Thursday, 22 March 2007

The Gospel According to Judas

Last evening, in the Cathedral Hall, 'The Gospel according to Judas' was launched, following its international launch yesterday in the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.

The book is a collaboration between the novelist and (discredited) politician Jeffrey Archer, and Professor Francis Moloney – a biblical scholar of international repute. I was not able to be at the launch here because of our Lenten Penance service, and so could only take some quick snaps before the discussion began. Above, the two authors stand together near the stage, before the presentation.

There is some puzzlement at how readily the book has been embraced by the Church establishment. Many people would point out that there is a difference between a book of scholarly investigation, and a novel that employs plausible data, such as this. From the Press release, it would not appear that this distinction has been clearly remembered. The Press pack states, for example, that “the authors suggest … Jesus did not walk on water or turn water into wine at the marriage feast at Cana – ‘These things never happened’ declares Judas.”

This statement appears to go beyond saying that the (fictional) Judas did not believe these things happened. It implies that neither Mr Archer nor Professor Moloney believe that Jesus performed these particular miracles. This raises questions about the authors' relationship to events later in the novel, such as this: "Judas could not accept that Jesus had risen from the dead, and he parted company with Peter."

However, Professor Moloney is a Biblical Scholar of the highest standing within the Church, and a friend of Cardinal Martini. An interesting statement from Fr Stephen Pisano, Rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute, seems to distance the Institute from the book; “The only reason we accepted to allow the book to be presented is the presence of Fr Francis Moloney, who is a well known and very capable New Testament scholar… I would like to emphasize that allowing the presentation of this book does not imply that the Biblical Institute itself, or the Vatican or the Pope endorses this book in any way.”

Not being at the launch, I cannot enter the discussion fully. Some seminarians from Allen Hall (pictured standing, left) were present, and speaking to one afterwards, he was concerned that the novel, written as though it were a 'Gospel', presents no notion of Jesus’ awareness of his death as a sacrifice, or of his fulfilment of the will of God as worked out in the Old Testament.

All together, an odd evening. I wonder what Archbishop Gregorios (far left of the picture, above) made of it all!


Anonymous said...

Yet another example of the pervasive and insidious culture of scepticism dressed in such blandishments as to appear plausible, and indeed appealing, to the majority.

Anonymous said...

Why was the presentation allowed in the Cathedral Hall? It was bad enough that it was allopwed at the PBI. Doesn't this kind of thing send out mixed messages?

Anonymous said...

In the light of your quoting Fr Pisano and the concerns you yourself rightly raise, perhaps you could shed some light on the Cathedral's decision to host the launch and the relationship this implies to the book and its authors?

Londiniensis said...

Quoted from "The Times" of 20th March: " ... Many churchgoers will be surprised at the Church's overt backing for a book that debunks some of Jesus's best-known miracles in the run-up to Easter. The Gospel According to Judas is also being backed by the Roman Catholic Church in England, with a launch planned for tomorrow at Westminster Cathedral.

But in interviews with The Times, both Father Moloney and Lord Archer said they did not include Jesus's three most famous 'nature miracles', beloved of Sunday School children worldwide, in The Gospel because they "never happened". ...

Although the idea that Jesus's miracles did not happen and were pure invention have been common in academic circles for decades, for many of the faithful it will still come as a shock. ... "

Two related questions. Were the "debunking" opinions of Father Moloney already known through his theological writings? If so, and knowing the past history and publicity consciousness of his co-author, why did the relevant Church authorities in Rome and London allow prestigious buildings to be used to allow maximim publicity (and implied Church support) to be given to what could reasonably have been foreseen to be a problematic book?

Minor question: Why should Father Moloney's friendship with Cardinal Martini be seen as a recommendation? The Cardinal is hardly an entirely uncontroversial figure himself.

Jay said...

I was reading an article on the Times Online about this launching:

"Approved by the Pope"
"Book has Vatican approval"
"Father Moloney, believed by many to be the world's greatest living Biblical scholar"
"Father Moloney told The Times that he did consider Jesus to have been a 'miracle worker'. But he had studied the Bible all his life, and had become convinced that some of Jesus's miracles were invented by the early Church."
And more
The full article is here:

To be honest I'm surprised the Cathedral got involved at all with this junk. There was another comment I saw:
"If only half of Jeffrey Archers audience read this book, the Gospels will have been opened up to millions more people"

I find the whole thing slightly offensive, to be honest. But then, in the UK these days, when did offending Christians matter much?

Anonymous said...

In my view the whiff of hierarchical endorsement surrounding this work of fiction at best seems rather odd and at worst downright damaging. Yesterday's Guardian gave the impression this book had a papal imprimatur, for example, which cannot be right (can it??) and yet will no doubt boost sales.

The figure of Judas and his part in the mechanism of salvation is undoubtedly interesting but to dress a work of fiction as being in some way an authorised gospel is dangerous indeed. It would appear to me that we are witnessing a collision between opportunism on the part of the author and naivete on the part of some of the hierarchy.

Mark Langham said...

Perhaps we were somewhat naive, but when the lauch takes place in the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, no less, with the involvement of Cardinal Martini and Bishop Clemens, and the co-authorship of a respected biblical scholar, it is hard to say no.

The statement from Fr Pisano was only released on Tuesday at the Rome launch, and only reached us after our event.

Mulier Fortis said...

If it was being described as a novel, then fine, no problem. But it was being promoted on Radio 4 as a piece of scholarly research which had equal standing with the Gospels, and which called the veracity of the Gospels themselves into question.

There is a much better summary of the whole sorry mess here

Anonymous said...

Forgive my commenting again but the more I reflect on this whole business, the more it appears just plain bizarre.

Let's see if I have got this right...the Holy See, in which resides the deposit of faith, and which comments on major issues of doctrine only seldom and only through well-established channels, suddenly appears to throw its weight behind a novel by Jeffrey Archer which suggests views which differ markedly from those set out in the Catechism. This novel gets a launch from the Pontifical Biblical Institute and, in Westminster, in our Cathedral and with the backing of our seminary. This then leads the press to assert that the Church doesn't believe in Christ's miracles any more.

Put this way the behaviour of the Church over the last few days seems itself worthy of one of Archer's plots. Either the Church has turned on a sixpence or (surely more likely) things have got seriously out of hand and we should expect an official pronouncement pouring cold water on this shortly.

ps is Archer a Catholic?

Andrew said...

I was rather saddened that the UK launch took place in the Cathedral Hall. No doubt it was all a ploy to garner some sort of unofficial backing and legitimacy from the Catholic Church.

Anonymous said...

With Archer one should always count the teaspoons before and after the visit.
Surprised no-one even looked at the book at Westminster.

John the organist said...

The book has arrived in the library and gone out immediately. The Tablet critic has the measure of it and finds little to praise.

S.R. Fraczek said...

To go completely and utterly off-topic, it's always wonderful to see Archbishop Gregorios joining you all in the life of the Cathedral.