Did Dionysius describe the darkness when Christ died?
Ancient records report that an unexplained darkness occurred in the middle of the day when Christ was crucified on the cross. Some Chinese scholars claim there are records of the darkness in ancient China, but their reports appear to lack substantial proof. The date of the darkness is 01 April A.D. 33 in the Gregorian calendar (03 April A.D. 33 in the Julian calendar). Another report comes from the historian Thallus, who wrote around A.D. 50 about a darkness that occurred on the afternoon that Christ died.
Julius Africanus reports that Thallus claimed an eclipse of the sun occurred in the afternoon while Christ was being crucified. Then Julius objected saying that a solar eclipse could not have occurred during a full moon.
. . . but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time . . .
He was correct for several reasons. According to the four gospels in the Bible, Christ died on a Friday during Passover. Jewish Passovers are scheduled during the full moon on Nisan 14. Therefore, Julius Africanus wondered how the darkness could have occurred. He made the correct conclusion that a solar eclipse did not occur for a solar eclipse cannot occur during a full moon.
We need to consider in what year Jesus was crucified. Since Jesus Christ was crucified on Friday (Mark 15:42; John 19:31) during Passover (Luke 22:15; John 19:14), that is during a full moon, and between A.D. 30 and A.D. 36, we can use astronomy to determine that the date of His crucifixion was 01 April A.D. 33. How long was Jesus on the cross? The gospels tell us that on that day total darkness occurred between noon and 3:00 pm (Matthew 27:45).
NASA Data – A.D. 21-40 Solar Eclipses
The NASA website provides confirmation that no partial or total solar eclipse occurred in Israel between the years A.D. 21- A.D. 40. This conclusion is easily determined by using the latitude and longitude coordinates for Jerusalem (31º 43′ 42.135″, 35º 2′ 24.579″), and reviewing the NASA tables. Not only do we discover that there is no solar eclipse during those years, but there is no solar eclipse that lasts longer than about eight minutes. That is, a solar eclipse cannot explain the darkness that occurred on 01 April A.D. 33 during the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, Thallus was correct that a solar eclipse had not occurred during the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. So, how is the darkness explained? The following will help.
Other Reports of the Darkness
The darkness on 1 April A.D. 33 is also discussed by another historian named Phelgon. Eusebius quotes him,
“In the fourth year, however, of Olympiad 202, an eclipse of the sun happened, greater and more excellent than any that had happened before it; at the sixth hour, day turned into dark night, so that the stars were seen in the sky, and an earthquake in Bithynia toppled many buildings of the city of Nicaea.”
He tried to explain that the darkness during the crucifixion of Jesus was the result of an eclipse, but we have already discovered that NASA documents that one did not occur. We should also note that the Olympiad 202 corresponds to our year A.D. 33.
Now consider the comment by Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus or Tertullian (A.D. 145-220) in his commentary titled Apology, where he supports his statement by referring his readers to the Roman Archives for verification of his statement.
In the same hour, too, the light of day was withdrawn when the sun at the very time was in his meridian blaze. Those who were not aware that this had been predicted about Christ, no doubt thought it an eclipse. You yourselves have the account of the world-portent still in your archives.
Two points we must consider. First, this writer did not give undocumented information. Second, he correctly states that a solar eclipse did not cause the darkness that occurred.
John Gill states in his commentary on Matthew 27:45 that Dionysius the Areopagite had seen the darkness that occurred. He states,
“Dionysius the Areopagite, then an Heathen, saw it in Egypt; and said “either the divine being suffers, or suffers with him that suffers, or the frame of the world is dissolving.”
John Gill tells us that Dionysius was located in Egypt when he saw the darkness. That demonstrates the darkness covered a large territory beyond Jerusalem.
Here is the fuller excerpt from the letter of Dionysius the Areopagite , a philosopher in his day.
How, for instance, when we were staying in Heliopolis (I was then about twenty-five, and your age was nearly the same as mine), on a certain sixth day, and about the sixth hour, the sun, to our great surprise, became obscured, through the moon passing over it, not because it is a god, but because a creature of God, when its very true light was setting, could not bear to shine. Then I earnestly asked thee, what thou, O man most wise, thought of it. Thou, then, gave such an answer as remained fixed in my mind, and that no oblivion, not even that of the image of death, ever allowed to escape. For, when the whole orb had been throughout darkened, by a black mist of darkness, and the sun’s disk had begun again to be purged and to shine anew, then taking the table of Philip Aridaeus, and contemplating the orbs of heaven, we learned, what was otherwise well known, that an eclipse of the sun could not, at that time, occur. Next, we observed that the moon approached the sun from the east, and intercepted its rays, until it covered the whole; whereas, at other times, it used to approach from the west. Further also, we noted that when it had reached the extreme edge of the sun, and had covered the whole orb, that it then went back towards the east, although that was a time which called neither for the presence of the moon, nor for the conjunction of the sun. I therefore, O treasury of manifold learning, since I was incapable of understanding so great a mystery, thus addressed thee — “What thinkest thou of this thing, O Apollophanes, mirror of learning?” “Of what mysteries do these unaccustomed portents appear to you to be indications?” Thou then, with inspired lips, rather than with speech of human voice, “These are, O excellent Dionysius,” thou saidst, “changes of things divine.”
Dionysius confirms that the darkness began at the sixth hour in Jewish time. He states that he did not completely understand what happened when the darkness occurred, but he states, “an eclipse of the sun could not, at that time.” We agree with Dionysius that he did not see a solar eclipse, not just because he said it did not occur, but because NASA has also affirmed that it did not occur.
The testimony of eyewitnesses is that darkness covered the city of Jerusalem and an extended area on 01 April A.D. 33 when Jesus Christ was crucified. But science confirms that a solar eclipse did not occur. Astronomy confirms that a full moon occurred on that day. That is, there is no scientific explanation for the darkness that occurred for three hours. That leaves only one explanation: a supernatural event, a divine miracle occurred when Christ was crucified on the cross.
1. Julius Africanus, Chronography, 18.1
2. Catalog of Solar Eclipses: 0001 to 0100. Five Millennium Catalog Of Solar Eclipses. NASA (eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEcat5/SE0001-0100.html). Please visit a PDF copy of the table as published by NASA on 23 June 2023.
3. Phlegon’s 13th book quoted in Jerome’s translation of Eusebius’ Chronicle, 202 Olympad.
4. The Olympiad games began in 776 B.C. Therefore, 4 years x 202 — 776 B.C. + 1 year (because only one year between 1 B.C. and A.D. 1) = A.D. 33.
5. Tertullian, “The Apology,” in Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. S. Thelwall, vol. 3, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 35.
6. John Gill. Matthew 27:45. John Gills’ Commentary of the Whole Bible. (www.bibliaplus.org/en/commentaries/8/john-gills-exposition-of-the-whole-bible/matthew/27/45).
7. Letter xi. Dionysius to Apollophanes, Philosopher. Letters of Dionysius The Areopagite. (biblehub.com/library/dionysius/letters_of_dionysius_the_areopagite/letter_xi_dionysius_to_apollophanes.htm)
Suggested Links:Thallus — Refers to the Darkness At Christ’s Death
Phlegon — Darkness occurred when Christ was crucified
Darkness At Full Moon?
History of Latter Han Dynasty, Volume 1, Chronicles of Emperor Guang Wu, 7th year