The story in a nutshell: Jesus is plagued by God's love - it burns in him and eats at him. He struggles with it, and to get God to hate him and leave him be, he builds crosses for the Romans upon which Jews are crucified. Jesus fights to accept God, to find God's message, and to relate that message to man while also fighting a struggle between the temptations of the spirit and the temptations of the flesh. As the story goes on, he encounters people, preaches, and does all manner of miracles, and, ultimately, goes on to his fate. The things he says and the actions he does are for the most part roughly true to the events related in the Gospels, however they are told and seen in a new and often surprising light. I've been told that in the original Greek, the book is written in a demotic language and that it has a style very much like one of the Gospels. It almost makes me want to go out and learn Greek.

The movie is rather confusing. I purchased it not too long ago, and I've watched it many times, but even now, when watching it, I find myself staring at certain characters and scenes in confusion, saying things like, "Why is HE doing THAT?", "Why are THEY over THERE?", and "Where did THAT guy come from?" The movie seems to lack a certain continuity as it tries to tell a massive, heart-rending, harrowing story over the course of a meager 156 minutes, and I can see why many people dislike/don't understand it. Nonetheless, Scorsese's directing is pretty good as things go, and Peter Gabriel's score is downright spectacular. The acting is similarly pretty good: Harvey Keitel, despite my dislike for the man, plays a cool Judas Iscariot and Willem Dafoe does a suprising and strange Jesus that, I think, fully lives up to the character as Niko Kazantzakis wrote him in the book.

As people have pointed out, the book and movie have met a good bit of controversy. This results primarily from two bits - one in which Jesus (in a dream) has sex with Mary Magadalene and another where he (again, in a dream) marries Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and then commits adultery with her sister, Martha. This resulted in mass protests against the film and Kazantzakis' excommunication from the Greek Orthodox Church.

The funny thing is that, for all of the controversy and bashing of the movie and book, neither Kazantzakis nor, I think, Scorsese intended their work to be sacrilegious, disrespectful, or (dare I say it) anti-Christ. The book is indeed rather unorthodox at times, presenting Jesus and the apostles from a rather new and strange angle - Jesus at the beginning of the book builds crosses for the Romans so that God will hate him and leave him alone; Peter is more a windmill than a rock; and Judas is not really such a bad chap at all. But that having been said, Kazantzakis is always respectful of Christ, and his aim is not to deride; rather, it is to offer "a model for the man who struggles." His aim is to tell Christ's story as he sees it. And in the end, the story is less about the figure of the Christ and more about the struggle of man, the pain of man, and man's ultimate ascent.

The requirement for Christ's temptations and the requirement for Christ's humanity are simple: to prove his greatness, to truly triumph over sin and death, to defeat evil, Christ must be perpetually exposed to sin. He must struggle wtih it, he must bleed over it, and it is only in such profound suffering by a profoundly human character can mankind be redeemed. The truth from these tribulations is not found beyond the crucible but within the crucible itself, and, as the book's translator, P. A. Bien, puts it, "it is paramount that Jesus be constantly tempted by evil in such a way that he feels its attractiveness and even succumbs to it, for only in this way c an his ultimate rejection of temptation have meaning."

Kazantzakis writes towards the end of the book's prologue:

I am certain that every free man who reads this book, so filled as it is with love, will more than ever before, love Christ.