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!