New Apologetic Tidbit

Thanks to Doug for sending me a newsletter with some apologetic tidbits about Lent and Holy Week.  Most of the newsletter was information I was already familiar with encouraging Christians not to doubt the Bible’s data so easily.  Oftentimes ‘scholars’ have attacked the Bible’s credibility on certain details due to an absence of evidence, an argument from silence, which basically says that if there is no additional historical or archaeological corroboration of a detail contained in the Bible, the Biblical detail should be assumed to be incorrect.

However this tactic has proven fallacious over and over again.  Examples include insistence from scholars at one point that Pontius Pilate never existed, until archaeology proved them wrong in 1961.  Or how some scholars didn’t believe the Bible’s mention of Caiaphas as High Priest in Jerusalem during Jesus’ ordeal, until archaeology again proved them wrong (or at least weakened their argument considerably) again in 1990.

But there was one tidbit that was new to me.  The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion describe how there was a pervasive darkness from noon till about 3pm (Mark 15:33, Matthew 27:45, Luke 23:44).  It’s obviously an important detail of the event, but are there any historical references outside of Scripture to this?  Turns out there is – the Greek historian Phlegon of Tralles.

Phlegon sounds like an interesting guy, for a historian.  No only did he write a multi-volume history of the Olympiads, he also wrote a book focusing on marvels- paranormal events, as well as a book on people with extraordinarily long lives.  We don’t have copies of most of his writings, but rather references to his writings from historical figures closer to his day.  One such person is the Christian Origen, who references one of Phlegon’s books where Phlegon indicates that there was a massive eclipse during the reign of Tiberius.  Not only was there an eclipse around the 6th hour of the day, there were also reports of earthquakes in various places, something Matthew mentions in his Gospel as well (Matthew 27:51-54).

Objections might be made.  What if Origen was lying?  What if we can’t trust his reference to Phlegon?  Origen was a well-educated man who wrote a great deal.  Apparently Phlegon’s writings were well-enough known that Origen would be familiar with them and would find them reasonable to quote from, and that others would know of them as well.  It wouldn’t make sense for him to simply lie about something that anyone of his day with an education could verify for themselves by referencing Phlegon’s works.

Thanks Doug, and thanks Phlegon and Origen!

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