History has called him many things: Thief. Liar. Traitor. Reviled throughout history and infamous for his suicide, he is the man whose very name is synonymous with betrayal . . .
And the only disciple that Jesus called “friend.”
But who would take a journey through the Lenten season with Judas, of all people?
The answer: readers of New York Times bestselling author Tosca Lee's Iscariot, in which Lee dares to delve into biblical history’s most maligned character—from his tumultuous childhood to his emergence as the man known to the world as the betrayer of Jesus. But more than the story of one man, Iscariot is a view into the life of Jesus that forces readers to reexamine what they thought they knew about two of the most famous—and infamous—religious icons in history.
The study guide, “A Journey with Judas," is available to book clubs and small groups free along with daily devotionals from now until Easter at toscalee.com.
Who is Tosca Lee, and why did she choose to write a book on the Bible’s most controversial character? An interview with the award-winning author of Havah: The Story of Eve and the Books of Mortals trilogy (with Ted Dekker) follows.
Q: How did you start writing biblical fiction?
A: I kind of fell into it, actually. Around 2000, I wrote this story about a fallen angel. I did it in six weeks. And then it took nearly seven years to sell. When we were doing the deal, the editor said, “What else do you have?” I rummaged around and found one page I had done a year before of a very old Eve starting to tell her story. I don’t know why I started writing that, but I pulled it out and said, “I have this!” And they bought it. It eventually became the prologue to Havah: The Story of Eve.
Q: Why Judas? Of all people—why did you choose to write about him?
A: Several years ago, an editor—the same editor who acquired Demon and Havah—suggested a story on Judas. I’d already done a fallen angel and Eve, after all. I flatly refused. Too much research. Too much controversy. Too hard. But the idea started following me around. Finally, about a year later, I was sitting in this New York restaurant eating dinner and found myself scribbling a scene between Judas and his mother on the paper tablecloth. I knew then I was a goner. I realized I wanted to become this disciple Jesus called “friend,” wanted to slip into his skin and sit down next to this enigmatic teacher and healer that people to this day call “Messiah.” I wanted to see and experience him, for myself.
I tore the scene off, shoved it in my purse, and called my agent a few days later, hoping he would talk me out of it. He didn’t. After two years of research, with much fear and trembling, I started writing.
Q: Did you always want to be a writer?
A: Writing was never the plan, even though I’d won some contests growing up in school. Ballet was my first love—I danced with a local ballet company as a teenager and spent my summers studying dance in Kansas City and New York. But within a few years I literally outgrew ballet: I’m nearly six feet tall en pointe. After a torn groin and other injuries, I knew it just wasn’t going to happen. The summer after my freshman year in college, I decided I’d take a stab at writing a novel. I wrote it. It got rejected. It’s still in a crate down in my basement like a skeleton. I’m afraid to look at it. It’s probably got three arms and two heads.
Q: What’s the coolest thing about writing biblical/historical fiction?
A: We all know the story of Judas, of Adam and Eve—of myriad other two-dimensional characters we first met as flannel board characters in Sunday School with just the barest detail to define the morality tale of their lives. But if these were real people, then they had hopes, aspirations, influences, and motivations. There’s always more to the story. And that makes them much more like us than we might care to admit. That’s scary. Inevitably—and this happened with Iscariot, too—there comes a point about hallway through the story where I realize I’m no longer writing Judas’ story, or Eve’s… but my own.
Q: Iscariot has been recognized as a Best Christian Fiction title of 2013 by the Library Journal and has been nominated for several other awards. Why do you think Iscariot resonates with readers?
A: I think because like Judas, we are all seeking answers. We are seeking some kind of deliverance—maybe not from Roman occupation, but from a situation, or a fear, or a sickness, anything. We are looking for answers, and expecting God to intervene in certain ways. I think we all identify with trying so hard to do the right things, with having expectations for how God will act, and how, if I do this and that, God will do this and that. But it doesn’t always work out that way, and the question becomes how we will respond. I think we all can identify with that. And I think we all find ourselves completely ruined, in the best and worst of ways, by love we cannot understand.
Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?
A: I love to adventure travel—whether it’s fishing for piranha in the Amazon or trekking through the Balkans, every now and then I just have to get out of town. And I cook. There was a time when I could burn water and ruin cereal, but today I make a pretty mean quiche and haven’t managed to poison anyone in years.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: The Queen of Sheba! I figured it was time to be a girl again.
For more on Tosca and her books, including the free reading guide “A Journey with Judas," go to toscalee.com.
In addition to this Q&A, Tosca is offering a special give-away to her readers this Easter. Enter by April 19th to win on her site. www.toscalee.com