Photo by Guildhall Art Gallery, Corporation of London/Bridgeman Art Library, London/Superstock

Jesus bows his head with leaden weariness in “Christ in the Wilderness,” by Briton Riviere (1840–1920). Riviere depicts a grueling test endured by Jesus at the hands of the devil. Matthew, Mark and Luke record that after 40 exhausting days of prayer and fasting in the wilderness, Jesus faced three challenges issued by the devil: to turn stones into bread, to fling himself from the Temple to see if God would save him, and to worship Satan in exchange for dominion over the world. In each case, Jesus turns aside the devil’s challenge with a quotation from the Book of Deuteronomy.

Author Jerome Murphy-O’Connor writes that the temptation story seems so removed from everyday experience that it is easy to see it as nothing more than a highly stylized drama. But he suggests that a close reading of the gospel accounts of Jesus in the wilderness can reveal the historical dimension—and the very human challenges—behind the temptation story.