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by Richard Carrier
- MATTHEW tells us (xxvii. 31) that when Christ was crucified, there was darkness all over the land for three hours, and "the earth did quake, and the rocks were rent, and many of the saints came out of their graves."
Here we have a series of events spoken of so strange, so unusual and so extraordinary that, had they occurred, they must have attracted the attention of the whole world -- especially the amazing scene of the sun's withdrawing his light and ceasing to shine, and thereby causing an almost total darkness near the middle of the day. And yet no writer of that age or country, or any other age or country, mentions the circumstance but Matthew. A phenomenon so terrible and so serious in its effects as literally to unhinge the planets and partially disorganize the universe must have excited the alarm and amazement of the whole world, and caused a serious disturbance in the affairs of nations. And yet strange, superlatively strange, not one of the numerous historians of that age makes the slightest allusion to such an astounding event.
Even Seneca and the elder Pliny, who so particularly and minutely chronicle the events of those times, are as silent as the grave relative to this greatest event in the history of the world. Nor do Mark, Luke or John, who all furnish us with a history of the crucifixion, make the slightest hint at any of these wonder- exciting events, except Mark's incidental allusion to the darkness.
Gibbon says, "It happened during the life of Seneca and the elder Pliny, who must have experienced its immediate effects, or received the earliest intelligence of the prodigy. Each of these philosophers, in a labored work, has recorded all the phenomena of Nature's earthquakes, meteors and eclipses, which his indefatigable curiosity could collect. Both the one and the other have omitted to mention the greatest phenomenon, to which the mortal eye has been witness since the creation of the world." (Gibbon, p. 451.)
- With reference to the "bodies" of the dead saints coming out of their tombs (for it is declared their "bodies arose;" see Matt. xxvii. 52), many rather curious and puzzling questions might be started, which would at once disclose its utter absurdity.
We might ask, for example: --
Until these questions are rationally answered, the story must be regarded as too incredible and too ludicrous to merit serious notice.
- Who were those "many saints" who came out of their graves, seeing there were as yet but few Christians to occupy graves, if they had been all dead, as the enumeration at Antioch made out only one hundred and twenty? (See Acts.)
- How long had they lain in their graves?
- How long since their bodies had turned to dust, and been food for worms?
- And would not those worms have to be hunted up and required to disgorge the contents of their stomachs in order to furnish the saints with the materials for their bodies again?
- And were the shrouds or grave clothes of those saints also resurrected? or did they travel about in a state of nudity?
- For what purpose were they re-animated?
- And should not Matthew have furnished us, by way of proof, with the names of some of these ghostly visitors?
- How long did they live the second time?
- Did they die again, or did they ascent to heaven with their new-made bodies?
- What business did they engage in?
- Why have we not some account of what they said and did?
- And what finally became of them?
- Nearly all the phenomena represented as occurring at the crucifixion of Christ are reported to have been witnessed also at the final exit of Senerus, an ancient pagan demigod, who figured in history at a still more remote period of time. And similar incidents are related likewise in the legendary histories of several other heathen demigods and great men partially promoted to the honor of Gods. In the time-honored records of the oldest religion in the world, it is declared, "A cloud surrounded the moon; and the sun was darkened at noonday, and the sky rained fire and ashes during the crucifixion of the Indian God Chrishna." In the case of Osiris of Egypt, Mr. Southwell says, "As his birth had been attended by an eclipse of the sun, so his death was attended by a still greater darkness of the solar orb." At the critical juncture of the crucifixion of Prometheus, it is declared, "The whole frame of nature become convulsed, the earth shook, the rocks were rent, the graves opened, and in a storm which threatened the dissolution of the universe, the scene closed" (Higgins). According to Livy, the last hours of the mortal demise of Romulus were marked by a storm and by a solar eclipse.
And similar stories are furnished us by several writers of Caesar and Alexander the Great. With respect to the latter, Mr. Nimrod says, "Six hours of darkness formed his aphanasia, and his soul, like Polycarp's, was seen to fly away in the form of a dove." (Nimrod, vol. iii. p. 458.) "It is remarkable," says a writer, "what a host of respectable authorities vouch for an acknowledged fable -- the preternatural darkness which followed Caesar's death." Gibbon alludes to this event when he speaks of "the singular defect of light which followed the murder of Caesar." He likewise says, "This season of darkness had already been celebrated by most of the poets and historians of that memorable age." (Gibbon, p. 452.) It is very remarkable that Pliny speaks of a darkness attending Caesar's death, but omits to mention such a scene as attending the crucifixion of Christ. Virgil also seeks to exalt this royal personage by relating this prodigy. (See his Georgius, p. 465.) Another writer says, "Similar prodigies were supposed or said to accompany the great men of former days."
Let the reader make a note of this fact -- that the same story was told of the graves opening, and the dead rising at the final mortal exit of several heathen Gods and several great men long before it was penned as a chapter in the history of Christ.
Shakespeare, in his Hamlet says: --
"In the most high and palmy days of Rome,
A little ere the mighty Julius fell --
The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets."
These historical citations strongly press the conclusion that this portion of the history of Christ was borrowed from old pagan legends.
- Many cases are recorded in history of the light of the sun being obscured at midday so as to result in almost total darkness, when it was known not to be produced by an eclipse. And it is probable that these natural events furnish the basis in part for those wild legends we have brought to notice. Humboldt relates in his Cosmos, that, "in the year 358, before the earthquake of Numidia, the darkness was very dense for two or three hours," Another obscuration of the sun took place in the year 360, which lasted five or six hours, and was so dense that the stars were visible at midday. Another circumstance of this kind was witnessed on the nineteenth of May, 1730, which lasted eight hours. And so great was the darkness, that candles and lamps had to be lighted at midday to dine by. Similar events are chronicled for the years 1094, 1206, 1241, 1547, and 1730. And if any such solar obscurations occurred near the mortal exit of any of the Gods above named, of course they would be seized on as a part of their practical history wrought up into hyperbole, and interwoven in their narratives, to give eclat to the pageantry of their biographies -- a fact which helps to solve the mystery.
ORIGIN OF THE STORY OF THE APHANASIA AT THE CRUCIFIXIONThere is but little ground to doubt but that the various stories of a similar character then current in different countries, as shown above, first suggested the thought to Christ's biographers of investing history with the incredible events reported as being connected with the crucifixion. The principal motive, however, seems to have grown out of a desire to fulfill a prophecy of the Jewish prophet Joel, as we may find many of the important miraculous events ingrafted into Christ's history were recorded by way of fulfilling some prophecy. "That the prophecy might be fulfilled" is the very language his evangelical biographers use.
Joel's prediction runs thus: "And I will show wonders in the heavens, and in the earth, flood and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come." (Joel ii. 30.) A little impartial investigation will satisfy any unprejudiced mind that this poetic rhapsody has not the most remote allusion to the closing events in the life of Christ, and was not intended to have.
But his biographers, writing a long time after his death, supposing and assuming that this and various other texts, which they quote from the prophets, had reference to him, and had been fulfilled, incorporated it into his history as a part of his practical life. The conviction that the prophecy must have been fulfilled, without knowing that it had, added to similar stories of other Gods, with which Christ's history became confounded, misled them into the conclusion that they were warranted in assuming that the incredible events they name were really witnessed at the mortal termination of Christ's earthly career, when they did not know it, and could not have known it.
This view of the case becomes very rational and very forcible when we observe various texts quoted from the prophets by the gospel writers, or, rather, most butcheringly misquoted, tortured or distorted into Messianic prophecies, when the context shows they have no reference to Christ whatever.
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