According to Finegan’s Handbook of Biblical Chronology, there are only two possible dates for the crucifixion, viz. AD 30 and AD 33. The latter is the date given by Ussher. Finegan, with the best modern research at his fingertips, is unable to decide conclusively between them. AD 33 seems to be the correct date because the New Testament implies, and the apocryphal Acts of Pilate affirm, that there was an eclipse of the moon, as well as an obscuration of the sun, in the latter, or afternoon, phase of the crucifixion, and in AD 33 (but not AD 30) there was an eclipse of the moon on the day of the Passover, viz. the day of the crucifixion, and that eclipse occurred in the late afternoon. The same lunar eclipse is described in what claims to be an eye-witness account by Dionysius the Areopagite, an Athenian convert of the Apostle Paul, preserved in later Greek writers, and the accompanying darkness caused by the obscuration of the sun dated by the very solid historical evidence of fragments of the Olympiads of Phlegon, to the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad, the 19th year of Tiberius Caesar, AD 33. The various ancient authorities referenced in the following investigation may be found subjoined at the end, quoted in full. The original Greek and Latin for most of them can be found also, along with translations, in the commendable study on this topic by Whiston, Phlegon Vindicated, downloadable here.
The details of the eclipse are as follows: on Friday April 3rd (Passover) AD 33 there was a partial, lunar eclipse, i.e. an obscuration of a part of the face of the moon by the shadow of the earth. It commenced, on the modern reckoning, at 15h 40m local time in Jerusalem, and terminated at 18h 31m local time in Jerusalem. In normal circumstances this eclipse would not have been visible in Jerusalem at the time when it actually began, but the last traces of the eclipse would have been visible for about an half hour once the moon rose over the horizon at the longitude of Jerusalem, around 6pm, and as the sun set in the west. Further east in Babylon it would have been, in normal circumstances, visible for a longer period, from just after its maximum phase and for a little over an hour in total, and the many Jews who lived there would have been able to observe it clearly as the moon rose over the city. The whole eclipse lasted almost three hours (2h 51m).
According to Mark, the crucifixion lasted about 6 hours (from the 3rd to the 9th hour), and, according to Matthew, Mark and Luke, a darkness (Gk. skotos) occurred between the 6th and the 9th hours, during the latter half of the crucifixion. A difficulty arises, however, because, according to the other Gospel-writer, John, Pilate made his final pronouncement in the judgment of Jesus and Jesus was taken away to be crucified around the 6th hour. The Gospel writers seem to be using different time-schemes, since in John’s Gospel Jesus had just been judged and dismissed to be crucified at about the 6th hour, whilst in the other three Gospels Jesus had already been on the cross for 3 hours by the 6th hour.
It has been suggested that John was using Roman time-reckoning and the other Gospel-writers Jewish reckoning. However, the Romans usually counted the daylight hours just like the Jews, starting from sunrise around 6am. The 3rd hour was around 9am, the 6th hour around 12 noon, and the 9th hour around 3pm (the precise time at any given date depending on the time of sunrise, which varied with the seasons). In any case, John is using Jewish terminology in that portion of the Gospel: “It was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour” he says (John 19. 14). “Preparation of the passover” is a uniquely Jewish expression, Friday being called “Preparation” because it was the day Jews prepared for the coming Sabbath, and Friday happened also to be the Feast of the Passover that particular year. It would seem rather improbable that John switched from Jewish to Roman terminology in the very same sentence.
The explanation of the two time-schemes in the Bible is simple, but drastic. The Gospels clearly record that there was a darkness from the 6th to the 9th hours, but also Luke (23. 45) records that the SUN WAS COMPLETELY BLACKED OUT (eskotisthê), and Matthew reports (27. 51) that a great earthquake occurred at the same time. This blacking out of the sun could not have been a normal solar eclipse, because that is impossible when the moon is full and on the other side of the earth from the sun, as it always is at the Passover. These references, along with the difference of at least 3 hours between the two time-schemes in the Gospels, are indicators of a huge, and unusual, natural catastrophe.
The cosmic upheaval is alluded to in the Acts of the Apostles (2. 16, 20). Fifty days after the Passover, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter referred to the prophecy of Joel in the Old Testament (Joel 2. 31), as to an event of which his listeners had recently witnessed the fulfillment, that “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, BEFORE that great and notable day of the Lord come.” The original Hebrew word for “blood” here represents a color = blood-red, the color of the moon when it is eclipsed (compare the phrase “AS blood” in Revelation 6. 12, below, and Isaiah 13. 10, below, which specifically says the moon will not shine, in an equivalent context.) The significance of the word “before” in this quotation from Joel is that the very same catastrophe is prophesied to occur twice, once, as here in Joel BEFORE the Day of the Lord, and once also at the end of the world, ON the Day of the Lord: see Isaiah 13. 9-10: “9 Behold, THE DAY OF THE LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. 10 For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: THE SUN SHALL BE DARKENED IN HIS GOING FORTH, AND THE MOON SHALL NOT CAUSE HER LIGHT TO SHINE .... 13 Therefore I will shake the heavens, and THE EARTH SHALL REMOVE OUT OF HER PLACE, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts, and IN THE DAY OF HIS FIERCE ANGER. 14 And it shall be as the chased roe, and as a sheep that no man taketh up: they shall every man turn to his own people, and flee every one into his own land.” Revelation 6. 12-17: “12 And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, THERE WAS A GREAT EARTHQUAKE, AND THE SUN BECAME BLACK AS SACKCLOTH OF HAIR, AND THE MOON BECAME AS BLOOD; 13 And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. 14 And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15 And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; 16 And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17 FOR THE GREAT DAY OF HIS WRATH IS COME; and who shall be able to stand?” In Joel the same unique combination of an extinguishing of the light of the sun and a reddening of the moon in a lunar eclipse is prophesied to occur BEFORE that great Day of the Lord. If we look back through the pages of history, we find that such an event has already occurred, and that was on the day of the crucifixion, April 3rd AD 33, as recorded in the Gospels and in secular history (for the latter, see below). Peter was, therefore, pointing out to the Jews that this prophecy of Joel, predicting the catastrophe BEFORE the Day of the Lord, had already been fulfilled at the crucifixion.
One way the sun could be extinguished if it was not eclipsed by the moon would be if the EARTH TILTED. Compare the earthquake or seismic shock mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew, the terror of which, according to the apocryphal Acts of Pilate, persisted throughout the 3 hours of darkness. According to the apocryphal Gospel of Peter (v. 6), a huge seismic shock occurred just as Jesus was taken down from the cross and immediately before the sun reappeared (v. 6). Such an event would be a natural concomitant of a shift of the earth on its axis. (Notice that on the Day of the Lord, according to Isaiah 13. 13, the earth is specifically prophesied to “remove out of her place” at the time the sun is extinguished and the moon is eclipsed.) The sun, prior to this high in the noonday sky, will have suddenly disappeared below the horizon. This was the belief of the early Church. Irenaeus the disciple of Polycarp who was, in turn, the disciple of John the Apostle, saw the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about the sun’s setting at mid-day in the crucifixion darkness. Irenaeus Adv. Haer. IV. 66: “Those who said [Amos 8. 9-10], ‘In the day, saith the Lord, the SUN SHALL GO DOWN AT NOON, and there shall be darkness on the earth in the day of light; and I will turn your feast days into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation,’ manifestly declared that SETTING OF THE SUN which was the crucifixion of Christ, from the sixth hour. — Jeremiah also still more manifestly shows this very thing, when he says thus concerning Jerusalem [Jeremiah 15. 9]: ‘She who brought forth, her soul is uneasy; her SUN DID SET while it was yet mid-day: she hath been ashamed, and hath suffered reproach: The rest of them I will give to the sword, in the sight of their enemies.” Tertullian (Adv. Marc. IV. 42) also quotes the Old Testament prophets to this effect: “... 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. [Is. 50. 3] 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. [Amos 8. 9.]” Likewise in the apocryphal Gospel of Peter (v. 5), dating from around the first half of the second century AD, it is asserted that the Jewish authorities were concerned when the darkness fell at noon, because according to their Law the sun should not set on an executed criminal. If this phenomenon occurred on the afternoon of the crucifixion and continued around 3 hours, the lunar eclipse could have become visible in the eastern sky at Jerusalem, when in normal circumstances it would have been invisible beneath the eastern horizon. Peter implies that the reddening of the moon in eclipse had, indeed, been visible to the Jews in Jerusalem, and the apocryphal Acts of Pilate distinctly assert that the lunar eclipse was visible there during the period of darkness.
The extent of the physical effects of the catastrophe on the earth and sea is apparent in the following citation of the fourth century writer Arnobius. His sources are not identified but he accepts their testimony as self-evidently true and such as would be accepted by the pagan audience he is addressing in this tract. Arnobius, Contra Gentes I. 53: “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?” Needless to say, the heaving up of the sea from the depths, as well as a great seismic shock, are phenomena one would expect to accompany a tilting of the earth and the resultant disappearance of the sun behind the visible horizon, but not an eclipse or obscuration of the sun of the usual kind.
It is understandable that the catastrophic tilting of the earth at the crucifixion should have been a subject the first generation of Christians continued to refer to in their preaching. In the Acts of the Apostles (17. 6) the Jews of Thessalonica in Greece stirred up the pagan inhabitants of their city against the Christian missionary Paul by identifying the Christians as “these that have turned the world upside down.” The word “turn upside down” here is Gk. anastatoô, a verb constructed from the adjective anastatos, which means “made to rise up and depart, driven from one’s home, Hdt. 2. of cities and countries, ruined, laid waste” (Liddell-Scott-Jones, Lexicon, s.v.). It is used literally of persons removed from their homes in Acts 21. 38, of the known world in Acts 17. 6, and figuratively of doctrinal disturbance in Gal. 5. 12. In Thayer’s Lexicon, four out of the five occurrences of this word in a variety of Greek translations of the Old Testament (it is not found in secular writers) refer to physical removal from a place. With the other two New Testament uses being literal and figurative respectively, the nuance of the word in an ambivalent passage like Acts 17. 6 must be decided from a combination of the balance of probability, in light of its usage in Old Testament Greek translation, and of deductions drawn from the context in which it occurs. First, as it is a geographical location that is the object of the disturbance in Acts 17. 6, a literal interpretation, as of cities and countries, “ruined, laid waste,” is preferable. It would have certainly been a gross exaggeration, in fact a falsehood, to have claimed at that time that Christians had socially or psychologically unsettled the whole oikoumenê — the inhabited Roman world — when this was only the beginning of the first mission to the native Gentiles of Europe, specifically aimed at Gentiles, that is known from the New Testament. It would also have made nonsense of the Jews’ objection that “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither [to Thessalonica] also:” on the figurative interpretation, the Jews would have been excluding Thessalonica from the realms of the civilized Roman world! It should accordingly be read in this sense: “These Christians who caused a physical upturning of the whole world are now also present right here in Thessalonica!” No doubt, like Peter on the Day of Pentecost, the Christians pointed to the huge catastrophe at the time of the crucifixion of the Messiah as a fulfillment of such scriptures as Joel 2 and Amos 8. The Jews would not have been able to deny the event itself, but they certainly would have rejected the Christians’ interpretation of it. And if they accepted a connection between the crucifixion and the catastrophe at all it will have been only to confirm themselves in their belief that Jesus was Beelzebub, the chief of the devils, and lord of natural catastrophe. They could blame the cosmic devastation on Jesus and his disciples, just as the Romans of the later Empire blamed the Christians for the natural catastrophes which fell at that time on the Empire, because the Christians threatened their social fabric. The Thessalonians had reason, by their own lights, to believe such an accusation because it was only a short time prior to this that an earthquake had rocked the neighboring city of Philippi and miraculously freed Paul and his fellow-apostle who were in prison there at the time (Acts 16. 25f.).
The earth’s tilting in this way would also produce AN ALTERATION OF CLOCK-TIME. This assumes that the sun slipped down the space of approximately 6 hours in the sky at around 12 noon (the 6th hour of the day) to a position just below the horizon. Such a position is the minimum necessary to effect a blacking out of the sun and a visible appearance of the lunar disk above the eastern horizon.
This 6th hour is the time-mark used in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) to fix the beginning of the catastrophe. The same time-scheme is used in the Synoptic Gospels to fix the beginning of the crucifixion three hours earlier at the 3rd hour. John’s Gospel, on the contrary, states that Jesus was dismissed by Pilate from the Praetorium, to be crucified, “about” the 6th hour. If the sun set abnormally at 12 noon on the day of the crucifixion, then the daylight had been suddenly shortened by a half. This foreshortening would EXACTLY HALF THE LENGTH OF EACH HOUR IN THE PRECEDING PERIOD OF DAYLIGHT, the daylight between sunrise and sunset being divided by custom into 12 equal, hourly, portions (John 11. 9). The length of these portions could vary depending on the length of daylight at any particular time of year — in winter the 12 hours were several minutes shorter than in summer. In this case, the daylight was catastrophically shortened, and sunset had fallen at 12 noon, so the same principle, applied now, WOULD TURN WHAT HAD BEEN COUNTED AS THE 3RD HOUR (IN THE PRE-CATASTROPHE OR NORMAL TIME-SCHEME USED BY THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS) INTO THE 6TH HOUR OF THE (POST-CATASTROPHE) TIME-SCHEME USED IN THE FOURTH GOSPEL. In fact, the phrase in John’s Gospel is ambiguous: instead of “about” the 6th hour, it might equally well be translated “a time equivalent to” the 6th hour, being in that case a reference to the fact there was an alteration of clock-time on that day. There existed till at least the 4th century AD in Ephesus an hand-written manuscript of John the Apostle, who was an eye-witness of the crucifixion darkness, which proved John was aware of, and accepted, the ordinary way of counting the hours on that day, in spite of his use of the post-catastrophe time-reckoning in his Gospel. The following commentary on the Biblical account is found in the Chronicon Paschale (ed. Dindorf, p. 411, MS P p. 219, this section of the work datable to AD 354 or thereabouts): “They bring Jesus therefore from Caiaphas into the Praetorium. It was early in the morning, and they did not enter into the Praetorium, so that they would not be defiled and could eat the Passover. There He was handed over to Pilate. It was the Preparation, about the third hour. This is what the accurate manuscripts read here, including the hand-written document [not of course the Gospel, which reads 6th hour] of the Evangelist John, which is still preserved, by the grace of God, in the most sainted church of the Ephesians, being the object of veneration there by faithful pilgrims.”
The catastrophe lasted about 3 hours in total, from the 6th to the 9th hour, according to the time-scheme used in the Synoptic Gospels. In the apocryphal Gospel of Peter (v. 6), a great earthquake occurred just after Jesus expired and was taken off the cross and immediately before the reemergence of the sun. Then reference is made in all of the Gospels to an “evening” interval of undetermined length at the end of the day, during which Jesus’ body was hurriedly taken away from the cross and buried to avoid laboring on the Sabbath day (the Sabbath commenced, under normal circumstances, at sundown, around 6pm Friday). The events that are said to have occurred in this evening period, the petition of Joseph of Arimathaea to Pilate, the inquiry into and confirmation of the death of Christ, and the deposition of Jesus’ body, would seem to require something like 2 hours. The use of the word “evening” here implies that sunlight had returned, if only to fade again shortly thereafter. I.e. the phase of seismic shocks at the end of the 3 hour-darkness coincided with a reemergence of the sun a little above the horizon and a short twilight period of 2 hours during which the sun finally set as normal. An interval of 2 hours would mean that, what would, in normal circumstances, have been 12 daylight hours, had been foreshortened that Friday by one hour, to 11 hours in all (6 normal hours of daylight after sunrise, followed by 3 hours of abnormal darkness, followed by 2 hours of twilight). This means that the lunar eclipse timed by modern reckoning to have begun at 15h 40m that Friday (a reckoning which takes no account of natural catastrophes) would have actually begun an hour earlier, according to the adjusted time-scheme, i.e. about 20 minutes before the 9th hour, as the Synoptic Gospels call it, in the last half-hour of darkness. It was also visible as it concluded for about half an hour as the sun set normally at around 6pm. A twilight period of much longer than 2 hours would have meant the lunar eclipse would not have been visible in the period of catastrophic darkness as the Acts of Pilate assert it was, because we know the eclipse lasted for 2h 51m in total and terminated at 6. 31pm. A twilight of about 2 hours duration, between the 9th and the 11th hour, would have allowed the lunar eclipse to have been visible for 20 minutes before the 9th hour, and, indeed, it would have taken almost that long for the shadow to produce a significant obscuration of the lunar disk. On the other hand, a twilight any shorter than 2 hours would have left too little time for the transpiring of events connected with the deposition of Jesus’ body from the cross, as recorded in the Gospels.
The mechanics of the catastrophe are described in detail in what professes to be an eye-witness account preserved in fragments of a letter of Dionysius the Areopagite (one of Paul’s converts on his aforementioned first missionary excursion into Europe) to the Apostle John’s disciple, Polycarp. These fragments are not part of the material ascribed to Dionysius the Areopagite in medieval times, which is generally considered spurious, and must be evaluated on the merits. The content of the letter, in part, is quoted by Michael Syncellus (in ed. Migne PG IV. col. 626ff.), a presbyter in Jerusalem, and in Suidas s.v. Dionysius. Dionysius, a pagan philosopher at the time, was present in Heliopolis (modern Cairo), Egypt, when the catastrophe occurred, in the company of a philosopher friend, Apollophanes. His account reads as follows: “We [Apollophanes and himself] were both present, standing together in Heliopolis, when we saw the moon falling into alignment with [Gk. empipto] the sun in an abnormal way. For it was not the right time for a conjunction. Then again, we saw it [viz. the moon] from the ninth hour [around 3 pm] till sundown, restored preternaturally to its place [in the sky] opposite the sun. Remember this too: he [Apollophanes] is aware we saw it [the moon] beginning the alignment [Gk. emptosis] in the east, and traveling as far as the limit of [alignment with] the sun [Gk. mechri tou ‘eliakou peratos], then moving back in a retrograde fashion [Gk. anapodizo]. And again, the alignment [Gk. emptosis] and its termination [Gk. anakatharsis] did not come about by [a coincidence at] a single point [in the sky] [Gk. ek tou autou], but by an opposition [Gk. ek tou kata diametron enantiou].” What Dionysius saw caused him to remark to his philosopher friend, “Some unknown god is suffering in the flesh! That is why the whole universe is thrown into darkness, and convulsed.” (Note here, too, the reference to a “convulsion” accompanying the obscuration. Of course, the description of the mechanics of the phenomenon just related matches what would result from a shift of the earth on its axis, not a normal eclipse.) Imagine the impact Paul’s preaching would have had on Dionysius years later, when he heard the Apostle at the Areopagus in Athens, as he pointed to an altar he had seen in the city dedicated precisely to some “unknown god,” and claimed to disclose that “unknown god,” Jesus, to his audience, the very One who suffered in the flesh at the time of the catastrophe! (Acts 17. 16ff.) And this in a context where the crucifixion event was already a subject of debate, as demonstrated earlier, in relation to the Christian message.
The heavenly sign was clear to a pagan philosopher, and would be even more so to a Jew trained in sacred symbolism. In Judaism the moon, the reflex or image of the sun, symbolized the Messiah, the “Image” of God. The SHADOW of death passed over the Messiah during those last minutes He was upon the cross. But it was not a total eclipse. Within three days the Messiah, like the moon within three hours, recovered His full Glory! Furthermore, the heavenly sign was matched by an earthly one. In the New Testament, Jesus is called the Passover Lamb of God, Whose sacrifice on Calvary remitted, once for all time, the sins of the world. On that day in AD 33, when the sun was located in the Hebrew sign of the Lamb (Taleh), our Aries, those hours during which the shadow of death passed over the morally spotless, snow-white, Lamb of God, Jesus, and the literal shadow passed over the face of the snow-white, full, moon, were the very hours, 9th to 11th, during which the snow-white, Passover, lamb was slain in the Temple (Josephus, Wars, VI. 9. 3). This period was designated as the only proper time to sacrifice the Passover lamb, by Jehovah Himself, when the ceremony was instituted in Egypt at the Exodus. There in the Books of Moses, for some reason it has taxed the ingenuity of scholars to explain, this period, called the “evening-time” in Deuteronomy 16. 6, is also called, more specifically, the time “between the two evenings” (Exodus 12. 6 etc.). The prophetic Spirit signified by this unique expression the timing of the greater Passover Sacrifice of which the literal Passover was a type — that period precisely from the 9th to the 11th hour between the two evenings God Himself created on Good Friday: the first evening fell catastrophically at noon and benighted the world till the 9th hour, and the second fell at the 11th hour to close the day, and return the world to relative normality.
Another mystery is cleared up by this close reading and reexamination of the Gospel records of the crucifixion. Jesus prophesied He would be “three days and three nights in the bowels of the earth” (Matthew 12. 40). On the usual understanding of the chronology of the crucifixion and burial, Jesus spent no more than 3 days and 2 nights in the bowels of the earth. There is no way another night can be fitted into the scheme without forcing the evidence one way or the other. But now we can see that an extra, 3-hour-long, night of complete darkness has been supernaturally interposed by God Himself into the Friday of the crucifixion. The Christian Neo-Platonist Philopon, as cited hereafter (De Mundi Creatione II. 21), emphasized that the darkness at the crucifixion was actually and properly speaking a “night,” which started at the 6th hour. He used that to explain the New Testament phrase “three days and three nights,” in the same manner it is elucidated here. The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus’ giving up the ghost immediately before the account of the earthquake and rending of the Temple veil. In the apocryphal Gospel of Peter (dating from around the first half of the second century AD), Jesus expires just before an earthquake at the end of the 3 hours of darkness and the return of light. According to the apocryphal Acts of Pilate, the fear of the earthquake persisted during the period of darkness between the 6th and 9th hours. Hence, we can conclude, Jesus gave up the ghost during the period of darkness. That is night number 1. (The Jews reckoned pars-pro-toto in chronology, so any part of a night or day counted as one night or day in estimations of the duration of time.) Then followed the equally abnormal shortened day of around 2 hours called “evening” in the Gospels. That’s day number 1. (The beginning of day was always sunrise amongst the Jews, and night began at sunset, so here there was, indeed, a sunrise, though an abnormal one, a reemergence of the sun above the western horizon, followed two hours later by a sunset. Undoubtedly it was a “day”, judged by the astronomical criteria used to determine these things. For the same reason, the Gospel of John counts the earlier, shortened day from sunrise to noon, when the sun set catastrophically, as a day with 12 hours, with its midpoint at the 6th hour = 9am on the modern reckoning. Note also how the Jewish authorities in the apocryphal Gospel of Peter [v. 5] are said to have been concerned that what the Law said about the sun setting on a criminal’s execution applied to Jesus during the period of three hours’ darkness.) Then followed Friday night, night number 2, followed by Saturday daytime, day number 2. Then followed Saturday night, night number 3, followed by Sunday morning, day number 3, when Jesus rose from the dead. Total: 3 days and 3 nights, just as Jesus had prophesied.
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. We shall explain the terminology “unknown/known” later in the account.
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.”
The grammar and the wording used by Philopon are precise in these accounts, and it is clear Phlegon described the actual eclipse of the sun referred to in some texts of the Gospels in connection with the crucifixion as having occurred in the 2nd year of the 202nd Olympiad, viz. summer AD 30 through summer AD 31, but its effects, specifically the darkness at noon, when the moon was full, as having played out later, in the 4th year of the same 202nd Olympiad, viz. summer AD 32 through summer AD 33, and more precisely, as described by Dionysius the Areopagite at the very time Christ was crucified, at Passover AD 33. Syncellus takes an extract from Eusebius’ Chronicle verbatim in the original Greek, where Eusebius cites Phlegon on the second of these two events, as follows: “Phlegon, too, a distinguished reckoner of Olympiads, wrote more on these events in his 13th book, saying this: “Now, in the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad [AD 32-33], an eclipse of the sun turned out to be the greatest of the known type prior, transforming the day at the sixth hour [noon] 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.” There were perhaps also some other unidentified effects of the eclipse visible up to as late as AD 37. Maximus (c. AD 600) in his Scholion to Dionysius the Areopagite (S. Maximi Scholia in Dionys. Areop. in epist vii, Opera, ed. Corderii, Paris, 1644, tom. ii. p. 312), says Phlegon also made reference to the abnormal eclipse in the 203rd Olympiad (if the numeral is not a clerical error for 202nd), that is within the four-year period summer AD 33 through summer AD 37: “Phlegon also, the Greek chronographer, makes mention of this eclipse in the 13th book of his Chronographies, in the 203rd Olympiad, saying it played out in a way contrary to the normal. But he did not leave a written account of the manner of it.”
What we have described here is an eclipse of the sun occurring some time within the 12-month period summer AD 30 through summer AD 31, which, contrary to the natural order of things, continued in its abnormal effects, we presume sporadically, both that same year (Philopon quoting Phlegon under the eclipse in year 2 of the 202nd Olympiad: ‘night came on at the sixth hour of the day [noon]; insomuch that the stars appeared in the sky’), and even as late as two years later in April AD 33 (Eusebius quoting Phlegon under the 4th year of the same 202nd Olympiad: ‘transforming the day at the sixth hour [noon] 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’), and possibly even through the years AD 33 to AD 37 (Maximus referring to Phlegon under the 203rd Olympiad). The most noticeable abnormal effect was the darkness obscuring the face of the sun even at noon, to the level that stars could be seen at that time in the sky. The darkness in April AD 33, which was a subsequent abnormal effect of the solar eclipse in AD 30/31, was the darkness that occurred at the crucifixion according to these accounts. Thus the texts of the Gospels which mention an “eclipse of the sun” at the time of the crucifixion are referring to this earlier eclipse of AD 30/31, whose effects played out later in AD 33. In the 4th century texts of the Gospel of Luke, Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, and in a few other texts (Pap. 75, C, L, Coptic), Luke 23. 44-45 reads: “(44) And it was now about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour, (45) THE SUN HAVING BEEN (PREVIOUSLY) ECLIPSED.” The grammatical structure of the last phrase means precisely that the solar eclipse preceded the darkness, as in fact, it did by two years, and it means additionally, if interpreted according to the obvious sense, that the darkness was caused by the eclipse (“... there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour, (45) BECAUSE THE SUN WAS [PREVIOUSLY] ECLIPSED”).
The obvious question arises, how could an eclipse of the sun in AD 30/31 continue to produce darkness and even earth tremors at least two years later? The simplest solution to this question is: a devastating asteroid impact on the moon at or just before the time of the eclipse in AD 30/31. If an asteroid struck the moon about that time, perhaps on the dark side of the moon which is not normally visible from earth, a huge cloud of lunar dust and debris would have disfigured the visible orb of the moon. This may not have been noticeable at first from the normal viewpoint on earth, but it surely would have been when attention was fixed on the moon at the solar eclipse. A strange halo of extra murkiness would have been visible around the edge of the darkened moon with the strong solar light behind illuminating it. Doubtless this was explained by the ancient observers as an “abnormal” or “especially dark” eclipse, since the mechanics of it were not understood. A few days or months later, as the dust and debris scattered and spread, and as the moon’s orb moved away from the sun, the light of the sun itself may have been wonderfully obscured by the clouds of dust stretching away from the moon, and this, evidently, was what Phlegon was talking about in his original eclipse reference under the 2nd year of the 202nd Olympiad (= AD 30/31). “Night,” he says, “came on at the sixth hour of the day [noon]; insomuch that the stars appeared in the sky.” Again this would have been explained by the ancient observers as an abnormal “continuation” of the solar eclipse, since that is when the darkening was first observed. Now the effects of such an asteroid impact could continue for several years. The debris, which might include rocks from the moon’s surface, as well as huge volumes of lunar dust, would start to be attracted by the gravitational effects of the nearest large bodies, viz. the moon itself, but principally the much more massive, and therefore more gravitationally attractive, earth. Loose rocks flying through space would gradually begin to orbit the earth, then fall onto the earth’s surface, causing earth tremors. Rocks which did not quickly find an orbital path would remain scattered in that zone of space where they were first ejected, as the earth and its lunar satellite moved on in their yearly path round the sun. The greatest danger for earth would be when it re-entered that zone at the same time of year as the original asteroid impact. It would be like entering a shooting range. If the earth hit a huge piece of lunar rock then, accompanied, as it may well have been, by large clouds of lunar dust, the effects would be precisely as Phlegon described in the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad, April AD 33: a great darkness covering the globe and earth tremors capable of demolishing edifices. If the rock was large enough, and the angle of impact sufficiently acute, it might even, as we shall see, cause a temporary pole-shift on earth, tilting the earth so that the sun vanished from the sky for a time.
Can we narrow down the chronology here to pinpoint the exact time of the original solar eclipse? The amazing thing is, we can do just that through the records of those the Romans dismissed as eastern “barbarians”. Far away in China highly refined court astrologers set down in writing a full account of this unusual eclipse, making special note of its abnormal effects, and interpreting them as a sign from the “Superior Lord”. Not only that, the eclipse and its strange after-effects happened at the beginning of May AD 31, in accord with the account of Phlegon, and therefore at the same relative time of year as the darkness and earth tremors subsequently in April AD 33. That is, in AD 33, according to this evidence, the earth may well have re-entered the cosmic “shooting range” where fragments of debris lay from the asteroid impact around the time of that earlier eclipse in AD 31.
The following citations (translation of the French mine) are from the Jesuit Gaubil’s Histoire de l’Astronomie Chinoise in Souciet’s Observations mathématiques, astronomiques, géographiques, chronologiques, et physiques, tome II, Paris, 1732, p. 163ff. An astronomical event in AD 31 is recorded as follows: “Seventh year [of listed solar eclipses in the dynasty of the Eastern Han, which began with the first year of the Chinese Emperor Guangwudi], Third Moon last day Quey-hay [alternatively transcribed Gui-hai], eclipse of the sun, location of the sun 5º within the Constellation Pi.” The constellation Pi was located around what we define as the northern “eye” of Taurus. The day was May 10th AD 31. This eclipse, as confirmed by modern astronomers, was an “annular” or “ring” eclipse, meaning the complete orb of the moon passed in front of the solar disk, leaving only a slight “ring of fire” around the otherwise total blackness of the obscuring disk of the moon.
The relevant entry in the Chinese annals reads: “In the seventh year of Quang-vou-ti [Guangwudi], on the day Quei-hay [Gui-hai], the last of the Third Moon, eclipse of the sun.” Gaubil summarizes the events following and resulting from this eclipse, thus: “After the observing of the eclipse the Emperor [Guangwudi] went into retirement for five days, so he could concentrate his thoughts wholly on his own conduct as regards the governing of his subjects, upon which he issued a decree of which the following is a précis. “The sight of the sun and moon warns us to think on our ways. It is necessary to correct one’s faults and thus preempt the evils with which Heaven threatens us. As for myself, I can scarcely speak, I tremble at the sight of my faults. I require that the Officers of my Court give me their sincere advice in sealed missives, and I require that none give me the title Ching [= “Holy, Sacred”].” In consequence of the imperial directives, the Officers supplied sealed missives to the Emperor. The history has preserved the memoir of that supplied by Tching-hing, and this is what he said: “According to the laws of astronomy, eclipses of the Sun can appear only on the first day of the Moon. While for several years, there have been seen many on the last day of the moon, this comes as a result of the fact that the Moon accelerated its movement [by the huge asteroid impact? — ed.], and thereby the time of the eclipse fell earlier than expected. The Sun is the image of the Sovereign. The Moon is the image of the Subjects. The faults of the latter usually have their origin in those of the former.”
Gaubil continues “... Apart from the first Imperial Edict, the Great Chinese History [Gaubil’s note 1: “Nien-y-sse (Nianyi shi), History of Quang-vou-ti (Guangwudi).”] reports a second Edict issued on May 29 of the same thirty-first year of Jesus Christ, as follows: “The Yn and the Yang [Yin and Yang] are not in accord: the Po-che of the sun and moon makes us aware of the fact.”” Now this entry comes from a different Chinese history and describes a different type of event, that is, an abnormal obscuration of the sun and moon (called Po-che in the annals). It also describes a different response from the astrologers, and an edict issued on a different day (May 29th). Either we have two completely different accounts of the same eclipse in AD 31, which is nonsensical, or we have an abnormal event described here in the Nianyi shi in the form of an omen, based on the astrological advice concerning the immediately preceding annular eclipse.
We proceed to examine the details of the abnormal event referred to in the edict of AD 31. The Yin and Yang were the bipolar principles of the universe: the concepts of down and up, the entities earth and heaven, female and male, ruled and ruler, etc., etc., reflected the omnipresence in nature of the two principles. If the Yin and Yang were not in accord, it meant the universe was in disarray. Guangwudi took the eclipse of AD 31 to be a “warning” of things to come, and, according to the second Edict of AD 31, a sign that the universal laws were, or were in danger of being, in disorder. The word Po-che used to describe the eclipse had a very precise meaning: it was an “eclipse neither on the first, nor on the last day,” (emphasis mine) viz. of the lunar month. It also meant an eclipse “outside the bounds of the ecliptic.” Thus, the eclipse referred to in this second Edict was, indeed, one which broke astronomical laws. The reference is to an abnormal or catastrophic event, and not to the “miscalculated” eclipse of AD 31. Such miscalculated eclipses were only too familiar in the ancient Chinese Court, and not signs, therefore, of universal disorder.
According to Gaubil’s understanding the counselors merely “miscalculated” the eclipse in AD 31: it was due to arrive on the first day of the new lunar month, whereas it actually took place one day earlier, on the last day of the old lunar month, and thus was a “Po-che” of the sun and moon, meaning, according to Gaubil, an “abnormal eclipse” through miscalculation. However the context does not fit this interpretation:
1) If the astrologers miscalculated the eclipse of Guangwudi’s 7th year, and the eclipse was the usual obscuration of the solar disk by the moon at conjunction, it is likely ipso facto they miscalculated other eclipses of the same type. This would be common knowledge in court-circles and would not have led to the conclusion it was a presage of universal disorder.
2) The advisors explicitly confirmed to the Emperor that eclipses on the last day of the month had occurred many times in the past, as though they were playing down the significance of the lack of accuracy in predictions generally regarding last day versus first day eclipses.
3) It is an historical fact that accurate predictions of eclipses (as opposed to accurate observations of eclipses) could not be made at that period in Chinese history.
4) The astrologers’ practice of predicting “false eclipses,” which we will now explain, regardless of the evidence already adduced, will have eroded official confidence in their predictions. Mostly the recorded eclipses in Guangwudi’s reign are “false”, meaning they do not correspond to any computable eclipse. “False” eclipses of this type were entered in the annals for various reasons, among them the following. A solar eclipse was taken by the astrologers to be a bad sign for the emperor, and if the astrologers predicted such an eclipse and it did not happen, then it would be a sign that Heaven had “spared” the emperor. Obviously the astrologers had a vested interest in inventing eclipses which they knew would never materialize, thus pleasing their imperial patron. Such “false” predictions were recorded, along with “genuine” ones, in the annals.
All this argues against the position that the “Po-che” eclipse of the Niany shi was a miscalculated one of the standard type. The very use of the term “Po-che” confirms the same. Gaubil was combating here the contrary view of his fellow Jesuit Bouvet. Bouvet believed the words “Po-che” described an abnormal, supernatural, event which happened in the middle of the lunar month, in fact, the darkness referred in the Gospels in the account of the crucifixion. Gaubil had to admit Bouvet was an expert in Chinese language and terminology.
We are dealing, in other words, with an eclipse-related event of an unusual type, not the standard end-of-the-lunar-month eclipse, described, accordingly, as a “Po-che” of the sun and the moon. “Po-che” at that time meant an eclipse not on the last, nor on the first day of the lunar month (viz. not a standard eclipse of the sun by the moon at conjunction), according to the noted scholar-astrologer Jing Fang in the generation preceding Guangwudi, or, “according to others” (Gaubil’s words), an eclipse outside the boundaries of the ecliptic. It is difficult to say what the last could possibly be, other than an obscuration of the light of the luminaries by a cloud of matter in the sky, spreading beyond the normal path of the sun and moon. This being described as a “Po-che” of the sun and moon, it describes an obscuration of both celestial bodies which occurred neither on the first or last day of the lunar month, that is, not by the passing of the moon in front of the sun at conjunction. Thus it could not have been the eclipse of AD 31 itself, which notably happened on the last day of the lunar month, Gui-hai. Also, since the moon is included in the “Po-che” phrase, it must, if it refers to an eclipse of the moon by the earth’s shadow in the usual fashion, have occurred in the middle of the lunar month at full moon, at which time alone the moon can be eclipsed. If it refers to an obscuration by a cloud of matter it could have occurred any time subsequent to the original eclipse. Either way, it could not have occurred on the last day of the lunar cycle employed in relation to the actual eclipse in AD 31, that is, the day Gui-hai, when the moon was at minimum phase. On the contrary, it is described as a “Po-che” event, and, by definition, this could not have occurred on the last day (or first day) of such a lunar month.
The Po-che event seems then, according to the only understanding possible of the account, and with due weight given to each phrase of it, to comprise an obscuration of the sun and of the moon, referred to in the Chinese annals in the Second Edict, May 29, AD 31. The Chinese astrologers connected the abnormal effects on the luminaries with the eclipse earlier in the month, 10 May AD 31, and the astrological omens of these events were attached together and to the latter in the annals.
The strangest aspect of the Chinese experience is yet to be related. The astrologers in China had a school which interpreted all astronomical events for the benefit of the emperor, and told him what the event “meant” in astrological terms. There was a fixed interpretation for certain events, and there was one for such an occasion as in AD 31, when the sun was obscured on the day Gui-hai, the last day of a lunar cycle. The meaning of such an eclipse was that “a Heavenly Man falls dead,” the particular word for “fall dead” being used of kings and princes. This eclipse in AD 31 occurred on the day Gui-hai. Therefore that, the astrologers believed, is what it meant: a “Heavenly Man falls dead.” The thought amongst the astrologers would be that it was the Emperor himself who was indicated by the sign, and this explains why Guangwudi refused the title “holy” for himself. He must not be the “Heavenly Man” due to fall dead. In the event, the Emperor did not die. Perhaps he believed his ruse had worked, and Heaven had been pleased with his refusal of the title “holy.” Of course, the truth was that the greatest and only genuinely “Heavenly Man” fell dead precisely two years later in AD 33, when the whole universe was thrown into confusion, though the Chinese would remain ignorant of the fact for centuries to come.
It is remarkable that in the account of the Roman
historian Phlegon two events are mentioned in the context of the
supernatural darkness in AD 33: viz. first the eclipse in AD 31 (the
2nd year of the 202nd Olympiad), which, he says, was classed as of
“the unknown” type, and second the abnormal event in AD 33 (the
4th year of the 202nd Olympiad). The latter, however, rather
curiously, is said to have been of “the known” type, in contrast
to the eclipse of AD 31, which was of the “unknown” type.
Philopon understood Phlegon’s phraseology in relation to the first
eclipse of AD 31 to mean that the following supernatural event of AD
33, was, at least prior to its occurrence, also of the “unknown”
type. What does all this mean? Specifically, what is the connection
between the two events and the significance of the reversal of the
unknown/known tag? As already related, an eclipse did occur in AD 31,
preceding the AD 33 event. However, the eclipse of AD 31 was not
visible in the Roman Empire. This means Phlegon’s account,
which included a reference to both events, was derived from a source
outside the Roman Empire where the eclipse of AD 31 could be
observed. As a consultation of the image of the eclipse path shows
(diagram below), this can only have been China. Or rather, one might
say more broadly, the eclipse of AD 31 could be observed across
further Asia, beginning with easterly regions of India and mainly in
China. But Philopon’s phraseology proves they were made in a region
and a circle where eclipses were regularly observed (and ipso
facto recorded), and also to a written account which combined the
solar eclipse with its subsequent abnormal effects contextually. This
points to China as the most probable source, since the Chinese annals
specifically combine the astrologer’s interpretations of the two in
contextual relation to each other. The fulfillment of the omen
extracted from the normal eclipse of AD 31 that a “Heavenly Man
falls dead” was seen in the coming universal upheaval indicated by
the Po-che effects, which was fulfilled perfectly in the next
succeeding and stupendous event in AD 33. In other words the eclipse
of AD 31 was “unknown” to the Romans when it actually occurred.
The abnormal Po-che effects were likewise “unknown” to the Romans
up to AD 33; but thereafter certainly “known,” if not understood.
In China itself the sign of AD 31 was taken by the astrologers to be
“from the Superior Lord.” (Bayer, Theophilus Siegfried, De
Eclipsi Sinica liber singularis Sinorvm De Eclipsi Solis, p. 56.) The
second Edict implies they understood the “Heavenly Man” who
“falls dead,” according to the earlier interpretation, to be, not
the Emperor, — he had,
as it were, recused himself by refusing the title “holy,” —
but the great Chinese Cosmic Adam himself, Pangu, from whose
essence the universe was constructed, and by whom the Yin and Yang
principles were separated. His death, as indicated by the Po-che
effects following the eclipse in AD 31, would throw the universe into
disarray. Oriental magi predicted correctly the birth of the Messiah
by their observations of the stars. Likewise the Chinese court
astrologers, as succeeding events went on to prove, predicted
correctly the amazing display of Divine Love at the crucifixion of
the Messiah, the Cosmic Adam and God-Man, Jesus of Nazareth. Their
observations must have made their way along the Silk Road to Imperial
Rome, where Phlegon was in the service of the Emperor. This is not
surprising in view of the otherwise totally perplexing nature of the
second phenomenon in AD 33, which was observed within and beyond the
Roman Empire, and for which the Chinese scholars happily provided the
Path of the Solar Eclipse May 10 AD 31 (credit: NASA), showing its path through eastern Asia
Details of the Lunar Eclipse, Passover April 3 (Julian = April 1 Gregorian) AD 33:
Beginning of lunar eclipse Jerusalem time (on the modern reckoning): 15h 40m (at Babylon 16h 31m), which corresponds (on the time-scheme used in the Synoptic Gospels, according to this reconstruction, with a loss of one hour in the late afternoon) to 20 minutes before the 9th hour.
Maximum phase of lunar eclipse Jerusalem time: 17h 05m (at Babylon 17h 56m); moonrise at Babylon 18h 18m.
Normal moonrise (on the absolute horizon) at Jerusalem 17h 57m.
Termination of lunar eclipse Jerusalem time: 18h 31m (at Babylon 19h 22m).
Under normal circumstances, the lower rim of the moon would be approximately 6° above absolute eastern horizon at Jerusalem at that time.
Normal sunset at Jerusalem 17h 58m.
Shadow 1.700000 semi-shadow 0.660000
THE HOURS OF THE CRUCIFIXION IN THE 4 GOSPELS:
Matthew 27.45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?.... 50 ¶ Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. 51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; 52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, 53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.... 57 ¶ When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple: 58 He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. 59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.
Mark 15. 22 ¶ And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull. 23 And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not. 24 And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take. 25 And it was the third hour, and they crucified him. 26 And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 27 And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left. 28 And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors. 29 And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, 30 Save thyself, and come down from the cross. 31 Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save. 32 Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him. 33 ¶ And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?.... 7 And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. 38 And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.... 42 ¶ And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. 44 And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. 45 And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre.
Luke 23. 44 ¶ And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. 45 And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. 46 And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.... 50 ¶ And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just: 51 (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. 53 And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid. 54 And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on.
John 19. 13 When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14 And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! 15 But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar. 16 ¶ Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.... 31 ¶ The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs.
TESTIMONY OF THALLUS AND PHLEGON:
Thallus was a historian who wrote some time between AD 33 (as can be deduced from his mention of the catastrophe at the crucifixion, for the dating of which, see below) and AD 180 (when he is cited by Theophilus of Antioch). Phlegon’s floruit was c. AD 140. These references to Thallus and Phlegon are found in an extract from the Chronography of the accurate and respected Julius Africanus (fl. first half of the third century AD), cited by the Byzantine monk George Syncellus
(Syncellus’ Chronographica, p. 609f. ed. Dindorf = ed. Mosshammer p. 391, following the reading of the principal text A, line 16 apparatus, and omitting the [modern] inserted word and immediately following [modern] punctuation at line 17):
“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 an eclipse of the sun, as it appears to me, without good reason. 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 him carry the majority with him; and let this portent of the world be deemed an eclipse of the sun, the identical thing, apparently, Phlegon records [‛en ti kat’opsin Phlegon ‛istorei]: that in the reign of Tiberius Caesar at full moon an eclipse of the sun played out completely from the sixth hour to the ninth, — in obvious similarity to this. 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.”
Immediately following this passage Syncellus quotes Eusebius’ Chronicle verbatim in the original Greek as follows: “Jesus Christ ... underwent his passion in the 18th year of Tiberius [AD 32-33]. 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 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad [AD 32-33], an eclipse of the sun turned out to be the greatest of the known type prior, turning the day at the sixth hour [noon] 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 passage is translated into Latin with no alteration (except superficial and verbal) in Jerome in the fourth century AD (Latin Chronicon) and Anastasius Bibliothecarius c. AD 870 (p. 14 ed. Par.).
Wherever Eusebius obtained this quotation (perhaps from the same kind of compendium he mentions earlier in the passage), this was not all that Phlegon had to say about the “eclipse”, as is clear from the passage of Phlegon epitomized about a hundred years earlier than Eusebius in Africanus, and from the passages from Phlegon summarized by Origen and other writers (below). In Eusebius’ quotation only the sixth hour is mentioned, in Africanus’ epitome the sixth to the ninth hour. Also Africanus’ citation mentions the fact that the moon was “full”. This proves that the crucifixion event was not a normal eclipse of the sun and that it did, indeed, as Eusebius’ quotation puts it, excel “every other [eclipse] before it.”
Phlegon in Eusebius confirms the concomitant shock-wave which caused severe damage in Nicaea Bithynia. Of course, Phlegon’s local reference here does not mean the damage was limited to that locality, but only that the records he had available to him, like those in the unidentified compendium, related to Nicaea. In Origen’s summary, Phlegon refers to “great earthquakes” plural, though Origen seems to be quoting from memory. We have the evidence in the Gospels and early Christian literature that earthquakes also affected Judaea and Heliopolis (as witnessed by Dionysius the Areopagite) in Egypt. According to Orosius (Hist. VII. 4) “during that horrid night [of the abnormal darkness] the stars appeared all over the sky. This is attested to not only by the authority of the Gospels, but also by several books of the Greek writers. — It is also true that Tiberius made those cities [plural] free from tribute, and gave them their own liberty, which had been thrown down in this earthquake.” In a work of the 7th century AD De Mirabilibus Sanctae Scripturae (Lib. II, cap. iii, Augustini Opera, tom. III, Antwerp, 1700, id. op., col. 13) ascribed to Augustine, it is stated: “In that earthquake which happened when Christ suffered [on the cross], eleven [sc. cities] in Thrace [northern Greece] were demolished.” Our sources do not allow to track the damage outside of those regions, though the apocryphal Acts of Pilate [below] refer to the “swallowing up” of the whole world by the infernal regions, which seems to be something more than a description of an earthquake.
Both Phlegon and the compendium quoted by Eusebius confirm the dating of the crucifixion to AD 33, as the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad and the 18th year of Tiberius exclude AD 30, but include AD 32 and AD 33, and, further, AD 32 is excluded because Passover was not a Friday that year. The earliest date is that provided by Phlegon, described as the “distinguished reckoner of Olympiads”, viz. the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad, which is summer (conventionally 1 July) AD 32 to summer (conventionally 30 June) AD 33. During that Olympiadic year there was only one Passover, viz. Nisan 14 = 3rd April AD 33, and this must be the date indicated by Phlegon. Eusebius’ custom in his Chronicle was to equate Olympiadic years with the Julian years (January 1 to December 31) in which they began (Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, 1998, §320, like Dionysius of Halicarnassus, ibid. §191). So Phlegon’s 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad, which was properly summer AD 32 to summer AD 33, Eusebius equated with the Julian year AD 32 (not AD 33), and hence with the 18th (not the more correct 19th) year of Tiberius. In later Christian chronicles this conventional chronology of Eusebius predominated over the more precise chronology of Phlegon, though Phlegon’s dating to the 19th year of Tiberius was retained in the Armenian translation of the Chronicle of Eusebius, in Philopon and in Cedrenus, etc.
The account of Phlegon is summarized as follows by Origen, a friend of Africanus:
“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)
[Phlegon mentioned Jesus also in connection with his foreknowledge in the same part of his work: “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.)]
The Chronicon Paschale [this part of it not later than AD 354] cites Phlegon twice in the same form (pp. 219, 222, ed. Cang.), ibid. p. 219: “The pagans had taken notice of this year [viz. the year of the crucifixion], mentioning expressly an earthquake as happening at the time, and particularly Phlegon, the collector of Olympiads. For in his 13th book he says thus under the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad: an eclipse of the sun turned out to be the greatest of the known type prior, and night came on at the 6th hour of the day, so that even the stars became visible. A great earthquake struck in Bithynia. This is the account of that notable man, who recognized the abnormality of the solar eclipse.”
Philopon, a Christian Neo-Platonist, fl. 6th century AD (De Mundi Creatione, ed. Corderius, 1630, II. 21, p. 88f.) wrote, “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.” A little further on Philopon says (ibid. p. 89): “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.”
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.” [Latin: “... Dominus noster Jesus Christus passus est ... et defectio solis facta est, qualis ante vel postmodum nunquam fuit.”] (On the irregular dating of the crucifixion in this last chronicle to 25th March, see further, Appendix 7 of “The First Church of Rome” on The Pre-Nicene Dating of the Birth and Death of Jesus.)
The Historia Miscella c. AD 784, Lib. VII, cap. xxiv ed. p. 227: “A number of Greek writers attest to this referring to it as having happened in the 19th year of Tiberius. Writing amongst other things Phlegon also, who sets forth in order the Olympiads on these matters, in the 13th discourse records this in the identical words: Further in the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad a failure [defectio] of the sun turned out to be the greatest [known], and night came on at the 6th hour of the day, so that even the stars became visible in the heavens. Also a great earthquake struck Bithynia, and overthrew the greatest part of Nicaea.”
Freculphus Lexoviensis, c. AD 824, Chron. Tom. II Lib. I. c. 6: “Phlegon, who is a notable compiler of Olympiads, also wrote on these subjects, saying this in the 13th book: “Now in the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad, a failure [defectio] of the sun turned out to be greater than and outstanding above all other which had happened before; the sun was completely obscured at the 6th hour of the day, and a fearsome night descended on the lands, as also it is said: ‘The impious world feared eternal night.’ Such was the effect that it was demonstrable neither moon nor clouds had blocked the light of the sun, as that being the 14th day of the moon, the whole expanse of the sky stood between, it being then far off from the same line of sight with the sun,” and he refers to the stars’ having shined out bright at that time in the daylight hours, or rather in that horrendous night, throughout the whole sky. Also, as we mentioned above, the city of Nicaea in Bithynia was shaken by an earthquake, which overturned many buildings, and the tribute from the rest of the cities of Asia that were destroyed in the earthquake were remitted by the Emperor. This according to the aforesaid man.” etc. ....”
TESTIMONY OF THE ACTS OF PILATE :
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.”
TESTIMONY OF THE GOSPEL OF PETER
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.
”5. [The crucifixion is in progress at this point in the narrative] 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.”
TESTIMONY OF THE PUBLIC ARCHIVES IN PAGAN ROME AND OF PILATE’S LETTER TO TIBERIUS:
Tertullian (fl. 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. [XXI. 19: “Et tamen suffixus multa mortis illius propria ostendit insignia. Nam spiritum cum verbo sponte dimisit, praevento carnificis officio. Eodem momento dies medium orbem signante sole subducta est. Deliquium utique putaverunt qui id quoque super Christo praedicatum non scierunt. Et tamen eum mundi casum relatum in arcanis vestris habetis.”] 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.” It has been noted in this connection “Great stress is to be placed on the fact that Tertullian was probably a jurisconsult, 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.”
Philopon (De opif. mund. II. 21, p. 88) wrote, “That Phlegon’s eclipse is no other, than that which happened at the crucifixion of our Lord Christ, — is proved from the history itself of Tiberius Caesar. [My emphasis.] For Phlegon says ... etc.”
ON THE PHYSICAL POSSIBILITY OF A RAPID POLE SHIFT AND RETURN
There seems to be evidence that precisely the kind of catastrophe it is suggested here took place in AD 33 can take place and has taken place. Einstein, no less, was inclined to accept the evidence that polar shift had occurred in the relatively recent geological past (in the Pleistocene). Attached here (PDF — to download, right-click and select “Save Target As...”) is a paper on this subject. It suggests a quite small asteroid, say 1000 meters across (smaller than the Arizona meteor crater!), or even 500 meters across, could tilt the earth to a PERMANENT new position on its axis if the torque produced by the angle of impact was sufficient and the gravitational pull of the sun and moon at the time was in the right direction. Also it describes an alternative scenario in which the sun and moon were in a different position and the effect of the asteroid impact would then be REVERSED (completely or otherwise) after a short period of time. I.e. the earth would tilt and then tilt back again, the damage in that case being limited to the immediate destruction caused by the impact. The same paper suggests this huge movement could take place over a few days or even a few HOURS (exactly as in AD 33, on the proposed reconstruction.) The paper describes catastrophic effects accompanying a tilt of about 20 degrees, but only for a situation in which the tilt remained permanent. The author says the most catastrophic effects would only gradually build up in that case, the main devastation, apart from extensive earthquake and volcanic damage, being by tidal flooding and wind. A temporary tilt — of the kind he says would occur if the sun and moon were not pulling in the same direction as the torque produced by impact, and of the kind it is suggested here took place in AD 33 — would not allow time for the buildup of effects of the same tremendously catastrophic magnitude. The sun and moon in AD 33 were actually pulling in opposite directions, as the moon was full at that time. Also this paper presumes that human life continued after even a permanent tilt of the earth in the Pleistocene, and conditions under the alternative scenario of a temporary tilt and return to at or near the original axis are less devastating.