Rome, Jan. 12: Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus with a kiss, is to be given a makeover by Vatican scholars.
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”.
Judas has been traditionally blamed for aiding and abetting the Crucifixion, and his name is synonymous with treachery. St Luke says 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 2,000 years.
Brandmuller told fellow scholars it was time for a “re-reading” of the Judas story. He is supported by Vittorio Messori, a Catholic writer close to Pope Benedict XVI.
Messori said the rehabilitation would “resolve the problem of an apparent lack of mercy by Jesus towards one of his closest collaborators”. He said there was a Christian tradition that held that Jesus had forgiven Judas 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'” His “rehabilitation” 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 he 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 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 Crucifixion of Jesus and hence to man’s salvation.