Bible Chronology

The Day the Sun stopped shining (full version)


The darkness that covered the land of Israel for three hours was recorded by three of the Gospel writers. "Now from the 6th hour there occurred darkness over all the land until the 9th hour" (Matthew 27:45). 

"Now when the 6th hour had come, it became dark over all the land until the 9th hour" (Mark 15:33). 

"It was now about the 6th hour, and darkness came over all the land until the 9th hour, the sun failing" (Luke 23:44-45). 

The three evangelists testify that the darkness lasted three hours, and it ‘covered all the land’. Luke says that ‘the sun failed’ (‘tou heliou ekleipontos’). Helios =the Sun. Ekleipo = ‘to fail, to come to an end.’ In Luke 22:32 Jesus used the same word: "I have prayed for you that your faith fail not." 

Thus the cause of the darkness was an unaccountable failure in the Sun’s light. This distinguishes the event from the mere darkness of dense thunderclouds that can cause near night-time conditions. Storms like this are unusual for Palestine, especially at Passover time, and certainly would not have lasted 3 hours. Furthermore, there would have been mention of prodigious rainfall. 

Luke in fact used a word that gave rise to our present word ECLIPSE, an astronomical event, the cause of which lies beyond the confines of the Earth’s atmosphere. But we must not think that the strange darkness was caused by an extended eclipse of the Sun, for there was no way for that to occur on the day of the crucifixion. This is because an eclipse of the Sun only occurs when the Moon is directly between the Sun and us, thus blocking out its light. And on this particular day (Passover - the 14th Nisan, Luke 22:13-15), the Moon was full and therefore on the FAR side of the Earth away from the Sun (Passover was always on a full moon). There can be no possibility of an eclipse of the Sun that day. Furthermore, no eclipse of the Sun can last more than 7 and a half minutes in any one place, and this strange darkness lasted for 3 HOURS. Hence, the cause of the darkness, though beyond the clouds, cannot be attributed to the Moon, or any source that we are aware of. Something must have intruded its way into a position between the Earth and the Sun and cut off the light. Thus this was a SUPERNATURAL EVENT, darkness fell during Christ's death. Even the universe had to respond to His sacrificial death!

Thus for three hours a strange darkness covered the land. The sky was clear, and according to the historical records (see below) the stars appeared (this meant the darkness was not due to something in the atmosphere like dust or clouds). People would be asking themselves whether ‘the end of the world’ had come. The Jews knew from their Bible that ‘the day of the Lord’ would be ‘a day of darkness’, and Amos 8:9 says, "On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the Sun to go down at noon, and darken the Earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasting into mourning, and all your songs into lamentations." 

This darkness speaks of a time of God’s judgement upon sin. At the crucifixion God the Father placed all the sins of mankind (including yours and mine) upon His Son Jesus Christ, and God poured out His wrath upon Him. Jesus stood in our place and bore the punishment we deserved. He cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was separated from his Father for 3 hours. God signified this by blotting out the sun until Jesus had the paid the price for sin in full. The sun in scripture is often used as a symbol of the Son, the Light of the world, the glory of God (Malachi 4, Hosea 6, Psalm 19). So the sun being covered in darkness represented what was happening to the Son as He was covered by the darkness of our sin and judgement. 

Is there any historical evidence to back up this event? 
Yes! - there were other early writers that mentioned this strange darkness. Tertullian (at the beginning of the 3rd century) and Lucian (the martyr of Nicomedia, who died in A.D. 312) appealed to the testimony of national archives then in existence that a supernatural darkness prevailed at the time of the Cross. Thallus, a historian writing in AD. 52, writing to deny any supernatural elements accompanying the crucifixion tried to explain away this darkness. Though his writings are lost to us, we have the quotations of other later writers. 

Julius Africanus, a Christian historian, writing about A.D. 221, refers to Christ's crucifixion and the darkness that covered the earth prior to his death saying: "Thallus, in his third book of histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun - unreasonably as it seems to me. 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 occur when the moon is almost diametrically opposite the sun?” 

The phrase 'this darkness' indicates that Thallus was referring to the events of the death of Jesus. Africanus stated his objection to Thallus’s statement, arguing that an eclipse of the sun cannot occur during a full moon, as was the case when Jesus died at Passover. The writing of Thallus shows that the facts of Jesus' death were known and discussed in Rome as early as the middle of the first century, to the extent that unbelievers like Thallus thought it necessary to explain the matter of the darkness as something natural. He took the existence of Christ for granted. Neither Jesus, nor the darkness at his death were ever denied. 

At the time of his writing, anti-Christians had already been explaining the darkness at the time of the crucifixion as a purely natural phenomenon (eclipse). Origen, for example, had written that this idea of it being an eclipse was an invention of the pagans to discredit the Gospels. 

Phlegon Confirms Jesus' story and Darkness at Noon. Julius Africanus then mentions another source, that of Phlegon of Tralles,a first century Greek historian born not long after the crucifixion. His greatest task was in the writing of history, called OLYMPIADES, where he used the Olympiads as a useful means of establishing a time-line. We only have fragments left to us of this monumental work and quotations of it from other writers. The words Africanus quoted were:
"During the time of Tiberius Cæsar an eclipse of the sun occurred during the Full Moon." The timing agrees with the Gospels, and as we have shown, this must refer to a supernatural event. 

Thankfully we have a more detailed fragment from Phlegon’s Olympiades: 
"In the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad,there was a great eclipse of the Sun, greater than had ever been known before, for at the 6th hour the day was changed into night and the stars were seen in the heavens. An earthquake occurred in Bythinia and overthrew a great part of the city of Nicæa." 

This reference reveals several key things. The sun was darkened during Christ's death along with a great earthquake. The time of the darkness agrees with Matthew 27:45. This statement of Phlegon also gives us the year of the crucifixion. In ancient Greece the Olympic Games were held in the July of the first year of eachOlympiad, (a 4-year period running from July to June of each succeeding year). The 202nd Olympiad has been calculated to run from July AD 29 to June AD 33. The diagram below will clarify the matter.

A.D. |------30------|------31------|------32------|------33-----|

|--------------------202nd Olympiad-----------------------|

Each year of an Olympiad began on 1st July. We know that Jesus died in the Spring at Passover, and thus it had to be in A.D. 33 according to Phlegon. As several of the early Fathers quoted him, there seems no reason to doubt his word. Therefore the year of the crucifixion is A.D 33.

Another historian, Philipon (with Origen), confirms the historicity of Phlegon’s statement by writing, "And about this darkness - Phlegon recalls it in the Olympiads...Phlegon mentioned the eclipse which took place during the crucifixion of the Lord Christ, and no other (eclipse), it is clear that he did not know from his sources about any (similar) eclipse in previous times... and this is shown by the historical account of Tiberius Caesar." 

So it was recorded in a historical account of Tiberius by Roman historians that Rome was in darkness during the reign of Tiberius - the Caesar in AD.33. Writers that refer to this statement of Phlegon include Julius Africanus, Joannes Philoponus, Malelas, Origen, Eusebius and Maximus. As many as 7 ancient writers directly quote Phlegon! This makes the fragment among the best-attested in ancient writing. 

One of these wrote:“Phlegon records that in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the 6th hour to the 9th, manifestly that one of which we speak." 

Origen wrote to answer Celsus, a strong critic of the supernatural element in the Gospels, saying: "Now Phlegon, in his 13th or 14th book, I think, of his Chronicles, not only ascribed to Jesus a knowledge of future events .... but also testified that the result corresponded to His predictions" (Origen Against Celsus). And in the same work, Origen refers to Phlegon again, as follows: 
"And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place, Phlegon too I think has written in the 13th or 14th book of his Chronicles” and “He [that is, Celsus] 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.” 

Other Extra-Biblical accounts:
The Bible says that all the earth was in darkness (Luke 23:24) as well as over all the land (of Israel) (Mark 15:33). The secular accounts consistently agree that the darkness covered the whole known world. They also agree that the stars were seen, as at night. In fact it was a night. If it was a daytime with the sun operating and ruling the day but something (like dust or clouds) blocking its light, then the stars would have faded out of visibility. Neither could it have been a daytime eclipse with the moon blocking the sunlight, because it was Passover (Full-Moon). Therefore it was a supernatural event where God literally stopped the sun from shining. Therefore by its very nature it was not a daytime gloominess but a genuine night (this provides the solution to the 3 days and 3 nights paradox).
 In Genesis 1, God defines the day as the time of light when the sun shines and rules, and the night as the time of darkness when the sun is not ruling. (At the 2nd Coming of Christ, it will be neither day nor night, as Zechariah says, for the sun will again be put out so it will not be day, but neither will it be night for instead of darkness the earth will be lit by the glory of Christ. Thus the Son will govern that time rather than the sun). Therefore by definition the 3 hours of darkness are a NIGHT because the sun is turned off. Jesus confirmed this by quoting Psalm 22 on the Cross, confirming that He was then fulfilling it. In the Psalm the period of darkness is prophesied and it is specifically called NIGHT by the Messiah. So the sun was not just eclipsed by an object in space, but actually stopped shining, operating and ruling. This is confirmed by the prophetic symbolism of the events. Just like the sun, during those 3 hours the light of the Son was no longer shining and He was no longer ruling for He had laid down His life, His glory and authority. He exchanged His glory for our shame and His dominion for our judgement. Therefore as the primary sign in the heavens of the Son, the sun also ceased shining and ruling and so day turned into night. 

Jesus had predicted 3 days and 3 nights before His resurrection: 
Night 1 - Friday Noon-3pm -the darkness on the cross. 

Day 1 - Friday 3pm-6pm the daylight hours until His burial.

Night 2 - Friday 6pm-Saturday 6am
Day 2 - Saturday 6am-6pm 

Night 3 - Saturday 6pm-Dawn Sunday Morning
Day 3 -
 Jesus rose from the dead at dawn (sunrise), so the few seconds/minutes of light on Sunday morning until the resurrection consitute a day by Jewish inclusive reckoning. Again the symbolism of the sun representing the Son is wonderful: Christ rose from the dead AT DAWN with His glory shining again upon the earth and His dominion fully restored. At the very moment the sun rose to turn darkness to light and shine its warmth and light upon the earth and to rule the day, Christ rose up in manifested glory. Both the sun and Son (the light of the world) had been (as it were) hidden underground, their glory concealed, but now they rose together with their glory revealed to bring the dawning of a new day. Thus in both His death and resurrection what happened with the Son was paralleled by what happened with the sun. The substance (son) and the sign were in harmony. The sign was proclaiming what was taking place with the Son.

A large fragment of this apocryphal, Docetic, Gospel was discovered at Akmim (Panopolis) in Egypt in 1886. The following section deals with the catastrophic events at the Crucifixion: This work is mentioned with disapproval by Serapion of Antioch towards the end of the second century AD (apud Eusebius Hist. Ecc. VI. xii. 2-6) and is datable to around the middle or earlier half of that century. It is therefore an early witness to traditions current in second century Church circles concerning the catastrophic events at the Crucifixion. 

v5. And it was noon, and darkness came over all Judaea: and they [the Jewish leaders] were troubled and distressed, lest the sun had set, whilst he [Jesus] was yet alive: [for] it is written for them, that the sun set not on him that hath been put to death. And one of them said, Give him to drink gall with vinegar. And they mixed and gave him to drink, and fulfilled all things, and accomplished their sins against their own head. And many went about with lamps, supposing that it was night, and fell down. And the Lord cried out, saying, My power, my power, thou hast forsaken me. And when he had said it he was taken up. And in that hour the vail of the temple of Jerusalem was rent in two. v6. And then they drew out the nails from the hands of the Lord, and laid him upon the earth, and the whole earth quaked, and great fear arose. Then the sun shone, and it was found the ninth hour: and the Jews rejoiced, and gave his body to Joseph that he might bury it, since he had seen what good things he had done. And he took the Lord, and washed him, and rolled him in a linen cloth, and brought him into his own tomb, which was called the Garden of Joseph." 

From the Acts of Pilate, First Greek Form (as extant, not older than 4th century AD, but a work of this name, the Acts of Pontius Pilate, is referred to by Justin Martyr, I Apol. 35, 48, in the middle of the 2nd century AD, in his defense before the Emperor, who would have been able to examine these Acts himself, so this may be a reworking of earlier, genuine material): 

"And at the time he was crucified there was darkness over all the world, the sun being darkened at mid-day, and the stars appearing, but in them there appeared no luster; and the moon, as if turned into blood, failed in her light. And the world was swallowed up by the lower regions, so that the very sanctuary of the temple, as they call it, could not be seen by the Jews in their fall; and they saw below them a chasm of the earth, with the roar of the thunders that fell upon it. And in that terror dead men were seen that had risen, as the Jews themselves testified; and they said that it was Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the twelve patriarchs, and Moses and Job, that had died, as they say, three thousand five hundred years before. And there were very many whom I also saw appearing in the body; and they were making a lamentation about the Jews, on account of the wickedness that had come to pass through them, and the destruction of the Jews and of their law. And the fear of the earthquake remained from the sixth hour of the preparation until the ninth hour." 

Thallus was a historian who wrote his Histories in AD 52. Though no copies survive, we do have quotes of it from others. Thus Julius Africanus, in A.D. 220, refers to the Histories: “Thallus, in the 3rd book of his Histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun, unreasonably … of course, because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died.”

Phlegon was a Greek astronomer. Philopon and Origen draw from Phlegon's Olympiads (written A.D.138) an account of the darkness of the crucifixion. 
Origen's quote is the best documented and quite similar to Philopon's: 
"Phlegon, in treating of the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad, (AD33) the year in which our Lord was crucified, tells us: “That the greatest eclipse of the sun which was ever known to happened then; for the day was so turned into night that the stars in the heavens were seen.” 
To this account, Philopon adds that: “this is shown by the historical account itself of Tiberius Caesar” suggesting that a Roman account exists. 

From the Chronography of Julius Africanus (first half of the third century AD): 
"ON THE CIRCUMSTANCES CONNECTED WITH OUR SAVIOR'S PASSION AND HIS LIFE-GIVING RESURRECTION. As to His works severally, and His cures effected upon body and soul, and the mysteries of His doctrine, and the resurrection from the dead, these have been most authoritatively set forth by His disciples and apostles before us. 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 Savior 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 to the ninth manifestly that one of which we speak. But what has an eclipse in common with an earthquake, the rending 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." 

Eusebius Writing about the year 315, in his Chronicle , volume II, the historian and friend of the emperor Constantine Eusebius, writes: "Jesus Christ .. underwent his Passion in the 18th year of Tiberius [AD 33]. Also at that time in another Greek compendium we find an event recorded in these words: "the sun was eclipsed, Bithynia was struck by an earthquake, and in the city of Nicaea many buildings fell." All these things happened to occur during the Lord's Passion. 

In fact, Phlegon, too, a distinguished reckoner of Olympiads, wrote more on these events in his 13th book, saying this: "Now, in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad [July AD 32-33], a great eclipse of the sun occurred at the sixth hour [noon] that excelled every other before it, turning the day into such darkness of night that the stars could be seen in heaven, and the earth moved 
in Bithynia, toppling many buildings in the city of Nicaea." 

The account of Phlegon is summarized as follows by Origen: 
"And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign 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." (Origen, Against Celsus 2. 33). "Regarding these we have in the preceding pages made our defense, according to our ability, adducing the testimony of Phlegon, who relates that these events took place at the time when our Savior suffered" (Origen, Against Celsus 2.59). 
"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. So that, he also, by these very admissions regarding foreknowledge, as if against his will, expressed his opinion that the doctrines taught by the fathers of our system were not devoid of divine power" (Origen, Against Celsus 2.14)] 

Cassiodorus, the Christian chronicler, 6th century AD, confirms the unique nature of the eclipse: "... Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered (crucifixion)... and an eclipse [lit. failure, desertion] of the sun occurred, such as never was before or since." 


Philopon, a Christian Neo-Platonist, 6th century AD wrote, "Phlegon mentioned the eclipse which took place during the crucifixion of the Lord Christ, and no other [eclipse], it is clear that he did not know from his sources about any [similar] eclipse in previous times ... and this is shown by the historical account itself of Tiberius Caesar." 

Tertullian In his Apologeticus ,written about A.D. 197 wrote: “at that same moment about noontide, the day was withdrawn; and they, who knew not that this was foretold concerning Christ, thought it was an eclipse. But this you have in your archives; you can read it there.” The foretelling is found in Amos 8:9 where it says:“And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day” 

Tertullian (first half of the third century AD), Apol. XXI: "But the Jews were so exasperated by His teaching, by which their rulers and chiefs were convicted of the truth, chiefly because so many turned aside to Him, that at last they brought Him before Pontius Pilate, at that time Roman governor of Syria; and, by the violence of their outcries against Him, extorted a sentence giving Him up to them to be crucified. He Himself had predicted this; which, however, would have signified little had not the prophets of old done it as well. 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 executioners 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. Then, when His body was taken down from the cross and placed in a sepulcher, the Jews in their eager watchfulness surrounded it with a large military guard, lest, as He had predicted His resurrection from the dead on the third day, His disciples might remove by stealth His body, and deceive even the incredulous. But, lo, on the third day there a was a sudden shock of earthquake, and the stone which sealed the sepulcher was rolled away, and the guard fled off in terror: without a single disciple near, the grave was found empty of all but the clothes of the buried One. But nevertheless, the leaders of the Jews, whom it nearly concerned both to spread abroad a lie, and keep back a people tributary and submissive to them from the faith, gave it out that the body of Christ had been stolen by His followers. 

For the Lord, you see, did not go forth into the public gaze, lest the wicked should be delivered from their error; that faith also, destined to a great reward, might hold its ground in difficulty. But He spent forty days with some of His disciples down in Galilee, a region of Judaea, instructing them in the doctrines they were to teach to others. Thereafter, having given them commission to preach the gospel through the world, He was encompassed with a cloud and taken up to heaven, a fact more certain far than the assertions of your Proculi concerning Romulus. All these things Pilate did to Christ; and now in fact a Christian in his own convictions, he sent word of Him to the reigning Caesar, who was at the time Tiberius. Yes, and the Caesars too would have believed on Christ, if either the Caesars had not been necessary for the world, or if Christians could have been Caesars." 

Tertullian was probably a juris consult, familiar with the Roman archives, and influenced by them in his own acceptance of Divine Truth. It is not supposable that such a man would have hazarded his bold appeal to the records, in remonstrating with the Senate and in the very faces of the Emperor and his colleagues, had he not known that the evidence was irrefragable. 

Reports of Pontius Pilate to Augustus and to Tiberius are part of a collection called “Letters of Herod and Pilate” from a Syraic manuscript of the 6th or 7th centuries. The work is probably a forgery occasioned by a mention of such a letter to Tiberius, by Justin Martyr when he wrote his “Defense of Christianity” to Emperor Antonius Pius about A.D150. Nevertheless here is what is written in: The Report of Pilate the Governor, Concerning our Lord Jesus Christ; Sent to Augustus Caesar, in Rome: “Now when he was crucified, there was darkness over all the world, and the sun was obscured for half a day, and the stars appeared, but no luster was seen in them; and the moon lost its brightness, as though tinged with blood; and the world of the departed was swallowed up; so that the very sanctuary of the temple, as they call it, did not appear to the Jews themselves as their fall, but they perceived a chasm in the earth, and the rolling successive thunders."

The Report of Pontius Pilate, Governor of Judea; Which was Sent to Tiberius Caesar in Rome” reads as follows: “Now when he was crucified darkness came over all the world; the sun was altogether hidden, and the sky appeared dark while it was yet day, so that the stars were seen, though still they had their luster obscured, wherefore, I suppose your excellency is not unaware that in all the world they lighted their lamps from the sixth hour until evening. And the moon, which was like blood, did not shine all night long, although it was at the full, and the stars and Orion made lamentation over the Jews because of the transgression committed by them.”



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