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I've heard it claimed from various people that we have historical records for the darkness that was said to engulf the earth when Jesus was crucified. In the bible, it claims that there was, but I would like more scientific/verifiable accounts on the matter.

My question is, do we have any non-biblical, reliable sources that there was an eclipse of some sort when Jesus was crucified? Or are people who claim that there was a documented eclipse during this time mistaken? Do we have any evidence that an eclipse did not happen?

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"darkness == solar eclipse" seems to be an interpretation, one which is in conflict with celestial mechanics: 14th day of Nisan (Passover, day of crucifixion) corresponds to a full moon - i.e. the moon (whose shadow passing over the Earth causes the solar eclipse) is actually on the opposite side of Earth than the Sun. In other words, either a) that darkness was not a solar eclipse, or b) that darkness was a solar eclipse, but did not happen anywhere near 14th of Nisan. There are some interesting speculations on Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion_darkness_and_eclipse –  Piskvor May 18 '11 at 22:24
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Astronomic data would be unbiased in cases like these. Having an event like an eclipse, or a planetary transit or some horological natural event to a piece of a historical record gives a year/month/hour to what happened and where it happened and when. Somebody please get an ephemeris program and put all the sideral motion and GPS 'Golgatha' and answer this one way or another? This reminds me of fights I used to have with ex-girlfriends over things that just get bigger and louder until a consensus is reached? –  user3351 Jun 6 '11 at 18:33
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But was Jesus crucified? How can you prove or disprove a detail, if the main part of the claim isn't proven? And which year should he've been crucified? :) Ok - the last part is impossible in every year, if the easter and pesach day is the first sunday after the first fullmoon in spring. But on the other side - if it was a simple eclipse, it wouldn't be a miracle. A real miracle is a an eclipse at fullmoon. An holy angle could hide the sun. –  user unknown Jun 6 '11 at 19:18
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Shouldn't the real question be, is there any independent evidence of Jesus? –  user3919 Jul 4 '11 at 7:54
    
it's impossible to align astronomical data with the crucifixion, as the exact date and time of the event is not known. We have a window of at the very least several years, so can at most say that an eclipse may have happened but not with any degree of certainty. –  jwenting Jun 21 '13 at 6:24

3 Answers 3

up vote 31 down vote accepted

Passover occurs at the middle of the month in a lunar calendar which starts with the new moon. Since the crucifixion was supposed to happen close to Passover (around April), and therefore close to a full moon, there could not have been a solar eclipse, which occurs with a new moon.

If you disbelieve the Passover part of the story, you can check solar eclipses around Jerusalem here. Year 32 has a solar eclipse sort of close to Passover (i.e. two weeks away).

If you go for a lunar eclipse--which does happen with a full moon--then the only matching date is the 3rd of April, year 33.

Anyway, there were certainly solar and lunar eclipses then as there are now, but given how difficult it is to come up with any independent confirmation of when the crucifixion happened, finding historical reports of eclipses won't help answer anything.

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So really then, it would be impossible or very difficult for anyone to claim an eclipse was the explanation for the darkness, due simply the dating and the fact there were no solar eclipses at this time. Thank you for your great answer! –  TheEnigmaMachine May 19 '11 at 14:25
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I think you answer the question very nicely. I have a purely methodological question out of my own curiosity; are the eclipse dates you list adjusted for the pre-Gregorian(and now that I think about it, pre-Julian as well) calendar periods? –  Monkey Tuesday May 20 '11 at 1:32
    
@Monkey Tuesday - I am not sure, as the sites do not say (though the two different sources use the same convention). Note, however, that the two calendars are only different by a couple of days then. (The whole problem with the Julian calendar was that errors were accumulating.) –  Rex Kerr May 20 '11 at 2:51
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If the jewish pessach day is bound to the fullmoon of spring, like the christian easter day, there is no room for an difference, due to the gregorian reformation. –  user unknown Jun 6 '11 at 19:37
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The suggestion that the darkness was an eclipse is an early one. It is attributed to the historian Thallus, writing in the First Centuary. See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thallus_(historian) And Sextus Julius Africanus criticised that explanation for exactly the reasons you give, namely that an eclipse at the Passover would be impossible. One of the (few) things that all accounts of Jesus's death do seem to agree on is that it happened at the time of Passover, so it seems more likely that the darkness did not happen or it had some other cause. –  Francis Davey Nov 22 '12 at 16:47

It is reasonably easy to establish whether an eclipse (lunar or solar) occurred at a specific date in the past. The main problem, here, is to agree on what that date is.

The commonly-held date of "33 AD" for this event, relies on the accuracy of the Anno Domini system, itself based on the hotly-debated year of Jesus' birth (relative to us). Its epoch was devised long after its reported occurrence, in 525 AD. It is now generally agreed by historians that, had this event occurred, its date would be off by at least 4 years (but beyond the existence of an error, no strong consensus exists on what the accurate year may be).

Based on this uncertainty, it seems difficult to answer your question in a scientifically satisfying way: you could of course work from a table of astronomically-predicted historical eclipses, to find a potential candidate year, but this would obviously fail the standard of rigorous hypothesis testing (since you would incorporate the desired result in your prior probability).

Note that both the above NASA reference and Wikipedia have discussions on the potential conjunction of these events (but both fail at establishing the necessary independent statistical hypothesis, so could not constitute a scientific argument for the accuracy of the events reported in religious texts).

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It is simple. According to the synoptic gospels, Jesus gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and knew of his pending death. Nisan Passover is always and systematically on a full moon. Why is this correct? Because, the followers of Judaism were very religious with their traditions and beliefs. Now, there can not be a solar eclipse during a full moon. Which is a astronomical fact. Therefore, it is not plausible for the synoptic gospel accounts to be true. It is a fallacious story.

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Welcome to Skeptics Stack Exchange! Please provide some references to support your claims. –  Sklivvz Jun 20 '13 at 19:44
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You have not shown the gospel account to be false. Merely that any darkness cannot be accounted for by a solar eclipse. –  Oddthinking Jun 21 '13 at 0:45

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