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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Eclipse

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An eclipse of the sun is caused by the intervention of the moon when new, or in conjunction with the sun, intercepting his light from the earth, either totally or partially. An eclipse of the moon is caused by the intervention of the earth, intercepting the sun's light from the moon when full, or in opposition to the sun, either totally or partially. An eclipse of either luminary can only take place when they are within their proper limits, or distances, from the nodes or intersections of both orbits. A total eclipse of the moon may occasion a privation of her light for an hour and a half; during her total immersion in the shadow; whereas a total eclipse of the sun can never last in any particular place above four minutes, when the moon is nearest to the earth, and her shadow thickest. (See SUN); (See MOON).

No historical notice of an eclipse occurs in the Bible, but there are passages in the prophets which contain manifest allusion to this phenomenon. (Compare Lucan, 1:540 sq.; Virgil, Georg. 1:466; Curt. 4:3; Evang. Nicod. c. 11.) They describe it in the following terms: "The sun goes down at noon, the earth is darkened in the clear day" (Amos 8:9), "the day shall be dark" (Micah 3:6), "the light shall not be clear nor dark" (Zechariah 14:6), "the sun shall be dark" (Joel 2:10; Joel 2:31; Joel 3:15). Some of these notices have been thought to refer to eclipses that occurred about the time of the respective compositions: thus the date of Amos nearly coincides with a total eclipse which occurred February 9, B.C. 784, and was visible at Jerusalem shortly after noon (Hitzig, Comm. in Proph.); that of Micah with the eclipse of June 5, B.C. 716, referred to by Dionys. Hal. 2:56, to which same period the latter part of the book of Zechariah has been assigned by some. A passing notice in Jeremiah 15:9 nearly coincides in date with the eclipse of September 30, B.C. 610, so well known from Herodotus's account (1:74, 103). The Hebrews seem not to have philosophized much on eclipses, which they considered as sensible marks of God's anger (see Joel 2:10; Joel 2:31; Joel 3:15; Job 9:7). Ezekiel (Ezekiel 32:7) and Job (Job 36:32) speak more particularly, that God covers the sun with clouds when he deprives the earth of its light by eclipses. These passages, however, are highly figurative, and the language they present may simply be borrowed from the lurid look of the heavenly orbs as seen through a hazy atmosphere. Yet, when we read that "the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood," we can hardly avoid discerning an acquaintance with the appearance of those luminaries while under eclipse. The interruption of the sun's light causes him to appear black; and the moon, during a total eclipse, exhibits a copper color, or what Scripture intends by a blood color. (See ASTRONOMY). The awe which is naturally inspired by an eclipse in the minds of those who are unacquainted with the cause of it rendered it a token of impending judgment in the prophetical books. (See EARTHQUAKE).

The plague of darkness in Egypt has been ascribed by various neologistic commentators to non-miraculous agency, but no sufficient account of its intense degree, long duration, and limited area, as proceeding from any physical cause, has been given. (See PLAGUES OF EGYPT).

Josephus mentions (Anst. 17:6, 4 s.f.) an eclipse of the moon as occurring an the night when Herod deprived Matthias of the priesthood, and burnt alive the seditious Matthias and his accomplices. This is of great importance in the chronology of Herod's reign, as it immediately preceded his own death. It has been calculated as happening March 13, B.C. 4. (See HEROD (THE GREAT).)

The darkness ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῦν of Matthew 27:45, attending the crucifixion has been similarly attributed to an eclipse. (See CRUCIFIXION (OF CHRIST).) Phlegon of Tralles, indeed, mentions an eclipse of intense darkness, and, beginning at noon, combined, he says, in Bithynia, with an earthquake, which, in the uncertain state of our chronology (see Clinton's Fasti Romani, Olymp. 202), more or less nearly synchronizes with the event. Nor was the account without reception in the early Church. See the testimonies to that effect collected by Whiston (Testimony of Phlegon vindicated; London, 1732). Origen, however, ad loc. (Latin commentary on Matthew), denied the possibility of such a cause, arguing that by the fixed Paschal reckoning the moon must have been about full, and denying that Luke 23:45, by the words ἐσκοτίσθη ὁἣλιος , means to allege that fact as the cause. The genuineness of this commentary has been impeached, nor is its tenor consistent with Origen adv. Cels. page 80; but the argument, unless on such an assumption as that mentioned below, seems decisive, and has ever since been adhered to. He limits πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν to Judaea. Dean Alford (ad loc.), though without stating his reason, prefers the wider interpretation of all the earth's surface on which it would naturally have been day. That Phlegon's darkness, perceived so intense in Tralles and Bithynia, was felt in Judaea, is highly probable; and the evangelist's testimony to similar phenomena of a coincident darkness and earthquake, taken in connection with the near agreement of time, gives a probability to the supposition that the former speaks of the same circumstances as the latter. Wieseler (Chron. Synop. page 388), however, and De Wette (Comment. on Matthew) consider the year of Phlegon's eclipse an impossible one for the crucifixion, and reject that explanation of the darkness. The argument from the duration (three hours) is also of great force, for an eclipse seldom lasts in great intensity more than six minutes. The darkness in this instance, moreover, cannot with reason be attributed to an eclipse, as the moon was at the full at the time of the Passover (q.v.). On the other hand, Seyffarth (Chronolog. Sacs. pages 58, 9) maintains that the Jewish calendar, owing to their following the sun, had become so far out that the moon might possibly have been at new, and thus, admitting the year as a possible epoch, revives the argument for the eclipse as the cause. He, however, views this rather as a natural basis than as a full account of the darkness, which in its degree at Jerusalem was still preternatural (ib. page 138). The pamphlet of Whiston above quoted, and two by Dr. Sykes, Dissertation on the Eclipse mentioned by Phlegon, and Defense of the same (London, 1733 and 1734), may be consulted as regards the statement of Phlegon. Treatises on the phenomenon in question have been written in Latin by Baier (Regiom. 1718), Engestrom (London, 1730), Fleischer (Viteb. 1692), Frick (Lips. 1692), Lauth (Argent. 1743), Pasch (Viteb. 1683), Posner (Jena, 1661), Schmid (Jena, 1683), Sommel (London, 1774), Topfer (Jen. 1678), Wiedeburg (Helmst. 1687), Ziebich (Viteb. 1741), and in German by Grausbeck (Tubing. 1835). (See DARKNESS).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Eclipse'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/e/eclipse.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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