I’ve just had the misfortune of reading about half of Taylor Caldwell’s failed experiment of a novel, I, Judas. Good thing I got it used for 99 cents. It was worth almost that much. It was quite disappointing, since I had read another of her novels not long ago, Dear and Glorious Physician, about St Luke, which I thought was rather good. That one was orthodox enough even for Ignatius Press to reprint it, so I thought I was safe in getting another of her novels. But things evidently change over time. The novel on St Luke was written in the ‘50s, and the one on Judas in the ‘70s—those strange, wide-eyed, open-minded, empty-headed, touchy-feely, drug-induced, age-of-aquarius ‘70s! One is walking on thin ice, I suppose, in writing a novel on the life of Christ from the perspective of his betrayer, but since I assumed she was an intelligent and devout Catholic, I was curious to see how she would handle it. One of the reviews I read said it was a must-read for Christians, but now I’m guessing that the reviewer was probably not a Christian. I noticed early on that she was not being faithful to the Gospel texts, but I chalked it up to literary license.
I said I read half the book, but once I decided not to read the rest, I peeked at the end to see how it would turn out. She had lost all respect for Scripture (not only at the end but throughout the book). Judas, on the whole, is a kind of tragic hero, the one who understood Jesus the best and loved Him the most (yeah, right!). He was actually present at the crucifixion, where he bravely endured the misunderstanding of the other disciples and continued to protest his innocence, while admitting that he may have acted prematurely and with some pride. If he erred, he said, it was in good faith. Somehow Barabbas, who was a member of the Zealot group to which Judas originally belonged, was the real betrayer. It ends with Judas about to hang himself, calmly, deliberately, and with hope of entering the Kingdom of God. “Let no man put his death on my head,” he declared. “In any event, I will be at peace.”
But that isn’t the worst of it. Caldwell is not the first one to present Judas as a kind of a hero. It’s what she does to Jesus that is really the great fault of the book. Her version of Jesus believed in astrology and reincarnation (and was a student of the Kabala along with the Torah), and He prophesied that in the future many would “unwisely” call him God. As the tumultuous sixties and seventies rolled around, she evidently lost her faith. When Jesus talks about being “born again,” this refers not to faith and baptism but to reincarnation. When commenting on his choice of twelve for his apostles, Jesus remarks: “Theoretically, you represent the twelve tribes, and the twelve types represented in astrology by the zodiac.” There’s also a hint of some moral ambiguity, in that the apostle John was young, even barely pubescent (“beardless”), somewhat effeminate, and Jesus’ “favorite.”
I finally “got it” when I read the “About the Authors” note in the back (she collaborated with Jess Stearn): “Her association with Jess Stearn goes back almost twenty years, when they were brought together because of their mutual interest in the psychic world. Together, they have written Search for a Soul, The Psychic Lives of Taylor Caldwell; Romance of Atlantis; and now, I, Judas. Jess Stearn has been something of a pioneer in the nonfiction field, treating with frankness the once-taboo subjects of homosexuality (The Sixth Man), and drugs (The Seekers). His book on yoga (Yoga, Youth and Reincarnation) helped to start a vogue in this country.”
So they were pioneers of the spiritual and moral decadence in America. That’s what they had to bring to the judgment seat of God. It’s quite sad, since she seemed to start out rather well. I wonder what it is that leads people to abandon the true Christian revelation and try to mix it with other religions, philosophies, or spiritual fads. Perhaps it is their own pride, along with temptations of the devil, or simply the desire to be innovative, daring, at the cutting edge of new trends in an “evolving” society. Frankly, I don’t see the point of it, unless it is just a crass attempt to gain fame and fortune. If you don’t like the Bible, then find something else. Don’t try to reinterpret it out of existence, creating a Jesus more to your own liking and to the trendy fashions of the day.
But this is what the new-age movement is all about. It’s a spiritual buffet, and you can take or leave what you wish; you can make things mean what you wish; you can mix and match religious traditions as you wish—as long as it feels right to you! Of course Jesus meant reincarnation, because that’s what we mean! Of course He was a Kabalist, because that’s what we’re into! Of course He referred things to the zodiac, because that’s what we do!
The advertisement for I, Judas says that it contains “spellbinding revelations,” but I found it only to be hackneyed new-age propaganda. Perhaps by betraying the Christian tradition the real Judas is Caldwell herself, and she may have been aware of that at some level. Maybe that’s why she made him a hero.