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From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land... And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split" (Matthew 27:45, 50-51).

As a Christian of the Protestant persuasion, I do not doubt the truth of these words. But how do I respond to detractors who claim there is no evidence of the curtain in the temple being torn in two?

I am interested in evidence from Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant sources.

  • Just a note: it's fair to ask in response what particular sort of evidence the detractor is expecting, and then ask the detractor why that expectation is realistic. I note for example that detractors will make a big deal over the "lengthy" gap -- twenty years or more -- between the events of the gospels and the committing of those events to a written record. Yet much longer gaps exist between the lives of other major historical figures and their earliest known biographies... and thus the detractors are putting out a contrived and unrealistic expectation. – JDM-GBG Apr 19 at 21:24
  • Any recorded historical sources (apart from the gospel testimonies) would be good. There is no objection regarding the dates of the gospel accounts. – Lesley Apr 20 at 7:22
  • The point though is whether the detractors' expectation of other sources is a reasonable expectation. There are any number of ancient historical events that are recorded by only one surviving source (let alone three), but their veracity isn't questioned; so why make this an exception for special scrutiny? And as Nigel J pointed out, Romans would not have been privy to the information, and the Jewish religious leadership had a strong motive to say nothing about it. – JDM-GBG Apr 20 at 19:28
  • You read too much into my question. I am not making this biblical account “an exception for special scrutiny” – it’s a straight-forward and honest question asking whether there is any historical record to explain the extraordinary events that resulted in the heavy curtain in the temple being rent in two. Nigel’s answer is reasonable and acceptable. So is Anne’s. Can you contribute something useful? – Lesley Apr 21 at 16:28
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    You asked, "How do I respond to detractors who claim there is no evidence of the curtain in the temple being torn in two?" My response, per my original comment: "Respond by asking what evidence they expect, and why they expect it -- because their expectations might not be reasonable." Sorry if I made it sound like I was talking to you directly, I was trying to explain what I would say to these particular detractors. – JDM-GBG Apr 24 at 23:31
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It is desirable in any important matter to have strong testimony to a fact.

As a Protestant, my primary source is always the scripture and it is scripture itself which advises that one should have strong testimony in all important matters viz :

At the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established. [Deuteronomy 19:15 KJV.]

In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. [II Corinthians 13:1 KJV.]

In the case of the veil of the temple being ripped from the top to the bottom there are three witnesses to the fact. They are competent witnesses as their published writing demonstrates : intelligent men capable of presenting data in exceptional clarity and reporting matters in highly structured form.

  1. Matthew 27:51

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;

  1. Mark 15:38

And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.

  1. Luke 23:46

And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.

These are the facts of the case.

This is the three fold evidence and testimony.

And these are the very men who have 'turned the world upside down', Acts 17:6, whose words reverberate around the world to this very day.


One would not expect the Romans to document this fact since they were not permitted access to the inner precincts of the temple. Only priests could enter that part of the temple.

And one would not anticipate reliable testimony from the Jews (of the period) when one looks at the behaviour of the hierarchy - lying in order to murder Jesus of Nazareth, bribery in recruiting Judas to betray Jesus of Nazareth and coercion in forcing Pilate's hand to execute Jesus of Nazareth by Roman authority.

One would expect such people to hush this matter up and to secretly repair the damage and to carry on as if nothing had happened.

But the three faithful witnesses did testify honestly, and risked their lives to do so. Soon after the event, eleven men - Matthew among them - shut themselves indoors, for fear of the Jews, John 20:19. Mark was close to Peter, who was, himself, crucified. And both Mark and Luke were closely associated with Paul, who was executed by Nero.

  • People will argue, especially in light of the similarities of wording between Matthew and Mark, that Matthew and Luke both took this material from Mark. Is that something your answer will attend to? – Matt Gutting Apr 20 at 14:21
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    @MattGutting I do not think that is strong enough evidence. Matthew wrote much earlier than either Luke or Mark, in any case, according to what I have read and according to what is clearly the timing of their ministries. – Nigel J Apr 21 at 18:11
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    @Nigel J I'm glad you got the green tick because I failed to mention the immense worth of the eye witness accounts of Jesus' death. The documents they wrote are historic records, yet so many dismiss them as made-up stories! As a Protestant, I believe those accounts to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, no less, who taught the disciples and reminded them, as Jesus promised He would do, after Jesus returned to Heaven - John 14:26. – Anne Apr 25 at 15:41
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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 a large 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, paragraphs 6502 & 6503).

Here is the link to the entire works of Ussher’s Annals of the World – go to paragraph 6479 for the events surrounding the crucifixion. http://gospelpedlar.com/articles/Bible/Usher.pdf

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).

That does not constitute proof about the tapestry-like curtain being rent from top to bottom (a 60 foot drop) but it is evidence outwith the New Testament of some events associated with the day Jesus died. An unnatural darkness descended at noon. As it lasted three hours, it could not have been an eclipse, but it does verify a strange and powerful darkness mid-day. And the gospels also speak of tombs being opened up and some in them being seen walking in the city - an earthquake would fit in with tombs being opened and contents thrown out though not with the Christian point about dead ones walking in the city. Only the New Testament sees this as "many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people." (Matthew 17:51-53) Matthew certainly did not crib that from Mark.

  • Interesting and useful information regarding events pertaining to the crucifixion. Thanks for the link to Ussher's Annals of the World. As you say, the earthquake does not constitute proof that the curtain was rent from top to bottom, but it does give external and historical evidence in support of what is recorded in the Bible. – Lesley Apr 25 at 15:29
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The answer to your straight-forward question is, there is no known evidence, other than what is recorded in the three gospel accounts (Matt 27:51, Mark 15:38, and Luke 23:45) that the curtain of the Temple was torn in two at the death of Christ.

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