I read a passage in the Bible where it said that there was a blackness and an earthquake after Jesus died. [Editor’s note: Luke 23:44 for the darkness, Matthew 27:51 for the earthquake] Is there historical evidence of people seeing this?
Many people fail to recognize that we have very little information about what happened in the ancient world. There are entire decades of history of the Roman empire that we know virtually nothing about. If we were to have an outside record confirming the darkness at the time of the crucifixion it would be truly remarkable and a great surprise.
Yet, the remarkable fact is that we do have a record of a pagan Roman who discussed the darkness at the time of the death of Jesus. It comes from a man by the name of Thallus. We know of what he said from a third century Christian historian named Julius Africanus. Thallus wrote a three-volume treatise of world history in the 50s AD. In discussing the darkness at the time of the resurrection of Jesus, Julius Africanus tells us that in the 3rd book of his history, Thallus mentions the darkness and calls it an eclipse of the sun. Africanus believed that Thallus wrong—that there was no eclipse at that time. (By the way, Africanus is right. There was no solar eclipse in Palestine any time even close to the crucifixion of Jesus) Whether or not this source proves the darkness at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion is perhaps debatable, but it does support the idea that even non-Christians were aware of the resurrection as early as the 50s AD—at about the time the first book of the NT was written. Whether the comment by Thallus proves the darkness happened is, like I said, debatable. However, what it does prove is that the darkness was openly claimed and believed by the Christians less than twenty years after the event. This is at least a decade before Luke recorded the event in his gospel. This provides strong support for Luke’s account of the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus. As Christian believers we are not surprised at this, but the fact can be helping to bring non-believers to faith in Jesus.