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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Jeffrey Archer, Judas, Miracles

I noticed mention at the NT Gateway Weblog today of a novel by British politicain Jeffrey Archer - The Gospel According to Judas ...

This story is extensively reported today, but surprisingly little touched on in the biblioblogosphere. Jeffrey Archer, the notorious British popular novelist-cum-Tory-politician who recently spent time in prison for perjury, has collaborated with Francis Moloney of the Catholic University of America in a new book about Judas .... One curiosity. It is only a year since the Gospel of Judas was published, with its accompanying National Geographic documentary, but it is not referenced in any of the media pieces I have seen about the new Archer novel. I suppose it shows what short memories people have ...

And here's a liitle info from The Guardian on the book ...

The cyclical rehabilitation of Jeffrey Archer has completed another astounding turn. Following his conviction for perjury, two years in prison and another four years of more or less self-imposed exile from the media spotlight, Archer is back. Still apparently a member-in-not-very-good-standing of the House of Lords, Archer this week follows his recent thriller, False Impression, with the publication of The Gospel According to Judas: By Benjamin Iscariot, a book which, unlike its author, fairly begs to have its credentials closely examined. It is, insists Archer, not a novel but a "gospel" - it's written in numbered verses, and edged in gold leaf - and it is co-authored by an Australian Silesian scholar called Father Francis Moloney (although the title page has a slightly less generous, "with the assistance of"). It purports to be Judas's account, retold by his son Benjamin, of the betrayal of Jesus. Judas, he claims, never accepted the 30 pieces of silver, and never hanged himself. Father Moloney is on board to keep it real.

Neither the premise nor the title is particularly original, or even controversial; there are about a dozen books with the same name, and last year saw the publication of a second century Gnostic text, The Gospel Of Judas, which posits a revisionist view of the wayward disciple's culpability. It has long been suggested that if Jesus's crucifixion was the fulfilment of scripture then you can't lay all the blame at Judas's feet. Archer's latest book has, however, earned praise from an unfamiliar quarter. Thanks to Moloney's involvement it has the official approval of the Pope and the imprimatur of Archbishop Desmond Tutu - he's the voice of the audio CD (you can hear him do chapter one on Archer's own website) .....

There are some interesting things about the book ... that it's based on the Gospel of Judas that was so much in the news last year ... that it's co-authoring by Fr. Francis Moloney, who apparently had no problems with a portayal of Jesus that's somewhat contrary to the offical Church stance (Jesus as the biological son of Joseph, for example).

What might be considered most controversial about the book is that Judas is not seen as the betrayer of Jesus (no surprise here, as it's based on the Gospel of Judas), though even the Vatican has of late been up on the idea of rehabilitating Judas' image. Myself, I'm fine with giving Judas a break - I can so easily see myself making a terrible mistake of the same nature, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. But what disturbs me is that Archer's book shows a Jesus who did not perform miracles ... no changing the water into wine, no walking on water, etc. :-(

I guess most christians fall somewhere along the continuum between strict naturalism (think Jefferson's Bible) and full blown supernaturalism (think CS Lewis' Miracles), and I realized that I lean very hard towards supernaturalism. Did Jesus really perform nature miracles? I can tell you what Hume or Thomas Aquinas or John Polkinghorne think, but really all they have are opinions ... ok, extremely intelligent opinions, but still :-). I can't answer the question of whther the miracles happened or not, so maybe I'll try to answer a different question ... why is it so important to me to believe that Jesus performed miracles? That will probably take a while to answer, so in the meantime, remember this poem about Judas? .....

Saint Brandan
- Matthew Arnold

Saint Brandan sails the northern main;
The brotherhood of saints are glad.
He greets them once, he sails again;
So late!—such storms!—The Saint is mad!

He heard, across the howling seas,
Chime convent-bells on wintry nights;
He saw, on spray-swept Hebrides,
Twinkle the monastery-lights;

But north, still north, Saint Brandan steer'd—
And now no bells, no convents more!
The hurtling Polar lights are near'd,
The sea without a human shore.

At last—(it was the Christmas night;
Stars shone after a day of storm)—
He sees float past an iceberg white,
And on it—Christ!—a living form.

That furtive mien, that scowling eye,
Of hair that red and tufted fell—
It is—Oh, where shall Brandan fly?—
The traitor Judas, out of hell!

Palsied with terror, Brandan sate;
The moon was bright, the iceberg near.
He hears a voice sigh humbly: "Wait!
By high permission I am here.

"One moment wait, thou holy man
On earth my crime, my death, they knew;
My name is under all men's ban—
Ah, tell them of my respite too!

"Tell them, one blessed Christmas-night—
(It was the first after I came,
Breathing self-murder, frenzy, spite,
To rue my guilt in endless flame)—

"I felt, as I in torment lay
'Mid the souls plagued by heavenly power,
An angel touch my arm, and say:
Go hence, and cool thyself an hour!

"'Ah, whence this mercy, Lord?' I said.
The Leper recollect, said he,
Who ask'd the passers-by for aid,
In Joppa, and thy charity.

"Then I remember'd how I went,
In Joppa, through the public street,
One morn when the sirocco spent
Its storms of dust with burning heat;

"And in the street a leper sate,
Shivering with fever, naked, old;
Sand raked his sores from heel to pate,
The hot wind fever'd him five-fold.

"He gazed upon me as I pass'd
And murmur'd: Help me, or I die!—
To the poor wretch my cloak I cast,
Saw him look eased, and hurried by.

"Oh, Brandan, think what grace divine,
What blessing must full goodness shower,
When fragment of it small, like mine,
Hath such inestimable power!

"Well-fed, well-clothed, well-friended, I
Did that chance act of good, that one!
Then went my way to kill and lie—
Forgot my good as soon as done.

"That germ of kindness, in the womb
Of mercy caught, did not expire;
Outlives my guilt, outlives my doom,
And friends me in the pit of fire.

"Once every year, when carols wake,
On earth, the Christmas-night's repose,
Arising from the sinner's lake,
I journey to these healing snows.

"I stanch with ice my burning breast,
With silence balm my whirling brain.
Oh, Brandan! to this hour of rest
That Joppan leper's ease was pain."—

Tears started to Saint Brandan's eyes;
He bow'd his head, he breathed a prayer—
Then look'd, and lo, the frosty skies!
The iceberg, and no Judas there!


Blogger Deacon Denny said...

Wow -- it's been years since I've read that poem, and I certainly notice a lot more in it now than I ever did before.

I did a fair amount of study on "The Gospel of Judas" last year, in the publicity fostered by the National Geographic piece. I was under-whelmed. However, the main idea -- that Judas was a hero, the only follower of Jesus strong enough to betray him -- is a good one, though done far better (with much more of a sense of high drama) in "The Last Temptation of Christ."

Thanks for the post, Crystal.

1:14 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


I remember the gospel of Judas furor last year ... I did a few posts on it. It wastoo gnostic for me :-)

The Last Temptation of Christ - that was a pretty good movie. I think I read that the author of the book from which it was adapted got excommunicated - ouch!

1:58 AM  
Blogger Liam said...

I don't know if every miracle in the Bible actually happened, but if Jesus was God, why not? There are a lot of people who want to turn him into nothing more than a wise teacher, but for me the Incarnation is central -- otherwise there's an unbridgeable gulf between earth and heaven.

6:07 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Liam ... thatt sums up my view also.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Cura Animarum said...

I think God knows that every now and then we need a miracle or two just to keep us going. But for that what would the poets dream or romantics pine for?

2:09 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Cura,

sometimes I feel almost guilty for wanting miracles to be true ... not sure where that comes from.

5:27 PM  

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