Darkness at Noon

[Warning: this post is longer than usual...]

Some readers left some comments about the 3 hour midday darkness which the Gospels report happened during the Crucifixion of Jesus.

St Andy:

I believe God uses natural processes to do His work. Actually, He defines those processes!  This means that when a blood moon rose at Christ's crucifixion, God planned it billions of years ago as rocks and plasma tumbled through space, so the moon would rise in an eclipse on 1 special day.

St. James:

Andy wrote about the crucifixion and the described eclipse; I believe 3 of the gospels state that the sun darkened. Historical records outside of the gospels do not mention an eclipse. It seems that an eclipse during a full moon would be something that would be recorded somewhere. I understand that sky darkening may be attributed to literary technique. There seems to be alot of conflicting information within the bible, how does one know when a conflict is important or when information is symbolic? (in regards to an eclipse, if that happened and that was a recorded event around the world it would be amazing)

It's natural to wonder about this sort of thing, but one shouldn't presuppose a given conclusion in advance!  Wikipedia says in a peremptory way that "Modern scholars see the darkness as a literary creation rather than a historical event," but this might tell us more about modern scholars' attitudes towards miracle claims then it tells us about the actual historical evidence...

I. Some dogs that didn't bark

Let's start with the obvious negative.  The Chinese were much more meticulous than the West in recording astronomical phenomena such as eclipses (their records being very accurate but not perfect).  China is about 4-6 timezone-hours east of Jerusalem so if the Darkness had been worldwide (as opposed to say, just Jerusalem or just the Roman empire) they should have been able to notice and record it!   So this probably means that the Darkness could not have extended all the way to China.

[Update: there is discussion of potentially confirming Chinese evidence in the comments section starting here, although I don't think I buy it because the relevant texts refer to AD 31, which is a problematic date for the Crucifixion due to the timing of Passover.  The discussion also indicates that there were, in fact, records of eclipses being kept during the relevant time period.  I am grateful to commenter St. Zion for providing this information.]

The Darkness is also not mentioned by any contemporary Roman historians in surviving works.  Which ones might reasonably have mentioned it, given the nature of their works and the degree to which they have been preserved?  Consulting Wikipedia's List of Historians, I think the only historians on this list with sufficient scope, writing at the correct time period, are Tacitus, Suetonius, and Josephus.  (And if the Darkness were confined to Jerusalem, perhaps it falls only within the potential scope of Josepehus' work.)

The fact that these historians didn't mention the event provides some evidence that the event didn't happen.  But not an enormous amount—this is the infamously dangerous Argument from Silence, after all.

You might ask: "But if there were a huge miracle refuting Naturalism and proving Christianity to be true, why wouldn't everyone write extensively about it?"  But that's a very modernish thing to say.  The ancients were not as aware of all possible causes of climate phenomena as we are, and they also mostly thought that supernatural omens did occur from time to time for various reasons.  They were generally not philosophical Naturalists in the modern sense, and even those that were (like the Epicureans) probably thought a great many things possible which we now believe to be impossible.

Most people, hearing about the Darkness, probably would have said something like: "Huh, that's weird" and then went and thought about something else, more politically interesting.  You know, like people do.  Except for those who later read the Gospels, there would not necessarily be any particular reason to connect the event to the crucifixion of a Jewish prophet occurring elsewhere at the same time.

Pliny the Elder (23-79) was not a historian, but he was a naturalist (in the other sense, a keen observer of nature) who was interested in astronomical events, and what he wrote about the subject is telling:

Eclipses of the sun also take place which are portentous and unusually long, such as occurred when Cæsar the Dictator was slain, and in the war against Antony, the sun remained dim for almost a whole year.

Apparently this event was also recorded by Plutarch, Tibullus, and Suetonius, so it seems likely this account is based on some real phenomenon.  It was obviously not an actual solar eclipse, but rather some meteorological phenomenon, perhaps related to vulcanism.  Anyway, far from denying the existence of the Darkness at Calvary, he makes it sound like he was aware of additional examples of strange eclipses, and quotes this one as just the most notable example.

So at this point skeptics need to choose their tactic: one cannot consistently argue both (a) that various pagan parallels to the Darkness show that this is the sort of unreliable story the ancients made up all the time, and (b) that the Darkness would have been so amazing to the ancients, that it would have been mentioned by all of them as one of the most notable events to have ever occurred.

II. The positive historical sources

On the other hand, it is also not true that "Historical records outside of the gospels do not mention an eclipse."  Actually, two different early non-Christian Roman historians, Thallus (1st or 2nd century AD) and Phlegon of Tralles (2nd century AD) both appear to have mentioned the Darkness.  In addition, Tertullian claims that the Darkness was noted in the official Roman annals.

Unfortunately, like many other ancient books, these writings have not survived, but they are referenced or quoted by other sources.  These later sources are Christian authors, so a skeptic might accuse them of simply making up these other sources.  That seems implausible to me in this case, but the possibility must be taken into account.  Obviously this evidence would be more impressive if the original works had actually survived, but it is wrong to say that there are no historical records which mention the event.  So the evidence is not as strong as it might be, but it is there.

In addition, we have the evidence of the Gospels themselves, which are after all historical documents with actual historical data, and which scholars with no bone to pick often use to establish facts about first century Judaism.  Skeptics often mock when Christians say things like "X is true because the Bible says so", saying that this is circular reasoning.  But they don't seem to have problems with arguments like "X is true because Josephus says so", and nobody thinks Josephus was divinely inspired.  Even if we decide to treat the Bible just like we treat any other historical sources, we still have to go and do that!  A demand by skeptics that events should be believed in only if they are mentioned by nonbiblical sources, is just as unreasonable as when Christians expect those not yet converted to Christianity to accept things just because they are in the Bible.

For example, when people say "Luke must be wrong about the timing of the Census of Quirinius, because it disagrees with Josephus", it never seems to occur to them that Josephus might be wrong, when he disagrees with St. Luke.  If it were two secular historians, both of these scenarios would presumably be considered equally likely.  (Or more likely still, if we knew everything that both historians knew, we would see how the contradiction could be resolved with both of them being right somehow).

II.A. Biblical Sources

Let's back up a bit and look at our earliest Biblical documentation for this event:

“I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your religious festivals into mourning
and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
and the end of it like a bitter day." (Amos 8:9-10)

Oops!  We seem to have backed up a bit too far.  This is actually a prophecy from the 8th century BC prophet Amos.  Some skeptical scholars are happy to accuse the Gospel writers of just putting in fulfilled prophecies without regard to whether they actually happened.  But we can't just decide in advance it didn't happen, we need to decide based on the evidence.

The earliest Gospel, that of St. Mark, says:

It was the third hour [9 am] when they crucified him...

At the sixth hour [noon], darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour [3 pm].  And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”(which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"...

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.  The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:25, 33-34, 38-39)

Apart from not telling us when the Crucifixion began, the Gospel of St. Matthew is similar but adds that there was an Earthquake and also a mini-Resurrection:

The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.  They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.  (Matt 27:51-53)

We can tell that this account isn't based solely on copying Mark, because more details are added.  While the curtain being torn, and the account of other dead people besides Jesus being resurrected and appearing to people (presumably only to certain people and only temporarily, as in the case of Jesus) are remarkable, we will primarily be focussing on the Darkness and the Earthquake as the two signs which might have been observable to those outside the city.  St. Luke has:

It was now about the sixth hour [noon], and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour [3 pm], for the sun stopped shining.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.  (Luke 23:44-46)

Apparently there is some textual discrepancy concerning the bold piece: in some early manuscripts St. Luke says that the "sun was eclipsed".  But in any case the event couldn't possibly have been a normal solar eclipse, since these always occur at a New Moon while Passover (being the 15th of Nisan on a lunar calendar) always occurs during a full moon.

Furthermore, a total solar eclipse lasts for at most 7-and-a-half minutes, while this event is stated to have occurred over 3 hours.  (Ancient people, not having watches, generally were not nearly so precise about time measurements as we are, but you'd think they could tell the difference between minutes and hours.)

From other biblical data, we know that the two possible years for Jesus' death were AD 30 and 33.  (It can't have been 31 or 32 seeing that Jesus was crucified on a Friday on or just before Passover.)  But according to NASA, there was no total (or annular) solar eclipse scheduled on either year anywhere in the Roman world (the nearest being in November, AD 29; in the right place and the wrong time).   Hence, if the Gospel accounts (or the extrabiblical sources reviewed below) are accurate, it can only have been a miraculous and/or meteorological phenomenon, not a true solar eclipse of the type that always takes place at the new moon.

There may possibly also be a reference to the Darkness in the book of Acts, also by St. Luke.  In his first sermon preaching the Resurrection on the Jewish Feast of Pentecost 50 days after Jesus' Resurrection, St. Peter quoted from the prophet St. Joel:

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose.  It’s only nine in the morning!  No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

 ‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.  This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.  (Acts 2:14-24)

The quotation from Joel is all about how God is going to pour out the Spirit, in a way that transcends gender and class divisions, but it also has this suggestive bit about the sun turning to darkness and the moon to blood.  Presumably if the sun actually had been darkened at the Crucifixion, this would help explain why Peter chose this passage and why a lot of people responded.

On the other hand, there isn't any documented evidence of a blood moon (a moon with a reddish appearance) around the time of the Crucifixion.  Apparently there was a partial eclipse that evening, which some claim could have resulted in the moon appearing red, however, this does not seem terribly plausible.  The most apparently sober-minded refutation of this claim I could easily find is from Answers in Genesis of all places, a Young Earth Creationist (i.e. crazy science) website which I cannot recommend getting any scientific fact from.  But if even they think the Blood-Moon/Lunar-eclipse theory is implausible, it probably is.  Which is not to say there couldn't have been a red-colored moon (for any number of atmospheric reasons, not to mention miracles) but we have no historical evidence for this.

[Update 5/27/16: I feel slightly differently about this now, than when I wrote that paragraph.  There's no particular astronomical reason I know of to think the moon would have appeared red, but there are a variety of reasons why it might have.  And it is somewhat striking that there was a regularly scheduled partial lunar eclipse on the same night as the miraculous solar "eclipse" that is the main subject of this post.]

II.B. Thallus

Now for the nonbiblical sources.  First, Thallus, as referenced by St. Sextus Julius Africanus, as quoted in turn by St. George Syncellus.  This third-hand reference is obviously not ideal in terms of evidence, but as far as I can tell ancient historians are willing to take this type of historical evidence seriously in non-supernatural contexts.

Now Thallus was a historian who wrote a series of history books in Greek.  Unfortunately these books are lost and we only have fragments recorded by other authors, but there's enough of those to make it clear he was a real and respected historian.  Some people identify him with a Samaritan "Thallus" which would place him in the first century, but apparently the evidence for this is weak.  As his Wikipedia article says:

The identification sometimes made with a certain Thallus of Samaria who is mentioned in some editions of Josephus' Antiquities (18.167) fails because that name only appears in those editions because of an idiosyncratic alteration of the text by John Hudson in 1720. Until Hudson's time all texts had ALLOS (meaning "another") not THALLOS.

On the other hand, he can be no later than the 2nd century since he is quoted in Tertullian's Apologeticus (197 AD).

There is also a question about when Thallus' history actually ended.  Again Wikipedia informs us:

Eusebius of Caesarea in a list of sources mentions his work:

From the three books of Thallus, in which he collects (events) briefly from the fall of Ilion to the 167th Olympiad.

However the text is preserved in an Armenian translation where many of the numerals are corrupt. The fall of Troy is 1184 BC, but the editors, Petermann and Karst, highlight that the end-date of the 167th Olympiad (109 BC) is contradicted by George Syncellus, who quotes Julius Africanus, and suggest that the end-date should read "217th Olympiad", a change of one character in Armenian.

So we have a bit of an issue in that, on the one hand the supposed quote from Thallus seems to be later than when St. Eusebius said the book ended; on the other hand this could easily have been a numerical corruption.  And obviously the end date has to be later, if people are quoting stuff from the book coming from after 109 BC.

Since Syncellus's text also mentions Phlegon, I'll introduce him before providing the quote.

II.C. Phlegon

Second, Phlegon of Tralles.  He was a a freedman of the emperor Hadrian and a historian who lived during the 2nd century, who seems to have been particularly interested in marvels and rare events, his two extant works being On Marvels and On Long-Lived Persons.  I haven't read through either of them, but if you look at the blurb for this modern translation of the Marvels book, I think you'll get the idea:

The Book of Marvels, a compilation of marvellous events of a grotesque, bizarre or sensational nature, was composed in the second century A.D. by Phlegon of Tralles, a Greek freedman of the Roman emperor Hadrian. This remarkable text is the earliest surviving work of pure sensationalism in Western literature. The Book is arranged thematically: Ghosts; Sex-Changers and Hermaphrodites; Finds of Giant Bones; Monstrous Births; Births from Males; Amazing Multiple Births; Abnormally Rapid Development of Human Beings; Discoveries of Live Centaurs.

While it might be a bit embarrassing to Christians that the Darkness ended up being written up by the Roman equivalent of a tabloid author, you might also ask, what other type of Roman genre would it end up in?

Well, actually it seems to have ended up, not in the tabloid book but in his (presumably more serious, but who can say?) Collection of Chronicles and List of Olympian Victors instead (a book reviewed here by Photius I, Bishop of Constantinople).  Phlegon's discussion of the Darkness and the Earthquake is quoted/paraphrased by at least 8 different later authors (Sts. Africanus, Origen, Eusebius, Apollinaris—yes the heretical one, Philopon, Malalas, Agapius, and Michael the Syrian).  The variety of authors quoting him, with broad consistency about certain details, makes it highly probable that he wrote something very similar to what is attributed to him.

Phlegon seems to have mentioned both the Darkness and the Earthquake.  (St. Michael, the latest of these authors, claims that Phlegon also mentioned the Resurrection of the Dead in Jerusalem, but I think this is very suspicious and should probably be discounted.)

Assessing the relevance of this evidence from a Bayesian perspective, I think it is highly relevant that Phlegon added additional material, which cannot have come from the Gospels, e.g. buildings toppling in Nicea (same town where the deity of Christ was affirmed in the Nicene Creed).  This indicates that he had some other source for the Darkness, besides simply believing whatever was related in the Christian Gospels.  Indeed, it is unclear if the original Phlegon text actually mentioned Jesus or the Gospels as being connected with the Darkness and Earthquake (although St. Origen tells us that Phlegon did write about Jesus in his Chronicles).

II.D. Enough stalling, show me the quotes!

Now for the actual money quotes, the first several of which can be found at this online compilation at textexcavation.com, but I found some more, which were missed by that guy.  Roughly in chronological order of the primary Christian source:

1. St. George Syncellus (9th century) quotes this except from St. Sextus Julius Africanus (c. 160 – c. 240) which mentions both Thallus and Phlegon:

On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down.  This darkness Thallus in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.  For the Hebrews celebrate the Passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Saviour falls on the day before the Passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun.  And it cannot happen at any other time but in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last of the old, that is, at their junction: how then should an eclipse be supposed to happen when the moon is almost diametrically opposite the sun?  Let that opinion pass however; let it carry the majority with it; and let this portent of the world be deemed an eclipse of the sun, like others a portent only to the eye. Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour [noon] to the ninth [3:00]—manifestly that one of which we speak.  But what has an eclipse in common with an earthquake, the rending of rocks, and the resurrection of the dead, and so great a perturbation throughout the universe?  Surely no such event as this is recorded for a long period.  But it was a darkness induced by God, because the Lord happened then to suffer.

Some points to notice here are that:

a) Thallus is not directly quoted but is merely mentioned as having tried to explain the Darkness as a solar eclipse (which is obviously wrong).  Now people don't usually insert totally fake critical arguments into their works in order to refute them.  Unfair caricatures and straw man arguments, sure.  But that's different from totally making up a counter-argument and stuffing it into somebody's mouth.  So Thallus very probably said something along these lines.

b) We don't know for sure whether Thallus obtained the information about the eclipse independently or was just responding to the Gospels.  But given his attempt to explain it as a solar eclipse, he seems to have believed the Darkness was a real event, not an invention of the Christians.

c) Information from Phlegon is also mentioned, but it does not seem to be a direct quote.  Some of the quotes below mention the 6th hour but not the 9th hour, so it is possible that Africanus got carried away and interpolated that information from the Gospels.

[Another discussion of this passage is by St. William Lane Craig here.  I cribbed the translation from his website but there's an alternate translation at texcavation.]

2. St. Origen, in his book (248) arguing against the 2nd century anti-Christian writer Celsus, writes that:

And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose kingship Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place, Phlegon too, I think, has written in the thirteenth or fourteenth book of his Chronicles.

Previously, in the same book, he tells us Phlegon mentioned Christ in another context:

Now Phlegon, in the thirteenth or fourteenth book, I think, of his Chronicles, not only ascribed to Jesus a knowledge of future events (although falling into confusion about some things which refer to Peter, as if they referred to Jesus), but also testified that the result corresponded to His predictions.

and he later summarizes by saying that

He imagines also that both the earthquake and the darkness were an invention; but regarding these, we have in the preceding pages, made our defence, according to our ability, adducing the testimony of Phlegon, who relates that these events took place at the time when our Saviour suffered.

The most natural construction of the last sentence is that Phlegon said the Darkness occurred during Christ's Crucifixion, but it is possible that Origen merely means that Phlegon gave the time, and it happens to agree.

But Origen's testimony regarding Phlegon cuts both ways, because in his commentary on Matthew (available in bad pdf scans of the Latin here), he also says that

Phlegon indeed has given some account in his Chronicles, of an eclipse that was in the reign of Tiberius Caesar, but he never intimated that this was at the full moon.

and in this commentary he argues that the events at the passion had to be localized in Jerusalem, in order to account for it not being noticed elsewhere!

It's unclear why Origen took such radically different tactics in these two books (and we don't know which he wrote first).  But if we accept his statement that Phlegon didn't write about it taking place at the full moon, this would impeach the reliability of Syncellus/Africanus (#1) as well as that of Apollinaris (#4), both of whom assert that Phlegon did say it happened at the full moon.

If only we had somebody who had preserved the actual quote... oh wait, it seems we just might:

3. St. Jerome's Latin translation of St. Eusebius' Chronicle (c. 380), which appears to include a direct quote from Phlegon, says that:

Jesus Christ, according to the prophecies which had been foretold about him beforehand, came to his passion in the eighteenth year of Tiberius, at which time also we find these things written verbatim in other commentaries of the gentiles, that an eclipse of the sun happened, Bithynia was shaken by earthquake, and in the city of Nicaea many buildings collapsed, all of which agree with what occurred in the passion of the savior. Indeed Phlegon, who is an excellent calculator of Olympiads, also writes about these things, writing thus in his thirteenth book:

In the fourth year, however, of Olympiad 202 [32-33 AD]  an eclipse of the sun happened, greater and more excellent than any that had happened before it; at the sixth hour, day turned into dark night, so that the stars were seen in the sky, and an earthquake in Bithynia toppled many buildings of the city of Nicaea.

These things [are according to] the aforementioned man.

a) The Phlegon quote seems to show no familiarity with the Gospels, instead adding detail from Bithynia (now in Turkey).  Nicea is 670 miles away from Jerusalem, but it is only 22 minutes west as the sun travels, making the change in time zone unimportant.

b) Note that the Olympics took place in the summer, and Passover was in the Spring, so 32-33 matches one of the two possible years for Jesus' death.  So if Phlegon's date is correct, the event described cannot in any case have been a normal solar eclipse.

c) This version does not say anything about the full moon or the ninth hour, but it does say that the Darkness began at noon, and that the eclipse was notable, being greater and darker than any other on record, and that there was also an earthquake, albeit one whose epicenter was hundreds of miles away.  (I suppose this could just mean an unrelated earthquake taking place in the same year, but their placement in the same sentence suggests that the events were related.)  A major earthquake can be felt hundreds of miles away, the exact distance depending on the area.

d) By pluralizing "commentaries of the gentiles", St. Eusebius indicates that he has access to other sources besides Phlegon (perhaps Thallus?).

e) Eusebius' Chronicles were also translated into Armenian, but I was unable to find an English translation of the relevant portion online.

4. (St?) Apollinaris of Laodicea (c. 315-c. 390), commenting on Matthew in a work preserved only in fragments [missed by texcavation.com], as quoted in this book, says that:

Now a certain Phlegon, a philosopher among the Greeks, recollects this darkness as an incredible occurrence in the fourteenth [night] of the moon, when an eclipse should not have appeared . . . for eclipses occur at the time when the two stars [the sun and the moon] draw near to one another.   An eclipse of the sun happens at the conjunction of the sun and the moon as it runs into its way.  This is not the time of the full moon, when the sun is diametrically opposite to the moon.  But the eclipse occurred as creation mourned over what had happened, signifying that the drunken behavior of the Jews was linked to a darkened mind.

5. St. John Philoponus (490 – 570), notable for his physics work contributing towards a theory of inertia, wrote a commentary on Aristotle's view that heavy objects fall faster than lighter ones, saying:

But this view is completely erroneous, and our view may be completely corroborated by actual observation more effectively than by any sort of verbal argument. For if you let fall from the same height two weights, one many times heavier than the other you will see that the ratio of the times required for the motion does not depend on the weights, but that the difference in time is very small.

Ahem!  What I actually meant to tell you, is that in a different book "On the Creation of the World", he wrote:

And of this darkness... Phlegon also made mention in the [book of] Olympiads.  For he says that in the fourth year of Olympiad 202 an eclipse of the sun happened, of a greatness never formerly known, and at the sixth hour of the day it was night, so that even the stars in heaven appeared.  And it is clear that it was the eclipse of the sun that happened while Christ the master was on the cross that Phlegon mentioned, and not another, first from his saying that such an eclipse was not known in former times, ...and also [because] it is shown from the history itself concerning Tiberius Caesar.  For Phlegon says that he became king in the second year of Olympiad 19{8}, but the eclipse happened in the fourth year of Olympiad 202.

a) The first mention of "fourth" is really just a δ (the letter delta) in the Greek text, which was the standard way of writing the numeral "4" in Greek.  According to textcavation, one translator thought this was short for δευτερω (second), but this contradicts the later part of the text (not to mention the other versions of the Phlegon passage).

6.  St. John Malalas (c. 491 - 578), an unreliable historian (apparently he often reports legends), offers in his Chronographia the following version of the Phlegon quotation:

The most learned Phlegon of Athens has written about this darkness as follows:

"In the 18th year of the reign of Tiberius Caeser, there was a very great eclipse of the sun, greater than any that had been known before.  Night prevailed at the sixth hour of the day so that even the stars appeared."

a) Malalas' has written "18th year of Tiberius" into the text even though the others generally indicate that Phlegon dated using Olympiads.  So this does not appear to be an exact quotation despite its form.

b) The text reads like a slightly abridged version of Jerome/Eusebius (#3 above).  It is quite possible that Malalas copied it directly from there without consulting Phlegon himself.

[Added Malalas 5/30/16, numbering of subsequent items increased accordingly.]

Now for some later (perhaps less reliable) sources:

7.  St. Agapius of Hierapolis (10th century), an Arabic Christian, writes (texcavation took the translation from this book):

We have found in many books of the philosophers that they refer to the day of crucifixion of Christ, and that they marvel thereat.  The first of them is the philosopher Inflātūn, who says in the thirteenth chapter of the book he has written on the kings: In the reign of Caesar, the sun was darkened and there was night in [for?] nine hours; and the stars appeared.  And there was a great and violent earthquake in Nicea and in all the towns that surround it.  And strange things happened.

a) Inflātūn is apparently the standard Arabic for "Plato", presumably a mistaken rendering of Plegon's name.

b) If the Darkness lasted nine hours, that would be a discrepancy with the other accounts (and the Gospels).  Could this be a misinterpretation of something like "until the ninth hour"?

8.  St. Michael the Syrian (12th century) tells us that

Phlegon, a secular philosopher, has written thus: The sun grew dark, and the earth trembled; the dead resurrected and entered into Jerusalem and cursed the Jews.  In the work which he wrote concerning the time of the Olympiads, he said in the thirteenth book: In the fourth year of the third [?] Olympiad, there was a darkness at the sixth hour of the day, a Friday, and the stars appeared.  Nicea and the entire region of Bithynia were shaken, and many other places were overturned.

a) The "third" Olympiad must be an error, since that would be 764-763 BC.

b) St. Michael mentions that it occurred on a Friday (the day of the week when Jesus was crucified), which if taken from Phlegon's account would be an additional compatibility with the Gospels.

c) His account also mentions the dead coming out of their tombs in Jerusalem.  But if this was really in Phlegon, it is highly surprising that none of the other authors mention this confirmation of St. Matthew's Gospel!  (Africanus mentions it, but it seems to be his own statement.)  The bit where they proceed to curse the Jews also seems over the top, and my guess is that this indicates a certain amount of distortion from the original text, indicating the presence of some telephone-game type additions.  But some of the other details are similar to the other texts.

d) Apparently this work is also notable for describing two other Darknesses, which occurred in 536 and 626 AD.  These were qualitatively different phenomena (partial obscurement of the sun lasting for months) and seem to have been correlated with volcanic eruptions occurring in those years.

II.E. The Roman annals

For completeness, I should also mention an additional possible reference to the Darkness, as related by St. Tertullian (160-220), in his Apology addressed to the "rulers of the Roman Empire", also writes of the Darkness at Christ's Crucifixion:

And yet, nailed upon the cross, He exhibited many notable signs, by which His death was distinguished from all others. At His own free-will, He with a word dismissed from Him His spirit, anticipating the executioner’s work. In the same hour, too, the light of day was withdrawn, when the sun at the very time was in his meridian blaze. Those who were not aware that this had been predicted about Christ, no doubt thought it an eclipse. You yourselves have the account of the world-portent still in your archives.

Tertullian writes with confidence, apparently believing that those he writes to would be able to look it up for themselves.  (This appeal is similar to that of St. Justin Martyr, who claims that the miracles of Christ were documented in the "Acts of Pontius Pilate", although Justin makes no reference to the Darkness.)  Unsurprisingly, these Roman records have no longer been preserved.

By the 4th century, various fake accounts from Pontius Pilate began to circulate to meet the needs of Christian (and anti-Christian) apologetics.  These are all forgeries; they show obvious dependence on the Gospels and read more like biblical fan-fiction than what a neutral observer might be expected to write.  However, none of the currently extant Acts of Pontius Pilate seems to be the document Tertullian was referring to.

Thus there is a possibility that legitimate government records of these events were still in existence at the time Tertullian wrote.  (However, there are other claims Tertullian makes, about the report Pilate sent to Tiberius Caesar and its reception in Rome, which are sufficiently implausible to cast some doubt on the accuracy of Tertullian's sources.)

III. Carrier essay

There is a widely circulated essay on the Darkness by the atheist activist Richard Carrier, which you can find here.  [There also exists a peer-reviewed version which is substantially different.]

(As an aside, I have difficulty respecting the historical judgement of anyone capable of doubting the historical existence of Jesus—I don't mean his miracles and divinity and so on, I mean the existence of a man named Jesus who started the Christian movement.  Even skeptical New Testament scholars like Bart Ehrman think this "Jesus myth" idea is totally bonkers.  Note that, consulting Wikipedia's List of Historians again, of the near-contemporary historians with completely extant works covering the right place and time (Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, the 4 Gospels, and Acts), all but one of them mentions Jesus!

Even if you think that the references to Jesus by the historians Josephus and Tacitus were interpolations by Christians, here's a little hint: if there were no Jesus, where did all of those Christian followers making these interpolations come from???  Did a bunch of Jews and Greeks start a club to eat bread together for no reason, and then just woke up one day and spontaneously said to each other, let's invent a Founder?  And, just to offend everyone and get made fun of, let's say that he was crucified by the Romans on behest of the Jews!)

In his essay on the Darkness, Carrier makes several good points, which I have incorporated into my analysis above, about the dating of Thallus and the relevance of St. Origen's comments.

However, he combines this with some dubious textual reconstructions of the texts above.  For example, after condemning another scholar's substitution of THALLOS for ALLOS as being too speculative, he makes the same substitution himself elsewhere (but in the opposite direction) to get the result he wants!

In another place, he writes that:

This quotation [of Eusebius, #3 above] shows that Phlegon did not mention Jesus in this context at all (he may still have mentioned him in some other obscure context, if we believe Origen). Rather, Phlegon merely recorded a great earthquake in Bithynia, which is on the coast of the Black Sea, more than 500 miles away from Jerusalem--so there is no way this quake would have been felt near the crucifixion--and a magnificent noontime eclipse, whose location is not clear. If the eclipse was also in Bithynia, as the Phlegon quote implies but does not entail, it also could not have been seen in Jerusalem, any more than partially, since the track of a total eclipse spans only 100 miles and runs from west to east (Jerusalem is due south).

In fact, the only coincidence with the gospel story is the year (although some modern scholars calculate the eclipse in question to have actually occurred in 29 AD) and time: it began at the sixth hour. Prigent suspects this last detail is a corruption by another scribe drawing from the gospel stories, although a noon eclipse is particularly startling and might get special mention (although the total eclipse would only occur at noon in one location--are we to suppose it was in Nicaea?). What is most important, however, is that Phlegon says nothing about the eclipse occuring during a full moon or lasting three hours (both physical impossibilities), yet these details are attributed to him in the lines added to Africanus. Clearly the quote has been altered over time.

In addition to what appears to be an error about how far away earthquakes can be felt (as discussed above), these paragraphs suffer from an acute case of "methodological naturalism", a presupposition that all historical texts should be interpreted without making reference to anything supernatural.  Carrier assumes throughout that the eclipse recorded by Phlegon was an ordinary one, despite the fact that Phlegon presented it as a highly unusual event, more notable than any other recorded eclipse.  If we want to know whether a miracle in the Gospels was noticed by other people, it is counterproductive simply to point out that the event could not have happened naturally.  That would be making the Christians' own case for us, that God was at work.

And the fact that the Phlegon quote doesn't mention Jesus at all makes it stronger evidence of the Gospel record, not weaker!  That's because it makes it more likely that Phlegon was relying on independent reports, rather than simply repeating the claims of early Christians.  However well this fits in with Carrier's later project of trying to delete Jesus from the records of history, I think he's missed the point here.

Furthermore, there was no ordinary solar eclipse in the year mentioned by Phlegon.  Carrier mentions the possibility of redating the Phlegon event to AD 29 (which would be the first year of the 202nd Olympiad) in a parenthesis as a belief of "some modern scholars".  Yet hypothesizing that the date needs correction is hardly a side issue; it is critical for his interpretation to work!  And presumably the only reason those scholars advocate redating the eclipse is that the astronomical tables have no solar eclipse in AD 32-33, which is circular reasoning if we are considering the possibility of a supernatural Darkness.

IV. Conclusion

I've tried to provide all of the relevant data, both the good and the bad, so that readers can decide for themselves what they think.  But my own personal conclusion is that this adds up to a weak argument in favor of the accuracy of the Gospels.

There is a significant amount of testimony for non-Christian sources (Thallus, Phlegon, and possibly the Roman archives) mentioning the Crucifixion Darkness, but it is all filtered through Christian writings.  Quite a few authors note Phlegon's report; not all of their descriptions are plausible or consistent with each other, but the main details tend to agree.

The coincidence with the Gospel Darkness and Earthquake, down to a specification of the year, and starting hour, is impressive, especially in light of the fact that no ordinary solar eclipse can fit the description.  From a Bayesian point of view, this would provide at least 2-3 orders of magnitude worth of evidence for the accuracy of the Gospels, if only we could be sure that Phlegon's account were truly independent of Christianity and yet got these details the same.  But we simply can't know this for sure, given that the original manuscript was lost and what we have was filtered through Christian sources.   This makes the evidence a lot weaker than it otherwise would be.

Still, it provides a nice corroboration of the Gospels at a point where many readers are particularly likely to be skeptical, when they report that the sun refused to shine upon our Savior as he suffered for our sins.  At the very least, it defeats the argument that the Darkness counts as evidence against Christianity, due to nobody else having noticed this public and obvious spectacle.

About Aron Wall

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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54 Responses to Darkness at Noon

  1. Scott Church says:

    Another excellent post Aron! Thank you!

    Btw, Richard Carrier is part of that "Christ Myth" movement I was telling you about last April. That's where he gets his whole "Jesus-never-existed" shtick and his penchant for dubious textual reconstructions. You may recall me mentioning that I have an essay on the Christ Myth and its proponents at my website. Though directed at the Christmas story in particular, it ends up covering most of the movement's broader claims and methods as well, Carrier included. Enjoy! :-)

  2. Dan M. says:

    Oh, wow, Thallus! I've had bits and pieces of this bouncing around in my head since I was a 15-year-old frantically searching the ~2002 internet for young-earth apologists and reading skeptic blogs with my hands over my eyes.

    In the interim—agnostic through college and grad school, lately back in the church and swallowing as much early material as I can find—I'd forgotten almost entirely about Thallus and all the hours I spent reading flame wars about him, so caught up in the terms of those arguments that the only way to feel sure about my worldview again was to be sure an somebody "unbiased" had attested it. (It's probably telling how little he comes up in books about theology and church history, relative to how constant a presence he is (was?) on message boards where teenagers snipe at each other about religion...)

    Anyway: All that wind-up just to say that it was a pleasure to land on such a thorough, well-considered write-up of all this, which seemed so deathly important to me when I was losing my faith. Returning to it, and finally getting it straight, now that it doesn't feel important to me at all is a strange, welcome kind of closure.

  3. Aron Wall says:

    Thanks for the compliment, Dan. It is indeed funny how one can get in a mood where peripheral things seem to loom larger in importance than they should; one can get into a very unhealthy psychological state that way.

    And you're right that there's something weirdly obsessively convoluted about this particular topic (given the relative sparsity of actual source material)---I had more tabs open in my browser than for any other blog post I've written; I started it in April and obsessed over it a few days every few weeks (admittedly, there was a physics workshop going on at the time), and mainly I just wanted to put everything down in one place so that it wouldn't squirm away when I wasn't looking. :-) It's fortunate that I didn't have to particularly care too much about how it turned out. Please convey my sympathies to the memory of your 15-year-old self.

    And welcome back to the cult of Jesus! May the peace of God be with you (and also with all your former snipe-buddies from that bygone era).

  4. willie says:

    Your last comment answers my thoughts on “how did he do it?”. Your zeal impresses me.

    I would like you to consider a possible alternative to the question on the “Noon to three Darkness”
    Darkness from dust and sand is quite a common phenomenon in the middle east. High atmospheric dust may obscure sun rays to such an extent that the sun becomes moon-like.
    Please check this specific clip of a sand/duststorm over Jerusalem in 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62rJXVaXa2U ( I can unfortunately not activate redirection to You Tube page.)

    Does such a phenomenon fit the data?

  5. TY says:

    Thanks for this critical review and a fair conclusion. As usual you manage to compress so much good information with so much economy in one post.

    Clearly the Darkness account does not pass the test of consistency and independent reporting, but I wouldn't dismiss the occurrence of a local darkness or something like that. And you seem to lean to this view. Here's why I think so by historical analogy. Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England, was thought to have a hunchback, as portrayed by William Shakespeare. In fact, after his skeleton was discovered in 2013 (under a car park), medical tests confirmed he did not have a hunchback but a curved spine, or scoliosis. What’s my point? He certainly had a noticeable physical deformity, even though the accounts passed down by word of mouth since that time were not quite accurate (medically speaking). Was the deformity documented by contemporary writers? It doesn’t appear so. But that is no sufficient reason to doubt a real physical abnormality. The doubting Thomases would still be doubting to this day, had the king body been totally incinerated in battle and only an oral history survived.

    This is somewhat off topic, Dr Wall, but do you think the Biblical flood was a local or global phenomenon? And could Noah have built a big enough Ark for so many species of plants and animals?

  6. Phlegon, a secular philosopher, has written thus: The sun grew dark, and the earth trembled; the dead resurrected and entered into Jerusalem and cursed the Jews.

    Like Crystal Night without the crystal, perpetrated by zombies. This indirectly raises another skeptical stumbling block: “And all the people said, ‘His blood shall be on us and on our children!’” (Matthew 27:25) “ALL the people,” they really said that? A bloodthirsty mob burst into song South Pacific-style? When in my entire life have I ever seen a group indict itself or speak in unison?

    If this was not meant literally, but as some literary theological device, did the Holy Spirit not know the impact it would have? Luther’s notorious screed is simply an elaboration on numerous verses in the NT: http://vho.org/aaargh/fran/livres9/Luthereng.pdf Matthew 27:25 becomes more inexplicable when you read how the crucifixion was actively foreordained by God, according to his “definite plan” (Acts 2:23). He caused his chosen people to take the rap for deicide, the same group he calls “a treasured possession … high above all nations which He has made, for praise, fame, and honor;" (Deuteronomy 14)

    Some of the most moving, strange, awe-inspiring verses in the OT involve God’s rapturous descriptions of His “everlasting love” for Israel. It’s counter-intuitive how they went from being the Eternally Most-Favored Nation complete with an “[b]everlasting[/b] covenant” to having North Korea status, "children of Satan," "a brood of vipers,” etc. This constitutes a bigger stumbling block than any eclipse.

  7. First a comment for Petronius.

    Notice that it is the later Gentile church (as well a many in the non-Christian world) that got caught up in antisemitism, not the first Christians who at first were only Jews. You say, “This indirectly raises another skeptical stumbling block: ‘And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” ’ (Matthew 27:25)” Matthew’s statement involved only a group of Jews in court before Pilate. If one person, maybe the chief priest, were to say this and his lackeys were to nod or cheer in agreement, this might be closer to the actual scene. Jesus’ followers wouldn’t likely be here. Remember they were keeping a low profile since they didn’t want to be noticed and arrested. None of Jesus’ followers would have been in the crowd to cry out for Jesus’ release.

    Matthew often distorts the actual events to keep it shorter. He seems to be more interested in preserving Jesus’ teachings and isn’t very concerned about all the details of the narrative. For example, in the account of Jesus raising Jarius’ daughter from the dead one of the Synoptics says Jarius came to Jesus, asked him to come and heal his daughter, and that Jesus and Jarius were not notified of the child’s death until they were on their way. Matthew, wanting to shorten the narrative, simply records that Jarius, when he first sees Jesus, tells him that the child is dead and, presumably, asks him to raise her from the dead. So given the nature of Matthew’s accounts, I think my reinterpretation is likely the more accurate description of the events.

    However, my reinterpretation may make no difference to you since you seem to want to read the old blood libel into these words. You say, “If this was not meant literally, but as some literary theological device, did the Holy Spirit not know the impact it would have?” Yes the Holy Spirit did know that some dim witted and/or evil Gentile Christians (purported Christians, I should say) would find this grounds for antisemitism. But there is nothing antisemitic about this event, even if it did literally occur as Matthew said it did. If you think it is antisemitic then tell me if you think Moses and all of the prophets were antisemitic as well. They all at one time or another accused their fellows of sin. Kings, leaders, princes, priests, scribes, prophets, the common people—no one was exempt from the word of God through the prophets. But if the prophets were not antisemitic (as they obviously were not) what makes Matthew’s account antisemitic when a specific group of Jewish people are in essence accused of asking for an innocent man’s death? How is that more antisemitic than when a group of Jews tried to kill Jeremiah?

    I won’t pull up the website you mention to go over the purported antisemitic passages. My discussion of Matthew 27 will give you a good idea of how I would respond to most of them. But do pull them up if you want to and maybe we all can discuss them. I can assure you in advance, there is no way you can read antisemitism into the NT. “Luther’s notorious screed” twisted passages from the NT to say what he wanted them to say. Luther was a very volatile individual. I think Aron called him a loose cannon. Sadly, he did fall into a very grievious sin when he wrote this and I only hope he did repent before he stood before God. He is a good example for all of us that anyone can fall into sin, even very grave sin.

    Yes, the death of Jesus was according to God’s “definite plan”; but notice that it is both the Jews and the Gentiles who are accused of killing him (Ac 4.25-28). The point is that we are all of us, by our sin, responsible for his death. In fact Jesus said that no one takes his life from him and that he gives it of his own choice. That is, because of our sins, God (the Son as well as the Father) has determined that this must happen. God didn’t cause his chosen people to take the rap for deicide, we all must take the rap because of our own choices. The Jews indeed are and always will be God’s treasured possession. Even those who are now enemies of Jesus are and always will be beloved for the sake of the Fathers. We long for the day when, as Paul said, “all Israel will be saved.”

    Now back to Aron’s discussion.

    Thallus (c.a. 55 CE), in calling the claimed darkness at noon a solar eclipse, was possibly trying to refute any suggestion that a supernatural omen or portent occurred at Jesus’ death. Suetonius said that it was common in Roman times to look for and purportedly find such omens when notable people died or were born. So we have here possibly one of the earliest extant hostile responses to a Gospel narrative, possibly even before any Gospel was written and the story was still in oral form. Possibly some early Christians seized upon this apparent portent and used it in their evangelism to the Gentiles (and Jews) who might be impressed by it. (See Robert Van Voorst’s Jesus Outside the New Testament, 20-23.)

    I have to agree with willie that the simplest explanation for the three hour darkness at noon was just a high altitude dust storm, a khamsin storm, not uncommon in this part of the world. We are not told the event was worldwide. So James is incorrect in thinking that this event might suggest possible conflicting information in the Bible. It does not indicate a solar eclipse and a lunar eclipse on the same day, if that was his point.

    The argument from the Young Earth Creationist site which tried to refute the claim that a blood-red moon was visible the evening of Jesus’ crucifixion is actually pretty weak. Granted only part of the moon was eclipsed, it was that part which was first visible when the moon rose the evening of Jesus’ death. If part of the moon was not in the umbra, the darkest part of the eclipse, when it first became visible, it could have been reddened simply by virtue of its rising, much as any sunrise or sunset appears red. Also, some of the high altitude dust which obscured the sun during the day might have still been in the atmosphere and have contributed to the reddening. The lunar eclipse on April 3, 33 CE, even if visible as a portion of a “moon turned to blood” for only a few minutes, would have been sufficient to fulfill Joel’s prophecy. It seems then that this most likely was the evening of Jesus’ death.

    I might mention that did an article some years ago which I have on my website arguing that Daniel’s prophecy of the seventy weeks (Dan 9) proves Jesus is the Messiah: http://www.encounter1.org/3-1/. One part of the argument goes into the date of Jesus’ crucifixion and triumphant entry into Jerusalem and it argues using the lunar eclipse of 33 CE. I don’t want to use Aron’s page for my own discussions so if anyone is interested in interacting with that argument further, you can correspond with me via the email address on that website.

    Sorry I haven’t been able to keep up with your convention of prefixing the names of all professed Christians with St. There are too many people involved whom I’m not sure would profess to be Christians and I didn’t want to take the time to read all of their old comments to find out who’s who.

  8. Dennis - Prior to reading St. Michael the Syrian’s report on Phlegon, I hadn’t heard that the resurrected dead in Matthew 27:51-53 went into town to curse the Jews, so this isn’t as much of a tangent as it seems.

    Notice that it is the later Gentile church (as well a many in the non-Christian world) that got caught up in antisemitism, not the first Christians who at first were only Jews.

    This is question begging. The point is whether Matthew 27:25 had any sinister motivations (if it’s not literally true). And was Justin Martyr "later"?

    Matthew’s statement involved only a group of Jews in court before Pilate.

    It involved a crowd, including “all the chief priests and the elders of the people.” For some unfathomable reason it involved their children too.

    If one person, maybe the chief priest, were to say this and his lackeys were to nod or cheer in agreement, this might be closer to the actual scene.

    What prevented Matthew from writing “Then the chief priest said ‘Let his blood be on me and my children!’” If this passage is in no way vicious, why is it important to you that it happened differently than written?

    Matthew often distorts the actual events to keep it shorter.

    But this detail doesn't appear in the other gospels. How is it an instance of shortening things? In Mark and Luke, Pilate shares some of the blame. In John, however, Pilate tries to intercede on Jesus’ behalf. In none of these accounts is the issue of guilt for the children of those present raised. This isn’t shorthand; it’s weird and creepy and jumps out at one.

    Yes the Holy Spirit did know that some dim witted and/or evil Gentile Christians (purported Christians, I should say) would find this grounds for antisemitism.

    Some? For centuries this had the status John 3:16 enjoys today. I mentioned Luther as an instance of a not-so-dim-witted man who incorporated it in his theology. We could list many others with enormous influence who cited it (into the twentieth century). It's absurd to deny all Christian anti-Semitism with the True Scotsman fallacy.

    Luther was a very volatile individual. I think Aron called him a loose cannon. Sadly, he did fall into a very grievious sin when he wrote this and I only hope he did repent before he stood before God.

    Bondage of the Will is the Moby Dick of Christian theology, as important as anything any Christian has ever written. On the Jews and Their Lies is no less supported by scripture, no less forcibly argued. It's horrifying, embarrassing, inexorable in its logic, and far from unique. Your argument against Luther is ad hominem. So what if he was unstable? Does that refute the 95 Theses?

    But if the prophets were not antisemitic (as they obviously were not) what makes Matthew’s account antisemitic when a specific group of Jewish people are in essence accused of asking for an innocent man’s death? How is that more antisemitic than when a group of Jews tried to kill Jeremiah?

    Because your "specific group" involves people who weren’t born. The exegeses by St. Melito, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, Charles Spurgeon (to name only a few) is that THE Jews did it, not just a “specific group,” the collective guilt of an entire race. And St. Michael the Syrian says that Phlegon reported that people rose from the dead to curse THE Jews!

    The point is that we are all of us, by our sin, responsible for his death.

    This makes Matthew 27:25 even worse, a diabolical fifth wheel. If Jesus died for the sins of his believers, why is his blood on the Jews and their children?

  9. Petronius,

    Matthew’s story of the dead who were raised when Jesus was raised says nothing of them cursing the Jews, their own descendants by the way. If Phlegon said they did, again this merely demonstrates how far the church deviated from its Jewish origins and fell into antisemitism. Yes, the church has fallen into very horrible sins in its long history.

    Imagine how different history would have been had Luther (as just one “Christian” example) followed his Master’s teaching on this point and accepted and supported the Jews in Germany. Remember he turned against the Jews only after they wouldn’t convert. If you follow Jesus’ teaching to love your enemies, this must apply to the Gentile church’s relation to the German Jews. He could have said, “Even though you continue to reject the One I desire you to embrace more than anyone else, yet I still accept and love you and I will do all that I can to prosper you and live at peace with you.” How different the world would have been if only Christians follow their Master’s teachings.

    How is it question begging to say that large portions of the Gentile church fell into antisemitism? Also, notice that many of the seemingly antisemitic statements made by some of the church fathers were merely condemnations of specific anti-Christian claims by the Jews. That in itself is not antisemitism. So one would need to specify the exact statements to determine which were in fact antisemitic. Having said that, let me reemphasize, I’m not denying that there was antisemitism in the church throughout its history. But anyone who had a Bible to read (unless they were very stupid or willfully evil) should have seen that a follower of Jesus must love, not hate, the Jewish people. This is further demonstrated by the fact there were notable occasions when Christians went back to the Book and stood up against popular antisemitism of the time.

    Perhaps you were saying it is question begging to focus on the later church when you think the big issue involves the NT era. (And yes, Justin, being part of the Gentile controlled second century church was part of the “later” church.) There is no sinister motivation in Mt 27. It is just a factual statement that Jesus had enemies whom he had offended and who wanted him dead. My point in reinterpreting Mt 27 (that the crowd did not stand up and cry out in unison, “Let his blood be on us and on our children”) was just to say that there is nothing unrealistic about what Matthew described.

    Okay, what I called a group of people could have been a crowd. Yeah, there were probably quite a lot of people who didn’t like Jesus. “All the chief priests and the elders”? Not necessarily all. Sometimes the Gospels will say “all the people” or “all the Jews” and yet if you look at the context it is clear that there are notable exceptions. The Gospels say that many teachers and leaders followed Jesus but secretly since they didn’t have the power to oppose those who had the greater political power. Some religious leaders complained that “the whole world” is following after him. Obviously it wasn’t the whole world. Semitic hyperbole was a common part of the language. So when it says “all the chief priests and elders,” it is possible that it was literally all of them, but it is also possible that there were a number of exceptions. My point is that whether it was literally all or not, there were still a number of Jewish leaders who were guilty of his death, just as there were a number of Gentiles who were also guilty of his murder.

    You keep bringing up the claim that some curse was put on their children (“His blood be on us and on our children”). If I were to curse my children by a word and a choice that I made, it does not follow that those children must bear that curse. It is God who will determine whether such a curse has any force. These Jewish leaders and other opponents of Jesus who did put this curse on their children must certain bear God’s judgment for doing such a great evil, but again, this does not mean the curse has any force. Matthew’s account simply tells us what some very evil people did. All of the Gospels also tell us what a very evil person named Pilate did. And John’s Gospel did not exonerate Pilate of all guilt. He may have opposed killing Jesus but he still went ahead and did it. Pilate was so antisemitic that his goal was likely simply to oppose anything the Jewish leaders wanted. It was by Pilate’s decision alone and by the hands of Gentile soldiers alone that Jesus was killed. No, the Gospels hold Jews and Gentiles equally guilty.

    “What prevented Matthew from writing ‘Then the chief priest said “Let his blood be on me and my children!” ’ If this passage is in no way vicious, why is it important to you that it happened differently than written?”

    It was important to me to have it rewritten because the way modern readers, like yourself, normally look at it, it sounds very artificial (as you mentioned in your first comments). I suspect that Matthew’s first readers would have understood his statement much as I’ve rephrased it. If only the chief priest said it and everyone else merely nodded or cheered, they were still agreeing with his statement. I wouldn’t doubt that there were a few, maybe a number of agreeing “amens” in the crowd. That was the normal way of agreeing with or emphasizing a statement at the time, just like it is today in any good Pentecostal church.

    I’m not denying that the statement was “vicious” if by that you mean that the speaker(s) were doing something which was very evil. I’m not denying that there could have been a good number of people who made it clear that they agreed with the statement. What I am saying is that there is nothing antisemitic about this scene, even if it were exactly as Matthew described it.

    Most likely the Jewish leaders technically condemned him for blaspheme for claiming to be the Messiah and the Son of Man of Daniel 7. In fact they had no right to condemn anyone for such a claim since someone has to be the Messiah and someone has to be the Son of Man. When the Messiah/Son of Man appears, how can he be known to be such if it is blaspheme to claim to be such? So he was illegally and wickedly condemned to death by the Jewish leaders. Behind the (il)legal condemnation, it is more likely that they condemned him because they hated him because of his very harsh condemning words against them.

    Okay, so here’s my point. Jesus was a Jew who was condemned by Jewish leaders in part because he offended and condemned them. Jeremiah was a Jew who was condemned by other Jewish leaders because he offended and condemned them. Jeremiah happened to escape those who wanted to kill him. How is it that to say that the story of Jesus’ condemnation by evil Jewish leaders is antisemitic but the story of Jeremiah’s condemnation by evil Jewish leaders is not?! Because one of these groups of evil Jewish leaders happened to say, “Let his blood be on us and on our children”? You don’t think the other group, the one that condemned Jeremiah, would have said the same thing if they thought that by that means it would have gotten Jeremiah killed? Of course they would have said the same thing. People as evil as those Jeremiah condemned would have had no qualm saying such a thing. Why isn’t the whole of Hebrew Scripture antisemitic because God had his prophets going around telling the people they were doing evil?

    I said, “Matthew often distorts the actual events to keep it shorter,” and you replied, “But this detail doesn't appear in the other gospels. How is it an instance of shortening things?”

    It is shorter to say this than to give the story as I reinterpreted it, to say something like, “The High Priest said, ‘Let his blood be on us and on our children,’ and most of those around him, shouted ‘amen’ or repeated, ‘Yes, let his blood be on us and our children.’ Some of them merely cheered in affirmation and some of them just nodded in agreement.”

    I said, “Yes the Holy Spirit did know that some dim-witted and/or evil Gentile Christians (purported Christians, I should say) would find this grounds for antisemitism.” To this you replied, “Some? For centuries this had the status John 3:16 enjoys today.”

    Matthew 27.25 has never had the status of John 3.16 for the universal church! You know very well that you cannot back up this claim. They were important words for certain groups at different times in the history of the church who wanted to twist the gospel of God’s love into a gospel of hate. They were important words if they could be wrested from their context and applied to all Jews. Only very dim-witted people or very evil people could do so because to do so would involve ignoring the fact that Jesus and his first followers were all Jewish as was everyone in the early church until Peter’s episode with Cornelius.

    Yes, Luther and Hitler are not in the dim-witted category; they definitely are in the evil category, though not equally in that category. I admitted that Luther was guilty of a very great evil for writing his diatribe against the Jews. By bringing up the “true Scotsman fallacy” accusation I assume you mean that I have no right to say that antisemites who claim to be Christians are not really Christians. To answer your claim we need to talk about evil in the Christian life and what accounts as so much evil that one cannot be considered a Christian.

    Here’s my take on the most biblical understanding of this issue. First of all, if one repents and trusts in Christ’s atoning sacrifice, one will be accepted by God and forgiven of one’s sins. However, if one claims to be a Christian who does certain evil(s) (probably continually committing certain sins like the person who thinks he can keep sinning so long as he always repents), Paul said more than once, if you live like this you will not have eternal life. Doesn’t matter if you’ve accepted Jesus as your savior, doesn’t matter what you’ve done, you WILL NOT have eternal life (Gal 5.19-21, 1 Cor 6.9-10). John said a lot the same in his epistle. Jesus also said that committing certain sins and failure to do certain acts will keep one from eternal life (Mt 25). So there is a moral minimum for Christians. Now repentance does provide forgiveness even for those who have not lived up to this moral minimum. But if repentance turns out to be just a sham (continued repentance, that is), a ploy for allowing one to continue to sin, then God will not accept it. God is not mocked, Paul reminds us. But what of those who are in bondage to a given sin but are continually and earnestly repenting? This is someone I cannot judge. God will be just. God will accept their repentance if this is truly their condition.

    Applying these thoughts to our discussion of Luther’s and Hitler’s antisemitism, I think we should see that the hatred Luther expressed was a great sin but if he repented of it God did likely forgive him. I say “likely” because I don’t know how much Luther allowed this sin to remain in his life without repentance. Hitler’s antisemitism and murders were so great that it looks as though he had long passed the point of reprobation before his death. I think Romans 1 tells us that there is a point at which God will no longer even allow one the possibility of repentance. I honestly do not believe Hitler considered himself to be a Christian though he did often publicly say he was for propaganda purposes. But if he did think of himself as a Christian, Jesus and the NT writers make it clear that he was not. The same must also be said of any who considered themselves to be Christians who carried antisemitic hatred in their hearts. So we can say that there are some who believe themselves to be Christians who, according to the Bible, are not.

    On the Jews and Their Lies is definitely not supported by scripture. Bring up any antisemitic argument Luther has presented and I will show you how it fails. And I don’t deny Luther’s intelligence; many emotionally volatile people are very intelligent.

    Naming theologians from Melito to Spurgeon who think the Jews hold a special guilt does nothing to show that they do. I suspect that I could give you as many exegetes (not necessarily theologians) who would claim they didn’t. Give me arguments, not names and empty opinions.

    I said, “The point is that we are all of us, by our sin, responsible for his death.”
    You replied, “This makes Matthew 27:25 even worse, a diabolical fifth wheel. If Jesus died for the sins of his believers, why is his blood on the Jews and their children?”

    His blood is not on anyone other than the individuals who asked for it to be upon their own heads. I pointed out earlier that one has no power to put this curse on their innocent children. This is not a special guilt different from that of anyone else on earth.

  10. i like pizza says:

    Regarding Matt 27:25, the crowd didn't say that because they were willingly damning themselves and their children, knowing that what they were doing was wrong. On the contrary, they said it because they thought they were doing the right thing (and thus would not have 'blood on them'). It's like someone today saying, "If I'm lying, may I be struck by lightning."

  11. i like pizza says:

    I did a quick search of Matt 27:25 on a couple of sites I'm familiar with and found the following quote, which better describes the passage than I did:

    The expression, far from being a self-inflicted curse, is a strong statement of innocence. It appears in later, mishnaic form in the Tractate Sanhedrin 37a, where in capital cases the witness uses the invocation as a proof of his innocence. If he is lying, he is willing to have the blood of the accused fall on himself and his offspring until the end of the world.

    (Sloyan, Gerard S. Jesus on Trial. Philadephia: Fortress, 1973; quoted from http://www.tektonics.org/gk/jesustrial.php)

    There's also some interesting info at http://christianthinktank.com/ajews.html and http://christianthinktank.com/stil0108.html (though admittedly, I haven't read all of it).

  12. Dennis - We are experiencing Focus Creep. My point was that Matthew 25:27 has been interpreted by a majority for wicked, murderous things. No good has come from that verse. No harm to the narrative would result from its exclusion. It contains no essential info not found in the other gospels. Nor does it clarify other discrepancies. It’s only after 2,000 years and an Everest of corpses that sane voices prevail, that we all agree that whatever it means it doesn’t mean what Luther passionately defended.

    The ultimate Author is omniscient, knowing full-well how this verse would be misconstrued. What if Goethe knew that his (awful) novel The Sorrows of Young Werther would cause an epidemic of young men committing suicide and published it anyway. I would be justified in asking why he did this. (If you’ve never read about the absurd Werther phenomena, I envy you.)

    You make it sound like the meaning of Matthew 25:27 is obvious and, after all, mistranslations can happen anywhere. But an omnibenevolent Author doesn’t have the excuse of ignorance of the future. When one particular verse is “mistranslated” the same way again and again and again and again, we can legitimately ask What the heck!? This was like some cosmic shout of “Fire!” in a crowded Europe. Even if the shouter meant something else entirely (enthusiasm for the Springsteen song, perhaps) the consequences were reprehensible and he shouldn’t have said it. This is why the verse is a stumbling block*, analogous to uncorroborated mass-resurrections or astronomical events on the day of the crucifixion. (*Aside from the literal improbability of group shout-alongs.)

    It can be useful for Christians to try a Nagel-like thought experiment: What is like to be a Jew? You have 613 commandments, not one of which says "Be on the lookout for a miracle-worker who speaks in parables, because that’ll be me." The Lord spoke to your main prophet “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” and He never once said "BTW, FYI, I’m three distinct units of consciousness that mysteriously share a common essence, one of which will come to you as The Messiah." Instead He spoke of numerous “eternal covenants” and “everlasting priesthoods” and gave horrendous prohibitions on worshiping ANYTHING else ever. And He said “Go to the priests, who are Levites, and to the judge who is in office at that time. Inquire of them and they will give you the verdict. You must act according to the decisions they give you at the place the LORD will choose. Be careful to do everything they direct you to do. Act according to the law they teach you and the decisions they give you. Do not turn aside from what they tell you, to the right or to the left. The man who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the LORD your God must be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel.” (Deuteronomy 17:9-12)

    These are the things that the Creator of the Universe, Master of Eternity, COMMANDED of you. It’s all 'bout The Torah, forever. The Torah is your absolute metaphysical Bottom Line if you're a Jew, not miracles or alleged fulfillments of obscure verses in Daniel & Isaiah. The evidence for The Torah is the first-person eyewitness testimony of approximately 3,000,000 people, the single most empirically verified event in all history. (How, then, were the Jews “guilty” of doing anything other than obeying what God commanded them to do!? I am deeply puzzled by this and I recognize that it's a whole other topic, one rarely addressed.)

    I like pizza - Tractate Sanhedrin 37a sounds like "If you kill me you also kill all my descendants," doesn’t it? This is the opposite of blaming my kids for what I do.


  13. i like pizza says:

    I like pizza - Tractate Sanhedrin 37a sounds like "If you kill me you also kill all my descendants," doesn’t it? This is the opposite of blaming my kids for what I do.

    I think we agree on that, if what you mean is that the descendents of the accused will also be held responsible for the crime. So as Sloyan says, the crowd in Matt 27:25 is saying, "If we had anything to do with it, let our descendants share the guilt. But we do not." In any case, it's a claim of innocence, not self-condemnation.

  14. i like pizza says:

    Bah, I don't like posting multiple comments in succession, but I was on the fence about whether to reply to comments not directed towards me. But I figured, why not. Despite the fact that I personally don't like engaging in online debates (and others have already written essays, if not volumes, that address these issues far better than I ever could; so I'll probably just slip back into the background after this post, as long as I can resist replying to your follow-up :P ).

    You make it sound like the meaning of Matthew 25:27 is obvious and, after all, mistranslations can happen anywhere.

    That's a valid point, but I find it difficult to see Matt 25:27 as justifying anti-semitism in the context of the NT as a whole.

    What did Jesus say is the second greatest commandment? To love your neighbor as yourself. (Matt 22:36-40) And of course Luke 10:25-37 describes one's neighbor as a Samaritan, a group of people despised by the Jews. (cf Matt 10:5) Elsewhere in Matthew, Jesus says to love your enemies (Matt 5:43-48).

    It's difficult to reconcile anti-semitism with these verses. Indeed, how can one conclude that the New Testament is anti-semitic when most of its characters, including Jesus, the apostles, and most of the church for the first few decades of its existence, were Jews? It seems to me that anti-semites (both past and present) adopted this view from non-biblical sources and have attempted to justify it with a few NT verses.

    After all, it's equally unjustified to conclude that the New Testament is anti-Gentile, but that's what anti-semites would be forced to conclude if they applied their faulty reasoning consistently. (Matt 5:47, 6:7, 6:31-32, 18:17, 20:25; Luke 18:32; 1 Cor 5:1, 10:20; Gal 2:15; Eph 4:17; 1 Thess 4:3-5; 1 Pet 4:3)

    It can be useful for Christians to try a Nagel-like thought experiment: What is like to be a Jew? You have 613 commandments, not one of which says "Be on the lookout for a miracle-worker who speaks in parables, because that’ll be me."

    This argument cuts both ways. Material that is embarrassing, difficult or counterproductive is considered more likely to be historical, since there would be no good reason to fabricate accounts that hindered the adoption of Christianity.

    And He said ... [Deut 17:9-12]

    Deut 17:9-12 doesn't say that all Jews must obey the court's decision on whether Jesus was the Messiah or a blasphemer. Rather, it concerns judges of lower courts who find a particular case too difficult for them. In such cases, they're to bring the matter before the Levites. If the lower judge refused to enforce the final decision, or the person refused to obey their sentence, it was punishable by death.

  15. Aron Wall says:

    Nobody seems to have pointed out yet the most important thing about Matthew 27:25, namely that having you and your descendents sprinkled with the blood of Jesus is a GOOD thing. In Christian theology, it's the blood of Jesus which leads to forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. That was probably not what the crowd had in mind, but it was the Holy Spirit who was directing the events here. Don't forget that this happened at Passover.

    So I read this passage first and foremost as an ironic indicator concerning the blessings to come from Christ's crucifixion. Much as the mockery with the crown of thorns and the purple robe, the sign saying "The King of the Jews", Caiphas' prophecy that "it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish", St. Simon of Cyrene carrying Jesus' cross, a criminal named "Son of the Father" going free as a result of Christ being condemned, the crowds around the cross echoing Psalm 22 (or for that matter Wisdom 2, or the crucified just man in Republic 2)... don't you see, it is ALL symbolic, even though it is also factual.

    The story that God is telling us is a seamless garment, not capable of being divided, or left unworn, simply to avoid the lot falling in unfortunate places for certain sacrificial victims. Don't you see, that if God were optimizing the world to minimize religious persecution based on misunderstandings, Jesus would never have been crucified in the first place? After he was crucified, of course the blame was bound to fall on the Jews, it absolutely had to in order for the story that God is telling to be consistent, because the Jews are God's chosen people which means that they too must be scapegoated as innocent victims. And that is because God cannot reject them; hence they must continue to reflect the role of Christ in the world, exposing its wickedness and showing what redemption means. (Which does not excuse those Christians who persectued them, any more than Pilate's washing of his hands was effectual to excuse his role in the great drama.) As the ruler leads, so the subjects will follow; Isaiah 53 is about both Israel and her King. But at the end of the story, Joseph will be reconciled with his brothers.

    Of course, the Torah also says that it's not the final revelation: Deut 18:15-19. Not to mention all the detailed prophecies and symbolisms concerning the Messiah scattered throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. But if I understand correctly you know all this; you're just trying to get people to recognize that the things which are obvious to us in retrospect were NOT necessarily obvious to the people at the time, nor to people today with different assumptions. (This also applies to the Christians who persecuted the Jews, notwithstanding its obvious wrongness to all people of good will today.) If so, good luck with a thankless task!

    Just to be clear, nobody but me is obliged to follow my policy on calling people "saints"!

    The text of the Gospels is ambiguous about whether the Darkness was over the whole world, or just local. So I wouldn't call the "Darkness account" inaccurate for that reason. But if the Phlegon quote is accurate, it apparently extended several hundred miles towards Nicea. But your point about Richard III is well taken.

    Regarding the Flood, a global flood in the past several million years is completely incompatible with the geological record. Absolutely not. Nor could all the animal genera possibly fit in a boat of that size.

    There have been various events where lake basins filled in suddenly, so a local flood is not totally out of the question, but I tend to read the accounts in the first 11 chapters in Genesis in more of an allegorical way. I don't think it has to be literally true to teach important spirtual truths. Although, it is interesting that quite a few cultures around the world (including Native American tribes) have flood stories in their mythology...

  16. St. i like pizza (July 7)

    (Sorry, I just had to call you that.) Of course you’re right that the Jews at Jesus’ trial didn’t think they were cursing themselves or their children. It is from our perspective that we see that they were though I’ve argued that such a curse cannot be applied to one’s children. One of my points was that they should have seen that they were doing this. They were so self-blinded by their hatred of Jesus that they did not see (or maybe care) that their sin of condemning him brought guilt upon themselves.


    I do see a focus creep but more in your own discussion than in mine. How have we gotten from antisemitism in the NT and the blood guilt claim of Matthew 27.25 (not 25.27; I’ve been occasionally getting the chapter and verse transposed myself) to a defense of Jewish resistance to Jesus’ claims? But I will address both.

    I don’t know that a majority of Christian biblical interpreters through history have seen Mt 27.25 as a curse upon the Jewish people which God honored. It would take a lot of research to find out, which I cannot do. (I wonder if anyone has done it.) So for now I’ll just say that until you can support your claim, we have no reason to believe this is the majority opinion. There are a number of verses in the scripture from which little imaginable good has come. If the statement in this passage is true, it does tell us something more about the history of Jesus which we did not know before. I think that is always helpful. It also shows us that these men were more evil than we might have thought they were had they not gone to this extreme to say this to get Jesus killed. This does have the particular good effect of warning us of how far one may actually fall into evil.

    With the “Everest of corpses” which have accumulated since this passage was written, it’s obvious that you think Matthew should never have recorded it. But if it had never been written, those who called themselves Christians who wanted reason to justify their hatred and ignore Jesus’ command to love their neighbors as themselves would have found other passages on which to eisegete (read into the passages) their hatred. All that this passage tells us is that certain people said this about themselves and their children. It says nothing about God allowing this curse to be upon their children or anyone else.

    I know of very moral Christians who believe (wrongly I think) that this passage does say that a special curse has come upon the Jews. But even with this belief, they would have been the first to hide Jews during the holocaust or otherwise aid and defend them. Whatever one’s belief about any curse upon the Jews, all Christians should know that they are obligated to do good to all people and to aid anyone who is being oppressed or persecuted (e.g., Mt 25). Except for those Christians who had absolutely no access to the Bible and received only what their religious authorities wanted them to hear, no Christian is without excuse who will cause any harm to innocent people. (And those who had no access to the Bible will still not be completely without excuse since they know the moral law written on their hearts.)

    Some of the most benign passage of scripture can be twisted into justifying evil. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus told his disciples they can now keep a sword and one of the disciples replied that they happened to have two swords in their possession. From this passage one of the popes said that this shows that along with the state, the church also has the power of the sword to kill heretics and infidels. In the American antebellum South, whites would point to the story of Noah cursing Ham’s descendants to be slaves to his brothers’ descendants as evidence that blacks were cursed to be slaves. Cain wasn’t even related to the Africans, but never mind, they knew he was so it PROVES that the enslavement of blacks has God’s blessing. If you want to get rid of passages which have been used to justify evil, there will be nothing left of the Bible. Instead of running around in a Bible slashing paranoia, why not simply accept that there will always be evil people as well as good people who will succumb to temptations to do evil who will twist the Bible into saying what they want it to say. The only effective antidote is to interpret the Bible so as to take it for what it honestly meant to its first readers and to encourage our pastors, priests, theologians, and laity to proclaim this in their pulpits, books, journals, blogs, and every day conversations.

    Goethe’s Europe was ripe for the romantic movement his work catalyzed. I think that if he had not written, the same thing would have happened by the work of some other author or authors. I find it hard to imagine the romantic movement would have never taken hold at all. But that isn’t really your question. Your real question, if I could rephrase it and focus it toward myself, is what if I knew that by failing to produce this book I could avert numerous needless deaths. Sure, then I would not produce the book. But also remember that my knowledge is not God’s knowledge and God may have reason for allowing such deaths which I cannot be aware of. I only know what good or evil I have the power to control and I must act according to that knowledge.

    I think I was mistaken to dwell so much on Matthew’s misstatement of what occurred. It seems to me to be pretty obvious that he was just saying that some spokesman, possibly the high priest, made the statement and most everyone else voiced their agreement. It says nothing of a curse (or Christ’s blood) being upon anyone other than the speakers, or whether that blood could be placed upon their children. Nothing more than a self-malediction can be honestly found in these words. So I take it that you are saying that even on this understanding, for God to allow Matthew 27.25 to remain in the NT is like God shouting “ ‘Fire!’ in a crowded Europe.” I disagree. As I’ve claimed already, there is nothing in this verse which should lead a later Gentile follower of Jesus to in any way respond negatively to the Jewish people or any other people. And there is much in Jesus’ very clear teachings which would lead them to seek to love and support the Jews and all peoples. So given this and what I’ve also said about how evil people will distort the most innocent statement into a tool for evil, I think you are wrong in seeing this passage as a stumbling block.

    Suppose you are right that if this passage had not been included in the Christian canon that far fewer innocent people would have been killed. Should God have foreseen this and left it out? Even as an Open Theist, it seems very obvious to me that God would have seen that much of this evil would happen. But I still don’t see this as necessarily good reason for God to have omitted such a passage. Let me explain.

    I think it is part of God’s plan to have people tested as to whether they will do good or evil. God wants to know how one will face the temptation to do evil in the face of his command not to. If I want to hate these strangers who have moved into my land, these people who have different customs and who don’t seem to want to even be around me unless they have to for business reasons (do they think they’re better than me?) then I will be tempted to find some justification for my definite tendency to hate them. So I will look to the teachings in my authoritative religious books and teachers and if I find an interpretation of a passage which I can use to rationalize a justification for my hatred, I will be tempted to accept it. I will face a struggle because I know the rest of my Master’s teachings which tell me that I must accept and love and do the greatest good I can for these people. God searches our hearts as we struggle with this temptation. Will we fall for the evil that entices us or will we let God draw us to his way and his love? God needs to know how we will choose and we need to become God’s children, which we can only become as we freely choose his way. Only by facing such temptations can one become a child of the Father (Mt 5.44-46). So God did need to leave the world to be such that there would be temptations to do evil.

    Let’s now look at your defense of the Jewish rejection of Jesus.

    As you say, nowhere in the Hebrew Scripture do we have the statement, "Be on the lookout for a miracle-worker who speaks in parables, because that’ll be me." But we do have something close. We have Moses saying that God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers and you must listen to him (Deut 18.15-19). There is some good grammatical reason to think that he is talking about more than just a normal prophet such as he talks about later in the chapter (20-22), but even if he isn’t, he makes it clear that a prophet must be heeded or the listeners will be accountable to God. Of course, that doesn’t mean that one should follow the claims of just anyone who claims to be a prophet. No, one must test the prophet, Moses goes on to say; so if their prophecies come true, then they are to be followed, believed, and obeyed. If the prophecy does not come true, they are to be rejected as false prophets. Deuteronomy 13 gives some additional means for testing prophets, namely if they say anything to lead the people to worship other gods.

    Notice that in the history of Israel none of the prophets accepted by Judaism have ever led the people to worship other gods. They have sometimes added information giving new knowledge of God’s nature and will. Notice also that Moses was less of a prophet and more of a miracle worker, much like Jesus purportedly was. Just as Moses was accepted as God’s prophet because of the miracles he worked, someone like Jesus should be accepted as God’s prophet if we have evidence that he worked miraculous signs. So one does not need clearly prophetic words to be a prophet who needs to be tested. Miraculous claims would by the same principle be subject to this same testing. Deuteronomy 18 makes it clear that every Jewish person is obligated to test the claims of anyone who claims to be a prophet of God. One will be responsible before God who does not do so but who simply accepts the judgment of their rabbis or teachers or tradition.

    Deuteronomy 17.9-12 is talking about legal cases in Israel in which judges and kings have to do some detective work. On questionable cases, you need to accept their final decisions. It isn’t saying that they have any authority to teach anything other than what is given in the law. Only the prophets who are fully tested can give new information. So we find the Law of Moses talking about animal sacrifices which pretty clearly teach a kind of substitution, an animal bearing the sins of the people with the priest even speaking the sins of the people over the animal. But then later we find someone like the prophet Isaiah talking about an individual human bearing the sins of the people (53) or Jeremiah saying that God will institute a new covenant with his people. So it sounds like new information is given. The animal sacrifice, it looks like, is just a symbol fulfilled when a particular human-like figure comes to die. It also follows that if Jesus is determined to be a prophet and he doesn’t say anything contradictory to the teachings of the Hebrew Scripture, that his words are to be believed. If he says his direct followers’ words are also to be accepted and if they teach things like Jesus being God come in the flesh, and again, if none of this can be shown to contradict anything found in the Tenach, the Hebrew Scripture, then that should be accepted as well.

    For a Jew it isn’t really all about the Torah. Because when the Torah says to accept new information given by tested prophets, we may end up with a lot of new information. I’m aware that you can’t just tell a monotheistic Jew to become a trinitarian Jew and that’s going to happen immediately. It took some time, probably about ten years at the least after the resurrection, for Jesus’ first followers to come to think of him as more than a normal human, albeit a very great messianic human. We start with something Jesus’ followers didn’t quite understand at first. We have Jesus quoting statements in the Tenach which there applied only to God and which Jesus applies to himself. And we have him making claims about himself that any good Jew would think should only be said about God. After his death we later find his followers talking about him having part with God in creation and we find them also applying to him passages in the Tenach which are there applied to God. Slowly it was revealed to his first followers that this is the incarnate Word of God. Eventually it becomes a basic teaching that he is God incarnate.

    We should always remember that Jesus’ initial Jewish followers did not at first consider him to be God incarnate. They were fully accepted by God without holding to this belief. If belief in his deity is a stumbling block for Jews or Muslims or anyone else who is evaluating Christianity, Christians should not require them to believe this either. If they come to do so, it should be done slowly and cautiously as they search the scripture and listen to his teachings. The claim of Jesus’ deity is not something that should be made lightly. When I pray, I often ask God to forgive me if I’m wrong; it’s just that this is what the best evidence seems to me to point to and I don’t see that this contradicts anything stated in the Tenach. I think the NT does teach Jesus deity, but nowhere are we told we must believe it to be accepted by God.

    You say, “The evidence for The Torah is the first-person eyewitness testimony of approximately 3,000,000 people, the single most empirically verified event in all history.” Well, it was at the time but we don’t have any of those witnesses now and we don’t know that any of those witnesses wrote the Torah. That’s why in an earlier blog one of the interlocutors was so insistent that “modern scholars” are certain that the Exodus never occurred at all. He was of course voicing an extreme minimalist view and I think the best evidence is that the events of the Exodus did occur, but my point is that it is hardly as strong as you claim it is.

    One final point. You ask, “How, then, were the Jews ‘guilty’ of doing anything other than obeying what God commanded them to do!?” If by this you are referring to the Jewish leaders’ condemnation of Jesus, I’ve answered this earlier and you haven’t responded to my argument. It looks as though at his trial Jesus claimed to be the Messiah and the Son of Man of Daniel 7. He was condemned for blasphemy but this cannot rightly be considered blasphemy if someone has to be the Messiah and Son of Man.

    i like pizza (July 8),
    I wrote the above comments before reading your last response or Aron’s so sorry if there is a lot of duplication. I think multiple successional comments are great. I certainly don’t want to hog all the blog space (which I feel like I’ve been doing). And I appreciate your comments.

    Beautiful take on Matthew 27.25. Of course if someone wants to read into the passage a justification for hatred, they won’t see the meanings you see. Your reference to John 11.49-51 (the high priest’s prophecy that one man must die for the nation) does support your claim. Though not guiltless for his statement here or in Matthew 27, God was using him to give information about exactly what the death of Jesus would accomplish. With this idea I think we can see that a lot more good can come of this passage, Matthew 27.25, than is normally imagined.

  17. Dennis -

    But if it had never been written, those who called themselves Christians who wanted reason to justify their hatred and ignore Jesus’ command to love their neighbors as themselves would have found other passages on which to eisegete (read into the passages) their hatred.

    You make it sound like there's a Fixed Totality of Evil that gets distributed one way or other -- no matter what the Bible says. This assumes a degree of counterfactual knowledge we simply don't have. And it denies that certain verses can themselves play a causal role in diminishing or encouraging evil. Does it really seem likely that people cooked up the blood-libel stuff and went in search of verses to defend it?

    If you want to get rid of passages which have been used to justify evil, there will be nothing left of the Bible. Instead of running around in a Bible slashing paranoia, why not simply accept that there will always be evil people as well as good people who will succumb to temptations to do evil who will twist the Bible into saying what they want it to say.

    Bible slashing paranoia? I cited one verse. I wrote nothing about censorship. All verses do not have the same capacity for mistranslation. Am I to believe that if an evil group wanted to blame The Jews they could have opened the Bible at random and done just as well with the Song of Solomon?

    Suppose you are right that if this passage had not been included in the Christian canon that far fewer innocent people would have been killed. Should God have foreseen this and left it out? Even as an Open Theist, it seems very obvious to me that God would have seen that much of this evil would happen. But I still don’t see this as necessarily good reason for God to have omitted such a passage. Let me explain. I think it is part of God’s plan to have people tested as to whether they will do good or evil.

    A test is a means of learning things the tester doesn’t already know. If God knew the evil it would cause and did it anyway it’s not a test. It’s scripted slaughter. (I thought the whole point of open theism is that a limited god has less accountability for evil. This would have been the ideal place to drag out that defense.)

    Let’s now look at your defense of the Jewish rejection of Jesus.

    I called it a "thought experiment." Empathy is not advocacy; it's walking a mile in their shoes. The subject of why Jews reject Christianity is too often breezily dismissed. (And the exegetical challenges posed by Deuteronomy 18 rival the clarity of Romans 9: http://thejewishhome.org/counter/Deut18.pdf) Right or wrong, my Jewish friends tell me King Messiah won’t arrive before the Messianic Age, a time characterized by world peace and universal love of God. It’s not the kind of thing you can miss, not an event in need of interpretation. Right or wrong, this is what they believe.

  18. Petronius

    You say, “A test is a means of learning things the tester doesn’t already know. If God knew the evil it would cause and did it anyway it’s not a test. It’s scripted slaughter. (I thought the whole point of open theism is that a limited god has less accountability for evil. This would have been the ideal place to drag out that defense.)”

    Aron takes a traditional “simple foreknowledge” view and assumes a B or tenseless view of time (correct me if I’m mischaracterizing you, Aron), which, after considerable discussion in a previous topic section of his blog I have to admit I have not been able to refute. But I still find it difficult to swallow and I accept an A theory or tensed view of time. I hold that God cannot know what is logically impossible to know and that future free choices are impossible to know. Only to that degree am I an open theist. Aron and I both reject the Molinist view of foreknowledge.

    Under my open theist view, a free choice is known by one other than the agent of the choice by being seen (or otherwise perceived or experienced) as it is happening. So on my view (and I think Aron’s view) the event has to occur to be known. Thus we can say that a true testing will occur. I don’t like it when open theists try to use God’s purported ignorance of future events to account for evil as if God could be excused because he didn’t know it would happen. If God does not know in advance whether a particular individual will do good or evil, God still knows that they may do evil and God is able to stop the event before it occurs. Rather, God allows these potential evils because a far greater good could only occur by allowing the possibility of those evils.

    “Bible slashing paranoia.” Yes, I did go too far in putting it that way and I do apologize for suggesting you might be guilty of such. But when Matthew 27 was written, who would ever have thought that these words would ever be twisted to justify antisemitism? First Samuel records Saul’s slaughter of the priests of Nob, a horrible crime which will forever portray Saul as a very evil king. Accurate historiography just tells it as it is and it is good that we have that history. Shouldn’t we have Matthew 27 for the same reason? If Saul should be remembered for the evil he committed, shouldn’t these religious leaders likewise be so remembered? This is a normal historical claim and as such should not offend anyone other than the original religious leaders.

    “All verses do not have the same capacity for mistranslation. Am I to believe that if an evil group wanted to blame The Jews they could have opened the Bible at random and done just as well with the Song of Solomon?”

    But it is so difficult to anticipate how the most innocent words might be used to justify evil. Who would ever have thought Noah’s cursing Ham would be used to justify racial slavery? Who would ever have thought a disciple’s mentioning two swords would have been used to justify burning heretics?

    I really don’t see that my statements suggest a “Fixed Totality of Evil that gets distributed one way or the other.” Everyone chooses the amount of evil or good they will manifest in their lives. Those who fall to the temptations to do evil, if they happen to consider themselves to be Christians, will simply seek to distort passages in the Bible to justify their evil.

    “Does it really seem likely that people cooked up the blood-libel stuff and went in search of verses to defend it?”

    These were people who wanted to hate this different people group living next to them. So when they saw verses in the Bible that talked about the Jews killing Jesus or persecuting Jewish followers of Jesus, they kind of forgot about the other passages which said that also Gentiles killed Jesus and persecuted Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus. And they forgot that it was also Jewish followers of Jesus who were equally being persecuted. It was a kind of selective forgetting or selective ignoring, to see what they wanted to see.

    “Right or wrong, my Jewish friends tell me King Messiah won’t arrive before the Messianic Age, a time characterized by world peace. . . .”

    Or some will say Messiah will usher in the age of peace. In any case, I would simply claim that there is no good biblical or rational justification for such claims. (Messiah will bring peace, but that could be at a separate time from his first coming.) The point I had made last time is that there is nothing intrinsic to the Hebrew Scripture which would rule out Jesus as the Messiah and much evidence that needs to be considered that he is.

  19. TY says:

    “Nobody seems to have pointed out yet the most important thing about Matthew 27:25, namely that having you and your descendents sprinkled with the blood of Jesus is a GOOD thing. In Christian theology, it's the blood of Jesus which leads to forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. That was probably not what the crowd had in mind, but it was the Holy Spirit who was directing the events here. Don't forget that this happened at Passover.”

    Dr Wall, Judaism rejects core Christian beliefs in the Atonement and the Resurrection. From the New Testament, we know this message found more receptive and believing hearts amongst the gentiles, starting with the Greeks and peoples of Asia Minor. I agree with you that the Holy Spirit was active then, more visible on the Day of Pentecost, but what I find puzzling is that the Holy Spirit of Judaism is the same as for Christianity. So the inescapable conclusion is that God (the Holy Spirit) was redirecting the Jews away from Judaism and toward Christianity during that entire Passion event, and certainly before Jesus’ disciples and Apostles started the Church

    Do you see any flaw in my argument?

  20. Aron Wall says:

    There is indeed only one Holy Spirit, and he was preparing the Jews for Christianity from the time of Abraham, or rather from before the time any human beings even existed, in creating a universe that points to Christ. So why not during the Passion event? But nobody was able to put the pieces together until Jesus explained it to his Apostles after the Resurrection.

    Ancient Judaism already had concepts such as "atonement", "resurrection", and "holy spirit" prior to Christ; and although they were not exactly the same as the Christian concepts, they were capable of being filled with new meaning as a result of Christ's Passion and Glorification. But modern Judaism has de-emphasized each of these 3 concepts, for various reasons (some of them related to their use in Christianity).

  21. Zion says:

    The Chinese did observe an unusual eclipse around that time.


    With my limited Chinese, it sounds like the highlighted words mean: "sun moon thin eclipse. hundred surnames have sin, on upon one man, great forgiveness heaven under." It sounds like Jesus, but an alternative interpretation is that the Chinese king has taken responsibility for the sin and is proclaiming general amnesty.

    It comes from 後漢書 (Book of the Later Han) from a long time ago. The Latter Han dynasty ruled China from 25 AD to 220 AD, and this quote is from the first king Gwangwu.

    Here's the fuller quote in case anyone can read Chinese or knows a good translator.




    Another volume in the Book of the Latter Han seems to talk about the same day:

    七年三月癸亥晦,日有蚀之,在毕五度。(Solar eclipse in 3rd month of 7th year...)


    This adds more commentary about how on the day of the eclipse, the "heaven man collapsed":



    This information comes from the book "Finding God in Ancient China", but I confirmed that the quotes existed in other sources.

    And here is a sermon that mentions it:

  22. Aron Wall says:

    Thanks for providing this interesting information. I was able to find the following excerpt from the book you mention online:

    “Once again, this event is corroborated in the Chinese historical documents, which record a highly significant solar eclipse occurring around the time indicated in the biblical account:

    In the day of Gui Hai, the last day of the month, there was a solar eclipse, [The emperor] avoided the Throne Room, suspended all military activities, and did not handle official business for five days. And he proclaimed, ‘My poor character has caused this calamity, that the sun and the moon were veiled, I am fearful and trembling. What can I say?… Anyone who presents a memorial is not allowed to mention the word ‘holy’”.

    “Another entry made a short time later, referring to the same eclipse, said:

    Summer, fourth month [of the year], on the day of Ren Wu, the imperial edict reads, ‘Yin and Yang have mistakenly switched, and the sun and the moon were eclipsed. The sins of all the people are now on one man. [The emperor] proclaims pardon to all under heaven.’

    This solar eclipse was recorded in the Record of the Latter Han Dynasty, Gui Han was the last day of the third month in the spring, during the 7th year of Han Emperor Guang Wu (reigned A.D. 25 – 57). That corresponds to A.D. 31, which means that this major eclipse happened 34 years after the astral events involving the magi! “[At the time of Christ’s birth]

    “Even more incredibly, a commentary in the Record of the Latter Han Dynasty, said simply,

    ‘Eclipse on the day of Gui Hai, Man from heaven died.’

    Without knowledge of Chinese, it is difficult to check whether these translations are accurate or not. The book appears to be a popular rather than a scholarly text, making it difficult to check the details. Do you know if it answers questions like these:

    1) Is "sun moon" the usual name for a solar eclipse? I thought the ancient Chinese were astronomically sophisticated, so if the Darkness extended to China one would have thought they would have realized this was not an ordinary solar eclipse, since it would have occurred during a full moon. So the moon could not actually have been involved!

    2) How accurately are the dates fixed? Apparently this book believes that Jesus was crucified in AD 31, which is a minority opinion among Christian scholars, that I personally find rather implausible. (Aside from Matt 12:40 all the other indicators in the Gospels seem to point to Jesus being crucified on a Friday before or on Passover, thus AD 30 or 33). Also according to the Catholic apologist St. Jimmy Akin, on AD 31 the Passover fell on Tuesday, March 27, A.D. 31, which doesn't fit the Wed theorists either.

    According to the NASA eclipse records there was a regular eclipse in Eastern China during AD 31, but this cannot be the Crucifixion Darkness because it was a regular solar eclipse. I suppose the panic of the king may support the idea that it wasn't a usual eclipse in some way, but I would have liked to see some more evidence for this.

    I suppose it is always possible that the conversion to the Western Calandar years are off---the identification of dates in ancient history is not always certain.

    3) Do the dates even match? The Chinese Calandar begins in Feburary, right? So the last day of the 3rd month would be sometime in May, which is too late for Passover on any year.

    Also, apparently the author of "Finding God in Ancient China" thinks the scientific evidence supports Young Earth Creationism, which does not say very good things about his critical reasoning abilities! Admittedly this is an ad hominem on my part; it would not invalidate any actually valid arguments presented by the author, but it does make me more reluctant to trust the author when he provides his judgement on matters I can't independently check such as translations.

  23. Zion says:

    Hi Aron, you asked some good questions. Here are my answers:

    1) Sun and moon together don't mean eclipse. If we compare the longitude of Luoyang, the capital of the Eastern Han Dynasty in China with the longitude of Jerusalem, we get a difference of 112 - 35 = 77 degrees longitude. That translates to an approximate 5 hour time difference between Luoyang and Jerusalem. The darkness in Jerusalem was from 12pm to 3pm. In China, it would be around 5pm to 8pm. That might explain why both the sun and the moon are mentioned as being eclipsed. There might be more time of day information in the Chinese text that I am unable to understand. Also, we need to remember that we cannot definitively say from the Bible whether the extent of the darkness reached around the world.

    2) I'm not too confident about exact dates 2,000 years ago. If I read the Chinese correctly, the same document mentions a solar eclipse in the 9th month of the 6th year, the 3rd month of the 7th year, the 3rd month of the 16th year, the 2nd month of the 17th year, the 5th month of the 22nd year, the 25th year, the 2nd month of the 29th year, the 31st year, the 11th month of the 31st year. So comparing with: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_solar_eclipses_in_the_1st_century, year 31 seems to match better than years 30, 32, or 33. For example, there were eclipses in April 40 and April 41, but not in April 39 and the one in April 42 should not be visible in China. So if we match 40 AD and 41 AD with the 16th and 17th years, the 7th year is 31 AD. According to Wikipedia, there was an eclipse on May 10 in 31 AD. But as you said, the king's response would be unusual if it was just one of many solar eclipses.

    3) The Chinese calendar is lunisolar, and New Year is usually celebrated in January or February, depending on the year. So the third month should begin some time in March or April. But the Chinese calendar has also undergone some modifications throughout its long history.

  24. Aron Wall says:

    OK, thanks for your clarifications, which are very useful. Let me just make sure I understand a few points:

    1) Is your hypothesis about the text that it's claiming that both the sun and the moon were obscured at the same time? Then I guess your point is that the lunar eclipse would only be visible after around 6 pm, thus being visible in Luoyang but not Jerusalem. I guess that means it would also pay to look at the chart of lunar eclipses in the first century... could the text simply mean that there were a solar eclipse and a lunar eclipse in the same year?

    2) Good idea checking it with the dates of the other eclipses in the text (which I presume are recorded in a less dramatic way...). I've heard eclipses are one of the most accurate ways to make sure one has precise dates in ancient history.

    Checking the NASA plates, AD 31 does seem to be a pretty good fit, although oddly the eclipse in the 11th month of the 31st year (Jan AD 56) should not have been visible in China. Also, if we buy that this was the supernatural eclipse, it raises questions of why the normal solar eclipse in AD 31 (which was total in parts of Eastern China) was not mentioned in addition during that year.

    3) If the third month begins in March or April, then the last day of that month should be in April or May, right? But this is too late for Passover (March 27) and right on time for the regularly scheduled solar eclipse (May 10). In addition to the problem of the Passover being Tuesday that year. So that seems problematic.

    Also, the testimony of Phlegon points to AD 33, not AD 31. Unless we adopt the alternative interpretation of St. Philopon (mentioned in the main article above in the newly added section II.D.5(a)) which isn't consistent with any of the other data.

    (I suppose it's just barely possible the supernatural eclipse happened in AD 33, and then some historian who was astronomically literate interpreted the events as occuring during the closest normal solar eclipse. But this has elements of special pleading.)

    So I think tentatively it's more plausible this was the normal solar eclipse, but thanks again for all the information, which is definitely helpful for filling out the evidence from the Chinese side of things. I will add a note in the text above.

  25. Kris says:

    I studied this supposed Chinese eclipse-- It occurred on May 10th-- the last day of the third month in the year 31ad. The first month of this particular year was: Feb to March, Second month was: March to April, and the third month was April to May, making the last of the third month May 10th-- the Chinese were off a few days and thought that this occurred on the last day-- This also happened to be Gui-Hai-- and the astronomers told the King that royalty is known to die when an eclipse happens on this day. Hence, his fear of this eclipse. I double checked everything with an astronomer. This can not be used to corroborate the darkenss of the crucifixion. It happened on the last day of of a Chinese month-- lunar-- when the moon is gone and a perfect time for a solar eclipse -- and NOT during a full moon.

  26. Aron Wall says:

    Thanks for looking into this! I appreciate you putting in the effort. A couple questions:

    When you say that the Chinese were "off by a few days", what date are you referring to? You indicate that May 10th was both the true date of the eclipse, and also the last day of the month.

    Does the text explicitly state this fact about the astronomers telling the King this? Is that supposed to be the interpretation of the last phrase I quoted from that guy's translation?

    ‘Eclipse on the day of Gui Hai, Man from heaven died.’

    Or is there some other Chinese source which explains the superstition about Gui-Hai?

  27. Steve Austin says:


    Good thoughts on the darkness at noon on the day Christ was crucified. My thoughts of the subject in summary:
    1. Christ was crucified on April 3, 33 AD, during the eighteenth year of Emperor Tiberius.
    2. Thallus data on darkness rates as "possible" assignment to crucifixion darkness.
    3. Phlegon data on darkness rates as "possible" assignment to crucifixion darkness.
    4. Roman archive references (especially from Tertullian) rate as "possible" to "probable" assignment.
    5. There was no solar eclipse on April 3, 33 AD, just a partial lunar eclipse.
    6. Laminated Dead Sea mud could confirm dust storm associated with crucifixion darkness on 4/3/33.

    See my posted geology paper at:

  28. Kris says:

    Hi Aron,
    There are several other account that discuss the gui-hai eclipse indicating that it meant a heavenly man would fall dead. Chinese emperors were considered men from heaven-- so it is certain that the emperor saw this as a omen about him. It is discussed in Arthur Ashley Sykes disputation on Phlegon-- which is a fantastic read as it addresses all of the assertations made about this record not applying to the crucifixion, written by a Christian, and it very strong. I recommend you read it.

    With regard to the calendar being off a few days-- ancient astronomy and current astronomy are often at odds by a few days. While we show an eclipse occurring on May 10, 31--which was the first day of the new moon, it appears that the Chinese were off and thought that this eclipse occurred on the last day of the moon (still not during a full moon!) and then with it occurring on Gui-Hai, this caused the emperor to freak out so to speak.

    I read Steve Austin's post-- Steve, I do not think you are able to pin down the dead sea earthquake to a specific day-- you have a 10 year window, if I recall. I also don't think anyone has been able to confirm dust storms-- and if this was the cause for the darkness-- how would people know what happened at the crucifixion with all of that sand in their eyes. Additionally, that would hardly be a supernatural event, but a common occurrence..

  29. Aron Wall says:

    Thanks for the additional information, Kris! (I think I did find St. Arthur Ashley Sykes disputation on the internet at some point, but it might pay to read it more closely.)

    The other thing about the dust storm is that it isn't particularly compatible with the Phlegon data; how could dust storms above Jerusalem block the sun in Nicea 670 miles away? (Especially if, as four of our Phlegon quoters say, the stars appeared overhead, which could hardly be caused by dust storms!)

    Also, welcome Steve!

  30. ProphecyGeek says:

    Wow! I can't believe I found you guys. I actually made a short video talking about Sextus Julius Africanus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKSKqyLnfcM

    Check it out and provide feedback if you don't mind :)

    Anyway, I was studying it more a few months ago and I realized you did the same thing I did. Out of brevity you cut out the rest of Julius' passage.

    Here's the last line: But it was a darkness induced by God, because the Lord happened then to suffer. And calculation makes out that the period of 70 weeks, as noted in Daniel, is completed at this time.
    Source: http://mb-soft.com/believe/txua/africanu.htm

    Julius then goes on and gives us exact calculations...
    XVI. [1091]
    3. It is by calculating from Artaxerxes, therefore, up to the time of Christ that the seventy weeks are made up, according to the numeration of the Jews. For from Nehemiah, who was despatched by Artaxerxes to build Jerusalem in the 115th year of the Persian empire, and the 4th year of the 83d Olympiad, and the 20th year of the reign of Artaxerxes himself, up to ibis date, which was the second year of the 202d Olympiad, and the 16th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar......

    XVIII. [1102]
    2. From Artaxerxes, moreover, 70 weeks are reckoned up to the time of Christ, according to the numeration of the Jews. For from Nehemiah, who was sent by Artaxerxes to people Jerusalem, about the 120th year of the Persian empire, and in the 20th year of Artaxerxes himself, and the 4th year of the 83d Olympiad, up to this time, which was the 2d year of the 102d Olympiad, and the 16th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.....

    Julius says 2nd year of 202nd Chronicle in 16th year of Tiberius.

    Phlegon through Eusebius through Jerome (your passage above) gives us the 4th year of 202nd chronicle and the 18th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.

    There also seems to be a discrepancy between the 18th year of the reign of Tiberius and the 4th year of the 202nd chronicle!

    How do you account for the discrepancy?

  31. ProphecyGeek says:

    Hi all,

    In regards to ancient Chinese astronomical records.... Have you seen this paper?

    It goes over all the major solar eclipses of the Later Han Dynasty. The problem is that finding solar eclipse records are hard enough, we have to find an erroneous solar eclipse that was recorded for a darkness around Mar, April, May between 29-33AD. I wish I read ancient Mandarin otherwise I would go through the Book of the Later Han myself!

  32. ProphecyGeek says:

    My first post didn't go through :(

    [Fixed it---AW]

    Julius actually specifies twice the year of the crucifixion through his calculations. He ends up with the 16th year of Tiberius Caesar and the 2nd year of the 202nd Olympiad.

    This differs from Phlegon's account through Eusebius which states 4th year of 202nd Olympiad. 18th year of Tiberius.

    How do you reconcile the two?

  33. Aron Wall says:

    Rats! In the process of responding I found another chronicler (St. John Malalas) who mentions Phlegon, so I've added him to the post above.

    I was able to rescue your comment from the spam filter; Akismet probably disliked it because it contained too many links. If it happens again please feel free to email me the comment.

    That Pankenier article you cited seems like an excellent source of data, which confirms the general accuracy of Chinese eclipse measurements. The article has a chart of a few "erroneous" and "problematical" cases of eclipse citings (some of which are just correctable textual errors), but none of them were for the years surrounding Jesus' ministry. As the author himself says:

    "Remarkably, three reports during the usurper Wang Mang's Xin Dynasty (9-23 CE) and all eleven from the reign of Emperor Guangwu (25-57), first emperor of the Eastern Han, are entirely free of error." (5, second paragraph)

    As for the discrepency in that St. Africanus terminates the period of 490 years from Daniel in the 16th year of Tiberius, I would make the following points:

    1. There are a variety of ways to calculate the 69/70 7's prophecy of Daniel, generally people take it to be 7 years but they don't agree on exactly how long the "years" involved should be, and there is also some dispute about the exact start date. Also ancient historical calendars can easily be off by a couple years compared to where we think they should be. While generally speaking it works out to somewhere around the time of Jesus' ministry, I wouldn't be too confident about the precise details of how to do it. Since we are talking about periods of 7 years, two years may just be acceptable rounding error! So I wouldn't worry too much about the exact details being off for the prophecy.

    2. To the extent that St. Africanus' writings provide evidence about Phlegon's date, I would prefer the evidence from the multiple other authors who quote Phlegon more directly, who mostly indicate it was the 4th year of the Olympiad. It is possible that Africanus himself thought that 2 years off was no big deal, and simply counted it as a success that he got to the same Olympiad that Phlegon mentioned. Or he was calculating to the beginning of Christ's ministry instead of the end. It's hard to say without more information.

  34. ProphecyGeek says:

    Hi Aron,

    Thanks for the response. Yea I'm not too concerned with Julius' interpretation of Daniel other than the mathematics involved. Do you think Julius was not being forthright when he indirectly referenced Phlegon? Does it mean he really didn't know the year of the crucifixion date of Jesus? If this is the case then how do we know Phlegon and Thallus were not talking about actual eclipses?

  35. Kris says:

    [I have combined and spell-checked several comments by Kris--AW]

    They were. The one that occurred in November, 29 AD

    The text was altered from the first year of the Olympiad to the fourth.

    The 29 AD quake is clearly described by Phlegon--as quoted by Eusebus, See Richard Carrier. Judea is never mentioned. This is a "pin the tail on an eclipse" type thing. Anything close gets interpreted and then quoted and reputed until it is jesus' eclipse.

  36. Aron Wall says:

    How do you know that these things are true? Didn't you read my comments in section III criticizing the Carrier essay?

    Carrier just asserts that the date was changed. He doesn't provide any actual evidence for the assertion that the year was altered, except a vague uncited reference to "some modern scholars", which was deleted in the peer-reviewed version of his essay. All extant citations to Phlegon which have a date say 33 AD, not 29 AD.

    An earthquake can be felt in multiple places. The fact that Judea is not mentioned actually strengthens the evidence that there was a real quake in AD 33, because it shows that his source wasn't the New Testament; people who could care less about Judean prophets still felt it!

    (Remember that Carrier is a crazy person on a quest to prove that Jesus never existed. He should not be taken as an authority on these matters.)

    These kinds of apparent discrepencies just come up from time to time when studying ancient history. You just have to decide what is most plausible, or else reserve judgement, and move on. There is no way to read the mind of St. Julius but I believe that even honest historians can make mistakes, which don't necessarily impeach their testimony on other matters. You'll have to make of it what you will.

  37. Kris says:

    Well-- I happen to agree with Carrier's analysis, and don't find him to be crazy. 300 or so years ago, Arthur Ashley Sykes also agrued against Phlegon being a credible source and showed strong evidence to support a misreading of the 29ad eclipse that occurred right in Bythnia and Nicea--- but not Judea. This is one of those times when something is close enough to be adopted into history--- but actually has nothing to do with it. The first year and forth year in Greek look incredibly similar. One looks like a triangle and the other like a capital A. Over time, people reading saw what they wanted to see. However, there is proof of a 29 ad Eclipse occurring right over Bythnia and Nicea which nicely lends to the accuracy of an eclipse occurring in the First Year of the 202 Olympiad. Kepler even agreed with him. Sykes also goes on to show how there could have been corruption and the text could have read the 4th year of the 201st Olympiad. Either way, 29ad would be the year in question. This was a great eclipse-- and was total over the area in question. Phlegon doesn't say that the earthquake happened at the exact same time-- just during the time frame. Please read Arthur Ashley Sykes "A Dissertation on the Eclipse Mentioned by Phlegon". He goes through all the sources and dismantles them handily--- and he was a Christian. He just saw what I saw--- people trying to use something that they shouldn't be using to prove the gospels. You can read his entire paper on line for free if you can fun it in google. I hope it helps you understand my position a little better.

  38. kris says:

    With regard to Tertullian, who is to say that when he was talking about this information being recorded in "annals or histories" that he wasn't referring to Thallus or Phlegon-- and their recording of the 29ad eclipse. They may have been Greek, but they wrote histories, that were Greco/Roman.

  39. Aron Wall says:

    I will check out the disputation of St. Sykes (and also see what St. Kepler had to say while I'm at it). But expect a delay since I'm about to take a train to the tiny village of Peyresq, France where I expect spotty internet access.

    Even if Carrier's thesis is right he did a rather poor job of arguing for it, since he bascially presupposes that miracles cannot occur, and also makes basic mistakes about earthquakes and timezones, as I documented in my post above.

    I suppose St. Tertullian might have been referring to Phlegon and Thallus, but the way he talks about it makes it seem more like official government records. The Romans would presumably have kept official records of important events although these documents have long since been lost. St. Justin's "Acts of Pontius Pilate" seems even more certain to refer to official government documents (if, that is, it was not a fraud).

  40. Johannes says:

    Taking St Luke's narrative "darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour [3 pm], for the sun stopped shining.", I interpret "the whole land" as, at most, "the whole land of Israel", and more probably just of Judea, where the expression is used to denote that it was not just the Golgota hill that was in darkness. In this interpretation the event was local, and we should not expect it to have been recorded outside the gospel.

    Regarding the physical nature of the event, my hypothesis is very simple: God annihilated e.g. 999 out of every 1000 photons emitted by the sun within the solid angle that covered Judea.

  41. Joe says:

    More proof of the darkness at the crucifixion can be found in the gnostic gospels which were discovered in Egypt. The other gospels not considered canon still can corroborate historical points. Great read and great comments.

  42. Aron Wall says:

    Thanks for your comment. Do you know which gnostic gospels specifically? Can you provide a link?

    One important question is whether these gnostic gospels actually used any independent historical data, or whether they were merely copying the claim that there was a Crucifixion Darkness from the canonical Gospels. In the latter case there would be no additional support for the events. While I would not rule out a priori the possibility of getting valid historical information from heretical sources, most of these gnostic gospels were written well after the canonical gospels, and often read more like biblical "fan fiction" than like actual historical documents.

  43. Greg S says:

    Found your article via a search for "3 hours of darkness".
    Have you considered an eclipse of the sun caused by a close encounter with an UNKNOWN heavenly body? Unknown to most might be more accurate. Nibiru, Planet X, The Great Red Dragon, Nemesis, The Destroyer, a rogue heavenly body with a vast elliptical orbit that comes around every 600 years or so, a body that the ancients associate with great destruction when it passes particularly close to the earth. They knew and wrote about this body and I believe nefarious elites and top government folks know about it now. A dark brown dwarf star, with 7 captive bodies in its orbit. A close flyby could have blocked the sun's light for 3 hours or more, could explain why the earliest manuscripts of Luke, ever the careful doctor, describe the event as an eclipse. Could also cause the earthquakes mentioned.
    I expect that this body will make an appearance again soon as part of the fulfillment of the Rev 12 sign on September 23rd 2017. A Great Red Dragon is scheduled to appear in the heavens at the same time, if the alignment of the planets and stars in the constellation Virgo is in fact the Rev 12 sign. Not long to wait to find out for sure.

    [I just rescued this comment from the spam filter. It certainly isn't spam, although it does seem to involve some sort of nonstandard crackpot or cultish astronomy. Hopefully on Sept 24 the author will realize it's all bunk rather than accepting whatever contrived explanation his sources provide for why the event didn't happen, or did happen but invisibly.--AW]

  44. Nancy Hollo says:

    Aron, I just read through the most interesting discussion here on the darkness at crucifixion. You and the commenters are skilled in discourse and reasoning but I was disappointed that you resorted to using words like "crackpot" and "bunk" to dismiss Greg S's comment. First of all, catastrophism is a quite accepted philosophy of science now, replacing uniformitarianism as the prevailing dogma at lightning speed only decades ago, leaving the culture dazed and confused about the shooting gallery universe we hurtle through, pinned to a fragile planet with a thin crust and thinner biosphere. There's a clash of swords between the proponents of the electric universe and the Einsteinian model. The computer assisted ability to read cuneiform has led to fascinating speculation about cosmic catastrophes of the distant past. Satellite imaging has revealed an Earth pockmarked by impact craters. And according to a recent Weather Channel doc called Forecasting the End: Rogue Planets, there are more rogue planets wandering the universe than there are stars. Phil Platt even agrees. So can you fault people for being apprehensive, ill-informed, or simply seduced by fear and imagination?

  45. Kyle says:

    "Hopefully on Sept 24 the author will realize it's all bunk"

    Not much longer to wait :)

  46. Joni G Barnett says:

    Who said Jesus died on a Friday

  47. Aron Wall says:

    The Gospels indicate that the day after Jesus died was the Sabbath, which in the Jewish calendar is Saturday. Hence, the day of the crucifixion was Friday.

  48. Evan Þ says:

    @Aron Wall, I was just talking with a fellow Christian who argues that Jesus died on a Thursday and was taken down before Passover Friday (which, he argues, would have been referred to as a "sabbath.") He points to Matthew 28:1 saying the women came to Christ's tomb "after the sabbaths" (plural), and to Matthew 12:40 where Christ says He would be "in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights." If Christ was crucified on Friday, I admit, He would definitely not be in the tomb for three nights.

    This view does seem to have somewhat more textual support - especially when you add up the days of Holy Week and find that there're only three days described between Palm Sunday and the Crucifixion. Still, I'm uneasy about accepting this view when it prevents the Last Supper from being a Passover, and when the ancient Church Fathers and commentators never even hint at a Thursday crucifixion.

  49. Aron Wall says:

    One major problem with this view is that Jesus only says "three days and three nights" a single time, when making an explicit typological comparison to Jonah who is stated to have been in the belly of the fish for that period of time. Whereas 10 times, the Gospels say that the Resurrection takes place on "the third day"---and to Jews this meant the same thing we would mean by "the second day after" since unlike modern Americans, they counted both the start day and the end day. (Like "thirds" on a piano.)

    Secondly, if most translators don't translate Sabbath in Matt 28:1 as plural, there is probably a reason for that. One online commenter states:

    Matthew 28:1 is an obscure use of the preposition ὀψὲ, which means "after" when taking the genitive plural. This is explained in Blass et al., A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Early Christian Literature (University of Chicago Press, 1961), pp.90-91. It is also discussed in Bauer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature under the entry for ὀψὲ. ὀψὲ itself only appears 7 times in the entire Greek Bible (New Testament plus Septuagint).

    Even if the meaning "after the Sabbaths" is correct and refers to two consecutive days, this term is used only to fix the date of the Resurrection. It does not fix the date of the Crucifixion unless you make the unnecessary assumption that the Sabbaths in question had not begun until after the end of the events in chapter 27.

    And as you say, Church tradition is uniformly on the side of Friday.

  50. Ian G says:

    I think you are mistaken, I am aware god plans things way in advance and sees things beyond our understanding. But he wouldn’t have planned Jesus death until Adam and Eve were created and sinned, at a minimum. That would imply that he planned on the first humans sinning and that would lead to Jesus having to sacrifice himself for our sins. It seems logical at the very least that his plan would have been formed only after our first parents sinned and thus we all inherited sin. But his original plan was not to sacrifice his son, that wouldn’t have been necessary before he created us and the earth. I could imagine him lining up a blood moon or whatever you speculate happened to darken the skies prior to his son arriving on earth, but it doesn’t reason to assume it was his original plan so long ago. Just my opinion, I am currently studying the bible myself and glad I took that step. Thank you for your time and god bless.

  51. David D. says:

    Hello Ian G,
    it seems to me that 1 Peter 1:19-21 states that Christ's sacrifice was already planned before humans sinned.

    Also, Aron has a very good series of articles on God and Time that might interest you.
    I couldn't find and index but here they are:
    God and Time I:Metaphysics
    God and Time II: Special Relativity
    God and Time III: General Relativity
    God and Time IV: Impassibility and the Bible
    "God and Time V: Foreknowledge from Scripture"
    "God and Time VI: Eternity in Holy Writ"

    I'm glad you're reading the Bible. I also encourage you to read this blog; it has been a great blessing for me (ty Aron). God bless you. :-)

  52. Morgan Sorensen says:

    Aron Wall, You are in error when you declare that the crucifixion could not have been in 31 A.D., as you are not Cognizant of the fact that Ceasar AUGUSTUS made TIBERIUS "Co-Regent' with himself in the Month of October, 12 A.D.
    Therefore, Lk.3:1-3, that mentions the 15th year of TIBERIUS, must be understood to include his "Co-regency that began almost Two years BEFORE the Death of AUGUSTUS in the month of August , 14 A.D !!
    As such the 15th year of TIBERIUS was 27 A.D. !! And the 19th year of TIBERIUS, mentioned by the Roman historian PHLEGON refers to the Year 31 A.D. in which CHRIST was CRUCIFIED , on a WEDNESDAY, and NOT on a FRIDAY as you and CATHOLICISM ERRONEOUSLY CLAIM !!! The Actual date of the cRUCIFIXION , according to the Gregorian calendar was, April 25th , 31 A.D.
    Morgan Sorensen ( Biblical Theologian, in ministry over 55 years now )

  53. Pingback: Is there historical evidence for the darkness & earthquake at the crucifixion? – NarrowPathMinistries

  54. Daniel G says:

    Hi Aron, I just found your blog as I was trying to understand more about what is known regarding the darkness at Jesus' death. Clearly the gospels record supernatural events such as the dead rising, but I wonder if there is a natural explanation of the darkness itself. Do you think there's a path/orbit a rogue planet could take through our solar system to cause a 3 hour solar eclipse and possibly earthquakes? Further, it seems that passing close enough for earthquakes would also cause abnormally extreme tides - so perhaps the earthquakes were an unrelated event.

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