Judas Iscariot may be one of the hardest of all historical figures to present in a good light, but prominent clerics have lent their voices to calls for a reappraisal of the apostle.
One Church of England bishop suggested he feels “a bit sorry” for Judas.
The Rt Rev Nick Baines, the Bishop of Leeds, said that the apostle who betrayed Jesus with a kiss has had a “lousy press”.
While Judas had long been reviled as “the ultimate traitor”, the truth behind his decision to hand Jesus over to the religious authorities may, he argued, have been more complicated.
His comments were made in an article in this week’s Radio Times ahead of a new BBC documentary by the Rev Kate Bottley.
In the programme, In The Footsteps Of Judas, she examines theories about what led him to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. One theory is that Judas was a dedicated revolutionary who saw Jesus as a reluctant political messiah and hoped that by handing him over for arrest he could trigger an uprising against Roman rule in Judea.
Bottley said Judas should be seen as a “mirror to the human condition”.
“This is not to say, ‘Oh Judas, he’s all right really’, what we are saying is perhaps there is something else to this character than that kiss and that betrayal,” she said.
Baines wrote: “I feel a bit sorry for Judas … he has gone down in history as the ultimate traitor, the cheap and nasty greed-merchant who sells his friend and his soul for a few quid.
“Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Judas had invested himself in the revolutionary leadership of Jesus of Nazareth … only to find himself let down.”
He said he went to Jerusalem where “you have to look really hard to find anything about Judas, he’s a really shadowy figure”.