Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Jesus the Lost 40 Days - My Take

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.


  1. There are a couple things here that intrigue me. First, I agree with everything you mentioned. People like to speculate and make up history. Heck, there's no one alive to argue with it. However, the other side of this is that there are major networks out there that understand that Jesus sells ad time. This tells me that there is a hunger in our culture for hearing about him. Granted, much of this is probably just curiosity. This reveals that there is an audience that, if taken seriously by those who are missional, could lead to discussions with people that could lead to faith in Christ.

  2. Will the powers that be at the History Channel read your blog? I hope so!

  3. Arden,

    Somehow I doubt they care what I think.

  4. Actually, you are incorrect about the Shroud of Turin. If you watched the show, you noticed that the dating of the Shroud to the 12th century has been proven incorrect. They did not go into detail in this as much as I wish they had. However, there is great evidence that points the Shroud to the first century. In addition, the blood stains are real AB hemoglobin and particles have been found on the cloth that have been dated to the first century and belong to Israel. I do, however, agree that some of the scholarship needed some improvement. Even though Bart Ehrman is the apple of the liberal media's eye, he is not a great Bible scholar in my opinion. Interesting post.

  5. I think the 6 appearances in the bible, during the 40 days, are not the only encounters that happened. I believe he saved many many people during that time, and turned them into believers. But, God wants us to believe that Jesus is his son that was sent to save us, out of faith, not proof. Being a Christian is about faith and trust without the proof (that he can provide and did for the apostles after he rose). Therefore, only 6 appearances were documented, as that should be enough proof that Jesus is the son and our saviour. Some people still need more proof, they may have to wait until he rises again. As for me, it's more than enough!

  6. IF the John Gospel narrative is accurate, the shroud is not associated with Jesus. Anyone interested enough to care ought to know why.

  7. If you are referring to the statement about the shroud being in two pieces instead of one, the history channel tries (unsuccessfully in my opinion) to answer this by saying that a second cloth, located somewhere else entirely, was used to cover the face before the full shroud was laid over him.
    I believe that if this is or is not the real shroud of Jesus dosen't matter because it is a relic and should not be used in our devotion to him. Actually, it is forbidden.

  8. I agree with the comments by BC that the shroud is highly likely to be authentic...there is no way to prove so, but there is just too much scientific and related evidence to write it off as a medieval forgery. Should it be worshiped or venerated?
    No....but can it teach us something? Well maybe I think it can. As you look at the field of Biblical archaeology and all it is showing us about the Bible, items such as the shroud should stimulate us to look deeper into the word and into our faith rather building interest rather than arguments. These items if looked at openly will help us to understand much more about the culture of the period in which the Bible was written.

    1. Not a believer in the shroud but many in the First Century would have been (if it had been around). Point to be made: they would have believed not because it "proved" anything but because it venerated Christ. Those early followers didn't need "proof" but simply valued any object that linked them to their loved one; just as we do today with objects or activities we once shared with another.

  9. Dear John Byron if you really watched the show cloth that was carbon dated was: Grizzly Adams show will reveal new scientific evidence that proves the C-14 test was in fact done on a rewoven and patched area of the shroud after a fire destroyed portions of the burial cloth in 1532. The C-14 date is accurate for the patch but not the shroud.I am glad the nicean counsil was in the tomb with Jesus to tell us he layed in the tomb 3 days. Funny how they got in there when it was sealed. It is suggested by the shroud he was gone body and all after tomb was sealed. Why no mention of this by Paul, he was too busy persecuting christians at the time

  10. Agree with all your points and would add a few:

    The resurrected savior has been a staple in Mediterranean religions since Osiris and would not have seemed unique or unusual in the early Empire. The idea is, moreover, universal as expressed by many birth/rebirth myths.

    More importantly, the show constantly imposes our concept of factual history on peoples and writers who had no use for it. Twain said it best: never let the facts spoil a good story. For most of human history, the story's been the point. History, as a series of factual data points, would have seemed a queer notion to any Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Celt, Pict or Jew of the time. As an NB, our concept of "Facts" themselves dates from the 18th century, the rise of the Scientific Method and the Age of Reason. Prior to that, a naked fact was meaningless by itself. Even now, most cultures prefer the good story to the often messy, confusing reality of what actually happened.

    Yet shows like these keep imposing our perspective onto times and peoples who had no use for it.

    Finally, the truly great mystery of Jesus' teachings is never mentioned: an ethical canon focusing on the individual and equality that did not have precedent in any Mediterranean culture, Roman, Greek or Levantine. Individuals simply did not exist outside of their clan, no more in Rome or Athens or Arabia than in China. Yet Jesus introduces an ethical system that emphasizes the individual's responsibility to him/herself, his/her fellow individuals and rewrote God as caring for those individuals as echoes of himself.

    Some elements of this notion can be found in Zoroastrianism, a Caucasian (the region) religion, such as the idea that the individual was the fundamental arbiter of right and wrong but only within the context of the larger struggle between good and evil. Jesus' ethics were unique in placing that struggle within each of us, thereby establishing the equality of all individuals in the eyes of God. The idea that a leper was every bit as important as the Emperor or a peasant as a king or a Pope was unprecedented. Compared to it, all of the self-serving stories in the Gospels, canonical or aprophycal, are themselves irrelevant.

  11. I'd like to ask Bart Ehrman if he regrets being associated with a program such as this. I had many of the same misgivings as JB. The red flag should have been that it was on the History Channel. Aliens! Nuf said.

  12. Though the show was filled w/ what the history channel love to fill their shows with, science "facts", the one concept that will not allow me to dismiss how important those 40 days were are the fact that the 12 were going home; they didn't understand exactly what they had experienced and it wasn't until seeing and hearing the risen Lord that the zeal to go to all corners of the empire and preach His teachings, no matter what happened to them, is a powerful testimony of how very important those days were.