Lights Out With Pliny

Did Pliny neglect to talk about the darkness at the time of Christ? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

For the sake of discussion with this post, I’m going to be assuming the darkness at the crucifixion of Christ was an actual event and not an apocalyptic image. Now granted for the sake of argument that that is the case, an objection is raised. “If this was such an event, why did Pliny never mention it? Pliny gives an exhaustive list in book 2 of the eclipses that happened.”

So it is and most people get this kind of idea from Gibbon. Surely when Pliny was recording the history of these events he would have mentioned an event of great darkness like this. Yet the solution to this for anyone is to simply look at the chapter in Pliny.

Most of us will be impressed when we hear of a chapter, but this is a short chapter in Pliny. In Latin, it is eighteen words. The relevant portion when translated reads as follows:

“eclipses are sometimes very long, like that after Cesar’s death, when the sun was pale almost a year.”

Pliny then does not give an exhaustive look at all the eclipses and thus we should not be surprised if he does not mention the one that happened at the time of Christ. What could be said about that if it is a literal event? Most people would chalk it up as some kind of anomaly. It’d be nice to have known what caused it, but they couldn’t know. It might cause some talk for awhile, but when no one could figure anything out and no great disasters happened shortly afterwards, everyone would just move on.

Do we have similar events happening other times? Yes. There was a dark day even in American history. It was back in 1780. What caused it? To this day, no one knows for sure, but no one denies that it was dark all throughout the day on that day. Details of that dark day can be found here.

If there’s one lesson definitely that we can get from this brief little look, it’s that one should always be seeking to test primary sources. On the internet, this is much easier to do. Also, if one has a device like a Kindle, one can download many old books for free and go through them and look and see. This requires just a little bit of research.

Unfortunately, while atheists usually mock Christians as being people who are gullible, too many of them wind up buying into myths like this because it just seems to fit with the idea of people being ignorant and unscientific back then and overly gullible. If there is a story that fits the picture, then the story is true, such as the myth that they believed in a flat Earth.

This is not to say Christians never do this. Unfortunately, they do, and if anyone thinks I am wrong on citing a source on this blog, then please by all means let me know. I realize I am capable of making mistakes too and I encourage everyone to check everyone else for mistakes, including myself. It has been said that a cry of the Reformation was “To the sources!” I think that is a cry we should all agree with.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Death of the Messiah

Does Raymond Brown’s volume deliver? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Raymond Brown years ago wrote a classic two volume set called “Death of the Messiah.” He had also written “Birth of the Messiah” and when asked about resurrection, said that that’s a piece of work he’d prefer to study later on face-to-face.

Reading through DOTM, I am reminded of how Ronald Nash spoke about Augustine’s book “The City of God” and how Augustine said some people might think that he had written too little, to which Nash wanted to know just who those people would be. If anyone said the same about the work of Brown, I’d want to know exactly who those people would be.

If there is one word that could be used to describe this work, it would be exhaustive. Brown will spend pages answering questions about an aspect of the passion narrative that you didn’t even know existed. It’s hard to think of how a work could be more thorough than the one that Brown has written.

Brown starts with the garden and takes you all the way to the empty tomb and even the story of the guards at the empty tomb. He gives you the scholarly sources at the start that he will be using and then interacts with all the arguments giving an analysis and commenting on whether he thinks a certain portion is historical or not.

Do you want to read about the account of Barabbas? He covers it. Want to know about the darkness at the crucifixion? It’s there. Want to know about who the person was who brought Jesus the wine to drink while he was on the cross? It’s in there. Want to know what the centurion meant when he said that Jesus was truly God’s Son? You’ll find that too. Christian readers will be surprised also to find that even the Gospel of Peter is analyzed.

I found some of the most fascinating aspects in the work were not the commentary look at the passion narratives themselves, but rather what happened when he was giving a historical analysis that would be setting the scene prior. The most interesting in my opinion was in looking at the person of Pilate. Pilate often goes down in history as a cruel villain, but perhaps we are misunderstanding him. Brown’s work on this topic certainly gave me pause in the way that I had always looked at Pilate.

Another bonus is the appendices at the end that discuss various topics such as the textual transmission of the passion narratives as well as the question of Judas Iscariot and what it was that motivated him in his actions. Brown doesn’t always take a side, but he does make sure you know what the sides are.

If there’s a downside to this work, it’s that Brown’s writing can unfortunately be dry at times. After reading page after page on one topic you can kind of want to move on to the next one. Still, it is important if you want to be a dilligent student that you wade through.

Those in the field of NT studies who want to speak about events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus owe it to themselves to read Brown’s work. Whether you agree or disagree, you will at least be more informed.