Ascension without Resurrection? Debate in the Early Islamic Period on the Ending of Jesus’ Life

Dr. Mark Beaumont

The story of the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, which was at the very centre of Christian worship in the Middle East, was subjected to deconstruction and reinterpretation after the advent of Islam. Muslims asserted that Jesus ascended to heaven without going through death, and that he would return from heaven to the place from which he ascended to preach Islam and then die, be buried in Medina, and on the day of the resurrection of humankind be raised to eternal life.

While written records of this account are available from ninth century Muslim sources, it is intriguing that one of the earliest written sources is from a Christian-Muslim debate recorded by the Christian side before the end of the eighth century. Subsequent defences of the truth of the Christian version of the story show a variety of approaches to Muslim certitude about the end of the life of the Prophet `Isa, and these apologetic writings have great value for Christians in the twenty first century who want to communicate with Muslims concerning the resurrection of Jesus.