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Summary: Some have explained the darkness at the crucufixion as a total eclipse. Was it?

Was the Darkness at the Crucifixion a Solar Eclipse?

Matthew 27:33-56

“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.”

Well the much-hyped solar eclipse here in America has come and gone, and we are still here. All of those viewing glasses which were sold for ten times their value are filling the trash receptacles. I was watching the reactions of people here. Some were much awed. Others were afraid. I personally was somewhat underwhelmed by the experience.

In part of the build up to the event, Fox News on their web site had an article about famous eclipses. One of them showed a picture of Jesus being lifted up on a cross as an example of one. This has often been used as an explanation of the cause of the darkness at the crucifixion. It seems that everthing that happens in this universe must have a scientific explanation. But could there have been a solar eclipse at the time of the crucifixion?

Let’s take the air out of the bubble right away. The Bible says that Jesus was crucified at Passover time. There is much discussion over whether Jesus was crucified on the Passover itself or on the day of preparation for it when the lambs were slaughtered. Passover was always celebrated at the time of full moon, on the 14th day of the month. Months began at the new moon, and therefore the 14th/15th would serve as the time of full moon. But solar eclipses can only occur at new moon. The only eclipse that can occur at full moon was a lunar one. I certainly am not going to do the calculations necessary to determine if there was one on any of the possible dates Jesus could have been crucified since we are unsure of the year. If one occurred at the time of Jesus, it would have had to have been on the other side of the earth from Jerusalem where it was dark. If one had occurred the evening before in the Garden, the blood red color of the moon would have gone along with Jesus’ sweating great drops of blood and would have been mentioned. At any rate, since the question at hand is whether the darkness was caused by a solar eclipse, this is irrelevant to the topic at hand.

The timing of eclipses was determined early in human history. This was a step to gain control over the fear caused by the unexpected darkness of the sky. If one can predict them as acts of nature, then the fear is diminished. It becomes something as regular as sunset and sunrise, only it occurs at infrequent intervals.

So what do we make about this darkening of the land for three whole hours. People have tried every explanation, now and then, to not ascribe it to the hand of God. If some other plausible explanation can be found, then we are in control of the matter. For to know and predict is the first step to control.

Some movies pictured the event as a result of clouds from a large storm. One certainly cannot rule out this possibility, but people know what clouds look like. Jesus gave them credit for being able to forecast the weather from the clouds in the sky. But storms of any sort at Passover would have been rare as it was past the end of the rainy season in Israel. From Passover time until autumn, virtually no rain falls in Jerusalem. There might be a stray storm here and there, even a powerful one. But these storms would be very isolated and in only one spot. It would not account for three hours of darkness. Finally, no rain, lightning, or thunder are mentioned at the crucifixion. As lightning was feared as coming from God or the gods, such display of lightning, or the strong winds of a thunderstorm would have been seen as an evil portent. There are other great events mentioned in conjunction with the death of Jesus such as the tearing of the veil of the Temple, the earthquake, and dead people rising from the tomb. But no lightning or thunder. So I would have to say this does not explain the darkness.

Others try to explain this as being a moral darkness rather than a literal one. We even have an expression that someone is in the dark. This person can be in the physical light but be clueless. So in a moral sense, maybe the crowds might have pitied what they had done even as Judas had. When Jesus pronounced his forgiveness of them because they did not know what they were doing, i.e., they were in the dark, they may have felt remorseful and guilty. After all, they had handed a fellow Jew over to a foreign power for judgment, something which is expressly forbidden by the Torah, Could this darkness have been the moral darkness of guilt and remorse?

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