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The Last Temptation of Christ
Nikos Katzanzakis
Published by Simon and Schuster in 1960
Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2002


When I first picked up The Last Temptation and began reading it, I got bogged down at about page 100. I put it down and picked it up months later with the same result -- I couldn't get past page 100 or so. A year later I picked it up again, turned to the middle of the book and it literally dragged me through to its completion. Recently, seven years after my original reading, I picked up the book again (in the middle) and read it avidly through to the end to refresh my memory before viewing Last Temptation -- the movie.

Katzanzakis writes with a lusty sensuousness that fleshes out the New Testament characters with a vibrancy that is missing in the fairy tale writing style of the gospels. Along the way Katzanzakis places us inside the mind of Jesus as Christ struggles with his human nature and God nature in one body.

Judas is the most sensate of the apostles and makes it obvious that he will not be satisfied with less than a sword-wielding warlord of a Messiah who will throw the Roman rascals out of Jerusalem and become an earthly King. When Jesus makes it clear to him that his kingdom will not be an earthly kingdom, Judas is the one who feels betrayed.

In a masterpiece of flash-sideways, Katzanzakis interrupts Jesus's soul-piercing cry of betrayal "My God, My God, Why hast Thou forsaken me?" after the second "My God" and has Jesus awaken in the arms of Mary Magdalene. He plans to marry her and have children, but she is brutally murdered by religious thugs because of her professional background. Jesus travels to Bethany, changes himself to look like Lazarus, marries Mary and Martha, and begins in earnest filling their home with children and happiness. He grows once again in wisdom and knowledge (this time, of household ways). Jesus remains incognito until the religious fervor of Paul draws him out of hiding. (Their conversation about religion and truth was the highlight of the book for me.)

The denouement comes when he meets his former disciples, and realizing how much he has betrayed them, wishes he were back on the cross, where he is transported instantly to finish his lamentation, ". . . Why hast Thou forsaken me?"

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