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The darkness during the Crucifixion had a profound impact on those witnessing this event (Centurion, thief on a cross, etc.). Did the darkness begin in Judea through some natural meteorological cause and hover over Golgotha, or was there a massive eclipse of light around the world?

The wording in question is: darkness came over all the land (Matthew 27:45). Does "all the land" mean the land of Israel, in particular, or all the Earth? Does the Greek verbiage give any indication?

Also, is there any scientific record (historical meteorology) that would confirm translation of the Greek wording? (The ancients were accustomed to keeping such records.) This would move the interpretation of the Greek out of the realm of opinion into more substantial evidential fact.

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  • @NigelJ. You're too quick on the draw! I simply forgot to place the verse in, but hastened to add it before "getting caught without my verse." Matthew 27:45 is the verse in question, and is something several comrades and I have wondered about.
    – ray grant
    Apr 28, 2023 at 22:54
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    @PerryWebb says "If it was a total eclipse, it was the whole Earth." — No. Each solar eclipse is visible from only very small area. E.g. CSJUHZLO2REO3HKXROXPGLLLFI.jpg (980×569) shows next year's eclipse traveling a path from Mexico, north-east to the Maritimes. Nearby, it will be a partial eclipse. Everywhere else will not be anything unusual. ¶ But lunar eclipses appear the same to everyone . Apr 29, 2023 at 0:57
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    Does this answer your question? Was there an eclipse just before Jesus died?
    – Michael16
    Apr 29, 2023 at 7:30
  • @Michael16.Thank you for the referral to another question! These two posts are complimentary; this one has answers dealing with "the land" in the Bible, and the other gave answers about ancient quotes. Please keep both questions. Also, the ancient quote of Julius Africancus (2nd century) confirmed my understanding of Jesus's fulfilling the 70th Week of Daniel 9! A double blessing.
    – ray grant
    May 2, 2023 at 19:36
  • "This question asks for scientific evidence or historical records that would determine the extent of the land involved in this darkness.". Without knowing the cause of the darkness, it would be difficult to say. ¶ We know for sure it wasn't a solar or lunar eclipse. But we don't know that it wasn't a volcano or a massive flock of birds, or some other non-predictable natural phenomenon. And we certainly don't know that it wasn't a supernatural phenomenon. ¶ I suspect the answer to the Title question is simply "no". Nov 15, 2023 at 23:54

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Great Question!! I am not sure this will be resolved here. Ellicott addresses this in part when he says:

The degree and nature of the darkness are not defined. The moon was at its full, and therefore there could be no eclipse. St. John does not name it, nor is it recorded by Josephus, Tacitus, or any contemporary writer.

I pause to note that it could not have been an eclipse for two main reasons:

  • it was the time of Passover and thus a full moon when a solar eclipse is impossible
  • the darkness lasted far longer (about 3 hours) than a few minutes for an eclipse

The operative Greek word is, γῆ (ge) which can mean "soil, land, region" etc. It never means, "planet earth" in the modern sense as this idea is modern and thus foreign/unknown to the ancients.

In the construction employed in Matt 27:45, its meaning is almost certainly "immediate area" as this is the most common meaning ("soil" would make no sense here") in the NT. For example:

  • Matt 2:6 - And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come forth One leading, who will shepherd My people Israel.'"
  • Matt 2:20 - saying, "Having arisen, take the Child and His mother and go into the land of Israel; for those seeking the life of the Child have died."
  • Matt 4:15 - “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

More specifically, the phrase, "all the land", occurs much less often but still denotes a specific area:

  • Matt 9:30, 31 - And their eyes were opened. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one finds out about this!” 31But they went out and spread the news about Him into all the land. [that is Judea]
  • Luke 4:25 - And in truth I say to you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, when there was a great famine upon all the land; [That is just the region of Samaria]
  • Luke 21:34:35 - But watch yourselves, or your hearts will be weighed down by dissipation, drunkenness, and the worries of life—and that day will spring upon you suddenly like a snare. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of all the land/earth. [This is discussing the destruction of Jerusalem, so probably mean the region of Judea. However, if we understand this apocalyptically and eschatalogically, then this would mean the entire earth.]
  • Rom 9:17 - For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "For this very purpose I have raised you up, so that I might show My power in you, and that My name should be declared in all the land." [that is, Egypt]
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We can't say what the physical cause of the darkness was, but we do know what it wasn't.

A solar eclipse can happen only at the time of the new moon. The Crucifixion was on the 14th day of the month, so a solar eclipse at that time would be impossible.

Lunar eclipses happen at full moons though. and can last for three hours.

Interestingly, a partial lunar eclipse did occur on the 25th of April in 31 CE (Catalog of Lunar Eclipses: 0001 to 0100).

Even more interestingly, that same day was the 14th day of the Hebrew calendar, the Day of Preparation for Passover (Passover-dates-26-34-A.pdf).

Unfortunately (for this question), in Jerusalem it was near midnight when that lunar eclipse occurred, so it too doesn't explain the darkness described by Matthew:

Now from the sixth hour [noon] there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour [3 pm].
— Matthew 27:45

But that eclipse was a partial eclipse, an event that often causes the Moon to appear red, especially when it can be observed late at night.

There are traditional, non-biblical references to a blood-moon on the night of the Crucifixion.

And while not explicitly about the Crucifixion, Luke refers to Joel 2:31 and the Day of the Lord:

The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come.
— Acts 2:20

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