The Last Temptation of Christ Additional Summary

Nikos Kazantzakis


(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Last Temptation of Christ is a fictionalized account of the life and death of Jesus. In it, Nikos Kazantzakis concentrates on the human aspects of Christ, tracing his adult career from his departure from home in Nazareth, through his famous temptation in the desert and his public ministry in the company of his disciples, to his final passion and death. Jesus’ life is seen as a perpetual conflict between temptations of the flesh or the intellect and the desires of the hero to fulfill his destiny as Savior.

The novel opens in Nazareth, where young Jesus the carpenter is being pursued by a demon whose identity is unclear: Is this tempter the Devil, or is it God? Wracked by uncertainty, Jesus continues his work—building crosses for the Romans to use to crucify Zealots who are trying to overthrow the invaders from the west.

Finally, uncertain how to reconcile the conflicting passions he feels within himself, Jesus leaves home. His wanderings take him to Magdala, where he confronts his cousin Mary, the village prostitute and daughter of the rabbi to whom Jesus often turns for advice. Their meeting is a crisis for Jesus, as Mary accuses him of spurning her and of avoiding his responsibilities to his mother and family. Dejected and confused, he travels into the desert, settling with a band of ascetic monks who want him to succeed their dying abbot as the leader of their commune. Realizing that to do so would be to abandon the world, Jesus leaves the monastery and wanders alone into the desert. There, the Tempter appears to him in various forms (a lion, a woman) and offers Jesus ease from his confusion,...

(The entire section is 670 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Israel is occupied by the forces of the Roman Empire. In his village of Nazareth in Galilee, Jesus has just finished building a cross ordered by the Romans when Judas Iscariot, a member of the rebel group called the Zealots, comes to ask his help. Judas’s leader, known simply as the Zealot, has been sentenced to be crucified that same day. Judas believes that the Zealot is the Messiah promised to the Jews by the ancient prophets, the man who will save Israel, and that if the people rise up against the Romans to prevent his execution, the Zealot will reveal himself as the Messiah and cast the Romans out of Israel.

Jesus refuses to take part in the rebellion, which he knows the Romans will crush. He has long suspected that he himself is the Messiah, but he is terrified of crucifixion, and he is angry that the role God has chosen for him will deny him the earthly joys beloved by all men in ancient Israel: a hearth, a home, a loving wife, and children. When he was younger he loved Mary Magdalene, but the hand of God kept them apart, and Jesus blames himself for Mary’s descent into sin.

Jesus’ fear and anger have led him to rebel against God, and as part of that rebellion he has built the cross for the execution of the Zealot. He delivers the cross to the Romans and helps to set it in place. The people of Nazareth are stunned, and the planned rebellion never occurs. After the crucifixion, the people call Jesus a traitor, and Jesus, ashamed, sets out for a distant monastery, where he stays for some months. There he gives himself to God and begins his ministry.

For some months, Jesus wanders Galilee and Judea, preaching the Gospel. At Capernaum he saves Mary Magdalene from a mob under the sway of Barabbas, the bandit and Zealot. He...

(The entire section is 722 words.)