Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

From noon to three, the whole earth was dark. (Matt 27:45, MSG)

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. (Matt 27:45, KJV)

This is a bold claim that few would make if it did not indeed happen. Do we have any extra-biblical records of this event, such as from the Romans or the Jews?

share|improve this question

marked as duplicate by David Aug 25 '14 at 17:28

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Phlegon freedman of the emperor Adrian was born at Tralles in Lydia. He was author of several works one of which was entitled "The Olympiads" or "A Collection of Olympiads and Chronicles" in sixteen books. It was a kind of general history of the world from the first to the two hundred and twenty ninth Olympiad or to the times of Adrian.

"In the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad, there was a great eclipse of the Sun, greater than had ever been known before, for at the sixth hour the day was changed into night, and the stars were seen in the heavens. An earthquake occurred in Bythinia and overthrew a great part of the city of Nicæa."

Phlegon of Tralles

Africanus quoted a section of Phlegon's work as follows: "During the time of Tiberius Cæsar an eclipse of the sun occurred during the Full Moon."

A pagan historian by the name of Thallus, who lived shortly after the resurrection of Christ, wrote concerning a miraculous darkness that covered the earth at the Passover of A.D. 32 and attempted to explain it as an eclipse of the sun. Julius Africanus in A.D. 215, wrote concerning this historian's assertions, "Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun - unreasonably as it seems to me." Julius contends, and modern astronomers confirm, that the Paschal full moon in which the Passover occurred (the Passover in which Christ was crucified) could not have been eclipsed.

share|improve this answer
Is there a copy of this online anywhere by chance? where would someone find this? thanks – Jeremy H Aug 23 '14 at 19:37

There is no conclusive evidence as they did not have gold plated digital information storage guaranteed to last for millennia and vaults dug so deep in the earth that they surely would survive the worst of wars.

Josephus did not so write but Thallus may have we dont really know:

Thallus (Greek: Θαλλός), was an early historian who wrote in Koine Greek. Some scholars believe that his work can be interpreted as the earliest reference to Crucifixion darkness supporting the historical Jesus in the Gospels, and argue that it was written about 20 years after the Crucifixion. He wrote a three-volume history of the Mediterranean world from before the Trojan War to the 167th Olympiad, c. 112-109 BC. Most of his work, like the vast majority of ancient literature, perished, but not before parts of his writings were repeated by Sextus Julius Africanus in his History of the World.

-wiki Thallus

share|improve this answer

One Roman writer, Thallus, apparently acknowledged the darkness. He explained it as an eclipse of the sun, presumably to discredit the Christian claims of a miraculous event. Thallus' work is believed to have been written about 52 AD, so it is an important witness to early knowledge of the darkness to the extent we can validate the claim that Thallus wrote about it.

Unfortunately we have none of Thallus' actual words, and only a brief quote from Africanus (about 220 AD) who pointed out that the solar eclipse claim was wrong.

Here is how one site describes Thallus' testimony:

Thallus, a historian writing in AD. 52, wrote to deny any supernatural elements accompanying the Crucifixion . Though his writings are lost to us, we have the quotations of other later writers. The writing of Thallus shows that the facts of Jesus’ death were known and discussed in Rome as early as the middle of the first century, to the extent that unbelievers like Thallus thought it necessary to explain the matter of the darkness as something natural. He took the existence of Christ for granted. Neither Jesus, nor the darkness at his death, were ever denied. At the time of his writing, unbelievers had already been explaining the darkness at the time of the Crucifixion as a purely natural phenomenon.

That page also mentions Africanus who commented on Thallus and also quoted Phlegon of Tralles who recorded the date of an event of darkness.

For a much better "chain of evidence" demonstrating the probability of Thallus' comments, see William Lane Craig on the subject.

According to Dr. Craig, Georgius Syncellus' Chronicle from about the year 800 quotes church father Julius Africanus as writing:

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

I have not determined to what extent Phlegon's work might be an independent verification that unusual darkness occurred, and when. He does give a year which should be convertible, but first we would need to evaluate the evidence that he was accurately quoted by Africanus and others.

share|improve this answer

In addition to the other insightful answers, the Book of Mormon records intense earthquakes, fires, and tempest for three hours followed by three days of darkness in the Americas at the time of Christ's death (3 Nephi 8). In reference to caseyr547's answer, the Book of Mormon was, ironically, recorded on gold plates and stored in the earth to keep it safe from wars for millennia.

share|improve this answer
I didn't down-vote your answer, but I kind of agree with the down-vote, so, since the down-voter didn't provide an explanation for their vote, I'll explain why I don't think your answer is applicable... – Steven Doggart Aug 25 '14 at 13:49
You make a very interesting point, and it does technically apply since the Book of Mormon is technically extra-biblical. However, based on the larger context of the question, it seems obvious to me that the goal of the question is to find a secular, non-inspired account, such as something that would be convincing to a non-believer. Since the Book of Mormon is something which would fall into the "inspired" category, and would, at that, only be considered to be truly inspired by Mormons themselves, it seems unlikely to be useful to the OP. – Steven Doggart Aug 25 '14 at 13:51
@StevenDoggart - Fair analysis of the question. I took the literal interpretation where the Book of Mormon is technically extra-biblical. I think it's a particularly interesting example in light of caseyr547's answer. – Calvin Aug 25 '14 at 19:33

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.