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Jennifer Piurek
University Communications

Last modified: Monday, April 13, 2009

Award-winning author, Distinguished Professor Susan Gubar publishes book on Judas

April 13, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- In her new book, Judas: A Biography, Indiana University Distinguished Professor of English Susan Gubar delves into how Judas became a symbol of the Jewish people.

In the book, Gubar analyzes how Judas personifies a composite Judeo-Christianity that illuminates ambivalent relationships between Christians and Jews -- as well as changing attitudes toward the body, blood and money; greed and hypocrisy; suicide and repentance; and homosexuality and divinity.

Gubar image

Susan Gubar

A pioneering feminist and culture critic, Gubar is the author of the books Poetry After Auschwitz and Rooms of Our Own, and she is co-editor of The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women.

In the April 12 New York Times Sunday Book Review, Judas: A Biography was named to the Editors' Choice list.

"Each new book by Susan Gubar is a sort of literary event in its own right," said George Hutchinson, the Booth Tarkington Professor of Literary Studies and chair of the Department of English at IU. "This one certainly marks a new departure in her long list of accomplishments, but the others were new departures, as well. Her work is exemplary of the scholarly imagination at work on big issues that have shaped and been shaped by writers and artists in the western world."

Gubar said she was inspired to write the book while she was doing research for another book (Poetry After Auschwitz). "I encountered the view that Christian anti-Semitism generated the genocide in Germany," Gubar said. "Some Jewish studies scholars view Judas as nothing but the epitome of Christian anti-Semitism. Yet when I looked at Christian-authored scholarship and theology about Judas, the Twelfth Apostle was credited with facilitating the crucifixion but also the resurrection.

"There was much disagreement about who Judas was, what he did, why, and with what results," Gubar continued. "That enigma drew me to study the history of Judas from the four Gospel accounts in the New Testament through medieval legend, Renaissance painting, 19th-century poetry, and 20th-century fiction and film." Gubar's research and writing for her biography of Judas were supported in part by a New Frontiers in Arts and Humanities grant from IU's Office of the Vice Provost for Research.

Judas: A Biography

Among other suprises during her research, she found that the four authors of the Gospels disagree about Judas' character and fate. While Matthew describes his repentance and suicide, Luke believes he was possessed by Satan and died by bursting open with his bowels gushing out. Although Mark, Matthew and Luke mention a kiss of betrayal, John's Judas does not kiss Jesus at all, she found.

"I also found it surprising that the medieval pariah-Judas, who is faulted for every conceivable anal and oral crime, morphs in Renaissance paintings into Jesus' kindred spirit and soul mate. These contradictory portraits of Judas continue up to the present day," she said.

While part of Gubar's wish in writing the book is to help people of all religious backgrounds to understand how anti-Semitic stereotypes fuel violence against innocent people, she also believes that when we keep in mind that all of the players in the Passion are Jewish, Judas reflects humanity's concern with wrongdoing.

"Through Judas we understand our propensity for wrong-doing, vacillation and betrayal as well as our wish to disavow that capacity. Judas reflects humanity's disgust and self-disgust, our grief and nausea about our capacity for inflicting pain."

Gubar hopes that the book reaches a wide audience of "Jews as well as Christians, believers and non-believers, and especially those interested in the ways in which great paintings and great literary texts change our ideas about Judeo-Christianity. Indeed, Judas -- the only apostle to work with Jesus as well as with the Temple -- can be viewed as a figure of the hyphen that appears in the term 'Judeo-Christianity,'" she said.

"Judas is making a splash," said Hutchinson. "On the day the book was issued, I went to the bookstore to buy a copy and they were already sold out."

To read a New York Times Sunday Book Review of Judas: A Biography, see