Iscariot

A Novel of Judas

About The Book

Acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Tosca Lee brilliantly adapts the life of Judas Iscariot into a dazzling work of fiction—humanizing the man whose very name is synonymous with betrayal.

Based on extensive research into the life and times of Judas Iscariot, this triumph of fiction storytelling by the author of Havah: The Story of Eve revisits one of biblical history’s most maligned figures and brings the world he inhabited vividly to life.

In Jesus, Judas believes he has found the One—the promised Messiah and future king of the Jews, destined to overthrow Roman rule. Galvanized, he joins Nazarene’s followers, ready to enact the change he has waited for all his life. But soon Judas’s vision of a nation free from Rome is crushed by the inexplicable actions of Nazarene himself, who will not bow to social or religious convention—and seems, in the end, to even turn against his own people. At last, Judas confronts the fact that the master he loves is not the liberator he hoped for, but a man bent on a drastically different agenda.

Praised as “an absolute must-read” (New York Times bestselling author Ted Dekker), Iscariot is the story of Judas, from his tumultuous childhood to his emergence as the man who betrayed Jesus. But even more, it is a singular and surprising view into the life of Jesus that forces us to reexamine everything we thought we knew about the most famous—and infamous—religious icons in history.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Iscariot includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Tosca Lee. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Introduction

Judas Iscariot. The very name is synonymous with "betrayal." Perhaps no other person in history has been as despised as Judas, the betrayer of Jesus Christ. But few have ever bothered to wonder about Judas's background and seek to shed light on his motives...until now.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. Before reading this book, what did you know about Judas Iscariot? How did you picture him in your mind's eye? Where did you get your information about him?
 
2. Had you ever thought about what Judas might have been like as a boy and a young man? Does picturing Judas as a child have any effect on your feelings toward him?
 
3. Name some personality traits that Judas exhibited as a child in the novel. How did these traits play into his story as he grew to adulthood and affect his actions as an adult?
 
4. What drove Judas to become a perfectionist about the Law…or to believe he could never perfectly keep it?
 
5. What observations did you make about his passion to overthrow the Roman government? How did his motives differ from his contemporaries?
 
6. Why did Judas find Jesus so compelling? What motivated him to follow Jesus?
 
7. What did Judas sacrifice in order to follow Jesus?
 
8. Do you think Judas felt disappointed or let down by Jesus? If so, when and why?
 
9. According to the story, the events surrounding Judas's ultimate betrayal of Jesus did not go as planned. What had Judas expected would happen, and what actually happened?
 
10. Have you, like Judas, ever had a situation turn out wildly different from what you had originally intended? If so, describe.
 
11. Could you imagine yourself ever betraying Jesus the way Judas did? If not on purpose, then unintentionally? Why or why not?
 
12. The story opens and closes with a regret-filled Judas reflecting on his life. If he were given a cosmic do-over, do you think he would make the same choices? If so, what do you believe he might do differently?
 
13. Do you think Judas was truly repentant for his deeds at the end of his life? Why or why not?
 
14. At the end of the book Judas says, "I, who denied [Jesus] and delivered him to his enemies. I, who die with him. My name will be synonymous with 'traitor.' But he has loved his enemies. He has loved me." Do you think that this love of Jesus saved Judas from what has traditionally been thought of as his ultimate fate (eternity in hell)? Discuss.
 
15. If you could sit down face-to-face with Judas, what would you most want to say to him?
 
16. Has reading this book changed how you think about the character of Judas? If so, how?
 
17. What new questions or insights do you feel you may have about Jesus after reading the novel?
 
18. Do you think some Christians might feel threatened or unsettled by this fictional account of the life of Judas? Why or why not?

Enhance Your Book Club

  1. Read aloud some Bible passages concerning Judas, such as John 13:2, John 18:2-5, Luke 22:3-6 and 47-48, and Matthew 27:3-10. Compare these biblical accounts to the fictional story told in Iscariot.   
 
2. The name "Judas" and the term "Judas’s kiss" are synonymous with someone who betrays under the guise of friendship. Has this ever happened to you or someone you know? If so—and if you feel comfortable doing so—share the situation (omitting names as appropriate). Is it possible that the betrayer had a different outcome in mind than what actually took place? Have you ever been perceived as a betrayer, when that wasn't at all what you had in mind?   
 
3. Watch a DVD about the life of Jesus, such as The Passion of the Christ or Jesus of Nazareth, paying particular attention to the portrayal of Judas. How was he portrayed in the movie as compared to Iscariot?   
 

A Conversation with Tosca Lee 

1. What inspired you to write Iscariot?  

An editor friend suggested it to me as I was finishing Havah: The Story of Eve. I rejected the idea right away, completely daunted by the story, the research, the scope of the project. But over the course of the next six months, I'd find myself imagining and then randomly scribbling scenes from Judas's life. Finally, I conceded that the story had me.

2. In previous novels, you've written about a fallen angel (Demon) and Eve (Havah), and now Judas. Do you find yourself particularly drawn to write about biblical characters who are historically maligned? If so, why?  

I do, because we so often think of historical or biblical characters in particular in two-dimensional, cliche terms. We vilify without investigating why someone might have done what they did. Lucifer fell because he was proud. Eve wanted to be like God. Judas betrayed his friend and master because he was a traitor. But what's the rest of the story? Would we have done the same? How much of ourselves is in those characters? I find the answer to that question is always more than we'd like to admit.

3. How long did it take you to research and write Iscariot?  

2.5 years.

4. What is your research process? How do you know when to stop researching and start writing?  

I start with easy sources – National Geographic, History Channel, documentaries… I read books about the topic. I collect transcripts of lectures about the characters, the historical context, commentaries, sources contemporary to the time period where available, and comb the scriptures about them. I talk to theologians, academics, historians, academics. I start writing when I realize my outline is fully informed and any further research is procrastination on my part.

5. Were there any surprises for you in the writing of this novel? Did you uncover any startling facts or experience sudden flashes of insight?  

The violence of the historical setting. The Jewish mindset of collective salvation (from Persia, from Rome), which is so different from the Christian context two millennia later. The culture of informing in the first century. The symbolism of many events in Jesus' life (forty days in the wilderness, much like forty years in the wilderness, crossing the Jordan, etc.) The absolute unconventional, non-conservative, controversial, and sometimes dangerous person of Jesus of Nazareth.

6. How have readers responded to Iscariot?  

I am amazed at the response to this book.

7. What advice would you offer to a fledgling writer of fiction?  

Don't worry about getting published, agents, or anything like that until you have at least one finished book under your belt. Read a lot.

8. Have your years of studying and writing about biblical characters had an impact on your personal faith? If so, describe.  

I have left every project with more questions than I had going in. And I had a lot of questions going in!

9. If readers take away one primary message from Iscariot, what do you hope it will be?  

That there is always more to the story. Of anyone.

10. What other books or projects are you working on now?  

A book about the Queen of Sheba.

About The Author

Photograph © Lee Steffen

Tosca Lee is the award-winning New York Times bestselling author of The ProgenyFirstbornIscariotThe Legend of ShebaDemon: A MemoirHavah: The Story of Eve, and the Books of Mortals series with New York Times bestseller Ted Dekker. She received her BA in English and International Relations from Smith College. A lifelong adventure traveler, Tosca makes her home in the Midwest with her husband and children.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Howard Books (February 5, 2013)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451683943

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Raves and Reviews

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.”

– Ted Dekker, New York Times bestselling author

“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.”

– Eric Wilson, New York Times bestselling author

“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.”

– Dr. Joe Cathey, professor of Old Testament at Dallas Baptist University

“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.”

– Lori Twitchell, FictionAddict

“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.”

– Josh Olds, Life is Story

“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.”

– Steven James, bestselling author of Placebo

“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?”

– Jim Henderson, author Jim and Casper Go to Church and The Resignation of Eve

“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.”

– Jill Eileen Smith, bestselling author the Wives of King David series

“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.”

– Susan Meissner, award-winning author of The Shape of Mercy

“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.”

– Davis Bunn, bestselling author of Hidden in Dreams

“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!”

– Robin Caroll, author of the Justice Seekers series

“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.”

– James L. Rubart, bestselling author of Soul’s Gate

“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.”

– Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author of The King’s Deception

“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!”

– Robert Liparulo, author of The 13th Tribe, The Judgment Stone, and Comes a Horseman

“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.”

– Ken Coleman, talk radio host of The Ken Coleman Show and author of One Question

“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.”

– James Scott Bell, bestselling author of One More Lie

“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!”

– William P. Young, New York Times bestselling author of The Shack

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.”

– Nicole Baart, author of Far From Here and Sleeping in Eden

"The research and writing is impeccable and masterful."

– Publisher's Weekly

"Intelligently imagined."

– Kirkus Reviews

“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.”

– The Christian Manifesto

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

– Library Journal

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