One of the most powerful books I’ve ever read — I think I read it when I was about sixteen or seventeen — is The Last Temptation of Christ, by Nikos Kazantzakis (the author, as well, of such books as The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel and Zorba the Greek).
Published originally in Greek in 1953, The Last Temptation of Christ was made into a very controversial film by Martin Scorsese in 1988, starring Willem Dafoe in the title role.
I never saw the movie, which was excoriated (very possibly with just cause) by many (especially conservative) Christians, but I have to admit that I found the novel remarkably powerful, and saw its message as, in a very unaccustomed way, far more faithful than, as it was often portrayed, anti-Christian. (I have to admit that I tried reading Last Temptation again last year, though, and simply couldn’t get into it. I plan to try again fairly soon.)
Kazantzakis portrays Christ as very human, prone to all the temptations of fear and lust and self-doubt and discouragement and resistance to the divine will, yet never yielding to them and, in the end, overcoming them all. His “last temptation” was the idea of giving up his divinely-imposed mission. On the cross, he imagines himself, if I recall the narrative correctly, happily married to Mary Magdalene, an ordinary, obscure, domestic, first-century Jewish man with children. Yet, summoning all his moral and spiritual strength, he rejects that imagined possibility and freely and triumphantly chooses to fulfill his mission.
In 1957, Albert Camus won the Nobel Prize for Literature after defeating Kazantzakis by a single judge’s vote. It’s been reported that Camus later said that Kazantzakis deserved the Nobel Prize “a hundred times more” than he himself did. Kazantzakis died that year.
His epitaph (shown above) reads Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα. Δε φοβομαι τίποτα. Είμαι λεφτερος. ”I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”