Date of the Crucifixion, Review
And Resurrection Sabbath
Review of: The Date of the Crucifixion, COLIN J. HUMPHREYS* AND W. GRAEME WADDINGTON**, from JASA 37 (March 1985): 2-10.
Humphreys and Waddington assume a Friday Crucifixion on April 3, AD 33, and Sunday Resurrection on April 5, AD 33. Their defense of this chronology provides some key data and insights, which I will interact with in this article as well as to compare the Resurrection Sabbath with what is probably the best of the incorrect theories.
All these years have severe problems except Wednesday, March 24, AD 34. The range of years AD 26-28 suffer from the fatal defect that they are before the 15th year of Tiberius dated in Luke 3:1. The 15th of Tiberius was Sept 17/18th, AD 28 to Sept 17th, AD 29, or in terms of the Hebrew calendar, Tishri 1, AD 28 to Tishri 1, AD 29. It is highly improbable that there was a coregency as no Roman Historian reckons Tiberius’ reign before AD 14. The coin evidence is completely against it. The coregency theory was invented by scholars who simply could not reconcile their assumptions on the passion with the received dates. Therefore, they rejected the received dates.
The year 29 AD has to be rejected as there is not enough time between Tishri 1, AD 28 and Nisan 14 AD 29 for Messiah’s ministry. The ministry could not have been as short as six or seven months with only one passover.
The year 30 AD has to be rejected for the same reason. Such a ministry would contain only two Passovers, namely Nisan AD 29 and Nisan AD 30. But the book of John records at least three Passovers, the middle one being in John 6:4.
AD 31, 32, 35, and 36 must be rejected since in none of these years Nisan 14 could have fallen on any suggested weekday for Nisan 14: Wednesay, Thursday, or Friday. This narrows the field to just two possible years: AD 33, and AD 34.
Humphreys and Waddington have limited their year tables to AD 26 to AD 36 because these are the years of Pontius Pilate. It is just possible that Pilate ruled for a tiny part of AD 37. But AD 37 cannot be considered because Pilate would not have been in Jerusalem in Nisan AD 37.
Humphreys and Waddington assume that all four Evangelists agree that the crucifixion was a few hours before the start of the weekly Sabbath, but this assumption is not correct. Nisan 15 was also called “the Sabbath” by the Pharisees, the Rabbis in general, the mass of the Jewish people, and John 19:31. Also Lev. 23:11 and 15 were considered by most to identify Nisan 15. Nisan 15 was a movable date with respect to the fixed week.
Here is the Resurrection Sabbath layout:
There is one thing Humphreys and Waddington fail to mention in the choice between AD 34 and AD 33, and this is that AD 33 is a relative late comer to historical suggestions for the crucifixion year:
PASSION DATES BETWEEN AD 200 and AD 1600 Chronologist 21-26 March Other AD 34 AD 33 CASE Hippolytus 1. 25 MAR AD 29 1 Tertullian - 25 MAR AD 29* Victorius of Aquitaine 09 APR AD 28 1 Bede the Venerable 2. 25 MAR AD 34 (1) 1 Claudius of Turin 3. 21 MAR AD 34 (2) 2 Abbo of Fleury 4. 25 MAR AD 12 1 Heriger of Lobbes 5. 23 MAR AD 42 1 Gerland 6. 23 MAR AD 42 2 Marianus Scottus 7. 25 MAR AD 12 2 Heimo of Bamberg 8. 25 MAR AD 01 1 Reinher of Paderborn 9. 26 MAR AD 34 (3) 3 Albert the Great 10. 25 MAR AD 34 (4) 4 Roger Bacon (1292) 03 APR AD 33 (1) 1 Robert of Leicester 11. 23 MAR AD 42 3* Jean des Murs (1355) 03 APR AD 33 (2) 2 Alfonso Tostado 03 APR AD 33 (3) 3 Paul of Middelburg 30 MAR AD 36 1 Joh. Lucidus Samotheus 03 APR AD 33 (4) 4 Christian Massaeus 12. 25 MAR AD 35 1 Onofrio Panvinio 13. 26 MAR AD 34 (5) 5 Gerhard Mercator 02 APR AD 34 (6) 6 Matthaeus Beroaldus 03 APR AD 33 (5) 5 Paul Crusius 03 APR AD 33 (6) 6 J.J. Scaliger (1583) 23 APR AD 34 (7) 7 J.J. Scaliger (1598) 03 APR AD 33 (7) 7 Isaac Newton 23 APR AD 34 (8)* Solomon Zeitlin AD 34 (9)* Daniel Gregg 14. 24 MAR AD 34 (10)* Average day 24 MAR Preferred year AD 34 Source: Dating the Passion, Nothaft. *Added by myself.
I have rearranged the data from Nothaft so it may be better weighted. The average calendar date tossing out the outliers is March 24.4 or just March 24, which corresponds to Nisan 14, AD 34. There are 7 cases of AD 34 in Nothaft’s chart and 7 cases of AD 33 between AD 200 and AD 1600. The critical thing to notice here is that none of the theories have the right crucifixion week day or the right resurrection day. AD 34 has the earliest witness and continued witness. AD 33 only comes in after the 1200’s. A date between March 21 and 26, with an average of 24 wins the witness for month and day.
Since the resurrection was on the Sabbath day, the dispute between a Nisan 15 crucifixion and a Nisan 14 crucifixion is instantly settled. Only Nisan 14 may be the crucifixion date on any other day than Friday since it was a preparation day. The preparation day for the annual Nisan 15 Sabbath must be Nisan 14. The solution to the Synoptic problem is that the key phrases mean “head-most day of unleavened bread,” or “firstest day,” and refer to Nisan 14. The same solution works in Exodus 12:15, and that the same problem occurs there with the same solution shows an extremely high probability we have hit on the correct solution.
Jaubert’s theory that the Qumran solar calendar explains the divergent dating of the Last Super does not deserve consideration since Qumran and its calendar were regarded as a cult by the ruling Pharisees. See Matthew 23:1-3. But the theory is clever, and some elements in John may be explained by Essene involvement so long as the calendar John uses is not ascribed to the Essenes.
Humphreys and Waddington give this table on possible dates for Friday crucifixions. AD 27 must be eliminated as it is before the 15th of Tiberius. AD 30 must be crossed off because the Passovers of AD 29 and AD 30 are too few to satisfy the book of John. The Friday date in AD 34 must be crossed off for multiple reasons, and not just one as noted by Humphreys and Waddington. First that date is a month late from the equinox (first objection), which violates the precept not to delay the first fruits (2 objections). It also violates the precept that Passover is “from days to days,” (3 objections) which is to say, its calculation depends on the length of the year in so many days and not on anything else. It is improbable that barley would not be found before the spring equinox (4 objections), and finally AD 32/33 was Sabbatic and it is highly unlikely that Passover should be delayed on account of getting the new crop harvestable as soon as possible. There is one other reason, not mentioned by Humphreys and Waddington and that is that the new moon for month II in AD 34 would be easily visible and put the 14th on a Thursday, which is no good for the Friday theory.
THE REASON WHY AD 34 WAS NOT INTERCALATED (USING A STRICT EQUINOX, IT WAS NOT NECESSARY IN 33 or 34.) AD 32 AD 33 AD 34 I VII S I S VII C I II VIII S II S VIII C III IX S III S IX C S = months in Sabbatical Year IV X S IV S X C C = months till new crop harvestable V XI S V S XI C VI XII S VI S XII C
Intercalating the Sabbatical year within the year would prolong it. Intercalating the Sabbatical year at the end of the year would prolong the availability of the new crop sown after Tishri 1 at the end of the Sabbatical year. Such hardships were politically and religiously undesirable. The Talmud also mentions that the Sabbatical year was not intercalated. This has to be taken as part misdirection. Sometimes it was necessary to intercalate the Sabbatical year. The Rabbis wanted to keep the method of intercalation a secret, which was the equinox, so they put other methods alongside it to mask what they were really doing. The point is, if we suppose that the equinox was not the strict controlling factor then the other factors all lower the probability that AD 34 was intercalated. Since the equinox was the sole legal method, however, the probability of month XIII in AD 34 is zero.
Humphreys and Waddington think AD 34 conflicts with Paul’s conversion. Not so. Stephen was stoned around Tishri 1, AD 34. The persecution was from Tishri 34 to about Nisan of 36, or about 18 months. Paul was converted in the spring of AD 36. The key to this chronology is that Paul’s three years in Arabia are included in the 14 years and are not separate figures to give *17 years. There are only 14 years, and this brings the 14th year to AD 49. The Jerusalem Council was in the spring of AD 49. Humphreys and Waddington’s requirement for bad weather in the spring of AD 34 is simply a side effect of the mistaken attempt to put the date on a Friday. They then proceed to say there is no positive evidence for AD 34.
But their last statement is argument from ignorance. Given that AD 30 was the first Passover of Messiah’s ministry, a four year ministry is required by the internal evidence, also Luke 13:6-9. John 2:13 goes with AD 30. John 4 requires and extra year, which is confirmed by Luke 6:1 (AD 31). John 6:4 follows in the next year after Luke 6:1 (AD 32), and the Temple Tax paid in Adar plus Luke’s long travelog requires AD 33. The tax is paid in Adar of AD 33 and Luke 9:51ff takes us into the spring of AD 34. Thomas Lewin ably demonstrated the improbability of getting around a 4 year ministry. The only problem was he dated it AD 29 to AD 33. BUT Passover of AD 29 is too early for Messiah’s prior baptism, since he was born in 2 BC on Tishri 1. So the only option left is AD 30 to AD 34 for Messiah’s ministry. Also, Daniel 9 only correctly works on the 445 BC to AD 34 paradigm.
Humphreys and Waddington were completely correct in saying that Nisan 14 was a correct date and the correctness of the timing of the Passover offerings and Messiah’s death. But they are incorrect in claiming synchronization with the first fruits offering, which in AD 33 took place after sunrise on Sunday, and by that point the resurrection was over. In AD 34, the first fruits offering lasted between dawn on Nisan 16 and dawn on the Sabbath. Therefore, Messiah’s resurrection synchronizes with the end of the offering. They point out that the Babylonian Talmud (San. 43a) puts the crucifixion on the eve of Passover, which is the same as Nisan 14, and also that if the crucifixion were on Nisan 15, then first fruits on Nisan 16 would not work with it. Even resorting to the Sadducean theory would not work here, but Humphreys and Waddington fail to point this out because it would also refute their own belief that having the resurrection before the first fruit offering starts is acceptable.
Humphreys and Waddington correctly reject AD 30 as a possible year citing John’s three Passovers: 2:13, 6:4, 11:55. There are some teachers ignorant of how to do proper textual criticism who think John 6:4 should not be in the text, but they have misread the apparatus of the critical editions. Every manuscript reading the passage before the 10th century has it, and only a few MSS do not, and these are obvious scribal errors in light of the unanimous evidence elsewhere and before. Any good textual critic can tell you that there are zero reasons to omit John 6:4. Those who want to remove John 6:4 are still faced with explaining Luke 13:6-9, the temple tax in Adar, John 4, and Luke 6:1. Everyone one of these data independently disagree with any notion of a ministry only about 18 months long containing only two passovers.
Humphreys and Waddington point out that the 46 years building the Temple points to AD 30 as the end point for the Passover of John 2:13. This may be proved from Josephus’ History: The 18th year of Herod, when he began building the Temple, in Josephus’ source was BC 19/18, Tishri to Tishri. Josephus used a priestly source to date this regnal year, which the priesthood dated from the death of Antigonus in early 36 BC by counting an accession year for Herod till Tishri 1, 36 BC. The actual building of the Temple took 1.5 years building from year 18, after all preparations. This takes us to the start of the first year of the 46 year era instituted at the completion of the Temple. Herod’s Roman calendar inauguration date to be king in Rome in 40 BC synchronized with the first day of the feast of Tabernacles in 17 BC. This matches Tishri 17 BC exactly. The first day of Sukkot fell on Sept 30 [R. 29 Sept], the day Herod was appointed king in Rome. Now in 18 BC at Sukkot, 15 Tishri came on 11 October, which was almost two weeks after his inauguration. So the Temple era cannot have started in 18 BC. See Ant. 15:421-423. This observation shows that the 46th year (John 2:20) was parallel to the 16th year of Tiberius, and not the 15th year of Tiberius. Also in 19 BC, the 30th was after the seven days of Sukkot [R. 29]. In 20 BC the inauguration date was almost a week before Sukkot. Only the 17 BC date fits exactly. The only alternative is to say Josephus made a mistake with the 184th Olympiad as no version of the Olympiad can be made to work with a date later than Sept 30, 40 BC.
The above argument, based on Greswell’s proof of Herod’s crowning in Rome, is complex, but it is comprehensive. I was able to calculate the anniversary date in BC 17. It confirms independently and conclusively that the 46th year matches Tiberius 16th year in AD 30. Greswell’s argument only has to be accurate enough to rule out BC 18 as the starting point.1
Humphreys and Waddington suggest that John omitted just one Passover because they subscribe to a 3.5 year ministry. In fact John omitted two Passovers. Missing is the Passover in AD 31, but Luke 6:1 is just as good as a mention of Passover since it speaks of the “second first Sabbath,” which only falls on the weekly Sabbath after Nisan 15. The 3.5 year theorists agree with the extra year here. Where they miss the 4th year is with the Temple tax in AD 33 and Luke’s long travel log (Luke 9:51ff). This is impossible to fit into the short time the 3.5 year theory allows.
Hebrew Date Julian Rome Event Sources/Remarks VI.30 BC 40 9/30 9/29 Inauguration Edward Greswell’s Dissertations ----- BC 36 winter ---- Antigonus Killed Edward Greswell’s Dissertations VII.1 BC 36 9/16 ---- Herod’s 1st yr Priestly Dating VII.1 BC 19 9/9 ---- Herod’s 18th yr Priestly Dating VII.15 BC 17 9/30 9/29 Temple Opened Jos. Ant. 15:421-423 ------------------------------------------------------------------------- VII.15 BC 17 to VII.15 BC 16 = Year 1 of 46 VII.15 AD 29 to VII.15 AD 30 = Year 46 of 46 I.14-I.21 falls in year 46 in AD 30.
Messiah’s Ministry is as follows:
Year Season Text Remarks AD 30 Passover John 2:13 46th year Temple Era AD 30/31 Winter John 4:35 *Not proverbial AD 31 Passover Luke 6:1 *Second First Sabbath AD 32 Passover John 6:4 Text secure AD 33 Spring Mat 17:24 Tax Collected in Adar AD 34 Nisan 14 John 19:14 Wed, March 24th Overall 4 years proved by Luke 13:6-9. *Either witness proves extra year independently
The Lunar Eclipse
Humphreys and Waddington proposed to settle the question of AD 33 with the claim that a “blood” moon was seen in Jerusalem that year due to a lunar eclipse on April 3 at the rising of the full moon. There are two major problems with the proposal, and both are completely fatal. The first error is scientific. The proposed eclipse was so small that only a trained expert would see it, if at all. A simulation of the eclipse in Stellarium makes suggests it is very doubtful that the proposed eclipse would be seen. The 60% magnitude figure listed by Humphreys and Waddington for this eclipse is meaningless since it was at a time before moonrise. The NASA figure is 57.64% at 17:38 TD (16:48 IST).2 This time the eclipse was -15.0 degrees below the horizon in Jerusalem. By the time of moonrise the eclipse is mostly gone. Bradley E. Schaefer sums up the claims for this eclipse as follows, “I also examine the visibility of the partial lunar eclipse of 3 April AD 33, which has been associated with the crucifixion. The eclipsed moon would not have been visible at the time of moonrise and because the umbral portion of the eclipse finished minutes later, any naked-eye effects on the appearance of the moon would have been relatively subtle and probably not detectable even to an experienced observer. I find that any ‘blood colour’ associated with the eclipse would not be visible to the unaided eye. However, the rising eclipsed moon would have an amber colour from atmospheric absorption, just like any other time when the moon is low on the horizon.”3
The second objection is theological. An ordinary astronomical cannot be regarded as a sign from the Almĭghty. Moses gives us the principle in Numbers 16:29, “If like the death of all men these men die, then and the attending of all men will be attended upon them, Yăhwɛh will not have sent me, but if Yăhwɛh a creation he will create, then will have opened up the ground its mouth. Then it will have swallowed them.....” In other words, a true sign has to be unusual. It cannot be an ordinary event. There are many false teachers that try to make ordinary events into signs by equivocating the times of the ordinary events with other events that are supposed to be divinely ordained. But this depends on two assumptions. The first is that the chronology of both events are correct, which often is not the case, and the second is that there is a divine intent in the synchronization of the events, and not just mere coincidence. History is full of pagans ascribing eclipses to divine disfavor of their false gods. The human reasoning is no different than the four blood moon craze. It is equally subjective. The ascribing of meaning to coincidences is a leap of blind faith depending on the superstitious whims of men. The created world is full of cycles of all types that keep repeating. It is not hard to find a cyclic event associated with another event. The fleshy mind hopes to know the future because it craves security that does not come from the Almĭghty, and therefore it seizes any divination or augury to satisfy its desire.
The darkness that came over the land during Messiah’s crucifixion was a supernatural occurrence. Otherwise, it would not be noted in Evangelists with the precise hour of its ending at Messiah’s death. We know this was a sign because Matthew, Mark, and Luke represent it as such. It was not possible for it to be a solar eclipse caused by the moon, because it lasted three hours. When the moon eclipses the sun, the event lasts only for a few minutes. Moreover, it can only happen at the new moon, and the crucifixion took place in the middle of the month. Yet Luke uses the term for an eclipse to describe the event: τοῦ ἡλίου ἐκλιπόντος, ἐσχίσθη δὲ τὸ καταπέτασμα τοῦ ναοῦ μέσον. “The sun having eclipsed, and was split the veil of the temple in two” (Luke 23:45). The word “ἐκλιπόντος” is the ordinary word for eclipse in Greek. Transliterated it is eclipontos, and it is obvious that we get our modern word “eclipse” from this Greek root. If the duration had not been mentioned and the date had not been mentioned, every other historian would have concluded that a solar eclipse was being described. The reason the translation eclipse is avoided is that we know it was not a solar eclipse by the moon given the dating information. Luke ascribes the darkening over the whole land to this eclipse of the sun (vs. 44-45). If he was just describing cloudiness, haze, or smoke, then his description is way off target and we would have to accuse him of sensationalizing an ordinary phenomenon.
But the event was a sign and is so presented as one by Luke’s literary composition. It is packaged together with the other signs that the centurion saw and he concluded that Messiah was the Sŏn of the Almĭghty. Now in those days they would have known that a solar eclipse was not possible. The moon was rising close to sunset. Yet the event looked as if a very long solar eclipse were occurring, because this is the term Luke uses. When this happens it seems like night, and it is even possible for stars to appear, e.g. “And day as night he has made dark” (Amos 5:8). So I propose that the event was as dramatic as a solar eclipse, and had all the appearance of being one except that the moon was not around to explain the cause of it, and that fact is just what makes this a sign, a sign as profound as Joshua’s long day or a sign as profound as a shadow going backwards caused by divine fiat.
Now it is perfectly obvious that every sign that takes place is not recorded in Scripture. See John 21:25. It is also possible for a sign that occurred to be referred to at a later time by a writer that remembered it. See 1Kings 16:34. This text says that Ӈıɛl the Bɛıt-HaElı built Jericho at the cost of his sons as Joshua had prophesied (cf. Joshua 6:26). But the narrative is not described as present tense narrative. It is referred to later by the writer of Kings, “In his days....” Now it is written in Luke that the sun was eclipsed. Surely anyone who had come to Passover in AD 34 remembered the unnatural darkness, the earthquake, and the veil that had torn on Nisan 14 just 51 days earlier when Peter spoke on the day of Shavuot (Acts 2:20), “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood before the great and glorious day of Yăhwɛh shall come.” It perhaps may be that in the night of Nisan 15 the full moon had help the deep brown red as if in full eclipse the whole night. This would not be a natural event, but a divinely caused sign.
It may be that most of the disciples were too preoccupied with Messiah’s death to notice the moon and therefore could only rely on other witnesses. The moon rise at the end of Nisan 14, March 24, AD 34 was sufficiently after sunset that it would be clear a lunar eclipse could not happen that night. Yet what if the moon looked as if it were fully eclipsed? This then might explain why Peter used the Joel prophecy on the day of Shavuot that year, after only seven Sabbaths had intervened between the event and his mention of it. Peter does not quote the prophecy because he expected all elements to be fulfilled or all parts of the prophecy to be then fulfilled, but he quotes it to explain the events surrounding Messiah’s death and resurrection: “Then I will have put wonders in the heavens above, and signs in the earth below!” Could there have been an unusually powerful Aurora Borealis on that day? First of all Aurora’s are described as “pillars of fire and smoke” by many observers. Could an Aurora have that far south?
The Carrington Event: “On September 1–2, 1859, one of the largest recorded geomagnetic storms (as recorded by ground-based magnetometers) occurred. Auroras were seen around the world, those in the northern hemisphere as far south as the Caribbean; those over the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. were so bright that their glow awoke gold miners, who began preparing breakfast because they thought it was morning. People in the northeastern United States could read a newspaper by the aurora's light. The aurora was visible as far from the poles as Sub-Saharan Africa (Senegal, Mauritania, perhaps Monrovia, Liberia), Monterrey and Tampico in Mexico, Queensland, Cuba, Hawaii, and even at lower latitudes very close to the equator, such as in Colombia.”4
Could an Aurora be described as a fire or as smoke or pillars? The answer to this question is that it has been described in historical accounts this way. In fact, then the Joel prophecy has been called to mind by witnesses in the past:
“"On the evening of Jan. 25, 1837, there was a remarkable exhibition of the same phenomenon [meaning the aurora borealis] in various parts of the country, as our readers will doubtless recollect. Where the ground was covered with snow, the sight was grand and 'fearful' in a most unprecedented manner. In one place, situated near a mountain, the people who witnessed the scene, informed us that it resembled 'waves of fire rolling down the mountain.' And generally, so far as learnt, the snow covering the ground appeared like fire mingled with blood, while above (as the apostle says), 'the heavens being on fire,' resembled so much the prophetic description of the last day, that many were amazed; the children beholding it were affrighted, and inquired if it were the coming of the Judgment; and even the animals trembled with much manifest alarm."”5
"London, Sept. 5 . — Between the hours of ten on Thursday night and three yesterday morning, in the heavens, was observed one of the most magnificent specimens of these extraordinary phenomena, the falling stars and northern lights, witnessed for many years past. The first indication of this singular phenomenon was ten minutes before ten, when a light crimson, apparently vapor, rose from the northern portion of the hemisphere, and gradually extended to the center of the heavens, and by 10 o'clock, or a quarter past, the whole, from east to west, was one vast sheet of light It had a most alarming appearance, and was exactly like that occasioned by a terrific fire. The light varied considerably; at one time it seemed to fall, and directly after rose with intense brightness. There were to be seen mingled with it volumes of smoke, which rolled over and over, and every beholder seemed convinced that it was a 'tremendous conflagration.' The consternation of the metropolis was very great; thousands of persons were running in the direction of the supposed awful catastrophe. The engines belong- ing to the fire brigade stations in Baker St., Farringdon St., Watling St., Waterloo Road, and likewise those belonging to the west of London stations — in fact, every fire-engine in London, was horsed, and galloped after the supposed 'scene of destruction,' with more than ordinary energy, followed by carriages, horsemen, and vast mobs. Some of the engines proceeded as far as Highgate and Holloway, before the error was discovered. These appearances lasted for upwards of two hours, and toward morning the spectacle became one of grandeur. "'At two o'clock in the morning, the phenomenon presented a most gorgeous scene, and one very difficult to describe. The whole of London was illuminated as light as noon-day, and the atmosphere was remark ably clear. The southern hemisphere, at the time mentioned, though unclouded, was very dark; but the stars, which were innumerable, shone beautifully. The opposite side of the heavens presented a sin- gular but magnificent contrast; it was clear to extreme, and the light was very vivid; there was a continual succession of meteors, which varied in splendor — they appeared formed in the center of the heavens, and spread till they seemed to burst. The effect was electrical. Myriads of small stars shot out over the horizon, and darted with such swiftness toward the earth that the eye could scarcely follow the track; they seemed to burst also, and throw a dark crimson vapor over the entire hemisphere. The colors were most magnificent. At half past two o'clock, the spectacle changed to darkness, which, on dispersing, dis- played a luminous rainbow in the zenith of the heavens, and round the ridge of darkness that overhung the southern portion of the country. Soon afterward, columns of silvery light radiated from it. They in creased wonderfully, intermingled among crimson vapor which formed at the same time, and when at full hight, the spectacle was beyond all imagination. Stars were darting about in all directions, and continued until four o'clock, when all died away.'"
“Fire in the Night Sky: (Gates of the Mountains) A solar storm blasted into Earth’s atmosphere last night, creating the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). The peak of the storm was shortly after midnight. The Aurora produced a brilliant array of colors, with pillars at times. Most states in the northern United States were able to see the lights. Smoke from wildfires hindered the view anywhere near city lights. The smoke and haze scattered the city light pollution, making it impossible to see.” (August 3, 2016).6
In a similar report, “The astrophotographer Minoru Yoneto was looking at comet Catalina C/2013 US10…When suddenly Southern Lights appeared and the pillars of fire rose to heaven.”7
I happened to watch several video’s of fast auroras in real time. You could hear people talking and see the wind moving the branches of the evergreen trees. The auroras were very fast changing from second to second. They resembled very much smoke rising from a fire and had a wispy appearance. The filaments had a columnar up and down appearance much like a palm frond. The Hebrew words used in Joel 2:30 [3:3] are: וְתִֽימֲר֖וֹת עָשָֽׁן, wetırmerot ashan, “and columns of smoke.” Anyone who did not know the scientific explanation from ancient times might guess that they were columns of smoke or fire. The Hebrew word תִימָרָה is defined, “(palm-like) column (spreading at top)” in BDB. Gesenius “column, beam (of the rising sun or moon).” The root of the word is תָּמַר, tamar, which means “palm.”
An Aurora Borealis might be common enough today, but in ancient times it might not have been so, and it would certainly not be common so far south as Jerusalem. It is probable that if one did occur there no one would have ever seen one before. The weakening of Earth’s magnetic field increases the reach of the Auroras toward the equator, and it may have been at one time in the past that the field was strong enough to keep any visible Auroras strictly in the Arctic regions. But there are claimed records of ancient Auroras, the earliest being that alleged in VAT 4956 by F. Richard Stephenson. The first clearly identifiable Aurora appears to be a Chinese record from 193 BC. If a Coronal Mass Ejection had hit the earth near sunset on the day of the crucifixion of the magnitude of the Carrington Event, then it is very possible that an Aurora could have appeared as a sign.
What makes all these events signs is not that they have no scientific explanation, even if we don’t yet know a scientific explanation, but that a divine intent to cause them to occur all together exists in the chain of causes: (1) Observed Events (2) Scientific Causes (3) Divine Causes of the Scientific Causes. A sign is a sign when sufficiently unusual to rule out coincidence, and it is especially so when a prophet predicts it before hand. The sun eclipsing for precisely three hours from noon to mid afternoon would be an obvious sign to anyone then living. It was probably a clear day since only 37% of daylight hours are cloudy in March in Jerusalem. But even if there were some clouds, and eclipsed sun would make it obviously dark. If it was so cloudy that it cannot be observed whether the sun was eclipsed or not, then no one could have recorded the fact. Very few people would be cynical or skeptical enough to discount it.
How does the confluence of (1) An earthquake, which (2) rips the veil of heaven, (3) after the sun is eclipsed for three hours, (4) precisely when Messiah dies, (5) at the exact timing predicted by Scripture and Messiah compare to the equivocation of ordinary phenomenon with divinely intended events?
We see in the case of the “four blood moon” craze that four moons repeat periodically, which are really four lunar eclipses. And the cyclical odds that they will line up with feast days now and then are 100% given enough time. The supposed events correlated with the eclipses are not exact and hard to pin down. And there was no prophet to point out the connection. Finally, the prophetic interpreters that set dates based on them, or who claimed that significant events would happen have now been proved false. Therefore, it is imperative that there be a qualitative distinction between the objectivity of the signs asserted in Scripture and those so called signs asserted by religious charlatans making sport of a superstitious or gullible laity.
There is a huge difference between Scripture suggesting a historic connection to a sign and readers making the best guess as to what it is and those trying to predict the future based on signs that look like natural occurrences in which the prophetic connection is based on purely whether one believes the suggestion of the prognosticator that there must be one. The later is circular reasoning. The former is based on accepting Scripture’s historical record. So many people doubt what the Scripture says because they have been exposed to too many scammers trying to reproduce the epic success of real prophets. We must, however, not let that destroy our ability to believe that real divine intervention occurs. We should just be careful to only insist that it must be so when Scripture tells us intervention occurred or when it suggests so.
Phenomenon implied or said to be Signs by Scripture
1. The sun eclipsed (scientific explanation not known) 2. The veil tore (secondary cause is earthquake shattering lintel) 3. An earthquake (timing is divinely ordained) 4. The start and end of darkness (timing divinely ordained) 5. The Centurion’s testimony (confirms what the reader is supposed to conclude). 6. The moon eclipsed by fiat (scientific explanation not known). 7. An unusual Aurora explains Peter’s Joel quotation in addition to the moon eclipse and sun eclipse. 8. The moon and Aurora would show red colors.
It would seem to be that points 6-8 are implied to be the most probable if Peter was referring to real and recent events that correspond to all of the elements of the Joel quotation. Someone smarter than me might think of a more probable cause than an Aurora, but Humphreys and Waddington’s non existent eclipse is not it, and also because they have no explanation at all for “columns of smoke,” or “fire.” Short of finding actual volcano’s or massive fires or battles near the crucifixion site, I think my suggestions are most probable since they are most literal in terms of the language of appearance.
It may be that Peter quoted the prophecy because some of the elements of the prophecy had been fulfilled at the crucifixion, and that he was obliged to quote the whole prophecy, and that the other details await some future fulfillment. It would seem strange, however, if Peter put the prophecy to use if only one thing had been fulfilled, namely the sun eclipsing. I think Humphreys and Waddington are correct to suppose that Peter meant more. What is interesting, though, is that Peter dives into a homiletical application of “signs” to Yeshua’s miracles. But this is last of all. First he says, “But this is the thing having been spoken through Joel the prophet.” Peter had ample opportunity to quit quoting when he got to, “and the sun will be darkened.” He could have put ellipses in the prophecy. But he does not. First he says, “A man having been confirmed from the Almĭghty to you, with power, and wonders, and signs which the Almĭghty did through Him, in your midst just as these you have known.” Observe here that there are two categories of signs. First there are wonders that testify to Messiah that were not done by him, but done by the Almĭghty on his behalf, and then there are the signs that he had done through Messiah. So we cannot discount the celestial signs that were done on his behalf.
The nature of signs is that they have a shelf life unless someone records that they occurred, and even when recorded they do not quite pack the same effectiveness as when they are actually experienced or witnessed. Undoubtedly the signs that happened then had a much greater impact emotionally and intellectually on the people then then simply reading them now does. And it is even more so true of the cynic or skeptic who reads about them. People want more signs than they have been given on the one hand. One the other hand, they are slow to believe what the Almĭghty has already said is true.
The conclusion of Humphreys and Waddington’s paper is flawed because they started with the assumption that the crucifixion must have been on a Friday. They were unwitting of the fact that all probabilities lead to the conclusion that the resurrection was on the Sabbath, and that the crucifixion was on the 4th day of the week.
1 Caesar and Antony where not both at Rome until after the peace of Brundisium in A.U. 714. The time of the peace was late summer A.U. 714. Greswell cites Horace's satire as alluding to the approach of the fall equinox, and also that it was after the September grain ships from Egypt. Greswell places Herod's arival just after 19 September. The end of the 184th Olympiad-Syrio-Macedonian reckoning was October 1. Herod stayed only a week in Rome. Ant. 14:387. If Herod was inaugurated on the 6th day of his stay and feasted with Antony, then at the latest this was Sept. 30. [R. Oct 1], but if he arrived on the 19th, then the 24th. So the inaugration date was between 24 and 30 Sept. [R. Sep 25-Oct 1] In 17 BC 15 Tishri fell on Sept 30 [R. 29 Sept.], so this is the date, being confirmed by Josephus who says the feast and the inauration date coincided when the completion of the Temple was celebrated. Ant. 15:423. The date could not have fallen past the Syrio-Macedonian new year on October 1 [R. Oct 2] that year, because then it could not have been the 184th Olympiad. In the Roman Calendar the inaugration date was 29 Sept. In the proleptic Julian 28 Sept.
2. Using NASA time 17:38 I convert this to IST. IST = TD + 2. Therefore: 19:38. The figure now has to be corrected for ΔT = 10,202 seconds (NASA figure). That many seconds is 2 hours 50 minutes. 19:38 - 2:50 = 19:38 - 3 + 0:10 = 16:38 + 0:10 = 16:48. So the maximum eclipse will be 16:48 IST. Stellarium shows the eclipse 15 degrees below the horizon at this time in Jerusalem. To see this in Stellarium, the user, in fact, does not have to figure the time exactly. Just adjust the shadow on the moon using the clock until it is the largest. Then check the altitude of the moon. Then adjust the time until the moon rises. Then check the shadow again. One will see that it is tiny at that point.
3. Lunar visibility and the crucifixion, Bradley E. Schaefer. Accessed from SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS). Bradley assigns at most 59% of the moons diameter inside the umbra. This paper has valuable insights into conditions of naked-eye observation of the new moon and the first appearance of stars. It should be required reading for all new moon observers. According to Schaeffer’s best estimate less than 1% of the moon would be eclipsed at the time a naked-eye observer would spot it, “With the visible umbral eclipse being so small in magnitude and so brief in duration (if it occurred at all), the anamaly of the moon’s shape cold easily be ascribed to clouds by any naked eye observer. More than several minutes after leaving the umbra, the shading will not be readily noticeable to any observer not expecting to see an eclipse. Even if the penumbral darkening had been spotted, it would be easy and natural to ascribe it to clouds or a haze layer....The visibility of the lunar eclipse of 3 April AD 33 from Jerusalem would have been difficult. During the umbral portions of the eclipse, the moon would have been so low in a bright twilight sky that it could not have been seen with the naked eye. The moon would be first spotted just after leaving the umbra, at a time when the differential extinction would to a great extent mask the penumbral shadings....In summary, at no time during the eclipse would even a serious and experienced observer in Jerusalem have realized that and eclipse was occurring.” Schaefer also shows that there would no no significant red light from the eclipses itself as it would be swamped by other sources of light and overpowered by the normal reddening of the moon near moonrise. He concludes this saying, “Hence, the 3 April AD 33 eclipsed moon would have appeared amber when it was rising, exactly like any other rising moon.”
5. Rise And Progress of the Seventh-Day Adventists, 1892. Battle Creek, Michigan; by J.N. Loughborough, pg. 46.
7. http://strangesounds.org/2015/10/red-southern-lights-pillars-fire-heaven.html. By Strange Sounds - Oct 16, 2015