Susan Gubar is a professor of English. This fascinating and thought-provoking book is not about theology, biblical exegesis, or history. It is wide ranging and scholarly study of Judas Iscariot as he was portrayed through the ages. Judas as most people know him today represents betrayal. Gubar takes us through the history, not of the factual life or existence of Judas, but of how he had been portrayed. He was not always regarded as evil. The Gnostics, for example, see him differently; and an account is given of Irenaeus' destruction of the "heretics" and his explanation of Judas' origin as a demonic deviant. Some have worked sex into the relationship between Judas and Jesus. Gubar explores the homosexual theme and implications in the context of Judas and Jesus. She draws from diverse sources as Rheinau Psalter's "Kiss of Judas" (a fine reproduction is found in the plates between pages 166 and 167), and The Song of Solomon (from the Bible): "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine." The Song of Solomon has baffled many as an odd piece in the Bible (with its graphic allusions to physical love) but ancient and medieval theologians used it partly as an allegory of God's love for his followers, and partly, as Gubar writes, "the mystic's adoration of Christ".
The range of material used by the author is itself a treat. She discusses Martin's Scorsese's film, "The Last Temptation of Christ", a film maligned by some Christians. She also discusses Nikos Kazantzakis' book of the same title, and Jose Saramago's "The Gospel according to Jesus Christ" and how these books "invalidate any interpretation of the Passion that blames the murder of Jesus on the Jews or on a Jewish Judas." She traces the roots of anti-Semitism that connects Judas to the origin and propagation of that phenomenon. The synoptic gospels and the Gospel of John were also scrutinized for their hermeneutic possibilities of Judas. Matthew's Jesus as exemplified in the Beatitudes suggest perhaps that a contrite and repentant Judas deserves, and perhaps, received forgiveness and thus, vilification of him today is no longer justified. That is a question John Wesley had also pondered. As Gubar pointed out in the final chapter of her book, regarding Judas at the Last Supper, "the twelfth apostle nevertheless participates as an invited, if not cherished, guest in Jesus' company: a stranger but also a neighbour, an indigenous foreigner. A friend who becomes a foe, Judas stands between amity and enmity to signify how difficult it is to take to heart Jesus' injunction to `Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'" (Matt: 5:44)
This is a book that will appeal to all scholars, whether they are theologians, historians, philosophers, or scholars of English and language. Some Christians might disapprove of the interpretations and suggestions contained in the book. The reader will realise that this book is about interpretations, and more specifically, the history of the interpretation of the person of Judas. The history of Christianity is a history interpretation and exegesis.