The Darkness At The Crucifixion

The Luke narrator informs us that at the time of the death of Christ

Jesus, the sun was darkened, and there was darkness over the earth from

the sixth until the ninth hour; also the veil of the temple was rent in

the midst.[206:1]

The Matthew narrator, in addition to this, tells us that:

"The earth did quake, and the rocks were rent, and the graves

were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,

and came out of their graves . . . and went into the holy

city and appeared unto many."[206:2]

"His star" having shone at the time of his birth, and his having been

born in a miraculous manner, it was necessary that at the death of

Christ Jesus, something miraculous should happen. Something of an

unusual nature had happened at the time of the death of other

supernatural beings, therefore something must happen at his death;

the myth would not have been complete without it. In the words of

Viscount Amberly: "The darkness from the sixth to the ninth hour, the

rending of the temple veil, the earthquake, the rending of the rocks,

are altogether like the prodigies attending the decease of other great


The Rev. Dr. Geikie, one of the most orthodox writers, says:[206:4]

"It is impossible to explain the origin of this darkness.

The passover moon was then at the full, so that it could not

have been an eclipse. The early Fathers, relying on a notice

of an eclipse that seemed to coincide in time, though it

really did not, fancied that the darkness was caused by it,

but incorrectly."

Perhaps "the origin of this darkness" may be explained from what we

shall now see.

At the time of the death of the Hindoo Saviour Crishna, there came

calamities and bad omens of every kind. A black circle surrounded the

moon, and the sun was darkened at noon-day; the sky rained fire and

ashes; flames burned dusky and livid; demons committed depredations on

earth; at sunrise and sunset, thousands of figures were seen skirmishing

in the air; spirits were to be seen on all sides.[207:1]

When the conflict began between Buddha, the Saviour of the World, and

the Prince of Evil, a thousand appalling meteors fell; clouds and

darkness prevailed. Even this earth, with the oceans and mountains it

contains, though it is unconscious, quaked like a conscious

being--like a fond bride when forcibly torn from her bridegroom--like

the festoons of a vine shaken under the blast of a whirlwind. The ocean

rose under the vibration of this earthquake; rivers flowed back toward

their sources; peaks of lofty mountains, where countless trees had grown

for ages, rolled crumbling to the earth; a fierce storm howled all

around; the roar of the concussion became terrific; the very sun

enveloped itself in awful darkness, and a host of headless spirits

filled the air.[207:2]

When Prometheus was crucified on Mount Caucasus, the whole frame of

nature became convulsed. The earth did quake, thunder roared, lightning

flashed, the wild winds rent the vexed air, the boisterous billows rose,

and the dissolution of the universe seemed to be threatened.[207:3]

The ancient Greeks and Romans, says Canon Farrar,[207:4] had always

considered that the births and deaths of great men were announced by

celestial signs. We therefore find that at the death of Romulus, the

founder of Rome, the sun was darkened, and there was darkness over the

face of the earth for the space of six hours.[207:5]

When Julius Caesar, who was the son of a god, was murdered, there was a

darkness over the earth, the sun being eclipsed for the space of six


This is spoken of by Virgil, where he says:

"He (the Sun) covered his luminous head with a sooty darkness,

And the impious ages feared eternal night."[207:7]

It is also referred to by Tibullus, Ovid, and Lucian (poets), Pliny,

Appian, Dion Cassius, and Julius Obsequenes (historians.)[207:8]

When AEsculapius the Saviour was put to death, the sun shone dimly

from the heavens; the birds were silent in the darkened groves; the

trees bowed down their heads in sorrow; and the hearts of all the sons

of men fainted within them, because the healer of their pains and

sickness lived no more upon the earth.[208:1]

When Hercules was dying, he said to the faithful female (Iole) who

followed him to the last spot on earth on which he trod, "Weep not, my

toil is done, and now is the time for rest. I shall see thee again in

the bright land which is never trodden by the feet of night." Then, as

the dying god expired, darkness was on the face of the earth; from the

high heaven came down the thick cloud, and the din of its thunder

crashed through the air. In this manner, Zeus, the god of gods, carried

his son home, and the halls of Olympus were opened to welcome the bright

hero who rested from his mighty toil. There he now sits, clothed in a

white robe, with a crown upon his head.[208:2]

When OEdipus was about to leave this world of pain and sorrow, he

bade Antigone farewell, and said, "Weep not, my child, I am going to my

home, and I rejoice to lay down the burden of my woe." Then there were

signs in the heaven above and on the earth beneath, that the end was

nigh at hand, for the earth did quake, and the thunder roared and

echoed again and again through the sky.[208:3]

"The Romans had a god called Quirinius. His soul emanated from the

sun, and was restored to it. He was begotten by the god of armies upon a

virgin of the royal blood, and exposed by order of the jealous tyrant

Amulius, and was preserved and educated among shepherds. He was torn

to pieces at his death, when he ascended into heaven; upon which the

sun was eclipsed or darkened."[208:4]

When Alexander the Great died, similar prodigies are said to have

happened; again, when foul murders were committed, it is said that the

sun seemed to hide its face. This is illustrated in the story of

Atreus, King of Mycenae, who foully murdered the children of his

brother Thyestes. At that time, the sun, unable to endure a sight so

horrible, "turned his course backward and withdrew his light."[208:5]

At the time of the death of the virgin-born Quetzalcoatle, the

Mexican crucified Saviour, the sun was darkened, and withheld its


Lord Kingsborough, speaking of this event, considers it very strange

that the Mexicans should have preserved an account of it among their

records, when "the great eclipse which sacred history records" is not

recorded in profane history.

Gibbon, the historian, speaking of this phenomenon, says:

"Under the reign of Tiberius, the whole earth,[209:2] or at

least a celebrated province of the Roman empire,[209:3] was

involved in a perpetual darkness of three hours. Even this

miraculous event, which ought to have excited the wonder, the

curiosity, and the devotion of mankind, passed without notice

in an age of science and history. It happened during the

life-time of Seneca[209:4] and the elder Pliny,[209:5] who

must have experienced the immediate effects, or received the

earliest intelligence, of the prodigy. Each of these

philosophers, in a laborious work, has recorded all the great

phenomena of nature, earthquakes, meteors, comets and

eclipses, which his indefatigable curiosity could

collect.[209:6] But the one and the other have omitted to

mention the greatest phenomenon to which the mortal eye has

been witness since the creation of the globe."[209:7]

This account of the darkness at the time of the death of Jesus of

Nazareth, is one of the prodigies related in the New Testament which no

Christian commentator has been able to make appear reasonable. The

favorite theory is that it was a natural eclipse of the sun, which

happened to take place at that particular time, but, if this was the

case, there was nothing supernatural in the event, and it had nothing

whatever to do with the death of Jesus. Again, it would be necessary to

prove from other sources that such an event happened at that time, but

this cannot be done. The argument from the duration of the

darkness--three hours--is also of great force against such an

occurrence having happened, for an eclipse seldom lasts in great

intensity more than six minutes.

Even if it could be proved that an eclipse really happened at the time

assigned for the crucifixion of Jesus, how about the earthquake, when

the rocks were rent and the graves opened? and how about the "saints

which slept" rising bodily and walking in the streets of the Holy City

and appearing to many? Surely, the faith that would remove

mountains,[209:8] is required here.

Shakespeare has embalmed some traditions of the kind exactly analogous

to the present case:

"In the most high and palmy state of Rome,

A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,

The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead

Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets."[210:1]

Belief in the influence of the stars over life and death, and in

special portents at the death of great men, survived, indeed, to recent

times. Chaucer abounds in allusions to it, and still later Shakespeare

tells us:

"When beggars die there are no comets seen;

The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes."

It would seem that this superstition survives even to the present day,

for it is well known that the dark and yellow atmosphere which settled

over so much of the country, on the day of the removal of President

Garfield from Washington to Long Branch, was sincerely held by hundreds

of persons to be a death-warning sent from heaven, and there were

numerous predictions that dissolution would take place before the train

arrived at its destination.

As Mr. Greg remarks, there can, we think, remain little doubt in

unprepossessed minds, that the whole legend in question was one of those

intended to magnify Christ Jesus, which were current in great numbers at

the time the Matthew narrator wrote, and which he, with the usual want

of discrimination and somewhat omnivorous tendency, which distinguished

him as a compiler, admitted into his Gospel.


[206:1] Luke, xxiii. 44, 45.

[206:2] Matthew, xxvii. 51-53.

[206:3] Amberly: Analysis of Religious Belief, p. 268.

[206:4] Life of Christ, vol. ii. p. 643.

[207:1] See Prog. Relig. Ideas, vol. i. p. 71.

[207:2] Rhys David's Buddhism, pp. 36, 37.

[207:3] See Potter's AEschylus, "Prometheus Chained," last stanza.

[207:4] Farrar's Life of Christ, p. 52.

[207:5] See Higgins: Anacalypsis, vol. i. pp. 616, 617.

[207:6] See Ibid. and Gibbon's Rome, vol. i. pp. 159 and 590, also

Josephus: Jewish Antiquities, book xiv. ch. xii. and note.


"Cum caput obscura nitidum ferrugine texit

Impiaquae aeternam timuerunt saecula noctem."

[207:8] See Gibbon's Rome, vol. i. pp. 159 and 590.

[208:1] Tales of Ancient Greece, p. 46.

[208:2] Ibid. pp. 61, 62.

[208:3] Ibid. p. 270.

[208:4] Anacalypsis, vol. i. p. 822.

[208:5] See Bell's Pantheon, vol. i. p. 106.

[209:1] See Kingsborough's Mexican Antiquities, vol. vi. p. 5.

[209:2] The Fathers of the Church seem to cover the whole earth with

darkness, in which they are followed by most of the moderns. (Gibbon.

Luke, xxiii. 44, says "over all the earth.")

[209:3] Origen (a Father of the third century) and a few modern critics,

are desirous of confining it to the land of Judea. (Gibbon.)

[209:4] Seneca, a celebrated philosopher and historian, born in Spain a

few years B. C., but educated in Rome, and became a "Roman."

[209:5] Pliny the elder, a celebrated Roman philosopher and historian,

born about 23 A. D.

[209:6] Seneca: Quaest. Natur. l. i. 15, vi. l. vii. 17. Pliny: Hist.

Natur. l. ii.

[209:7] Gibbon's Rome, i. 589, 590.

[209:8] Matt. xvi. 20.

[210:1] Hamlet, act 1, s. 1.

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