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VINE VOICEon December 15, 2002
The Last Temptation of Christ is a fictional exploration of the life of one of history's most intriguing figures, Jesus Christ. This is not revisionist history, merely an author's viewpoint on how the Son of the Carpenter may have lived his life. It should be taken as a novel, and not a reinterpretation of the scriptures.
Nikos Kazantzakis presents Jesus as very human, a man struggling to ignore the voice of God while making the crosses that the Romans use for crucifiction execution. The people around him think he is mad, and at first the story is frustrating as the reader wants the character to show some guts and follow his destiny. Of course, what a destiny this turned out to be. How many of us could have done what he was purported to have done? That is the question, and as Jesus accepts that he is the Messiah, the story really gets moving.
This is not an easy read, both in its prose and its ideas. There is a lot here to challenge people from all religious backgrounds. Jesus is shown as a human, with human emotions and frailties, but it is this that makes for an interesting character arc in the presenation of the novel and the creation of a truly dynamic character.
Kazantzakis also provides beautiful description of the land of Jesus' birth and places we've read about in the Bible and heard of in the news. Nazareth, Judea, Galilee, Samaria and Jerusalem come alive in these pages, full of Jews, Romans, Pharisees, Scribes and ragamuffins.
The character of Judas Iscariot is also interesting, a militant religious zealot who wants the Romans out of Israel. In this story, he is the one follower that remains completely true to Jesus, and must accept the most difficult task given to him by Jesus. The other apostles are shown as weak and ready to desert Jesus at the earliest threat of danger to their lives.
A challenging aspect of this book is the visions, and one is never quite sure if what a character is seeing is real, imagined or a vision from God. A lot of strange things happen, and sections are full of Biblical symbolism so you might need to read sections twice or consult with the Gospels for clarity.
The scenes dealing with Satan are particularly bizarre, especially the period where Jesus is fasting in the desert.
Another interesting character is Mary Magdelene, a prostitute that scorns Jesus, then becomes one of his most ardent followers. She figures in the last temptation, but more important are the sisters of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. As Christ ascends the Cross, he experiences this last temptation and there is an interesting twist on temptations. To me, this section was not nearly so blasphemous as "religious" folks have made it out to be. They probably didn't actually read the book.
Here are a couple of my favorite passages:
"What are dreams, Rabbi?" she asked him softly. "What are they made of? Who sends them?"
"They are neither angels nor devils," Jesus answered her. "When Lucifer started his revolt against God, dreams could not make up their minds which side to take. They remained between devils and angels, and God hurled them down into the inferno of sleep..."
"A prophet is the one who, when everyone else despairs, hopes. And when everyone else hopes, he despairs. You'll ask me why. It's because he has mastered the Great Secret: that the Wheel turns."
The only major problem I had with the writing was that there was a lot of point of view shifting within scenes, so it sometimes became confusing whose head we were in during the scene. One minute we're with Jesus, the next with John, then Peter, and so on. I don't mind multiple points of view, but I prefer to stay with one character throughout the duration of a scene.
I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who wants to examine their beliefs from an alternate point of view other than the one taught by organized religion.
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I read Nikos Kazantzakis' `The Last Temptation of Christ' back in '75. It was assigned as required reading for a college course I was enrolled in called, "Radical Christianity". Actually I faked my way through the assignment, who wants to read another book on the life of Christ? I certainly didn't. It wasn't until the end of the semester and summer was upon me that I actually opened the book for the first time and begin to read. Once I began I couldn't put it down.

Kazantzakis is a brilliant writer who looks at the world and perceives the intangibles around us like no other author I've ever read. His narrative is surreal, hallucinogenic and disturbingly earthy all at the same time. His ability to look into the human psyche and translate its intensely personal contents into concrete terminology is truly amazing. At times his writing seems more akin to poetry than composition.

This life of Christ is unlike anything you've ever come across before, which explains why there was so much turmoil and Christian backlash over the release of the movie adaptation by Scorsese in '88. They still haven't learned that a closed mind can never be a truly spiritual mind. Don't pass on reading the book because you saw the film. The difference between the two is the difference between night and day.

One of my Top Ten Books of All-Time! My Highest Recommendation.
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on October 29, 2003
So Jesus finally reads what Matthew has been writing about him for the last several months and is flabbergasted. "This isn't the truth," he says. "These are lies! I was not born in Bethlehem. I've never set foot in Egypt in my life. I don't remember any magi! And the dove did not say, 'This is my son,' while I was being baptized!" Matthew tells him he knows this, but nevertheless he has been writing what he has been told to write by an angel, who visits him in the evening. Matthew himself questioned this truth, but the angel told him that he knew nothing of the truth. The angel told him there were many truths, the truths of men, which are many, and the truth of God, which is one. Matthew was to record the truth of God. And he did.

The truth. Yes, indeed, the truth. It can make one uncomfortable on occasion, and Mr. Kazantzakis' version of the truth can certainly be said to do that. His Jesus is quite a bit different than the one we've come to know and love from catechism class and from the Bible. His Jesus only performs a few of the miracles recounted in the Bible. There is no mention of the crippled man lowered through the roof. There is no Sermon on the Mount. No wedding at Cana. The walking on water story was a dream of Peter. But he does recite some parables, heal the centurion's daughter, and raise Lazarus from the dead.

He agonizes over his fate, is often unsure of his divinity, and rails at God, whose hold on him is described as ten claws gripping his skull. He preaches the doctrine of love, but is somewhat vague as to how to put it into practice. He goes to Jerusalem and screams at the Pharisees and the high priests, stating he will smash the temple to pieces. He claims that all must repent, for the baptism he provides will be fire, not water, and will burn the four corners of the earth.

His disciples are weak and vacillating, except for Judas, who is a fervent anti-Roman revolutionary. Magdalene becomes a prostitute after her love for him is spurned. Joseph is stricken and paralyzed the day Jesus is born, and remains that way for the rest of his life. His mother Mary is a miserable wretch as Jesus fails to do any of the normal things that a mother wishes her son to do.

No, this is not your typical Bible story. Nor should it be. It is fiction after all. But as the story is of Jesus, it is fiction which must be held to higher scrutiny. The question is, does it work?

To a large degree it does. The fact is, Jesus was a man. At one time in his life he was a baby, a ten-year old, a teenager, an adult. At which point during these times of his life did he finally realize he was the son of God? The Bible itself gives us many examples of his humanity: he shows love, anger, strength--and fear. Even on the eve of his death, he cries out to God to spare him from his fate: "Let this cup passeth over me."

Mr. Kazantzakis gives us an interesting interpretation of this life, and one which to some degree is in conformity with Biblical events. It is a fascinating piece of work and one which displays a great deal of passion and imagination. It is clearly written by a man with a burning, spiritual yearning.

But if there is a flaw it is that it fails to capture the true greatness of Jesus. Whether you believe in his divinity or not, it can not be denied that his influence on humanity was as great or greater than any person who ever lived. He began a religion two-thousand years ago which to this day continues to be practiced by millions of people on every continent of the earth. His teachings formed the basis of the greatest institutions that mankind has created; institutions based on freedom, equality and justice. He must have had, to say the very least, a remarkable personality.

And this is where it stretches credulity. For Kazantzakis' Jesus is perhaps just a little too human: too weak, too unsure of himself, sometimes too timid and sometimes too shrill. It is often a little hard to believe from this novel that he inspired the faith of his own disciples, much less the millions who followed.

But to be fair, who is to say what the truth is? Mr. Kazantzakis, after all, is simply recording the truth of man. One man. One of many. He must be commended, for by doing so he maybe came a little closer--and perhaps brought his readers a little closer--to the truth of God.
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on April 9, 2000
"The seed is love"! I was raised in a christian household where we didn't question the literal truth of the bible and Jesus was a white man who was not of this earth. When I grew up and became a man, I resented the teachings I was given and rebelled against the church (and became a die hard athiest) After reading this book I was overwhelmed with a sense a inspiration and awe that no minister could ever plant in my soul. I saw for the first time the passion of Christ through the eyes of Jesus the man. I still am very much against organized religion and all its hippocrites, but I now refer to myself as agnostic. For someone to write these beautiful words about such a loving and tolerant man, proves that there must be some sort of an oversoul (like Emerson's). This is a must read book for the open minded soul who has questions about their fundamentalist upbringing. It is not for those who are intolerant, close minded, and think they have all the answers. Jesus spoke of love and compassion, he didn't judge his fellow man like most all christians do today (gays, muslims, jews, different races, hindus, drug users, and anyone who doesn't agree with them), Jesus would have not tried to change them by condeming them. Jesus would have loved them - nothing more. Fanaticism breeds contempt, the more fanatical and judgemental you are the more people will stop listening to you! By the way, Jesus was more than likely not a white, european, english speaking man. He was a Jew who probably looked more of Eygptian descent. Open your mind and heart and read this book - Absolutely mind shattering and sure to be a tear jerker for the compassionate soul.
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on June 16, 2005
For the record, "The Last Temptation of Christ" is one of my favorite movies, one that I have seen many times, and I unfailingly find it to be moving, uplifting and inspiring. I expected to enjoy the book equally, but unfortunately I found that I had a number of reservations about Nikos Kazantzakis' book.

As a reader, I tend to appreciate good, detailed research: the better the author has done his homework, the more that I feel I can really appreciate and get into a story. Unfortunately, Kazantzakis' research seems to have been minimal at best. The people populating the world of "Last Temptation"'s Jesus are basically modern Orthodox Greeks in first century Jewish clothing. There are endless references to later Christian notions of hell and heaven, in addition to guardian angels, saints, devils, monasteries, abbots, friars, rosaries, etc.; there is absolutely no attempt to recreate an ancient Jewish mindset- in fact I was almost expecting Jesus and his friends to attend mass and perhaps light a candle in front of an icon. As "Last Temptation" is mainly about the psychology of a human Christ, who was born and raised a Jew, this greatly weakened the impact of the novel for me. I was not really sure how I could believe or sympathize with a character who, for me, was in no way convincing.

There are other weaknesses too. If the indifference to Judaism isn't bad enough, there are also references to things that came along centuries, if not millennia later, such as gunpowder, ears of corn, velvet, cashmere shawls, and- most unbelievably- palm-reading Gypsy fortune-tellers. There are also general inconsistencies. For example, Mary Magdalene, who is always called 'Magdalene' even as a girl, is described as a daughter of a rabbi from Cana. She does move to Magdala later, but why isn't she called 'Mary of Cana' if that is where she is originally from? For that matter, if everyone knows her father, why isn't she just called "Mary bat [daughter of] So and So"? It's little things like that which completely distract me from the no doubt powerful and moving story the author intended to tell.

The misogyny is also appalling; all the women in the story are forever saying things like, "You forget that we're women, and weak," and, "You must learn that a woman is like a wounded doe. She has no other joy, poor thing, except to lick her wounds." I also find the style to be flowery yet without being interesting, rather in the manner of Anne Rice, although this might be a problem with the translation. (However, authors like Flaubert and Tolstoy possess exquisite styles, which have come through many, many translations.)

On the bright side, Kazantzakis tackles the subject with energy and bravura, and his ideas are truly brilliant. I do apologize to all the Kazantzakis fans out there, but I really believe that Scorcese improved the story in his film. In my opinion, he made it more concise, authentic and emotionally powerful, and softened the unpleasant denigration of women and earthly things that seems to be a constant thread throughout the book. Many people love this novel, and get a lot out of it, and I think that's great. However, I personally can't get into it. Ah well- that just means that it's time to watch the movie again!
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on July 12, 2000
This book is thought-provoking, vividly painted, and emotionally powerful. My religion teacher in 7th grade mentioned it one day in class as a suggestion for a book report, and mentioned the fuss about it, and so I had to read it.
Maybe the fuss was because some people simply can't stand the humanization of religion. This book portrays Jesus as a man, which is in direct contrast to the currently accepted version of him, which is of a divinity who was only incidentally a man. Kazantzakis' choice of perspective is what makes this book such a worthy read. It's not only Jesus who is first and foremost mortal, but also his disciples, most notably Judas. Jesus' relationships with those around him are painted with such exceeding care that you can almost feel his torture, longing, and fear. My heart twists and soars alternately throughout this book.
Taken simply as a work of fiction, this book is worth the time it takes to read it. The accuracy and vividness of the historical setting are amazing, as are the well-drawn characters. But one can also choose to look at it as something more, and if so, won't be disappointed. This is one of the most inspiring books I've ever read; I've always believed that bearing the responsibility of the Messiah (or of any other savior) must have been, in part, psychological torture. Kazanzakis understood that, but also understood the ecstasy of the burden. Look at Jesus, Judas, and the others, and be inspired, whatever your religious belief. At the heart of everything, they were merely human; but men who worked with their human frailties to bring about something that has profoundly impacted the rest of history after them.
If you enjoyed this book, I would suggest that you also look at Taylor Caldwell's _Dialogues with the Devil_ and for a hilarious-but oddly meaningful-take on relgion, try _Good Omens_.
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on July 5, 2006
I marked some passages that are very telling about the novel's wonderfully passionate sentiment. Foremost, I greatly appreciated the lack of fear and hate Kazantzakis' Jesus shows repetitively in the novel:

{p155} 'Judas, my brother is that you?'
'...I swore to my brothers and to the mother of the crucified that I would kill you.'
'I'm delighted to see you, Judas, my brother. I'm ready... I offer you my neck...'
It disgusted him to touch a neck which was offered undefended, like a lamb's... 'Why don't you resist?'
'...I prepared myself to be killed... Death is not a door which closes; it is a door which opens.'

This courage alone could change a world. It is displayed here again:
{p177} Barabbas went wild... he lifted his hand and slapped [Jesus]...
'Hit the other one too, Barabbas, my brother.'

These scenes are even more powerful for us to read with Kazantzakis portraying early that Jesus is merely a confused, deserted man aspiring for greatness:
{p145} A gypsy woman passed by... she said, 'I'll tell you your fortune... I see crosses -- crosses and stars... You'll become King of the Jews!' '...ever since then ... I haven't been in my right mind.'

Nikos' Jesus later rises to touch this greatness. But it's in the novel's wonderful parables he tells that hold keys to an emerging paradigm of Christianity:
{p202} 'God, how can anyone be happy in Paradise when he knows that there is a man, a soul, roasting for all eternity?' ... God heard [Lazarus'] thought and was glad. '...Beloved [Lazarus],' He said, 'go down... bring him here so that he may drink and refresh himself...' 'For all eternity?' asked Lazarus. 'Yes, for all eternity.' Jesus got up without a further word.

It's this passionate direction and frankness that makes this character so enjoyable to read. Nicos shows it again here, in an absolutely poignant way:
{p224} Jesus said... 'God is everywhere, old man, and we all are brothers.'
'Samaritans and Galileans too?'
'Samaritans and Galileans too, old man...'
'God and the devil too?' he asked finally.
Jesus was terrified. Never in his life had he been asked if God's mercy was so great that one day he would forgive even Lucifer... 'I don't know. I am a man, and my concern is for men.'

I so much wish that this was the concern of theologians today. These humanistic new ideas, found blasphemous by literal interpretations, appear again, in a compelling argument between Jesus and his best mate, Judas:
{p347} 'If the soul within us does not change, Judas, the world outside us will never change. The enemy is within, the Romans are within, salvation starts from within!'

And finally:
{p466} [The angel says to Jesus], 'here is the kingdom of heaven: earth... Here is eternity: ...each moment that passes. Moments aren't enough for you? If so, you must learn that eternity will not be either.'

If that's not liberating, then I have lost its meaning. This should be required reading. It's Kazantzakis' best attempt at living this moment (this one) as courageously and compassionately as one man did.
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VINE VOICEon August 14, 2001
The Last Temption of Christ may be the greatest theological exploration of the 20th century. The topics it deals with are deep and complex, so to expect that this book is going to be an easy read is wishful thinking. That said, it is a very worthwhile read for anyone who struggles with issues of religion and the indentity of the divine.
I should say that I am not a Christian, so the the central drama of the book, the apparent contradiction of Jesus being both totaly human and totaly divine is not as emotional to me as it is for others. That said, many Christians I know have described this book as central to their ability to embrace their faith. Why?
Kazantzakis explore Jesus' humanity in a way to make us feel the character and understand his joys and sorrows. At the same time, he shows the terror that would acomplish being so completely in touch with the divine. Most important of all, he shows us the pain of Jesus decision to sacrifice himself on the cross and helps us understand it.
Many people find this book very threatening. That is understandable. People who believe faith is blind are often troubled by those who dare to look too close. I have often thought that reading this gave me my best understanding of the passion with which my christian friends view Jesus. For that reason alone, this is a wonderful and worthwhile read.
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on August 10, 2003
About 95% of the people I know, including family, would all agree that this book is blasphemous. Which is sad, being that they have never actually read it themselves, plus the fact that it is an insightful, thought-provoking story about the human side of Jesus Christ. I suppose most Christians like to imagine their savior as this perfect, emotionally stable, ever peace-at-mind character, never struggling with doubt, lust, and anxiety. I'm sure the Jews at that time were expecting someone like this, too.
But on with the review. Sorry, I would've liked to just review Last Temptation while ignoring the controversy surrounding it. But I can't. When I began reading this about a year ago, I knew full well it would cause a stir if anyone knew. As I mentioned before, this is a very thought-provoking depiction of Jesus. The story attempts to answer the question, "What happened to Christ from age 12-30?" and plenty others.
Facts don't matter, however. What Last Temptation is really about is the emotions Christ experienced when he realized who He was and how he struggled with the human desires that told him he should get married, settle down, and lead a normal life. In these moments, we glimpse a side of Jesus we've never seen before. His relationship with Mary Magdeleine, Judas Iscariot, and his mother is put in new light, with interesting results.
One complaint: The book is tedious at times, dwelling on priests and other characters when it should simply concentrate on Jesus. Other than that, Last Temptation is a great read, especially for the open-minded Christian who likes to be challenged. Ultimately, I think all readers will find this tale to be inspiring. Tears came to my eyes as the book closed with Jesus declaring "It is finished," and then the author stating, "It was if he was saying 'It has begun.'"
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on May 8, 2001
The most common complaint people have of this book is that it moves too slowly. Maybe that can be blamed on the translation, but don't fault the translator - fault the English language, which is a barbaric piece of work compared to Greek. Anyone who has studied Biblical Greek or even modern Greek, or read a New Testament translation with commentaries on the original Greek, will understand that Greek is an amazingly complex and rich language compared to English. A single word in Greek can mean several different things in English - sometimes, that Greek word means something literally and something figuratively, and by using that word the author means both the literal and figurative! So if the translation seems dull or slow, it may be because the author is trying to translate passages that, in the original Greek, would be far more lively and rich with meaning.
Also, Kazantzakis' descriptive narratives are not without significance. He carefully takes time to describe the world in which Jesus lives and acts because this is the world we are familiar with, and his description makes it temptingly, seductively beautiful, and he wants us to be lured into that seduction. In the midst of this walks Jesus, who is tempted at all times to give up his work and embrace that world so familiar to us, and yet must give up that common life in order to bring new life to this world. Kazantzakis wants us to clearly feel and understand the world that Jesus had to give up himself.
Finally, one reviewer did not like how the author continually changes the way in which he refers to Jesus... "the youth," "the son of Mary," and finally "Jesus." There is a reason for this. Up until he uses "Jesus," Jesus is on a torturous journey to discover who he is and what his purpose is. He even has gone so far as to reject his calling, refusing to follow God's will for many chapters. Thus, he is not called "Jesus" because he has not yet taken on that role - Jesus, after all, means the savior of the world, and until he accepts that role Kazantzakis does not address him as such. It's just a name that others call him by, but it's not yet his identity. Prior to that point, he must be called "the son of Mary" or "the youth" because THOSE are his identities at that point in the early chapters. Kazantzakis refers to him by the role he takes on, not by something as crude as his given name.
All this said, I agree with most of the posts here. An important work that challenges us to think about Christ's life and how it relates to our lives. A book to be kept in any good book collection (in hardback preferably, since it should be pulled out every few years and re-read). If you haven't read it and have any interest in challenging how you think, buy it now.
Also, I agree that the movie does not plumb the rich depths of the novel, but if it attempted to do so it would have been ten hours long. I think that the most important thing Scorcese captured on film was the crucifiction. Never in any readings of the gospels have I sensed that the crucification was painful, torturous, barbaric, or the worst way to die in that age. The gospels even mention the thieves conversing, in polite formal English, with Jesus while supposedly dying a horrible death. The film, on the other hand, made real the entire process, from the whipping, crown of thorns, the hatred of the masses, to the slow procession up to the hill, to the nails being driven into the hands and the long, long hours of simply waiting to die in miserable agony. This part of the movie brought me to tears and still does. So watch the film and read the book, both are valuable.
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