The darkness that covered Israel for three hours was recorded by three of the four Gospel writers.
- “Now from the sixth hour there occurred darkness over all the land until the ninth hour”, Matthew 27:45.
- “Now when the sixth hour had come, it became dark over all the land until the ninth hour,” Mark 15:33.
- “It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over all the land until the ninth hour, the sun failing” (Luke 23:44-45).
The three evangelists testify that the darkness lasted three hours, and it ‘covered all the land’.
The Sun failed
Luke says that ‘the Sun failed.’ The words used here are the Greek words, “tou heliou ekleipontos”. The word “Helios” is translated “the Sun”. The word “Ekleipo” is translated as ‘to fail, to come to an end.’
Thus the cause of the darkness was a failure in the Sun’s light. This distinguishes the event from the mere darkness of dense thunderclouds that can cause near night-time conditions. Storms like this are unusual for Palestine, especially at Passover time. Furthermore, there would have been mention of prodigious rainfall.
There was no eclipse of the Sun on Crucifixion day
We should not think that the strange darkness was caused by an extended eclipse of the Sun, for that could not have occurred on the day of the Crucifixion. An eclipse of the Sun only occurs when the Moon is directly between the Sun and the Earth, thus blocking out its light. The day of the Crucifixion was the day before the traditional Passover, which was on the 14th Nisan. On the 14th Nisan there was a full Moon, as was always the case at Passover time. The Moon was therefore on the far side of the Earth away from the Sun.
Furthermore, no eclipse of the Sun can last more than seven and a half minutes in any one place, and this strange darkness lasted for three hours. A supernatural event caused darkness to fall during Christ’s death. Thus for three hours a strange darkness covered the land. The sky was clear, and the stars appeared. People would be asking themselves whether ‘the end of the world’ had come.
The period of darkness was prophesied in Amos
The Jews knew from their Bible that ‘the day of the Lord’ would be ‘a day of darkness’. In Amos 8:9 we read, “On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the Sun to go down at noon, and darken the Earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasting into mourning, and all your songs into lamentations.”
This darkness speaks of a time of God’s judgement upon sin.
Extra- Biblical historical evidence to support the three hour period of darkness
The following great number of ancient writers recorded the three hour period of darkness at the time of the Crucifixion.
Tertullian lived at the beginning of the 3rd century, and recorded the three hour period of darkness at the Crucifixion.
Lucian, the martyr of Nicomedia who died in A.D. 312, recorded the three hour period of darkness at the Crucifixion.
Thallus, a historian writing in AD. 52, wrote to deny any supernatural elements accompanying the Crucifixion . Though his writings are lost to us, we have the quotations of other later writers. The writing of Thallus shows that the facts of Jesus’ death were known and discussed in Rome as early as the middle of the first century, to the extent that unbelievers like Thallus thought it necessary to explain the matter of the darkness as something natural. He took the existence of Christ for granted. Neither Jesus, nor the darkness at his death, were ever denied. At the time of his writing, unbelievers had already been explaining the darkness at the time of the Crucifixion as a purely natural phenomenon.
Julius Africanus, a Christian historian, writing about A.D. 221, refers to Christ’s Crucifixion and the darkness that covered the earth prior to His death saying, “Thallus, in his Third Book of Histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun, unreasonably as it seems to me. For the Hebrews celebrate the Passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the Passion of our Saviour 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 occur when the Moon is almost diametrically opposite the Sun?”
Julius Africanus also stated that, “During the time of Tiberius Cæsar an eclipse of the sun occurred during the full Moon.”
Origen had written that this idea of it being an eclipse was an invention of the pagans to discredit the Gospels.
Phlegon of Tralles
Phlegon of Tralles was a first century secular Greek historian born not long after the Crucifixion. He wrote an historical work called The Olympiades, which can be used to date the darkness at noon on the day of Crucifixion (see below).
Phlegon’s work is referred to by Philipon, Julius Africanus, Joannes Philoponus, Malelas, Origen, Eusebius and Maximus.
The Crucifixion of Jesus was noted by Cornelius Tacitus who was a Roman historian, born around 52-54 A.D. Tacitus stated that Jesus had been crucified by Pontius Pilate, and that Rome was in darkness during the reign of Tiberius the Caesar in AD.33.
There is more historical evidence to support the three hour period of darkness in 33 AD than almost any other ancient event in history!