'Gospel of Judas' to be published
Should Christians be respecting Judas?
Judas Iscariot's reputation as one of the most notorious villains in history could be thrown into doubt with the release of an ancient text on Thursday.
The Gospel of Judas, a papyrus document from the 3rd or 4th Century AD, tells the story of Jesus' death from the fallen disciple's point of view.
Alleged to be a copy of an even older text, it casts Judas as a benevolent figure, helping Jesus to save mankind.
The early Christian Church denounced such teachings as heretical.
The 31-page fragile document, written in the Coptic language, was discovered in Egypt in the 1970s.
National Geographic Magazine in the US is to publish the first English translation of the text on Thursday.
For 2,000 years Christianity has portrayed Judas as the treacherous apostle who betrayed his divine master with a kiss, leading to his capture and crucifixion.
Gnostics believe Judas helped Jesus save mankind
According to the Bible, Judas received 30 pieces of silver for the act, but died soon afterwards.
But the Gospel of Judas puts Judas in a positive light, identifying him as Christ's favourite disciple and depicting his betrayal as the fulfilment of a divine mission to enable the crucifixion - and thus the foundation of Christianity - to take place.
This view is similar to that held by the Gnostics - members of a 2nd Century AD breakaway Christian sect, who became rivals to the early Church.
They thought that Judas was in fact the most enlightened of the apostles, acting in order that mankind might be redeemed by the death of Christ.
As such they regarded him as deserving gratitude and reverence.
Gnostic writers are believed to have set down their contrasting account of Judas' role in Greek in about 150AD, and some believe that this manuscript may be a copy of that.
Records show that the leaders of the early Christian Church denounced that version as heretical in about 180AD.
The Gospel of Judas was found near Beni Masar in Egypt.
In 2000, the Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art in Basel Switzerland took possession of the document and translation began soon afterwards.
National Geographic struck a publication deal with the foundation last year, thought to have cost $1m (ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£570,000).
In addition to the magazine article, the National Geographic TV channel will be running a special two-hour documentary on the manuscript on Sunday 9 April.