Bible Myths and their Parallels in other Religions Being a Comparison of the Old and New Testament Myths and Miracles with those of the Heathen Nations of Antiquity Considering also their Origin and Meaning

Page: 121

This account of the darkness at the time of the death of Jesus of Nazareth, is one of the prodigies related in the New Testament which no Christian commentator has been able to make appear reasonable. The favorite theory is that it was a natural eclipse of the sun, which happened to take place at that particular time, but, if this was the case, there was nothing supernatural in the event, and it had nothing whatever to do with the death of Jesus. Again, it would be necessary to prove from other sources that such an event happened at that time, but this cannot be done. The argument from the duration of the darkness—three hours—is also of great force against such an occurrence having happened, for an eclipse seldom lasts in great intensity more than six minutes.

Even if it could be proved that an eclipse really happened at the time assigned for the crucifixion of Jesus, how about the earthquake, when the rocks were rent and the graves opened? and how about the "saints which slept" rising bodily and walking in the streets of the Holy City and appearing to many? Surely, the faith that would remove mountains,[209:8] is required here.

[Pg 210]

Shakespeare has embalmed some traditions of the kind exactly analogous to the present case:

"In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets."[210:1]

Belief in the influence of the stars over life and death, and in special portents at the death of great men, survived, indeed, to recent times. Chaucer abounds in allusions to it, and still later Shakespeare tells us:

"When beggars die there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes."

It would seem that this superstition survives even to the present day, for it is well known that the dark and yellow atmosphere which settled over so much of the country, on the day of the removal of President Garfield from Washington to Long Branch, was sincerely held by hundreds of persons to be a death-warning sent from heaven, and there were numerous predictions that dissolution would take place before the train arrived at its destination.

As Mr. Greg remarks, there can, we think, remain little doubt in unprepossessed minds, that the whole legend in question was one of those intended to magnify Christ Jesus, which were current in great numbers at the time the Matthew narrator wrote, and which he, with the usual want of discrimination and somewhat omnivorous tendency, which distinguished him as a compiler, admitted into his Gospel.