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The Gospel According to Judas

Pan Macmillan 2007
RRP: $24.95

Although attributed to Benjamin Iscariot, the alleged son of Judas Iscariot, The Gospel According to Judas is a 21st century work of fiction written by Jeffrey Archer and Francis Maloney.

Now at the outset I’ve got to confess that I’m a Jeffrey Archer fan – he is one of my favourite fiction authors. However, Archer sure struck out this time.

The Gospel According to Judas was apparently a project that Archer had been working on for some time.

Fascinated by the character of Judas, Archer set out to write a fictional account of the ministry of Jesus told through the eyes of the disciple whom history charges with Jesus’ betrayal. Archer engaged the eminent Australian Catholic theologian and New Testament scholar, Francis J Maloney to collaborate with him on the project.

Archer’s role was to tell the story and Maloney’s to handle issues of scholarship. Their goal was to produce a piece of writing that would look like a gospel, not a novel, and make sense to a first century Christian or Jew.

Now I can understand why Archer, an internationally famous story teller would choose such a project. Hollywood and assorted publishing houses have long recognised that the story of Jesus is the greatest story ever. But why Maloney?

The Catholic scholar says that he agreed because he wanted to make the message of Jesus, recently trivialised by Dan Brown in The da Vinci Code and Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion, accessible to 21st century secular readers.

He wanted to show them what a gospel really is and thereby encourage them to read seriously the Gospels in the New Testament. Maloney also sees Judas as a faulty and failed human being; he wanted to use Judas to show us how to handle failure and disappointment.

In my view The Gospel According to Judas fails dismally at all points.

It is dreary, lacking the pace, suspense, characterisation and atmosphere that Archer is renowned for.

The style is ponderous and pedestrian, with Judas inevitably coming across as the ‘hero’ or wise one who counsels Peter and the other disciples on prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures and appropriate responses and actions.

Yet in the end it is this supposedly insightful Judas who is duped by a scribe into betraying Jesus while all the time believing he is helping Jesus to be taken to safety in Galilee.

Archer and Maloney play fast and loose with Scripture. As indicated already the Gospel accounts are manipulated to portray Judas as the hero and ultimate fall guy. (He was duped into ‘betraying’ Jesus, didn’t sell out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and certainly didn’t take his own life according to their account.) Some miracles as recorded in the Gospels, such as the Feeding of the Five Thousand, are essentially accepted while others, such as Jesus turning water into wine, are bluntly refuted as never happening.

Overall, a very disappointing piece of work. Apart from an interesting conjecture about what Jesus meant when he said to Peter at Caesarea Philippi, “Get behind me, Satan,” (apparently ‘satana’ in Aramaic means ‘stumbling block’ – hence Peter and the 12 should be behind Jesus, following him as his true disciples and not in his way to trip him), I found it implausible, unimaginative and dull.

I very much doubt that many seekers will be drawn to discover the authentic Jesus of the Gospels as a result of their reading ‘Benjamin Iscariot’s’ version.

Reviewed by Graham Beattie, a Queensland Synod Mission Consultant