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Judas by Amos Oz
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Judas (2014)

by Amos Oz

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Amos Oz, winner of the International Literature Prize, raises fundamental questions concerning Israeli politics, religion, ethics and history in this new novel. The story takes place in a still divided Jerusalem in 1959. It is there that Shmuel Ash, a scholar working on “the Jewish view of Jesus”, is set adrift when his parents can no longer support his studies. Shmuel takes a job as a companion to an old, cantankerous but brilliant retired schoolteacher who is suffering from a degenerative disease. His primary caregiver happens to be his son’s widow. The favorite topic of debate among the three of them is the formation of the state of Israel without first adequately addressing Arab concerns, a position for which they could be deemed traitors. This also brings them to the topic Shmuel had been studying, the traitor Judas Iscariot. It is a love story and coming of age novel that also offers a surprising perspective on the state of Israel and the biblical tale from which it draws its title.
Kirkus Review writes “ … a doleful view of the possibilities of peace, love, and understanding whether among nations or within households.”
  HandelmanLibraryTINR | Sep 27, 2017 |
Here is a story from the winter days of the end of 1959 and the beginning of 1960. It is a story of error and desire, of unrequited love, and of a religious question that remains unresolved. Some of the buildings still bore the marks of the war that had divided the city a decade earlier. In the background you could hear the distant strains of an accordion, or the plaintive sound of a harmonica from behind closed shutters.

Graduate student Shmuel Ash has decided to drop out of school after a bad breakup and a personal financial crisis. He spots an ad on a campus bulletin board that leads him to a home on the outskirts of Jerusalem. He accepts a position as a live-in caregiver/companion for invalid Gershom Wald. Wald shares the home with Atalia, a striking 40-something woman whose relationship to Wald is unclear to Shmuel. As the winter days pass, Shmuel becomes increasingly attracted to Atalia.

Shmuel and Wald often discuss Shmuel's research on Jewish views of Jesus. Shmuel's theories are beginning to veer in the direction of Judas. Shmuel perceives Judas, not as a traitor, but as the first Christian. When Shmuel and Wald aren't discussing religion, they're talking about politics, and specifically the formation of Israel and the 1948 war. Shmuel is especially interested in Shealtiel Abravanel, who alone among his colleagues on the Zionist Executive Committee and the Council of the Jewish Agency opposed the formation of Israel, believing that Arabs and Jews could peacefully coexist. For this he was branded a traitor and spent the rest of his life in self-imposed exile in the house where Wald, Atalia, and now Shmuel live. Shmuel's attempt to rehabilitate Judas's reputation naturally leads to an attempt to rehabilitate Abravanel's reputation.

This novel, which is receiving attention from various award committees, will be heavy going for readers who don't have an interest in or familiarity with the Gospels and with the politics and events that led to Israel's formation. If I had to write a paper about this book for a literature course, I'd probably avoid religion and politics and focus Oz's use of animal imagery. It's hard not to notice the stray dogs and cats and Shmuel's bear-like physical appearance. ( )
  cbl_tn | May 31, 2017 |
In de winter van 1959 gaat student Sjmoeël Asj door een persoonlijke crisis. Zijn ouders weigeren zijn universitaire studie nog langer te financieren en zijn vriendin verlaat hem plotseling voor een ander. Dan ziet hij een annonce voor een bijzondere rol in een Jeruzalems huishouden. De oude Gersjom Wald moet scherp gehouden worden door hem gezelschap te houden en te redetwisten. Zijn inwonende schoondochter Atalja Abarbanel ontpopt zich als een dominante, mysterieuze vrouw die Sjmoeël enerzijds intrigeert en verliefd maakt en toch op afstand blijft. Asj's scriptie over Judas' rol als discipel van Jezus Christus en met name het joods perspectief van na Jezus' kruisiging en opstanding, de vraag wie aan wie nu verraadt pleegde en of Judas niet de eerste en enige christen genoemd zou moeten worden. Schitterend ermee verweven de vraag wiens liefdesrelatie nu het langst duurt en wie van Gersjom, Atalja en Sjmoeël nu wie verraadt, een thema dat vaker in de romans van Amos Oz terugkeert.

Een kleine generatie terug in de aanlooop naar het uitroepen van de staat Israël in 1948 blijkt er nog zo'n tweespalt tussen David Ben Goerion en Sjealtiël Abarbanel. Amos Oz positie in de roman Judas over de tweestatenoplossing, het benieuwd zijn naar de rationale achter de verwijdering en het mysterieuze van het niet meer persoonlijk kunnen navragen en dus moeten speuren in kranten en publicaties in bibliotheken. De roman sleept je de winter door en eindigt open. Hilde Pach heeft het Hebreeuwse origineel in soepel Nederlands vertaald. Wauw, echt een boek dat je - als je de tijd hebt - in één zitting zou willen uitlezen! ( )
  hjvanderklis | Jan 21, 2017 |
The action of the novel takes place in Jerusalem during a winter at the end of the 1950’s. It is vintage Oz; very atmospheric, and heavy on authentic detail of the place and the period. The three principal protagonists are all intriguing and believable. Shmuel Ash is a student who – due to a mix of economic and personal reasons - drops out of his MA program at the Hebrew University, where he has been researching the Jewish perspective on Judas Iscariot, the Apostle who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Indecisive about his future, Shmuel gets a job as a live-in companion to an elderly invalid, an acerbic intellectual called Gershom Wald. His employer is Wald’s daughter-in-law Atalia, an enigmatic woman in her forties with whom young Shmuel – recently abandoned by his girlfriend - immediately becomes infatuated. In describing the development of the relationships between Shmuel and the two other protagonists, the novel also introduces two deceased characters whose late presence is pervasive; Atalia’s husband, Wald’s only son, killed in Israel's war of independence, and Atalia’s father, Shaeltiel Abravanel, whose house they live in. However, as well developed as the setting and the protagonists are, Oz intends them to serve only as a vehicle for presenting three narratives – one purely fictional and two alternative versions of history.

The first of the alternative histories is a re-telling of the gospel story; Judas Iscariot is a wealthy Jew from priestly circles, who joined Jesus’ Apostles as a kind of “agent provocateur”, but became a true believer. Convinced that Jesus was divine and could not be killed, Judas urged him to come to Jerusalem, where he engineered the confrontation with the Roman authorities that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. His plan was to demonstrate Jesus’ immortal divinity to the whole world, and thus bring about the kingdom of Heaven on Earth; but when Jesus died in agony on the cross, Judas realized his error and hanged himself.

Shaeltiel Abravanel, the late father of Atalia, is a purely fictional character. Oz makes him one of the leaders of the Palestinian Jewish community, a member of the Zionist Executive, who became convinced that the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine would be a disaster that would inevitably lead to its destruction. He believed strongly that the only way that the Arabs would accept the Jews as partners, was if Palestine became a joint Arab-Jewish condominium under British or American tutelage. His increasingly vocal opposition to Ben Gurion’s drive for statehood led to him being expelled from the Zionist leadership just before the establishment of the State of Israel; he died shortly after in obscurity, and was subsequently reviled as a traitor to the Zionist cause.

In the author’s reinterpretation of Zionist history, David Ben Gurion had abandoned his socialist faith in favor of nationalism. He became convinced that the Jews could dispossess the Arab inhabitants of Palestine in order to establish a Jewish state there. His actions fed the Arab hatred of Jews and led to an irresolvable conflict that, according to the fictional Abravanel, the Jews of Israel must eventually lose.

Oz thus presents us with three parallel narratives of error and betrayal – none of them “true” history, as it is generally understood. Judas’ mistaken faith in Jesus led to the subsequent birth of the Christian religion - without his intervention, Jesus would have lived and died an itinerant preacher and miracle worker in the Galilee – and also led to Judas himself eternally representing the Jew as the archetypal “god-killer”. Abravanel’s error was his belief that the Arabs could ever be persuaded to accept the Jews’ presence in Palestine. Ben Gurion was wrong in his belief that the force of arms was a solution for Jewish homelessness; it has led only to unmitigated Arab enmity towards Israel, and the perpetuation of Jew hatred throughout the world. The question is, who does Oz want us to believe is the true Judas – “his” Judas that is, the “good faith” betrayer? Abravanel the traitor who failed in his mission to derail the establishment of the Jewish state, or Ben Gurion, the Zionist hero whose success in that endeavor doomed it to ultimate failure?

Another parallel – not made explicitly by the author - but the choice of name for his fictional protagonist cannot be a casual one - is Isaac Abravanel, the real 14th/15th century sage from Portugal who tried to bribe the Spanish monarchs not to expel the Jews from Spain; he too failed, and ended his life in exile in Italy. Is Oz’s Abravanel the real traitor to the Jewish people because he, like his historical namesake, failed to see that neither bribes nor political accommodation will ever satisfy Israel’s enemies? Or does the author really believe that Ben Gurion was mistaken to pursue Jewish statehood? But Oz is without doubt too much a lover of the land of Israel and its people, to genuinely subscribe to this anti-Zionist narrative. Perhaps his intent is to dramatize the “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” Jewish dilemma; without a homeland, Jews suffered because of the hatred of the people they lived amongst; yet the establishment of a Jewish state has created a new focus for hatred of the Jew. Perhaps he is also making the point that, even when people act in good faith, their actions can have very negative consequences for the cause they were trying to advance. Does that make them traitors to their cause?

This is a multi-layered novel, and raises many other questions. Why Judas? Why do the narratives all revolve around a figure from Christian theology? What about Shaeltiel, the given name of his fictional Abravanel? Do an internet search on that name to reveal a whole other set of parallel questions. But before you do that, enjoy reading the book; and then enjoy peeling back the layers. ( )
  maimonedes | Jan 8, 2017 |
The latest novel by the acclaimed Israeli author, his first in over a decade, is set in Jerusalem during the winter of 1959-1960, and is centered on a passionate and sensitive young man, Shmuel Ash, who decides to abandon his graduate studies after he loses interest in his research of the Jewish view of Jesus throughout history, and after his girlfriend, who he loves deeply, leaves him for another man. His parents' recent financial misfortune causes them to withdraw their support of him, and he is forced to abandon his flat and find a way to fend for himself until he can figure out what he wants to do next. Opportunity comes from an ad on a university bulletin board, which offers room, board and a small salary for a young educated man to serve as a companion to an elderly, crippled former teacher in a house near the no man's land between the city's Israeli occupied border and the surrounding Jordanian territory. Shmuel goes to there almost immediately, and finds a charming but decrepit house that seems to be partially buried in the ground compared to its neighbors, in keeping with its secluded, molelike occupants. There he meets Gershon Wald, the witty invalid who relishes any opportunity to engage in verbal jousts on the phone with his remaining friends, and with Shmuel, an avowed socialist, who does not fully embrace the older man's pro-Zionist views. Of greater interest to Shmuel is Atalia, the house's other resident, a mysterious and alluring woman in her 40s who keeps a closetful of secrets, and teases the smitten young man with an alternating mixture of disdain and affection.

The book's other main theme is a re-evaluation by Shmuel of Judas as the first Christian and the most loyal of Jesus' disciplines, rather than a traitor, along with his interest in Atalia's late father, who was labeled as a traitor and forced to resign in shame from the Zionist Executive Committee in the months just prior to the formation of the state of Israel, due to his political views and statements which were in opposition to those held by his colleagues.

The numerous secrets held tightly by Gershon and Atalia are slowly revealed to Shmuel, and to the reader, in the manner of a flower whose petals are removed, one by one, until the sweet nectar in its center is uncovered and savored.

The novel started out slowly but became more compelling and impossible to put down about 1/3 of the way in, and I finished the last 2/3 in a single sitting. Judas is right up there with my favorite books by this brilliant author, who is still going strong at the age of 75 and is far more deserving of a Nobel Prize in Literature than the most recent recipient was. ( )
5 vote kidzdoc | Dec 20, 2016 |
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Judas is thematisch een overvol boek. Misschien heeft dat besef Oz ertoe gebracht rustig te beginnen en de lezer niet al meteen voor hoogst complexe situaties te plaatsen. Er zijn minstens drie, uiteindelijk onderling verbonden thema’s. (...)
Alleen al om deze, uiteindelijk toch nog geloofwaardig met de andere thema’s verbonden fragmenten, verdient Judas de hoogste lof. Het is een uiterst wijs maar ook een uiterst tragisch boek. Oz maakt vooral duidelijk dat de tegenstellingen zo diep verankerd en zo pijnlijk zijn dat er, in de woorden van Wald, ‘geen remedie voor de wereld is.’
 
En zo blijft de lezer van deze gelaagde en toch heldere roman achter met een paar belangwekkende vragen: Is verraad wel altijd wat het lijkt? En hoe was de geschiedenis verlopen als het net even anders was gegaan? Als Judas Jezus niet had overgehaald naar Jeruzalem te gaan? Als de eerste premier van Israël, David Ben Goerion, zich had laten overtuigen door iemand als Sjealtiël Abarbanel? Er zijn minder interessante kwesties om je het hoofd over te breken.
added by sneuper | editde Volkskrant, Anet Bleich (Dec 19, 2015)
 

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Oz, Amosprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
García Lozano, RaquelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Loewenthal, ElenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pach, HildeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pressler, MirjamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Winner of the International Literature Prize, the new novel by Amos Oz is his first full-length work since the best-selling A Tale of Love and Darkness. Jerusalem, 1959. Shmuel Ash, a biblical scholar, is adrift in his young life when he finds work as a caregiver for a brilliant but cantankerous old man named Gershom Wald. There is, however, a third, mysterious presence in his new home. Atalia Abarbanel, the daughter of a deceased Zionist leader, a beautiful woman in her forties, entrances young Shmuel even as she keeps him at a distance. Piece by piece, the old Jerusalem stone house, haunted by tragic history and now home to the three misfits and their intricate relationship, reveals its secrets. At once an exquisite love story and coming-of-age novel, an allegory for the state of Israel and for the biblical tale from which it draws its title, Judas is Amos Oz's most powerful novel in decades"--… (more)

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