I have never made it a secret that I have a great deal of empathy for this haunted apostle who was either the biggest traitor of all time or possibly a key figure in God’s overall plan, but I usually avoid reading a lot of books about him. My reason for this is simple…You can lay out every conspiracy theory out there, find a bunch of ancient writings, but in the end, we’ll still never know the truth.
This book was a little different though. Instead of offering up DaVinci Code level thoughts on the subject of Judas Iscariot, it instead offers up a history of how Judas has been portrayed in history, art and popular cultural. Stanford gives us a WONDERFUL look at this individual, what we know, what we don’t and the conclusions that have been drawn over time.
Although I chose this book because it didn’t purport to be a “be all and end all” account of Judas, I actually learned something. Stanford said commented that if you start looking at Judas based on the accounts of the gospels, you are starting from the wrong place. In actuality, the first writings that mention the events surrounding Jesus’ arrest are Paul’s letters, so that is where you have to begin and Paul never actually names names. Only the gospel writers do, but the story grows as the books are written. Though all four gospel writers name the same person as Jesus’ betrayer, who is he? Where did he come from? What was his function in the movement? Why does he get the equivalent of a last name? These are the questions that can’t be answered, yet historians, writers and artists have been willing to fill in the gaps which form our overall opinion of this guy and what ultimately happened to him.
When it comes to a religious history book, I think Stanford hit the nail on the head with this one by simply reporting the facts without offering extraneous opinions. You will learn that Judas’ reputation has evolved and changed with the times, is based somewhat on non-sacred writings such as The Divine Comedy and includes some of the most recent references to Judas in pop culture such as Lady Gaga’s single, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Last Temptation of Christ.
I highly recommend this book not for what it doesn’t say, but what it does. This was incredibly well written, non-exploitive and I look forward to reading more of Stanford’s work in the future. Buy it or Borrow It.
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