Christians have traditionally blamed Judas for aiding and abetting the Crucifixion, and his name is synonymous with treachery. According to St Luke, Judas was "possessed by Satan". Now, a campaign led by Monsignor Walter Brandmuller, head of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Science, is aimed at getting believers to look kindly at a man who has been reviled for 2000 years.
Mgr Brandmuller told fellow scholars it was time for a re-reading of the Judas story. He is supported by Vittorio Messori, a prominent Catholic writer close to both occupants of the chair of the Anti-Christ, Benedict XVI and the late John Paul II. Signor Messori said that the rehabilitation of Judas would resolve the problem of an apparent lack of mercy by Jesus toward one of his closest collaborators. He told La Stampa that there was a Christian tradition which held that Judas was forgiven by Jesus and ordered to purify himself with "spiritual exercises" in the desert. In scholarly circles, it has long been unfashionable to demonise Judas and Catholics in Britain are likely to welcome Judas's rehabilitation. Father Allen Morris, Christian Life and Worship secretary for the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, said: "If Christ died for all - is it possible that Judas too was redeemed through the Master he betrayed?"
The "rehabilitation" of Judas could help the Pope's drive to improve Christian-Jewish relations, which he has made a priority of his pontificate. Some Bible experts say Judas was "a victim of a theological libel which helped to create anti-Semitism" by forming an image of him as a "sinister villain" prepared to betray for money. In many medieval plays and paintings Judas is portrayed with a hooked nose and exaggerated Semitic features. In Dante's Inferno, Judas is relegated to the lowest pits of hell, where he is devoured by a three-headed demon.
The move to clear Judas's name coincides with plans to publish the alleged Gospel of Judas for the first time in English, German and French.
Though not written by Judas, it is said to reflect the belief among early Christians - now gaining ground in the Vatican - that in betraying Christ Judas was fulfilling a divine mission which led to the arrest and Crucifixion of Jesus and hence to man's salvation.
Mgr Brandmuller said that he expected "no new historical evidence" from the supposed gospel, which had been excluded from the canon of accepted Scripture. But it could "serve to reconstruct the events and context of Christ's teachings as they were seen by the early Christians". This included the fact that Jesus had always preached "forgiveness for one's enemies".
Some Vatican scholars have expressed concern over the reconsideration of Judas. Monsignor Giovanni D'Ercole, a Vatican theologian, said it was "dangerous to re-evaluate Judas and muddy the Gospel accounts by reference to apocryphal writings. This can only create confusion in believers". The Gospels tell how Judas later returned the 30 pieces of silver - his "blood money" - and hanged himself, or according to the Acts of the Apostles, "fell headlong and burst open so that all his entrails burst out".
Some accounts suggest he acted out of disappointment that Jesus was not a revolutionary who intended to overthrow Roman occupation and establish "God's Kingdom on Earth". In the Gospel accounts, Jesus reveals to the disciples at the Last Supper that one of them will betray him, but does not say which. He adds "Woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.
But he also - according to St Matthew - acknowledged that Judas had a divine function to fulfil, saying to him during the arrest, "Friend, do what you are here to do" and adding that "the prophecies of the Scriptures must be fulfilled". The "Gospel of Judas", a 62-page worn and tattered papyrus, was found in Egypt half a century ago and later sold by antiquities dealers to the Maecenas Foundation in Basle, Switzerland.
Comment The above article is full of misconceptions and downright ignorance. A second article appeared the next day in The Times by Ben Macintyre who gave, as he called it, "the case for the defence and can be summed up in three words: Judas was innocent. He was not just misunderstood, he was framed". This was a stitch-up, jurors; Judas was a scapegoat, an innocent victim of religious persecution, racial prejudice, political animus, wilful mistranslation and mistaken identity etc.
Luke's gospel is clear "Then entered Satan into Judas". (Luke 22:3) Was he not warned before he deliberately took the awful step of betrayal? Behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table. And truly the Son of man goeth; as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed!". (Luke 22: 21-22)
The betrayal was foretold: the apostle John (John 13:18). He quotes the prophecy: "He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me." A quotation from Psalm 41:9 is here shown to apply to one greater than David. "This," our Lord says, "is about to be fulfilled in the conduct of Judas Iscariot and Me." (J. C. Ryle). John calls him "a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein." (John 12:6)
Most of the disciples were unaware who the traitor was at the last supper. For when Judas left the upper room John records - "For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor." (John 13:29)
Another charge - that biased translators deliberately bolstered preconceived assumptions. Ben Macintyre claims that the Greek word to betray paradidomi has a less derogatory meaning. i.e. to 'hand over' or 'surrender'. Paradidomi is used 121 times in the N.T. and the A.V. translates it deliver - 54 times, deliver up - 9 times, betray - 40 times, and whether we use "hand over" or "surrender" it amounts to the same thing i.e. a betrayal. The word 'betray' is used only once in the Greek O.T. "And David said to them, If ye are come peaceably to me, let my heart be at peace with you: but if ye are come to" betray me to my enemies unfaithfully, the God of your fathers look upon it." (1.Chron.12:17), the word used here in the LXX is paradidomi.
No one is all bad is the simplistic argument. Judas has been blamed, framed and defamed and the Lord Jesus has been accused of an apparent lack of mercy toward one of his closest disciples. Jesus calls all to come unto him and he will receive them; no one is cast away, not even the vilest sinner. Judas showed no repentance only remorse, and went and hanged himself. The Vatican scholars and others who want to rehabilitate Judas and tell us it is now time for a re-reading of the Judas story will welcome the timely 62 page Gospel of Judas resurrected from Egypt half a century ago. It will no doubt be believed by the followers of Judas, and support his reinstatement into a place of honour; while the Holy Scriptures must be able to compete with modern 'scholarship' and so-called 'science'.
The apostle Paul warns us of those who - "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools...who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever, Amen. (Rom 1:25).