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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Gospel According to Judas by Jeffrey Archer

The Gospel According to Judas by Benjamin Iscariot Recounted by Jeffrey Archer with the Assistance of Francis J. Maloney. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-312-37520-1

This book is deliberately presented in a way that seems intended to deceive. The author, Jeffrey Archer, even makes the claim that it's not a novel, but a gospel. Yeah, right, whatever. It is fiction, regardless of what he calls it, and not even very good fiction, at that.

What makes it so potentially confusing to the reader who casually picks it up, is the relatively recent rediscovery, translation from Coptic, and release of the Gnostic Gospel of Judas (in 1999) by the National Geographic Society. So naturally, if one picks up this book, one might think the two are in some way connected. But they're not. In fact, Archer (or Maloney, his pet expert) makes a point of repudiating that gospel by stating in one of the scholarly notes at the end of the book that “The Gospel According to Judas recorded here was not inspired by this text," referring to the Coptic, Gnostic Gospel of Judas.

Additionally confusing is the format and appearance of the story as printed, published and presented to the public. He (or his publisher) puts it in a fancy fakey binding replete with cream paper and a cloth ribbon. The text is divided into chapters and verses, just like the traditional Bible, even though this format has no real meaning in modern times, and makes the narrative more difficult to read.

So where DOES Archer get his alternative version of the story? He made it up out of whole cloth, apparently. In his version, Judas is tricked into betraying Jesus by one of the scribes. It was never his intention to do so. Further, he doesn't kill himself, as stipulated in the traditional gospels. Instead, he flees to join the Essenes in their desert stronghold, where his son finds him still living many years later. He is eventually crucified by the Romans during the Jewish uprising around AD 70.

All though the gospel story as supposedly told by Benjamin Iscariot, the son of Judas Iscariot, based on what his father told him, the real authors, Archer and Maloney, provide citations to the traditional Bible, the existing gospels, Old Testament scriptures, and even from the Apocryphal books Tobit and Judith. Much, if not most of the story is taken pretty much verbatim from the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

But guess what: Where the author inserts his own version of the story, when Judas is assigned to roles or parts that never appeared in the original gospels, or where the story markedly diverges from the traditional version, no citations appear here! What gives Archer the right to pick and choose which parts of the traditional story he will accept, and which parts he will reject or change, is not clear at all.

It would be one thing if the book was presented as a novel, as fiction. But no, everything about it, including the author's own remarks about it, give the impression that it is the gospel truth. "It is a gospel, not a short story and not a novel. It is 22,000 words in length," Archer said, as cited in an ABC News story. And in a time where the very word “gospel” carries the additional meaning of something unquestionably true, this comes across as the height of arrogance.

What's worse, he doesn't even do a very good job of it at times. For example, when he retells the story of the paralytic who was lowered down through the roof, because there was no way to get him through the crowds of people surrounding Jesus, Archer puts this story in a synagogue, which hardly seems credible. The only gospel writer who sets a location for the story, Mark (Chapter 2), puts Jesus in a house (King James Version), or “at home” according to other translations. To imagine that folks would have torn up the roof of a synagogue to let the sick man down seems pretty far fetched and unlikely. And what purpose does this change from other versions of the story serve? None, really that I can see.

No, unless anything connected to the Bible is your thing, regardless of its credibility, I wouldn't bother with this novel masquerading as a gospel. Definitely not recommended.


  • Is writing fiction novel a strong means to shatter a long established faith?
    How about music? Can music be used to change someone's believe?

    By Blogger Danny's Place, at 6:56 PM  

  • Those are excellent questions! But not questions to which I have the answers, that's for sure. If a faith is really strong, I don't think reading a novel would ordinarily shatter that faith, although it could certainly be a means of causing one to question one's previous faith. But WRITING a fiction novel? That's an even more intensive effort, I imageine. As to whether MUSIC could be used to change someone's belief, I doubt it, but anything is possible, I suppose.

    By Blogger Will, at 8:55 PM  

  • Thank you for your valuable reply. May God be glorified through our service to Him.

    By Blogger Danny's Place, at 6:41 PM  

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