3 Hours of Darkness



I know it might be difficult with winter looming, but imagine for a second that it is a beautiful spring day.  It is your day off from work and you’re outside enjoying the glorious sunshine.  As noon arrives, it quickly gets dark out.  Not just the kind of dark that happens when a thunderstorm rolls in, but dark like midnight.  In fact, it is so dark that you can see stars in the sky.  This darkness lasts for three full hours until 3pm and then the sun comes back out.

Now if this really did happen, don’t you think this phenomenon would be recorded in history?  Of course it would.  And how would you explain it?  Solar eclipse?  An act of God?

Well this did actually happen about two thousand years ago, and it was recorded in history by several historians.  Three of these were gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  We will get back to them in a minute.  But another three were not.  These guys are going to be the focus now.  Their rock star names are Thallus, Phlegon, and Africanus.  Their job, as historians employed by their government, was to document and try to explain why for 3 hours in the middle of the day in 33 AD, it got completely dark.  Let’s meet them!

We’ll start with Thallus.  Thallus was a historian, who in AD 52, decided to write a history of the eastern Mediterranean world since the Trojan War.  He was not a Christian.  Now, we have no record directly of his history books, but that is alright because a lot of his historical writing was quoted in books that we do have.  One of these we do have now that does quote from Thallus is from a historian named Africanus.  Slightly confused?

Let me give you an example.  Let’s say someone writes a book.  I will just throw out a random name off the top of my head… Mike Brumm.  Let’s say Mike Brumm writes a book entitled “How to Twerk.”  Unfortunately, after many years, all of Mike’s books were destroyed in a tragic twerking accident.  We are in luck though.  Jeremy Stimack has also written a book on the subject called “Twerking for Dummies”.  And in this book, he has already referenced many of Mike’s twerking techniques.  So let’s say many years pass and for some strange reason you’d like to learn more about this ancient art of twerking.  You go to the Library and find Jeremy’s book.  Not only are you going to learn from Jeremy’s knowledge on the subject, you’re going to learn from Mike as well, since his techniques are referenced in it.

The same applies to these to these historians.  Even though the historical works of Thallus have been lost, his material was referenced by Africanus in books that we do have now.  So, what is the subject matter in which Thallus and Africanus are writing about?  They are both documenting and trying to figure out why, starting at noon on a spring day in 33 AD, for three hours it got completely dark.

But these two weren’t the only ones trying to figure this out.  Meet famous Greek historian Phlegon of Tralles.  He was definitely NOT a Christian.  His task was a daunting one.  Write a history book which starts from the first Olympiad (677 BC) and went all the way to the current (at the time) Olympiad (137 AD).  This impressive work was actually 16 books long.  Sort of like an encyclopedia.

Here is an expert from Phlegon:  In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad (i.e., AD 33) there was ‘the greatest eclipse of the sun’ and that ‘it became night in the sixth hour of the day [i.e., noon] so that stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea.’

Hold up a second.  Where have I heard this before?  AD 33.  Noon.  Became night.  Great earthquake.  Let’s go to Matthew chapter 27 which describes Jesus dying on the cross:

Verse 45:  From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.

Woah.  How about Mark chapter 15.

Verse 33:  At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.

Woah again.  How about Luke chapter 23.

Verses 44-45:  It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining.

Matthew, in his account, continues the story of Jesus on the cross in verses 46-54.

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi,[c] lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[d]

 47When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

 48Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

 50And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

 51At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. 52The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

 54When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

Boy, that sure sounds a lot like the secular historian Phlegon’s account of the day becoming night and great earthquakes occurring.  Even the exact time of day is agreed upon by the gospels and non-Christian historical writings.  I don’t know about you, but this totally blew me away!

There is more.  Two of our historians, Phlegon and Thallus, tried their best to explain how this miracle happened.  Did you notice it in Phlegon’s history book?  there was ‘the greatest eclipse of the sun’.  How else do you explain it being dark in the middle of the day?  But there are HUGE problems with this theory.  First, this event was documented by the apostles and historians as lasting three hours.  The longest possible time a solar eclipse can last is 7 minutes.  Also, this happened near the time of the Passover, which occurred at a full moon.  Pause for a second right here.  If you didn’t figure it out, it is a 100 percent impossibility for there to be a solar eclipse at the same time as a full moon.

Our last historian, Africanus, agrees.  Around AD 221, Africanus wrote a five volume History of the World.  He converted to Christianity as an adult.  His historical knowledge was so impressive that Roman Emperor Alexander Servus gave him the official responsibility of building his library at the Pantheon in Rome.  Here is what he wrote…

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.

I am blown away by this account, written 1,800 years ago!  What is Africanus saying?  He is saying that the explanation Thallus and Phlegon give of a solar eclipse is bull.  He explains why it is a physical impossibility for there to be an eclipse of the sun around a full moon.  Then he takes it even further.  He says, OK, even IF a solar eclipse was possible, that doesn’t explain the earthquake, rending rocks, and resurrection of the dead!

So, what is it that we have here?  If it isn’t a solar eclipse, what actually happened?  What caused the sun to darken so much to the point where the stars came out?  Well, I think we can make a pretty educated guess.  Before Jesus died on the cross, he bore the sins of the world on his shoulders.  Your sins.  My sins.  For the first time in the life of Jesus, God turned his back to him.  Oh, how God’s heart must have ached when his son cried out, “My God, My God.  Why have you forsaken me?”

I believe God darkened the sun to demonstrate his mourning and his power.  When Jesus breathed his last breath, all hell broke loose.  Earthquakes shattered rocks and tore the temple in two.  People who were dead climbed out of their tomb.  Even the guards and centurion who were previously mocking Jesus and telling him to come down if he is really the son of God believed when they saw these signs.  “Surely he was the Son of God!”

God demonstrated his power by darkening the sun for three hours, then he again demonstrated his power by raising his son from the dead after three days!  So, solar eclipse?  I don’t think so.  God showing off his power in a very real way?  I think yes!

Thank you so much for your support and taking the time to read this!  May your faith be strengthened brothers and sisters.  I would love comments and questions.  God bless!

Jon Prior


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