Iscariot

( 14 )

Overview

The most reviled man in biblical history comes to life.

In Jesus, Judas believes he has found the One—the promised Messiah and future king destined to overthrow Roman rule. Galvanized, Judas joins the disciples, ready to enact the change he has waited for all his life.

But Judas’ vision of a nation free from Roman rule is crushed by the inexplicable actions of the Nazarene himself, who will not bow to social or religious convention—who seems in...

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Iscariot: A Novel of Judas

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Overview

The most reviled man in biblical history comes to life.

In Jesus, Judas believes he has found the One—the promised Messiah and future king destined to overthrow Roman rule. Galvanized, Judas joins the disciples, ready to enact the change he has waited for all his life.

But Judas’ vision of a nation free from Roman rule is crushed by the inexplicable actions of the Nazarene himself, who will not bow to social or religious convention—who seems in the end to turn against his own people. At last, Judas must confront the fact that the master he loves is not the liberator he hoped for, but a man bent on a drastically different agenda.

Iscariot is the story of Judas—from his tumultuous childhood and tenuous family life as a devout Jew to a man known to the world as the betrayer of Jesus Christ. But even more, it is a singular and surprising view into the life of Jesus himself, an intricate account that will cause you to ask: “Would I have done the same thing as Judas?”

Winner of the 2014 Christian Book Award for Fiction

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
From the author of Demon and coauthor with Ted Dekker of the Book of Mortals series comes mind-bending biblical historical fiction that dares to put readers in the mind of the most infamous character of Christian history. Lee uses a historically accurate setting for a fictional story of young Judas from Sepphoris, who becomes a Zealot after his father dies on a Roman cross during a Jewish revolt. As an adult, Judas studies and practices Torah, and though he associates with Jewish revolutionaries—like Jesus—he carefully avoids the same fate as his father. The Gospels never tell exactly why Judas betrayed Jesus, but the author’s theory is that Judas was no more confused or misguided than other disciples; however, his plans went terribly wrong. Some familiar scenes come to life (“‘Hail,’ I whispered, and kissed him with trembling lips.”) Though the book provides a speculative and unorthodox view of Judas, the research and writing is impeccable and masterful. Above all, Lee insinuates a lingering question for the reader: is it true and would I have done it, too? (Feb.)
Ted Dekker
Iscariot is one of those rare novels that makes you go deep and come out both crying and cheering at once. If you think you know Jesus or Judas, think again. Through meticulous detail and powerful prose, Tosca Lee brings the world a story that will reshape the hearts and minds of many. An absolute must-read.”
Eric Wilson
“Tosca Lee refuses to let biblical stories turn into stale tales without any current meaning. As she did so brilliantly with Demon and Havah, she brings familiar characters to life in wholly new ways. In Iscariot, we identify all too easily with Judas’ struggles, hopes, and frustrations. Rich in research and powerful in the telling, I couldn’t read this book and simply point the finger without first coming to grips with the human frailties in my own heart and mind.”
Dr. Joe Cathey
“A work that devours you with its first words. Lee’s skills as a researcher and wordsmith have illuminated Judas in a light never seen before. Gone is the simple one-dimensional character who acts as a foil in the crucifixion narrative. In Iscariot we have an extraordinary man whose dreams, hopes, and fears drive him to the precipice of his life. Brilliant writing.”
Mary DeMuth
Iscariot is a ride through history and the nature of betrayal and friendship. Surprising characterization, a rich tapestry of setting, and a compelling plot make this an insightful read. Once again, Tosca Lee’s storytelling and intelligence shines through her fiction.”
Tracy L. Higley
“Reading Lee’s Iscariot is like seeing the unknowns in the New Testament filled with ‘what might have been.’ The familiar gains new significance as seen through the eyes of the disciples, especially that one whose motives still baffle two thousand years later. Iscariot is rich and wonderfully told, with a haunting message that resonates: What would I have done?”
Randy Ingermanson
“Tosca Lee’s Iscariot gives you the most plausibly motivated Judas you’ll ever see in a novel. This is not a slavering, caricatured, eager-to-be-evil Judas that you can kick in the face as you walk by. This Judas could have been you, or me.”
James Scott Bell
“Tosca Lee’s take on the most notorious figure in history is at once highly imaginative and deeply moving. Weaving historical detail, human drama and spiritual insight, Iscariot will hold you all the way to its shattering conclusion.”
Darrell L. Bock
"How Jesus’ suffering and ministry could disappoint or perplex is at the heart of Iscariot. It is entertaining fiction rooted in the story of Judas and Jesus. It will cause you to reflect and rethink what you know. It is well -done, solid fiction.”
Lori Twitchell
“Few writers are able to fully engage the imagination on such a visceral level. Fewer still can take on a character laden with heavy preconceived notions and fully change the reader's mind. Tosca Lee stands head and shoulders above crowds of writers and, with a deft hand and a passionate spirit, grants us a beautiful glimpse into an age old story in a completely new way. Don’t miss this book. This journey will peel away the layers of all you know and leave you open, longing, and overwhelmed with God’s incredible love for us.”
Josh Olds
“Tosca Lee is a magnificent storyteller. She has the heart of a poet, the mind of the scholar, and the imagination of a novelist. The three have melded here in harmony to produce a thought-provoking, comfort-disrupting, and heart-rattling tale of history’s most famous betrayer. But beyond that, Iscariot also forces readers to look at Jesus in a new light and consider whether or not they have truly understood the message of the kingdom. Iscariot is one of those books that will not soon, if ever, leave your mind.”
William P. Young
“Tosca Lee continues to mature and deepen as a master story-teller. Iscariot is the best example of this to date. I can hardly wait for what is coming!”
Steve Berry
“Written in a voice that is original, animated, and refreshing, Tosca Lee has forged a poignant tale of Judas, a character we only thought we knew. History and emotion entangle into an entertaining nugget, each page like a tasty treat.”
Steven James
“A startlingly dark and breathtaking novel. Iscariot is both visionary in scope and historically accurate down to the most minute detail—which is an astonishing feat. This is epic, masterful storytelling from one of the most gifted novelists writing today.”
The Christian Manifesto
“To call the writing excellent is a severe understatement—phenomenal might come close, but even that is not quite strong enough. . . . It’s complex, inventive, beautiful, heart-wrenching, and a multitude of other positive adjectives all which speak of a well-written, inspiring novel.”
Ken Coleman
“Tosca Lee’s brilliant storytelling is addictive. Iscariot brings a thrilling new perspective to Judas and the most infamous act of betrayal in history. The question, ‘What would you have done?’ haunts, convicts and challenges us throughout this masterful tale.”
From the Publisher
"The research and writing is impeccable and masterful."

"Intelligently imagined."

"This brilliant, sympathetic reinterpretation of Judas will force readers to reexamine the man they thought they knew."

“Tosca Lee continues to mature and deepen as a master story-teller. Iscariot is the best example of this to date. I can hardly wait for what is coming!”

“Written in a voice that is original, animated, and refreshing, Tosca Lee has forged a poignant tale of Judas, a character we only thought we knew. History and emotion entangle into an entertaining nugget, each page like a tasty treat.”

“Tosca Lee’s take on the most notorious figure in history is at once highly imaginative and deeply moving. Weaving historical detail, human drama and spiritual insight, Iscariot will hold you all the way to its shattering conclusion.”

“A startlingly dark and breathtaking novel. Iscariot is both visionary in scope and historically accurate down to the most minute detail—which is an astonishing feat. This is epic, masterful storytelling from one of the most gifted novelists writing today.”

Iscariot is one of those rare novels that makes you go deep and come out both crying and cheering at once. If you think you know Jesus or Judas, think again. Through meticulous detail and powerful prose, Tosca Lee brings the world a story that will reshape the hearts and minds of many. An absolute must-read.”

"How Jesus’ suffering and ministry could disappoint or perplex is at the heart of Iscariot. It is entertaining fiction rooted in the story of Judas and Jesus. It will cause you to reflect and rethink what you know. It is well -done, solid fiction.”

“To call the writing excellent is a severe understatement—phenomenal might come close, but even that is not quite strong enough. . . . It’s complex, inventive, beautiful, heart-wrenching, and a multitude of other positive adjectives all which speak of a well-written, inspiring novel.”

Nicole Baart
Iscariot is at turns heart wrenching and triumphant. Weaving painstaking research and beautiful prose, Tosca Lee tells a story that will make you question everything you thought you knew about the man who betrayed Jesus with a kiss—and about yourself.”
Jim Henderson
“Have you ever been lucky enough to snag a backstage pass, that special ticket that grants you an exclusive peek into the life of a famous person. This book is your backstage pass to one of the most reviled figures in the history of Christianity. Most Christians have been taught that Judas = evil. We’ve branded his name. In her compelling page-turner Iscariot, Tosca Lee asks “what if?” What if Judas was actually a little more like you and me? What if his story was not as black and white as we’ve been told? What if, like us, family history, youthful idealism and unintended consequences conspired to make him appear to be something he wasn’t? What if you could see yourself in Judas?”
Jill Eileen Smith
“In Iscariot, New York Times bestselling novelist, Tosca Lee, takes readers into the heart and mind of Judas, the man whose very name is synonymous with traitor. What led this man to betray Jesus? Seen in the light of his expectations and the culture of his day, Judas’s motives take on new clarity. What did Jesus look like to a man who desperately sought a messiah? The answer might surprise you. Edgy, inspirational, this story is stark in its honesty. One cannot look into the heart of a traitor without coming away praying that we will learn from his choices.”
Susan Meissner
“What kind of man would do what Judas Iscariot did? Tosca Lee takes us straight into the scarred heart and haunted soul of the infamous betrayer, giving him a literary voice that echoes with the horrible weight of his solitary decision. Utterly compelling.”
Davis Bunn
“This book is intended for anyone who has asked themselves the question, ‘Why did Judas do it? How could he have been so close to the Savior for so long, and then turn against him?’ Tosca Lee’s novel is both insightful and extremely well crafted. The historical details bring the time of Jesus to life in a remarkable fashion.”
Robin Caroll
“Tosca Lee’s Iscariot is a beautiful example of what literary excellence should be. With perfect prose, the story sweeps us back into the days of walking with Jesus, and changes the reader by the end of the book. This is one book that shouldn’t be missed!”
James L. Rubart
“It’s a rare author that I will read everything they write. Tosca Lee is one of them. With Iscariot she has cemented my view that there are few better novelists currently among us. Iscariot will rocket you into the vastness of who Jesus us. His compassion, his fierceness, his love—all through the eyes of a man few have seen through before. Brilliant. Poignant. Heart-wrenching. Read it now.”
Robert Liparulo
“No one gets inside the heads and minds of historical figures as intimately and convincingly as Tosca Lee does. In Iscariot, she tackles her most challenging enigma: Judas Iscariot, betrayer of Jesus. Through brilliant writing, deep research, and sincere compassion, she spins a tale of twisting emotions, conflicting loyalties, and heart aching humanity. This mesmerizing story will have you rethinking the Biblical account you thought you knew—and your own attitudes about what it means to love, truly love. In a word, Iscariot is unforgettable!”
Kirkus Reviews
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. Intelligently imagined.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451683769
  • Publisher: Howard Books
  • Publication date: 2/5/2013
  • Pages: 333
  • Sales rank: 519,641
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Tosca Lee

Tosca Lee is the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of Iscariot; Demon: A Memoir; Havah: The Story of Eve; and the Books of Mortals series with New York Times bestselling author Ted Dekker. To learn more about Tosca, visit ToscsaLee.com.

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Read an Excerpt

Iscariot

I was six years old the day we fled Jerusalem, and Caesar Augustus was emperor.

I had known nothing but Jerusalem all my life. It was the home of the Temple and navel of the world. Even infected with Roman soldiers and Herod’s stadium, God’s house was in Jerusalem, and no good man of Israel ever wanted to leave it.

And so I was stunned the day my father, a devout man, announced that we were leaving.

Especially now. Just that morning Father had come bursting into the house with the news that Herod, our king, was dead. I had thought it the happiest day of my life, if only because I had never seen Father so jubilant. He sang that day, one of the hymns of David, as my mother clapped her hands and my older brother Joshua and I went shouting and dancing into the street. We weren’t the only ones. Soon all Jerusalem would erupt with joy.

We were still celebrating when Father’s friend Aaron came hurrying toward the house. “Where’s your father? Simon!” he shouted. “They’re taking the eagle down!”

Father came out to meet him but Aaron was too excited to even kiss him in greeting. “They’ve gone to take Herod’s eagle off the Temple!”

Even at the age of six I had heard plenty about this abomination affixed to the great Temple gate, this golden kiss of our king to the buttock of Rome. It was everything a Jew must hate: a graven image, which was an affront to God’s law, and the symbol of Rome.

“Boys, get inside,” Father said. And then he left for the Temple.

For hours, I imagined him on the shoulders of others, tearing the eagle free to the sound of cheers. But when he returned, his jaw was tight beneath his beard.

“Pack what you can carry. Quickly,” he said. “We’re leaving.”

We left that night, bribing the guard to let us out the small door in the city gate.

All the next day we traveled in silence, my mother’s hand viselike around mine, my brother pale and pensive as he cast furtive glances at my father.

I didn’t know what had happened—only that Jerusalem was somehow unsafe and the lines had deepened around Father’s eyes. I knew better than to press him with questions; I would ask Joshua to explain it all to me later. He was brilliant, my ten-year-old brother. Even then everyone knew he would become a great teacher of the law. And for that reason I wanted to become one, too.

But a few hours later, when I realized I was the farthest from Jerusalem I had ever been, I began to worry.

“Father,” I said. “Will we be home in time for Passover?”

It was my favorite holiday, a time when Joshua and I went with him to buy our lamb and bring it to the Temple priests.

“No, Judas,” he said. “Jerusalem is a tinderbox and God calls us to Galilee.”

“But why—”

“No more now.”

That night, in the dank lower room of an inn, my brother lay in troubled silence beside me.

I leaned up on my elbow. A lone lamp somewhere on the floor above cast a dull glow across the stairwell; I could just make out Joshua’s profile staring up at the ceiling.

“Herod isn’t dead,” he said finally. “I heard Father talking with one of the men we traveled with today. It was a rumor. The king’s sick, but he’s alive.”

“But Father said—”

“He was wrong. They all were. The rumor gave men the courage to take the eagle down. Until Herod’s soldiers arrived.” He turned and looked at me. “Aaron was arrested.”

I stared at him in the darkness.

“It was the teachers Judas and Matthias who led the charge to the Temple with their students.”

Father and Aaron both had been students of the famous teacher Judas bar Sepphoraeus. It was partially for him—and for Judas Maccabee, the warrior called the Hammer—that I had been named. The lower room was suddenly far too cold.

“I heard Father say that when they got there Aaron pushed right through the mob. He climbed up on the shoulders of one of the students to help pull the eagle down. But Father couldn’t get through the crowd. So he stood back to watch—he said he wanted to witness for his sons what would surely become known as the first day of the Lord’s coming. They had just gotten the eagle off when the soldiers came. No one heard him trying to warn them through the cheering.”

“Then he didn’t do it!” But even as I said it, I was afraid.

Joshua was silent.

“Will they arrest Father?”

“No. But that’s why we left.”

“What’ll happen to the others?”

“I don’t know.”

“But what if—”

“Mother’s coming. Go to sleep.”

But I couldn’t sleep. Only after Father came down did I even close my eyes, but not before wishing we had traveled through the night. For the first time since leaving Jerusalem, I wished we were a league away.

I dreamed of soldiers. I was used to seeing them throughout the Holy City, coming in and out of the Antonia Fortress or working along the walls and aqueducts, but that night they came to the room where we slept and dragged my father away. I woke up screaming.

“What’s this, Judas? Hush,” Father said, drawing me next to him. I could smell the heat of day lingering on his skin. “All is well. Sleep now.”

I curled beneath the weight of his arm, my eyes open in the dark, until the soldiers became as fleeting as ghosts and there was only the low rumble of his breath beside me.

WE WERE FIFTEEN MILES from the Sea of Galilee by the time we stopped in Scythopolis. It was nearly Purim, the spring feast before Passover.

Scythopolis was the largest city we had come to since Jericho and there was construction everywhere, including a wide street being paved in perfect basalt squares. We passed a building that looked like a temple and I gaped at the statue of a nude man in front of it, the finely chiseled face and full lips—the naked sex dangling between his thighs like a cluster of grapes. I had seen few graven images and I had never seen an uncircumcised penis.

“Look away,” Father said. “This is not the Lord’s.”

I did look away, but I was already reconstructing the images in my mind—of the nude man and wreath-headed others dancing in naked relief across the temple face behind him.

We found an inn run by Jews and that evening, after changing into clean clothing, began our fast and went to the synagogue.

Right in the middle of the reading of the scroll, my stomach began to growl. Joshua leaned over and whispered, “Maybe our fast will bring God’s kingdom that much more quickly.”

I nodded. I didn’t know exactly what the coming kingdom would look like except that there would be no Romans or Gentiles or Samaritans in it.

Most important, Aaron would not be arrested and Father would be safe.

That night we stayed up late on the roof with the other guests beneath the full moon. At home, my cousins would play games into the night and sleep late the next day, shortening the time until sundown when they could eat at last. But here there were no games, and the little children had already eaten and fallen asleep beside their mothers.

I was by then miserable with hunger, my stomach twisting into a fist. But I knew I must learn to fast if I hoped to be an important teacher like my brother, who listened in on the men’s conversation as though he were one of them already. But as the night wore on I began to pray for the comfort of sleep.

“Herod’s moved all those they rounded up to Jericho,” I heard the innkeeper say. “A merchant brought the news two days ago.”

Joshua nudged me and I realized they were talking about the men who had been arrested. Suddenly I was very awake.

Another man, who had walked with us from the inn to the synagogue earlier, shook his head. “There’ll be no good end for them. Why must they martyr themselves when, in a few more days, Herod will be dead? May the Lord make it so!”

A round of assenting murmurs.

I stared at Joshua, my heart hammering. I didn’t know what a martyr was, but I saw the roundness of my brother’s eyes, the grim line of Father’s mouth as all the men began speaking at once.

“The Romans will still be here.”

“I’d take the Romans over Herod. His own family isn’t even safe from him. Caesar said it right that he’d rather be Herod’s pig than his son.”

“I wouldn’t put it past that whoreson to eat a pig.”

I rolled forward, arms clutched around my middle.

“Come, Judas,” Joshua whispered, motioning me to follow him downstairs. I uncurled in agony to follow him.

He led me to his roll near our things in one of the inn’s back rooms. After rummaging around, Joshua took my hand and laid a stale piece of bread in it. “Here. If you don’t eat, you’ll be sick like last time.”

I looked from him to the bread, thinking. I should give it back. I should throw it down.

“You are very zealous,” Joshua said. “But you are young and not expected to go without food.”

“But the coming kingdom—”

“A piece of bread will not make the Romans leave or Herod die any faster. I’m your older brother, aren’t I?”

I nodded, tears welling stupidly in my eyes. I ate the bread in quick bites as I followed Joshua back up to the roof.

I was just swallowing the last of it when a surprised shout broke the night—followed quickly by another and the shrill sound of a woman’s voice.

We ran back to the roof to find everyone on their feet staring at the sky. And then I saw why: The moon, so full and white when we had gone down into the house, was partially sheathed in shadow.

“It’s an omen!” someone said. “A sign!”

I blinked at the sky, at the moon half-covered as though with a black lid. Would it go out? What evil could do that?

And then I knew.

I began to tremble, my skin having gone cold and then hot at once. A wail filled my ears. It came from my throat.

“Shush, Judas!” My mother pulled me to her. But as she did, my stomach lurched and I doubled over and vomited at her feet. It was only a little amount, the bread having come out in pale bits shamefully illuminated by the light of the disappearing moon. I began to cry, the acrid taste in my mouth and nostrils, as my mother gathered me up and carried me past the mess to the corner. I was by now beside myself, shaking, hot tears tracking down my face.

“It’s my fault!” I cried.

“What?” My mother said.

“The moon—I did it.” As Eve with her fruit, I had ruined the moon for the sky.

“Ah, my dove, no you did not—what is a little bread to God? I told Joshua to give it to you so you wouldn’t get sick. Hush now,” she said, starting to clean my face. “This is not about you, Judas.”

But as shouts sounded from other rooftops and the men began to argue about what it meant, I knew better. The world could be ruined by the smallest of actions. For striking a rock, Moses had never entered the Promised Land. And now I had been the sky’s undoing.

I jerked away from my mother, ran to the clot of men, and found my father. I grabbed his sleeve.

“Judas! What’s this?”

I fell down to my knees, and he hauled me up under my arms.

“It’s my fault!”

“This? No, Judas, it’s a portent, a sign. Don’t be afraid. The Lord winks at us. See?”

I cried harder, hiccupping now. He didn’t know the grievousness of my sin. “I ate and see what happened!” I wouldn’t blame my mother or Joshua—I alone had eaten the bread.

He blinked at me in the darkness, and then chuckled. It had not bothered me so much that my mother did not understand, but hearing this from my father—and in the face of such obvious disaster—I felt more alone than I had ever felt in my life.

“Do you think you’ve caused this, little Judas? But there—see? The moon is emerging again.”

I followed the line of his finger. Sure enough, the shadow had moved a little bit away. I watched as it began to retreat, my fear subsiding the tiniest increment.

He patted my back. “The Lord won’t reject you for being a hungry boy. But if it will make you feel better, we will immerse tomorrow.”

The next day I immersed in the synagogue mikva three times to the bafflement of my father and the empathetic observance of my brother. Not until the third time did I feel any measure of relief, and even then not until I went outside that evening and saw that the moon was whole once more.

THE NEWS CAME BEFORE we left Scythopolis: Herod had died the night of the eclipse—but not before burning two of Jerusalem’s great teachers and forty of their students at the stake in Jericho. My father broke out with a great cry and tore his clothes. Joshua did likewise.

I simply cried.

The students who said they had not instigated the taking down of the eagle survived, and I hated them for it. I hated them because I knew Aaron was not among them—Aaron who would have condemned Herod until the last of his life for sheer love of the law. And then I cried harder because I wished he had not loved the law so much.

For nights to come I shivered beneath my blanket and dreamed of the students burning in the fires.

THOUGH I THOUGHT I shouldn’t love Sepphoris, I did. I shouldn’t, because it was far from Jerusalem, and her fortress seemed to inhabit a world that knew no such thing as the holy Temple. And I should not love it because it was Herod’s, and even though Herod was dead, his sons were eagle-kissers just like him who wanted everything Roman—down to the scraps of power the empire threw them like crusts to dogs.

But I loved it because Father was safe. Nothing could touch us here.

I came to know Sepphoris by its sounds. Voices of children my own age wafted up from farther down the hill where the farmers kept their houses and tended their vineyards. Roosters crowed throughout the day. At times I could hear one of the distant shepherds playing a flute. And always there was birdsong.

That spring when it rained, water trickled from the roof into the channels of the cisterns below. It was a good sound, the sound of water. Moss clung to the stones of the houses, so that even on sunny days the air near any house seemed to smell of rain as pines rustled overhead.

We stayed with my father’s cousin, Eleazar—a priest who helped place Joshua and me with a teacher who was so impressed with Joshua’s early abilities that he called him “little rabbi.”

I saw how everyone looked at him with ready fascination, as though such a boy might be proof that God had not forgotten us, but planted in the soil of this generation the mustard seed of a greatness unknown by the last. And though I knew I would never be Joshua’s equal, I didn’t care. People would say, “There goes the brother of Joshua bar Simon. What is his name? Ah, that’s right—Judas.” And that would be enough.

That year was the first that I did not go to the Temple for Passover. Instead, we watched the families that left together, my heart full of jagged envy as they sang their psalms out the city gate.

Eleazar had fallen ill weeks before and been unable to leave with the rest of the priests. I saw the way his wife, old Zipporah, covered her face with her hands when she thought no one was looking. It made me afraid for Eleazar, whom I had grown fond of, and I prayed for him. I immersed so often that my brother got angry with me and told me that even the Pharisees didn’t wash that much, nor the Essenes, who were so extreme as to not move their bowels on the Sabbath. Was I going to keep from that as well?

I did briefly consider it, but I knew better than to rely on my stomach to do what it was told.

We celebrated Passover in the synagogue and at the home of Eleazar, who had recovered in what seemed like a miracle, claiming it was Mother and Zipporah’s good lamb stew.

Then, a few days later, the first pilgrims began to return.

Too early.

We had just gathered for the evening meal when Eleazar’s nephew came into the house, tearing at his hair.

“They slaughtered them with their sacrifices!” he shouted.

“What’s this?” Eleazar demanded, rising from his seat.

“The new king sent his guard to the Temple the day before the feast—a guard of foreign mercenaries. Some of the pilgrims started throwing stones at them in protest. The king retaliated by sending in his army. They massacred the people. Pilgrims—men, women, children. Thousands dead!”

Father staggered, the color gone from his face. The house that night was filled with Mother’s and Zipporah’s weeping and the groans of Eleazar, who sounded less like a weathered old priest than just a broken old man.

Three thousand died in the massacre that Passover. The tinderbox had exploded.

It was only the beginning.

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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 8, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Brave, passionate and fearless are three words that I would choo

    Brave, passionate and fearless are three words that I would choose to describe both the author Tosca Lee and her new novel Iscariot, A Novel of Judas. I think it takes a true master and someone who is willing to take a major risk to write a novel like this. And take risks she did. But I think unequivocally the risk paid off as Iscariot is an amazing literary work that takes us on Judas’ journey with Jesus in a way that was so heartfelt and yes, heartbreaking, I mean, how can it not be? Personally I think it’s very tough to take a story where everyone knows the ending and the ending is not a good one, but still make it a compelling read. Tosca Lee does this so well and I really appreciated the journey and feel that everyone who reads this book will look at Judas a little differently.
    Judas is portrayed as someone who was always searching- searching for a true messiah. And with much heartache and tragedy to show for this search, his story unravels in an intricately done way. He loses vastly important people to him, and his grief and guilt play a major role in shaping him as a man. His search for a messiah and search for love draw him to this person of Jesus. Along with Tosca’s portrayal of Judas, I loved how she wrote Jesus as well. His amazing love for his disciples and the people around him showed through beautifully, as well as the absolute desperation for why he came to us. I think the thing I most loved about this portrayal of Judas though, is the fact that he loved Jesus, but still even with that love there was his constant battle between what he grew up knowing as the law versus what he saw before him in the person of Jesus.
    Another aspect of this novel that I found utterly compelling was Judas’ “fall”- so different from how I have ever pictured it, I think that most of us have just left Judas as a 2 dimensional character- “he’s the bad guy who betrayed Jesus”, but Tosca brings him alive and we can see him and understand him and empathize with him and yes, even see ourselves in him. He like so many of us was a man deceived and with that deception came ultimate destruction.
    Finally, I would like to urge you to read the author’s note at the end of the book- it is fascinating to read Tosca’s journey as she wrote this book. I loved the questions that she wrestled with to bring this character of Judas to life; especially with regards to grace- are there no limits? Truly this last bit of the book puts a period at the end of the story, which is why I mention it- I always feel that if we get a further look into the heart of the author with regards to their work that it broadens our understanding. In the usual Tosca Lee style she brings beautiful prose to this book as well as an intense realness to the situations. I found it to be masterful, compelling storytelling and a story that I will remember for a long time.

    I was given a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.


    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 8, 2013

    This book is amazing. What a writer and what a book. It's taken

    This book is amazing. What a writer and what a book. It's taken me a while to read it because I can only read a few chapters of it at a time. In most books, that's a bad thing, but not this one. I can only read a bit at a time because this book breaks my heart every time I read it. 
    Suppose -- just suppose mind you -- that Judas Iscariot wasn't the wolf in sheep's clothing that we always thought he was. Suppose he was someone who loved Jesus as much as any of us or perhaps even more? What if his story didn't end in betrayal and suicide?
    And yet it does end that way (no spoiler there, she starts the novel with his death). That's what makes this story so heartbreaking. So how does she make Judas a sympathetic character and yet keep the ending believable? Because Tosca Lee is an amazing storyteller. Ah. Maz. Zing! For this is not only Judas' story, it's a story of Jesus as well. 
    If you want to explore how much you love Christ, read this book. If you think you bear no resemblance at all to Judas Iscariot, read this book. It will open your eyes and yes, probably break your heart.
    Thanks to The DeMoss Group for providing a copy for me to review.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 7, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I love it when great writers take the time to completely researc

    I love it when great writers take the time to completely research a project if they are going to write a historical fiction novel. It's even better for me as a reader when I can get my hands on a greatly researched and well-thought out biblical historical fiction. When they can take me by the hand and transport me back into history and allow me to walk side by side with a character, it truly helps me understand them better and what may have motivated them to make the decisions they did. Such is the case in the latest novel from Tosca Lee in Iscariot: A Novel of Judas. She provides an in depth look at what the life of Judas Iscariot may have been like and attempts to fill in the missing holes to help us understand why someone who was invited into the sacred circle of being one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ, could easily sell him out to the men who wanted to kill him.

    It provided me with a different view point. First of all by tackling the difficult process of establishing the time period where Judas would have grown up in. What was really happening in the world? Why was there such a great fear from the Roman's from the Jews? What was life really like living back in Israel so long ago and what might have life been like looking at these circumstances through the lives of one of the most notorious biblical men in history? I have to say, I completely applaud Tosca Lee. Too often it's hard to label people just based on one side of the facts. We obviously know more happened that just what the writers of the gospels have to say, and I think she filled in the holes masterfully.

    I never realized just how difficult it was growing up for Judas. How difficult it was to deal with all the backlash from the Romans towards the Jewish people. If just a handful of people voiced their concerns against the Romans and caused conflict, they were dealt with harshly, either imprisoned or crucified. Sometimes even entire cities were may to pay for the consequences caused by a group of men who didn't agree with the way Herod was handling things such as taxes or even property disbursements. How hard it would have been to be such faithful followers of the old Jewish laws and in studying the Torah, believing that the Lord would return bring about justice to those that oppressed the Jewish people. This is why so many didn't believe Jesus was the promised Messiah. They wanted someone to punish the Romans and reward the Jewish people, but Jesus was the complete opposite. He dealt with things justly with love, grace and peace, but was not the promised Messiah the Jewish people believed would come to right all the wrongs in their minds.

    This is a novel that I believe every single Christian should read. Not to glorify what Judas Iscariot did but to understand why he may have did it. It was such an exceptional read, I had to go and purchase a copy of Tosca Lee's other biblical novels, Havah: The Story of Eve and Demon: A Memoir, a story about the fall of Lucifer. Tosca Lee's exceptional ability to find the truth and fill in the holes without much to go on, allows us to see things differently while still holding on to the Biblical truth. I easily give this one a perfect 5 out of 5 stars. I received Iscariot: A Novel of Judas by Tosca Lee compliments of Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster Publishers for my honest review. Trust me, you'll want to pick this one up, to see if there really was a motivation for Judas making the decision he made and wondering if we, in fact, would have followed in his footsteps as well.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 13, 2013

    This book blew me away. I tried hard not to simply read the tex

    This book blew me away. I tried hard not to simply read the text but to fully devour it and understand it. There was so much time and effort put into this book that I thought it needed more than just a simple read through. But I'm not sure that simply reading it and forgetting about it all would be possible. The concepts and ideas put forth create a new way of looking at the life of Judas, and even the life of Christ. Very exciting.
    After finishing the book and handing it off to be read by someone else I'm already looking forward to getting it back again so I can once more dive into the story and perhaps see something else in a new light.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 11, 2014

    Highly recommended to anyone who wants to know what really happened ON THE NIGHT HE WAS BETRAYED!

    Was Judas Iscariot the instrument used by God to fulfill a divine prophesy? ON THE NIGHT HE WAS BETRAYED is the phrase all Roman Catholics hear at the start of the Liturgy during every Mass. But was Jesus really betrayed by Judas, or did Judas complete the outcome that was he was designed to do? There is no historical support to the theory stated here, but Tosca Lee has opened that conversation in my mind as to what the relationship between Judas and Jesus really was, what their friendship was like, what their lives were like as they traveled around preaching the Word. Was it the destiny of Judas to have a hand in Jesus’ death, to be the deliverer? Did Judas really think that he was saving Jesus by turning him in to the Sanhedrin with the promise of not charging Jesus with blasphemy? Tosca Lee stated that she had many questions as she researched this book, as stated in the Authors Notes section. After finishing ISCARIOT, I also have many questions. It is intriguing to think of what Judas’ real motive was.

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  • Posted February 3, 2014

    Is it possible to give a 10 star rating on a 5 star scale? If no

    Is it possible to give a 10 star rating on a 5 star scale? If not, it should be, because Iscariot deserved it! What a fantastic read! I loved the way Tosca Lee presents Judas without ever glorifying him and yet she totally glorified Jesus. The story caused me to fall more in love with Jesus just by her representation of his amazing love and devotion. Ms. Lee is an amazing author already, but Iscariot took her writing to a new dimension of outstanding. This book will knock the socks off any reader.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2014

    This book is well written and makes the reader think. Tosca Lee

    This book is well written and makes the reader think. Tosca Lee has a way of bringing the characters to life and drawing the reader in. This is one of the few fictional books that I have recommended to my husband to read. Well-researched and awesome for bible studies.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 30, 2013

    ISCARIOT by Tosca Lee is an absolute must read. It was recommend

    ISCARIOT by Tosca Lee is an absolute must read. It was recommended to me so when I saw it available in ebook form I quickly grabbed it.
    It is by far one of the most eye opening, thought provoking look into the man we all know as Judas, the betrayer. When you read this alternative to the narrative you will have much to ponder. You will not only look at Judas through different lenses but also Jesus.
    I'll never forget my pastors wife at the time commenting on Two From Galilee after she finished it. She didn't think it was accurate for it showed a very human birth. We tend to forget Jesus was indeed human as was all the people in the Bible.
    Did Judas intend to betray Jesus? What were the last few days and weeks like? Was the journey without some angst for Jesus? What were the thoughts and emotions? Did the disciples whisper and question amongst each other? These are just some of the questions you will only probe more as you read. Hopefully you will finish the book with more questions than answers, I know I did.

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  • Posted June 1, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Wow. This was a really deep novel. The reader is taken to the ve

    Wow. This was a really deep novel. The reader is taken to the very heart of a very complex and conflicted man. Tosca’s storytelling of Judas’ life makes you rethink everything you know and have been taught. Judas did not come by his decision lightly when he turned Jesus over to Pontius Pilate. He didn’t even know that is what he was doing. He thought he was saving Jesus but his limited knowledge of the law (even though he really did think he knew everything) was used against him.

    Judas starts his life out being the son of a traitor and it seems everyone he attaches to becomes one also. In Jesus, he thinks he finally found someone to believe in so he joins the Nazarene’s followers in hopes of finally being free of Rome’s rule. Unfortunately, Jesus has other plans and so begins the frustration on Judas’ part. He never understands why Jesus just won’t toe the line a bit instead of always going against the old Jewish laws.

    Iscariot: A Novel of Judas is worth reading. Not only for the recreating of the harsh living of people back then but for the different view of the life of Jesus Christ. The reader is taken on a journey through the eyes of Judas and dives into why a man who has obvious devotion for the Nazarene ends up betraying him.

    (I received this audiobook from the publisher at no charge and in no way influenced my review)

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  • Posted April 15, 2013

    Iscariot by Tosca Lee brings to life the biggest betrayer in the

    Iscariot by Tosca Lee brings to life the biggest betrayer in the history of mankind: Judas Iscariot. Lee does a phenomenal job of taking you back to Judas’ childhood and inviting you as a spectator to witness the series of events and people who shaped him. I love his first encounter with Jesus as he gets baptized by John the Baptist. You’ll feel his awe as he witnesses many healings by Jesus and the raising of Lazarus. And you’ll see what drove him to betray the Son of God.

    Lee paints such a vivid picture of the grief and guilt that Judas experiences when the realization hits that he’s been fooled that you’ll feel your heart physically hurt for the man known in history as the betrayer of Jesus. I found this story captivating and intriguing.

    I received a free copy of this book from Howard Books for my honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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  • Posted March 29, 2013

    Most highly recommended!

    This book reminds me of just what Jesus did for me, and how He loves me unconditionally. Pray as you read this interesting account. He will touch your heart!

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  • Posted March 7, 2013

    Thank you for being brave enough to follow the heeding of the Sp

    Thank you for being brave enough to follow the heeding of the Spirit to write this "much needed to be told" story. So often we think we could never, would never sink to that level but this book reminds us of what we are truly capable of. The author writes in her own account that we all err in ways that make sense to us. It is the little foxes that spoil the vine; we can survive the storms because of the Power of God but those little foxes creep in and steal our joy, causing us to often compromise in ways that we feel are acceptable. A wonderful book for anyone with the courage to leave off their previous predisposed notions and think beyond the confines of the proverbial box.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 18, 2013

    Best-Selling author Tosca Lee continues in her tales of the vill

    Best-Selling author Tosca Lee continues in her tales of the villainous, this time taking on the most notorious betrayer in history - Judas Iscariot.

    From the first page, Lee has you second guessing what you know about the true story of Judas, a man who turned over his Messiah for 30 pieces of silver - but what led to this moment?
     What were the steps Judas took in order to turn from beloved follower to dubious betrayer?

    I thoroughly enjoyed Tosca's world building as she took us deep into the heart of Ancient Israel. So many things made sense when seeing them through the cultures eyes,
    such as the story of the rebel Bar-Abbas, who was released instead of Jesus at the people's request;
     the parables, made clear to us today, casting anxiety on those who clung to tradition; and finally,
    the man Jesus himself, and how he might have been seen by someone who didn't truly believe.

    While I did appreciate Ms. Lee's telling of this tale, I can't say I loved it. I'm not a prosy person, and while Tosca is insanely awesome at spinning words beautifully, a lot of it becomes too much for me.
    Also, there were a few things that didn't quite set right with what I know Biblically - just slightly off.
    To be fair, this IS a fiction retelling, so the disciples could have had elephant trunks if Ms. Lee wanted them to, and she DID say she wanted to get to the heart of the story.

    In the end, Tosca Lee changed my long standing opinion on the man who gave betrayers their name. Judas was human, and he didn't set out to be the villain. After all, who are we to stay we wouldn't have done the same?
    We don't know. We weren't there.

    I definitely would say "Read This Book" to any and all.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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