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 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 t
e 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,
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
"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.