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The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakes

The Last Temptation (original 1955; edition 2001)

by Nikos Kazantzakes

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2,203242,946 (4.02)1 / 88
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 (22)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (24)
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
The Last Temptation of Christ retells the Gospels but fills in many details that are left out. But more than that, it portrays Christ as a man who struggles with his birthright and duty of sacrificing his life vs. living the life of an ordinary man - marrying, having children and growing old. This book is often featured on banned book lists. I'm not sure if it is because the added details of Christ's life are fictitious and possibly sacrilegious or because it portrays Jesus as an ordinary man who struggles with the temptation of pleasure over duty. What I enjoyed most about this book was that struggle because it is universal. We all get that choice at some point in our life to take the difficult road because it is expected of us or we know that the sacrifice we make is for the better good. Also loved the portrayal of Jesus' mother Mary and her sorrow of losing her son for a greater cause. ( )
  jmoncton | Feb 21, 2014 |
I'll just say right away that I have only the vaguest notions of what the Bible has to say about the life of Jesus Christ. I was raised in and out of various churches, so I heard a little of this, a little of that, but nothing really stuck with me. So while I was reading this book, I spent a lot of time unsure of what was Biblically-based, what was based on some other apocryphal texts or traditions, and what came purely from Kazantzakis' imagination. This means that I have no idea what the apostles were really like, whether Jesus and Judas Iscariot were really besties, if Mary was bitter and disappointed that her son wasn't just a regular guy who was going to get married and give her grandchildren.

All I can really base my opinion on are two things: its merits as a story, and how well it achieved what Kazantzakis said he was trying to do in his prologue: "I am certain that every free man who reads this book, so filled as it is with love, will more than ever before, love Christ." As a story, it's well-told. Jesus isn't sure what's different about him at first, and he fights against taking the path that seems to be laid out for him. For a while, he's kind of like "Fun Jesus" (not in the sense of Fun Bobby from Friends), preaching love, happiness and enjoyment. But soon enough his mood becomes more somber, as he realizes what will be ultimately asked of him. At that point, he turns into way-too-serious Jesus with a side of poor-me Jesus. As a result, I liked the first half of the book a lot more than the second half.

As for Kazantzakis' certainty that everyone would finish the book and love Christ, I'm not convinced. Depicting Jesus as a regular guy who had his doubts and wanted to find a solution that didn't involve his own death makes him seem more approachable, but when he begins the process of acceptance of his fate, he turns sanctimonious. He alternates between superior patience with his apostles and impatient anger at their unwillingness to face death when push comes to shove. Related to this is something else the author wrote in his prologue - he said, "I loved my body and did not want it to perish; I loved my soul and did not want it to decay." Putting that all-too-human struggle onto Christ is supposed to make him seem more like us and us more like him, but I didn't walk away with that feeling. I guess we're supposed to think that he reconciled himself to his fate because he knew it was worth it, important, had meaning, whatever, and that's great for him, but it doesn't exactly make me feel better about death as a general concept.

Recommended for: people who don't mind their Messiahs being too human, people who have more background in Christianity than I do.

Quote: "Without man, God would have no mind on this Earth to reflect upon his creatures intelligibly and to examine, fearfully yet impudently, his wise omnipotence. He would have on this Earth no heart to pity the concerns of others and to struggle to beget virtues and cares which God either did not want, or forgot, or was afraid to fashion. He breathed upon man, however, giving him the power and audacity to continue creation." ( )
2 vote ursula | Sep 25, 2013 |
The last life-of-Christ novel I read was Saramago’s The gospel according to Jesus Christ, a powerful satire of the whole notion of religious faith. Kazantzakis is at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum, someone who has spent his life exploring every philosophical and theological idea the nineteenth and twentieth centuries could throw at him, and has come down firmly on the side of religious faith. But his view of Christ, informed by his experience of Russia after the revolution and by the ideas of Nietzsche (and presumably also by his lifelong obsession with Odysseus), is hardly the conventional one. He has come to the conclusion that the conflict between the human and the divine sides of Christ’s nature is the key, and that it is only meaningful for us if it was a real conflict, if Christ was capable of succumbing to temptation.

I found this a much harder novel to get into than Christ recrucified: it got put back on the shelf several times before I got through the first few chapters. Peter Bien, the translator, admits that he had a hard time with Kazantzakis’s language, and it may be that he doesn't always get the tone quite right in English. I think it only really grabbed me when Kazantzakis gets to the Capernaum chapters. His fishermen are presented with a wonderful mix of humanity and cynicism that brings all the anguish and dreams-and-visions into some kind of context. From then on it had me riveted, and I read the rest of the book in a couple of days. ( )
  thorold | Apr 29, 2013 |
Kazantzakis’ controversial story of Jesus Christ is humanistic in the sense that Christ is portrayed as a man, struggling with real temptations of the flesh, and dealing with real emotions. It’s also Nietzschean in the sense that Christ transcends those temptations through force of will, and in the process, achieves true freedom.

Despite those that would ban or burn the book, Kazantzakis was not trying to tear Christ down or cause controversy with the Church, he was trying to uplift Christ. It’s a spiritual story told by profound author. Kazantzakis was trying to illustrate the struggles that we all face between the flesh and the spirit, and by making Christ human, subject to all of our foibles, make him more powerful, and a source of greater strength to us.

On brotherhood:
“They are all brothers, every one of them, but they do not know it – and that is why they suffer.”

On death:
“Whoever has no fear of death is immortal.”

“The two friends have parted and returned to their homes…the flesh to the soil and the soul to God.”

On eating animals:
“Good Lord, just think what poor old God must go through also,” he said with a laugh. “He certainly got himself in hot water when he created the world. The fish screams, Don’t blind me, Lord; don’t let me enter the nets! The fisherman screams, Blind the fish, Lord; make him enter the nets! Which one is God supposed to listen to? Sometimes he listens to the fish, sometimes to the fisherman – and that’s the way the world goes round!”

On God:
“He looked down and saw a preoccupied swarm of fat yellow-black ants filing hurriedly under his arches. Working in groups of twos or threes, they were carrying away the wheat in their roomy mandibles, one grain at a time. They had stolen it from the plain, right out of the mouths of men, and were transporting it now to their anthill, all the while praising God the Great Ant, who ever solicitous for his Chosen People the ants, sent floods to the plain at precisely the right moment, just when the wheat was stacked upon the threshing floors.”

On love, I love this one:
“If I were fire, I would burn; if I were a woodcutter, I would strike. But I am a heart, and I love.”

On temptation:
“Within me are the dark immemorial forces of the Evil One, human and pre-human; within me too are the luminous forces, human and pre-human, of God – and my soul is the arena where these two armies have clashed and met.” ( )
1 vote gbill | May 27, 2012 |
One of the most bizarre books I’ve read for a long time this one. Glad I read it though it wasn’t an easy read. Especially because of the hype that surrounded both the book and the release of the film, this is worth a read. You can’t very well criticise something as blasphemous if you haven’t read it yourself can you? So, I did.

Let’s start with what I liked about it. Kazantzakis has brought to life the humanity of Christ in a way that I found deeply moving and very helpful. The book starts with Jesus having what can only be described as something of a mental breakdown. This is precipitated by years of visions and dreams of him being more than human and these are driving him insane because, as far as he’s concerned, he’s just a normal guy. Through various experiences, he comes to realise that he is in fact the Messiah, but it’s no easy road.

Now, I had never before considered that Jesus would actually not know who he was in terms of his calling. But this actually makes a lot of sense to me and helps me relate to him much more because it would mean that he relates to me much more. The essence of the book in fact is the struggle between flesh and spirit, one I feel keenly day by day.

Jesus’ mother (Joseph has been struck by an angel and is a dribbling wreck) attempts to betroth him to a girl from Magdala but, on a trip there, Jesus sees Mary Magdalene and is penetrated to the heart. She too sees him as her lover. But the match is not to be and thus begins a life-long tension between them which ultimately becomes the final temptation that Jesus faces on the cross: to give his life to save humanity or to give his life to save Mary through having a normal life with her.

The book, for the most part, follows the Biblical narrative although there’s plenty of artistic license with reinterpretations of parables and miracles. Throughout though, he is excellent at creating the scene and setting the background to each event to give you more insight into what might actually have happened. For someone like me who has been reading the Biblical accounts for decades, this is nice and refreshing. But I don’t find it helpful that he adds and reshapes the Biblical narrative in places in order to promote his ideas of universalism (i.e. everyone will finally be saved).

The book ends with the crucifixion during which what can only be described as a long chapter of magic realism takes place. Jesus has a vision of what life would be like with Mary, marrying her and having children with her. The final end is his decision as to whether he gives into this temptation.

A very influential and important book. Not easy to read necessarily but certainly for anyone with an interest in Christ, worthwhile if only to answer the critics wisely. ( )
1 vote arukiyomi | Nov 25, 2011 |
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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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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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