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Iscariot: A Novel of Judas by Tosca Lee

Iscariot: A Novel of Judas

by Tosca Lee

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Judas Iscariot. A name that's become legendary in its link to perdition. The man notorious for committing the ultimate betrayal by essentially putting a price on the life of Christ. The infamous disciple tells his side of the story in Iscariot by author Tosca Lee.

This book has been on my radar for more than four years, I'd say. I knew it would be a dark tale meant to give a different angle on a figure widely viewed as villainous. The novel's opening is haunting in its genius, and I was drawn through the thoughtfully rendered chapters that present Judas as a son. A brother. A husband. A father. A friend. A man with affection, grief, and sacred aspirations.

I always enjoy this author's lyrical style, and this novel pulsates with social, political, and religious unrest and the gravity of Judas's dilemmas. Yet, the material of the Gospels is a lot to cover, and it might have taken another book or two to really flesh more of that material out. Many of the events had a cursory, choppy feel to me, and I had some trouble wading through as the story's flow seemed to fall into a repetitive mental and emotional cycle.

With so many characters coming into play, I couldn't get more than a surface feel for most of them. This became especially difficult for me in regards to Jesus and His circle. I didn't get a deep or convincing enough picture of their relationships to make their group seem more than cultish. And though Judas often mentions his love for and friendship with Jesus, I didn't see friendship so much as a follower's hero-worship toward someone who constantly baffles and frustrates him.

Still, this novel brings much for contemplation, worth the read for those with knowledge of the ancient story behind this fictional one. ( )
  NadineC.Keels | Jan 19, 2019 |
Judas Iscariot is one of history's most maligned individuals. With good reason, of course. But in this book, Tosca Lee boldly attempts to bring out the heart and humanity of this betrayer of Jesus.

This was not the easiest to read of Tosca's writings. There are times in which the story bogged down for me. But the story was worth pressing forward to complete.

Tosca's prose is unmatched by nearly any other author. In fact, there were times in the story in which I just had to marvel at her ability to take words and form not just mental pictures, but mental pictures described with elagance.

There are a few biblical inaccuracies, and I'm not sure that I would agree with some of her physical and mental portrayals of Jesus within the story, but, then, the descriptions of Jesus are written from Judas' standpoint.

While not a book that I would "highly recommend" to friends, I'm glad that I did read it. ( )
  impactwriter | Sep 5, 2018 |
An execeptional book written about Judas, the man we usually think of as the evil betrayer of Christ.
Showing us the life of Judas, from childhood, through his life as a disciple, we start to understand how this betrayal could happen. Also included in the story were the other disciples and Jesus and I really enjoyed their characterizations. It was a great book and I don't always enjoy this type of book. ( )
  sarahjvigen | Mar 23, 2017 |
This novelized account of the life of Judas attempts to humanize him as a typical religious zealot of the time. The details about Jewish life, custom and thought of the time bring context and a vividness to the familiar story. I read this with a group for discussion, and the participants were quite passionate about liking or disliking the way she portrayed Judas, the other disciples, Jesus and the familiar Bible stories. For those that are comfortable with an author filling in the gaps surrounding the sparse facts that we know form the Bible, this will can be an enthralling story. Getting to know Judas from his troubled childhood does mean that the reader develops some empathy for him and become as frustrated as those close to him must have been when he chose the wrong path. This book also helped me to see Jesus in the light of those who wanted to control or influence him and to see how hard it must have been for people of the time to grasp just what his mission on earth was all about. This is definitely a good book to read if your in the mood for reflecting on the complex questions surrounding the most famous betrayal of history. ( )
  debs4jc | Feb 24, 2017 |
From the epilogue (interestingly, at the beginning of the book):
A dog chokes by the side of the road in Capernaum. He is rabid and manged. He is foul and unloved. He is more worthy to live than I.
If only I had never left Jerusalem as a child. If only Herod had never died. If only I had never laid eyes on the gaunt man by the side of the Jordan.
The Nazarene.
They will say that I betrayed him, that I reduced his price to thirty silver shekels. That I turned against my master. They do not know me.
They will not ask themselves if they might have done the same. To even think it is to court the possibility that we may not be so different. It takes the right to condemn, the comfort in saying, “At least I am not like him!”
My master taught me a parable about that, once.
But if they do not know me, neither did they know him. And so the truth goes with me to the abyss…
…The cut of the noose.
The sun is setting. Sound has left my ears, but I can feel the wind rushing through the valley and past me like a stolen breath, east toward the wilderness as though borne on cloven hooves.
There. The dark light.
And now I am afraid. Because I know that in Sheol no one praises God but ruminates forever on what might have been.

I was very hesitant to read this book, waiting over three years to start it. Tosca Lee takes the Biblical view of Judas, the most infamous betrayer in the history of mankind, injects it with a different viewpoint—Judas’—and comes up with a fascinating, heart-wrenching, providing *possible* insight into Judas’ heart and motives behind his betrayal of Jesus Christ. The liberties she takes with scripture will cause some to cry, “Heresy!” taking great offense at the fact that this book doesn’t line up with the Gospel records. Remember, this is a fictionalization of historical events leading to the most important event in all of history.

Before I continue on with this review, in the interest of transparency, I should note that I am a Christian (Independent Baptist), head deacon at my church, host Bible studies in my home every Friday night to more than fifty people, and I preach sermons every Sunday afternoon at local assisted living centers. I study the Bible extensively, and research and prepare my own sermons. I believe that Scripture is God-breathed, and sent to us to show His love for us. Keep all this in mind as you read my review.

As I mentioned, this book does not line up exactly with the four Gospel accounts. Even the Gospel accounts don’t line up with each other, because each is recorded from a different viewpoint, with a different focus and different audience. Taken together, the Gospel accounts provide a more complete picture of who Jesus Christ is, and why He came to earth. Tosca Lee does take some liberties with the biblical text for dramatic effect, for plotting, and to simply move the story along. She skips some events altogether, and misses some points that I was surprised were left out. She even portrays Jesus as a man potentially on the edge of madness. If the fact that this book doesn’t line up with the Gospels bothers you, and that the author takes these liberties, skip this book.

Ms. Lee’s portrayal of Judas is quite possibly very accurate. He vacillates between his love for His Master, Jesus, his passion for Israel, and his desire to see her liberated from Roman rule. In this, she is spot-on. For a couple hundred years, the Jewish people suffered under the Roman yoke, and especially after being held captive previously by the Babylonian and the Egyptian Empires, they desired nothing greater than for an earthly redeemer to come and free them from captivity. Unfortunately, this desire biased their interpretation of scriptural prophecy, and their view of the coming Messiah did not line up with the truth of God’s Word. It all boiled down to them wanting immediate redemption, something vastly different than what God had planned.

There were many Jewish uprisings and revolts against the Roman rule, usually about every 20-30 years, often lead by the latest man to declare himself the Messiah. All of these uprisings and revolts were put down violently, with the Jewish leaders and thousands of followers killed, tortured and crucified as an example to those remaining. This is where the story of Judas begins: his father and older brother are among thousands crucified for being a part of an attempt to overthrow Roman rule in the Palestine region after the death of King Herod, leaving 6-year old Judas and his mother to live on the run for many months, and providing the foundation for Judas to live his life feeling as if he’s “unclean” and “unworthy to live his life as a proper Jew”, struggling to live his life guided by the Law and his conscience.

Ms. Lee obviously conducted a ton of research into the historical aspect. From the description of the Roman eagle mounted on the Temple complex to the tassels on the priests’ fine linen robes, she has researched the most minute details, all providing for a very rich reading experience. She captures each scene incredibly well. The tension slowly builds throughout the book until the expected ending in breathtaking fashion. She captures emotions during intense scenes, like the calming of the storm on the Sea of Galilee and the healing of demoniac of Gadara. The narrative is fluid, the descriptions of the geography and the cities is precise, no matter if the scene is on the Temple Mount, in the Jordan River, or standing outside of the tomb of Lazarus. Even the scene where Judas finally betrays Christ for 30 pieces of Tyrian silver (the price of a slave) is so meticulously detailed, you are almost there as the manipulating scribes and Pharisees, licking their chops, twisting Judas’ words and “playing” him into betraying his Master.

As I said, this is a fascinating look at one history regards as the greatest villain that ever lived, hated for his betrayal, his named cursed for all time. Tosca Lee makes him a sympathetic character, challenging the reader to relook at Judas in light of how they would have reacted in his shoes. This is an extremely complex book, inventive, well thought out, vividly portrayed, and extremely well-written. Even though it is not truly scriptural, it reflects the hope and forgiveness, love and compassion of Christ, even to the one who betrayed Him. ( )
  ssimon2000 | May 31, 2016 |
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In Jesus, Judas believes he has found the One-- the promised Messiah and future king of the Jews, destined to overthrow Roman rule. Galvanized, he joins the Nazarene's followers, ready to enact the change he has waited for all his life. But soon Judas's vision of a nation free from Rome is crushed by the inexplicable actions of the Nazarene himself, who will not bow to social or religious convention. Judas must confront the fact that the master he loves is not the liberator he hoped for, but a man bent on a drastically different agenda.

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