My memories are a little hazy after all these years, but I do still have some shaking around my head of when the film version of The Last Temptation of Christ came out to the theaters. The only place in Anchorage that would play it was a little arthouse place called the Capri (which, sadly, no longer exists), and in order to see the film during its run there, you had to go by the protestors picketing the Capri in anger they they dared to show the film. I’m pretty sure that Dad and I went to see the movie together, though I’m not positive.
In any case, I always enjoyed the film, and owned it on videotape before the DVD release became available, at which point I gave the video version to my parents. I’d been intending to read the original novel for a long time, but finally picked it up after finishing The Complete Chronicles of Narnia — I guess a little “light” Christian reading got me in the mood for something a little deeper.
Reading this was definitely interesting — it may be one of the very few times where I prefer the movie adaptation to the original written work. This isn’t meant to slight the book at all, it was quite good reading…however, something about the writing style Kazantzakis used (quite intentionally, as I found out in the afterword) kept me from getting as engrossed in the book as I do when I watch the film. As with all book to movie tranlations, there are details and subtleties that can be conveyed more easily and in more depth in the book than can be done on film, so I’m quite glad that I did take the time to read the book, but in the end I’m much more likely to pop in the movie to watch again than I am to pick up the book.
To my mind, it’s always been quite difficult to see just why this book, and the film, caused so much consternation — sure, it was a grittier, more human presentation of Jesus than is typical, but wasn’t part of the point of Jesus being the ‘Son of Man’ as well as the ‘Son of God’ that he was human? That’s always how it seemed to me, and I never really got the uproar over a look at his life that explored his human side in addition to his divine side. This edition of the book, however, includes the essay ‘A Note on the Author and His Use of Language’ by the translator, P. A. Bien, that helped clear up a little of the mystery behind that for me — as well as raising another question that I’m kind of hoping dad (or anyone else, for that matter) might be able to shed a little light on!
It turns out that the very basis of the work is, in fact, heretical to official Church beliefs. According to Bien,
Jesus is a [Nietzschean] superman, one who by force of will achieves a victory over matter…. But this over-all victory is really a succession of particular triumphs as he frees himself from various forms of bondage — family, bodily pleasures, the state, fear of death. Since…freedom is not a reward for the struggle but rather the very process of struggle itself, it is paramount that Jesus be constantly tempted by evil in such a way that he feel its attractiveness and even succumb to it, for only in this way can his ultimate rejection of temptation of meaning.
This is heresy. It is the same heresy that Milton…slipped into on occasion — as when he declared that evil may enter the mind of God and, if unapproved, leave ‘no spot or blame behind.'”
Now, this was interesting to me — if I’m understanding this correctly, the heresy lies not just in the belief that Jesus could be tempted, but that there was a risk that he could give into that temptation. My question, then, is just this — isn’t that the way it would need to be? If there were no possibility of Jesus giving into the temptation and renouncing his spot on the cross, then what would be the point? It seems to me that temptation without the risk of succumbing to that temptation would hardly be temptation at all, and any ‘victory’ over temptaion at that point would be entirely meaningless.
Any thoughts? Comments? Attempts to drive into my head whatever it is I’m missing here?