Murder, religion and deceit are coming to the Yale Divinity School.
“The Judas Conspiracy,” a new novel by Leslie Williams DIV ’11, takes place in Great Britain and at the Yale Divinity School. The novel, which will be released Dec. 1, centers on the search for a complete manuscript of the real, much-debated Gospel of Judas, which says that Jesus had commanded his disciple Judas to turn him over to the Romans and runs counter to the traditional story that Judas betrayed Jesus. The book has strong connections to Yale and New Haven: Its two protagonists are a New Haven police officer and the nephew of the dean of the Divinity School, who join forces to track down the Gospel of Judas before a murderous secret brotherhood finds it.
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“I’ve always been interested in writing thrillers,” said Williams, 73. “[I thought] this would be something different and fun.”
The novel, set in 2008, follows the re-emergence of the complete Gospel of Judas in New England, at the Divinity School. Members of an ancient secret society called the Sethian Brotherhood try to regain the manuscript of the Gospel of Judas, which they owned for over a thousand years before losing it to Henry VIII in 1539. The Gospel of Judas is set to be donated to the Divinity School by a fictional dean, but is lost again before the dean can formally turn it over to his school. While the protagonists try to find the brotherhood, its members commit multiple murders and concoct a plan to blow up a national monument, whose identity Williams asked to keep secret before the book’s release.
Williams, a novelist and nonfiction writer, said she was inspired to set the story at Yale after spending 2004 and 2007 at the Divinity School as a visiting scholar and enrolling in the one-year master of sacred theology degree program at the school this year. Long before studying at Yale, Williams spent part of her childhood in New Haven while her father attended graduate school at Yale.
Five students interviewed said they had not yet heard about the book from Williams or their other peers at the Divinity School, but two of the five said they would be interested in the book based on the fact that it is set at their school.
“It sounds interesting,” said Helen Davies DIV ’12. “The Divinity School is a unique community which attempts to combine ecumenism with intellectual rigor. I’m interested to see how a novel set in this environment would deal with the tension this creates.”
Williams — a grandmother of five, former model and Senior Olympics gold medalist — holds a doctorate in English and still teaches two online English courses at Midland College in Midland, Tex. She has published several books on religious themes in the past. But all of these were published by mainstream Christian publishing houses, she said, whereas “The Judas Conspiracy” will be published by JoSara MeDia, a small press in Tomball, Tex., owned by husband-and-wife team Audrey and Larry Ketchersid.
Publisher Larry Ketchersid said that Williams’ book, which manages to combine detective and historical fiction with romance and theology, is “a very diverse read.”
The Yale Divinity School Bookstore will host a launch party for the novel Dec. 2.
Williams’ next book will be a scholarly work titled “Christian Themes in Literature.”