This was the Last Temptation which came in the space of a lightning flash to trouble the Savior’s last moments. But all at once Christ shook his head violently, . I first stumbled across the name Nikos Kazantzakis when I settled down to watch Martin Scorcese’s production of The Last Temptation of Christ. Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ was based on Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel in which Jesus appears as a tormented.

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When presidential candidate Bob Dole castigated the entertainment industry for excessive and graphic use of violence, it was only the latest salvo in a culture war that has been raging for some time. The film was condemned by virtually every Christian denomination, both here and abroad, was protested, picketed, subject to boycotts and bomb threats, and excluded from the titles carried by the huge Blockbuster Video chain.

A summary of The Last Temptation would seem at first to support this view. He writhes and agonizes in fear and doubt over the voices and visions to which he is subject, whether from God or Satan he knows not.

At one point he is shown watching while prostitute Mary Magdalene services a string of clients. Finally, he is shown tempted to leave the cross for the life of an ordinary man who knows the felicities of marriage, sex, and family: And yet, many members of the opening day audiences who defied pickets and anathemas to see the film found it very moving.

While opposition to the film is understandable, I believe it to have been in many ways wrongheaded. If cultural conservatism is not to produce a backlash against itself, we must distinguish between seriously attempted efforts within the legitimate bounds of artistic creativity and ad hoc throwaways like Piss Christ. If his motives were not commercial, neither were they simply to shock. And this is what I hoped the film would do.

Although he no longer practices his religion and has been married four times, Scorsese claims to be a believer still: He could reject the temptation of power in the desert; he could reject especially the temptation of sex, and he could undergo the suffering on the Cross, because he knew what was going to happen. It is the gradual assimilation of Jesus the man into Jesus the Christ, i. Christian theology certainly holds that Jesus was fully human: Moreover, it is helpful but insufficient to insist that the work is not meant to show the gospel story itself, as Scorsese does by introducing the film with a disclaimer to that effect.

Clearly some of the plot is fabrication, but there is more than enough dialogue and connection with the Gospels to bring the thrill, or shock, of recognition. Protests that the sex is performed for procreation within family are not totally unimportant but hardly sufficient when the man in question is the Son of God.


It is true that Jesus repudiates the fantasy but, given the demands of fiction and film, it has to be depicted before it can be repudiated. Controversy over this retelling of the Christ tale did not begin with Scorsese. The novel was placed on the Roman Catholic Index of Forbidden Books, and Protestant fundamentalist groups in the United States tried to have it banned from libraries thereby helping to make it a bestseller.

Yet Kazantzakis was a serious spiritual seeker.

The latter part of his career was devoted to an exploration of Christian concepts, not only in The Last Temptation but also in laat novels, including The Greek Passionin which a Greek village under Turkish occupation becomes involved in staging a Passion Play, and St. My principal anguish, and the wellspring of all my joys and sorrows, has akzantzakis the incessant merciless battle between the spirit and the flesh. Every man partakes of the divine nature in both his spirit and his flesh.

That is why the mystery of Christ kazantazkis not simply a mystery for a particular creed; it is universal. If we are to be able to follow him, we must have a profound knowledge of His conflict, we must relive his anguish. In order to mount to the Cross, the summit of sacrifice, and to God, the summit of immateriality, Christ passed through all the stages which the man who struggles passes through.

If he had not within him this warm kazanhzakis element, he would never be able to touch our hearts with such assurance and tenderness; he would not be able to become a model for our lives.

We struggle, we see him struggle also, chrjst we find strength. We see that we are not all alone in the world; he is fighting at our side.

Kazantzakis is not the only modern writer to reject the traditional picture of Christ. In this proto-feminist work Jesus fails to replace the cyclical law of nature with the transcendent masculine law of spirit that he preaches and finishes as another sacrifice to the powers of the goddess. But of course it is the temptagion closeness that caused the trouble; the fiction in such elaborate retellings as that of Lawrence and Graves is easier to perceive.

His message at first is a sweet and unnuanced flower child compendium of love, peace, acceptance, and forgiveness.

But he is driven to a second stage by the harsh apocalyptic teaching of John the Baptist. He is for a time swayed into thinking he must be the messiah of the zealots who will transform the earth through revolution.


At the penultimate moment, however, Satan who had promised in the desert that they would meet again returns in disguise, claiming to be from God, and urges Jesus to relinquish the delusion that he is the Messiah, leave the Cross, and live a normal life instead. It is not accidental that Kazantzakis, after creating a Christ figure in The Greek Passionwas led to the figure of Christ himself, for it allowed him to resolve several longstanding preoccupations.


His early existential and anti-Christian view that God does not redeem man, but man God delineated, among other places, in his work The Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercisesis reformed into a serious attempt at Christian theology when the kazantzwkis in question is known to be the redeemer sent by God.

Finally, bitterly disappointed by the failure of revolutionary Marxism, Kazantzakis could see Jesus as transcending politics toward the greatest revolution of all.

Some commentators insist that Kazantzakis to the end was not a Christian and did not believe in God. Much of the humor and odd contemporaneity is a deliberate attempt to avoid the glossiness of previous biblical films and make us experience the story as a reality. Kazantzakis famously wrote in the demotic Greek of everyday speech rather than in elevated literary Greek. At the same time, many of the scenes are unabashedly mystical and preternatural.

So compelling is the overall conception and realization that Kazantzakis can be forgiven many of the excesses of his florid novel, and Scorsese the flaws in his film.

It seems astonishing that in an age of self-assertion and spiritual greed, of lengthening temptafion of rights and escalating demands for entitlements, the centrality of self-sacrifice should be so clearly presented, without apology, without condescension, without dismissive psychologizing. In the film, the idea of blood sacrifice is a continual source of imagery, from the wedding feast at Cana, at which a lamb is butchered, through the Passover during which animals are brought to the temple for slaughter while Jesus, the true sacrifice, ritually bathes in the temple pool, and finally to the Cross.

After his mostly satisfactory life as a paterfamilias, Jesus grows old and is near death. Paul, because he feels that people need to believe in something, is preaching a false gospel based temptatoin the incomplete crucifixion that Jesus apparently underwent. The Apostles come to see Jesus and they are old, broken men.

They reproach him for descending chrsit Cross and leaving mankind without hope, kept going by lies and fictions during the brief, sometimes pleasant, sometimes miserable interlude before oblivion.

Many readers of the book and viewers of the film have shared these experiences to some extent and it can seem odd that Christians should want to condemn the works that brought that about. Web Exclusives First Thoughts. Intellectual Retreats Erasmus Lectures.

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