Solar Eclipse Quake

24 November 29 AD

by Jefferson Williams


Introduction     Textual Evidence     Archeoseismic Evidence     Paleoseismic Evidence     Notes     Paleoclimate - Droughts     Footnotes     References


Introduction

In some catalogs, earthquake damage in Nicea, Pontus or Bithynia (all in modern day northern Turkey) is listed as occurring in 30 or 33 AD. This is a mistake that has propagated from earlier catalogs. Ancient Sources Phlegon of Tralles and Thallus report an earthquake in Nicea, Pontus, or Bithynia coincident with a Solar Eclipse which is erroneously conflated by later authors with the Passion account where midday darkness and an earthquake is reported in some of the Gospel narratives [1]. A solar eclipse was not possible during the Passion as it occurred during a full moon (14 or 15 Nisan). Furthermore, ~1200 km. seperates Judea from Nicea, Pontus, or Bithynia which means an earthquake experienced in Judea would not have created seismic effects in this part of Anatolia or vice-versa. If Phlegon is describing a real earthquake coincident with a solar eclipse, the epicenter of this earthquake would have been in Northern Anatloia. There is a solar ecllipse from around this time period which may date this Anatolian earthquake. An eclipse Path from NASA for 24 November 29 AD may provide the date. Based on this eclipse path Guidoboni et. al. (1994) date this North Turkey earthquake to 24 November 29 AD while Ambraseys (2009) dates it to 32 AD. If this was a real earthquake, we prefer Guidoboni et. al. (1994)'s date. Whether the sources describe a real earthquake or not, significant seismic shaking would not have been experienced in the Dead Sea due the distance from the epicentral region. No seismites would have formed.

Textual Evidence

Phlegon of Tralles

Phlegon's main work was the Olympiads, an historical compendium in sixteen books written in the second century CE, from the 1st to the 229th Olympiad (776 BC to AD 137). No longer extant, several chapters are preserved in Chronicle by Eusebius, Chronographia by George Syncellus, and other authors.
Quoted in Chronicon by Eusebius
In this translation of (Eusebius Chronicon Book Two, page 256/258, 202nd Olympiad), we read that in the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad [2]
Jesus Christ, according to the prophecies, which had been spoken about him beforehand, came to the Passion in the 18th year of Tiberius, at which time also we find these things written verbatim in other commentaries of the gentiles: an eclipse of the sun happened, Bithynia shaken by earthquake, and in the city of Nicaea many buildings collapsed: all of which agree with what occurred in the Passion of the Saviour. Indeed Phlegon, who is an excellent calculator of olympiads, also writes about this, in his 13th book writing thus:
However in the fourth year of the 202nd olympiad, 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.
These things the aforementioned man (says).
Although the margin notes date this to 31 or 32 CE, this is a case of a forced synchronicity. Eusebius conflates the North Anatolian Earthquake reported by Phlegon with the Passion narrative. As mentioned in the introduction, there are two problems with this conflation - 1. a solar eclipse was not possible during the full mooon of the crucifixion and 2. Pontus, Bithynia, and Nicea are too far from Judea for an earthquake to produce seismic effects in both places. Hence the eclipse Path provided by NASA for 24 November 29 AD likely provides the date for this alleged North Anatolian earthquake.

Thallus

Thallus (Greek: Θαλλός) was an early historian who wrote in Koine Greek. He wrote a three-volume history of the Mediterranean world from before the Trojan War to the 167th Olympiad, 112–108 BC, or perhaps to the 217th Olympiad, AD 89-93. Most of his work, like the vast majority of ancient literature, has been lost, although some of his writings were quoted by Sextus Julius Africanus (c.160 - c.240 CE) in his History of the World - which has also been lost but is quoted by later authors such as George Syncellus. It is not known when Thallus lived and wrote but one estimate is that he wrote sometime in the 2nd century CE (Carrier (2011-2012), p. 188-189). Others say he wrote in 52 CE.
Quoted in The Chronography by George Syncellus
George Syncellus wrote the Chronography in the later half of the 9th century using Eusebius and Julius Africanus as his primary sources. In the passage below he paraphrases Thallus and Phlegon of Tralles through the intermediary source of Julius Africanus.
From Africanus concerning the events associated with the passion of the Saviour and the life-bringing Resurrection

Concerning each of his deeds and his cures, both of bodies and souls, and the secrets of his knowledge, and his Resurrection from the dead, this has been explained with complete adequacy by his disciples and the apostles before us. A most terrible darkness fell over all the world, the rocks were torn apart by an earthquake, and many places both in Judaea and the rest of the world were thrown down.

In the third book of his Histories, Thallos dismisses this darkness as a solar eclipse.1 In my opinion, this is nonsense. For the Hebrews celebrate the Passover on Luna 14, and what happened to the Saviour occurred one day before the Passover. But an eclipse of the sun takes place when the moon passes under the sun. The only time when this can happen is in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last day of the old moon, when they are in conjunction. How then could one believe an eclipse took place when the moon was almost in opposition to the sun? So be it. Let what had happened beguile the masses, and let this wonderful sign to the world be considered a solar eclipse through an optical (illusion).

Phlegon records that during the reign of Tiberius Caesar there was a complete solar eclipse at full moon from the sixth to the ninth hour; it is clear that this is the one. But what have eclipses to do with an earthquake, rocks breaking apart, resurrection of the dead, and a universal disturbance of this nature?

Certainly an event of such magnitude has not been recalled for a long time. But it was a darkness created by God, because it happened that the Lord experienced his passion at that time. And reason proves that the seventy weeks of years mentioned in Daniel were completed in this time.

Some of the above in original Greek follows
Καθ ολου του κοσμου σκοτος επηγετο φοβερωτατον, σεισμω τε αι πετραι διερρηγνυντο και τα πολλα Ιουδαιας και της λοιπης γης κατερριφθη. τουτο το σκοτος εκλειψιν του ηλιου Θαλλος αποκαλει εν τριτη των ιστοριων, ως εμοι δοκει, αλογως. Εβραιοι γαρ αγουσι το πασχα κατα σεληνην ι̅δ̅, προ δε μιας του πασχα τα περι τον σωτηρα συμβαινει. εκλειψις δε ηλιου σεληνης υπελθουσης τον ηλιον γινεται· αδυνατον δε εν αλλω χρονω, πλην εν τω μεταξυ μιας και της προ αυτης κατα την συνοδον αυτην αποβηναι. πως ουν εκλειψις νομισθειη κατα διαμετρον σχεδον υπαρχουσης της σεληνης ηλιω; εστω δη, συναρπαζετω τους πολλους το γεγενημενον και το κοσμικον τερας ηλιου εκλειψις υπονοεισθω εν τη κατα την οψιν. Φλεγων ιστορει επι Τιβεριου Καισαρος εν πανσεληνω εκλειψιν ηλιου γεγονεναι τελειαν απο ωρας εκτης μεχρις ενατης, δηλον ως ταυτην. τις δ η κοινωνια σεισμω και εκλειψει, πετραις ρηγνυμεναις, και αναστασει νεκρων τοσαυτη τε κινησει κοσμικη;

Archeoseismic Evidence

Paleoseismic Evidence

Notes

History Against the Pagans by Orosius

Orosius (c.375 - c.418 CE) alludes to Greek sources in his description of Darkness and an Earthquake during the Passion. These Greek sources may have been Phlegon and Thallus. In Book 7 Section 4 Paragraphs 5-7 we find
In the seventeenth year of this emperor, the Lord Jesus Christ of His own free will submitted to His passion. Nevertheless, it was through their own impiety that the Jews arrested Him and nailed Him to the cross. At that time a very severe earthquake shook the whole world. The rocks upon the mountains were rent, and many sections of the largest cities were overthrown by its unusual violence. On that day, too, at the sixth hour, the sun was also entirely obscured and a hideous darkness suddenly overshadowed the earth; in the words of the poet,
a godless age feared eternal night. [Vergil, Georgics, i. 468]
It is, however, perfectly plain that the sun's light was not cut off either by the moon or by clouds. For we are told that the moon, being fourteen days old at the time, was in the opposite quarter of the heavens, farthest from the sun, and that the stars were shining throughout the entire sky at that hour of the daytime or rather in that awful night. These facts are attested not only by the authority of the Holy Gospels but also by several books of the Greeks.

From the time of the passion of our Lord to this day, the Jews, who had persecuted Him to the extent of their power, have complained incessantly of an unbroken succession of disasters, until finally their nation, drained of its lifeblood and scattered abroad, disappeared from history. For Tiberius dispatched the youth of the Jewish nation to provinces having an unhealthful climate, using their military obligation as a pretext. He also forced the remainder of the Jews, as well as those who practiced similar rites, to leave Rome, threatening to make them slaves for life if they failed to obey. When the earthquake mentioned above demolished many cities of Asia, he remitted their tribute and made a donation to them from his own purse as well. The circumstances of the death of Tiberius led to suspicions that he had been poisoned.
The additional information that Tiberius sent tribute to cities in Asia likely refers to cities damaged by the alleged Anatolian earthquake.

Commentariorum In Esaiam (Isaiah) by Jerome

Ambraseys (2009) supplied the following excerpt from Jerome's Commentariorum In Esaiam (section Ol.CCII.18):
We go back to the word of scripture: there was an eclipse of the sun, Bithynia was shaken by an earthquake, and in the city of Nicea many houses collapsed.
Commentariorum In Esaiam in Latin can be read here

Appolonius Grammaticus

Guidoboni et. al. (1994) report the following
Apollonius Grammaticus, who was Phlegon's source, records an earthquake in Pontus at the time of Tiberius. In a fragment quoted by Phlegon we read:
serious earthquake damage also occurred amongst the peoples who lived in Pontus.

Other Sources

Psuedo-Dionysus 96/i. 74 (Ambraseys, 2009)
Malalas 241 (Guidoboni et. a., 1994)
Chron. Pasch. 219-222,412,417 (Guidoboni et. a., 1994)
Apollon. Gramm. apud Phleg. FGrHist 257 F 36 (XIV)(Guidoboni et. a., 1994)
Phleg. FGrHist 257 F 16 a (Guidoboni et. a., 1994)
Photius
Michael the Syrian

Paleoclimate - Droughts

Footnotes

[1] Matthew and Mark report darkness from noon to 3 pm (from the 6th to 9th hour) as does Luke however Luke uses the word εσκοτισθη (eclipsed) to describe how the sun stopped shining. Some translations do not reflect this wording so an interlinear translation of Luke 23.45 is presented below
τοῦ ἡλίου ἐκλιπόντος; ἐσχίσθη δὲ τὸ καταπέτασμα τοῦ ναοῦ μέσον The Sun eclipsed; was torn then the veil of the Temple in the middle.
εσκοτισθη (eclipsed) is translated variously as to leave out, leave off, and by implication to cease. Hence although an eclipsed Sun in English clearly means a solar or lunar eclipse, it is not entirely clear this what is meant in Luke as the verb eclipse could merely describe a cutting off of the light.

[2] Eusebius wrote Chronicon in two parts in the early 4th century AD. Although the original Greek text has been lost, later Chroniclers preserved significant parts of the manuscript. Jerome translated all of the second part (Book 2) into Latin. The Latin of the quote is as follows
lesus Christus secundum prophetius quae de eo fuerant praelocutae ad passionem venit anno Tiberii decimo octavo, quo tempore etiam in aliis ethnicorum commentariis haec ad verbum scripta repperimus "solis facta defectio. Bithynia terrae motu concussa, et in urbe Nicaea aedes plurimae corruerunt", quae omnia his congruunt quae in passione Salvatoris acciderant. Scribit vero super his et Flego, qui 1...] ita dicens: "quarto autem anno ducentesima secundae magna et excellens inter omnes quae ante earn acciderant defectio solis facta; dies hora sexta eta in tenebrosam noctem versus ut stellae in caelo visae sint terraeque motus in Bithynia Nicae[n]ae urbis multas aedes subverterit


References

Ambraseys, N. N. (2009). Earthquakes in the Mediterranean and Middle East: a multidisciplinary study of seismicity up to 1900.

Boll (1909). Paulys Real Encyclopediadie der Classischen Altertum Swissenschaft Paulys Real Encyclopediadie der Classischen Altertum Swissenschaft S. V. Finsternisse. 6/2,: col.s 2329-2364.

Carrier, R. (2011-2012). "Thallus and the Darkness at Christ’s Death." Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 8: 185-191.

Guidoboni, E., et al. (1994). Catalogue of Ancient Earthquakes in the Mediterranean Area up to the 10th Century.