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The Scriptures record that there was three hours of darkness during the crucifixion of Jesus. This is a pretty significant meteorological event. Furthermore, the morning of Jesus' resurrection, the Scriptures indicate that there was an earthquake. Additionally, when Jesus died, the current of the Temple was apparently torn in two.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. Matthew 27:45 ESV

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. Matthew 27:51 ESV

I don't know if there are historical records of any earthquakes, eclipses, or such things in any of antiquity. Yet, I am indeed curious to know if there are, and, if so, if there are any secular historical records that could match up to these events that surrounded the death of resurrection of Christ.

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related: Was there an eclipse just before Jesus died? –  Mike Feb 13 '13 at 4:00
    
I remembered having seen a similar question on eclipse part which is answered here. –  Seek forgiveness Feb 13 '13 at 4:01

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Taylor & Francis which is in publication of scholarly information of the highest quality and publishes books in Science, Built Environment, Humanities, Social Science, Education, Health, Behavioral Science, and other professional subjects, published “International Geology Review study” authored by Jefferson B. Williamsa, Markus J. Schwabb & A. Brauerb which confirms an early first-century earthquake in the Dead Sea.

Abstract

This article examines a report in the 27th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament that an earthquake was felt in Jerusalem on the day of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. We have tabulated a varved chronology from a core from Ein Gedi on the western shore of the Dead Sea between deformed sediments due to a widespread earthquake in 31 BC and deformed sediments due to an early first-century earthquake. The early first-century seismic event has been tentatively assigned a date of 31 AD with an accuracy of ±5 years. Plausible candidates include the earthquake reported in the Gospel of Matthew, an earthquake that occurred sometime before or after the crucifixion and was in effect ‘borrowed’ by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, and a local earthquake between 26 and 36 AD that was sufficiently energetic to deform the sediments at Ein Gedi but not energetic enough to produce a still extant and extra-biblical historical record. If the last possibility is true, this would mean that the report of an earthquake in the Gospel of Matthew is a type of allegory.

Other links are here: http://www.deadseaquake.info/

About the darkness:

There are two possibilities:

  1. As reported by Discovery News, Jefferson B. Williamsa had intended to investigate if dust storm deposits coincided with the early this first century Jerusalem region earthquake leading to this darkness.

  2. As per Wiki, Humphreys and Waddington of Oxford University reconstructed the Jewish calendar in the first century AD and arrived at the conclusion that Friday April 3 33AD was the date of the Crucifixion. Humphreys and Waddington went further and also reconstructed the scenario for a lunar eclipse on that day. They concluded that:

"This eclipse was visible from Jerusalem at moonrise. .... The start of the eclipse was invisible from Jerusalem, being below the horizon. The eclipse began at 3:40pm and reached a maximum at 5:15pm, with 60% of the moon eclipsed. This was also below the horizon from Jerusalem. The moon rose above the horizon, and was first visible from Jerusalem at about 6:20pm (the start of the Jewish Sabbath and also the start of Passover day in A.D. 33) with about 20% of its disc in the umbra of the earth's shadow and the remainder in the penumbra. The eclipse finished some thirty minutes later at 6:50pm."

The arguments against this:

  1. But eclipses are too brief to account for the crucifixion darkness. The length of the crucifixion darkness described by biblical and extra-biblical sources was more than a full order of magnitude for the totality of eclipses.

  2. Jesus' crucifixion took place around Passover, the middle of the lunar month and the time of a full moon. Solar eclipses naturally take place only at the time of the new moon.

Miracle

For these two reasons, medieval commentators viewed the darkness as a miraculous event rather than a natural one. Because it was known in medieval times that a solar eclipse could not take place during Passover, it was considered a miraculous sign rather than a naturally occurring event.

To some extent we have a flicker of evidence that these two events did take place in 33 AD. Even then they are difficult to fully explain in scientific terms as both these accounts suggest.

But, if we were to completely explain these two phenomenon of earthquake and darkness that occurred during this time of period as scientific events, then we cannot link it to something unusual that was happening on the cross and that is dying of Son of God to save sinners.

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Re the second half of this - it seems they pre-suppose the darkness occurred, which perhaps deviates a little from the original question –  Marc Gravell Feb 14 '13 at 12:07

There are no original references to this darkness outside of the New Testament. Josephus mentions Jesus, at least in retrospect, but makes no mention of a strange period of darkness at the time of the Passover. A historian named Thallus is reported to have said that an eclipse of the sun occurred at the appropriate time, but we do not know when Thallus lived. Given that a contemporary could not have mistaken a three-hour period of total darkness for a solar eclipse, Thallus probably relied on Christian tradition for his information, and was merely trying to discredit it.

In Antiquities of the Jews Book V chapter 5, Josephus describes the temple curtain and the curtain to the Holy of Holies in some detail, with no suggestion of earlier damage or repair.

A common view in modern scholarship is that the account in the synoptic gospels is a literary creation of the gospel writers, intended to heighten the importance of what they saw as a theologically significant event.

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Julius Africanus was an early third century Christian historian. He says that a pagan historian named Thallus mentions the darkness that occurred during Jesus' crucifixion, and that Thallus explained it as an eclipse. However, Africanus correctly notes that an eclipse is not possible during the Jewish Passover when Jesus was crucified (see http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf06.v.v.xviii.html).

Africanus also mentions another historian named Phlegon who wrote about the darkness and earthquake. James Ussher, in his Annals of the World (first published in 1658), writes: "“Phlegon stated that in the 19th year of Tiberius (as Eustathius Antiochus noted in Hexaemeron) and the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad (that is 33 AD), the following events took place... 'There was the largest and most famous eclipse that had ever occurred. The day was so turned into night at the sixth hour (noon), that the stars were seen. Also, an earthquake in Bithynia destroyed many houses in the city of Nicaea’” (Annals of the World 6503).

In addition, Pliny the Elder, a first century Roman historian and naturalist, wrote that "“[t]he largest earthquake happened in the principate of Tiberius Caesar when twelve cities in Asia Minor were razed to the ground in one night” (Pliny's Natural History 38).

So, while there are secular accounts of the darkness and earthquake, they are quoted and preserved by Christian writers (with the exception of Pliny's writings, which were preserved independently; yet, Pliny doesn't date the earthquake except to say it was during Tiberius' reign).

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