Wednesday, March 7, 2012

482. The Last Temptation of Christ – Nikos Kazantzákis

History: This book was first published in 1953. The novel has been the subject of a great deal of controversy due to its subject matter, and appears regularly on lists of banned books. The central thesis of the book is that Jesus, while free from sin, was still subject to fear, doubt, depression, reluctance, and lust. Kazantzakis argues in the novel's preface that by facing and conquering all of man's weaknesses, Jesus struggled to do God's will, without ever giving in to the temptations of the flesh. The novel thus powerfully advances the argument that, had Jesus succumbed to any such temptation, especially the opportunity to save himself from the cross, his life would have held no more significance than that of any benign philosopher. In this sense, the novel can be viewed as thoroughly orthodox and traditionalist in its attitude to Jesus's role as redeemer.
Plot: Jesus is the son of Joseph the carpenter, as told in the Biblical version, but with a twist. The imagery of a carpenter can be vague...they can make furniture and the like, but in this case, Jesus' work was for the Romans...with his woodwork Jewish messiahs would be crucified....and his neighbors resented him for this. Jesus is a man on the fringe of his society; while having a normal childhood, when he comes to the age of manhood (12-14 years old) he goes to nearby Capernaum to be married to a girl named Mary, but the moment he approaches her he is overcome with a seizure-like experience......Jesus becomes a near outcast carpenter and Mary becomes a harlot.....
The Last Temptation of Christ is an unorthodox portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth battling with the responsibilities of being the Messiah. Hanging from the cross, he dreams of what his life could have been and—realizing the consequences for humanity—completes his mission by dying triumphantly.
Jesus wants not to accept the fate of being God's Messiah. He conquers all sins except fear. He builds crosses on which the Romans execute would-be Messiahs, hoping that God will give up on him but regularly feels God pick him up by the head with vulture-like talons and continue recruiting. Reviled at the Zealot's crucifixion, Jesus leaves home for a desert monastery but arrives too late for Abbot Joachim to interpret his dreams. Judas Iscariot, a blacksmith and Zealot tasked with assassinating Jesus, lets him live until they can see whether he is the Messiah. Jesus leaves, retaining the white robe.
Jesus, as portrayed by this book, has desires, has weaknesses, and longs for peace and quiet, financial stability, and the touch of a woman. Jesus as painted by this book is in no position to be the Savior and God that multitudes of humankind believe him to be. In the end, Kazantzakis still lets Jesus die and accomplish everything that was destined for him, but not without presenting alternate episodes of his life, presenting an alternative scenario of what may have been the outcome should Jesus give in to temptation.
Another thing this book has tried to do is to rationalize the events around Jesus' life. For example, where the Bible talks about Jesus walking on water in order to save his disciples from drowning, Kazantzakis tells it as a very vivid dream by Peter. This is Kazantzakis' way of explaining what would otherwise be an impossible feat given what we know about physics.
Perhaps, the most disturbing scene involves the climax, in which Jesus, at the brink of crucifixion, is whisked away, and taken away from Golgotha. He then comes into the house of sisters Mary and Martha, and takes both of them as wives. Mary and Martha both have plenty of children, and Jesus continues his trade as a carpenter. Jesus, Mary, and Martha all age, until they get a visit from a bunch of old men, who turn out to be Jesus' former disciples. The disciples all call Jesus a coward and a traitor, blaming Jesus for their lost investment, since they were persuaded to leave their possessions and follow Jesus during their prime. The scene ends dramatically, until it is revealed that all of those are visions and dreams that Jesus saw in the split second before he shouts "It is accomplished!" and dies.
Jesus' final moments while being crucified..... Jesus passes out, and when he opens his eyes he is somewhere else......he has somehow survived being sacrificed...and he finds himself in sexual ecstasy with Mary Magdelene and, following this, he is married to two women, he is father to a child, and living comfortably...... Jesus' peace is broken, however, when his disciples show up and chastize him for not being crucified: for disappearing off the cross.......
In that moment Jesus realizes that he has made a grave error........he feels the sting of betrayal towards his followers......and then tastes something bitter in his mouth.... The world around him, his wives, his disciples yelling at him, all vanishes and becomes darkness.......and as Jesus' focus reemerges he realizes that he is still being crucified.....he had only passed out, and had suffered the "Last Temptation"....and had overcome...
Review: Kazantazakis was excommunicated for this piece of literature...and it is banned in many markets around the world..... But I have found that this is because the story is largely misunderstood.....and many who perpetuate the claims against it. 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.
Opening Line: “A cool heavenly breeze took possession of him.”
Closing Line: “And it was as though he had said: Everything has begun.”
Quotes: “Truly, everything in this world depended on time. Time ripened all. If you had time, you succeeded in working the human mud internally and turning it into spirit. Then you did not fear death. If you did not have time, you perished.”
“Great things happen when God mixes with man.”
Rating: Difficult but realistic, philosophical.

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