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Gerardus D. Bouw, Ph.D.

Introduction and the apology

In these days of the Laodicean church age (see Revelation 3:14-22) the authority of the Bible has dwindled to nothing, even in the eyes of Christians. The authority of the Holy Writ has, in them, been replaced by the “great” men of this era: Moody, Spurgeon, Henry, Swindoll, Graham, Dobson, Copeland, and the like. The authority of the Holy Bible has been replaced by the authority of institutions such as Moody, Liberty, Bob Jones, etc. Finally, the authority of the Holy Bible has been replaced by the authorities of science, psychology, psychiatry, the legal system, human governments and corrupt government officials. The honor and obedience which is due God is given to such as these. Verily it is the beginning of the famine of Amos 8:11, the famine for the hearing of the words of the Lord.

And so it is that I take keyboard in hand and construct an apology about the three hours of darkness that lasted while Jesus Christ hung on the cross. I do so risking the charge that I view these secular authorities as equal or greater than the Bible; and that I'm trying to use them to “prove the Bible.” If I believed the Bible could be proven by such “evidence,” the charge is well taken, but I believe the Bible first, and even if there were no corroborating testimony from other sources, I would still believe it. What proof can I offer against the charge? I am a geocentrist knowing full well that a proof for geocentricity is every bit as impossible to obtain (outside of the Scriptures) than proof for heliocentrism. Beyond that I'm fulfilling what Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:11, knowing full well that I'll never know everything. In summary, there's nothing wrong with reasoning men into the truth of the knowledge of God the Father and his only begotten Son, Jesus. Let us remember who it was who said: “Come, let us reason together,” (Isaiah 1:18); and that Paul reasoned with Jew and Gentile alike (Acts 18:4, 19; 24:25; etc.) about the salvation of Jesus Christ.

The Biblical account

That there was a darkness lasting three hours during the crucifixion is recorded in three of the Gospels. They read as follows:

Matthew 27:45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.

Mark 15:33 And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.

Luke 23:44-48 And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.
45 And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.
46 And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.
47 Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man.
48 And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned.

We see then that there were three hours of darkness which occurred while Jesus Christ hung on the cross. The time was from noon until 3:00 P.M. According to the account in Luke, the darkness and the earthquake that ended it (Matthew 27:54) were so impressive that the centurion in charge of the crucifixion glorified God, and all the people showed signs of remorse and fear.

An eclipse?

In true humanist style, men have proposed a natural cause for this darkness. No natural cause is indicated by the text, particularly the coincidence of the end of the darkness and the earthquake. The most common naturalistic explanation is that the darkness was caused by an eclipse of the sun.

This speculation is too easy to refute. The passover, which is the time when Jesus was crucified, occurs at full moon, when the earth is between the moon and the sun. An eclipse of the sun can only occur when the moon is between the earth and the sun. Yet I've even seen astronomers try to date the eclipse by computing when such an eclipse might be visible at Jerusalem.

The final nail in the eclipse's coffin is that a naturally occurring eclipse of the sun can last at most about seven and a half minutes, a far, far cry from three hours. One may, of course, charge the Bible with an error, that it exaggerated the duration of the eclipse, and such has been done by some, but reason says it cannot be an eclipse of the sun for such would have been a miracle greater than Joshua's long day or Hezekiah's sign, when the sun went back 10 degrees (lengthening that day by forty minutes). For this to have been an eclipse of the sun, the moon would have to perform a quantum jump of half a million miles, stop its orbital motion, and stay in front of the sun for three hours. Then it had to jump back to where it should have been had it never jumped to cover the sun. As P.T. Barnum reputedly said, there's one born every minute.

Reports of Pontius Pilate to Augustus and to Tiberius

The reports in question are part of a collection called “Letters of Herod and Pilate”1 which stem from a Syraic manuscript of the sixth or seventh centuries. The manuscript is in the British Museum.

The entire work is probably a forgery occasioned by a mention of such a letter (particularly the second of these, to Tiberius), by Justin Martyr when he wrote his “Defense of Christianity” to Emperor Antonius Pius about A.D. 150. There are several reasons to assume the forgery:

1. Herod is presented as extremely repentant, in total contradiction of his attitude in Acts 12.
2. Justinius is reported in one of the letters to have written about Christ whereas Photius elsewhere wrote that Justinius made no mention of Christ.
3. There are two reports which mention the darkness, namely the report to Augustus and the report to Tiberias; but Augustus died eighteen years before the crucifixion. This is a weak argument, though, since several Caesars took the title of Augustus (Hadrian, for example). It seems rather doubtful that Pilate would send two accounts to the same Caesar.
4. According to the letters, the chief charge which the Jews brought to Pilate against Christ was that he violated the Sabbath. The Bible, on the other hand, says that their main charge was that he declared himself to be King of the Jews, though amongst themselves the chief charge was that he “blasphemed” the temple and that he claimed to be the Son of God.

Nevertheless, here is what is written in “The Report of Pilate the Governor, Concerning our Lord Jesus Christ; Which was Sent to Augustus Caesar, in Rome.”

Now when he was crucified, there was darkness over all the world, and the sun was obscured for half a day, and the stars appeared, but no luster was seen in them; and the moon lost its brightness, as though tinged with blood; and the world of the departed was swallowed up; so that the very sanctuary of the temple, as they call it, did not appear to the Jews themselves as their fall, but they perceived a chasm in the earth, and the rolling successive thunders.2

The main problem with this account is that the Bible records only three hours of darkness while here six are recorded. It is likely that the forger was confused by the “third hour (Mark 15:25) versus the sixth hour (John 19:14)” problem, for Matthew, Mark, and Luke used Jewish reckoning for time whereas John used Roman time.3 The Bible says in two places that the land was affected, but Luke refers to “all the earth” (Luke 23:44) which need not mean the whole world; for earth can refer to a country as it does, for example, in Exodus 10:15 (compare with verses 12 through 14).4 But more of that anon.

”The Report of Pontius Pilate, Governor of Judea; Which was Sent to Tiberius Caesar in Rome” reads as follows:

Now when he was crucified darkness came over all the world; the sun was altogether hidden, and the sky appeared dark while it was yet day, so that the stars were seen, though still they had their luster obscured, wherefore, I suppose your excellency is not unaware that in all the world they lighted their lamps from the sixth hour until evening. And the moon, which was like blood, did not shine all night long, although it was at the full, and the stars and Orion made lamentation over the Jews because of the transgression committed by them.5

To the aforementioned problems we may now add the fanciful ending in which a constellation, the model of Nimrod, Orion, (which would have been visible in the easter sky at the time) is said to lament the Jews. The Jews call him Kesil, the fool. Would he lament if he could?


Philopon6 and Origen7 draw from Phlegon's Olympiads (written A.D. 138) an account of the darkness of the crucifixion. Phlegon was a Greek astronomer. Origen's quote is the best documented and quite similar to Philopon's:

That heathen author, in treating of the fourth year of the two hundred second Olympiad, which is supposed to be the year in which our Lord was crucified, tells us “That the greatest eclipse of the sun which was ever known to happened then; for the day was so turned into night that the stars in the heavens were seen.”
To this account, Philopon adds that “this is shown by the historical account itself of Tiberius Caesar,” suggesting that a Roman account exists.

The Acts of Pilate

Justin Martyr also referred to The Acts of Pilate which was forged by the Jews to deny the deity of Jesus Christ. Despite that, they bore witness that darkness did indeed accompany the crucifixion.


About A.D. 52 the Samaritan historian, Thallus, wrote his Histories. Though no copies survive, we do have quotes of it from others. Thus Julius Africanus, writing about A.D. 220, refers to the Histories and says:

Thallus, in the third book of his Histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun — unreasonably, … of course, because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died.

The Lost Gospel According to Peter

This manuscript was allegedly found in 1886 in the grave of a monk who lived in Akhmim. This, too, seems a forgery as witnessed by having the ascension take place on the same day as the resurrection. Of the darkness it says:

And it was noon, and darkness came over all Judea: and they were troubled and distressed, lest the sun had set while he was yet alive: it is written for them, that the sun set not on him that hath been put to death.8

The manuscript adds that the sun shone again as they pulled the nails from Jesus's hands.


In his Apologeticus,9 written about A.D. 197, Tertullian wrote:

… at that same moment, about noontide, the day was withdrawn; and they, who knew not that this was foretold concerning Christ, thought it was an eclipse. But this you have in your archives; you can read it there.

The foretelling is found in Amos 8:9 where it says: “And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day.” There is really no suggestion in any of these accounts that the sun set at noon, but the darkness does apply. The sun going down at noon has yet a future fulfillment, as required not only by the context in which the passage is found, but also by the words of the Lord Jesus himself in Matthew 24:29 and in Mark 13:24.


Writing about the year 315, in his Chronicle, volume II, the historian and friend of the emperor Constantine, Eusebius, writes about the eighteenth10 year of Tiberius Caesar that:

Christ suffered this year, in which time we find in other commentaries of the heathen these words: “There was a defection of the sun: Bithynia was shaken with an earthquake, and many houses fell down in the city of Nicea.”

Unfortunately, Eusebius did not list the “other commentaries of the heathen.”

Summary and Conclusion

Some of the secular accounts of the darkness accompanying the crucifixion are plainly forgeries. We particularly singled out the two reports of Pontius Pilate to Augustus and to Tiberius, and the Acts of Pilate , the latter being without doubt a fiction. Some of the quotes are indirect, especially the later ones, after the second century. Of the sources quoted, the earliest is that of Thallus, allegedly written in A.D. 52, and it is the only one which mentions an eclipse, unless that word is wrongly translated from the Greek word for darkness or obscuration.

We can be certain of what the Bible says about the three hours of darkness which occurred during the crucifixion. They started at noon and ended at 3:00 in the afternoon. The only thing which the secular accounts consistently add is that the darkness extended over the Mediterranean area, if not the whole world. Given the time of day, if the sun was darkened world-wide, then there may still be other accounts, undiscovered, of this darkening in Europe, Asia, Africa, and as far east as Australia and the Western-most Pacific. (It was night in the Americas throughout the three hours.) If anyone knows of such tales, please let me know so that these can be brought to light.

The Bible is ambiguous about the geographical extent of the darkness. It does say that all the earth was in darkness, but it also says that the whole land was in darkness. Now the term earth may, in the Bible, mean either country, land mass, soil, or all the dry land everywhere. There is thus no violence done to the text per sé to adhere to either a darkness isolated to Judea or extending over the whole sphere of the earth. When I started this research I thought the darkness was local, but now I believe it likely to have been world-wide. It makes sense insofar as the scope of the crucifixion is concerned, for without Christ, all the world is in darkness. He took all our sins to the cross to make atonement for our souls, that we might have forgiveness of sins and be reconciled to God.

The question arises, what would happen to the sun that it would go dark? Well, a special miracle cannot be ruled out, but it is possible that the sun was obscured by a cloud of interplanetary matter, which would also explain the lackluster of the stars. If a natural even has to be found, and I'm not saying that it has, this is the most likely. An interplanetary cloud could redden the moon, could obscure the sun, and could even provide a meteor shower which could be read into the “Report of Pontius Pilate” to Tiberias, but—and this is a big but—such a cloud would also obscure the stars. To have made the day sky dark, even the brightest stars would have faded out of visibility.

A less likely one is that the entire sun became one huge sunspot. This may be caused by magnetic fields just under the surface of the sun. They physics is rather unusual, however.

The darkness which accompanied Christ's crucifixion reinforced the significance of the crucifixion, as the sins of men were cast upon the sinless only begotten Son of God. Evidently the sun itself was darkened for three hours, reinforcing that the crucifixion has significance for all men. The most reasonable explanation is that the darkness was a special miracle. Yet once more will the world experience such darkness; and that time seems close at hand. Even so, come Lord Jesus.


1 Translated and published in The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden, 1926, published by Collins World. All references are from the thirty fifth printing, 1977. “Letters of Herod and Pilate” runs from pages 269-281 with the report to Augustus starting on page 273 and to Tiberias on page 275.

2 Ibid., p. 274.

3 Bouw, G.D., 1997. The Book of Bible Problems, (Assoc. for Biblical Astr., 4527 Wetzel Ave., Cleveland, Ohio), pp. 184-186.

4 Bouw, G.D., 1992. Geocentricity, (Assoc. for Biblical Astr., 4527 Wetzel Ave., Cleveland, Ohio), pp. 15-16.

5 Lost Books, Op. Cit., pp. 276-277.

6 Philopon, De Opif, Mundi, II, 21.

7 Origen, 210. Contra Celsum.

8 Quoted from The Lost Books of the Bible, p. 283.

9 Tertullian, ca. A.D. 197. Apologeticus, 21, 19-20 in The Loeb Classical Library, (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons Publishing Co., 1931.

10 There is a problem with this count. The year A.D. 32 was not a year in which the Passover could have been eaten symbolically the night before the official passover. The new moon nearest the Vernal Equinox, the first day of spring, was too far from the first day of spring itself. Only the years 30 and 33 are candidate years. (See: Bouw, The Book of Bible Problems, pp. 192-194 for particulars.) Eusebius or the translators may have confused the cardinal and ordinal numbers.

Translated from WS2000 on 11 February 2005 by ws2html.