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

and Times."

[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.

[177:6] Ibid.

[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.