Book #62: The Last Temptation of Christ

First, a tiny bit of background.

Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ is, basically, to Christianity what Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses is to Islam. Except, of course, I don’t think Kazantzakis got death threats for his book.*

Basically, it tells the story of Jesus’ ministry and passion, but in the end it explores what would have happened if, when Jesus was tempted while he was on the cross and they told him to ask God to end the crucifixion, he’s given in. He’s really a reluctant Messiah in this one. Far, far, far from the Jesus that Christianity depicts. This Jesus is sorely tempted by the normal life and pleasures of peasants. He doesn’t want to shoulder the responsibility of saving all of humanity, he just wants to settle down and have a nice, normal, human life.

I can’t really say more about why I imagine the book is extremely upsetting for some Christians because I don’t want to give anything away, but let’s just say the last bit of the book is pretty intense.

Mary, in the book, is also pretty different from her “normal” portrayal.

Like Jesus, Kazantzakis’ Mary is a far, far cry from the biblical Mary. She is a frightened, grieving mother who wants nothing to do with this whole Messiah business. She just wants her son back. When a priest tries to comfort her and tells her that her son will save the whole world, she basically says, “Screw the world. I don’t want him to save the world. I want him to give me grandchildren and live a normal, happy life.”

For some people, I can see how this would be extremely upsetting. Mary is supposed to be this perfect, ethereal example of love and motherhood. However, I think Mary’s reactions in The Last Temptation of Christ might be a better example of motherly love. She doesn’t want her son to die or suffer at whatever cost. She selfishly (perhaps) wants him to live a long, normal, healthy, happy life. Isn’t that what most mothers want for their kids?

Overall, the book is really interesting and a beautiful exploration of love, soul, and sacrifice. It presents a Jesus that many Christians want nothing to do with. However, if you can stomach a Jesus who is very flawed and very human, you should give it a try.

*Well, probably, he got a few. But there was nothing close to the fatwa Rushdie faces.

Rating: *****
Up Next: Oliver Twist

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