There's a lot to like in Kazantzakis' famous (and famously controversial) novel of the life and death of Jesus. Above all, it pays Jesus the supreme compliment of crediting him with a rich earthly life, full of doubts, temptations, confusion, enjoyment - all the things, in short, which make him human and accessible in a way that few contemporary portrayals manage. There were all sorts of little details I loved: the characterisation of Mary Magdalene and the other disciples, especially Judas; the description of the wilderness temptation; the meetings with John, and Jesus' reaction to the Baptist's death; the transformation of Simon of Cyrene. Fleshing all this out - whether imaginatively or in a way more literally faithful to the biblical text - simply makes Jesus more `one of us'. For all Kazantzakis, in his prologue, sees the journey of Christ as that of someone passing into immateriality and the world of spirit, his purpose in writing about Jesus in this way is to have him pass `though all the stages which a man who struggles passes through' (8). And whilst I'm not sure I share the novel's seeming central premise of the superiority of the `spiritual' over the `worldly' and `fleshly', I appreciate the attempt to depict a Jesus from whom we can draw strength, about whom we can say `we are not all alone in the world: he is fighting at our side' (9).
An enjoyable read, then. One can query whether, at times, Jesus isn't simply a modern Marxist hero, or a Nietzschean superman figure: it would be surprising if a writer like Kazantzakis, so influenced by these currents of thought, hadn't reflected something of them in a work such as this. But ultimately, I think the novel succeeds in making Jesus someone we can identify with, however far removed from the modern reader the specifics of his particular struggles may seem.