Nikos Kazantzakis has been called the most outrageous, most important, and most controversial writer in twentieth century Greek literature. The Last Temptation of Christ—his personal and literary quest for self, reality, and understanding of the myths of religion—made him famous for starting a major theological controversy: Could Jesus Christ have actually slept with Mary Magdalene? Could he have had children by her and other women? Did all these things really happen in Kazantzakis’ story, or were they merely a dream? The novel challenged the legitimacy of sacred Scripture for readers throughout the world. Many readers could not accept the idea of Christ’s facing the same temptations of the flesh as mortal men. To them, the book was blasphemous.
In 1988 film director Martin Scorsese revived interest in Kazantzakis and his novel with his adaptation of The Last Temptation of Christ. Some American critics called Scorsese’s film the best of 1988, and Scorsese was nominated for an Academy Award. From the pulpit, through the press, and by pressures imposed upon local film distributors, Scorsese received the wrath of many Christians of different traditions with his interpretation of Kazantzakis’ novel. In addition, many American communities opposed public screenings of the film, which was often seen in private showings arranged and attended by local ministers, parents, rabbis, and school administrators, to determine whether it conformed to community standards. In many communities, the film was available only on videocassette. Some Christians expressed disappointment in the artistic merits of the film, while others were drawn to the original novel by the author who had also written Zorba the Greek, whose sales also increased.