Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

pulp it!

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Mar 25, 2007

Christopher Howse reviews the Archer-Moloney Gospel According to Judas in the current Tablet (print edition). Reading between the lines, one can plausibly infer that Howse does not consider the book a triumph:

The authors' narrative is interspersed by gospel quotations, picked out in red type. These rubrications are significant, for as a novel the book is useless, with no characterisation or psychological development. Nor is there any dramatic irony between Judas' version of events and those in the Gospels. We are left with a book tricked out like a prize New Testament, with chapters and numbered verses, gilt edges and a ribbon marker. The parodic treatment of the book as an object is a legitimate move, yet for small gain. Any one of the Gospels has more tension and shape than this plod through Palestine.

Jeffrey Archer's role was to wedge clich├ęs between actual gospel quotations. In his language, motive is either "passion" (pages 2, 7, 14 and 70) or "compassion" (passim). Descriptions of action come from pulp fiction: "Judas reeled back in horror," and "charged angrily towards him, fists flying in every direction". The closest approach to artistry is a single verse: "Judas wept." The book's real virtue is its brevity, at 90 pages.

Your Uncle Di, being of sunnier temperament and generally more eager to praise than find fault, had a more positive view than Howse's. In fact he was cruising along quite happily for the first sixteen words of the book ...

"This gospel is written so that all may know the truth about Judas Iscariot and the role he played in the life and tragic death of Jesus of Nazareth."

Clunk. The role he played. Tragic death. A first century Palestinian Jew may have been superficial and trite --why not? -- but his superficiality and triteness would not express itself in canned emotions derived at third-hand from the theater. The earnest sobriety with which sentence begins tumbles into a bath of smarm from which the novel never recovers. "To read The Gospel According to Judas," concludes Howse, "is an exercise in embarrassment on behalf of its authors." Painful, and painfully true.

The most brilliant review ever written -- of any work, in any language -- is attributed (with what accuracy I know not) to Dorothy Parker. I have no idea what masterpiece it was penned in response to, but it applies supremely well to the Archer-Moloney opus. Here is her review, in its entirety:

This book fills a much-needed gap.


The Gospel According to Judas, Chap 21, p 73. MacMillan.

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  • Posted by: DrJazz - Apr. 27, 2010 6:48 AM ET USA

    I'll skip mowing the lawn this week. Will that help?

  • Posted by: Minnesota Mary - Apr. 26, 2010 6:59 PM ET USA

    I have a lot of hackberry trees in the ravine I own behind my house. I won't chop them down for firewood to help the Vatican become carbon neutral----that is unless my utility bills become so high from a cap and trade bill that I need to burn wood to keep myself warm this coming winter.