The fascination of reading the Booker International shortlist is the experience of entertaining alternate ideas, dissimilar cultures. That Amos Oz names his book in Hebrew The Gospel of Judas rather than the simple Judas of the English translation speaks on several levels. Oz would have us believe that his decision came out of his understanding of the ordinary nature of the name of Judas, a name wrenched from meaning by the same overuse of John Smith on the English-speaking tongue.
Toward the end of the novel, an intertextual chapter documents a theory of Judas that has evolved from Shmuel’s study. In this portrayal, Judas is alone in his understanding and love for Jesus. He urges Jesus to go to the Jerusalem that the man resists, and he orchestrates motive and function of the crucifixion despite the lack of interest on the part of religious and political authorities. Judas is so certain of the divinity of Jesus that he believes that the occasion of the crucifixion will be the occasion of a grand political coup. He wholeheartedly believes that another miracle is in the offing, that Jesus will heal his own cross wounds, break the timbers as though they were little more than kindling for an evening fire. Betrayal came not in the denial of Judas but in the denial of political promise. Judas hanged himself in grief that he murdered the man he loved. Reality betrayed Judas.
This prescient chapter, while it seemed to disrupt the narrative flow, nevertheless provided
context for the reader to understand the coalescing of the major threads of the novel: loss of a former lover, family reversal of fortunes and subsequent loss off student tuition, isolation with an old man whose writing has no readers, the ghost of a leader of the unrealized two state theory of political settlement, the patronization of the 40-ish matron Atalia. Life has betrayed Shmuel. His only hope is to pack his kit bag and flee the house of shadows with its seductive death masks. He alone can take the rope from around his neck.