THE LAST TEMPTATION by Nikos Kazantzakis was a revelation for a young boy living on the South Shore of Boston in the early 60s. I found the book in our town library next to his successful novel ZORBA THE GREEK. Reading the blurb on the dust cover I was shocked to discover that Kazantzakis had written this book to argue the innate weakness of the flesh in the Son of God. Books like this were regularly banned in Boston. The lack of due date stamps within the front cover revealed that the book had never been read by anyone in my town. I stuck it under my arm and walked to the check-out counter.
"This book has been here over seven years." The librarian examined THE LAST TEMPTATION, as if she had never seen it before. She opened the pages to the publishing date. "Came out in 1960."
"Maybe it was in hiding." I was a weekly visitor to the library. The librarian was familiar with my reading habits. She allowed me to take out adult books without question.
"ZORBA THE GREEK is very popular. Any time someone makes a movie from a book, people come into the library to read it. Afterward I have to hear how the book was better or the movie was better."
"THE TEN COMMANDMENTS were better than the book." I had seen the Bible epic at the South Shore Drive-In with my parents. I didn't tell them that I was a non-believer. Such an admission would have earned me the belt and not on the palm of the hand.
"That's almost sacrilegious." She frowned from behind her desk, then laughed, "I was kidding. I liked THE TEN COMMANDMENTS better too. Let me know how this book is."
I took THE LAST TEMPTATION home and read the entire novel over the weekend. My older brother grabbed it out of my hands and asked if it was a dirty book.
"No." Kazantzakis offered an intoxication more heady than sex.
The author contradicted the very teachings of the Church. Jesus was a man. He succumbed to the pleasure of Mary Magdalene. The devil tore at his soul. The Messiah lived in India after surviving the crucifixion. He woke from a dream to find himself nailed to the cross. His suggestions created a Fifth Testament complimenting my juvenile atheism.
My version was simple.
Jesus had been crucified on the cross. The Romans declared him dead, but he was in a coma. After the earthquake opened his tomb, the apostles discovered him alive and declared him the Son of God. Jesus believed them until Thomas returned from India. He pointed to the scars in Jesus' feet and hands and told his friend that if they did this once, then they will do it again. Jesus hadn't come back from the dead to be re-crucified and he fled to India with Thomas, his mother, and Mary Magdalene.
My version was also heresy, until I read in VS Naipul's AMONGST THE BELIEVERS that a tomb exists in Northern India containing the body of a holy man from Judea. Yuz Asaf or Issar had been a healer and lived to the age of 127. Muslims in Kashmir revere the tomb as the final resting place of Mary. Craved footprints of Yuz Araf on the gravestones bear wounds in the feet.
In 1988 Martin Scorcese released THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. The movie was banned in the Philippines and Singapore and a Paris cinema was firebombed by Christian extremists. Thirteen spectators were injured in the attack. The same number of people at the Last Dinner.
Christians are very sensitive about any questioning of the divinity of Jesus or blasphemous exploitation of his image.
The controversial photo PISS CHRIST earned Richard Serrano a hailstorm of outrage for its use of urine. He received hate mail and death threats. His grants were withdrawn despite counter-protests for the freedom of speech as guaranteed by the American Constitution. The work was thoroughly trashed by Christian Fundamentalists in France this Spring and they have mounted a similar campaign against a Paris theater for showing a play in which a portrait of Jesus is covered in shit at the end of the play.
As an atheist I refrain from attacking anyone's religion.
If belief in a mythical god makes the believers happy, so be it, but if they try to change the way I think, then I'll resist the bible-thumpers and jihadists every step of the way.
And here's how;
Why did Jesus cross the road?
Because he was nailed to the chicken!
Yes, if there is a Hell, we're all going to go there.
I think that comes from a Curtis Mayfield song.
If there is a hell, we're all going to go.
And I found the address in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST.
IT'S IN THE STATE OF MICHIGAN.