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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Jesus Christ Died On A Friday

THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT: In recent decades a certain idea has cropped up that challenges the traditional understanding about the day of Christ's crucifixion. At the core of this notion is that Christ was actually crucified on a Wednesday, so that we can chronologically account for three full days before his resurrection. For decades this notion has gone virtually unchallenged and that's unfortunate. It has led to questions about other traditional understandings of the gospel as well, introducing more and more confusion in the non-Catholic world.

The evidence is for a Friday crucifixion is plentiful, once we're ready to start looking into what non-Biblical sources say about the astronomical events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Phlegon was a Greek historian who wrote an extensive chronology around AD 137:
In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad (i.e., AD 33) there was ‘the greatest eclipse of the sun’ and that ‘it became night in the sixth hour of the day [i.e., noon] so that stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea.’
- Phlegon, 137 AD
Phlegon identifies the year and the exact time of day. In addition, he writes of an earthquake accompanying the darkness, which is specifically recorded in Matthew’s Gospel.

This event could not have been a solar eclipse in the classic sense. In other words, whatever caused a shadow to fall over the earth, and the sun's light to be blotted out, could not have been the moon. As the moon is always in the completely opposite position in the sky during the full moon phase, which is what Passover always falls on. Furthermore, solar eclipses just last a few minutes, never three hours. The three-hour "eclipse-like" event is a historical fact, and accounted for by non-biblical (even non-Christian) authors, including Pontius Pilate no less, who wrote in a report to Tiberius Caesar the following account...
Now when he was crucified darkness came over all the world; the sun was altogether hidden, and the sky appeared dark while it was yet day, so that the stars were seen, though still they had their luster obscured, wherefore, I suppose your excellency is not unaware that in all the world they lighted their lamps from the sixth hour until evening. And the moon, which was like blood, did not shine all night long, although it was at the full, and the stars and Orion made lamentation over the Jews because of the transgression committed by them.
- Pontius Pilate, 33 AD

We may never know what caused the solar eclipse-like event that lasted three hours, but we can speculate. Assuming that God uses natural events in unexpected ways to accomplish most of his miracles, then using what we know about natural phenomena, we can make a good guess. Eclipses are caused when the shadow of something is cast on the earth. Under normal circumstances, its the shadow of the moon cast upon the earth, as the moon passes between the earth and the sun, blotting out the sun's light for a few seconds. So based on what we know causes eclipses, we can speculate that something fairly large passed between the earth and the sun on the date and time in question, and we know that it could not have been the moon. Also the duration of the event (3 hours) would seem to indicate that the trajectory of the object was such that it kept the shadow on relatively the same place (the Mediterranean world) for about three hours. One possibility would be a very large asteroid on a near collision course with the earth. If the trajectory were so that the large asteroid (several dozen miles in diameter at least) were coming directly from the angle of the sun, passing by the earth at an incredibly close range, it might create a shadow large enough to eclipse the sun wherever it was cast on the earth's surface. Furthermore, such a near miss with such a large object would certainly capture the object in the earth's gravitational well, causing the asteroid to be flung around the earth at a totally different trajectory than when it came in. If the asteroid were to have it's own gravitational pull, and something that size probably would, then it might have caused disturbances on the earth as it passed by in the form of natural disasters, such as earthquakes. Granted this is all just speculation, but I am unaware of any other natural occurrence that could cause an eclipse-like event lasting three hours, coupled with earthquakes, like the one described by so many sources from antiquity. I should like to see more study into this possibility done by people more well versed in astronomy and astrophysics than myself.

The occurrence of a blood red moon is actually much more easy to explain. Pilate's account to the red moon also helps us confirm not only the year, but the actual day. NASA has already accounted for the only kind of eclipse that can happen in a full moon phase, which is a lunar eclipse, frequently known to give the moon a "blood red" appearance, particularly when they are seen only partially. NASA pinpoints this event to April 3rd, 33 AD. The following chart is their report, which can be viewed on NASA's actual website here...

Finally, we must look to the Jewish calender to verify that a Passover did occur on this date. Indeed it did. Nissan 15, the customary day for Passover, would have fallen on Saturday the 4th of April in 33 AD. That would have made this particular Saturday a "high sabbath" which is mentioned in the gospel accounts, and it would have made Friday the 3rd of April the day of preparation, when the lamb sacrifice was slaughtered in the Temple. This would have put Jesus crucifixion at exactly the time when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered, just hours before sunset, when Nissan 15 began on the Jewish calendar. (Remember, the Jewish calendar begins each day at sundown not midnight.) Typically, the Passover meal would have been eaten that Friday evening in 33 AD. However, the gospels tell us that Jesus ate the Passover with his disciples the night before -- Thursday. This may be accounted for by the probability that Jesus was using the Essene calendar for the calculation of Passover.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his Holy Thursday homily for 2007 pointed out that Jesus; "celebrated Passover with his disciples probably according to the calendar of Qumran, that is to say, at least one day earlier -- he celebrated without a lamb, like the Qumran community who did not recognize the Temple of Herod and was waiting for a new temple."

So there you have it folks. The definitive date of Jesus' crucifixion is settled by two undeniable astronomical events. The first extraordinary, recorded in the gospels, and confirmed by the written testimony of non-Biblical authors. The second quite ordinary and predictable, easily calculated and illustrated by the experts at NASA. Finally, we have the confirmation of the Jewish calendar, which confirms a Passover preparation on this very day (see chart here, Passover always falls on the Jewish date of Nisan 15, with preparation and seder always on Nisan 14), just as the gospels tell us. Jesus Christ was crucified at high noon, and died at 3 pm, on Friday, April 3rd, 33 AD.


scotju said...

Sir Knight, I used to be a member of the Worldwide Church Of God, that was founded by Herbert w Armstrong. We believed in the Wednesday cruxifixion too. The reason why we believed it is because we taught Easter was pagan, and the the three days and three nights had to be literal 24 hr periods. I suspect that many of the folks who believe this idea are influenced by anti-Catholic feelings and prejudgement. Most of the groups that I've known that profess this idea were either members of a Judaizing sect or some kind of extreme fundamentalist who really had it in for Catholicism.

Glenna said...

Wow. That did give me shivers. Thanks for sharing! Am passing on the link to a few friends.

Anonymous said...

amazing!!! (no other words will do) Pete Frey

Anonymous said...

The bible says that Jesus would be in the tomb for as long as Jonah was in the belly of the whale. Which was 3 Full Actual Days. Can you explain that!!

Robin said...

How does that explain that the bible says Jesus would be in the tomb for as long as Jonah was in the belly of the whale? (3 FULL days) Not trying to argue... I am truly trying to work this out in my head.


The Catholic Knight said...

Robin, since the scientific data and historical record are indisputable, and are also confirmed by the history of the Church, we must then ask ourselves the only logical question. How is our understanding of Scripture wrong? The Scripture cannot be wrong, but our understanding of it certainly can be.

The two passages that mention the "sign of Jonah" regarding Jesus death and resurrection, are found in Matthew 12:40 and Luke 11:30. The focus is often on Matthew 12:40, because there you have the reference to three days and three nights: "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." If we interpret this literally, then we are forced to say that either Jesus was wrong, or all the ancient historians were wrong, along with Church tradition, the Jewish calendar and the scientific calculations of NASA. The only way to rectify this - literally - is to count the period of darkness (the supernatural eclipse) as a night. Then we could say that Jesus spent three days and three nights "in the heart of the earth" (i.e. "dead"), even if those weren't literally 24 hour cycles, we could say they at least overlap the time he spent in death.

Or we could move away from the absolute literal interpretation, and just say Jesus was trying to make a point about his time in the tomb being a "sign" to his generation, just as Jonah's time in the belly of the whale was a "sign" to Jonah's generation. The emphasis being on the repentance of Nineveh. Remember, the prophecy Jonah was to give to Nineveh. He was to tell them that if they did not repent, God would destroy the city. So the Ninevites repented, and the city was saved. However, Jesus is telling us that Jerusalem will be destroyed if it doesn't repent, just like Nineveh. The sign they were to seek was the same sign as Jonah. Jesus would be gone for a time, being dead to the world, then return, just as Jonah did. The reference in Luke 11:30 is more vague, but emphasizes this point: "For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation."

Anyway, that's two possible ways we could look at it. I'm open to other possible interpretations as well.

walter said...

Interesting stuff. Not trying to be argumentative but doesn't that quote from Pilate come from dubious sources? I can only find it in an 100 year old book on the The Apocryphal Books of the New Testatment. Are you certain it can be considered authentic?

The Catholic Knight said...

Walter, it really doesn't matter, as it's confirmed by multiple sources from the time period. The three-hour "eclipse" did happen, and that is a documented historical fact, from multiple sources around the region. No modern astronomer would contest it, even though most would be hard pressed to explain it. The most likely scenario is a near miss from a large astronomical body -- probably an astroid. The same goes for the blood-red moon, which again is well documented by the Scriptures and other historical writings from the period. This phenomenon is easily explainable and predictable though.

I am inclined to believe this alleged written account by Pontius Pilate, because it is consistent with the other things I've read about him, and it is only logical that the Roman procurator would have to file regular reports to Caesar, and there is nothing in this report that contradicts anything said in the gospels or the writings of others during the time period.

Andrew Ballew said...

As far as the meal Jesus and his disciples ate, which was eaten on Thursday evening, or early Friday based on the Jewish custom of days being Sundown to Sundown.....

The synoptics say that on the first day of unleavened bread, the day the passover lamb is slaughtered, (preparation day) the disciples came to Jesus asking where they should prepare for the passover meal.

Based on this statement, and on other statements correlating that Jesus indeed was crucified on preparation day, it would seem to me that they must have come with this question close to sundown on Thursday, with the actual meal taking place sometime later that night.

The explanation that the this day mentioned in the synoptics follows the tradition of the Essenes is a possibility, too, i.e., two preparation days depending on affiliation. But since two of the synoptics, Mark and Luke specifically identify this day with the killing of the paschal lamb, and since the Essenes did not sacrifice a lamb, this seems unlikely....

Thoughts, Sir Knight? And thank you for the wonderful blog entry.

Judy said...

We are taught that the Holy Eucharist is a participation in the crucifixion, death and resurrection of our Lord. I've always understood that, at the moment of consecration, time ceases to have meaning and we are truly present with all the Church and all the saved throughout history to the end of the world.
If this is so, then when He offered the disciples His body and His blood in the upper room, they were already present at His death.
Remember also, that His agony in the garden a short time later has been interpreted as Him suffering from accepting the burden of our sins. What better interpretation of "in the heart of the earth" than buried in all the sins of humankind?

jjt said...

Some add'l support for reconciling the 'difficulties' associated with a Friday crucifixion may be found here:

This article uses first century Jewish sources to clarify a reconciliation of the four Christian Gospels.

knightwithdignity said...

In making the determination that the 15th of the first month was on saturday 4 April 33ad, can you advise, are you using the Hillell II calendar with its postponement rules.

I ask, because there is another historical hebrew calendar based on the elephantine papyrus from the 400s bc, which when projected down to roman times, aligns with the dated historical events of the taking of jerusalem by pompey in 63bc, by herod in 37bc, and the destruction of the temple in 70ad.

According to this historical hebrew calendar, the passover in 33ad would have been celebrated on 3 May 33ad, one month later than that determined by the Hillell II calendar.

Catholic Knight said...

I had not heard of this calendar before now, so that is very interesting. I will admit a bias on my part. The only calendar I really and truly trust is the one mapped out by NASA, and by that I mean the lunar calendar of figuring solar and lunar eclipses. The blood-red moon described in the gospels is a perfect description of a lunar eclipse as it's something I've seen with my own eyes in the night sky. So in my book, whatever man-made calendar that we use, wither Hebrew (of one kind or another) or Roman, it must line up with a lunar eclipse around the year 33 AD.

As for the solar eclipse on that day, as I said above, that is not explainable by natural phenomenon. My only explanation for a 3 hour eclipse of the sun is for a large celestial body to pass between the earth and the sun, casing its shadow over the region of the Holy Land. The object may have been large enough to cause a gravitational disturbance, thus creating earthquakes in the region as well. I'm thinking it was likely a very large asteroid, at least as large as the one that supposedly killed off the dinosaurs, in what amounted to the closest near miss with earth in human history. Granted, I know this is all pure speculation on my part, and shouldn't be taken as anything more than that, but I sometimes wonder of Jesus' words "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!" might have been inspired by the sight of the asteroid blocking out the light of the sun. The impact of such an asteroid would have certainly spelled the end of human history on the planet, thus damning us all to hell if we hadn't been redeemed. Could Jesus have worried for a moment that God was sending his judgement in spite of his sacrifice? I don't know. It's complex. And it is pure speculation that shouldn't be taken as anything more than that.