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Devil's in the details

Phlegon of Tralles, generally just Phlegon (unknown lifespan, 2nd century CE) was a Greek writer during the rule of the emperor Hadrian.

Phlegon recorded a great earthquake in Bithynia, on the coast of the Black Sea in what is today Turkey. Intrepid Christian apologist OrigenWikipedia (184/185 – 253/254 CE) decided that because Phlegon wrote about an earthquake and an eclipse, this must have been a reference to the darkness and earthquake following the crucifixion of Jesus:

Now Phlegon, in the thirteenth or fourteenth book, I think, of his Chronicles, not only ascribed to Jesus a knowledge of future events (although falling into confusion about some things which refer to Peter, as if they referred to Jesus), but also testified that the result corresponded to His predictions.[1]

However, judging from the quote of Phlegon contained in a work by later apologist EusebiusWikipedia (260/265 – 339/340 CE), this is simply wrong:

Indeed Phlegon, who is an excellent calculator of olympiads, also writes about this, in his 13th book writing thus: "However in the fourth year of the 202nd olympiad [32 CE], an eclipse of the sun happened, greater and more excellent than any that had happened before it; at the sixth hour [around noon] day turned into dark night, so that the stars were seen in the sky, and an earthquake in Bithynia toppled many buildings of the city of Nicaea."[2]

How anyone could take a reference to an earthquake and eclipse in Nicea, 900 kilometres from Jerusalem, as evidence for the earthquake described in Matthew 28:2 (and only there) is more a sign of the shaky state of the "evidence" for the fantastic events in the New Testament, even in the age of the Church Fathers than anything else.

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  1. Origen, Against Celsus (Contra Celsum), Book II, Chap. XIV
  2. Eusebius, Chronicle (Chronicon), Book II