How do we calculate backwards to the total solar eclipse that occurred when Jesus died on an afternoon in 33 CE? Has it ever been published?
Kyle Davison Bair (Master of Divinity in The Bible & Teaching, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) wrote this piece on Quora and has kindly allowed me at my request to share it with my audience as a guest post, please check out his site and his books, which seem to be absolutely first rate.
This is going to be fun.
The darkness at the time of Jesus’ Crucifixion gives us solid proof — either of the Bible lying or the Bible recording a remarkable truth. The Bible describes two spectacular events on the day of Jesus’ Crucifixion.
Listen to how Mark describes the first: “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour” (Mark 15:33 NIV).
If darkness covered the entire land, it would be visible to more than those in Jerusalem. Everybody around the Roman Empire should have seen something, if it was real.
The second event likewise would be visible everywhere. Joel prophesied it and Peter quoted it:
“This is what was spoken about through the prophet Joel: […] ‘I will perform wonders in the sky above […] The sun will be changed to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and glorious day of the Lord comes. And then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ […] Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know.”
(Acts 2:16, 19–22)
A blood moon occurs during a lunar eclipse. As with the darkness, it should be widely visible, if indeed it happened during Jesus’ crucifixion — as Peter indicates it did.
If we find nothing in the historical record, then it appears the Bible lied.
But do find this in the historical record — well, then things get interesting.
So what do we find?
Thallus was one of the first to write about the darkness at the time of the Crucifixion, writing at about 52 AD/CE. His original work has been lost, but Julius Africanus, an historian who wrote around 221 A.D., quotes Thallus to disagree with him:
‘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.’
Both of Thallus and Julius attest to the darkness as a real event, so much so that they can bicker about the cause.
Phlegon, a Greek historian and author of a detailed chronology in 137 AD/CE, wrote:
“In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad (33 AD/CE) there was ‘the greatest eclipse of the sun’ and that ‘it became night in the sixth hour of the day [noon] so that stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea.'”
This one is especially handy, as it corroborates the exact year and time of day for the darkness, as well as and the earthquake.
Africanus also wrote a five-volume history of the world c. 221 AD/CE. His account is particularly noteworthy both for its length and for his credibility; he had impressed Roman Emperor Alexander Severus so well with his historical rigor that he was put in charge of the Emperor’s library in the Pantheon; in other words, he was the most well-known, influential, and well-resourced historian in the Empire.
While I quoted him briefly above to highlight Thallus’ contribution, Africanus’ full paragraph adds a great deal more detail:
“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 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 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 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.”
This one additionally is valuable given that it mentions the resurrection of the dead and again the earthquake, in addition to the darkness.
Tertullian (second century) also provides a remarkable attestation, writing:
“At the moment of Christ’s death, the light departed from the sun, and the land was darkened at noonday, which wonder is related in your own annals, and is preserved in your archives to this day.”
Not only does Tertullian attest to it, but he appeals to how well-recorded the event is in established historical archives of the time. This is perhaps the most significant attribution, given that he cites how extensively the event was recorded and appeals to the public records to prove his point.
The darkness, then, is well-established.
What then do we find about a blood moon?
It turns out that a lunar eclipse did happen on exactly the day the darkness was recorded: April 3, 33 A.D./C.E.
A view of the partial lunar eclipse on August 7, 2017 as seen from Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. Credit and copyright: Leonard Ellul-Mercer.
The precise data on the partial lunar eclipses of April 3, 33 A.D./C.E.
This blood moon during the day of Jesus’ Crucifixion was so well-known that writers in the early church appealed to it frequently.
Skeptics have long scoffed at these details in the Bible. But like most details in the Scriptures, when you dig into the research, you find the claims verified.
The Bible is not a book of cleverly-invented myths. It records real events that happened in real history. The more we press into the individual details, the more we find them verified.