A new "Gospel" of Judas is retelling the story of Jesus in an unorthodox way – through the sympathetic eyes of Benjamin Iscariot, Judas' eldest son.
Written by British best-selling author Jeffrey Archer and Vatican theologist Francis Maloney, "The Gospel According to Judas" portrays Judas as the victim of betrayal instead of the betrayer. Its release comes one month before Easter and one year after a similarly titled work – National Geographic Society's English translation of the "Gospel of Judas" – made headlines and drew heavy criticism from top scholars who dismissed the manuscript as "gnostic propaganda."
While the new fictional book makes a number of outrageous claims contrary to the canonical Gospels, it surprisingly has not drawn much criticism – likely because most scholars have not heard of it.
Last week, New Testament scholars from schools including Wheaton College and Liberty University told The Christian Post that they were not familiar with Archer's "The Gospel According to Judas" – which claims that Judas had attempted to save Jesus' life when he confided in a scribe who promised to smuggle Jesus out of Jerusalem and into Galilee. (The scribe instead turns Jesus over to the Sanhedrin and ultimately to His death.)
The Vatican, however, though not officially endorsing the book, aired a segment on the book on its Vatican Radio last Wednesday and held a lecture on it at the Pontifical Biblical Institute.
The book was also launched at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome on Mar. 20, two days before its worldwide debut last Thursday, reported Agence France-Presse.
The Rev. Stephen Pisano, head of the Pontifical Biblical Institute, said that his interest lays in the "Bible itself, and if the discussion [through the book] encourages people to read the Bible, carefully and intelligently … then it may be that permitting the presentation of this book can be justified," according to The Washington Post.
The book's main author, Archer, was a former member of the British parliament until he was jailed for four years for perjury regarding his purported relations with a prostitute.
He describes himself as a devoted Anglican, who wanted to write the story of Judas – whom he said was treated unjustly – for some 15 years. The book depicts Judas as disillusioned by Jesus when He did not assume the warrior king identity he expected, but still respecting Jesus as a prophet.
Besides rejecting Judas as Jesus' betrayer, the book also denies that Judas received 30 pieces of silver coins for turning Jesus over to the Pharisees, that Judas committed suicide, and that Jesus performed miracles and was born through Immaculate Conception.
The fictional book takes on the appearance of a Gospel with its mock leather cover, gold trim pages, numbered verses, margin notes, burgundy ribbon bookmark, and its stories derived from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
The book has been translated in nine languages and South Africa's retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu has agreed to read the book for a CD version, according to the Washington Post.