The Temptation of Christ (1854) by Ary Scheffer. Image Source: Wiki. Based on Matthew 4:9: "Satan says that to Jesus: 'All these things I will give you if you fall down and do an act of worship to me.'"
The number 40 is central to the Christian religion. It is the pivotal signifier of the temptation and resurrection of Christ. It is the number, one might say, on which his proclaimed historic existence and divinity depend. If one were to hang the entire faith on numbers, they would be 3, 1 and 40; and according to the Rule of Three, 40 is mathematically and mystically related to 3 and 1. As Christianity evolved away from Judaism, an incredibly elaborate religious story mingled with Roman imperial history. Taken literally by its believers, this legend of human and divine sacrifice came to obscure the Christian faith's underlying numerology.
Jews remain more forthright than Christians in their numerological mysticism. Building on ancient Mesopotamian mythologies of water gods, they used ingenious mathematical theories to see 40 as the harrowing number of sin, atonement and forgiveness, and made it a symbolic catalyst of revolution:
Aside from delayed messianism, the heart of the Jewish tradition turns on the problem of sin and how to resolve sin. The number 40 represents that resolution of sin as a basis for a jump to a new level of development. It is a way out of the terrible dilemmas posed to humans who try to find a higher path when confronted by the bestial aspects of their nature: immorality, depravity, viciousness and brutality.According to Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis, author of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism, the number of 40 represents "a time of radical transition or transformation." Any time the number 40 appears in a biblical passage, it's meant to indicate a liminal time when something extraordinary occurs. Multiples of 40 also are used to denote extraordinary circumstances ... .
The magic of numbers, the deep, transformative and pure value of mathematics to find absolute truths in a flawed world, lies at the core of this story. Math provides quantitative and definitive keys to otherwise unknowable abstractions. And for any human being on this planet, not just Jews and Christians, that is really something. The breathtaking power of mathematics offers a path away from compromise, from failure and shades of grey, from violated ideals and muddied knowledge. For those who wish to renew hope amidst the grime of adulthood, for those who yearn for purity, numbers provide real answers. Although it is not usually acknowledged in spring religious observances (descended from pagan fertility rites and projected onto the Christian calendar), it is on these mathematical and numerological assumptions that Christian Lent and Easter are founded.
Image Source: Busted Halo.
|Lent's Christian rituals are rooted in Hebrew sources.|
During the fast, Christians contemplate sin, repent, pray and renew their beliefs. The fast commemorates Christ's retreat into the Judaean Desert, where he is supposed to have fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, was thrice tempted by Satan, and resisted him three times.
The duration of Jesus' retreat, and the presence of generations of threes, confirm that the story is a numerological cryptic.
Christ's 40 days and nights in the desert are linked to references to the number 40 in Jewish texts. Accounts of Jesus' fast and temptations from Matthew and Luke repeat language from earlier Jewish stories. There is a sense in those gospels that Jesus repeated Jewish spiritual experiences, but corrected earlier Jewish sins and transgressions. Some argue, based on the apostles' echoed language, that Christ is the third generation to undergo these tests after Adam and the Israelites. And the number 40 is the third generation of successions of the Rule of Three (1+3+9+27). Wiki cites the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
What is this all about? The presence of the number 40 is a mysterious Jewish signpost in a larger story. The fast and temptations occur after Christ is baptised, which aligns with the pre-Jewish and Jewish symbolic association of the number 40 with water and transformation. Christ goes off on his own to contemplate sin, a central Jewish problem. His story in the desert suggests that he sees a problem in the Jewish stopgap solution to sin. Specifically, there is something wrong with the idea of the scapegoat, the sacrificed animal which bears away Israel's sins into the wasteland.The Gospels speak of a time of solitude for Jesus in the desert immediately after his baptism by John. Driven by the Spirit into the desert, Jesus remains there for forty days without eating; he lives among wild beasts, and angels minister to him. At the end of this time Satan tempts him three times, seeking to compromise his filial attitude toward God. Jesus rebuffs these attacks, which recapitulate the temptations of Adam in Paradise and of Israel in the desert, and the devil leaves him "until an opportune time".... The evangelists indicate the salvific meaning of this mysterious event: Jesus is the new Adam who remained faithful just where the first Adam had given in to temptation. Jesus fulfills Israel's vocation perfectly: in contrast to those who had once provoked God during forty years in the desert, Christ reveals himself as God's Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. In this, Jesus is the devil's conqueror: he "binds the strong man" to take back his plunder. Jesus' victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of his filial love for the Father. ...Jesus' temptation reveals the way in which the Son of God is Messiah, contrary to the way Satan proposes to him and the way men wish to attribute to him. This is why Christ vanquished the Tempter for us: "For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning." By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert."
After fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, during which he was tempted by Satan, Jesus was ministered to by angels. Jesus Ministered to by Angels (Jésus assisté par les anges) (1886-1894) by Brooklyn Museum via Wiki. Mark 1:13: "And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him."
Leviticus 16:10 states that the desert was not inhabited by Satan, but by the demon Azazel. Azazel was identified as the spirit of the Jewish scapegoat (or perhaps of all the scapegoats of all Jewish communities) which carried Israel's sins and was driven off into the wilderness to die. Thus, the desert was the terrifying place where all of Israel's cast-off sins might still float around and could fearfully rematerialize if they found the right host to possess. There were lots of Jewish holy men in those days who went out to fast in the desert. But, the New Testament insists, when Christ went out into the desert to fast, he took the old spiritual challenge to a new level.
In this Christian narrative, the desert is still the place where Jewish sins have been sent to die, or perhaps to bide their time in some undead form. When Christ confronts these apparitions, the text promises that scapegoating will be his fate as well, except that his crucifixion will make him into a kind of Greek human-as-god, sacrificed to erase the sins of all humankind. In the New Testament's desert fasting and temptations, Satan manifests in Azazel's position. He predicts Christ's role in a larger, semi-Greek continuation and elevation of the Jewish scapegoat mythology. But this is no Jewish tale of animal sacrifice; and in their faith, the Jews had already rejected the ancient idea of human sacrifice. Nor is this a Greek myth, with the Greeks also moving beyond the savagery of ritualistic human sacrifice. In a multicultural Roman provincial twist, the New Testament combines both cultures' ideas in a far more frightening account (depicted here), which raises the stakes and the bar of faith. This is a story about how a god will be sacrificed to aid lesser humanity. But for that logic to work, the god also has to be human. That Christian idea takes sin and atonement one step beyond the Jewish tradition, and separates it from the Jewish culture, claiming to embrace not just the closed community of the faithful, but all human communities.
Jesus supposedly walked the earth for 40 days after his resurrection before he ascended to heaven. In that time, his followers did not recognize him, yet did recognize him. The Resurrected Christ (1490) by Bramantino. Image Source: Jesus Story.
Therefore, although some literal-minded Christians (like the ones in this video and the video below) would like to pinpoint these events in historical fact, the repetition of numbers provides the real story. The number 40 surrounds this Christian revolution. The 40-day fast foreshadows the 40-month ministry of Jesus, followed by his crucifixion, resurrection, and 40-day post-death period of wandering around surprising people and confirming his divinity, before he ascends to heaven. The number repeats again: Romans besieged Jerusalem and destroyed its Jewish temple in 70 CE, 40 years after Christ's crucifixion during Passover on 5 April 30 CE. But if the Christian faith begins in a chorus of repeated 40's, it will, in the Revelation of St. John, end in an apocalypse of repeated 7's.
The Lost 40 Days of Jesus (20 April 2011) discusses the resurrection of Christ as a literal historical fact, without exploring the symbolic cryptic aspects of the New Testament and Apocrypha such as the Gospel of Mary. Video Source: History Channel via Youtube.
Comment on the above video and the number 40, from Joe E. Lunceford, Department of Religion, Georgetown College, Georgetown, Kentucky, USA (2011): "Personally, I am a bit skeptical when I see the number forty in New Testament passages. This number has a long and varied history of being used in a symbolic manner. One of the program personalities alluded to this by saying that forty is an “evocative” number. Let’s review in a somewhat chronological order a sampling of the part the number forty plays in Scripture. We begin with the flood lasting forty days (Gen 7:17). Then the spies Moses sent to spy out the land of Canaan in preparation for the conquest of that land by the Israelites are said to have spied out the land for forty days (Num 13:25). The spies brought back a good report, but ten of the twelve said there was no way the Israelites would be able to conquer it (Num 13:32-33). The punishment for the disbelief of the Israelites was to be for forty years, a day for each year the spies who were in the land (Num 14:34). Further, the life of Moses is divided into three periods of forty years. He lived in Pharaoh’s court for forty years, forty years in Midian, and forty years with the Israelites in the wilderness after the exodus (Exod 2:10-15, Num 13:25, Deut 34:7). Then when we come to the period of the Judges after Israel entered Canaan, several judges ruled the Israelites either for forty years or multiples of forty: Gideon (Judg 8:2); Othniel (Judg 3:11): Deborah and Barak (Judg 5:31); Ehud (Judg 3:31) Further, if we add up all the years the judges were said to have ruled, we end up with just about twice the number of years that the period of the judges could possibly have lasted. Then in the New Testament, Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is said to have been for forty days, although the earliest Gospel, Mark, tells nothing Jesus was tempted to do (Mark 1:13). All this is just a bit too neat and tidy for real life situations, in my opinion.
I am willing, at least for the sake of argument, to concede that a literal period of forty days may have elapsed between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension into Heaven. Do the non-canonical gospels of Thomas, Peter, and Mary Magdalene give us any help in the recovery of these forty days? The early church did not appear to think these, or the plethora of other non-canonical gospels, could be depended upon for information about Jesus. I say this in full awareness of the part that politics, doctrinal controversies, and other very human elements played in the canonization process. However, the stubborn fact remains that the church canonized four and only four gospels. The burden of proof would seem to lie on those who would use the non-canonical gospels in an authoritative fashion, it seems to me.
Perhaps the weakest link in the chain of evidence presented was its reliance upon the genuineness of the Shroud of Turin. One of the participants in the program conceded that by carbon 10 dating, the shroud was dated between 1260 and 1390 CE. By using a work of art that apparently depicted the shroud, he argued for the much earlier existence of the shroud, although the actual difference between the time of the work of art and the shroud was less than a century. A great deal of the argument rested on the genuineness of the shroud. Take that away and much of the argument crumbles.
Several careless statements or depictions also marred the presentation. For example, Mary Magdalene was said to have gone to Jesus’ tomb alone. This depends upon which Gospel one reads. Only John has her alone at the tomb. In Mark, she is in the company of Mary the mother of James and Salome (Mark 6:1). In Matthew, she is in the company of “the other Mary” (Matt 28:1). In Luke, she is in the company of Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the “other women” (Luke 24:10). Further, John 22:25 was taken as referring only to the “forty lost days,” though I find no basis for this in the text. Identification of the “disciple whom Jesus loved” as John and the author of the gospel raises serious questions, in my judgment. For John to have referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” would be extremely arrogant. I think this is one of the strongest arguments that John, son of Zebedee, was not the author of the Fourth Gospel. Further, presenting a picture of Thomas placing his finger in Jesus’ wounds is something else which is not supported by the canonical gospels.
Having said all this, the computer imaging was fascinating, though I am not sure how much it proves; the discussions were thought provoking at many points. One participant raised the issue as to what constituted resurrection, i.e., whether it included bodily resuscitation or a different type of body."
See other posts in this series: