The Last Temptation of Christ is one of two novels in which Kazantzakis treats the theme of the suffering hero by relying on the outline of the Christ story. In the other, Ho Christos xanastauronetai (1954; The Greek Passion, 1953; also known as Christ Recrucified, 1954), he offers as his Christ figure a young Greek shepherd who is chosen to play Jesus in the annual passion play and who assumes the role in a more literal fashion. Both novels depict the struggle of the hero to overcome temptations of the flesh and achieve spiritual salvation. That theme dominates Kazantzakis’ most famous novel, Vios kai politela tou Alexe Zormpa (1946; Zorba the Greek, 1953), which tells the story of an ascetically minded young man who comes to appreciate the joys of life through his relationship with the jack-of-all-trades Alexis Zorba.
As a retelling of the life of Jesus, The Last Temptation of Christ is part of a tradition that stretches back to medieval European literature. The dramatic differences between Kazantzakis’ work and other novels are, however, significant. One need only compare The Last Temptation of Christ with Lloyd Douglas’ The Robe (1942), which also has Christ for its hero, to see how little heed Kazantzakis pays to conventional attitudes toward biblical characters and situations.