The Last Temptation of Christ (1960)
The Image Top 100 Books of the Century
My principal anguish, and the wellspring of all my
joys and sorrows, has been the incessant
If we are to be able to follow him, we must have
a profound knowledge of His conflict, we must
Unless you're awfully young, you'll surely remember the enormous controversy that was generated by Martin Scorcese's film version of this novel. There are various ideas, themes and images from the book and the movie that provoked these howls of outrage, but the most significant cause lies at the dramatic center of the the story and concerns the nature of the "Last Temptation". As Kazantzakis imagines the tale, throughout his entire life Jesus is plagued by doubts about his destiny and his divinity and he is beset by temptation. Finally, as he hangs upon the cross, an angel comes and rescues him and delivers him to a mortal existence, wherein Christ marries and has children. But then Judas and the other disciples, now withered old men, track him down, accuse him of betraying them and his mission, and begin to stone him. Upon which:
His head quivered. Suddenly he remembered where
he was, who he was and why he felt pain. A
He uttered a triumphant cry: IT IS ACCOMPLISHED!
And it was as though he had said: Everything is begun.
Now as a threshold matter, I just don't find it particularly horrifying for someone to suggest that Christ may have had carnal desires. In fact, I find it pretty unexceptionable to suggest that the Good lord did not die a virgin. The idea that he would have remained not only physically pure, but even mentally pure, seems to me to be at odds with the very reason for his existence. Christ was after all a vehicle through whom God could experience what it meant to be Man. It hardly makes sense then that Christ would have been completely immune to the attraction of sensory stimuli. Wouldn't that, at least partially, defeat the purpose? So this final temptation and the thought of Christ fathering children just doesn't seem like a big deal to me on the blasphemy front.
I am bothered instead by how little sense it makes from a logical standpoint. After all, our mortality is the very core of the human dilemma. It is the temporary nature of our existence which separates us from God and godhood--God having banished us from Eden before we could partake of the Tree of Life. If we had eternal life, in addition to our capacity for knowledge and the ability to reason, then we too would be as God. What God failed to realize was how this duality would warp our souls, the desperation that would make us capable of acts of truly horrific acts. It is this context which makes Christ's words upon the cross so important: "Forgive them Father, they know not what they do" and "Oh Lord, why hast thou forsaken me." The first represents the Lord's final recognition of the fact that we are not ultimately responsible for this flaw in our makeup. The second is the most important moment in the Bible, as even Christ experiences despair which causes him to doubt God (himself). This is the point at which God, who had been so petty, jealous and vengeful throughout the Old Testament, must forgive Man, as He realizes what it is to be a man. Christ/God having despaired, how can he continue to blame Man for despairing?
So for Kazantzakis to posit this as the moment at which Christ would be tempted by the offer of becoming human, simply makes no sense. A Last Temptation in which he is offered the opportunity never to have been born would make sense, a chance to avoid mortality altogether. Or you could make an effective scene out of Christ imagining his life as a regular man, not having to be crucified, but then losing his wife or a child and having the full weight of mortality crash down upon him. But, as is, the book really does read as if the author's only concern is with the Lord's maidenhead. It makes it seem as if the Last Temptation is to exchange being the Messiah for a chance to do the nasty. This is simply too trivial to bear much thought and represents a fairly fundamental misunderstanding of just what it meant for God to become Christ. The whole point is that God has finally experienced what it is to be a Man and has found out that it is pretty difficult. The idea that just as that realization is being driven home comes a point at which he would consider chucking his divinity to become a family man is pretty ludicrous.
Taken on it's own terms, as more of an existentialist gloss on the Gospels, it's not a bad book. The portrait of Christ struggling against his destiny and seeking to escape fate is fairly powerful. And, read in this context, his resistance to the Last Temptation is genuinely heroic.
In either case, it's an interesting novel, often beautiful and it seems unlikely to lead anyone down the path to towards Hell. It is well worth reading, though deeply flawed.
-Nikos Kazantzakis (1885-1957)(kirjasto)
-ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA: Your search: "nikos kazantzakis"
-Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) (Bohemian Ink)
-Nikos Kazantzakis (The Plaka)
-Nikos Kazantzakis (Interkriti)
-Welcome to the Nikos Kazantzakis Home Page
-Journal of Modern Greek Studies 16.2, October 1998 Special Issue: Niko Kazantzakis (Requires Acrobat to read files)
-ESSAY: The Last Temptation Reconsidered (Carol Iannone, First Things)
-ESSAY: Always Thirsty: Lewis Owens on the uphill path of Nikos Kazantzakis (Spike)
-ESSAY: The Last Temptation of Christ Denied (Bob and Gretchen Passatino, Answers in Action)
-In Search of Excellence: Historical Roots of Greek Culture(1) (Alexander Makedon, Chicago State University)
-REVIEW: of of Kazantzakis: Politics of the Spirit by Peter Bien Towards the Good with Nikos Kazantzakis (Michael Antonakes)
-REVIEW: of Last Temptation (RPI)
-REVIEW: The Greek Passion (Comments of Bob Corbett)
Your points are all good. Unfortunately, THE sticking point about the book for many folks is the sexual angle. Try running it by folks in, say, small town Anywhere, U.S.A.
- ernest deschoening
- Apr-02-2007, 10:47
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