Thallus

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The historian Thallus seems to provide an early validation of the crucifixion darkness mentioned in Matthew 27:45 Bible-icon.png Mark 15:33 Bible-icon.png Luke 23:44-48 Bible-icon.png. [1] We don't have Thallus' writings, only comments from Julius Africanus in the 3rd Century CE. The earliest manuscript of Africanus' work was done by George Syncellus in the 9th Century CE.

"On the whole world there pressed a fearful darkness, and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. Thallos calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun in the third book of histories, without reason it seems to me."

— Africanus, in Syncellus

Julius goes on to criticise him for saying this because a solar eclipse is impossible during a full moon. Even Bede (a Christian apologist) notes this is impossible because an eclipse can't take place during a full moon.[2] However there was an eclipse in November of 29 CE, which may have been the one that Thallus referred to. Note the date of the only recorded solar eclipse occurred 4 years prior to the date Christians give for the death of Jesus. Both F.Jacoby and R.T.France note that this does not in any way prove Thallus mentioned Jesus at all - it seems that it was Julius, nearly 2 centuries after Thallus alleged wrote about it, who made the connection. The supposed identification of Thallus depends entirely on a misreading of Josephus, which even the author F.F.Bruce admits is "doubtful. Dr. R.T.Frances (a conservative Christian) also rejects this dating of Thallus. Finally, Josephus mentions .. "allos Samareus genos" which has to be amended to read "Thallos" to support this identification. All Josephus mentions is that "Thallos" loaned money to Agrippa. This is very non-specific because even if Josephus had said "Thallos", there is no way to be sure that this is in fact the historian Thallus because during that time Thallos was a common name (the "which Thallus? problem")

Eusebius (fourth century) says

"Jesus Christ, according to the prophecies which had been foretold, underwent his passion in the 18th year of Tiberius [32 ce]. Also at that time in other Greek compendiums we find an event recorded in these words: ‘the sun was eclipsed, Bithynia was struck by an earthquake, and in the city of Nicaea many buildings fell All these things happened to occur during the Lord’s passion. In fact, Phlegon [Trallianus], too, a distinguished reckoner of Olympiads, wrote more on these events in his 13th book, saying this: ‘Now, in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad [32 ce], a great eclipse of the sun occurred at the sixth hour [i.e. noon] that excelled every other before it, turning the day into such darkness of night that the stars could be seen in heaven, and the earth moved in Bithynia, toppling many buildings in the city of Nicaea’[3]"

However, the Armenian translation of Eusebius (which preserves references not in the Greek version) has ‘three volumes of Thallus, in which he made a summary in abbreviated fashion from the sack of Troy (1184 BCE) to the 167th Olympiad (which ended in July, 109 BCE)’

This presents two more problems with the Thallus reference. To get the Thallus to fit the Jesus story one has to conclude the numerals in the Armenian translation are corrupt with many scholars claiming that the 167th Olympiad should really be either the 207th Olympiad (ending in July, 52 CE) or the 217th Olympiad (which ended in July, 92 CE). The other issue is the Phlegon reference said the earthquake took place in Bithynia some 600 miles from Jerusalem though a recent earthquake in Alaska shows a 7.1 or higher could have been felt at that distance.


References

  1. Non biblical accounts of New Testament events and/or people CARM
  2. "Solar Eclipses for Beginners" via internet archive
  3. Carrier, Richard (2011) "Thallus and the Darkness at Christ's Death" Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism volume 8 pg 185-91
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