Home > Chapter 16

The Last Temptation of Christ

CT Lee from the law firm down the corridor strode briskly into Arthur’s office, leaned over his table and placed the folded newspaper carefully in front of him.

"Arthur, no doubt you have read the latest in the correspondence on The Last Temptation Of Christ."

Arthur smiled as he put his pen down.

"Now that you have drawn my attention to it, I doubt I can avoid it. Sit down and tell me your interest in the subject. Help yourself to the pot of coffee and the curry puffs. I’m expecting a friend."

CT eased his portly frame into the chair and began to pour himself a drink.

"You Christians are really too much, you know," CT began.

Just then who should appear accompanied by a smiling Cecilia, Arthur’s secretary, but Uncle Loh, briefcase in hand. Pleased to see his good friend after an absence of three months, Arthur warmly welcomed him and introduced CT.

"Hi, Arthur! It’s great to be home after that long spell in London," Uncle Loh beamed as he settled down.

"So glad you can drop in, Uncle Loh. You came in time to resue me from CT who, I have a feeling, is in one of his Christian-bashing moods."

CT’s rotund features took an almost comical pained look.

He turned to Uncle Loh. "I’m afraid it’s the other way round. It’s Christians who are bashing us law abiding, peaceable agnostics. They are imposing their religious views on us. And all because they don’t appreciate literature and academic freedom! Imagine, the book The Last Temptation Of Christ has been on the shelves available to one and all for thirty years. Now that it has been made into a film, it has been banned."

"I don’t believe the censors we have today were in office thirty years ago, so consistency of censorship policy is not the point to question. In any case, all that the film has done is to draw attention to the book," remarked Uncle Loh. "When this furore in the press began, I made it a point to read Nikos Kazantzakis’ book while in London. I was so disgusted with the book I did not care to see the film."

"Really?" queried CT, eyebrows raised. "What have you against Kazantzakis?"

Uncle Loh leaned back. "As you may know, he has written several books. Many have enjoyed Zorba the Greek as film and book. Do you know he has penned a travel journal called England? It has its entertaining parts, but on the whole, I find England morbidly introspective. No, I have nothing against that man. It’s his novel on The Last Temptation Of Christ that I find objectionable."

"Before I ask you what you find objectionable, Mr Loh, I think you are aware that Kazantzakis is a Christian. He seems to have no qualms of conscience writing his book which has been described as ‘memorable’ and ‘a masterpiece of modern literature!’ "

From his briefcase Uncle Loh removed a notebook. He flipped through its pages, reading rapidly before speaking.

"You will be interested in a bit of background on his life. Bien, who translated the book from Greek to English, says Kazantzakis ‘travelled over most of the world, restless and uprooted in a self imposed exile.’ Kazantzakis, Bien recounts, was searching for a saviour.

He first found him in the German philosopher Nietzsche who taught, among other things, the doctrine of the superman. He then renounced Nietzsche for Buddha, then Buddha for Lenin, then Lenin for Odysseus. He finally turned to Christ, ‘enriched by everything that had come between.’ (1) Nowhere in his book does Kazantzakis say he is a Christian. It is claimed on his behalf by others. For instance, his novel has been styled as ‘passionately Christian.’ "

"Do you, Mr Loh, think he is a Christian?" CT asked.

"As a lawyer you must be aware that words reasonably capable of only one meaning must be given that meaning. That one meaning the Bible gives to ‘Christian’ is that of a person who repents of his sins and in faith accepts Jesus Christ as Saviour. One can only judge this man by his writings. On the basis of the book in question, I don’t believe he is a Christian. That’s my candid opinion."

"Aha!" intoned CT. "We are back again to the book."

Uncle Loh glanced at CT over the rim of his bifocals. "Now then, if I may, I wish to present my findings as I jotted them down."

CT leaned back and waved his hand royally. "Please proceed, Mr Loh."

"You may recall from reading the papers that Kazantzakis is defended on the grounds that his novel is a work of literary imagination, using fiction to make a statement about his perception of Jesus Christ and Christianity. If it is no more than that, Kazantzakis should have no grudges against the original records in the Gospels, should he? After all, without these records what could he write on? Yet we find Kazantzakis trying to discredit Matthew’s gospel. Listen to this:

Matthew got up and handed Jesus his writings. He was very happy. "Rabbi," he said, "here I recount your life and works for men of the future…"

"What is this?" he (Jesus) screamed, "Lies! Lies! Lies! The Messiah doesn’t need miracles. He is the miracle – no other is necessary! I was born in Nazareth, not in Bethlehem; I’ve never even set foot in Bethlehem, and I don’t remember any Magi. I never in my life went to Egypt; and what you write about the dove saying, ‘This is my beloved son’ to me as I was baptised – who revealed that to you? I myself didn’t hear clearly. How did you find out, you, who weren’t even there?" (2)

Uncle Loh paused. "What we have here is a direct contradiction of the Gospel records."

CT cocked his head to one side, and said, "Well, it is literary imagination."

"Why imagine it this way? You are missing an important point," replied Uncle Loh. "Suppose I announce that I am writing a historical novel of Singapore as seen through the eyes of Stamford Raffles. I declare that my aim is to help Singaporeans appreciate Raffles and their country better. In my book I make Raffles denounce what the standard history text books say as a tissue of lies. I make Raffles proclaim he never was an agent for the East India Company, that he did not land on Temasek but on one of the southern islands, and so on. I believe you have every right to question my real intentions despite my declared intention. Literary worth is more than the exercise of literary imagination."

"There are official documents to prove what happened in Singapore did happen," CT interjected.

"You mean eyewitness accounts and official documents. The same can be said of the life of Christ. The Gospels have been examined and accepted by the Church from the earliest times as true historical records."

CT protested, "But they have been recorded by men who were believers and emotionally involved. Can we really trust such a record?"

Uncle Loh laughed. "Are you suggesting that people who are emotionally moved by the event they witness should not be trusted to record accurately what they see or hear? Are we, for instance, to discard as inaccurate our records of National Day parades and Parliamentary debates because those who recorded them could be tainted with deep feelings?

May I not argue just as convincingly that if people knew the importance of what they witness they would be more careful in what they set down for posterity? Indeed, Luke’s Gospel began with these words:

‘Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word have handed them down to us, it seems fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you might know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.’ " (Luke 1:1-4)

CT was silent, so Uncle Loh went on. "Kazantzakis goes on to turn his Jesus into a confused, guilt ridden man who leaned on people for moral support. This included, of all people, Judas Iscariot. Kazantzakis is making the Bible stand on its head! Here is an excerpt from the fourteenth chapter:

"As you can see, I still don’t know who you are - but neither do you." (Judas said)… Jesus trembled all over. "What can we do, Judas, my brother? How can we discover the answer? Help me."

"There is a way."


"We’ll go to John the Baptist. He will be able to tell us." (3)

Jesus is falsely portrayed as being unsure as the Messiah. Whereas very early in His ministry Jesus was already declaring His Messiahship to Nathanael:

‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’ (John 1:47-51. See also John 4:26 and Luke 4:16-21.)

Trying to convince himself that Jesus was only a sinful man forced by God to become the Saviour, Kazantzakis makes Jesus say these terrible words before Simeon, a rabbi:

"Why should he (God) choose me? Doesn’t he uncover my breast and look in? All the serpents are entwined and hissing there, hissing and dancing - all the sins…" He was quiet for a moment but then: "I AM Lucifer!" he screamed. "Me!" "Me!" (4)

This is plain blasphemy, craftily done under the umbrella of literary licence. Blasphemy may not be an indictable offence, CT, but God will judge one day. The Bible says Jesus, tempted at all points as we are, was without sin. (Hebrews 4:15) His own words were: ‘Which of you convicts Me of sin? I speak the truth, why do you not believe Me?’ (John 8:46)

Pilate the Roman procurator gave Jesus a complete acquittal. He could have pleased the Jews by formally convicting Him, but he said: ‘Behold I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know I find no guilt in Him’ " (John 19:4)

There was silence in the office. Arthur prompted, "You have not come to the last temptation."

"Ah yes," said Uncle Loh, consulting his notes. "Do you know that the so called last temptation that Kazantzakis’ Jesus dreamed on the cross occupies only eleven percent of the book, 53 out of 496 pages, to be exact? Kazantzakis’ intention was really to rewrite the entire life of Christ to his bizarre taste and not just the closing statement. On the cross Kazantzakis had Jesus imagine he had married Mary Magdelene. Then he had Mary killed by Saul and some frenzied Levites. Thereupon Jesus married Mary, the sister of Lazarus. When Mary was out he slept with Martha."

CT pursed his lips and shook his head. Arthur grimaced in disgust, "Kazantzakis has an obsession for lechery, hasn’t he?"

Uncle Loh raised his finger. "All in the name of literary imagination, mind you. Would anybody dare write a sleazy historical novel such as this on the events surrounding the assassination of a revered figure like Mahatma Gandhi, I wonder? Would those defending Kazantzakis now excuse such a novel as being another perception of Indian history? Would they allow the separation of the Mahatma (a Brahman sage) of faith from the Gandhi of history?

My guess is that the same defenders of Kazantzakis will lash the author for his insolence, his being insensitive to the feelings of people all over the world who hold dear Gandhi’s memory. No! I dare say no one would write such a novel."

CT sipped his coffee and cleared his throat. "Mr Loh, I grant you that Kazantzakis might have overstepped the bounds of decency here and there in the way he expressed his feelings. One cannot deny he was searching for the truth in his own fashion."

"Kazantzakis searching for the truth? Perhaps these words that he put into the mouth of Paul will act as a window of Kazantzakis’ own soul. Jesus dreams he is scolded by Paul in these words:

‘No. I won’t keep quiet. I don’t give a hoot about what’s true and what’s false, or whether I saw him (Christ) or didn’t see him or whether he was crucified or wasn’t crucified. I create the truth, create it out of obstinacy and longing and faith… I shall become your apostle whether you like it or not. I shall construct you and your life and your teachings and your crucifixion and resurrection just as I wish.’ (5)

How utterly this is contradicted by the real Paul who wrote to his Galatian friends: ‘For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.’ " (Galatians 1:11-12)

At this point CT got up uneasily and took a deep breath as he prepared to leave.

"You have convinced me of at least one thing, Mr Loh," he said, tapping the Bible with his finger, "those who know their Bible are more than a match for the likes of Kazantzakis. I might even begin to read it."

"Do that," Uncle Loh said encouragingly.

Retrieving his newspaper from the table, CT saw the single remaining curry puff. He reached for it, hesitated and withdrew his hand.

"It’s the last," he remarked wryly. Turning on his heels he vanished through the door.


  1. P.A. Bien. "A Note on the Author and His use of Language." Appendix to "The Last Temptation Of Christ" by Nikos Kazantzakis. Translated from the Greek by P.A. Bien. Simon and Schuster. New York. 1960.
  2. "The Last Temptation Of Christ" by Nikos Kazantzakis. Simon and Schuster. New York. 1960. Pp. 391, 392.
  3. op. cit. p. 205.
  4. op. cit. pp. 145, 146.
  5. op. cit. pp. 477, 478.


Next chapter: Water, water everywhere