Earthquake Data Confirms Holy Friday As A Very Supernatural Day

The events surrounding the crucifixion of Christ have puzzled scholars for millennia. Is there evidence to corroborate the supernatural events described in the Gospels?  This presentation will demonstrate that indeed there are multiple lines of corroborating evidence. The first task of determining the exact date for the death of Jesus is problematic. There are good arguments for both 30 and 33 AD. Luke places the beginning of Jesus’ ministry shortly following John the Baptists’ during “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius” (Lk 3:1). Augustus died in AD 14 and was succeeded by Tiberius.[1] A straight forward reckoning would place Jesus’ baptism in AD 29. However, many scholars believe that Luke may have Tiberius’s reign from the time when Augustus raised Tiberius to be coregent in AD 11.[2] Thus, we arrive at a date of AD 26-27 for Jesus Baptism.

To determine the length of Jesus’ ministry John’s gospel is the most useful. John mentions at least three Passovers during Jesus’ ministry (John 2:23; 6:4; 12:1).[3] This infers a bare minimum of two years. There is an unnamed feast in Jerusalem which many commentators believe to be a fourth Passover (Jn. 5:1).[4] This appears plausible because the Passover in John 2:23 occurred in the spring, hence the soon harvest in John 4:35 indicates 9 months had passed. John also mentions events in Galilee preceding the Passover mentioned in John 6:4.[5]This leads us to postulate a three year ministry.

Thus we can infer a date of AD 30 or 33 depending on how one reckons Tiberius’ fifteenth year.  This is supported by Luke’s assertion that Jesus was about thirty years of age when he began his ministry (Lk. 3:23) given a 5-4 BC birth. Still yet, because his death was on the Friday day of Preparation (Mk 15:42) and the month of Nisan was based on the New Moon, we can derive two possible dates Nisan 14 or 15. Those days possibly fall on Friday in either AD 30 or 33. Hence, the two most probable dates are Nisan 14 (April 3), AD 33, and Nisan 14-15 (April 6- 7), A.D. 30.[6] Perhaps we can find other evidence which will favor one date over the other.

With the dramatic events described one wonders if there is any extrabiblical evidence in the historical record. There is more than you might expect. Phlegon of Tralles was a Greek writer and freedman of the emperor Hadrian, born about A.D. 80 and wrote in the 2nd century AD. The ancient Greeks calculated dates based on their Olympic games every four years. His chief work was the Olympiads, an historical compendium in sixteen books, from the 1st down to the 229th Olympiad (776 BC to AD 137), of which several chapters are preserved in the historian Eusebius’ Chronicle. The early church fathers were well aware of Phlegon’s writings and used his history in their apologetics.

The historian Eusebius quoted Phlegon directly in his chronicles:

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, an eclipse of the sun happened, greater and more excellent than any that had happened before it; at the sixth hour, 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.[7]

The fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad ran from summer of 32 to summer of 33 AD because the first Olympiad occurred in 776 BC.  Hence, Phlegon’s history favors the 33 AD date. Furthermore, Origen confirms the existence of this data in his debate with the skeptic Celsus:

He [Celsus] imagines also that both the earthquake and the darkness were an invention; but regarding these, we have in the preceding pages, made our defense, according to our ability, adducing the testimony of Phlegon, who relates that these events took place at the time when our Savior suffered.[8]

Julius Africanus further refers to the writings of historian Thallus who wrote concerning the possibility of a solar eclipse:

This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Saviour falls on the day before the passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time but in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last of the old, that is, at their junction: how then should an eclipse be supposed to happen when the moon is almost diametrically opposite the sun? Let that opinion pass however; let it carry the majority with it; and let this portent of the world be deemed an eclipse of the sun, like others a portent only to the eye.  Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Cæsar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth—manifestly that one of which we speak. But what has an eclipse in common with an earthquake, the rending rocks, and the resurrection of the dead, and so great a perturbation throughout the universe? Surely no such event as this is recorded for a long period. But it was a darkness induced by God, because the Lord happened then to suffer.[9]

As Africanus realized, a solar eclipse concurrent with a full moon is a scientific impossibility. In response to this, the christian apologist Tertullian understood this as how those ignorant of Christ explained the mysterious darkness:

In the same hour, too, the light of day was withdrawn, when the sun at the very time was in his meridian blaze. Those who were not aware that this had been predicted about Christ, no doubt thought it an eclipse. You yourselves have the account of the world-portent still in your archives.[10]

Tertullian was confident that the reports were available in the archives, yet he does not think it necessary to view the darkness as an eclipse. Indeed an eclipse was simply the first century skeptics attempt to explain away the supernatural events surrounding Jesus death. While it is nice to have these ancient confirmations I wondered if there was anything modern science might reveal. Indeed there are surprising confirmations.

The Israel Exploration Journal published by the institute of archeology at the Hebrew University published an article “Earthquakes in Israel and Adjacent Areas: Macrosismic Observations since 100 BCE.” On page 265 they list a slight earthquake in Jerusalem in AD 30 and one in AD 33 which affected Judea, Jerusalem including damage to the temple![11]

Indeed it appears scientific analysis has corroborated the Biblical account. There was indeed an earthquake in Jerusalem, one which even damaged the temple. Does this prove the account in the Gospels? Well to claim proof might be too strong… but given the evidence it sure does make putting your trust in Jesus seem like a reasonable proposition. The Bible tells us that all have fallen short of God’s righteous standard. But, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”” (Ro 10:9-11)



Earthquake Data Reference Key:
S A. Sieberg: Untersuchungen uber Erdbeden und Bruchschollenbau im ostlichen Mittelmeergebiet, Denkschruften der medizinisch-naturwissenschafilichen Gesellschaft zu Jena 18 (1932), pp 159-273. 

R G.L. Araniakis: Essai sur le climat de Jersalem, Bulletin de l’Institut d’Egypte ser. 4,t. 4, 1903, pp. 178-189. 

W B. Willis: Earthquakes in the Holy Land, Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 18 (1928), pp.73-103. Amendment in Science, Vol. 77, No. 1997, 7 April 1933, p. 351.


[1] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament : Its Background and Message, 2nd ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 96.

[2] Lea, The New Testament,  97.

[3] Lea, The New Testament, 96.

[4] Elmer Towns, The Gospel of John Believe and Live, (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2002),43.

[5]Lea, The New Testament, 96.

[6] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 126.

[7] Phlegon, 13th book 202 Olympiad in Chronicle (English Translation by Tertullian Project), Jerome

[8] Origen, Contra Celsus Book II Chap. LIX

[9] Julius Africanus. The Extant Fragments of the Chronography, XVIII

[11] D.H.K. Amiran; E. Arieh; Turcotte, “Earthquakes in Israel and Adjacent Areas: Macrosismic Observations since 100 BCE,” Israel Exploration Journal 44 (1994):260-305.