If one were to compile a list of the world’s most notorious banned books, The Last Temptation of Christ would be near the top. Written by Nikos Kazantzakis in 1960, and adapted into an equally controversial film version by Martin Scorsese in 1988, The Last Temptation is a rewriting of the story of Jesus Christ. Focusing on Jesus as a historical rather than religious figure, the novel follows Jesus from his humble beginnings in Nazareth to his death on the cross.
This novel is dangerous because it portrays Jesus not as a creature to be revered, but as a man startlingly, achingly human. While he is certainly recognizable, this is not the Jesus of the Bible. This Jesus is depressed, confused, paranoid, and lustful; he yearns for the company of Mary Magdalene almost as much as he wants to do his duty to God. These weaknesses make his passion all the more astonishing: In his climactic scene on the cross, Jesus hallucinates a reality in which he declines martyrdom, living instead a quiet life as Mary Magdalene’s husband. Almost as scandalous is the realignment of Judas’s place in the tale. Instead of being cast as the great betrayer, Kazantzakis gives Judas a beautiful, close, and symbiotic relationship with Jesus, making in clear that without Judas’s actions, good or bad, we would not have a Christ at all.
Kazantzakis‘s novel is a long book, but an entirely worthwhile one. The prose is gorgeous, epic without becoming overblown, and the relationships are tender and well wrought. The Last Temptation of Christ is a thoughtful reframing of Christianity that is a worthyread for the secular and religious alike.