A matter of guilt
If there was one thing Lord Archer and his co-author, Professor Francis Moloney, were keen to ram home at the presentation of their book, The Gospel According to Judas, it was that it had nothing to do with the so-called Tchacos codex. This is an early Christian papyrus that also describes itself as the Gospel of Judas. It was bought seven years ago by a Greek dealer in antiquities and has since been translated with help from the National Geographic Society.
Certainly, the Archer-Moloney work is modern fiction while the Tchacos codex, though not Judas’s own account (it was written in the 3rd or 4th century), is a genuine early Christian document, a so-called Gnostic gospel.
But what the two works have in common is that they argue a case for history’s most infamous turncoat.
In the Archer-Moloney book, Judas makes a tragic mistake: he is actually trying to stop Jesus from falling into the hands of the Romans, and is himself betrayed. In the Tchacos codex, Jesus asks Judas to hand him over to the Romans so that he can fulfil his destiny.
But any construction in which Judas forms part of a divine design for Jesus’s betrayal raises the issue of whether the traitor is, in any sense, guilty. And the Vatican’s apparent willingness to promote Lord Archer’s book poses the question of whether the Roman Catholic church thinks he was.
If an all-knowing God was aware from the outset that this was the way Jesus’s life would go, how could Judas have done otherwise? Professor Moloney, a theological adviser to both this pope and the last one, readily agreed at the press conference in Rome to launch the gospel.
According to the gospel, this was a theological issue of substance, and one that was not that easily resolvable.
Moloney then plugged the gap by saying there was space for the play of Judas’s free will. Non-theologians may find that hard to swallow. And the professor is not about to make it any easier for them.
He had said he had a firm view on whether Judas was in heaven or hell. One of the reporters present said he just wanted to be sure that the professor was saying Judas was in hell.
“No,” came the reply. “I’m not saying that at all.”