“Half God, Half Man”: Kazantzakis, Scorsese, and “The Last Temptation”. Graham Holderness. The Harvard Theological Review. Vol. 100. No. 1. January 2007. Pp. 65-80
The article points out the theme “The dual substance of Christ” which is mentioned in the prologue to Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel The Last Temptation of Christ and also in the film version of the novel directed by Martin Scorsese.
Both Kazantzakis and Scorsese located their work at the heart of Christianity’s most complex internal controversy, the relation between divinity and humanity in the person of Christ.
The paper explores the theological underpinnings of both versions of The Last Temptation and attempts to demonstrate the value of their contributions to theological discussion and debate.
In this paper, the author argues that though apparently denying divine omniscience, Kazantzakis fleshes out a persuasive model for understanding the purpose of incarnation. Kazantzakis affirms that God is incomplete without man and the author further claims that the contrary is also true.
The main objective of Kazantzakis was to liberate Jesus from the church and to bypass both the Christian doctrine devised by Paul and the “falsifications” of the gospel writers in order to get at the historical truth about Jesus of Nazareth.
Kazantzakis saw his work not as a repudiation of Christian truth nut rather as a revaluation of Christian spirituality for a modern age. Kazantzakis was clearly attempting a theological as well as an imaginative reworking of the life of Jesus. He was undertaking a theological revision of key doctrinal matters such as the incarnation and the atonement.
The dual nature, or dual substance, of Christ has always been, and still remains, an intellectually challenging, doctrinally controversial but nonetheless unavoidable cornerstone of Christian belief and worship.
Man without God is a mere animal, haunted by his anthropoid ancestry, and struggling to extricate himself from the coils of evolution. But conversely God without man could have no direct physical knowledge of the human existence that he himself had created.
Kazantzakis’ view of the “dual substance” of Christ assumed then that the two natures were utterly distinct, absolutely different, and violently inimical one to another.
More than any other foundational doctrine of Christianity, the supposedly symmetrical and stable relationship between the persons of the Trinity has proved in practice a site of controversy.
When the novel began to approach the person of Jesus, it was in the form of an anticlerical, secular and humanizing project. This Jesus, man rather than God, appears in both liberal theology and secular fiction of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries. Scepticism about the Christological possibilities of imaginative prose encouraged scholars to assume that the Christ of the novel is invariably the human Jesus and that Christ as incarnate God is therefore not representable in modern fiction.
The structure of Jesus’ journey, which corresponds loosely to the four phases mapped out in Kazantzakis’ sketchbook (son of the carpenter, son of man, son of David, son of God), shows a Jesus growing through successive stages of evolution into consciousness of his mission.
Kazantzakis links the dual substance of Christ with the dual nature of man as the product of both nature and God.
Creationism and evolution are juxtaposed as respectively theocentric and anthropocentric explanations of the universe.
Kazantzakis’ Jesus is predominantly human, full of weakness, self-doubt and ambivalence. He is not at first consciously aware of his own divine status, his mission of salvation or his destiny of crucifixion. He encounters his divinity as something hostile and alien. Throughout the novel Jesus retains a love of life and of the earth, which seems to conflict with his divine destiny.
Kazantzakis’ Jesus may not be conscious of his identity and destiny but is certainly subconsciously aware of them at the level of dream and vision, where much of the novel’s narrative operates.
The three temptations of the snake, the lion and the burning archangel discussed in the novel are the core temptations of humanity. The snake is desire, love of the earth, the yearning to have a wife and children, and the hunger for Mary Magdalene. The lion is the fierce and violent passions of animal instinct: the visionary beast proclaims that he is “the deepest voice of your deepest self.” The archangel tempts Jesus to think of himself as God.