Judas makes another comeback

By Simon Barrow
March 20, 2007

The story about how Judas has been misrepresented in the Gospels and was mainly trying to rescue Jesus from false notions of messiahood has surfaced again - via a Jeffrey Archer novel.

This time old suspect Frank Moloney was being interviewed on BBC Radio 4 about a fictional account he has helped a well-known ex-jailbird with. Judas has a long-standing role as an imaginative and imagined figure in literature and popular culture. Somehow Desmond Tutu's name got dragged in to this one, too.

Meanwhile, ex-Catholic Herald editor Peter Stanford ('Jesus has always intrigued me...') has picked up the trail on The Gospel According to Judas: By Benjamin Iscariot, by Jeffrey Archer and Francis J Moloney (Macmillan, 2007) in The Daily Telegraph.

Earlier in the year, New Testament scholar Deirdre Good from GTS New York City helpfully overviewed a range of new books on 'The Gospel of Judas' text, which evoked a media storm when it came to light. An online version of her 2006 Holy Week presentation at Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church ('What would Judas do?') was made available as a webcast.

Also writing in January 2007, Mark Goodacre, Associate Professor of New Testament in the Religion Department at Duke University, commented: "Jeffrey Archer has a book due out on Judas, co-written with Frank Moloney, this March (Archer writes Gospel of Judas), already mentioned by Jim Davila on Paleojudaica. I first heard of the story on Andrew Marr's Sunday AM on BBC1. What interested me was the general surprise with which Marr and [tabloid writer] Ann Leslie greeted the idea of rehabilitating Judas, a useful reminder that however much we might think that the media has been saturated with stories about Judas over the last year or so, that is a pretty jaundiced, religion students' perspective. It had clearly completely passed by educated and intelligent readers like Marr, and required a recognisable tag like 'Jeffrey Archer' to deem it noticeable."

In The New York Review of books last year, three writers offered a popular review ('The Betrayer's Gospel') of The Gospel of Judas from Codex Tchacos, edited by Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, and Gregor Wurst (National Geographic, 2006). They commented:

"The Gospel of Judas is unlikely to shake many Christians' faith in the traditional account of Jesus' betrayal and crucifixion, but it does provide us with a sophisticated meditation on the relationship between God and evil—one that was perhaps inspired by personal experience as much as philosophical curiosity. (After all, the experience of being demonized—as the author may have been—would understandably lead an early Christian to rethink the problem of evil.) The answers that this author came up with are far removed from the clichés of Gnostic dualism. In fact, by bringing Judas into the fold, this text actually ends up domesticating evil, at least in implying that the greatest betrayal can turn out to be an act of pious obedience. How convincing, or satisfying, we find such an interpretation is another question altogether."

Update, April 2007: Deirdre Good has added a couple of interesting weblog posts here and here which unpack the procedure of the book. She concludes: "In short, while this is unconvincing historical fiction, it is a fascinating reconstruction of how a branch of Roman Catholic scholarship sees Jesus' relationship to Judas. What would other Roman Catholic scholars like Raymond Brown (who had much to say on the subject of Jesus and women in John's gospel) have thought of this project? As for me, I'd prefer the gospel texts in all their richness and confrontive complexity when it comes to Judas. And I'd like to see some responsible historical fiction."

See also Judas Iscariot to get Vatican makeover from January 2006.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.