Tempted by Happiness; Kazantzakis Post-Christian Christ

Tempted by Happiness; Kazantzakis Post-Christian Christ

by Peter A. Bien

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Aside from Zorba the Greek, The Last Temptation is Kazantzakis' best known work. It is also one of his final statements, coming near the end of an extraordinary career. Yet the novel has never been truly studied but has only been condemned or praised, in both cases usually by people who have not taken the trouble to discover what it is about. The condemnations have come from religious conservatives of various faiths. The Greek Orthodox hierarchy in Athens sought to prosecute Kazantzakis; the Roman Catholics promptly placed the book on their Index; Protestant fundamentalists in the United States campaigned to have the work removed from libraries (transforming it into a best seller). Those who condemned it seemed to assume that Kazantzakis ought to have followed the Gospel account slavishly. He did not, and the religious conservatives were scandalized by innovations such as Jesus' desire for sex, Mary's hope that her son would remain a simple carpenter instead of becoming the Messiah, and Judas's role as a hero rather than a villain....

Ultimately, The Last Temptation should be judged not according to its closeness or lack of closeness to the Gospels but rather according to its own subject matter, which means according to how creatively Kazantzakis uses the Biblical materials in order to make a statement responsive to his own and his culture's contemporary needs, a statement rooted not in the first century of our era but in the twentieth. Let us try, therefore, to see what the novel is about, especially in its governing structures; then, let us ask why Kazantzakis wrote it the way he did, when he did.

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Product Details

BN ID: 2940157056070
Publisher: Pendle Hill Publications
Publication date: 07/18/2016
Series: Pendle Hill Pamphlets , #253
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 233 KB

About the Author

Peter Bien is Professor of English at Dartmouth College. Born in New York City in 1930, he was educated at Deerfield Academy, Harvard College, Haverford College, Bristol University (England) and Columbia University, where he received his Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature in 1961. His introduction to Quakerism began at Haverford and continued thanks to David Ritchie’s Philadelphia Weekend Workcamps and then the Quaker International Voluntary Service. While doing alternative service in Rochester, N. Y. in 1953-54 he helped to organize the Rochester Weekend Workcamps and joined Rochester Monthly Meeting. His introduction to Greece actually began in England during a sojourn at Woodbrooke College, where he met Chrysanthi Yiannakou, then a teacher in the Quaker Domestic Science School for Rural Girls in Thessaloniki. This meeting led to marriage and the first of many extended stays in various regions of Greece.

Peter Bien’s interest in religion, literature and Greece naturally directed him to Kazantzakis. He began by translating three of Kazantzakis’ works, including The Last Temptation of Christ, turning afterwards to scholarly studies of this author. His publications also include studies of L. P. Hartley, Constantine Cavafy and Yannis Ritsos, as well as textbooks for elementary and intermediate modern Greek written in collaboration with his wife and Professor John Rassias. In 1968 he received the E. Harris Harbison Award for Distinguished Teaching from the Danforth Foundation. He has been visiting professor at Harvard and at Melbourne, Australia, and is currently president of the Modern Greek Studies Association.

The present pamphlet grows out of a book that Peter Bien is writing on “Kazantzakis and Politics.” But the immediate occasion was a Pendle Hill extension course held in May 1981 in which Mary Morrison directed students’ reading of the Gospel passages utilized by Kazantzakis while Peter Bien tried to explain Jesus’ fourfold evolution and the peculiarly eschatological politics of the author’s final years.

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