Some scholars are refuting an interpretation of a 1,700-year-old document claiming to prove that Judas was a hero and not a villain.
Craig Evans, a professor of New Testament studies at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia, was part of the team that unveiled the Gospel of Judas last spring.
The document is written in Coptic script, an ancient Egyptian language. The document is written in Coptic script, an ancient Egyptian language.
"The big headline was in April that the text was discovered," Evans said.
"The second big headline is right now: oops, maybe we misinterpreted it and we need to rethink it."
The 1,700-year-old document, written in Coptic script, is believed to be a translation of an original Greek text.
It was found in Egypt in the 1970s, but an interpretation of it was first published last April by the National Geographic Society.
The scholars who worked on the text said it revealed secret conversations between Jesus and Judas in the week before the crucifixion, and that Judas was obeying his master's wishes in handing him over to his enemies.
They said Judas was a hero, the only disciple Jesus could trust to carry out such a difficult task.
At the time, many people said this document could rehabilitate one of the most reviled men in history: the disciple who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.
But Evans, the only Canadian on the society's advisory panel, said he and his colleagues made some mistakes.
"The misinterpretation is based on some questionable reconstructions in places, also the text was simply mistranslated at a few points, and taken together it has led to what I think is a serious misinterpretation," he said.
Evans believes the document shows Judas was duped into believing he was helping Jesus, in effect making him a fool, not a hero.
The Nova Scotia scholar is "very wrong," said Elaine Pagels, one of the society's panel of experts.
"The reason is that we've never seen a gospel written where the principal figure was turned into a fool," said Pagels, an author and professor of religion at Princeton University.
Pagels has a different interpretation of the text and her book on the subject will be published by the spring.
Still other scholars say mistakes were made in the rush to release the story about the Gospel of Judas before Easter.
"It was a lot of pressure from the Geographic Society to sensationalize the release of this around Easter and just prior to the release of The Da Vinci Code movie," said John Turner, a professor of religious studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Turner wasn't one of the scholars who reconstructed, translated or interpreted the text for the society, but he studied the document and concluded it backs up what Christians have believed for 2,000 years.
Judas did an evil deed by betraying Jesus to his enemies, Turner said.
"The decision was made that this is a truly shocking, revolutionary document that throws into question all of the traditional Christian claims about the figure of Judas, and the document simply doesn't support that," he said.
Terry Garcia, leader of the society's Judas project, dismisses the criticism, saying those who say the translation is incorrect are a minority.
Garcia denies the society timed the release to make money, even though it produced two books, a TV documentary, an exhibition and a feature edition of its magazine.
"First of all, it was not a commercial enterprise," Garcia said, adding the society had a responsibility to end speculation about the Gospel of Judas and set the record straight.
Garcia isn't surprised by the debate.
"This is part of the process. When we released it, we told everyone what we hoped would happen is a vigorous debate and discussion and analysis of the materials and it appears we got our wish," he said.