Places: The Last Temptation of Christ

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Ho teleutaios peirasmos, 1955 (English translation, 1960)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: First century c.e.

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Magdala

*Magdala. Last Temptation of Christ, TheHome of Mary Magdalene, the prostitute whom Jesus saves from stoning, located about ten miles northeast of Nazareth. Nikos Kazantzakis describes her home in suggestive detail. In the courtyard grow three trees, a pomegranate laden with fruit and two cypresses, one a male with a phallic trunk and the other a female, its branches spread wide. Seen through Jesus’ eyes, as he wrestles with temptation, the trees suggest Jesus’ all-too-human desire for love, sex, and progeny. Four merchants, each awaiting his turn with Mary Magdalene inside the house, suggest sin and corruption. Inside, Jesus finds Mary naked after her day’s “work”–a powerful temptation. However, he also finds a night’s peace as he sleeps there alone by the fire. At dawn he rises, and finds Mary, who is feigning sleep in her own bed, an even greater temptation, as he imagines not sex but marriage, a new life in a distant village, where Mary’s past is not known. For Kazantzakis’s Jesus, home and hearth, the joys of an ordinary life, are the greatest of earthly temptations. In Jesus’ delirium on the cross, he returns to Mary Magdalene.

Lazarus’s house

Lazarus’s house. Home of Lazarus, located in Bethany, a village between Jerusalem and the northern tip of the Dead Sea. Lazarus shares his home with his beautiful unmarried sisters, Mary and Martha. There, Jesus rests and refreshes himself after his most famous temptation, his forty-day struggle with Satan in the desert. Lazarus’s home is of greater danger to Jesus than all the riches and power offered by Satan. The house smells of sweet spices and is filled with the comforts of home and hearth. In his imagination, Jesus shares a long and happy life in this house with Mary and Martha, which ends when Satan reveals that all is a dream, the “last temptation.” Jesus instantly rejects Satan and returns to the agony of the cross and his duty to God.

*Nazareth

*Nazareth. Village in the hills of Galilee about seventy miles from Jerusalem that is both Jesus’ birthplace and his hometown. Kazantzakis postulates that the story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the city of kings, was invented by the apostle Matthew in order to support his claim that Jesus was the son of God. Indeed, historical records show that the census that traditional Christians believe drew Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem during her pregnancy never took place. Kazantzakis seeks the man behind the Gospels, and the villages and countryside that made the man.

*Temple of Jerusalem

*Temple of Jerusalem. Center of Judaism in Roman-occupied Judea. Traditionally believed to be built on the foundations of the Temple of Solomon and actually destroyed by the Romans in 70 c.e., the temple was still under construction during Jesus’ lifetime. The Gospels give but sparse descriptions of the temple; however, Kazantzakis depicts it as a beehive of activity, reeking from the slaughter of the animal sacrifice that was an essential ritual of Judaism in the time of Jesus. The temple also signifies temptation because of the richness of its furnishings and construction, which suggests the corruption of the religious establishment in Jerusalem.

*Gethsemane

*Gethsemane (geth-SEH-mah-nee). Olive grove on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem that is the scene of Jesus’ arrest by the Levites, who make up the temple guards. Kazantzakis’s version of this “garden” smells of pistachios, and its soil smells of resin and honey, and Jesus marvels at such “perfume.” Like the homes of Mary Magdalene and Lazarus, Gethsemane contains the joys of the earth.

Sources for Further StudyBien, Peter A. Nikos Kazantzakis. New York: Columbia University Press, 1972. An excellent starting point. Contains limited commentary on The Last Temptation of Christ.Bien, Peter A. Nikos Kazantzakis, Novelist. Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 1989. An excellent introduction to Kazantzakis. Includes an appraisal of Kazantzakis’ importance as a novelist and his worldview, plus an analysis of The Last Temptation of Christ and other major novels.Bien, Peter A. Tempted by Happiness: Kazantzakis’ Post-Christian Christ. Pendle Hill Pamphlet 253. Wallingford, Pa.: Pendle Hill Publications, 1984. An examination of Kazantzakis’s use of biblical materials, specifically in The Last Temptation of Christ.Chilson, Richard W. “The Christ of Nikos Kazantzakis,” in Thought: A Review of Culture and Ideas. XLVII (1972), pp. 69-89.Dombrowski, Daniel A. Kazantzakis and God. New York: State University of New York Press, 1997. A thorough exploration of the case for Kazantzakis as a “process theist.”Friar, Kimon. The Spiritual Odyssey of Nikos Kazantzakis: A Talk. Edited with an introduction by Theofanis G. Stavrou. St. Paul, Minn.: North Central Publishing, 1979. Explains Kazantzakis’ return to Catholicism, an essential point in understanding The Last Temptation of Christ.Hoffman, Frederick J. The Imagination’s New Beginning: Theology and Modern Literature, 1967.Iannone, Carol. “The Last Temptation Reconsidered.” First Things 60 (February, 1996): 50-54. A scholarly article arguing for the ultimate compatibility of the Christ of Kazantzakis and the Christ of traditional Christianity.Kazantzakis, Helen. Nikos Kazantzakis: A Biography Based on His Letters. Translated by Amy Mims. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1968. A loving portrait of the author by his second wife. Provides insights into Kazantzakis’ often turbulent mind during the writing of his greatest works.Kazantzakis, Nikos. The Saviours of God. Translated by Kimon Friar. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960. English translation of Kazantzakis’s 1927 attempt to aphoristically express his spiritual beliefs.Levitt, Morton P. The Cretan Glance: The World and Art of Nikos Kazantzakis. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1980. Beginning with Freedom or Death, one of Kazantzakis’ few novels set on his home island of Crete, Levitt discusses the development of Crete as metaphor in the major novels, including The Last Temptation of Christ and the great epic poem, The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel.Middleton, Darrel N. J., ed. Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” Fifty Years On. New York: Continuum International Publishing, 2005. Essays reassessing The Last Temptation of Christ specifically in light of the controversy that it has generated.
Categories: Places