The History Channel recently aired a program that was billed as a search for the lost 40 days between Jesus' resurrection and ascension. The gist of the program is that the New Testament is relatively silent about what Jesus did for the 40 days and the History Channel attempts to reconstruct what happened.
In reality, this program is a weaving of sound bites from pastors and scholars who are either repeating what the Bible says or information that is already well known. What makes the program bizarre is the attempt by a team to use computer graphics to reveal "the six key appearances" of the resurrected Jesus. Even more strange is the use of the Shroud of Turin to generate what is being claimed as an authentic picture of what Jesus looked like. Using the image taken from the shroud, the "six Key appearances" are then presented as the first chance to see what happened during the "lost 40 days of Jesus."
There are a number of problems with this program:
First, the idea of there being a 40 day period between Jesus' resurrection and ascension is found in only only verse in the New Testament. Acts 1:3 provides a passing statement that Jesus appeared to his followers over the course of 40 days. This time table is not provided in any of the gospels and is never mentioned by Paul. In fact, The ascension is not always a part of the gospel tradition. For instance, it is mentioned in both books attributed to Luke (Acts 1:3 and Luke 24:50-53). Matthew, however, ends with Jesus standing on a hill in Galilee while Mark (shorter) ends with no appearances of Jesus. In John Jesus tells Mary that he is ascending to his father, but there is no description of when and how that happened. Thus, although there is a tradition for the ascension of Jesus, the evidence is incomplete and uneven. Moreover, the 40 day time period is not detailed and may have been more symbolic than historical.
Second, the program assumes that the Shroud of Turn is authentic. The problem, of course, is that the carbon dating of the shroud indicates that is from the 12th century, not the first. And while there are still those who claim that it is authentic, it cannot be proven. Thus it is irresponsible to admit to all the problems with dating the shroud and then move on with the story by simply dismissing the problems without any explanation why the shroud can or should be used to reconstruct Jesus' lost 40 days.
Third , the program weaves together information about and/or from the non-canonical Gospels of Thomas, Mary, etc. These documents are presented in such a way, like the shroud, that they constitute reliable information or evidence for reconstructing the lost 40 days. The use of this material for reconstructing the historical Jesus and early Christianity is controversial enough. To now suggest that it helps fill in the gap of information for the "lost 40 days" is preposterous.
Finally, in the end what the show reveals is that the 40 lost days of Jesus were never lost since all 6 of the "6 key appearances" are gleaned by the program from the New Testament. Consequently, nothing new was really discovered.
In reality this program is not about Jesus' lost 40 days. It is about how Ray Downing and his team from Studio MacBeth have generated a 3D animation of the face on the Shroud of Turin which is in turn used in 6 short, illustrated accounts of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances in the New Testament. But since simply airing these six pieces would not fill a program, the producers decided to throw in a bunch of interviews, some intrigue and conspiracy which is billed as the search Jesus' lost 40 days.
Below are the episodes as uploaded to Youtube. Let me know what you think.