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Now Gerry Adams gets TV platform to preach on the Bible

Ever since Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus with a kiss 2,000 years ago, theologians have argued about his motives. But one academic has now given credit to Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams for a new insight into one of the most controversial passages of the Bible.

The man who spent a lot of his youth "on the run" from the British army in Belfast, yet still swears that he has never been a member of the Provisional IRA, believes that Judas was turned informer by the Roman security services of the time in Palestine, just as many of his former comrades in the republican movement were induced to spy.

Mr Adams's views will be shown in a Channel 4 documentary The Bible: A History next Sunday.

But even before it has aired it is creating a storm of controversy among many victims of IRA violence.

Victor Barker, whose 12-year-old son James was killed in the 1998 Omagh bombing, said: "Asking Gerry Adams to speak about love and forgiveness is like asking Myra Hindley to lecture on child-minding.

"I think it's a big mistake and completely misguided. Channel 4 is being used by Mr Adams.

"It is offering him a platform for doing what he does so well, of coming across on camera as a genuine, peaceful person who wants to promote peace and love."

Willie Frazer, who runs a victims' group, said that the prospect of Mr Adams featuring in a documentary about the Bible and forgiveness was disgusting.

"Would the victims of 9/11 accept a programme where extremist Islamic terrorists were allowed to frame their actions in terms of religion?" he asked.

The documentary, in which Mr Adams travels to Jordan, Palestine and Israel, also includes his first meeting with Alan McBride, whose wife was killed in the IRA bombing of a fish shop on the Shankill Road in 1993.

Mr Adams, who carried the coffin of an IRA man who blew himself up in the attack, calls the Shankill bombing "stupid" and Mr McBride acknowledges that the Sinn Fein leader has played a role in ending the terrorist campaigns.

Mr Adams says cryptically of his own past: "Sometimes I was in tune with the Jesus message and sometimes not."

He was accompanied on his journey through the Holy Land by Helen Bond, senior lecturer in New Testament language, literature and theology at the University of Edinburgh.

Dr Bond said Mr Adams "spent hours arguing whether first-century Galilee was 'occupied' and the meaning of 'democracy' in ancient societies". She says on her blog that she learnt from Mr Adams. "Judas's betrayal was another area where Gerry's perspective helped me to see things rather differently."

Dr Bond said that while she had always approached Judas intellectually, "Gerry instinctively understood the defection of a 'gang member'.

"'Yeah, that's what happens,' he said, 'they got to him'.

"I had thought of Judas's betrayal as something active, something he chose to do, rather than a situation he was forced into, perhaps (and quite likely) under duress.

"The general outline of events is historically plausible, a historicity made even stronger by its clear resonance with the way groups (on both sides) were infiltrated and betrayed in Belfast."

Meanwhile, Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice party, has now called on Channel 4 to pull the programme because of recent allegations over Mr Adams's role in a cover-up of the sexual abuse of his niece by her father, his brother Liam.