January 20, 2006

No reputation remake planned for Judas: Vatican

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - Despite reports to the contrary, the
Roman Catholic Church is not planning to rehabilitate Judas
Iscariot, the Biblical figure who betrayed Jesus and gave his
name to generations of traitors, a Vatican official has said.

The name Judas, his reward of 30 pieces of silver and the
kiss he gave Jesus to identify him to Roman soldiers have been
symbols of treachery in Western culture for two millennia. In
Dante's Inferno, he languishes in the lowest circle of Hell.

But the disgraced apostle raises a difficult question for
theologians -- if Jesus was supposed to die on the cross as
part of a larger divine plan, did Judas not simply play his
part in the drama by turning him over to the Roman occupiers?

And is Christianity not supposed to be about forgiveness?

The Times of London reported last week that Vatican
historian Walter Brandmueller wanted to rehabilitate Judas and
present his act as "fulfilling his part in God's plan."

The story sparked lively chatter on the Internet. The
Toronto Star daily asked: "Ready to rethink the fink

"This news has no foundation," Brandmueller, head of the
Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences, said.

"I can't imagine where this idea came from," he told the
Rome-based Catholic news agency Zenit this week.

Judas was one of Jesus's 12 apostles. In the Bible's New
Testament, the Gospel of St. Matthew says he quickly regretted
his treachery, returned the silver to the Jewish chief priests
who gave it to him and hanged himself.


One reason why interest in Judas has suddenly arisen is
that a long-lost "Gospel of Judas," an apocryphal or
inauthentic account of Jesus's life, is due to be published
this spring.

The New Testament contains four Gospels -- by Matthew,
Mark, Luke and John -- but many more were written in the
century or two after Christ's death and attributed to apostles
such as Thomas and Philip or to his female follower Mary

Many were written by Gnostics, early Christian heretics who
believed that secret knowledge was the key to eternal

The original second century Greek manuscript of the Gospel
of Judas was lost long ago but an ancient Coptic translation
found in Egypt is now being translated by a Swiss foundation.

There has been speculation that any text purporting to be
written by Judas would show him in a better light and prompt a
rethink of his reputation, but New Testament experts are wary.

"Until we see the text, we won't know exactly what it says,
but it seems to be a Gnostic writing and unlikely to change our
view of what happened back then," said Richard Dillon, theology
professor at Fordham University in New York.

Some experts argue that rehabilitating Judas could help
Vatican relations with Judaism, since anti-Semites sometimes
use his story to condemn all Jews, but Brandmueller did not

"The dialogue between the Holy See and the Jews continues
profitably on other bases," he told Zenit.