Amos Oz’s “Judas” was on the Man Booker Prize Long-List, but did not get selected for the Short List. The premise of the novel is that Judas was not a betrayer of Christ, but his most fervent believer and promoter. Judas thought a more humane Judaism would flourish if Christ was martyred. The argument is that Christ only believed he was a Jew, was not the Son of God, was not trying to create a separate religion and was reluctant to leave the countryside for the city as he was unsure of himself and of the consequences. Judas as a promoter convinced him otherwise.
“But Jesus wasn’t a Christian. He was born and died a Jew. It never crossed his mind to found a new religion. It was Paul, Saul of Tarsus, who invented Christianity. Jesus himself says explicitly, ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law’. If only the Jews had accepted him, the whole of history would be different.”
The plot that is created to promote this theme is the story of Schmuel, an innocent young man with perhaps with some Christ like characteristics, who after losing his girl friend goes to work taking care of an elderly man who questions nation-states and Israel in particular. His son was killed in the War of Independence and he lives with his rather cold daughter-in-law, who becomes a love interest for this young man and his predecessors. Her father opposed creation of the State of Israel and was considered a traitor. Schmuel composes a thesis that espouses a view that the author found in some non-fiction works: “Jesus in Jewish Eyes”; “Who Crucified Jesus?” and “Jesus in the Jewish Tradition”. While unorthodox, the author is not mining new ground.
The novel is an enjoyable read, but I was surprised to see it on the Long List. The Long List this year seemed to be dominated by established authors and those whose work might be considered experimental. One work which made the Short List, I partially reviewed because I could not continue reading it. Another, which I will review shortly, is in my opinion deservedly on the Short List.