Judas was one such for me. Before my group picked it last June, my impression One of the downsides of belonging to a book group is having to read books you wouldn’t choose yourself. was that the author was brilliant but intense, and dealt with subject matter beyond my scope.
I came to love this book. I say “came to” because it took a while. Oh, the characters were described with a detail and flavor that awed my writer’s mind. But much of the early dialogue contained either biblical references or political discussion of the times in which the book was set (the decade following the formation of the state of Israel) and went right over my head. Listening to the audiobook in my car, there were many times when I wondered where the story was headed, why I was listening, why I cared. I zoned out more than once.
The man who read Judas was talented, capturing different voices with skill, if with a certain lulling quality. Add that lulling quality to the philosophical dialogue, and yes, my mind wandered. I was in the midst of one little zone-out, when the main character began describing Judas Iscariot – yup, that Judas, the one who allegedly betrayed Jesus. Something caught me then. I actually pulled to the side of the road, stopped the car, and clicked back several minutes, then resumed driving and listened closely.
The dialogue described a Judas I had never known – a man who was hired to infiltrate Jesus’s followers, discover what his appeal was, and find reason to take him out – a man who then fell in love with the man and his message, and who came to be his most ardent follower. Judas was put forth as the most devout of the disciples, the one on whom Jesus depended most, the one who convinced Jesus to go to Jerusalem not out of betrayal, but out of avid conviction that as the true son of God, once crucified, he would descend from the cross alive and prove his divinity to the others. When the divine failed to happen, he was crushed, blamed himself for Jesus’s death, and committed suicide.
The book came alive for me after that. Not only did Judas and Jesus become real people, but the four main characters did as well. The latter have all been damaged either by family circumstance, politics, or war. But they are sympathetic characters. I did come to care for them. Several days after finishing this book, I am still thinking of the meaning of betrayal and who was the real traitor among these characters in the book.
FYI, my book group found Judas too difficult to get into and voted to discuss another book instead. I’m sorry for that. Contrary to their fears, you don’t need knowledge of history or of the Bible to appreciate this book. Based on characterization alone, it made me think, which is one of the reasons I read.
I’ve given this book four stars, rather than five, simply because I believe that the author rambled at the start, that if he (or his editor) had suggested cutting a bit, more people would read it. Judas is definitely an exercise. But it’s an important book.