Vatican makeover for Judas Iscariot

Interpretations of Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus with a kiss, are being rethought by Vatican scholars.

Ekklesia reports that the proposed "rehabilitation" of the man who was paid 30 pieces of silver to identify Jesus to Roman soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane, comes on the ground that he was not deliberately evil, but was just "fulfilling his part in God's plan" reports the Times newspaper.

Historically Christians have often 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 persuading believers to look kindly at a man reviled for 2000 years, reports the newspaper. Monsignor Brandmuller is supported by Vittorio Messori, a prominent Catholic writer close to both Pope Benedict XVI and the late John Paul II.

The suggested re-interpretation may be explained by some as a result, at least in part, of the new 'post-Christendom' context.

Within Christendom, a close alliance of church and government meant that Christians often played down Jesus' radical message of mercy, love and forgiveness. Such values did not sit well with a church which had to play a part in governing, waging wars imprisonment and torture, and Jesus was often interpreted in more retributive terms.

As the church moves further from government however, room is made for interpretations of Jesus to re-emerge that are more in keeping with ideas of forgiveness rather than punishment.

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 that 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 around the world are likely to welcome Judas's rehabilitation.

Fr 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?"

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.

Some Vatican scholars have expressed concern over the reconsideration of Judas. Monsignor Giovanni D'Ercole said it was "dangerous to re-evaulate Judas and muddy the Gospel accounts by reference to apocryphal writings. This can only create confusion in believers."

Judas Iscariot to get Vatican makeover (Ekklesia 12/1/06)

Judas the Misunderstood (London Times 12/1/06)

13 Jan 2006