Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Now ... Judas!

Tuesday in the holy city of Rome, another potential religious blockbuster was launched -- "The Gospel According to Judas Written by Benjamin Iscariot." The book, poised to attract controversy, defends the often vilified disciple Judas Iscariot and claims that he was, in fact, trying to save Jesus and not betray him.

An Odd Couple

It is the brainchild of an unlikely pairing. British novelist Jeffrey Archer, best known for his glossy whodunits and, more recently, for a perjury conviction and sex scandal, collaborated with an Australian priest and worldwide biblical expert, Father Francis Moloney. The result is the story of Jesus told from Judas' point of view.

In the gospel according to Archer-Moloney, Judas was himself betrayed while trying to save Jesus from arrest and execution. He made plans with a scribe to smuggle Jesus out of Jerusalem to the safety of Galilee, but the scribe betrayed Judas and handed Jesus over to be killed. Judas didn't kill himself but survived to tell his tale to his son, Benjamin Iscariot, who then wrote down his father's story.

In describing the work, Moloney said, "Not everything in this book should be regarded as probable but everything must be possible." He added that most of the episodes of the book came from the "fertile imagination of Jeffrey Archer" but were closely monitored and checked by Moloney.

Archer claims he came up with the idea 17 years ago, prompted by an interest in the mysteries surrounding Judas in the New Testament. He felt that Judas had been historically misunderstood and singled out among the disciples. "All of them showed their human failings, but every one of them ended up … a saint," Archer said. "And Judas, who showed his failings, ends up as the most vilified person in history. It was the extreme black and white that annoyed me."

In 1996, Archer began discussing the idea and, on the advice of a priest friend, approached Cardinal Martini, the former archbishop of Milan, and a Bible expert. Martini, who seemed impressed with the idea, suggested to Archer that he meet Moloney, the leading biblical expert. This was the start of an "intense and heated collaboration" resulting in endless back and forth between Moloney and Archer until a final draft was agreed upon.

The Next 'Da Vinci Code'?

While both authors would most likely be happy to emulate the best-selling "Da Vinci Code," Moloney emphasized that this book was unlike "the deeply flawed and uniformed works like Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code' and Richard Dawkins' 'The God Delusion.'" He implied that Pope Benedict XVI may have even read the book, as he shares "an interest in the enigma of Judas."

Maloney wanted to write a text that shows the philosophy behind what a gospel is and to show that they were not written "to communicate the brute facts of history" but "to communicate a message about what God has done for humankind in and through Jesus Christ." The word "gospel" stems from the ancient Greek for "good news."

If Archer and Moloney get their way, it'll be good news all around and perhaps to be a Judas will no longer be a bad thing.