Religious mystery, sexual intrigue, and the enigmas of identity—all are mingled together in this breathtakingly readable intellectual thriller.
The story’s symbolic resonance is announced in the very name of its protagonist: Catholic priest Leo Newman, who is sent to Jerusalem to join an international team entrusted with deciphering a newly discovered Dead Sea Scroll—a fragment of papyrus purporting to be the story of Christ’s martyrdom as observed by his betrayer Judas Iscariot. British author Mawer (Mendel’s Dwarf, 1998, etc.) surrounds this central situation with Father Leo’s later relationship in Rome with a rootless young woman named Magda Novotna, and with a series of flashbacks to Germany during WWII, and a German woman’s adulterous relationship, her “punishment,” and her connection—revealed only in the superb closing pages—with the man who would become Father Leo. For he, like Judas, is a “betrayer”—of his vows, and of his close friend Jack, an ailing diplomat, with whose wife Madeleine this fallen “new man” conducts a passionate, guilt-ridden affair. Its abrupt termination, and the violent transformation that awaits Father Leo in the Holy Land, are the high points of a powerfully charged narrative that consistently absorbs—and surprises—the reader. In a very real sense, “the gospel of Judas” is as much Father Leo’s own story as it is a mystery unto itself: either an inflammatory “piece of anti-Christian propaganda” or a radical reinterpretation of the four gospels that proves beyond dispute that Christ did not rise from the dead. And, in a stunningly savage climactic irony, it’s the apostate priest himself who is seemingly “resurrected.”
Readers who’ve enjoyed Arturo Perez-Reverte’s sophisticated thrillers won’t want to miss The Gospel of Judas. Mawer is rapidly proving himself one of the genre’s contemporary masters.