The Temptation And Fast Of Forty Days
We are informed by the Matthew narrator that, after being baptized by
John in the river Jordan, Jesus was led by the spirit into the
wilderness "to be tempted of the devil."
"And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was
afterward an hungered. And when the tempter came to him he
said: 'If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be
made bread.' . . . Then the devi
taketh him up into the holy
city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith
unto him: 'If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down.'
. . . Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high
mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and
the glory of them, and saith unto him:' All these things will
I give thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me.' Then
saith Jesus unto him, 'Get thee hence, Satan: for it is
written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only
shalt thou serve.' Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold,
angels came and ministered unto him."[175:1]
This is really a very peculiar story; it is therefore not to be wondered
at that many of the early Christian Fathers rejected it as being
fabulous,[175:2] but this, according to orthodox teaching, cannot be
done; because, in all consistent reason, "we must accept the whole of
the inspired autographs or reject the whole,"[175:3] and, because, "the
very foundations of our faith, the very basis of our hopes, the very
nearest and dearest of our consolations, are taken from us, when one
line of that sacred volume, on which we base everything, is declared to
be untruthful and untrustworthy."[175:4]
The reason why we have this story in the New Testament is because the
writer wished to show that Christ Jesus was proof against all
temptations, that he too, as well as Buddha and others, could resist
the powers of the prince of evil. This Angel-Messiah was tempted by the
devil, and he fasted for forty-seven days and nights, without taking an
atom of food.[175:5]
The story of Buddha's temptation, presented below, is taken from the
"Siamese Life of Buddha," by Moncure D. Conway, and published in his
"Sacred Anthology," from which we take it.[176:1] It is also to be
found in the Fo-pen-hing,[176:2] and other works on Buddha and
Buddhism. Buddha went through a more lengthy and severe trial than did
Jesus, having been tempted in many different ways. The portion which
most resembles that recorded by the Matthew narrator is the following:
"The Grand Being (Buddha) applied himself to practice
asceticism of the extremest nature. He ceased to eat (that
is, he fasted) and held his breath. . . . Then it was that
the royal Mara (the Prince of Evil) sought occasion to tempt
him. Pretending compassion, he said: 'Beware, O Grand Being,
your state is pitiable to look on; you are attenuated beyond
measure, . . . you are practicing this mortification in vain;
I can see that you will not live through it. . . . Lord, that
art capable of such vast endurance, go not forth to adopt a
religious life, but return to thy kingdom, and in seven days
thou shalt become the Emperor of the World, riding over the
four great continents.'"
To this the Grand Being, Buddha, replied:
"'Take heed, O Mara; I also know that in seven days I might
gain universal empire, but I desire not such possessions. I
know that the pursuit of religion is better than the empire of
the world. You, thinking only of evil lusts, would force me to
leave all beings without guidance into your power. Avaunt!
Get thou away from me!'
"The Lord (then) rode onwards, intent on his purpose. The
skies rained flowers, and delicious odors pervaded the
Now, mark the similarity between these two legends.
Was Jesus about "beginning to preach" when he was tempted by the evil
spirit? So was Buddha about to go forth "to adopt a religious life,"
when he was tempted by the evil spirit.
Did Jesus fast, and was he "afterwards an hungered"? So did Buddha
"cease to eat," and was "attenuated beyond measure."
Did the evil spirit take Jesus and show him "all the kingdoms of the
world," which he promised to give him, provided he did not lead the life
he contemplated, but follow him?
So did the evil spirit say to Buddha: "Go not forth to adopt a religious
life, and in seven days thou shalt become an emperor of the world."
Did not Jesus resist these temptations, and say unto the evil one, "Get
thee behind me, Satan"?
So did Buddha resist the temptations, and said unto the evil one, "Get
thee away from me."
After the evil spirit left Jesus did not "angels come and minister unto
So with Buddha. After the evil one had left him "the skies rained
flowers, and delicious odors pervaded the air."
These parallels are too striking to be accidental.
Zoroaster, the founder of the religion of the Persians, was tempted by
the devil, who made him magnificent promises, in order to induce him to
become his servant and to be dependent on him, but the temptations were
in vain.[177:1] "His temptation by the devil, forms the subject of many
traditional reports and legends."[177:2]
Quetzalcoatle, the virgin-born Mexican Saviour, was also tempted by
the devil, and the forty days' fast was found among them.[177:3]
Fasting and self-denial were observances practiced by all nations of
antiquity. The Hindoos have days set apart for fasting on many
different occasions throughout the year, one of which is when the
birth-day of their Lord and Saviour Crishna is celebrated. On this
occasion, the day is spent in fasting and worship. They abstain entirely
from food and drink for more than thirty hours, at the end of which
Crishna's image is worshiped, and the story of his miraculous birth is
read to his hungry worshipers.[177:4]
Among the ancient Egyptians, there were times when the priests
submitted to abstinence of the most severe description, being forbidden
to eat even bread, and at other times they only ate it mingled with
hyssop. "The priests in Heliopolis," says Plutarch, "have many fasts,
during which they meditate on divine things."[177:5]
Among the Sabians, fasting was insisted on as an essential act of
religion. During the month Tammuz, they were in the habit of fasting
from sunrise to sunset, without allowing a morsel of food or drop of
liquid to pass their lips.[177:6]
The Jews also had their fasts, and on special occasions they gave
themselves up to prolonged fasts and mortifications.
Fasting and self-denial were observances required of the Greeks who
desired initiation into the Mysteries. Abstinence from food, chastity
and hard couches prepared the neophyte, who broke his fast on the third
and fourth day only, on consecrated food.[177:7]
The same practice was found among the ancient Mexicans and
Peruvians. Acosta, speaking of them, says:
"These priests and religious men used great fastings, of five
and ten days together, before any of their great feasts, and
they were unto them as our four ember weeks. . . .
"They drank no wine, and slept little, for the greatest part
of their exercises (of penance) were at night, committing
great cruelties and martyring themselves for the devil, and
all to be reputed great fasters and penitents."[178:1]
In regard to the number of days which Jesus is said to have fasted being
specified as forty, this is simply owing to the fact that the number
forty as well as seven was a sacred one among most nations of
antiquity, particularly among the Jews, and because others had fasted
that number of days. For instance; it is related[178:2] that Moses
went up into a mountain, "and he was there with the Lord forty days and
forty nights, and he did neither eat bread, nor drink water," which is
to say that he fasted.
In Deuteronomy[178:3] Moses is made to say--for he did not write it,
"When I was gone up into the mount to receive the tables of stone, . . .
then I abode in the mount forty days and forty nights, I neither did
eat bread nor drink water."
Elijah also had a long fast, which, of course, was continued for a
period of forty days and forty nights.[178:4]
St. Joachim, father of the "ever-blessed Virgin Mary," had a long
fast, which was also continued for a period of forty days and forty
nights. The story is to be found in the apocryphal gospel
The ancient Persians had a religious festival which they annually
celebrated, and which they called the "Salutation of Mithras." During
this festival, forty days were set apart for thanksgiving and
The forty days' fast was found in the New World.
Godfrey Higgins tells us that:
"The ancient Mexicans had a forty days' fast, in memory of
one of their sacred persons (Quetzalcoatle) who was tempted
(and fasted) forty days on a mountain."[178:7]
Lord Kingsborough says:
"The temptation of Quetzalcoatle, and the fast of forty days,
. . . are very curious and mysterious."[178:8]
The ancient Mexicans were also in the habit of making their prisoners
of war fast for a term of forty days before they were put to
Mr. Bonwick says:
"The Spaniards were surprised to see the Mexicans keep the
vernal forty days' fast. The Tammuz month of Syria was in
the spring. The forty days were kept for Proserpine. Thus
does history repeat itself."[179:2]
The Spanish monks accounted for what Lord Kingsborough calls "very
curious and mysterious" circumstances, by the agency of the devil, and
burned all the books containing them, whenever it was in their power.
The forty days' fast was also found among some of the Indian tribes in
the New World. Dr. Daniel Brinton tells us that "the females of the
Orinoco tribes fasted forty days before marriage,"[179:3] and Prof.
Max Mueller informs us that it was customary for some of the females of
the South American tribes of Indians "to fast before and after the birth
of a child," and that, among the Carib-Coudave tribe, in the West
Indies, "when a child is born the mother goes presently to work, but the
father begins to complain, and takes to his hammock, and there he is
visited as though he were sick. He then fasts for forty days."[179:4]
The females belonging to the tribes of the Upper Mississippi, were held
unclean for forty days after childbirth.[179:5] The prince of the
Tezcuca tribes fasted forty days when he wished an heir to his throne,
and the Mandanas supposed it required forty days and forty nights to
wash clean the earth at the deluge.[179:6]
The number forty is to be found in a great many instances in the Old
Testament; for instance, at the end of forty days Noah sent out a
raven from the ark.[179:7] Isaac and Esau were each forty years old
when they married.[179:8] Forty days were fulfilled for the embalming
of Jacob.[179:9] The spies were forty days in search of the land of
Canaan.[179:10] The Israelites wandered forty years in the
wilderness.[179:11] The land "had rest" forty years on three
occasions.[179:12] The land was delivered into the hand of the
Philistines forty years.[179:13] Eli judged Israel forty
years.[179:14] King David reigned forty years.[179:15]
King Solomon reigned forty years.[180:1] Goliath presented himself
forty days.[180:2] The rain was upon the earth forty days at the
time of the deluge.[180:3] And, as we saw above, Moses was on the mount
forty days and forty nights on each occasion.[180:4] Can anything be
more mythological than this?
The number forty was used by the ancients in constructing temples. There
were forty pillars around the temple of Chilminar, in Persia; the
temple at Baalbec had forty pillars; on the frontiers of China, in
Tartary, there is to be seen the "Temple of the forty pillars."
Forty is one of the most common numbers in the Druidical temples, and
in the plan of the temple of Ezekiel, the four oblong buildings in the
middle of the courts have each forty pillars.[180:5] Most temples of
antiquity were imitative--were microcosms of the Celestial Templum--and
on this account they were surrounded with pillars recording
astronomical subjects, and intended both to do honor to these
subjects, and to keep them in perpetual remembrance. In the Abury
temples were to be seen the cycles of 650-608-600-60-40-30-19-12,
[175:1] Matthew, iv. 1-11.
[175:2] See Lardner's Works, vol. viii. p. 491.
[175:3] Words of the Rev. E. Garbett, M. A., in a sermon preached before
the University of Oxford, England.
[175:4] The Bishop of Manchester (England), in the "Manchester Examiner
[175:5] See Lillie's Buddhism, p. 100.
[176:1] Pp. 44 and 172, 173.
[176:2] Translated by Prof. Samuel Beal.
[176:3] See also Bunsen's Angel-Messiah, pp. 38, 39. Beal: Hist. Buddha,
pp. xxviii., xxix., and 190, and Hardy: Buddhist Legends, p. xvii.
[177:1] Dupuis: Origin of Religious Belief, p. 240.
[177:2] Chambers's Encyclo. art. "Zoroaster."
[177:3] See Kingsborough: Mexican Antiquities, vol. vi. p. 200.
[177:4] Life and Relig. of the Hindoos, p. 134.
[177:5] Baring-Gould: Orig. Relig. Belief, vol. i. p. 341.
[177:7] Ibid. p. 340.
[178:1] Acosta: Hist. Indies, vol. ii. p. 339.
[178:2] Exodus, xxiv. 28.
[178:3] Deut. ix. 18.
[178:4] 1 Kings, xix. 8.
[178:5] Chapter i.
[178:6] See Prog. Relig. Ideas, vol. i. p. 272.
[178:7] Anacalypsis, vol. ii. p. 19.
[178:8] Mexican Antiquities, vol. vi. pp. 197-200.
[179:1] See Kingsborough's Mexican Antiquities, vol. vi. p. 223.
[179:2] Bonwick's Egyptian Belief, p. 370.
[179:3] Brinton: Myths of the New World, p. 94.
[179:4] Max Mueller's Chips, vol. ii. p. 279.
[179:5] Brinton: Myths of the New World, p. 94.
[179:6] Ibid. According to Genesis, vii. 12, "the rain was upon the
earth forty days and forty nights" at the time of the flood.
[179:7] Genesis, viii. 6.
[179:8] Gen. xxv. 20-xxvi. 34.
[179:9] Gen. i. 3.
[179:10] Numbers, xiii. 25.
[179:11] Numbers, xiii. 13.
[179:12] Jud. iii. 11; v. 31; viii. 28.
[179:13] Jud. xiii. 1.
[179:14] I. Samuel, iv. 18.
[179:15] I. Kings, ii. 11.
[180:1] I. Kings, xi. 42.
[180:2] I. Samuel, xvii. 16.
[180:3] Gen. vii. 12.
[180:4] Exodus, xxiv. 18-xxxiv. 28.
[180:5] See Higgins' Anacalypsis, vol. i. p. 798; vol. ii. p. 402.
[180:6] See Ibid. vol. ii. p. 708.