17 Feb On Writing Iscariot
From the Author’s Note in Iscariot: A Novel of Judas
I ran away from this story for about a year before casually mentioning even the possibility of it to author friends and my agent. I did it with the full expectation and slight hope they would talk me out of it. They didn’t. A year later, I finally admitted it had sprouted in my writer’s brain and rooted in my heart. It scared me. It fascinated me.
Over the next two years, Iscariot became an intellectual and spiritual quest to discover the life of Judas based on the belief that we all err in ways that make sense to us. That we do not set out to commit the heinous. As I wrote in the note for Havah, there is more—there must be more—than the two-dimensional account. There always is.
After returning from Israel, I sat down to a library of more than 100 books, documentaries, lectures, commentaries, sermons and collected articles. I was fascinated by the context of Jesus—the Roman occupation and oppression, the deep groan for national freedom. For salvation. I was intrigued with the increasing vilification of Judas through the progression of the gospels, the question of the Greek word most often translated as “betray.” I was caught up in the richness of Jesus’ parables, the historical events in the scriptural account—in my own need to be accurate, whatever that is, as I chased vision through the lens of history and myriad layers of doctrine.
My first draft of this story was twice the length of the final book. But somewhere in those pages filled with intricate detail to delight the history and theology-minded alike, I lost sight of the most important thing: the heart of the story.
I thought back to my last days in Israel. I had stood on the shores of Galilee’s lake, sat on the wall of Capernaum’s synagogue, viewed the theater of history. But as I entered Jerusalem, I was despondent. Walking toward the Dome of the Rock, I realized I had not experienced one moment of mystery. Coming up the steps toward the mosque, I stopped to give an old beggar woman a few shekels. The moment I did, she grabbed my hand in both of hers and I nearly fell to my knees. Here was God. And I knew without a doubt I had traveled all the way to Israel just to hold her hand.
I threw out three theses’ worth of historical detail and returned to mystery. One of these days I may make some of those portions available, but for now here is the heart… a story of divine and human love—a story of you and me.