To understand a people, you must live among them for 40 days. ~Arabic proverb

Yesterday, I wrote about the Lenten Moon and a bit about the origin of the term “Lent” for this period in the Christian calendar.  In doing some research, I found it interesting how many references to the number 40 come up in the Bible and other places.

In fact, forty has many associations with other religions too, but many of us are familiar with the forty days Moses spent on Mount Sinai with God (Exodus 24:18).

Elijah also spent 40 days walking to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8).

A new film opening this month, Noah, reminds us that it was said that there were forty days and nights when God sent rain in the great flood (Genesis 7:4).

There were forty years that the Hebrew people wandered in the desert while traveling to the Promised Land (Numbers 14:33) and Jonah’s 40 day prophecy of judgment and warning to the city of Nineveh to repent or be destroyed (Jonah 3:4).

Jesus retreated into the wilderness, where and fasted for forty days (Matthew 4:1–2, Mark 1:12–13, Luke 4:1–2).  Since, presumably, the Apostles fasted as they mourned the death of Jesus, Christians have traditionally fasted during the annual commemoration of his burial.

I had not heard before that it was a traditional belief that Jesus lay for forty hours in the tomb. (Biblical reference to ‘three days in the tomb’ is understood as spanning three days, from Friday afternoon to early Sunday morning, rather than three 24 hour periods of time). This belief led to 40 hours of total fast that preceded the Easter celebration in the early Church.

There are traditionally forty days in Lent which are marked by fasting, both from foods and festivities, and by other acts of penance. The three traditional practices that are supposed to be done with greater vigor during Lent are prayer, fasting and almsgiving towards neighbors.

Most modern observers choose to give up an action of theirs that is considered to be a vice or frivolity. For example, someone giving up smoking cigarettes would donate the money spent doing that to charitable purposes or organizations.

It doesn’t need to be all connections to religion. “The Rule of Three” is that a topic which is broken down into three sections, each of these is broken down into three sub-sections and each of these three sub-sections is broken down into a further three sections (three generations using the “rule of three”) gives you a total of 40 sections (1+3+9+27).

Negative forty is the unique temperature at which the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales correspond; that is, −40°F = −40°C. It is referred to as either “minus forty” or “forty below”.

The Tessarakonteres, or 40, was the largest ship of antiquity, constructed by Ptolemy IV.

Forty is the only integer whose English name has its letters in alphabetical order.

The number of weeks for an average term of pregnancy, counting from the woman’s last menstrual period, is 40.

The customary number of hours in a regular workweek in some Western countries is (or was) 40. It was chosen because dividing the day into thirds gave you 8 hours to work, 8 to sleep and 8 for your own purposes.

Turning 40 years old has had a long Western tradition of being a turning point for becoming “old.”

Finally, the planet Venus forms a pentagram in the night sky every eight years, with it returning to its original point every 40 years with a 40 day regression. Some scholars believe that this ancient information was the basis for the number 40 becoming sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.