Did they happen? Were they supernatural in origin? Is there any extra-Biblical evidence?

Introduction

When reading the events recorded as occurring on the day of Jesus death, numerous questions may be raised in our minds.

  • Did they really happen?
  • Were they natural or supernatural in origin?
  • Is there any extra-Biblical Evidence for their occurrence?

The following article presents the evidence available to the author, to enable the reader to make their own informed decision.

Gospel Accounts

The following Gospel accounts in Matthew 27:45-54, Mark 15:33-39, and Luke 23:44-48 record the following events:

  • Darkness all over the land for 3 hours, between the 6th hour and the 9th (Midday to 3pm)
    • Matthew 27:45
    • Mark 15:33
    • Luke 23:44 – sunlight failed
  • Jesus death around the 9th
    • Matthew 27:46-50
    • Mark 15:34-37
    • Luke 23:46
  • Curtain of the Sanctuary rent in two – at time of Jesus Death
    • Matthew 27:51
    • Mark 15:38
    • Luke 23:45b
  • Strong Earthquake – at time of Jesus Death.
    • Matthew 27:51 – rock-masses were split.
  • Raising up of holy ones
    • Matthew 27:52-53 – tombs were opened, holy ones fallen asleep were raised up.
  • Roman Centurion declares ‘this man was God’s Son’ as a result of the earthquake and other events.
    • Matthew 27:54
    • Mark 15:39
    • Luke 23:47

 

Let us just briefly examine these events.

Darkness for 3 hours

What could account for this? Whatever caused this event had to be of supernatural origin. How so?

  • Eclipses of the sun cannot physically take place at Passover because of the position of the moon. At Passover the full moon is on the far side of earth away from sun and so cannot be eclipsed.
  • Furthermore, eclipses of the sun last only minutes (usually 2-3 minutes, in extreme cases about 7 minutes) not 3 hours.
  • Storms rarely make the sun fail (as recorded by Luke), by effectively bringing night time and if they do then the darkness usually lasts for minutes not for 3 hours. A haboob can make day turn into night, but the mechanics of the phenomenon (25mph winds and sand) make it difficult to sustain for long.[i] Even these rare events are newsworthy items today. More importantly none of the accounts make any mention of any violent sandstorm or downpour or other type of storm. The writers and witnesses would have been familiar with all these types of weather yet failed to mention it. There is therefore a slim possibility of it being some very severe storm, but the coincidence of timing eliminates it being a chance natural event.
  • There is no evidence of a volcanic eruption cloud. There is no physical evidence or eyewitness written evidence for such an event. Neither do the descriptions in the Gospel accounts match the results of a volcanic eruption.
  • The coincidence of anything causing darkness sufficiently to cause the ‘sunlight to fail’, and at the same time being able to start exactly at the time Jesus was impaled and then suddenly disappear when Jesus expired. Even for some strange, unknown or rare severe physical and natural event to occur to bring about darkness, the timing and duration cannot be a coincidence. It had to be supernatural, by which we mean performed by God or the angels under his direction.

Strong Earthquake

It was not just a shaking, it was strong enough to split open limestone rock-masses. Also again the timing of it occurring at or immediately after Jesus expired.

Curtain of Sanctuary rent in two

It is unknown how thick the Curtain was. There have been varying estimates given based on rabbinic tradition, from a foot (12 inches), 4-6 inches or 1 inch. However, even a 1 inch[ii] curtain made from woven goat’s hair would be very strong and would need considerable force (way beyond what men are capable off) to cause it to be rent in two from top to bottom as the scriptures describe.

Raising up of Holy Ones

Due to the text of this passage, it is difficult to be sure whether a resurrection took place, or whether due to graves being opened up by the earthquake, some bodies and skeletons were raised up or thrown out of the grave.

Was there an actual resurrection that occurred at the time of Jesus death?

The scriptures are not that clear on this topic. The passage in Matthew 27:52-53 is difficult to understand. The common understandings are that there was

  1. a literal resurrection
  2. or, that the physical upheaval from the earthquake that occurred gave the impression of a resurrection by the bodies or skeletons being thrown out of the graves, perhaps some ‘sitting up’.

Arguments given against

  1. Why is there no other contextual historical or scriptural reference of who these holy ones were who were resurrected? After all this surely would have astounded the populace of Jerusalem and the disciples of Jesus.
  2. The common understanding of option (b) does not make sense when considering that in v53 these bodies or skeletons go into the holy city after the resurrection of Jesus.

Unfortunately this ‘resurrection’ if it is one, is not referred to in any of the other Gospels, so there is no further information available to help us understand exactly what took place.

However reasoning on the context and the other events that are recorded in the Gospels, a further possible explanation may be as follows:

A literal translation of the Greek text reads “and the tombs were opened, and many bodies of the having fallen asleep saints (holy ones) arose 53 and having gone forth out of the tombs after the resurrection of him they entered into the holy city and appeared to many.”

Perhaps the most logical understanding would be “and the tombs were opened [by the earthquake] referring to the earthquake that had just occurred (and completing the description in the previous verse).

The account would then continue:

And many of the holy ones [referring to the apostles] who had fallen asleep [physically while keeping a vigil outside Jesus tomb] then arose and having gone forth out of the [area of the] tombs after the resurrection of him [Jesus] they entered into the holy city and appeared to many [to witness about the resurrection].”

After the general resurrection we will be able to find out the actual answer to what happened.

The Sign of Jonah

Matthew 12:39, Matthew 16:4, and Luke 11:29 record Jesus saying that “A wicked and adulterous generation keeps on seeking for a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Joʹnah the prophet. For just as Joʹnah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights”. See also Matthew 16:21, Matthew 17:23 and Luke 24:46.

Many have puzzled over how this was fulfilled. The following table shows a possible explanation based on the events recorded in the scriptures shown above.

Traditional Understanding Alternate Understanding Day Events
Friday – Darkness \ Night (Midday – 3pm) Passover (Nisan 14) Jesus impaled around Midday (6th Hour) and dies before 3pm (9th hour)
Friday – Day (6am – 6pm) Friday – Day (3pm – 6pm) Passover (Nisan 14) Jesus buried
Friday – Night (6pm – 6am) Friday – Night (6pm – 6am) Great Sabbath – 7th Day of the Week Disciples and Women rest on Sabbath
Saturday – Day (6am – 6pm) Saturday – Day (6am – 6pm) Great Sabbath – 7th Day (Sabbath Day plus day after Passover was always a Sabbath) Disciples and Women rest on Sabbath
Saturday – Night (6pm – 6am) Saturday – Night (6pm – 6am) 1st Day of the Week
Sunday – Day  (6am – 6pm) Sunday – Day  (6am – 6pm) 1st Day of the Week Jesus resurrected early Sunday
Total 3 days and 2 Nights Total 3 Days and 3 Nights

 

The date of the Passover is understood to have been April 3rd (33 AD) with the resurrection on Sunday April 5th. April 5th, this year had sunrise at 06:22, and historically the sunrise would have likely be a similar time.

This thereby makes possible the account in John 20:1 which states that “On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the memorial tomb early, while there was still darkness, and she beheld the stone already taken away from the memorial tomb.”  All that is required to fulfill Jesus being resurrected on the 3rd day is it being after 6:01am and before 06:22am.

The Pharisees were afraid of this prophecy of Jesus coming true, even if by trickery as the account of Matthew 27:62-66 shows when it says “The next day, which was after the Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together before Pilate, saying: “Sir, we have called to mind that that impostor said while yet alive, ‘After three days I am to be raised up.’ Therefore command the grave to be made secure until the third day, that his disciples may never come and steal him and say to the people, ‘He was raised up from the dead!’ and this last imposture will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them: “YOU have a guard. Go make it as secure as YOU know how.” So they went and made the grave secure by sealing the stone and having the guard.”

That this occurred on the third day and the Pharisees believed this was fulfilled is shown by their reaction. Matthew 28:11-15 records the events: “While they were on their way, look! some of the guard went into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. 12 And after these had gathered together with the older men and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient number of silver pieces to the soldiers 13 and said: “Say, ‘His disciples came in the night and stole him while we were sleeping.’ 14 And if this gets to the governor’s ears, we will persuade [him] and will set YOU free from worry.” 15 So they took the silver pieces and did as they were instructed; and this saying has been spread abroad among the Jews up to this very day.”  Note: the accusation was that the body was stolen, not that he was not raised on the third day.

Were these Events Prophesied?

Isaiah 13:9-14

Isaiah prophesied about the coming day of Jehovah and what would occur before it came. This links with other prophecies, the events of Jesus death, and the day of the Lord / Jehovah in 70AD, and also Peter’s account in Acts. Isaiah wrote:

“Look! The day of Jehovah is coming, Cruel both with fury and with burning anger, To make the land an object of horror, And to annihilate the land’s sinners from it.

10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations Will not give off their light; The sun will be dark when it rises, And the moon will not shed its light.

11 I will call the inhabited earth to account for its badness, And the wicked for their error. I will put an end to the pride of the presumptuous, And I will humble the haughtiness of tyrants. 12 I will make mortal man scarcer than refined gold, And humans scarcer than the gold of Oʹphir. 13 That is why I will make the heavens tremble, And the earth will be shaken out of its place  At the fury of Jehovah of armies in the day of his burning anger. 14 Like a hunted gazelle and like a flock with no one to gather them, Each will return to his own people; Each will flee to his own land.”

Amos 8:9-10

The prophet Amos wrote similar prophetic words:

“8 On this account the land will tremble, And every inhabitant in it will mourn. Will it not all rise like the Nile, And surge and sink down like the Nile of Egypt?’  9 ‘In that day,’ declares the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, ‘I will make the sun go down at high noon, And I will darken the land on a bright day. 10 I will turn your festivals into mourning And all your songs into dirges. I will put sackcloth on all hips and make every head bald; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, And the end of it like a bitter day.’”

Joel 2:28-32

“After that I will pour out my spirit on every sort of flesh, And your sons and your daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, And your young men will see visions. 29 And even on my male slaves and female slaves I will pour out my spirit in those days. 30 And I will give wonders in the heavens and on the earth, Blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood Before the coming of the great and awe-inspiring day of Jehovah. 32 And everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved; For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who escape, just as Jehovah has said, The survivors whom Jehovah calls.”

According to Acts 2:14-24 part of this passage from Joel was fulfilled when at Pentecost 33AD:

“Peter stood up with the Eleven and spoke to them [the crowd in Jerusalem for Pentecost] in a loud voice: “Men of Ju·deʹa and all you inhabitants of Jerusalem, let this be known to you and listen carefully to my words. 15 These people are, in fact, not drunk, as you suppose, for it is the third hour of the day. 16 On the contrary, this is what was said through the prophet Joel: 17 ‘“And in the last days,” God says, “I will pour out some of my spirit on every sort of flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy and your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams, 18 and even on my male slaves and on my female slaves I will pour out some of my spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 And I will give wonders in heaven above and signs on earth below—blood and fire and clouds of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and illustrious day of Jehovah comes. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.”’ 22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus the Naz·a·reneʹ was a man publicly shown to you by God through powerful works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, just as you yourselves know. 23 This man, who was handed over by the determined will and foreknowledge of God, you fastened to a stake by the hand of lawless men, and you did away with him.”

You will note that Peter refers Jesus to being the cause of all these event, not just the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, but also the wonders in the heaven and signs on the earth. Otherwise, Peter would merely have not quoted verses 30 and 31 from Joel 2. The listening Jews also now need to call upon the name of Jehovah and the Lord Jesus Christ and accept Christ’s message and warning in order to be saved from the coming day of the Lord, which would occur in 70 AD.

Whether these prophecies were all fulfilled by the events occurring at Jesus death or still have a fufillment in the future we cannot be 100 percent sure, but there is a strong indication that they were fulfilled then.[iii]

Historical References by Extra-Biblical Writers

There are many references to these events in historical documents now available translated into English. They will be presented in approximate date order with explanatory comments. How much confidence one places in them is a personal decision. However, it is definitely interesting that even back in the early centuries after Jesus there was a belief by early Christians in the truth of the Gospel accounts as we have them today. It is also true that even back then that opposers or those will differing views, both Non-Christian and Christian would argue about the details. Even where the writings are considered apocryphal the date of the writing is given. They are quoted as it matters not whether they were inspired. As a source they can be considered equal in value to conventional sources of Christian and non-Christian Historians.

Thallus – Non Christian Writer (Middle 1st Century, 52 AD)

His remarks are quoted by

  • Julius Africanus in 221AD History of the World. See Julius Africanus below.

Phlegon of Tralles (Late 1st Century, Early 2nd Century)

His remarks are quoted by

  • Julius Africanus (221CE History of the World)
  • Origen of Alexandria
  • Pseudo Dionysious the Areopagite

amongst others.

Ignatius of Antioch (Early 2nd Century, writings c.105AD – c.115AD)

In his ‘Letter to the Trallians’, Chapter IX, he writes:

He was crucified and died under Pontius Pilate. He really, and not merely in appearance, was crucified, and died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. By those in heaven I mean such as are possessed of incorporeal natures; by those on earth, the Jews and Romans, and such persons as were present at that time when the Lord was crucified; and by those under the earth, the multitude that arose along with the Lord. For says the Scripture, “Many bodies of the saints that slept arose,” their graves being opened. He descended, indeed, into Hades alone, but He arose accompanied by a multitude; and rent asunder that means of separation which had existed from the beginning of the world, and cast down its partition-wall. He also rose again in three days, the Father raising Him up; and after spending forty days with the apostles, He was received up to the Father, and “sat down at His right hand, expecting till His enemies are placed under His feet.” On the day of the preparation, then, at the third hour, He received the sentence from Pilate, the Father permitting that to happen; at the sixth hour He was crucified; at the ninth hour He gave up the ghost; and before sunset He was buried. During the Sabbath He continued under the earth in the tomb in which Joseph of Arimathaea had laid Him. At the dawning of the Lord’s day He arose from the dead, according to what was spoken by Himself, “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of man also be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” The day of the preparation, then, comprises the passion; the Sabbath embraces the burial; the Lord’s Day contains the resurrection.” [iv]

Justin Martyr – Christian Apologist (Middle 2nd Century, died 165AD in Rome)

His ‘First Apology’, written about 156AD, contains the following:

  • In chapter 13 he says:

“Our teacher of these things is Jesus Christ, who also was born for this purpose, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judæa, in the times of Tiberius Cæsar; and that we reasonably worship Him, having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third, we will prove”.

  • Chapter 34

Now there is a village in the land of the Jews, thirty-five stadia from Jerusalem, [Bethlehem] in which Jesus Christ was born, as you can ascertain also from the registers of the taxing made under Cyrenius, your first procurator in Judæa.”

  • Chapter 35

“And after He was crucified they cast lots upon His vesture, and they that crucified Him parted it among them. And that these things did happen, you can ascertain from the Acts of Pontius Pilate.” [v]

 The Acts of Pilate (4th Century copy, cited in 2nd Century by Justin Martyr)

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 Apology. Chapter 35, 48, in the middle of the 2nd century AD. This is his defense before the Emperor, who would have been able to examine these Acts of Pontius Pilate himself. This 4th century copy therefore while it may be genuine, it is probably a reworking or expansion 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.”[vi]

Tertullian – Bishop of Antioch (Early 3rd Century, c.155AD – c.240AD)

Tertullian wrote in his Apology about AD 197:

Chapter XXI (Chapter 21 par 2): “Yet nailed upon the cross, Christ 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 the Christ, no doubt thought it was an eclipse. But, this you have in your archives, you can read it there.”[vii]

This indicates that there were public records available at the time which confirmed the events.

Also he wrote in ‘Against Marcion’ Book IV Chapter 42:

“If you take it as a booty for your false Christ, still all the Psalm (compensates) the vesture of Christ. But, behold, the very elements are shaken. For their Lord was suffering. If, however, it was their enemy to whom all this injury was done, the heaven would have gleamed with light, the sun would have been even more radiant, and the day would have prolonged its course — gladly gazing at Marcion’s Christ suspended on his gibbet! These proofs would still have been suitable for me, even if they had not been the subject of prophecy. Isaiah says: “I will clothe the heavens with blackness.” This will be the day, concerning which Amos also writes: And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord, that the sun shall go down at noon and the earth shall be dark in the clear day.” (At noon) the veil of the temple was rent”” [viii]

Indirectly he acknowledges his belief in the truth that the events occurred by saying that the events would have been enough for him to believe in Christ, yet not only did these events occurred, there was also the fact that they were prophesied.

Irenaeus the disciple of Polycarp (200AD?)

In ‘Against Heresies – Book 4.34.3 – Proof against the Marcionites, that the Prophets referred in all their predictions to our Christ’ Irenaeus writes:

“And the points connected with the passion of the Lord, which were foretold, were realized in no other case. For neither did it happen at the death of any man among the ancients that the sun set at mid-day, nor was the veil of the temple rent, nor did the earth quake, nor were the rocks rent, nor did the dead rise up, nor was any one of these men [of old] raised up on the third day, nor received into heaven, nor at his assumption were the heavens opened, nor did the nations believe in the name of any other; nor did any from among them, having been dead and rising again, lay open the new covenant of liberty. Therefore the prophets spake not of anyone else but of the Lord, in whom all these aforesaid tokens concurred. [Irenaeus: Adv. Haer. 4.34.3]” [ix]

Julius Africanus (Early 3rd Century, 160AD – 240AD) Christian Historian

Julius Africanus writes in ‘History of the World’ around 221AD.

In Chapter 18:

“(XVIII) On the Circumstances Connected with Our Saviour’s Passion and His Life-Giving Resurrection.

  1. 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 Saviour fails 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.(48)” [x]

It then follows on to say:

 “ (48) 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. And calculation makes out that the period of 70 weeks, as noted in Daniel, is completed at this time.” [xi]

Origen of Alexandria (Early 3rd Century, 185AD – 254AD)

Origen was a Greek Scholar and Christian Theologian. He believed the pagans explained the darkness as an eclipse to try and discredit the Gospels.

In ‘Origen against Celsus’, 2. Chapter 33 (xxxiii):

 “although we are able to show the striking and miraculous character of the events which befell Him, yet from what other source can we furnish an answer than from the Gospel narratives, which state that “there was an earthquake, and that the rocks were split asunder, and the tombs opened, and the veil of the temple rent in twain from top to bottom, and that darkness prevailed in the day-time, the sun failing to give light?” [3290]”

“[3292] And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Cæsar, 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.” [3293]” [xii]

In ‘Origen against Celsus’, 2. Chapter 59 (lix):

“He imagines also that both the earthquake and the darkness were an invention; [3351] 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. [3352]” [xiii]

Eusebius (Late 3rd , Early 4th Century, 263AD – 339AD) (historian of Constantine)

In about 315AD he wrote in Demonstratio Evangelica (The Proof of the Gospel) Book 8:

“And this day, he says, was known to the Lord, and was not night. It was not day, because, as has been said already, “there shall be no light”; which was fulfilled, when “from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.” Nor was it night, because “at eventide it shall be light” was added, which also was fulfilled when the day regained its natural light after the ninth hour.”[xiv]

Arnobius of Sicca (Early 4th Century, died 330AD)

In Contra Gentes I. 53 he wrote:

But when, freed from the body, which He [Jesus] carried about as but a very small part of Himself [i.e. when He died on the cross], He allowed Himself to be seen, and let it be known how great He was, all the elements of the universe bewildered by the strange events were thrown into confusion. An earthquake shook the world, the sea was heaved up from its depths, the heaven was shrouded in darkness, the sun’s fiery blaze was checked, and his heat became moderate; for what else could occur when He was discovered to be God who heretofore was reckoned one of us?” [xv]

The Teaching of Addaeus the Apostle (4th Century?)

This writing existed in the early 5th Century, and understood to be written in the 4th Century.

An English translation is available on p1836 of Anti-Nicene Fathers Book 8. This writing says:

“King Abgar to our Lord Tiberius Cæsar: Although I know that nothing is hidden from thy Majesty, I write to inform thy dread and mighty Sovereignty that the Jews who are under thy dominion and dwell in the country of Palestine have assembled themselves together and crucified Christ, without any fault worthy of death, after He had done before them signs and wonders, and had shown them powerful mighty-works, so that He even raised the dead to life for them; and at the time that they crucified Him the sun became darkened and the earth also quaked, and all created things trembled and quaked, and, as if of themselves, at this deed the whole creation and the inhabitants of the creation shrank away.”[xvi]

Cassiodorus (6th Century)

Cassiodorus, the Christian chronicler, fl. 6th century AD, confirms the unique nature of the eclipse: Cassiodorus, Chronicon (Patrologia Latina, v. 69) “… Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered (crucifixion) … and an eclipse [lit. failure, desertion] of the sun turned out to be such as never was before or since.”

Translated from the Latin: “… Dominus noster Jesus Christus passus est … et defectio solis facta est, qualis ante vel postmodum nunquam fuit.”] [xvii]

Pseudo Dionysius the Areopagite (5th & 6th century writings claiming to be Dionysius of Corinth of Acts 17)

Pseudo Dionysius describes the darkness at the time of Jesus impalement, as it appeared in Egypt, and is recorded by Phlegon.[xviii]

In the ‘LETTER XI. Dionysius to Apollophanes, Philosopher’ it says:

How, for instance, when we were staying in Heliopolis (I was then about twenty-five, and your age was nearly the same as mine), on a certain sixth day, and about the sixth hour, the sun, to our great surprise, became obscured, through the moon passing over it, not because it is a god, but because a creature of God, when its very true light was setting, could not bear to shine. Then I earnestly asked thee, what thou, O man most wise, thought of it. Thou, then, gave such an answer as remained fixed in my mind, and that no oblivion, not even that of the image of death, ever allowed to escape. For, when the whole orb had been throughout darkened, by a black mist of darkness, and the sun’s disk had begun again to be purged and to shine anew, then taking the table of Philip Aridaeus, and contemplating the orbs of heaven, we learned, what was otherwise well known, that an eclipse of the sun could not, at that time, occur. Next, we observed that the moon approached the sun from the east, and intercepted its rays, until it covered the whole; whereas, at other times, it used to approach from the west. Further also, we noted that when it had reached the extreme edge of the sun, and had covered the whole orb, that it then went back towards the east, although that was a time which called neither for the presence of the moon, nor for the conjunction of the sun. I therefore, O treasury of manifold learning, since I was incapable of understanding so great a mystery, thus addressed thee — “What thinkest thou of this thing, O Apollophanes, mirror of learning?” “Of what mysteries do these unaccustomed portents appear to you to be indications?” Thou then, with inspired lips, rather than with speech of human voice, “These are, O excellent Dionysius,” thou saidst, “changes of things divine.” At last, when I had taken note of the day and year, and had perceived that, that time, by its testifying signs, agreed with that which Paul announced to me, once when I was hanging upon his lips, then I gave my hand to the truth, and extricated my feet from the meshes of error.” [xix]

In the Letter VII, Section 3 Dionysius to Polycarp it says:

“Say to him, however, “What do you affirm concerning the eclipse, which took place at the time of the saving Cross [83] ?” For both of us at that time, at Heliopolis, being present, and standing together, saw the moon approaching the sun, to our surprise (for it was not appointed time for conjunction); and again, from the ninth hour to the evening, supernaturally placed back again into a line opposite the sun. And remind him also of something further. For he knows that we saw, to our surprise, the contact itself beginning from the east, and going towards the edge of the sun’s disc, then receding back, and again, both the contact and the re-clearing [84] , not taking place from the same point, but from that diametrically opposite. So great are the supernatural things of that appointed time, and possible to Christ alone, the Cause of all, Who worketh great things and marvellous, of which there is not number.”[xx]

Johannes Philophonos aka. Philopon, Alexandrian Historian (AD490-570) a Christian Neo-Platonist

Please Note: I have been unable to source an original English Translation, nor access and give a reference for an online version of the German Translation to verify this quote. The reference given at the end of this quote is to part of a very old Greek \ Latin version now in pdf online.

It is referred to by the following summary available online, see the pdf pages 3&4, the original book page 214,215.[xxi]

Philopon, a Christian Neo-Platonist, fl. 6th century AD (De Mundi Creatione, ed. Corderius, 1630, II. 21, p. 88) wrote as follows concerning two events mentioned by the second-century Roman historian Phlegon, one “the greatest of the unknown type prior,” in Phlegon’s “2nd year of the 202nd Olympiad,” that is AD 30/31, the other “the greatest of the known type prior,” which was the supernatural darkness accompanied by earth tremors, in Phlegon’s “4th year of the 202nd Olympiad,” AD 33.

Philopon’s account reads as follows: “Phlegon also in his Olympiads makes mention of this [crucifixion] darkness, or rather of this night: for he says, that ‘An eclipse of the sun in the second year of the 202nd Olympiad [summer AD 30 through summer AD 31] turned out to be the greatest of the unknown type prior; and a night came on at the sixth hour of the day [noon]; insomuch that the stars appeared in the sky.’ Now that Phlegon also makes mention of the eclipse of the sun as the event which transpired when Christ was put on the cross, and not of any other, is manifest: First, because he says such an eclipse was not known in times prior; for there is but one natural way of every eclipse of the sun: for the usual eclipses of the sun happen only at the conjunction of the two luminaries: but the event at the time of Christ the Lord transpired at full moon; which is impossible in the natural order of things. And in other eclipses of the sun, although the whole sun is eclipsed, it continues without light for a very small period of time: and at the same time begins presently to clear itself again. But at the time of the Lord Christ the atmosphere continued entirely without light from the sixth hour to the ninth. The same thing is proved also from the history of Tiberius Caesar: For Phlegon says, that he began to reign in the 2nd year of the 198th Olympiad [summer AD 14 to summer AD 15]; but that in the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad [summer AD 32 to summer AD 33] the eclipse had already taken place: so that if we compute from the beginning of the reign of Tiberius, to the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad, there are near enough 19 years: i.e. 3 of the 198th Olympiad and 16 of the other four, and this is how Luke recorded it in the Gospels. In the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius [AD 29], as he recounts it, the preaching of John the Baptist had begun, from which point the Gospel ministry of the Savior took its rise. That continued for no longer than four whole years, as Eusebius showed in the First Book of his Ecclesiastical History, gathering this from the Antiquities of Josephus. His relation began with Annas the high priest, and there were a further three high priests after him (the term of each high priest being a single year), then it concluded with the installation into office of the high priest following them, Caiaphas, at the time Christ was crucified. That year was the 19th of the reign of Tiberius Caesar [AD 33]; within which the crucifixion of Christ, for the salvation of the world, took place; as also in that connection the unfolding of that surprising eclipse of the sun, peculiar in its nature, the way Dionysius the Areopagite set it down in writing in his letter to Bishop Polycarp.” and ibid., III. 9, p. 116: “So the event at the crucifixion of Christ, being supernatural, was an eclipse of the sun which played out at full moon: of which Phlegon also makes mention in his Olympiads, as we have written in the preceding book. And Dionysius the Areopagite explains how it took place.” [xxii]

The Gospel of Peter – Apocryphal Writing, (8th – 9th Century copy of 2nd Century?)

A large fragment of this apocryphal, Docetic, Gospel dating to the 8th or 9th Century was discovered at Akmim (Panopolis) in Egypt in 1886.

The quoted section deals with the events occurring from the time of Jesus impalement.

Towards the end of the second century AD in the writings of Eusebius in his Hist. Eccl. VI. xii. 2-6, this work of the Gospel of Peter is mentioned as having the disapproval of Serapion of Antioch and is datable to around the middle or earlier half of that century. It is therefore possibly an early witness to traditions current in second century Christian circles concerning the events at Jesus death.

”5. 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 twain. 6. 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.”[xxiii]

Conclusion

At the beginning we raised the following questions.

  • Did they really happen?
    • Early opposers tried to explain the events as natural, rather than supernatural, thereby implicitly accepting the veracity of the events actually taking place.
  • Were they natural or supernatural in origin?
    • It is the contention of the writer that they had to be supernatural, of divine origin. There is no known naturally occurring event which could account for the particular sequence and duration of events. There are too many coincidences in timing.
    • The events were prophesied by Isaiah, Amos and Joel. The start of the fulfilment of Joel is confirmed by the Apostle Peter in Acts.
  • Is there any extra-Biblical Evidence for their occurrence?
    • There are early Christian writers, both known and verifiable.
    • There are apocryphal writers who likewise acknowledge these events.

 

There is a good deal of affirmation of the events of Jesus death recorded in the Gospels from other early Christian writers, some of whom reference Non-Christian writer’s evidence for or arguments against those events. Along with the writings considered apocryphal, which are remarkably in agreement on the events of Jesus death, when in other areas they sometimes depart markedly from the Gospels.

The examination of the events and the historical writings about them also point to the importance of faith. There have always been those who cannot accept that such events recorded in the Bible and in particular in the Gospels are true, because they do not want to accept the implication of them being true. Likewise, today. However, certainly in the view of the author (and we hope in your view too), the case is proven beyond ‘reasonable doubt’ to reasonable people and while these events took place nearly 2000 years ago, we can put faith in them. Perhaps the more important question is, do we want to? Also are we prepared to show that we do have that faith?

_______________________________________________________________

[i] See this haboob in Belarus, but you will note the darkness lasted not much more than 3-4 minutes.  https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3043071/The-storm-turned-day-night-Watch-darkness-descend-city-Belarus-apocalyptic-weather-hits.html

[ii] 1 inch is equivalent to 2.54 cm.

[iii] See separate article on “The Lord’s Day or Jehovah’s Day, Which?”

[iv] http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ignatius-trallians-longer.html

[v] https://www.biblestudytools.com/history/early-church-fathers/ante-nicene/vol-1-apostolic-with-justin-martyr-irenaeus/justin-martyr/first-apology-of-justin.html

[vi] https://biblehub.com/library/unknown/the_letter_of_pontius_pilate_concerning_our_lord_jesus_christ/the_letter_of_pontius_pilate.htm

[vii] https://biblehub.com/library/tertullian/apology/chapter_xxi_but_having_asserted.htm

[viii] https://biblehub.com/library/tertullian/the_five_books_against_marcion/chapter_xlii_other_incidents_of_the.htm

[ix] https://biblehub.com/library/irenaeus/against_heresies/chapter_xxxiv_proof_against_the_marcionites.htm

[x] https://www.biblestudytools.com/history/early-church-fathers/ante-nicene/vol-6-third-century/julius-africanus/iii-extant-fragments-five-books-chronography-of-julius-africanus.html

[xi] https://biblehub.com/library/africanus/the_writings_of_julius_africanus/fragment_xviii_on_the_circumstances.htm

[xii] https://biblehub.com/library/origen/origen_against_celsus/chapter_xxxiii_but_continues_celsus.htm

[xiii] https://biblehub.com/library/origen/origen_against_celsus/chapter_lix_he_imagines_also.htm

[xiv] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/pearse/morefathers/files/eusebius_de_08_book6.htm

[xv] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf06.xii.iii.i.liii.html

[xvi] p1836 AntiNicene Fathers Book 8,  http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf08.html

[xvii] http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/02m/0485-0585,_Cassiodorus_Vivariensis_Abbas,_Chronicum_Ad_Theodorum_Regem,_MLT.pdf  See page 8 of pdf righthand column near capital C for Latin text.

[xviii] https://biblehub.com/library/dionysius/mystic_theology/preface_to_the_letters_of.htm

[xix] https://biblehub.com/library/dionysius/letters_of_dionysius_the_areopagite/letter_xi_dionysius_to_apollophanes.htm

http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/areopagite_08_letters.htm

[xx] https://biblehub.com/library/dionysius/letters_of_dionysius_the_areopagite/letter_vii.htm

[xxi] https://publications.mi.byu.edu/publications/bookchapters/Bountiful_Harvest_Essays_in_Honor_of_S_Kent_Brown/BountifulHarvest-MacCoull.pdf

[xxii] https://ia902704.us.archive.org/4/items/joannisphiliponi00philuoft/joannisphiliponi00philuoft.pdf

[xxiii] https://biblehub.com/library/unknown/the_letter_of_pontius_pilate_concerning_our_lord_jesus_christ/the_letter_of_pontius_pilate.htm