Iscariot

word traveler

"I am the leper.  The demoniac.  I, who was paralyzed by fear, who was blind. The prostitute, the dead man in the tomb.  Me, All me."

 

Some time ago I traveled throughout Israel and ever since I came back I’ve felt the need of reading more about this State and its history. I wanted to start from non-fiction books, which probably made more sense, but then my inner fictional self overcame rationality: I picked this novel and went through the pages like a child going through piles of candies :-)

And this is how I met him in the very first pages, when he was hung upon a tree. History has called him many things, a thief, a liar, and a traitor. His very name is synonymous with betrayal. He has been despised and rejected by men, in the end people avoided him as if he was a leper, and he came to abhor himself. His name is Judas.

In “Iscariot”, the author Tosca Lee begins her story when Judas is a small child in Jerusalem and revolts are ongoing at the gates of Herod's Temple. When his family move to Sepphoris, the revolt follows them casting its shadow upon Judas’ father and brother (don’t want to spoil here!).

Judas grows and becomes a religious leader, he finds a wife and lives a happy life, but he is tormented and feels that something essential is missing.

People had been talking about John the Baptizer for weeks, calling him a madman. When Judas and Simone go to investigate on him at the Jordan River, Judas sees along the shores a figure, whom he will never forget–Jesus. He is thin, and walks unsteadily on his feet after forty days in the desert. His skin is dark from overexposure to the sun. When their eyes meet, Judas can’t look away.

From this point on, I couldn’t put the book down. How hard must it be for a writer to successfully write a novel when the ending is already known? We know how the story goes: thirty pieces of silver as a payment, a kiss, betrayal, remorse, and in the end Jesus’ death. But Tosca Lee handles all of it with ability and grace. She has the perception of a poet, the preparation of a scholar, and is a very creative novelist with the huge gift of storytelling. In my mind I saw the apostles, I shared the bread with them, and I imagined their weaknesses and felt their doubts towards the controversial figure of Jesus. And I had a clear picture about an important issue: why so many didn't believe Jesus was the promised Messiah and fought against him? Because they wanted someone to punish the Romans, but Jesus was the opposite. He stood up for the oppressed, but he did not condemn the oppressors, he cared for the restoration of individuals more than the fate of a nation.

This is a brilliantly written historical fiction, with some of artistic freedom, and it certainly implied lots of research. Iscariot is filled with local detail that makes the story come alive. It’s clear and believable, but still, it’s fiction! So I had to keep in mind that not much is known about Judas, but this story, told by the voice of the main character, is very powerful and carries you all the way till the end. It’s a fictional account about Judas, but yet it’s a true account about Jesus and his time. I’m glad I could experience moments of mystery reading this book, and now I find myself imagining Jesus and his apostles living, praying and struggling in places I once was so lucky to visit.