Alone among the 12 disciples, Jesus of Nazareth called Judas “friend,” but it was Judas who betrayed Christ.
Lee (Mortal, 2012, etc.) imagines herself into the heart of Judas Iscariot, rendering witness to the manifestation of God incarnate in first person. Judas bar Simon was born in a troubled Jerusalem that saw the Roman boot firmly on the neck of Israel. Viewing the lost apostle through a modern lens, Judas is revealed as a narcissist, neurotically guilt-ridden and intent on bearing the weight of every perceived wrong. This mindset is examplified in his family’s fleeing the holy city after rumors of Herod’s death sparked a bloody rebellion. There is an eclipse, and young Judas believes his violation of the Sabbath fast has sparked the world’s end. Judas also loves and envies his brilliant older brother, Joshua. But as Romans rage across Israel, Joshua disappears from their refuge in Sepphoris while their father is captured and crucified. Judas and his mother escape, surviving only because his mother sacrifices herself to prostitution. A half brother, Nathan, is born. Later, with the help of relatives, Judas becomes a scribe and a clerk. He's then recruited by the Sons of the Teacher, a rebel group. Soon, Judas becomes entranced by the frenzy wrought by John the Baptizer. It's then that Judas meets Jesus, glimpsing “within those sunken eyes mystery and pain to match my own.” Focusing through Judas, Lee writes movingly of Jesus’ mission: the healing of lepers and the lame; the raising of Lazarus; of Christ's utter disregard for Hebrew Law in the face of want and suffering. Relying on other disciples only as reference points, Lee dissects Judas’ evolution, “The Israel of my dreams was gone, replaced only by lepers who needed healing, the sick and the hungry.” Judas expects revolution. Jesus offers spiritual salvation. Judas’ love for Jesus compels him to bargain with the Pharisees Zadok and Caiaphas in an attempt to preserve Jesus’ life. The Son of Man is charged with mesith, leading Israel astray, and crucified.