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4.8 out of 5 stars
The Last Temptation
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on 31 August 2017
In the 1950's Nikos Kazantzakis challenged the Bible and in particular the New Testament in a rather poetic way. He didn't try to re-make the dogma but the Christ's narrative and it's dynamics. It is a very special approach on the New Testament that may apply on both Christian believers and non-believers. In that respect 'The Last Temptation' is a masterpiece or a true work of art.
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on 20 March 2018
Over a decade after my original reading, this remains one of the most powerful books I have ever read. That Kazantzakis is a genius is an opinion shared by many, and I certainly agree. It is accessible and well paced - a page turner. Another of his books, Zorba the Greek, is also recommended.
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on 14 August 2012
This book makes Christ and his apostles seem so real, even though we all know the story it is a real eyeopener, whether there is a lot of artistic license or not this book should replace the new testiment. It is fantastic, when christ is about to be crucified, you actually want to cry, you really feel for him and you feel for Judas and understand why he did what he did, he may not be the baddie the church want us to believe!

It is an excellent book, I would say all people should read it even non-christians as it gives Christ a true identity and all the apostles come to life with their own personalities.

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on 24 October 2017
'Blacklisted by the Vatican...' is all you need to hear about this book to know it should be read.
No one else will ever be able to write a book this good.
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on 25 January 2018
Excellent condition
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on 23 December 2007
I first read this in 1989,after watching the Scorcese film of the same name.As usual,the book is better than the film.
Kazantzakis' Jesus is above all human.He never asked for a special relationship with God,was frightened by it ,and struggled with it(hence amking crucifixes for the Romans).The depiction of the resurrection of Lazarus,where Jesus realises he has power over life and death,is exceptionally well done.
The book is pure fiction,it makes no claim to be a new reading of the Gospels or a heretical interpretation of Christianity.The latter part of the book("The Last Temptation") is a depiction of Jesus not being crucified,but of leading a normal family life,having children and grandchildren,and living to a peaceful old age.Here's where the small-minded bigots usually object,so i'll just point out two things
1-Jesus rejects the temptation of a normal life offered him by Satan,and is indeed crucified.
2-The whole point of the book is that Jesus was human.Humans have sexual thoughts,ergo so did Jesus.What is offensive about that?
My slight critique of the book is that Kazantzakis' 1st century Palestine is a thinly disguised version of 20th century Greece.Kazatzakis' ignorance of Judaism is obvious,and his vision of Jesus is clearly heavily influenced by the ideologies he studied prior to writing this book,notably Marxism and Buddhism.
Still,well worth a read,both for believers and non-belivers alike.A Greek-speaking friend comments that the Greek original is far better,but I doubt I'll ever get round to learning Greek.
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on 7 May 2012
i had wanted to read this book ever since i heard of the title but i really struggled with the first 300 or so pages. at one point i turned to the end of the book to see how much further i had to go and found the translator's notes. there he explains that this book was originally written in cretan argot greek and that it was impossible to render much of this idiom into english, but apparently he persisted anyway because one of my problems initially was that the translation seemed so clunky. neither of two greek friends who had read the book in greek recognised any significant cretan character in their greek version books so i think a less literal but more flowing english translation would have helped.
returning to my own reading it began to dawn on me that kazantzakis was having a joke. all along i was telling myself how such an intelligent and widely travelled (geographically and intellectually) man could believe all the stuff he was writing. then i came to the part where matthew (significantly the only literate follower !) tried to write what he had observed only to be pressured to write that which confirmed the prophecies from the old testament, although he knew them not being fulfilled in the nazarene carpenter. with these two fresh insights i fairly sailed along though it's hard to keep up one's enthusiasm when you think you already know the ending. keep reading, the ending is different although no more probable than the authorised version. no resurrection however.
the characterisations of the biblical figures in kazantzakis's version coincided very much with my estimations of them when i read the gospels -jesus rude and uncaring towards his mother, cry-baby peter, sexual ambivalence between jesus and john (but also between jesus and his green guardian angel in kazantzakis's version), the ugly dwarf paul hating women and taking over the original message for his own megalomanic ambitions and reducing the 'love' element to one of obedience to paul's biggoted diktat's, a complete lack of interest by anyone in asking lazurus what he had experienced whilst 'dead' etc.
there were some things which seemed non-judeaic; for instance, does judeaism do baptism (also in the authorised version), and do they have monastic orders and monasteries ?
somewhat more credible than the authorised version (it could hardly be less so !) but both are clearly works of fiction, none of the writers were witnesses to anything and the evidence for any of it is zonk. all in all a very interesting book, just try to find a more readable translation. that's why only four stars.
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on 20 February 2003
Perhaps an over-statement, but Kazantzakis' novel (published in English in 1961, but originating from a period in the late40s, early50s that saw Kazantzakis compose such works as Christ Recrucified & Freedom and Death) is a work that I found intrigueing. A book that I come back to time after time...
It was Scorsese's controversial adaptation of this novel that made me want to read this- the film correctly stating that it wasn't related to any of the gospels. Kazantzakis, as his introduction & the translator's note at the end points out- he was a deeply spiritual man- a theologian whose interests included Nietzsche, Dante, Buddhism, Lenin's Communism.
This book writes around the gospels & the biblical source- something that figures in much literature, think of Faulkner's Light in August, Cave's And the Ass Saw the Angel, Selby Jr's Last Exit to Brooklyn, King's The Green Mile & Beckett's More Pricks Than Kicks. People generally don't find a problem with this, but once a novelist, a filmmaker or a playwright grapple with the actual figures presented in the Bible, then problems arise.
The Last Temptation stands alongside such novels as Jim Crace's Quarantine & Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master & Margarita- books that use Christ's life in a manner related to the novelist & the world they lived in. Just like The Bible. To be fair, it does bear some relation to Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1885)- particularly in the notion of the wanderer in the wilderness. It also sits next to the play Son of Man (Dennis Potter), the silly recent TV programme Second Coming, & films such as The Gospel According to St Matthew, Jesus of Montreal, The Devils & Dogma.
The Last Temptation is just another way of looking at the world presented in the gospels- The Bible a work that has problems regarding its composition & translation over the years (think of the way Bill Hicks threw a spanner in the works of the creationists with the word "Dinosaurs"). If someone reading this is a devout Christian, I can't see how this would challenge their belief- if it is as 'evil' as protestors suggested or its presence on the Vatican's Index (bizarre that Pasolini's Gospel St Matthew is Vatican-approved, when the Christ presented in that film has elements shared by Pasolini- Marxism, colour of skin, language, the use of Billie Holiday etc. This book does not differ to that). Personally I'm a non-believer, pin me down to vagueness & apathy, but this book does have a universal feeling to it- a spiritual work not tied down to papal certainties (if such a thing exists!).
Kazantzakis' novel is a work of immense depth, the notion of the Last Temptation itself not an incitement to desecrate the body of Christ- but to show the sacrifice made: how one life was chosen over another. Christ is rendered human, so he can become the symbol. I think this is one of the great books of the 20th Century, whatever religious persuasion you are, I think this has a lot to offer & for me remains one of the most potent treatises on spirituality & the meaning of religion I have read...
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on 9 August 2010
Let me start by saying this is a really excellent story. I cannot know how it uses the new testament (as I've never read it - though I clearly do know the basic Christmas story). The style of language is riveting and detailed. I really enjoyed this novel, not least because I had recently read Resurrection by Tolstoy (a story about a guy making amends to a maid, who turns to prostitution, after he abused her) and the two seemed to work together. The book seems to be quite weighty, long and textured in its ideas building slowly to the finale. A lot happens in the story but the outline, as I see it, is as follows:

This is the story of a guy called Jesus and his anguished belief that he has a higher calling leading ultimately to his demise; it is based during the times of Roman occupation of Palestine around Galilee. The story details that he is a thirtysomething virgin (which might explain a lot!), having had a mental breakdown when he was about to get it on with a girl called Magdalene (who is so disturbed by this young man's actions and because she loved him, ends up as a prostitute). His father is a paraplegic having been struck down on his wedding day. Jesus is a carpenter who makes crosses for Roman crucifixions and is not popular as a result, since many a zealot or saviour is being dispatched by this means (locals are hoping that someone could free them from Roman occupation). He is plagued by a spirit (good or evil or his imagination?) that seems to stalk him and having failed to get answers at a monastery (and avoiding being murdered by Judas), spends a few days in a desert to think about things has an epiphany that is basically summarised as "God is Love" and eternal life; he finds the corpse of a goat, which had been symbolically loaded with the town's sins and sent into the desert to die, and he identifies himself with it. He seems to be looking for his own answers to his life condition. When he returns various friends, town folk, fishermen, tax collector, publican, rabbis and baptiser and particularly the poor etc start to hear his preaches and follow him; they are clearly in it for various selfish reasons (his apparent ability to even up the wealth, be his friend, his revolutionary guards, afterlife stuff etc).

One of his mates called Judas (and perhaps most interesting character), a red headed revolutionary (and local rough-boy leader), is both Jesus's engine and challenger. Another key character is Matthew who acts as Jesus biographer - he augments and dreams the childhood history of Jesus and writes this down as fact. Rich family heads are doubtful of Jesus's motives but wives, like Salome, challenge them. There are some modest suggestions of Jesus performing miracles but these don't feature prominently until, having built up a head of steam, he picks on a deceased man called Lazarus (not a noticeably worthy person for such a privilege in the story) to bring him back from the dead; Lazarus's rotting but alive corpse seems to represent to me the nature of "absolute power corrupting absolutely". Jesus now running out of sermonic ideas whilst getting more radical in his divine beliefs, decides to challenge the prevailing Jewish leaders (and law) in Jerusalem.. The self-centred motives of the religious leader's views, for the one person whom they seem to need, doesn't stop them from arranging that the Romans arrest and crucify Jesus. Judas is asked by Jesus to ensure he is captured and can fulfil his plan.

Other reviews give more detail of the ending, and not wishing to give too much detail, this now leads to the excellent finale of the book (last tenth of the 500 pages); all the deep ideas are brought to a focus, in essence Jesus dreaming or remonissing on missed opportunities(or is the whole story a dream?); the different life he could have had - the last temptation. He marrys and remarries and lives to old age in place of Lazarus. The powerful scenes when he meets his now old disciples particularly Judas, who ironically calls Jesus a traitor, are very thought provoking.

If I had criticism of the book it would be that I really didn't know what sort of Jesus Jesus was at the end. Did the author intend him to be human or divine? if he was human then the rotting alive Lazarus was misplaced contextually, but if he really had that power I don't think Jesus' inner-conflict (being all too human) would have been so contradictory for him.
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on 20 July 2010
Having intended getting into Nikos Kazantzakis' oeuvre for a long time, I had no excuse when I found this on sale at Athens airport two weeks ago. Is it the best of his work? I don't know but it really is very, very enjoyable. To the extent, that 'picturing' the places and people is so easy. It's possible to see how this could be considered a blasphemous work but more so with the Scorsese movie. If you want to start somewhere with this author's work, make it this book.
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