The Last Temptation of Christ - Lunchtime Lit with Mel
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.
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
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
On The Beach
The Last Temptation of Christ
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.
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!
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?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.
Catchy Show Tunes to Burn Books By
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