Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Iscariot includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Tosca Lee. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Judas Iscariot. The very name is synonymous with "betrayal." Perhaps no other person in history has been as despised as Judas, the betrayer of Jesus Christ. But few have ever bothered to wonder about Judas's background and seek to shed light on his motives...until now.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Before reading this book, what did you know about Judas Iscariot? How did you picture him in your mind's eye? Where did you get your information about him?
2. Had you ever thought about what Judas might have been like as a boy and a young man? Does picturing Judas as a child have any effect on your feelings toward him?
3. Name some personality traits that Judas exhibited as a child in the novel. How did these traits play into his story as he grew to adulthood and affect his actions as an adult?
4. What drove Judas to become a perfectionist about the Law…or to believe he could never perfectly keep it?
5. What observations did you make about his passion to overthrow the Roman government? How did his motives differ from his contemporaries?
6. Why did Judas find Jesus so compelling? What motivated him to follow Jesus?
7. What did Judas sacrifice in order to follow Jesus?
8. Do you think Judas felt disappointed or let down by Jesus? If so, when and why?
9. According to the story, the events surrounding Judas's ultimate betrayal of Jesus did not go as planned. What had Judas expected would happen, and what actually happened?
10. Have you, like Judas, ever had a situation turn out wildly different from what you had originally intended? If so, describe.
11. Could you imagine yourself ever betraying Jesus the way Judas did? If not on purpose, then unintentionally? Why or why not?
12. The story opens and closes with a regret-filled Judas reflecting on his life. If he were given a cosmic do-over, do you think he would make the same choices? If so, what do you believe he might do differently?
13. Do you think Judas was truly repentant for his deeds at the end of his life? Why or why not?
14. At the end of the book Judas says, "I, who denied [Jesus] and delivered him to his enemies. I, who die with him. My name will be synonymous with 'traitor.' But he has loved his enemies. He has loved me." Do you think that this love of Jesus saved Judas from what has traditionally been thought of as his ultimate fate (eternity in hell)? Discuss.
15. If you could sit down face-to-face with Judas, what would you most want to say to him?
16. Has reading this book changed how you think about the character of Judas? If so, how?
17. What new questions or insights do you feel you may have about Jesus after reading the novel?
18. Do you think some Christians might feel threatened or unsettled by this fictional account of the life of Judas? Why or why not?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Read aloud some Bible passages concerning Judas, such as John 13:2, John 18:2-5, Luke 22:3-6 and 47-48, and Matthew 27:3-10. Compare these biblical accounts to the fictional story told in Iscariot.
2. The name "Judas" and the term "Judas’s kiss" are synonymous with someone who betrays under the guise of friendship. Has this ever happened to you or someone you know? If so—and if you feel comfortable doing so—share the situation (omitting names as appropriate). Is it possible that the betrayer had a different outcome in mind than what actually took place? Have you ever been perceived as a betrayer, when that wasn't at all what you had in mind?
3. Watch a DVD about the life of Jesus, such as The Passion of the Christ or Jesus of Nazareth, paying particular attention to the portrayal of Judas. How was he portrayed in the movie as compared to Iscariot?
A Conversation with Tosca Lee
1. What inspired you to write Iscariot?
An editor friend suggested it to me as I was finishing Havah: The Story of Eve. I rejected the idea right away, completely daunted by the story, the research, the scope of the project. But over the course of the next six months, I'd find myself imagining and then randomly scribbling scenes from Judas's life. Finally, I conceded that the story had me.
2. In previous novels, you've written about a fallen angel (Demon) and Eve (Havah), and now Judas. Do you find yourself particularly drawn to write about biblical characters who are historically maligned? If so, why?
I do, because we so often think of historical or biblical characters in particular in two-dimensional, cliche terms. We vilify without investigating why someone might have done what they did. Lucifer fell because he was proud. Eve wanted to be like God. Judas betrayed his friend and master because he was a traitor. But what's the rest of the story? Would we have done the same? How much of ourselves is in those characters? I find the answer to that question is always more than we'd like to admit.
3. How long did it take you to research and write Iscariot?
4. What is your research process? How do you know when to stop researching and start writing?
I start with easy sources – National Geographic, History Channel, documentaries… I read books about the topic. I collect transcripts of lectures about the characters, the historical context, commentaries, sources contemporary to the time period where available, and comb the scriptures about them. I talk to theologians, academics, historians, academics. I start writing when I realize my outline is fully informed and any further research is procrastination on my part.
5. Were there any surprises for you in the writing of this novel? Did you uncover any startling facts or experience sudden flashes of insight?
The violence of the historical setting. The Jewish mindset of collective salvation (from Persia, from Rome), which is so different from the Christian context two millennia later. The culture of informing in the first century. The symbolism of many events in Jesus' life (forty days in the wilderness, much like forty years in the wilderness, crossing the Jordan, etc.) The absolute unconventional, non-conservative, controversial, and sometimes dangerous person of Jesus of Nazareth.
6. How have readers responded to Iscariot?
I am amazed at the response to this book.
7. What advice would you offer to a fledgling writer of fiction?
Don't worry about getting published, agents, or anything like that until you have at least one finished book under your belt. Read a lot.
8. Have your years of studying and writing about biblical characters had an impact on your personal faith? If so, describe.
I have left every project with more questions than I had going in. And I had a lot of questions going in!
9. If readers take away one primary message from Iscariot, what do you hope it will be?
That there is always more to the story. Of anyone.
10. What other books or projects are you working on now?
A book about the Queen of Sheba.