Literature / The Last Temptation of Christ

The 1953 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis is an alternative interpretation of the story of Jesus' life and death in the four Gospels. The novel was written in a stylistic modern Greek called Demotic, which was the common language of the Greek peasantry, rather than the elitist literary language. The English translation was published in 1960.

It was famously adapted into a film by Martin Scorcese in 1983. Compared to the movie, the novel takes more time to follow the actions of the Apostles and Jesus' family.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: Judas is not a traitor; he heartbreakingly turned Jesus over to the Sanhedrin at Jesus' own request. He was the only one Jesus trusted to do it.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Jesus has only nine Apostles; three of the lesser known ones were left out.
  • All Just a Dream: The eponymous temptation.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • Matthew is seen writing the first Gospel while following Jesus around. The Gospel of Matthew, however, was certainly not written by an Apostle, since it uses the Gospel of Mark (who was also not an Apostle) as a source.
      • Believe it or not, the trope is invoked by Jesus Himself, who accuses Matthew of making up a bunch of stuff about Him (it was actually an angel dictating the made-up stuff). This is also a subversion, since the material Jesus objects to (such as his birth in Bethlehem) is some of the same material historians themselves find dubious.
    • The book mentions king Herod dying of a terrible disease after having John the Baptist executed, then it says "Herod the Great is dead". While the Bible mentions these events and the king in question is simply named Herod each time, in reality these are 3 different Herods: Herod the Great, who kills the children after Jesus' birth, Herod Antipas, who killed John the Baptist, and Herod Agrippa who died of the disease.
  • Book Ends: The book begins with Simon the Zealot's crucifixion, and ends with Jesus' crucifixion.
  • Came Back Wrong: Lazarus gets resurrected as something that can be best described as a zombie. He still likes it better than being dead.
  • Catch-Phrase: Zebedee: "Two and two make four!"
  • Death Seeker: Jesus once he realizes that it is the only way to fulfill the prophecy.
  • Fiery Redhead: Judas.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Judas, over the course of the novel.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Jesus at the beginning. After he continuously gets punished by God for it, he finally gives it up until the temptation at the end.
  • Market-Based Title: The original title for the English-language edition was simply The Last Temptation. Evidently of Christ was added in case anyone couldn't guess who was being tempted.
  • Misplaced Vegetation: Judas and an old woman ate corn, and some peasants ate sunflower seeds. Both plants are native to the Americas and thus were unknown in ancient Palestine (in fairness, "corn" can refer to other grains, but the description of Judas eating it suggests that it is, in fact, maize).
  • Plucky Comic Relief: The blind man from Bethany
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Pilate doesn't want to kill Jesus because that would make him a martyr and make the resistance against Rome even more fierce. Also because he wants to piss off the Jews.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Jesus and His disciples, except for Judas. Especially Jesus.
  • La Résistance: A group of zealots, concerned that Jesus might antagonize the Romans, track His movements throughout the novel. Judas is their inside man.
  • Tagalong Chronicler: Matthew.