Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Great Darkness and Earthquakes, Early Evidence


George the Syncellus was a Byzantine historian, bishop and the syncellus (literally same-cell) to the patriarch of Constantinople, he died around 810 AD. He is best known for his work "The Chronography" which was an annotated time line of sorts that chronicled world history from creation to the beginning of Diocletian's reign 284 AD.

In his book "The Chronography" George quotes a 3rd century historian Julius Africanus (whose writings are lost to us). It appears there was some debate on how to explain the darkness that came over the Earth during our Lord's crucifixion.

Julius argues that the darkness cannot be explained as a solar eclipse, an explanation that Thallus, a 1st-2nd century Greek historian offers in his work "Histories". Because the crucification happened the day before passover when the moon and sun are in opposition.

from George's "Chronography" quoting Africanus:
"In the third book of his Histories, Thallos dismisses this darkness as a solar eclipse. In my opinion, this is nonsense. For the Hebrews celebrate the Passover on Luna 14, and what happened to the Saviour occurred one day before the Passover. But an eclipse of the sun takes place when the moon passes under the sun. The only time when this can happen is in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last day of the old moon, when they are in conjunction. How then could one believe an eclipse took place when the moon was almost in opposition to the sun? So be it. Let what had happened beguile the masses, and let this wonderful sign to the world be considered a solar eclipse through an optical (illusion)."

Origen in "Against Celsus" bk2 ch33 also mentions the debate between Christians and pagans on the cause of the "eclipse" during Tiberius' riegn

" And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius C├Žsar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place, Phlegon too, I think, has written in the thirteenth or fourteenth book of his Chronicles."

It seems that whether Jesus existed or not never entered the debate but rather the debate centered on how to explain the events that were associated with Christ's crucifixion.

That is what we can tell from what little fragments of history we have from that time period. It is an interesting glimpse in to early apologetics. It's also interesting to see how well the ancients understood astronomy.

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