JUDAS by Susan Gubar


A Biography
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Comprehensive exploration of how Christ’s betrayer has been portrayed throughout history.

There are only 22 references to Judas Iscariot in the New Testament, notes Gubar (English and Women’s Studies/Indiana Univ.; Rooms of Our Own, 2006, etc.). Despite this paucity of material, artists and writers over the centuries have repeatedly redefined and reinvented him. The author sets out to explore these many facets of Judas’s identity by sketching his “evolving incarnations” during the course of 2,000 years. The range of attitudes is at times mind-boggling: Judas, Gubar shows, has been portrayed as everything from a dung-eating monster to the moral superior to Jesus himself. In an overly lengthy introduction, the author explains that she has identified five personae of Judas: “anomaly, pariah, lover, hero, savior.” Each chapter explores one of these characterizations. During the Middle Ages, portrayals of Judas became increasingly demonic and disturbing; he is shown in art and poetry as a subhuman prone to vile and disgusting habits, or punished by eternal ailments and abuse of the most horrific kind. The Renaissance began to redeem Judas by focusing on his closeness to Christ in art depicting the kiss of betrayal and his inclusion at the Last Supper. Some modern writers and artists have offered even more favorable views; a few dubbed him the true savior of humanity. This was sparked in part by revulsion against Nazi propaganda, which Aryanized Christ and depicted Judas as the quintessential money-grubbing, hypocritical and untrustworthy Jew. Gubar compares her subject to figures as diverse as Oedipus and German anti-Hitler activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer, spotlighting imagery that reimagined Judas over the centuries as everything from a tormented sinner to a heroic rebel. The text’s vast scope at times blurs its focus. Presenting “a kaleidoscope of perspectives,” the author draws them together in a hasty summing-up (“Judas is our mirror”) not adequate to the richness of her material.

Impressive and wide-ranging, if somewhat scattershot.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-393-06483-4
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2009


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