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Jeffrey Archer launches controversial book on Judas

The "gospel" is written through the eyes of Benjamin Iscariot, Judas' imaginary eldest son.

books Updated: Apr 12, 2007 16:45 IST

Jesus did not walk on water, he did not turn water into wine at the marriage feast at Cana and Judas did not receive 30 pieces of silver for betraying him.

In fact, Judas did not want Jesus to be captured. He was himself betrayed. These are just some of the most controversial arguments put forward in a new book by British bestselling novelist Jeffrey Archer and Professor Francis J Maloney, one of the leading Bible experts of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Gospel According To Judas by Benjamin Iscariot, published in eight languages, was presented on Tuesday at Rome's Foreign Press Club in a press conference attended by its authors and the rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, Father Stephen Pisano.

"Not everything in this book can be regarded as probable. But everything must be possible," Maloney said.

The 100-page book looks and feels like a canonical gospel. It is written in verse and printed with gilded edges. Its glossary notes about the Biblical texts was written almost entirely by Maloney.

"I wanted the final work to look and read like a gospel, not a short story or a novel," Archer said.

And though it is believed to have received the quiet endorsement of Pope Benedict XVI himself, its contents are likely to raise eyebrows among practising Christians.

The gospel is written through the eyes of Benjamin Iscariot, Judas' imaginary eldest son. According to its authors, Judas did not hang himself, as recounted in Matthew, but lived into old age and died as Jesus did - crucified by the Romans.

The authors argue that Judas should not be treated as a traitor, but as a man whom history has treated unfairly.

The central thesis of their book is that Judas was the instrument of a divine plan and, therefore, not personally culpable. Though Judas did not believe that Jesus was the son of God, he did not betray him for money but out of frustration with Jesus at his refusal to use force to overthrow the Romans.

"Judas' story in The Gospel of Judas is about handling failure. And although it is Judas' story, the hero of the story is Jesus of Nazareth," Melbourne-born Maloney said.

While the authors denied that the Gospel of Judas was an answer to what Maloney called "deeply flawed" best-sellers such as Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code or Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, the Australian professor said he could not stand by silently while the main message of the canonical gospels of Jesus was "trivialised and ridiculed."

Maloney said Pope Benedict "may well have read" the book and recalled the pontiff's October 18, 2006 message to the faithful: "To understand the life of Judas means to understand decisive aspects of the mystery of man's relationship with God."

The Gospel of Judas is published in English, Italian, Portuguese, Polish, Dutch, German, Spanish and Serbian and is accompanied by a CD in which it is read out by Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of Cape Town.

Proceeds of the book are to be used to build a school in Samoa.