Obviously, the novel re-tells the life of Christ. I doubt anyone doesn't remember the controversy that surrounded the movie, and apparently there was controversy at the book's publishing, too - to the extent that at his death, a Greek Archbishop wouldn't let his body 'lie in state' in his church. However, it's my impression that nothing in the book was intended to be blasphemous. The afterword makes the point that in his own life, Kazantzakis was much concerned with the struggle between earthly and spiritual matters, and he shows Christ as a man, divinely inspired, yet beset by doubts and fears, in order to, in his own words, "offer a supreme model to the man who struggles," and, through an understanding of that struggle, to "love Christ more."
Does it work, in that respect? Possibly not.
For one thing, I think when Kazantzakis says "man who struggles," that 'man' is not insignificant. Women are portrayed in this book largely as symbols - either of temptation, or of the 'earthly' way of life - hearth and children. It's said repeatedly that women do not yearn after eternity, they live in the moment; that their 'eternity' is here on earth. In order to achieve spiritual greatness, Jesus must reject women - not only as objects of lust or love, but as mother, family, and all earthly comfort.
Hmmph. Anything that portrays women as symbols rather than individuals is somewhat annoying to me.
And I've just never really bought into the idea that spiritual growth is attained by physical denial or renunciation.
So my personal problem with the ideas in the book starts there - but they're really issues I have with Chrisitanity in general, not with the book, specifically.
Interestingly, throughout the book, it's shown pretty frequently that people around Jesus seem pretty rational. Epileptic-type fits and Revelations-style 'visions' are seen as a sign of mental illness, as is his insistence on denying his mother. The wisdom of abandoning family, career and responsibilities to become an impoverished itinerant preacher is questioned - many characters state that the Way of God, or the right thing to do, is to marry and raise a family well.
I guess this weird conflict is still seen in Christianity today, when followers are encouraged to marry and have children, but priests and nuns are required to be celibate.
But the most unusual thing about this portrayal of Christ is his initial directionlessness. At first he is even unsure if his 'divine' inspiration comes from God or Satan. He is afraid to speak publicly. When he first becomes a public speaker, his message is all about love and pacifism. Later, after meeting John the Baptist, he becomes more revolutionary (but not without much inner conflict). And when he decides that becoming martyred is the right thing to do, it seems a sudden change of direction, not something that was in the plan all along.
Again, according to the afterword, this model for Jesus' personal development seems to mirror Kazantzakis', who changed tacks in his search for personal enlightenment many times in his life, exploring monasticism, Buddhism, Marxism and more during his life before writing this novel.
As a novel, it works pretty well. It's in translation (from demotic, or 'low' Greek), so it's hard to make judgements about the writing style. The 'flow' is sometimes made awkward, I felt, by the necessity of 'getting in' various parables or Biblical incidents, and there are occasional bits that I felt were probably historically inaccurate (would a peasant of Jesus' time have cursed 'Damn you to hell," for instance?) - but the characters of Jesus and his apostles were brought vividly and originally to life - his violent, zealous and brawny red-bearded Judas isn't someone I'll forget soon, nor is quiet, ink-stained Matthew, taking poetic liberties while writing down the life of Jesus (interesting stuff there, about the difference between literal truth and spiritual truth.)
Oh, and I won't be forgetting Lazarus-as-rotting-zombie, either!!! ohmy.gif
Overall, this is a book I'm glad I've read, even if I didn't agree with a lot of its message, and it certainly didn't change my spiritual views.