case for the ‘swoon theory’ and positing an ahistorical account of Jesus traveling to India and dying there? One notable point is the vested interest Ahmad had in attempting to substantiate his claim that Jesus Christ, the true promised Messiah of history is dead and buried, so as to proclaim himself the Promised Messiah, even if his claim is attested only by himself. In part 2 of this series we will explore the self-understanding and self-proclamations of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.

Why We Can Be Sure Jesus Really Died on the Cross-J. Warner Wallace

Swoon (and substitution) Theory Refuted-Nabeel Qureshi

Is the “swoon theory” adequate to counter the biblical accounts of the resurrection?-Dr. Gary Habermas & Dr. Anthony Flew

Alternate theories about the resurrection proposed by secular scholars?-Dr. William Lane Craig


[1] Aristotle, Metaphysics 10 11b 25
[2] Douglas Groothuis, What is Truth? (on the Nature and Importance of Truth Today), 2007, here
[3] Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Jesus in India, Islam International Publications, 1908, pgs. 12, 13
[4] Tim Chaffey, Faking Death, 2013, here
[5] J.N.D. Anderson, Christianity: The Witness of History, Downers Grove, 111.: InterVarsity Press, 1970, pg. 7
[6] John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, HarperOne, 1995, pg.145
[7] Murray Harris, From Grave to Glory, Zondervan, 1990, pg. 114
[8] John Foster, The Jesus Inquest, Thomas Nelson, 2011, pg. 72
[9] Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus-A Jewish Perspective, Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2002, pg. 92
[10] Thomas Jame Thorburn, The Resurrection Narratives and Modern Criticism, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd, 1910, pg. 183-85
[11] Peter S. Williams, Getting at Jesus: A Comprehensive Critique of Neo-Atheist Nonsense about the Jesus of History, Wipf & Stock, 2019, pg. 316
[12] J. N. D. Anderson, The Resurrection of Christ, pg. 7
[13] Gary Habermas, The Risen Jesus, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003, pg. 16
[14] J. P. Holding, Defending the Resurrection, Xulon Press, 2010, pg 382
[15] Karl Theodor Keim, Jesus of Nazareth, Forgotten Books, 2015, pg. 327-28
[16] John Stott, Basic Christianity, Eerdmans Publishing, 2008, pg.48-49
Christopher Bryan, The Resurrection of the Messiah, Oxford University Press, 2011, pg. 163
[17] David Strauss, A New Life of Jesus, Ulan Press, 2012, pg. 412
[18] William D. Edwards, MD, On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ, Journal of the American Medical Association 255:11, 1986
[19] ibid, Foster
[20] Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, Random House, 2013, pg. 156
[21] Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah, Yale University Press, 1998, pg. 1373
[22] ibid, Crossan, pg. 145
[23] Bart Ehrman, Bart Ehrman Interview, 2018
[24] A. N. Wilson, Paul: The Mind of the Apostle, W. W. Norton & Co, 1998, pg. 117
[25] Paul Little, Know Why You Believe, Wheaton Scripture Press, 1987, pg. 65
[26] Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Jesus in India, Islam International Publications, 1908, pg. 73
[27] Adil Hussain Khan, From Sufism to Ahmaddiyya—A Muslim Minority Movement South Asia, Indiana University Press, 2015, pg. 47
[28] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus-A New Historiographical Approach, Inter-Varsity Press, 2010, pg. 311-313
[29] Alfred Mall, A Critical Study of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, 1997, pg. 44, 137
[30] John W. Montgomery, History & Christianity, InterVarsity Press, 1971, pg. 19

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