In her stunning new novel, Tosca Lee has succeeded in accomplishing a monumental achievement: transforming Judas Iscariot, the disciple whose betrayal led to Jesus' arrest, trial and crucifixion, into not only a sympathetic character but a likable one at that. ISCARIOT, like her previous novel HAVAH, shows Tosca Lee to be a masterful storyteller whose imagination is as powerful as it is creative. Yes, ISCARIOT is worthy of that much praise.
In the fictional history of Judas that Lee has created, the most hated Christ-follower in the gospels had a troubled childhood from the age of six, when his father was killed during a rebellion against the Roman government, and his brother was abducted by the Roman authorities during the same uprising. That left Judas and his mother to fend for themselves in a culture that provided little opportunity for them to do so. His mother turned to prostitution, which made Judas more determined than ever to live a life of purity in obedience to the Law of Moses.
"Not only is this book a keeper; it's also one that merits a second reading --- and maybe even a few more readings after that. Brilliantly done and highly recommended."
Not surprisingly, everything changed when Judas met Jesus. Lee writes of this predictable response so skillfully that it feels neither contrived nor expected. She takes us inside Judas's head as he observes the Messiah and tries to make sense of a teacher who not only speaks wisdom and defies authority but also performs miracles and befriends outcasts. From this point on, while Lee retains the first-person narrative from Judas's perspective, we're treated to a ground-level experience of familiar stories from Jesus' ministry. Lee's thorough research into the culture at the time provides us with an opportunity to become immersed in those stories, to see them from a fresh perspective and to understand them in ways we may never have before.
More importantly, the author compels us to see Judas for who he ultimately was --- a man no different from each of us, a flawed human being whose character was shaped by countless factors and bewildering circumstances. She also portrays Judas as a disciple who loved Jesus deeply, so deeply, in fact, that Lee presents the possibility that his act of betrayal may well have been motivated by his love. Her magnificent handling of the scenario makes that possibility so plausible, so believable, that it's easy to forget that Lee is speculating about his reason for doing what he did.
Some readers will no doubt take issue with Lee's literary license, which in this case means that she preferred to focus on the spirit of the gospel accounts rather than a precise retelling of the biblical narrative. If that's not a problem for you, it's likely you'll find yourself pausing as you read ISCARIOT, reflecting on a familiar parable or a truth that you now see in a new light. That is, if you can bear the thought of putting the book down at all. Not only is this book a keeper; it's also one that merits a second reading --- and maybe even a few more readings after that. Brilliantly done and highly recommended.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on April 12, 2013