The Last Temptation of Christ - Lunchtime Lit with Mel

Who's next on the book slash mailman burning pyre?
Who's next on the book slash mailman burning pyre? | Source

Burning Mailmen at the Stake

Throughout the course of history, many notorious bearers of communication, of both divine and earthly origin, have been labeled heretics and disposed by what was considered the appropriate method of the day, simply for carrying a message given to them for delivery. Joan of Arc, that fiery-eyed lady letter carrier from France, was torched for passing along a missive to Charles VII from the Archangel Michael. The Knights Templar were burned at the stake for delivering a bill to King Philip IV for his past due loans. Several City Carrier Assistants in my Post Office have also been offered up for auto da fe, only to be absolved at the last moment by the Postal Inquisition, mostly thanks to timely union intervention.

After perusing this review, some of the more godly among you may consider turning this humble mailman over to the Inquisition as well, simply for reading a novel considered blasphemous by many, then having the poor judgement to deliver a review on it. I have seen writers literally crucified in the comments section here on Hub Pages for daring to defy the doctrines of the devout, so it is with a bit of trepidation, and also a reminder that my tough, sun-baked skin doesn't ignite easily, that I set out to drop my assessment of The Last Temptation of Christ into your mailbox.

Two sad Postal CCAs burn at the stake, while smug, plump, under-worked regular carriers look on approvingly.
Two sad Postal CCAs burn at the stake, while smug, plump, under-worked regular carriers look on approvingly. | Source

Lunchtime Lit Creeds and Commandments

My Lunchtime Lit Book Reviews are subject to an exacting set of unwavering strictures, and any deviation from doctrine is punishable by many forms of painful persecution, after first subjecting the book being reviewed to the ordeal known as the water "witch" test, to see if it floats or sinks.

The tenets of the Lunchtime Lit faith are as follows: The book can only be read on Mel's assigned half hour lunch break. There can be no removing the work, divinely inspired or not, from the pulpit of his postal vehicle for sneak reads by candlelight during the witching hours of darkness. Heresy against this lunchtime code is punishable by cruel cookie deprivation, or subjection to the agonizing torture of celery sticks.

The chart that follows is the recap of Lunchtime Lit to date:

Lunchtime Lit Recap

Word Count
Date Started
Date Finished
Lunchtimes Consumed
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
223,000 (est.)
487,700 (est.)
425,000 (est.)
On The Beach
97,000 (est.)
The Last Temptation of Christ
171,000 (est.)

Summary - A Curious Tasting Sandwich

The Last Temptation of Christ, written by Crete-born author Nikos Kazantzakis - an author I do not wish to call a Cretan because of the implications involved with that word, is pretty much a conventional retelling of the four gospels, sandwiched in between two very unconventional slices of bread at both ends. The two bread slices holding the novel together have caused a great deal of outrage and public outcry, and may be the reason why you are looking around desperately for a match to take to this mouthy mailman's head. But take away the objectionable bread, leaving only the fixings in the middle, and you are left with a fairly drab, uninspiring, church friendly lunchtime fare. Perhaps I should use the word unremarkable, rather than uninspiring. The timeless story always inspires, but we've heard it before in Sunday School, or read it for ourselves in our New Testaments.

The slices of bread at both ends, however, are definitely something most of us have not previously tasted. Depending upon the proclivities of the reader's palate, their flavor can range from savory to sour to downright bitter.

The top slice of the book concerns Jesus's pre-ministry conduct. The timid and retiring young Christ, a reticent young man who is afraid to speak in public, realizes through his tormented dreams that God has special plans for him, but remains reluctant to take up the mantle of the Messiah. The only notable activity of the youthful carpenter from Nazareth is building crosses for the Roman's to use in their crucifixions. This activity doesn't exactly endear him to his rebellious Jewish neighbors; these Roman-oppressed folk being the primary crucifixion fodder. At this phase of his life Jesus also struggles with his sexual urges, just as any young man would. In particular he is tormented by his love for Mary Magdalene, a rabbi's daughter who turns to prostitution after Jesus declines to pursue her in a romantic way.

The future Messiah finally attempts to come to grips with his internal struggle by retreating to a monastery in the desert, where the internal demons that have been beleaguering him are literally released in the form of slithering serpents. From this point the novel becomes a standard retelling of scripture, including entire passages that seem to have been cut and pasted directly from the four gospels. This scheme continues for a few hundred pages, up to the point of Christ's crucifixion, where the reader finally munches through to the bizarre slice of bread on the bottom.

Toward the end of Christ's earthly ministry, the Jewish religious hierarchy convinces a reluctant Pontius Pilate; that hand-washing obsessed Roman Governor of Judea, to crucify Jesus. We all know that part of the story; no surprises there. What is surprising is that while on the cross Jesus is swept away into an alternate reality by an entity masquerading as an angel. The angel transforms himself into Jesus's servant boy; a mischievous little imp who keeps a careful eye upon Christ as he marries Mary and Martha, the sisters of the resurrected Lazarus. Jesus then proceeds to produce a large family with both Mary and Martha, over the course of what appear to be several decades.

At one point the Apostle Paul, referred to by his pre-Damascus-Road-revelation name of Saul, and described as "Short and fat, hunchbacked, with a head as bald as an egg" stumbles upon Jesus in this scene of marital domestic bliss. Saul is busily going about preaching the message of the crucified and resurrected Christ, the "good news." Reluctant to part with the happiness of his illusion, Jesus calls Saul a "Liar!", claims he was never crucified, and is no different than anyone else. He tells Saul not to "...go around the whole world to publish lies," to which Saul replies "True or false-what do I care! It is enough if the world is saved!"

When Christ replies that he will stand up and shout to the world that he was not crucified, Paul smugly assures him that if he does so "The faithful will seize you, will throw you on the pyre for a blasphemer and burn you!"

Jesus protests this fiery warning with the pronouncement that "I said only one word, brought only one message: Love. Love-nothing else." Saul answers:

"By saying 'Love' you let loose all the angels and demons that were asleep within the bowels of mankind. 'Love' is not, as you think, a simple, tranquil word. Within it lie armies being massacred, burning cities, and much blood. Rivers of blood, rivers of tears: the face of the earth has changed."

— Saul, In The Last Temptation of Christ

At length Jesus begins to suspect that he is living within a lie - that the decades, actually mere seconds, that he has passed as a "normal" human being are an illusion manufactured by forces attempting to get him to reject his destiny, particularly his wily servant boy. At last, one Passover Day Jesus' battered, maimed, persecuted, embittered disciples come to visit the aging rabbi. Led by a spiteful Judas; probably acrimonious over being branded the traitor, the apostles reclaim Jesus for forsaking their cause. Recognizing the deception of this last temptation he has been trapped in, Jesus' five wounds reopen and he becomes dizzy and faint. He feels a vinegar-soaked sponge being pressed against his lips and nostrils, awakens in great pain to find himself once more on the cross, and utters "...a heart rending cry: LAMA SABACTHANI!" Finally, Christ speaks the momentous words "It is accomplished," and the novel ends forthwith.

Harry Potter gets the torch at a New Mexico book burning in 2002.
Harry Potter gets the torch at a New Mexico book burning in 2002. | Source

Controversy - A Cinematic Conflagration

The Last Temptation of Christ gained significant notoriety when the film version of the novel was released in 1988. There is very little online about the public outcry against the literary work, but the book-faithful movie certainly did cause a loud fuss. Paramount Studios, the original financier of the production, caved to heavy evangelical Christian pressure and pulled out. Director Martin Scorsese then got the green light from Universal, whose offices were boycotted and picketed prior to the film's release. Several theater chains were pressured into not releasing the motion picture. The now defunct Blockbuster video declined to carry it in DVD. Catholic terrorists actually set fire to a theater in Paris where the movie was being shown; an act we have been conditioned to expect in the so-called "terrorist" Middle East, not the "enlightened" Christian West.

In addition to these accusations, the cinematic adaptation of The Last Temptation of Christ has been labeled as a Jewish attempt to subvert Christianity. This twisted logic dictates that those darn Jews own the movie studios, so they produced this film to disseminate an unfavorable view of Christ. The fact that a multitude of doctrinally pure movies about the life of Christ have been produced in Hollywood, including The Passion of the Christ, Ben Hur (with a Jewish director), and a heavenly host of others, is obviously ignored by the proponents of this warped theory.

As I mentioned earlier, it has been nearly impossible to dig up any information upon the similar stir the novel form of The Last Temptation of Christ may have caused upon its release in 1953. The controversy surrounding the book seems to have been incinerated by the firestorm of the movie. The only thing the very skinny Wikipedia article says about the novel's controversy is that it "... appears regularly on lists of banned books."

Just tell me a novel appears on a list of "banned books," show me a title atop a stack at a neighborhood book burning, and I will be attracted to it like a sober fly to a bug zapper at a Baptist picnic. This is exactly why book bannings and burnings have the opposite effect of what they intend. The publicity surrounding these events naturally attracts curious readers who want to find out what all the fuss is about.

To this particular curious reader, a book burning is as heretical and blasphemous as anything that might be contained within that literary kindling's pages. Even if I don't agree with the message of a controversial title, I defend its right to exist, and passionately maintain that it is up to its individual readers to decide whether to accept or reject it, not some inquisitorial library review board or stodgy church committee. As far as the impressionable minds of minors are concerned, it is the responsibility of parents to censor what their children read, not some self-proclaimed morality watchdog.

Buy it to burn it, or buy it to read it, but just buy it!

Happy children, now safe from all manner of literary demons, throw another one onto the barbecue
Happy children, now safe from all manner of literary demons, throw another one onto the barbecue | Source

Every man partakes of the divine nature in both his spirit and his flesh. That is why the mystery of Christ is not simply a mystery for a particular creed; it is universal . . . . Struggle between the flesh and the spirit, rebellion and resistance, reconciliation and submission, and finally”the supreme purpose of the struggle”union with God: this was the ascent taken by Christ, the ascent which he invites us to take as well, following in his bloody tracks . . . .

— Nikos Kazantzakis - Report to Greco (1961)

Express Your Outrage!

What Offends You Most - Heretical Literature or The Suppression of It?

  • Light 'em Up! Pass the torch! This stuff is dangerous for impressionable minds and delicate souls.
  • Snuff that match! If you don't like it, don't read it.
  • I'm not sure about my pyromaniac tendencies.
See results without voting

Conclusion - Books on the Barbie

Nikos Zazantzakis, the Crete-born writer of The Last Temptation of Christ, was a man who struggled with his own ideological convictions, dabbling in Buddhism and Marxism before returning to his Christian roots in his later writings. The author's purpose behind his most famous work of fiction; the one reviewed here, was not to upend the standard Christian faith as it is practiced throughout the world, but to reinforce the notion of Christ as a human being who struggled with, and eventually conquered the temptations that ordinary mortals fall victim to on a daily basis.

Indeed, conventional Christian theology among most, if not all denominations, recognizes Jesus as being fully God and fully man. As man trapped within this fragile flesh, complete with its pains, hungers, and reproductive urges, the human we call the Christ must have struggled mightily against his natural inclinations, including the impulse to lay down his cross and take the normal road traveled by family and neighbors. It is this rarely explored theme that has exposed this tale to so much controversy and has, I believe unfairly, resulted in burning coals being piled upon its pages by people who do not understand, or have probably never even read the book.

In closing, I beseech you to please spare your affronted torch from my own balding head, because I am only the mailman, just the messenger. As I said to the customer who was complaining about the contents of her order being all wrong - "I don't pack 'em Ma'am, I just deliver 'em." If you are one of those self-righteous defenders of the faith who propose the suppression of books such as Last Temptation, I will remind you of an old adage - Curiosity killed the Cat. It was your own outraged witch-hunting spree that got this cat to read the book in the first place, so behold the fruits of your book burning labors. You have succeeded in propelling a relatively obscure Greek-language author into global fame.

No matter how the sandwich tastes, you have to admire the sandwich making skills of this embattled author, Nikos Kazantzakis.
No matter how the sandwich tastes, you have to admire the sandwich making skills of this embattled author, Nikos Kazantzakis. | Source

Catchy Show Tunes to Burn Books By

More by this Author

Comments 25 comments

Say Yes To Life profile image

Say Yes To Life 3 months ago from Big Island of Hawaii

I never read the book, but I saw the movie. Michael Medved, a Jew, described it as "solemn stupidity", and I agree with him 100%. He said movie studios routinely pass up projects they deem not good enough; rather than censorship, why not just use the same standard for promotion?

I remember a horrible book about Elvis Presley that came out in the early 1980s; it has passed into obscurity, because it offended way too many readers. That's the way to do it; if you don't like it, boycott it!

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

Say Yes, they keep telling us that in a so-called capitalist society we should vote with our dollars, but when push comes to shove there is always some group that wants to bully you into line.

I've never seen the movie version, but the book was pretty good, poetic and thought provoking at times. Thanks for reading.

Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 months ago from Queensland Australia

Another very good review, Mel. I haven't read the book or seen the movie but didn't Mel Gibson direct or produce it? I could be wrong. I feel it should be up to the public to decide for themselves whether to read or not to read. Movies, books etc should not be boycotted or banned because it offends a few people. If you don't like, don't partake. If you don't like broccoli, don't eat it.. But don't stop others enjoying it.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

You've got this one confused with The Passion of the Christ, Jodah. Martin Scorsese, he of Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, and Casino fame, directed Last Temptation. Both were very controversial, so I understand the mix up.

I'm all about freedom of choice, but I draw the line at broccoli. I advocate burning all the broccoli, lest it be accidentally mixed in my food. Thanks for reading!

Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 months ago from Queensland Australia

Ok Mel, thanks for clearing that up....yes, The Passion of Christ was what I was thinking of. Haha about the broccoli.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

I choose to be amused by those who are so vehement on this topic. Otherwise my temper kicks in and that's no good for good review....too bad there are those out there who lack decency....carry on!

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

Those people would be funny if they weren't so darn scary, Bill. They carry torches and will use them on anything or anyone that doesn't comform to their world view. Remember when they were burning black churches down south? It's some of the same folks. Thanks for reading.

Kaili Bisson profile image

Kaili Bisson 3 months ago from Canada

Wonderful review Mel. I have not read the book, but I did suffer through the movie long ago because a friend insisted it was "art" due to the fact that David Bowie was in it. Willem Dafoe as Christ? I never looked at his character in "Platoon" quite the same again ;-)

Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin 3 months ago from Oklahoma

This is a book I've wanted to read but just haven't got around to it yet.

Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Dana Tate profile image

Dana Tate 3 months ago from LOS ANGELES

Never saw the movie or read the book, in fact, this is the first I ever heard of it. From your review it did seem pretty interesting but I wasn't surprised that people tried to ban it. One thing I do know about religious people is that they put their hope into the truth of those gospels and if you try to take or alter that in anyway they will rather kill you. Good review, it seems like something I may like to read.

grand old lady profile image

grand old lady 3 months ago from Philippines

Hi Mel, I love your review, especially your use of a sandwich to explain its controversy. Based on your review, I love the book because at the end, you realize not only what Jesus suffered for us, but what he gave up. He could have had a happy marriage, children, grandchildren. But instead, he chose the cross (like those he made as a carpenter according to the book,) and was whipped and beaten and died for us. It just makes me realize how much Jesus really loves us. I'm not saying I believe in the bread of the sandwich, but that it does, really, make a person think.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

I haven't heard anything positive about the movie, Kali. Makes me wonder if I want to see it now. Thanks for reading!

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

Larry I had been intending to read this book for years, just because I wanted to see what the controversy was about. Kind of funny that the witch hunters drove me into the arms of the devil. Thanks for reading!

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

Dana it seems to me that people who really put their hope in the gospel understand that God has given each of his creatures free will, with the right to choose between truth and heresy. I would never advocate forcing Christians to read this book, but Christians should understand that God makes the judgment, not the head of some book burning Inquisition. Thanks for reading, I hope you had a great 4th!

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

Mona your words are beautiful and touching. Indeed, not only did he lay down his life, he layed down his happiness. Most of us don't think about that and I believe this was the author's purpose, to make us think about it. Thanks for reading!

Eric Dierker 3 months ago

The book and the movie intrigued me. Your assessment seems spot on to me. The meat of the work was a little mundane. Reading and watching this piece was that first time I noticed just how insecure radical fire and brimstone "believers" were. This book is really an awesome "what if". I liked that mix up with the De Vinci Code and Angels and Demons also.

The way those dudes at the Councils of Nicea censored so many books makes one wonder just exactly what they burned. I say "just imagine".

Mills P 3 months ago from East Chicago, Indiana

I saw the movie, but I did not read the book. I remember when the movie was released, and people who hadn't seen the movie circulated a petition to boycott the movie. I thought it was a thoughtful telling if the story of Jesus Of Nazareth, and how difficult it must be to be both God and man. People are entitled to not like it after examining it, but they also need to remember that the First Amendment is all-inclusive.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

No telling "what if" is right, Eric. All through history people have been burning books because they believed their own personality cult was greater than the legacy for mankind represented by these treasures. Julius Caesar burned the library at Alexandria. The Council of Nicea decided what stays and to the torch with the rest, as you said. The Taliban blew up those magnificent Buddha statues. We haven't learned anything. Thanks for reading!

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

It never ceases to amaze me Mills why people still think boycotts work. Seems to me the best strategy is to quietly ignore something that is offensive and then if it sucks it will die a natural death. I remember people were boycotting the Dixie Chicks. I don't like country music very much, but of course I immediately went out and bought one of their albums because I needed to know what they were about. I think the boycott leaders are really doing it to draw attention to themselves. Thanks for reading!

DDE profile image

DDE 3 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Your description of this book is excellent and informative.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

Thank you Devika. I always enjoy your visits and your kind words.

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

Your book reviews are always very creative and interesting, Mel. I love reading them. I've heard of the book that you've described but have always assumed that it was a conventional look at the life of Jesus. I was certainly wrong! This is yet another book that you've persuaded me to add to my reading list.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

Thank you Linda, those are very encouraging words, because I enjoy writing them and I am pleased it is more than just an exercise in self indulgence! I really appreciate you dropping in!

Lawrence Hebb 3 months ago


Doesn't the Bible say 'Tempted in every way' yet without sin?

To me that means that despite how uncomfortable it makes me feel Jesus must at least have faced that kind of temptation!

I remember when the movie came out and remember the firestorm it caused, it was about the same time as the 'Satanic Verses' where the Muslims were burning bookshops in London!

I never read the book, or watched the movie, but it did make me stop and think about if it was possible and to me the Bible (while it may not agree totally with the book) says he must have been tempted in some way, otherwise how can he identify with us?

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

You are absolutely right Lawrence. I looked up the verse, and it comes from Hebrews 4:15. Depending on the translation, it says he was either tempted "as we are," or "tempted in every way." There seems to be some theological hair-splitting going on here. If we say he was tempted as we are, it signifies that he was subject to the ordinary day to day temptations that most of us endure, and mostly give in to. But if we read this as tempted in every way, it means that not only did he face ordinary temptations, as we do, but some additional temptations that are way beyond the scope of what we mere mortals face. If you read about his temptations in the desert before his ministry began, I would say he was tempted in every way, and then some. My point being, the devil must have been trying to get him to fall using every trick in the book, which is what this novel is saying as well.

I have read "The Satanic Verses" as well, twice, and it upsets that there were British politicians actually siding with appeasing the Muslims, instead of sticking up for Rushdie's freedom of speech.

My opinion is that, no matter what your religious views, in this temporary earthly existence God has given us complete freedom to follow or fail. Christ himself did not advocate theocracy - he said "Render unto Caesar." Therefore, if God respects our freedoms and does not want to get involved in Earthly government, then what is the justification behind these book-burners, stake-burners who want religion to control every aspect of our lives?

Thank you for your thought-provoking comment.

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