45 Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
47 Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!”
48 Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink. 49 The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.”
50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, 52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
54 So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
In California where I live, earthquakes are as common as days with sunshine. A brief glance at USGS.com reveals just how frequently the ground shakes, rattles and rolls while we sleep, surf or sit in traffic. Worldwide, the major ones always get attention: San Francisco, 1906. Loma Prieta, 1989. Northridge, 1994. Haiti, 2010. Japan, 2011.
Recently the journal of International Geological Review published an article adding one more significant event to the list of historical subterranean upheavals. You’ve read about it before on Good Friday or during Holy Week from Matthew 27: Jerusalem, 33.
Geologists of late have focused their research on the seismic activity in and around the Dead Sea, roughly 13 miles from Jerusalem. The earthquake studied in this recent journal article coincides with the date many scholars have long-held as the date for Jesus’ crucifixion: April 3, 33 A.D.
One online news article reports the following discovery:
Varves, which are annual layers of deposition in the sediments, reveal that at least two major earthquakes affected the core: a widespread earthquake in 31 B.C. and an early first century seismic event that happened sometime between 26 A.D. and 36 A.D.
For a variety of reasons, scholars have favored the 33 A.D. date for Jesus’ crucifixion. And in many ways, this article confirms what many scholars – Andrew Steinmann and Paul Maier – have already concluded. Dr. Andrew Steinmann was recently on Issues Etc. with a timely review of this recent geological survey as well as his insightful discussion of the New Testament timeline concerning the events of Holy Week. The Biblical witness gives the background for the recent evidence discovered by geologists. When it comes to the New Testament record:
- All four gospels and Tacitus in Annals (XV,44) agree that the crucifixion occurred during Pontius Pilate’s rule as procurator of Judea: 26-36 AD.
- All four gospels say the crucifixion occurred on a Friday.
- All four gospels agree that Jesus died a few hours before the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath (nightfall on a Friday) and that he was in the tomb three days (by Jewish reckoning), rose from the dead the first the day of the week and was seen by eyewitnesses that same day.
- There is no contradiction between the dating in the synoptic gospels and the dating in John’s gospel when it comes to Holy Week. This misunderstanding stems from one of two places: 1) a failure to understand what the Jewish day of preparation was; and 2) the different calendar used by John.
- Matthew 28 also records another earthquake (aftershock perhaps) on Easter.
So, what’s the big deal about some little earthquake thousands of years ago? At the very least, this report constitutes corroborating evidence. Standing alone it neither confirms nor denies the veracity of the Christian faith. But taken together with the preponderance of historical, political, geographical, archaeological and now seismological evidence, it confirms the facts as we they are given to us in the New Testament.
This highlights yet another example of the intersection between the Christian faith and history. And furthermore, this serves as a reminder that we should come to expect these kinds of discovery, after all the Biblical accounts are not only faithful, reliable eyewitnesses to the life and work of Jesus, but also the historical, geographical and political context of the ancient world. The Gospel writers went to great lengths to record the events accurately, demonstrating their involvement in and knowledge of the world around them. In addition to the primary events recorded, the Biblical accounts are seen by classics scholars as among the best attested works of the ancient world giving us an otherwise unknown look into a particular historical context. The Scriptures themselves continue to aid secular authorities (even ones who do not believe the words of Scripture) in the verification of events in the ancient world, both sacred and secular. As was the case with the Pilate stone and with Quirinius.
We may never know the exact magnitude of this quake on the Richter scale, but we know the more significant event it accompanied sent shock waves around the world which are still felt today: Jesus Crucified for you. Matthew and John recorded their first-hand account of the events, Mark and Luke did their homework and recorded the eyewitness accounts all so that you might believe and have faith in the Son of God. And what a joy that even the “stones cry out” as witnesses.