A pastor in Mozambique has died after attempting to fast for 40 days like Jesus is said to have done after his baptism, according to a report.
Francisco Barajah, who founded the Santa Trindade Evangelical Church in the central province of Manica, was unable to stand, bathe, or walk by the end of his ordeal, Noticias Online reports. He passed away at the hospital in the city of Beira on Wednesday.
Relatives and friends became concerned about Barajah’s health as he visibly deteriorated, ultimately deciding to intervene in his fatal act of faith.
According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus went into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil as he fasted for 40 days. The Gospel of Mark mentions the episode—known as the “Temptation of Christ”—but doesn’t say anything about fasting. Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts both describe Jesus’ hunger but neither say if he consumed water.
The local report of Barajah’s attempt to recreate the fast does say he was foregoing water as well as food. The pastor, who also worked as a French school teacher, was said to have developed “severe anemia” and had internal organ damage, and was unable to digest food.
It adds that one of Barajah’s neighbors said the clergyman had become sick on the 25th day of his fast, but that his health became much worse on the 38th day. Medics reportedly attempted to rehydrate and nourish Barajah with liquid foods, but to no avail. His followers were said to be unsurprised by the news of his death after seeing his extreme weight loss.
It is not impossible to survive going without food for 40 days or more, though refeeding after the fast can be dangerous. In 2003, magician David Blaine consumed nothing but water for 44 days while locked inside a transparent box suspended from a crane in central London (a misery made more complete by Brits who taunted his attempt by flying a hamburger up to the box with a radio-controlled helicopter).
An article in the New England Journal of Medicine about Blaine’s recovery noted that, even with “cautious management,” the illusionist showed “important elements of the refeeding syndrome”—a potentially fatal shift in electrolytes sometimes seen when severely starved or malnourished patients are given food.
But even much longer fasts have been recorded. In the mid-1960s, a Scottish man named Angus Barbieri fasted for 382 days, shedding 276 pounds while consuming little more than vitamins and hot beverages.
The claim about Barajah not having water for 38 days is more unlikely to be accurate. The longest anyone is known to have survived without water is 18 days, according to Guinness World Records, when an 18-year-old Austrian bricklayer named Andreas Mihavecz was locked in a police cell by officers who then forgot about him in 1979.
Christians around the world have been known to recreate painful moments from Jesus’ life as a sign of worship, including through self-flagellation and crucifixions. A man in the Philippines who had spent every Good Friday being nailed to a cross told Reuters in 2019 that he no longer felt pain from his wounds after undertaking the annual ritual for 32 consecutive years.