· Liz Thomson on Jeffrey Archer's latest project © PN
EIGHT PUBLISHERS, INCLUDING St Martin's Press in the US, have now concluded deals for The Gospel According to Judas, written by Jeffrey Archer in collaboration with Professor Francis J Moloney; Provincial Superior of the Salesians of Don Bosco and the author of some 40 books. At least two others are under negotiation. The project, for which Archer commissioned a series of translations and to which Macmillan bought world rights late last year, has apparently been a long-held ambition of Archer's.
“Jeffrey has always been a Christian,” said his agent, Jonathan Lloyd of Curtis Brown, when asked if - like fellow Tory Jonathan Aitken - he was born again while in prison, “and he has always been fascinated by Judas,” the infamous betrayer of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The 22,000-word book, ostensibly written by Judas' son Benjamin, combines “scholarship and storytelling”, the former by Professor Moloney, to whom Archer was introduced by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini who, were it not for poor health, might have been elected Pope. An audio version was last week recorded in Cape Town by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and will be published with the book on 20 March. Apparently, Judas' story is shrouded in mystery: why did he betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, and what happened to him after the Crucifixion? In Matthew's Gospel, he commits suicide, but whether he really did is a question that has long fascinated theologians. Archer and Moloney, “using canonical texts as their basic point of reference”, offer “a very plausible re-reading of the Christian tradition that throws into relief the tragedy of Judas and the compassion of Jesus”. Tutu has called the book “riveting and plausible. It's so authentic.”
According to a statement, “80% of the storytelling is Jeffrey Archer's, and 80% of the scholarship is Professor Moloney's. Clearly, Archer has borne the up-front cost of translation, having made the assumption that sales and simultaneous publication would only be possible if translations were ready ahead of time. No figures are being mention as regards the advance and whether it might go to charity. “Jeffrey has always given a lot of money to charity and I'm sure he will be doing that this time,” said Lloyd.