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The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakes

The Last Temptation (original 1955; edition 2001)

by Nikos Kazantzakes

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2,320292,722 (4)1 / 93
Title:The Last Temptation
Authors:Nikos Kazantzakes
Info:Faber and Faber (2001), Paperback, 520 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, unread

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The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis (1955)


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English (27)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (29)
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Jesus of Nazareth is a carpenter in the Roman-occupied Judea. He is torn between himself as a man and his knowledge that God has a plan for him. His conflict results in self loathing, and he collaborates to construct crosses Romans used to crucify Jewish revolutionaries, an act that brands him a traitor in the eyes of his fellow Israelites.

Judas Iscariot belongs to a nationalistic splinter faction which wishes to revolt against Roman rule (see Sicarii or Zealotry). He is sent with orders to kill Jesus for being a collaborator. Judas suspects Jesus is the Messiah, and asks Jesus to lead a revolution against the Romans. Jesus tries to tell Judas that his message is love, that love of mankind is the highest virtue that God wants. Judas joins Jesus in his ministry, but Judas tells Jesus that he will kill him if he strays from revolution.

Jesus also has an undisclosed history with Mary Magdalene, a Jewish prostitute. Mary asks Jesus to stay with her, which Jesus seriously considers before leaving for a monastic community. Jesus later saves Mary from an angry mob which has come to stone her for her prostitution and working on the sabbath. Jesus persuades the crowd to spare her life—instructing "he who is without sin [to] cast the first stone"—and instead preaches to them using many of the parables from the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus develops a following of disciples, but throughout this time he is still uncertain of his role and his status as Messiah. He travels with his disciples to see John the Baptist, who has heard of Jesus' reputation. John baptizes Jesus, and that night the two discuss their differing theologies. John believes that one must first gain freedom from the Romans before the world of God is declared, while Jesus believes that love is more important. Jesus then goes off into the desert to see if God really speaks to him.

While in the desert Jesus is tempted three times by Satan. Jesus resists all these temptations and instead has a vision of himself with an ax chopping down an apple tree. He appears as a vision to his waiting disciples where he rips out his heart and tells them to follow him. With newfound courage as the Messiah he proceeds to perform many signs and wonders: giving vision to a blind man, turning water into wine, and raising Lazarus from the dead.

Eventually his ministry reaches Jerusalem where he is enraged by the money changers in the temple and throws them out. The angry Jesus even leads a small army to try and take the temple by force. But instead he halts on the steps and begins bleeding from the hands. He realizes that violence is not the right path, and that he must die in order to bring salvation to mankind. Confiding in Judas he asks his best friend and strongest apostle to turn him in to the palace guards, something that Judas does not want to do. But Jesus implores that this is the only way. A crying Judas acquiesces.

Jesus joins his disciples for the Passover seder—the Last Supper. After the meal, while in the garden of Gethsemane, Judas leads the palace guards to take Jesus away. Pontius Pilate tells Jesus that he must be put to death because he represents a threat against the status quo, the Roman Empire. Jesus is flogged and a crown of thorns is placed on his head. He is led to Golgotha, where he is crucified.

While on the cross, Jesus sees and talks to a young girl who appears to be an angel. She tells him that he is not the son of God, not the Messiah, but that God loves him, is pleased with him, and wants him to be happy. She brings him down off the cross and leads him away.

She takes him to be with Mary, and the newly married couple make love. The couple has a child and lives an idyllic life in what looks to be a Northern European forest. Mary unexpectedly dies, and the sobbing Jesus is told by his angel that all women are "Mary", and thus he is betrothed to Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus. He starts a family with them and lives his life in peace. When he encounters the apostle Paul preaching about the Messiah—that is, about Jesus he tries to tell Paul that he is the man that Paul has been preaching about. Paul (who in this film has slain the resurrected Lazarus in his earlier life as Saul) rejects him, saying that he far prefers a Jesus who died and was resurrected.

Near the end of his life, Jesus' former disciples visit him on his deathbed. Judas comes last and calls Jesus a traitor. It is revealed that the angel is in fact Satan, who has been tempting him into this life of comfort as a mortal man. Jesus realizes that he must die to bring salvation to mankind. Crawling back through the burning city of Jerusalem during the Jewish Rebellion, he reaches the site of his crucifixion and begs God to let him fulfill his purpose and to "let [him] be [God's] son."

Jesus is instantly back on the cross. He cries out as he dies, "It is accomplished! It is accomplished."
  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
This is the book to read if you want to really understand the Passion. By challenging traditional thinking, it leads to a deeper understanding of the meaning of the Passion. ( )
  M_Clark | Feb 28, 2016 |
Obviously, the novel re-tells the life of Christ. I doubt anyone doesn't remember the controversy that surrounded the movie, and apparently there was controversy at the book's publishing, too - to the extent that at his death, a Greek Archbishop wouldn't let his body 'lie in state' in his church. However, it's my impression that nothing in the book was intended to be blasphemous. The afterword makes the point that in his own life, Kazantzakis was much concerned with the struggle between earthly and spiritual matters, and he shows Christ as a man, divinely inspired, yet beset by doubts and fears, in order to, in his own words, "offer a supreme model to the man who struggles," and, through an understanding of that struggle, to "love Christ more."

Does it work, in that respect? Possibly not.
For one thing, I think when Kazantzakis says "man who struggles," that 'man' is not insignificant. Women are portrayed in this book largely as symbols - either of temptation, or of the 'earthly' way of life - hearth and children. It's said repeatedly that women do not yearn after eternity, they live in the moment; that their 'eternity' is here on earth. In order to achieve spiritual greatness, Jesus must reject women - not only as objects of lust or love, but as mother, family, and all earthly comfort.

Hmmph. Anything that portrays women as symbols rather than individuals is somewhat annoying to me.
And I've just never really bought into the idea that spiritual growth is attained by physical denial or renunciation.
So my personal problem with the ideas in the book starts there - but they're really issues I have with Chrisitanity in general, not with the book, specifically.

Interestingly, throughout the book, it's shown pretty frequently that people around Jesus seem pretty rational. Epileptic-type fits and Revelations-style 'visions' are seen as a sign of mental illness, as is his insistence on denying his mother. The wisdom of abandoning family, career and responsibilities to become an impoverished itinerant preacher is questioned - many characters state that the Way of God, or the right thing to do, is to marry and raise a family well.

I guess this weird conflict is still seen in Christianity today, when followers are encouraged to marry and have children, but priests and nuns are required to be celibate.

But the most unusual thing about this portrayal of Christ is his initial directionlessness. At first he is even unsure if his 'divine' inspiration comes from God or Satan. He is afraid to speak publicly. When he first becomes a public speaker, his message is all about love and pacifism. Later, after meeting John the Baptist, he becomes more revolutionary (but not without much inner conflict). And when he decides that becoming martyred is the right thing to do, it seems a sudden change of direction, not something that was in the plan all along.

Again, according to the afterword, this model for Jesus' personal development seems to mirror Kazantzakis', who changed tacks in his search for personal enlightenment many times in his life, exploring monasticism, Buddhism, Marxism and more during his life before writing this novel.

As a novel, it works pretty well. It's in translation (from demotic, or 'low' Greek), so it's hard to make judgements about the writing style. The 'flow' is sometimes made awkward, I felt, by the necessity of 'getting in' various parables or Biblical incidents, and there are occasional bits that I felt were probably historically inaccurate (would a peasant of Jesus' time have cursed 'Damn you to hell," for instance?) - but the characters of Jesus and his apostles were brought vividly and originally to life - his violent, zealous and brawny red-bearded Judas isn't someone I'll forget soon, nor is quiet, ink-stained Matthew, taking poetic liberties while writing down the life of Jesus (interesting stuff there, about the difference between literal truth and spiritual truth.)
Oh, and I won't be forgetting Lazarus-as-rotting-zombie, either!!! ohmy.gif

Overall, this is a book I'm glad I've read, even if I didn't agree with a lot of its message, and it certainly didn't change my spiritual views. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
I read this before Scorsese made his movie. I think he did a good job but I like the novel better. ( )
  joeydag | Jul 23, 2015 |
A powerful and intense novel which explores profound themes concerning the dual nature of human experience in general and the humanity of Christ in particular. A brief outline does not do justice to this challenging work. It shall live with me for some time. ( )
  elyreader | Jul 17, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (22 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nikos Kazantzakisprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bien, P. A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bien, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bien, Peter A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kossin, SanfordCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A cool heavenly breeze took possession of him.
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Book description
Hailed as a masterpiece by critics worldwide, "The Last Temptation of Christ" is a monumental reinterpretation of the Gospels by one of the giants of modern literature. Nikos Kazantzakis, renowned author of "Zorba the Greek, " brilliantly fleshes out the story of Christ's Passion, giving it a dynamic spiritual freshness. Kazantzakis's Jesus is gloriously divine, yet earthy and human, as he travels among peasants and is tempted by their comfortable life. Provocatively illuminating ever dimension of the Gospels, "The Last Temptation of Christ" is an exhilarating modern classic.
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Now a major motion picture, The Last Temptation of Christ is a monumental fictional reinterpretation of the Gospels by one of the giants of modern literature.

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