Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, August 8, 2016

Nikos Kazantzakis, _The Last Temptation of Christ_, trans. P. A. Bien

HAD TO READ this for reasons it would take too long to explain. I won't say I disliked it, but I will say I was happy to finish.

As you may recall from the controversy that greeted Scorsese's film adaptation, Kazantzakis does not give us the Christ of Christianity; that divine scapegoat, he thinks, is mainly the work of Paul. Kazantzakis's Jesus is a visionary and mystic, animated by a vision of universal love, who is goaded into a confrontation with Jewish and Roman authorities by supposed allies (principally Judas), with famously terrible consequences. His mother keeps wishing he would settle down and giver her some grandchildren.

The title refers to what became the most notorious segment of the film: the Adversary gives Jesus, dying on the cross, the opportunity to just disappear into a normal life as carpenter, husband (to both Mary and Martha), and father. Jesus feels the pull of domesticity but nonetheless elects to die on the cross, and, thanks to Paul, becomes the Christ of Christianity.

This is interesting...the novel just seems long (487 pages in my paperback edition), too many descriptions of the village streets, too many lengthy arguments with Judas. Say what you like about the gospels, they are at least lean.

I wonder what Scorsese saw in this. The film comes from a stretch when he was taking a lot of swings at pitches outside his wheelhouse (Edith Wharton, Kundun), and his film of this novel seems to me another such. At least he cast Harvey Keitel as Judas...now, if only he had cast DeNiro as Jesus and Joe Pesci as Pilate, we might have had something.

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