Author: Tosca Lee
Title: Iscariot
Publisher: Howard Books

“My name will be synonymous with ‘traitor’. But he has loved his enemies. He has loved me.”

Who was Judas Iscariot? The Scriptures tell us the basic facts: he was chosen by Jesus to be one of his twelve disciples. He betrayed his Master for thirty pieces of silver, then thought better of it and hanged himself. It’s easy to think of Judas as a bad-to-the-bone villain, depraved beyond all saving, the worst of the worst of the worst. Obviously worse than we could ever be.

Yet Jesus named him “friend” and nothing suggests the Lord was speaking sarcastically.

Best-selling author Tosca Lee follows up her fascinating portrait of Eve (Havah) with an intimate look at the most infamous villain in history. This insightful imagining of what Judas might have been is at once compelling and convicting. “They will not ask themselves if they might have done the same.” Judas muses. “To even think it is to court the possibility that we may not be so different. It takes away the right to condemn, the comfort in saying, ‘At least I am not like him.’” Reading Iscariot will likely leave the reader with the uncomfortable realization that we are not as different from the betrayer as we’d like to think.

Lee’s Judas is a devout, driven character with more than a touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder and an inability to accept forgiveness. Haunted by childhood tragedy, he works tirelessly to be righteous before God. When he meets Jesus, Judas finally finds the one thing that has eluded him for so long: hope. Judas becomes convinced he really has found the Messiah at last . . . but will Jesus bring the freedom to Israel that Judas and his secret brotherhood have worked so long and hard to achieve? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe Jesus needs a little nudge to get over that final hurdle. Maybe Judas can help him with that. (Maybe not.)

Of course this is not just Judas’s story: it’s also the story of the disciples, the crowds, the Pharisees, and most of all, Jesus. It must be daunting to create a fictionalized version of Jesus, even one based closely on Scripture, but Lee does an outstanding job. Her portrait of Jesus, whom she describes as “a man as wild as God,” brings out the simultaneous humanity and divinity of the Son of God. This Jesus is compelling, emotional, driven, and often confusing to even his most devoted followers. He was never quite what they expected. He frequently did things that seemed to make no sense. (No wonder they were confused.) It’s a testament to the author’s skill as a storyteller that there were times I actually caught myself wondering how it would all turn out.

After one early morning encounter Judas asks, “What were you doing here, when I disturbed you?” and Jesus answers “I was waiting for you.” He is waiting for you in the pages of Iscariot. But be warned: after reading this breathtaking novel you may never feel comfortably superior to Judas again.

*This Review First Published 2/13/2013