The fascination with astronomical events in early Christianity

From the bible come these writings:

Genesis 1:14-18– And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness.

Joel 2:31 ESV – “The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.”

Revelation 6:12-17 ESV – “When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale.”

Joel 2:30-31 ESV -“And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.”

Matthew 24:29-30 ESV – “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

Isaiah 13:10 ESV- “For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light.”

Luke 21:25-28 ESV-“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.”

All this related to a conversation on Facebook which follows below:

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Assertion meme: “The timing of astronomical events can be calculated precisely. Mention of such events in the Bible provide the best dating.”

Richard W. Pressl

Science asserts that the universe began about 13.8 billion Earth-years ago, and since Genesis 5&11 does not give a precise “Earth-date” then Christians can choose Dec 7th, 4004bc, which would have been a Thursday, or seven Genesis days which could have been 13.8 billion Earth years ago…which could have been on Dec 20th, X^12. Without agreeing to a standard “Earth time” scale all event chronologies in sacred texts have only a relative degree of accuracy spanning years, centuries, or geological time eras. Some dates in holy books do indeed record events that can be narrowed down to a single year, but almost none to a specific day or date.

Alicia Carla Simpson

I was actually referring to the birth and death of Jesus the Nazarene. There is nothing in the Bible that would give us any idea about the age of the earth.
However, we have Psalm 90 which gives evidence that the 6 ‘days’ in Genesis 1 are actually referring to some unknown and unknowable period of time.
Jesus could NOT have been born in December or January or February. There is too much likelihood of storms and inclement weather, so the Innkeeper would have his animals in the stable room. There is no way Mary would have laid Jesus in the manger if there were animals that would eat from the manger. There were no animals in the stable room with Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.
Two, Jesus couldn’t have been born in the months from May through October, because the sheep would have been in their summer feeding areas, several miles from the town. The shepherds would not have left their sheep to walk into town check out a newborn, pay homage, then walk back to their sheep. It is like that they would have been gone for several hours. They only would have left their sheep if they believed they would be back within ½ to 1 hour.
Now, we know that the only lunar eclipse visible from Jerusalem, during Pilate’s governorship, was on the evening of April 3rd 33 CE. So if Peter is to be believed when he referred to the prophecy regarding the Blood moon (Acts 2:20), then Jesus was crucified on Friday April 3rd 33 CE.
This is what I am referring to. Anytime you see a reference to an astronomical event in the Bible, you have the possibility of getting an exact date.
When you recognize that the Star of Bethlehem was actually two astronomic events, then we look for unusual events. There were, in 7 BCE, three alignments of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces, an event that occurs only once every 1,000 years. This might very well have gotten the Magi believing a king was to be born. Then in February of 5 BCE there was a comet that was visible in the morning and late afternoon sky from around February 10th to early April. We can conclude that the Magi might well have decided this was the event that indicated the king had been born. So Jesus was likely born around Passover in 6 BCE.

Richard W. Pressl

In geometry, we calculated measures by triangulation which methinks is the only way to come up with that date, since zeroes were nowhere to be stated in the record – with the first recorded zero appearing in Mesopotamia around 3 B.C. For me, recorded history starts with the 5th and 4th BCE Hellenic Greeks, who assessed social and political events and put them into a wider context along with the lists & chronicles. The stele of Hammurabi dates only to about 1792–1750 BC so claims for precision a thousand plus years earlier in human history is somewhat of a stretch.

Alicia Carla Simpson

You just don’t get it. The only claim I make in terms of precision dating is regarding ASTRONOMICAL EVENTS.
We can precisely determine the date of any astronomical event that occurred in the last 10,000 years.
When the Bible mentions an astronomical event, such as a blood moon, we can determine precisely when a lunar eclipse happened that was visible from Jerusalem. During the period that Pilate was ruling in Judea there was ONE and only one lunar eclipse visible from Jerusalem, that was on the evening of Friday April 3rd 33 CE precisely.
ASSUMING that when Peter mentioned the prophecy regarding about the lunar eclipse, when the Messiah was to be executed, then we can date Jesus’ crucifixion precisely. If Peter was not actually speaking the prophecy that mentioned a lunar eclipse, then we can’t.
Astronomical events can be dated PRECISELY. So any mention of an astronomical event in the Bible gives us a likely date for the Biblical event.

Richard W. Pressl

Ok Alicia…I concur with your statement about astronomical events…but only to some degree – because if I remember my bible correctly Luke and Matthew describe an astronomical event occurring on two different dates, Even more direct rebuttal to the notion is stated here from a link on Wikipedia: “The crucifixion darkness is an episode in three of the canonical gospels in which the sky becomes dark in daytime during the crucifixion of Jesus for roughly three hours. Most ancient and medieval Christian writers treated this as a miracle, and believed it to be one of the few episodes from the New Testament which were confirmed by non-Christian sources; modern scholars, however, have found no contemporary references to it outside the New Testament.”

Alicia Carla Simpson

Most likely it was a sandstorm.
Everybody misunderstands where Luke and Matthew start. The assume both are describing the first few months of Jesus’ life.
Luke starts with the birth and goes for the first 40 days until Jesus is presented at the Temple. Then he picks up the tale 12 years later.
Matthew mentions the birth, but then jumps one year ahead, when Jesus is one year old (which is why Matthew never mentions the problem with no room available). An infant would never have survived the trip to Egypt. When you recognize that Matthew picks up the tale a year after Luke, everything falls together perfectly.

Richard W. Pressl

Carl Sagan once wrote: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence…”; but there is no evidence that an eclipse, sandstorm, earthquake, or any other naturally occurring event happened on Friday, April 3rd 33 CE. If you have access to such evidence please enlighten me about it. The Gospel of Luke concurs with the length and timing of the darkness but also does not mention an earthquake or the opening of tombs. Contrary to Matthew and Mark, however, the text mentions the tearing of the Temple veil prior to the death of Jesus, and provides the obscuring of the Sun as the cause of the darkness. That does not appear to be compatible with the effects of a sandstorm or earthquake.

Alicia Carla Simpson

Richard W. Pressl actually, there WAS a partial lunar eclipse on Friday, April 3rd, 33 CE that was visible from Jerusalem. That is a fact. You can take the orbit of the moon and trace it back mathematically and determine exactly where it was in relation to the earth and the sun.
Remember, a lunar eclipse is when the moon moves behind the earth. I think you are thinking of a solar eclipse, your right there, there was no solar eclipse on that day. The lunar eclipse occurred in the evening and had nothing to do with the darkness during the afternoon. As I indicated some have speculated that it was a sandstorm. they were fairly common and would obscure the sun. As for the tearing of the curtain, well there is no evidence one way or the other and it does not related in anyway to this discussion.

Richard W. Pressl

Based on the onset, duration, and moon phase extant on that date I cannot accept any presentation that the darkness episode reported by Matthew, Mark, and Luke was either a lunar or solar eclipse. Similarly I discount any presentation that it was any other naturally occurring event. And as an agnostic I cannot accept the premise it was a “super-natural” event surrounding Jesus’s
crucification.

Alicia Carla Simpson

You are a bad reader.
I SPECIFICALLY stated that the period of darkness reported was NOT due to the lunar eclipse, which occurred AFTER duck, in the evening, when lunar eclipses occur.
A LUNAR eclipse ALWAYS occurs at NIGHT. A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon moves behind the earth and always happens when the sun has SET.
You keep thinking of a SOLAR eclipse when the moon passes in front of the sun.
In this case the Lunar eclipse could not have had anything to do with the period of darkness because it happened several hours later.
The darkness was most likely a SANDSTORM or a completely supernatural event.
READ what I write rather than what you want me to have written.

Richard W. Pressl

Alicia…what was the catalyst for choosing a sandstorm as the likely cause?
Oxford Scholars Consult the Stars to Date Crucifixion to 33 A.D.
WASHINGTONPOST.COM
Oxford Scholars Consult the Stars to Date Crucifixion to 33 A.D.

Richard W. Pressl

“The Gospel writers were not primarily interested”….in providing precise descriptions. I am also puzzled wherein Alicia is proposing a sandstorm as the cause of the darkening of the sky while also saying there was a partial lunar eclipse visible in Jerusalem on that date; but that the partial eclipse could not have been the cause of the darkness and posits the notion that the event in Jerusalem on Friday April 3rd 33 CE was a supernatural event. The overwhelming professional consensus is the “sky turning dark” served as a dramatization or metaphor by the gospel writers several times in the text of the bible, and also at the time of Jesus’s  crucifixion.
Alicia states: “Now, we know that the only lunar eclipse visible from Jerusalem, during Pilate’s governorship, was on the evening of April 3rd 33 CE. So if Peter is to be believed when he referred to the prophecy regarding the Blood moon (Acts 2:20), then Jesus was crucified on Friday April 3rd 33 CE.”  But scholars do not agree on the precise date of the crucifixion. The most common source for the date comes from Colin J. Humphreys and W.G. Waddington, writing in the prestigious British journal Nature, which present fresh evidence that the Crucifixion took place on the first Friday of April, 33, based on a calculation that a partial eclipse of the moon could be seen in Jerusalem on that date. Humphreys and Waddington say that this eclipse appeared to be “blood red” and followed a dust storm that “darkened the sun,” just as the apostles said in the Gospels.

Given that the six hours Jesus was on the cross provided sufficient time for writers and historians to provide detailed information on all aspects of local interest at the time, but neither Greek nor Roman historians of the period has anything to say about the events that day. We are left with the writings of Matthew, Mark, and Luke for substantiation of details. Nitpickers can question how a sandstorm can “blacken the sky” or what role any force played in the “tearing of the cloth”, or why the fascination with discussions centering on eclipses since neither a solar nor lunar eclipse could have been the causative agent described by the Apostles. Waddington and Humphreys started their analysis by matching up the biblical record to the physical datum and then assert the selected date “was the most likely” since the science lined up with scripture. Which is the form of triangulation I spoke of initially.

From another source comes the following:

The Crucifixion Eclipse (33 CE)
According to the evangelists, Jesus was crucified on a Friday afternoon, some hours prior to the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath. It is recorded that Jesus was crucified during the period when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea (26-36 CE). However, there is no consensus on the date of the crucifixion. Evidence suggests April 3, 33 CE, while others suggest it was April 7, 30 CE. There are various allusions in the Bible to the Moon being dark and turned to blood when it rose in the evening after the crucifixion, which sounds like a lunar eclipse.

Eclipse at Crucifiction on Calvary
The crucifixion eclipse. According to the evangelists, the sun darkened during the crucifixion of Christ.
Later, the event was associated with an eclipse that was visible at Jerusalem.
Credit: © Valenciennes, Musee des Beaux Arts, photo R.G. Ojeda.

In Acts of the Apostles, Peter also refers to a Moon that is the colour of blood and a darkened sky. There is other evidence that on that day the Moon appeared like blood. The so-called Report of Pilate, a New Testament Apocryphal fragment, states:

Jesus was delivered to him by Herod, Archelaus, Philip, Annas, Caiphas, and all the people. At his crucifixion the Sun was darkened; the stars appeared and in all the world people lighted lamps from the sixth hour till evening; the Moon appeared like blood.

This may be the result of a dust storm caused by the khamsin, a hot wind from the south. Under such circumstances – a lunar eclipse while there is much suspended dust – one would expect the Moon to appear the dark crimson of blood. The reason why the Moon is blood red is that, although it is geometrically in the Earth’s shadow, sunlight is refracted through the Earth’s upper atmosphere, where normal scattering will prevent blue light from penetrating. But this refracted light would be much weaker than direct light from even a small portion of the Sun and the blood colour associated with the eclipse would not be visible to the unaided eye. However, the Moon would have an amber colour from atmospheric absorption, similar to any other occasion when the Moon is low in the horizon.

Another hypothesis is that of a solar eclipse visible at Jerusalem on November 24, 29 CE. The Greek historian Phlegon mentions this eclipse in his History of the Olympiads, and says that it was accompanied by an earthquake. The Greek writer Phlegon reported that:

In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad, there was an eclipse of the Sun which was greater than any known before and in the sixth hour of the day it became night; so that stars appeared in the heaven; and a great Earthquake that broke out in Bithynia destroyed the greatest part of Nicaea.

In fact, mention is also made in the Bible of the Sun being darkened earlier that day: “The Sun shall be turned into darkness.

There is controversy among researchers whether this was a solar or a lunar eclipse, and also controversy about the date. In any case, an eclipse occurring in the very same night of the crucifixion would have been seen by believers as a supernatural sign and influenced the change of mind of the Jews and Pilate towards the body of Christ, leading to the placing of a military guard on the tomb.

Richard W. Pressl

Of the three possible dates that match up reported sun/moon/earth/local configurations for the characteristics mentioned in scripture, we end up with three dates at about that time in history: Apr 3rd, 33ce, Apr 7th 30ce, and Nov 24th, 29ce. But missing from the account is any evidence that any of the subjects crucified in that time period were positively identified by neutral observers as a resident of Nazareth known as Jesus – something that scribes had recorded for thousands of years earlier, such as the clay tablet which spoke of Kushim dating back 3,000 years earlier. In fact we have almost no objective data about the physical Jesus at all such as height, weight, hair color, complexion, eye color, right or left-handed, languages spoken, etc. Some atheists have even suggested there was no Jesus of Nazareth crucified by Pilate’s orders in that time frame. That the whole crucifixion event is a fabricated narrative. In a court of law there is no basis even for a civil case.
Alicia Carla Simpson

 -all of that is totally irrelevant.
There are only two bits of relevant data:
1). The only date when there was a lunar eclipse visible from Jerusalem was April 3rd 33 CE.
2). If Peter chose this passage from Joel because there was a lunar eclipse the evening after Jesus was crucified.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
—Acts 2:19–20
The first datum is incontrovertible, it is a FACT. The second datum is an unknown. We presume that Peter selected it because there was a lunar eclipse that night.
Richard W. Pressl …phooey…and we come back to where we started; ie, that the lunar eclipse is both important as a date marker and irrelevant to the sky turning dark, the precise circumstances of the crucifixion, or the validity of the written narratives. 

2 comments to The fascination with astronomical events in early Christianity

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