Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

To avoid being misunderstood as a work of heresy or of deliberate provocation, The Last Temptation of Christ must be seen as a devout and serious attempt by Kazantzakis both to synthesize and to transcend within the framework of the life of Christ the figures who had shaped his own life and philosophical pilgrimage: Henri Bergson, Friedrich Nietzsche, the historical Buddha, Vladimir Lenin, and Homer’s Odysseus.

Kazantzakis saw in Christ the culmination and refinement of all that was true and admirable in these giants of thought and action. Specifically he saw in Jesus’ human nature a vulnerability in which modern humanity could recognize itself and its struggles, a vulnerability often obscured by traditionally pious meditations on Christ’s life yet fully in keeping with Hebrews 4:15: “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

Even the novel’s implied antifeminism, specifically that women and their inherent sexual allure are an impediment to the salvation of men, has scriptural antecedent, both in Christ’s celibacy and in Saint Paul’s injunction that “all men remain as [himself],” that is, unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:9). Further countering feminist criticism are the importance that Kazantzakis places on the roles of the key women in Christ’s life, roles that closely mirror the roles the women played in the Synoptic Gospels.

Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

As in his other works, Kazantzakis displays his basic belief in existential philosophy in The Last Temptation of Christ. The central theme of the novel is that of the suffering hero’s struggle to achieve meaning for himself in a world where the meaning of existence is not clear. Though the characters are drawn from a religious work, readers should not confuse the religious aims of the biblical originals with the philosophical issues with which Kazantzakis’ characters struggle. Kazantzakis himself describes his story as emblematic of the constant struggle between God and humans. Each individual, he posits, must rise above his or her animal nature to achieve “salvation”—that is, achieve the perfection that inheres in all human beings.

One of the major aims Kazantzakis sets for himself in The Last Temptation of Christ is to show how the Gospel story must grow and be adapted if it is to continue to be relevant. Thus, his Jesus is constantly challenging not only Old Testament values but also the accounts of miracles and parables as those have been handed down in the New Testament. For example, Jesus and Nathanael discuss the story of the wise and foolish virgins, which in the Bible ends with the foolish virgins being turned away from the wedding feast. Jesus forces Nathanael to acknowledge that true Christian spirit requires that these women be pardoned. That lesson and others like it characterize Kazantzakis’ version of this...

(The entire section is 451 words.)

Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In what many view as the most controversial fictional adaptation of Biblical materials written in this century or possibly any other,...

(The entire section is 163 words.)