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In the ninth century a Byzantine writer named George Syncellus referenced a third-century Christian historian named Julius Africanus, who referenced an unknown writer named Thallus (unknown lifespan, active in 2nd century CE) on the darkness at the crucifixion:
On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his 'History', calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.
All of the works of Africanus are lost, so there is no way to confirm the reference or to examine its context. We have no idea who Thallus was, or when he wrote.
Eusebius (fourth century) says
Jesus Christ, according to the prophecies which had been foretold, underwent his passion in the 18th year of Tiberius [32 ce]. Also at that time in other Greek compendiums we find an event recorded in these words: ‘the sun was eclipsed, Bithynia was struck by an earthquake, and in the city of Nicaea many buildings fell All these things happened to occur during the Lord’s passion. In fact, Phlegon [Trallianus], too, a distinguished reckoner of Olympiads, wrote more on these events in his 13th book, saying this: ‘Now, in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad [32 ce], a great eclipse of the sun occurred at the sixth hour [i.e. noon] that excelled every other before it, turning the day into such darkness of night that the stars could be seen in heaven, and the earth moved in Bithynia, toppling many buildings in the city of Nicaea’
Based on the Armenian translation of Eusebius (which preserves references not in the Greek version) one of his sources was ‘three volumes of Thallus, in which he made a summary in abbreviated fashion from the sack of Troy (1184 BCE) to the 167th Olympiad (which ended in July, 109 BCE)’. But to get this to fit the Jesus story one has to conclude the numerals in the Armenian translation are corrupt, with many scholars claiming that the 167th Olympiad should really be either the 207th Olympiad (ending in July, 52 CE) or the 217th Olympiad (which ended in July, 92 CE).
There is no historical evidence of an eclipse during the time Jesus was supposedly crucified (the reason Africanus doubted the eclipse is because Easter happens near the full moon and a solar eclipse would have been impossible at that time, as was well-known). Moreover Bithynia is some 600 miles from Jerusalem, which, based on a 2016 earthquake in Alaska, would have to have been 7.1 or higher to be felt in Jerusalem.
"This leaves us with four options: Africanus meant Phlegon, not Thallus; or Eusebius quoted Thallus verbatim, revealing that Thallus did not mention Jesus; or Thallus mentioned Jesus, but wrote in the 2nd century, when we know the gospels were already in circulation; or Thallus mentioned Jesus and wrote in the 1st century, and is the earliest witness to the gospel tradition. Although all of these are possible, it is clear that any of the first three are more likely than the last one, since there are several facts which support each of them, but none which support the last one--in other words, it is a "mere" possibility, whereas the others actually have some arguments in their favor."
In a scholarly work Carrier concluded "The curtness and brevity of this line is also what would be expected from a treatise that covered the history of the entire world over the enormous course of twelve centuries in only three scrolls. Whereas, by contrast, refutation of claims made in the literature of obscure cults is what would not be expected from such a treatise, there being neither room nor purpose for such a thing. Therefore the Histories of Thallus probably contained no such thing. And from the evidence of Eusebius, we can be virtually certain that it did not. Therefore Thallus should be removed from lists of writers attesting to Jesus, and Thallus’s most probable floruit should be revised to the middle to late second century."
- Evidence for the historical existence of Jesus Christ
- Pliny the Younger
- Extant Works (Julius Africanus), Kevin Knight, New Advent
- Carrier, Richard (2011) "Thallus and the Darkness at Christ's Death" Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism volume 8 pg 185-91
- For Olympiad calendar references, see The 167th Olympiad, The 207th Olympiad and The 217th Olympiad
- Quinn, Steven (Jan 25, 2016) "Major earthquake in southern Alaska felt for hundreds of miles" Rueters
- Carrier, Richard (1999) Thallus: An Analysis
- Carrier, Richard (2011–12) "Thallus and the Darkness at Christ's Death" Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 8 (2011–12) 185-91