Darkness Over The Land

Mythological stories abound in the ancient world, but there are few people who attempt to defend them as fact. The Bible is one of the exceptions to this rule. It is full of stories which are clearly mythological, many of which have roots in ancient religions which predate Judaism or Christianity. Yet religious believers all around the world defend these fairy tales with vigour. This article will focus on one such fairy tale that is mentioned by three authors in the biblical record. While only a short pericope it is full of many astounding claims that require some investigation. The verses in question are a record of events in immediate proximity to Christ’s death.

Mat 27:45

Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour.

Mat 27:51-3

And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.

I find these verses amusing as they are typical of the Bible’s nonchalant approach when referring to supernatural events. This one just happens to pack a whole bunch of miraculous occurrences into one short package.

Who Turned out the Lights?

Darkness you say? I guess you’re thinking that this must have been a lunar eclipse. Well according to the NASA website there was a partial lunar eclipse in 33 A.D. So that must be it right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Despite this coincidence a partial lunar eclipse does not explain what is described in Matthew 27:45. Even a total eclipse would not begin to explain the biblical description. This is a three hour period of darkness falling upon the whole land. The church historian Tertullian recorded that “secular writers mentioned a strange period of darkness that occurred on that day. How far-reaching was the darkness? Could barbarians in France and Norway have witnessed it? What about tribal chieftains in Africa or slaves in ancient India and Iran? We have no reason to believe this thick gloom settled over only Jerusalem; in fact, it is not unreasonable to assume that the sun’s light was blocked all across the globe.”[1] I have not heard too many people attempting to defend this event as a global blackout, but then Tertullian did not have to defend his statements in front of a scientific board. He also managed to conjure up records from “secular writers,” none of whom can be verified. Other individuals have suggested alternative solutions such as dense cloud cover or God using a sirocco[2] to stir up a dust storm. But Bible scholar J. Hampton Keathley III noted that the Greek words used in the phrase “darkness fell” imply that this was a sudden event rather than a gradual one. This was not the kind of weather phenomenon caused by storm clouds, dust or volcanic ash. “It was just like someone had turned out the lights,” Keathley said.[3] But an event of such significance would surely have been recorded by multiple sources, and not just in Jerusalem. The problem is that we don’t find any other records of this event outside of the Bible. The distinct lack of evidence available here soundly speaks to the mythology of this story. In his Ph.D. thesis titled The Origin and Purpose of Matthew 27:51b-53, Douglas W. Anderson states that Matthew was perhaps trying to reconcile two contradictory positions: (i) a Jewish belief that the Messiah’s coming would initiate the final End, and (ii) the Christian belief that Jesus the Messiah’s advent initiated the age of salvation but not the final End.[4] We can see here that this biblical story does not represent an actual recounting of historical events but rather a literary attempt to thread together two disparate lines of thinking. You may be surprised to know that this is an extraordinarily common practice in the writing of the New Testament.

Quaking in my Boots

Because I live in Wellington, in an area on the Pacific rim of fire with a lot of tectonic activity, I am sometimes awoken by earthquakes. This is a rather annoying occurrence, but I must say that I have never heard of these earthquakes causing people to rise up from their graves. This would be a most grave concern (Ho Ho Ho). But that’s what the Bible claims in Matthew 27:51-53. At the time of Christ’s death there was a massive earthquake, powerful enough to split rocks and then the graves of many believers were opened and they were raised from the dead and started walking around. Does that sound far-fetched to you? It didn’t to Matthew Henry, author of one of the most prominent study Bibles in Christian history. He said that “this was not just a local geological event—it was felt in adjacent countries. There were no seismic instruments back then. But we know from the biblical record that the epicenter of this quake was a bloody, hallowed plot of ground known as Golgotha. The voice of Jesus split the rocks.”[5] Actual historical evidence for such an earthquake occurring in Jerusalem at that time (let alone in adjacent countries) is specious. Ambraseys N, an author on the historical earthquakes of Jerusalem tells us that the dating of these earthquakes “is based on, or influenced by the very few historical records, such as in the Bible and inscriptions, which provide an example of how their assumed accuracy may influence archaeologists’ interpretation and dating. Quite often this develops into a circular process in which archaeological assumptions or theories are transformed into facts and used by earth scientists to confirm the dates and size of their proposed events.”[6] I hope you caught that! The documents which make the claims about these events are used to date these events.

It’s a Thriller!

Was he just writing a 1980s hit song or was Michael Jackson singing about the historical accuracy of Matthew 27:52-53? Maybe we will never know. I shouldn’t really need to talk about the historical accuracy of the idea that “many” dead people rose up from their graves and started window shopping around Jerusalem, but here we are. Okay, so let’s science the shit out of this. When a person dies their heart stops beating. Are you with me so far? Because the heart is a pump, blood stops being pumped around the body. The brain, which is the house of everything that you are,[7] stops receiving blood. Its electrical signals die out and you become brain-dead. Because the brain is responsible for sending electrical signals throughout your body which allow you to move it means that dead people don’t move. Already I hear some of you saying that dead bodies can move, but let’s be clear such movements are very rare and are only indicators of leftover electrical signals. Such movements go away. Caleb Wilde, a funeral director, says the following about post-mortem muscle movement: “This is extremely rare.  And usually only occurs in the smaller muscles.  Out of the thousands of bodies my family has seen, only one still had muscle movement after death.  The deceased’s fingers were twitching “like he was playing the piano.””[8] Caleb goes on to record how dead bodies can also release air from their lungs causing them to moan or groan and some of them fart quite a lot as well. The short story is that dead people all have something in common… They are dead. They don’t go bowling, they don’t take part in stimulating conversation, and they certainly don’t claw their way out of crypts and graves and go wandering around scaring children. This is true 100% of the time. There are no records in all of history, of any person, or animal for that matter, coming back from the dead. Sure, there are thousands of stories about dead people being resurrected or reanimated in some way. But these all have something in common, they are myths, every last one of them. At this point it is worth mentioning another Scripture:

Hebrews 9:27

“Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”

Scripturally this passage denies the possibility of Matthew 27:52-3. You can’t have a statement like the one above and then have God raising a bunch of people from the dead. The two are mutually exclusive. What a surprise, this is yet another example of a Bible contradiction. It is surely the most error-filled, inerrant writing around. In summary, I think it’s safe to say that dead people don’t window shop!

I imagine that the Christian response to this article will be that you can’t explain any of these things because they were miracles. How convenient! But you would think that miracles would be recorded with far greater vigour than regular events, so why is it that the only record of any of these things occurring is in the Bible? I can imagine some people responding with something along the lines of “it’s a big cover-up by the secular media of the day… yada, yada, yada.” But let’s get real. The only evidence for these events comes from the Bible. If they actually did happen these events would be of major significance, not just to Christians, but to everybody. So why are there no records of any of these events happening anywhere outside the biblical record? The answer is simple, because someone made them up. Please accept these scripture passages for what they are, pure myth. There isn’t even a remote whisper of truth about them. These scriptures are just a handful of pieces in the fragile house of cards that is the biblical record. When you look at the biblical record from outside, in the 3rd person, it is easy to identify a story which changes and develops over time as the religion attempts to adapt to its competition. The text is adopted by different groups and modified in order to suit their developing beliefs. This is extremely obvious in the Gospels where we see the transformation of Jesus from a man into a supernatural figure and then ultimately into the manifestation of God himself. Along the way the authors even stretch the common understanding of the God concept so that the original God becomes greater than he ever was in previous writings. At the time of the writing of the New Testament there was a lot of competition in the religious marketplace. The only way to win the religious war was to have the best story and the best God. When you recognise that Christianity is the development of a progressively improving God concept which builds upon previous ideas from different ancient theologies you will see it for what it is. It is a marketing plan developed in a milieu where storytelling was rife and the adaptation of mythology was readily accepted. Should you believe these myths to be true? Let reason be your guide.


[1] https://www1.cbn.com/biblestudy/the-shock-and-awe-of-good-friday

[2] A Mediterranean wind that comes from the Sahara and can reach hurricane speeds in North Africa and Southern Europe, especially during the summer season.

[3] https://www1.cbn.com/biblestudy/the-shock-and-awe-of-good-friday.

[4] https://ourarchive.otago.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10523/4962/andersondouglasw2014phd.pdf?sequence=1.

[5] https://www1.cbn.com/biblestudy/the-shock-and-awe-of-good-friday

[6] Ambraseys N (2005) Historical earthquakes in Jerusalem: a methodological discussion. J Seismol 9:329–340.

[7] There is no soul or spirit, you are a bunch of electrical signals buzzing around inside the squishy matter in your head.

[8] https://www.calebwilde.com/2014/11/10-things-bodies-can-do-after-death.

One thought on “Darkness Over The Land

  1. Thought Control points out the problems of a lunar eclipse as an explanation of what is described in the gospels. However a lunar eclipse is not even a possible contender as our earliest source, Mark states that “at noon darkness came over the whole land and was there until three in the afternoon”. So the only possibility using a local eclipse as an explanation is a solar eclipse. However solar eclipses run into even bigger problems as an explanation that lunar eclipses. Solar eclipses only last anywhere from around 3 minutes to 7 /12 minutes – not even close to the three hour time frame recorded by the writer of Mark. What’s more calculations have been done and scientists know there was no solar eclipse in the area around the time Jesus is believed to have died. This from NASA: “How long does the longest-possible total solar eclipse last?
    This is about 7.5 minutes. The longest total solar eclipse from 4000 BCE to 8000 CE, a span of 12,000 years, will occur on July 16, 2186 and will last 7 minutes 29 seconds. Its path sweeps across Colombia, Venezuela and Guyana. The August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse, by comparison, will last a maximum of 2 minutes 43 seconds. About 70% of eclipses last longer than this.” https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/how-long-does-longest-possible-total-solar-eclipse-last



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