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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A secular humanist take on the Gospels, 11 Mar. 2008
This review is from: My Name Was Judas (Paperback)
This take on Judas Iscariot (here Judas of Kerayot) begins intriguingly with him now calling himself Idas of Sidon, now aged seventy and being a follower of Greek rationalist thought. He tells us of the friendship between him and Jesus from the time when they were six or seven years old. Stead is wonderfully inventive and utterly credible about their childhood together and about what they experienced of the Roman occupation of their land. After their adolescence, Judas lost touch for a few years with Jesus, who had gone to study with the Essenes at Qumran. The forty days he spent in the wilderness were part of the apprenticeship the Essenes imposed on a candidate who wanted to become a full member of the community: he met the test but refused to join, having found in the wilderness his mission to preach to the world. When he returns to Nazareth, Judas, grief-stricken by the loss of his young wife and solaced by Jesus, follows him - and from that point onwards we compare this Judas' account with the one given in the Gospels. For a while, as Jesus works as a healer, it beautifully embroiders on the Gospel story. Those he healed included Lazarus, whose cure was described metaphorically as being raised from the dead. Other `miracles' recounted in the Gospels, like walking on water, are also the result of metaphors being transformed in the telling into literal events.

Gradually Judas' account diverges increasingly from that of the Gospels, in fact, feeling and interpretation. Jesus is shown as positively hostile to his mother, whose mere presence is enough to turn him from preaching peace and harmony to saying that he brought not only peace but the sword. Mary Magdalen is conflated with the unnamed sinner who washed Jesus' feet. Quarrels and competition between the disciples became part of their daily lives, and Judas was especially resented because he showed that he did not surrender so entirely to Jesus' charisma. His rational mind did not much care for Jesus' parables. The other disciples already regarded as a betrayal his lack of total belief in the claims Jesus was now making. Judas feels increasingly uneasy at Jesus' increasing militancy, at his threats that fire and brimstone would consume unbelievers, at his insistence that salvation could come only through him. Judas began to worry about Jesus' sanity, and, with the terrible example of the death of John the Baptist before him, he was worried about the danger to which Jesus was exposing himself and his followers.

In Judas' account of the Last Supper, there is no reference to Jesus pronouncing that one of the disciples would betray him; and in the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane there is nothing that could suggest that Judas could have betrayed Jesus to the Romans.

And there is an ingenious explanation for the empty tomb.

Judas was present at the foot of the Cross. It was the disciples who fled who invented the various stories of Judas' guilt and disgusting end. The Judas who lived to hear the news of the destruction of the Temple by the Romans mourns for Jerusalem and for the Jewish people; but if ever he had any faith in God, he has long since lost it. He does not, however, need God to believe in the compassionate and humanistic teaching that Jesus preached at the beginning of his mission, before he preached hellfire and came to believe in himself as the Son of God. A secular humanist will certainly find this beautifully written story about Jesus and Judas more acceptable and more credible than the Gospels.
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