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The Last Temptation of Christ (1955)

by Nikos Kazantzakis

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,771373,913 (4.01)1 / 109
Kazantzakis's classic novel, blacklisted by the Vatican, filmed by Scorsese, has been labelled heretical, blasphemous, and also a masterpiece. His Christ is an epic conception, wholly original. 'When Kazantzakis describes the raising of Lazarus, the early life of Mary Magdalene, the domestic lives of Martha and Mary, it is as if an old box of lantern slides had suddenly become a moving picture. The author has achieved a new and moving interpretation of a truly human Christ.' Times Literary Supplement… (more)
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English (34)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (37)
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
This book outraged religious sensibilities when it appeared more than a half-century ago, as did the Martin Scorsese film based on it. One of the most sensational aspects was its portrayal of Judas as the only disciple who knew in advance what the carpenter's son planned. Indeed, Jesus encouraged him to perform the crucial role in carrying it out. Yet this possibility was implicit in the gospel narratives, as borne out by the publication a few years ago of the second-century Gospel of Judas.
More shocking was depicting Jesus coming down from the cross and enjoying the delights of conjugal love with the sisters Mary and Martha, numerous offspring, and a long life of satisfying labor in Bethany. Dan Brown has done his bit to diminish the shock factor of that supposition.
But even without these writings, ancient and modern, the outrage was misplaced, based as it was on mistaking this book's genre. In the first place, it's a novel, not a work of history or theology. Further, it doesn't fit the genre of historical fiction. If that were its intention, one would toss it aside, not out of shock at its allegations, but for its careless disregard of geography and history.
Instead, this book reconfigures names, places, and events known from the New Testament to weave a story that bears resemblance in its rough contours to the gospel accounts but differs from it in significant ways. This difference is not limited to the details that offended the pious. More tellingly, it presents a Jesus who assumes a strict opposition between body and soul, making him more ancient Greek than ancient Jew. And his assumptions about heart and mind are those of our time, not his.
Jesus struggles with these dichotomies, torn by his yearning for an ascetic life crowned by crucifixion and his love of the earth—not so much its people, but its soil, its elemental, vegetative power. He is wracked by uncertainty; which of these two absolute extremes is the path to God?
I'm referring to this figure for simplicity as Jesus, but I enjoyed the skill with which Kazantzakis avoided this name until the climactic final chapters, referring to him instead by a series of appellations: son of Mary, the carpenter's son, the son of man, the son of God. It seemed to me a tacit hint that this figure was the author's invention (much as Paul of Tarsus, when he finally meets the man who didn't really die on the cross, insists he'll tell the story his way nonetheless).
Because of this, rather than toss the book aside for its "inaccuracies," I settled down to enjoy it, much as I enjoyed Python's Brian. And it is an enjoyable tale, well-told. The opening paragraphs of each chapter could stand alone as prose poems. The prose, luminous even in translation, is full of striking observations and a love of the sinews and odors of life.
And yet … The novel closes with a Jesus dying on the cross, content because he has overcome the last temptation. Yet, did he really? After swooning as he's affixed to the cross, he fails to recognize the tempter and willingly, joyfully succumbs to the delights against which he's been struggling throughout his life. A long, satisfying lifetime passes in a few hours, then he regains consciousness to find himself on the cross after all. So in a sense, he has it both ways. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
This book (translation) is about two thirds awesome with a middle that is either contradictory or requires an awareness of (Greek Orthodox?) Catholicism that is well above my head.

Based on the beginning and much of the end, I'd much rather take this book as a relevant gospel than the source materials. Jesus is a much more relatable character as someone who struggles with his destiny (which is very much what the author wanted to explore.)

It's once Jesus accepts his destiny that the book starts to get weird. There's a lot of mood whiplash between Jesus speaking violently and Jesus speaking of love. In the earlier moments Jesus subverts a lot of God's angry tone, but throughout the middle both are happening simultaneously, seemingly contradicting each other. This is to me where the book really shows its seams. I don't really understand or relate to Jesus in the middle, rather than being someone who fears for and struggles to comprehend his nature and fate, he does one thing and says another, with little justification.

The end becomes interesting again, but can't recover from that fatal flaw. The concept is amazing, and the idea of Jesus dreaming of a normal life during his Crucifixion is really compelling, but given how he seems to have eagerly accepted his role beforehand, it no longer makes sense. His feelings towards Magdalene, Mary, Martha and his Mother are unexplored, especially the death of the former and easy replacement with other wives, all evidently by God's hand.
His renunciation of the last temptation seems mostly from being guilt tripped by his disciple buddies having been screwed over, not by any higher ideals or motives.
It's possible there is a concept of Jesus I don't understand, being a post-Vatican II baby and not particularly devout or scholarly. The motivations of God and Jesus in the middle don't make any sense to me, despite the intention of the author.

--
Other things: I love the writing style, and the way the author paints the episodes and the people. The characters are engaging and very relatable. I enjoy the seeming fan-fiction nature of bit characters showing up in relation to others, and parables being hinted at in random asides.

I don't get why the author seems to pick on Thomas and Simon Peter; his use of Judas Iscariot is incredibly daring, but dare I say the inversion of usual respect granted to the disciples seems mostly a 'darker and edgier' device from my vantage-point.

--

All in all, I thought this book did a good job of connecting me to Jesus and his times, but the actions of God and a divine Jesus still were incredible unrelatable and cut through an otherwise compelling portrait like swiss cheese. ( )
  NaleagDeco | Dec 13, 2020 |
Εξ-αιρετικό!
Ίσως το καλύτερο fanfiction της Καινής Διαθήκης ( )
  NickosX | Sep 18, 2020 |
Interesting, readable and engaging as long as you don't mind how much god there is overflowing each page. In the forward Kazantzakis seemed sincere about his love for christ and christianity, which was interesting because the story gives me the impression of jesus having struggles with mental health instead of being an actual messiah. I don't know the original story well enough to determine whether its the bible or Kazantzakis that thinks so lowly of women. Its a good translation and makes me want to learn more about the history and divergence of religions. ( )
  reg_lt | Feb 7, 2020 |
A very fine rendition of the gospels as they might have been experienced. The Crucifiction isn't in this book, not the way the Pauline church would have it shown. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Aug 14, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (22 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nikos Kazantzakisprimary authorall editionscalculated
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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Kazantzakis's classic novel, blacklisted by the Vatican, filmed by Scorsese, has been labelled heretical, blasphemous, and also a masterpiece. His Christ is an epic conception, wholly original. 'When Kazantzakis describes the raising of Lazarus, the early life of Mary Magdalene, the domestic lives of Martha and Mary, it is as if an old box of lantern slides had suddenly become a moving picture. The author has achieved a new and moving interpretation of a truly human Christ.' Times Literary Supplement

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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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