British novelist Jeffrey Archer, renowned for penning a string of best-selling thrillers, has written the Gospel according to Judas Iscariot in a bid to throw new light on Christendom's most reviled betrayer.
Archer, writing in collaboration with biblical scholar Francis Moloney, argues that Judas Iscariot never hanged himself and was motivated not by money but disillusionment over Jesus' refusal to throw the Romans out of the Jewish homeland.
"It is a gospel, not a short story and not a novel. It is 22,000 words in length," Archer told Reuters in an interview on Sunday announcing the book's worldwide publication on March 22.
"We don't have him dying which is a crucial part of the story," Archer said of Judas who is said to have betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and then hanged himself in shame.
The Gospel According to Judas is penned in the hand of his son Benjamin Iscariot, with the authors using Christianity's core, canonical texts as their point of reference.
Archer said 80 percent of the writing was his and 80 percent of the scholarship came from the Australian academic.
"It sounds just like the kind of thing someone's son would do to try and rehabilitate their father's name," said South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has recorded an audio version of the book.
Archer is renowned as much for his own colourful life as he is for pacy thrillers like Honour Among Thieves and First Among Equals that are a staple diet of airport bookshops.
Archer, a millionaire who has sold 125 million copies of his books, was convicted for perjury and perverting the course of justice and jailed in 2001 after lying in a libel trial against a newspaper which said he had sex with a prostitute.
The case -- Archer was released in 2003 to resume writing -- destroyed the political career of the flamboyant author who was once deputy chairman of the opposition Conservative party.
A consummate self-publicist, Archer was cagey about giving away too many of the book's conclusions before its publication but said: "Judas did not hang himself."
Archer did not believe Judas was motivated by money.
"Unquestionably he wanted the Messiah to ride into Jerusalem in front of a triumphant army and defeat the Romans. But that was never Christ's purpose as he kept telling his disciples," Archer said. "When he arrives on a donkey, that for Judas is the proof that he isn't the Messiah."
Bracing for protest on publication, Archer said: "When it comes to controversy, what will be fascinating is the United States. This is going to cause an amazing amount of debate."
Archer is offering the second Judas gospel to hit the headlines in the past year.
In April, a 1,700-year-old copy of the Gospel of Judas was unveiled in Washington. It said Judas acted on Jesus' request in turning him over to the authorities because he was the only disciple in Jesus' inner circle who understood his desire to shed his earthly body.
It is not known who wrote that Judas gospel. The copy unveiled was of a document mentioned critically in the year 180 AD in a treatise called Against Heresies, written by Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon in what was then Roman Gaul.
It spoke out against those whose views about Jesus differed from those of the mainstream Christian church.