I finished three chapters yesterday, about half of the goal for the day, but adequate to get myself warmed up with the book. Kazantsakis's prose is dazzling, kinetic, hypnotic, and reminiscent of Nick Joaquin's great fiction.
The opening chapter takes the reader to the Garden of Gethsemene while Christ was fasting and praying. Kazantsakis describes the scene according to the five senses: dark, warm, the air was stenched with the odor of sour human sweat, and the night at once silent and then another filled with a human cry. "...God of Israel! Adonai! How long...?
The next chapter flashes back to a young Christ, a crossmaker, who receives a visitor in his shop, Judas Iscariot. The chapter ends with Iscariot crying, "You--you do what you like, cross-maker! You're a coward, a good-for-othing traitor like your brother the town crier! But God will throw fire on yu just as he threw it on your father, and burn you up. That's what I say--and let it be something or you to remember me by."
Chapter three brings Christ to Cana with his mother for the purpose of choosing a wife. He finds Mary Magdalene, a daugher of his uncle the rabbi, and chooses her to be his wife. But as he anounces his choice, he is tormented by ten claws that nail themselves on his head, a psychic prcedent of things to come. He is tormented by God, says the his uncle the rabbi, who was asked to exorcise Christ by his mother, Kazantsakis portrays the young Christ as an ordinary young man who feels the ways of men, somebody who had desires, including that of marrying and having childern, but God torments him with a psychic crown of thorns.
I am a thirty-five year old Catholic, who was raised by the cathechism of pre-Vatican II Catholic grandmothers who went to mass everyday. You can imagine the resistance going on in my head as I read this book from paragraph to paragraph and chapter to chapter. Yet, I keep telling myself, this is a work of fiction, and to read it side by side with the gospels would be to miss the point entirely. It is not intended to supplant the gospels; it is a fictional portrayal of the humanity of Christ. In order to appreciate the merits of the book therefore, it should be read according to those terms.
I can imagine Kazantsakis's troubles with the creative dilemnas that arise one after another in every step of the writing process of this book. When did Christ realize he was the Messiah? How was it revealed to him? How did he take this revelation? Kazantsakis takes the developmental approach. Christ did not know he was the Messiah, but God made sure Christ knew about it directly from Him, but Christ had to agree, To make Christ agree, Christ is tormented by God with the psychic crown of thorns. I find the proposition quite ridiculous. It makes Christ a prisoner of God's plan. What choice did Christ have then? And as we all know, Christ will accept the mission, but did he accept it for the right reason? Surely, accepting the mission for the sole purpose of evading God's psychic crown of thorns is flimsy and downright preposterous. But I will withhold further judgment until more details are revealed in the book.