The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis

In honor of Easter Sunday, I decided to reacquaint myself with The Last Temptation of Christ, a book that has a very soft spot in my heart. This is the book and movie for which I was kicked out of Catholic school back in 9th grade. I didn’t get kicked out because I was a troublemaker or kissing boys behind the school or anything sinful that would warrant getting the boot from good old St. Michael’s High School. I got kicked out for asking questions. Let me explain.

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The movie came out in the mid-1980s and caused a huge ruckus in the Catholic Church, the reason being is that the movie – and the book it was based on – showed a scene of Jesus having sex with Mary Magdalene. I will give you the context of that scene later in this blog, but oh the horror! My mom fell in with the ridiculous mob mentality of many parents back then and refused to allow my sister and I to see it. So of course, what does forbidding something from someone make them want to do? It makes them want to have it, of course.

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Anyway, I spent the weekend with my Dad during all this brouhaha, and we went to rent movies at Blockbuster one evening. I saw a copy of The Last Temptation of Christ – VHS old school, no less! – and asked if I could rent it. Being that he was a teacher, he was never big on restricting knowledge and so he said yes, I could rent it but I had to watch it with him and he’d answer any questions I might have. Oh goody goody gumdrops, was my reaction. So I watched it and was enthralled with the vision of the human Jesus that I had never previously experienced. (Also, how freakin’ cool is it that David Bowie played Pontius Pilate!!!!)

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I was raised Catholic, obviously, and the Jesus I learned about always knew he was the Son of God and what his ultimate fate would be, or at least, this was how it was presented to me. So to watch this movie, which showed Jesus as a man with doubts and fears and desires who was having visions of God and seeing and hearing things and thinking that he was going insane was a HUGE revelation to me. It’s hard to even put into words just how much of a revelation it was……literally life-changing because from that point on, my entire concept of Jesus and God and religion shifted and I wanted to know more.

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So Monday rolled around and I happily trotted back to St. Mike’s with the scales having fallen from my eyes, as it were, and ended my school day with religion class. I sat down in Brother Ben’s class, we did the lesson and I naively raised my hand to ask a question that had occurred to me after having watched the film. My dad, bless his movie censor heart, had fallen asleep during the film so I couldn’t ask him. Anyway, I can’t remember the exact question, but it infuriated Brother Ben, who was this large, red-faced, beefy Irishman of a priest and his face turned the color of a tomato when I asked my question. He said, “Why are you asking that kind of question?!” in a very peeved tone of voice. I responded “Well, I saw this movie this weekend and it made me start thinking about this so I wanted to ask you.” He responded quite angrily, “What movie did you see?” and dummy me, not seeing the warning signs at the time, said innocently, “The Last Temptation of Christ.” Oh my Lord – pardon the pun – it was like throwing a match into a keg of gasoline. He exploded, shouting at me and questioning why my parents would allow me to watch such filth and that I had no business asking those kinds of questions, etc. etc. A few weeks later, at the end of the school year, my mom got a letter from the principal of St. Mike’s suggesting I would be happier in a “non-parochial environment.” I still laugh about it now.

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Anyway, the book tells the story of Jesus and his path to realizing he is the Son of God, his ministry, his temptations, and his crucifixion. But then from there, while he is slowly and agonizingly dying on the cross, it veers into a lengthy, intense vision of what his life would have been like if he had been different, lived as a a normal man. In this vision, he lives, marries the woman he loves Mary Magdalene (hence his vision of them making love and the furor that created in the Church because what a horrible thing for Jesus to imagine his destiny differently), has children and lives an otherwise unremarkable, normal, happy life. In  other words, the sex scene is all in his mind as part of his vision of giving up being the Son of God. If you were dying slowly and horrifically, wouldn’t you want to escape mentally and imagine you were somewhere else with someone you loved? I would, JC! You’re not alone!

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The son of Mary felt calmed. He sat down on the root of the ancient olive tree and began to eat. How tasty this bread was, how refreshing the water, how sweet the two olives which the old lady gave him to accompany his bread. They had slender pits and were as fat and fleshy as apples! He chewed tranquilly and ate, feeling that his body and soul had joined and become one now, that they were receiving the bread, olives and water with one mouth, rejoicing, the both of them, and being nourished.

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Isn’t that the most beautiful description of eating? I just love it. It inspired me to make olive bread, because bread is the most Biblical of foods and olives were common in Jesus’ time, and then of course, you have the whole Mount of Olives reference and so on. This is the method I used, based on a long-remembered recipe from a Mediterranean cookbook I used to have. Best part? No kneading involved.

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INGREDIENTS
2 cups lukewarm water
1 package (2 and 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
4 teaspoons sea salt
4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup mixed green and black olives, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic powder
Olive oil
1 teaspoon each of dried parsley, dried basil and dried thyme

METHOD
In a large mixing bowl, combine water and yeast.

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Add one cup of flour and the sea salt, and stir until well mixed.

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Add the sliced olives and the garlic powder. Mix again.

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One cup at a time, stir in the remaining flour. You’ll notice the mixture getting thicker and shaggier with each cupful. This is normal.

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Cover with plastic wrap and a tea towel and set somewhere warm to rise for an hour.

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Add a tablespoon of olive oil in an 8-inch cast iron skillet and coat the bottom and sides of the skillet, then transfer the now-risen and very sticky dough to the oiled skillet. You may need to shape it a bit to make it the round size you want.

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Cover with the tea towel and let it proof another half-hour, and heat the oven to 425F.

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Drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil on top of the dough, sprinkle with the dried herbs and maybe a bit of sea salt.

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Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top crust is nice and brown. Isn’t it beautiful? I was so proud!

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Remove from the oven and let cool a few minutes before removing the bread from the skillet. Let cool a bit more, and serve with either butter or very good extra-virgin olive oil and a glass of red wine. Because it’s Easter. You gotta have the bread and wine to be saved.

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27 thoughts on “The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis

  1. The easiest way to lose faith, in my younger years was to have an inquiring mind, and attending a religious school, in my case Xaverian Italian priests, who as the Irish priest you describe, would go ballistic, at any such thing as reading a book, or watching a movie of the proscribed list they will censor regularly, and any question you will make about a taboo subject on their list.
    And they will call your parents to straighten you up, and discipline you harshly, needless to say with my precocious, and anarchic mind, and disregard for authority figures, I was a dissident by the time I was in junior high, thirteen or fourteen years of age, and exploring every one of the books on the forbidden list I could get my hands on to read, and made sure I wouldn’t miss any censored movie as well! 😉

    Now day,I sort of smile at my youthful rebellious ways, and understand Faith in a whole different context, and see that there is nothing wrong with Religions per se, but for the dogmatic way some of his followers behave, and by their intolerance, and closed minds make many people to lose Faith.

    Nikos Kazantzakis it’s a great writer, and by the way that Olive bread looks delicious! 🙂 😋

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    1. That is so awesome! Thank you so very much. I’m very glad it turned out so well for you and very honored that you used my method. The stuffed acorn squash looks super yum, too. It’s one of the very few squashes I’ve not yet cooked with, but I am inspired now by your post. 🙂 Thank you again!

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  2. The bread looks amazing! I love olive bread and love that it’s no-knead. I never saw the movie, don’t even remember hearing about it, but I was a young mom with a four-year-old by then! I probably had other things on my mind, like Disney movies, lol~

    I hope you were happier in your new environment, but what a blow. I can’t even imagine.

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    1. Thanks Molly. The bread really came out delicious although I might add a bit more salt. It was definitely an interesting experience back in Catholic school. I can’t really feel too sad because I think it was a defining moment for me.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey thank you so much. They were both equally good, though somewhat different from one another. I agree that the movie was excellent. Seriously, any movie with David Bowie is going to be fantastic but playing Pontius Pilate? Sent it through the roof, in my opinion.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That olive bread looks so divine! And, I had no idea David Bowie was in that movie! I remember those days as well when asking questions could get you into a lot of trouble. I’m hoping to raise a child here who is not afraid to ask so many questions. Asking questions is good:) Cheers!

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  4. I was inspired and have this bread rising right now! I just added flour till it looked like yours. I remember when the movie came out. I was in California and protesters had blocked some roads. I didn’t know why at the time as I was about sixteen and my religious knowledge limited to Christian summer camps and after school bible study for awhile. I think we watched he movie but I found it gruesome and probably didn’t finish it. I hope you liked your new school better!

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    1. I am so glad you were inspired to make the bread. How did it turn out? Yes, the controversy stirred by that film still amazes me. If you read it, you see that it is not (in my opinion, anyway) remotely subversive. It doesn’t question Jesus being the Son of God at all; in fact, it shows his very human path to his ultimate destiny, and the fact that he is both of God and of man makes it very natural to think about what his life would be as a normal man. I found it quite beautiful and moving, and very sad because I think all of us live in that space between divinity and humanity…….we work toward being better but are still drawn to the pleasures of life. And nothing wrong with that, I think. So glad you liked the post!

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      1. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that compliment! Thank you again so much. Actually this my was first time making bread ever, much less in a cast-iron skillet so I’m doubly pleased that it came out well for you. 🙂

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  5. Whoa, I’m shocked they kicked you out over that! I’m not going to share any more of my opinions though because it would likely offend someone. I grew up Eastern Orthodox which is a branch of Catholicism, but not as strict I suppose.

    What a delicious post! I need to watch this again. Such an amazing cast. I love Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, and of course Bowie as well. Great share for Easter and such a beautiful bread. ❤ Happy Easter, Vanessa!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There were a few other factors that tied in with my not going back to Catholic School, including the ridiculous tuition rates, but yes, my mother did get a letter suggesting I would be better in a non-parochial environment. I will remember that until the day I die. I don’t mind you sharing your opinion ever! Please do. I respect other viewpoints and I know you are always respectful of them as well. I hope you and your family had a beautiful Easter!

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  6. Another good post… a help as I wait for the Easter goat (pate, salumi, colomba, wine, puree…) to make its way down… recalling to me…

    …father Mcnally, another Irish priest. With maybe a bit of coincidence, causal of the last mass attended as a believing Catholic, as a Junior in HS… 15. I would plop down for a mass once or twice a month – the church was a few suburban blocks away – coming however I was, sometimes in sweats as after I might go for a run, something of a contrast to the other ethnics, we were called, the less wealthy, immigrant southern half of the town, vowel-ending last names, multisyllable firsts, many letters, the northern bit silently taken by anglo-saxon and jewish big-housed folk, who would instead dutifully attend Sunday St. Rita mass in the usual hard-working, best-dressed, socializing family way. Maybe my physical, well, harshly distasteful appearance emphasized the distance involved, I coming more in the direction of… the old and young, but in the middle, not to play with or pray to but speak with, God, the thick-rimmed thick-glassed black plastic glasses, gaping space between chipped front teeth, untame twirly hill of freakish hair so different than all those other east and southern europeans. So it happened on a late autumn day I plopped in, near the front, entering on the side, and father M., thick and white-skinned, oldish but with a full head of blond-gray hair, scowled at me… as the first sermon lines left his strong… on ‘sunday best’, to show respect by wearing proper clothes in the house of the lord. The hypocrisy was far too much. I came for respect of God, not to ….smell right in society or bow my head. He already happily received my father’s checks and certainly didn’t need to point me out almost publically. I was already a foot out anyway though, including notions of religion or God or Gods, the usual age to become an atheist (now its a bit more complex, not in a usual sense but… how systems may work, including plural ones like us.) I digress. Happy easter…

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    1. I feel certain your appearance was very far from “harshly distasteful.” None of us looked our best in those teen years. Like you, I had a very difficult time with the Catholic Church for many years. I don’t attend church now but I do appreciate that that current Pope is far much more of a humanitarian than the previous one. I suppose when it comes down to it, I don’t have any use for organized religion, though I do appreciate spirituality and the concept of treating your fellow man as you would want to be treated. Unfortunately nowadays, so many of what appears to go by the name of Christianity is very far removed from what I believe Jesus would have preached and done.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. …nono, it was Alfred Neuman bad. As in… you could have stuck my face in dough and made gorilla cookies, to borrow the liner. Ugly gorilla cookies. Enjoy the day, and the story (Jesus) after all…. it’s a good one, I think.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I had never been so curious to read a synopsis of a biblical film to end the bread recipe. Now I do not know if you’re really a full-time chef writing. The memories of school age remain in the memory and if they are like yours, even more so not to forget them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The book is amazing and I highly recommend it. It does start a bit slowly but then picks up speed and and is an amazing read. I greatly appreciate your compliment about me being a full time chef but unfortunately, I am a bureaucrat. But I do love to cook and blog and I really appreciate your comment.

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