In the last few post I have examined the way the Old Testament stands behind Matthew’s crucifixion narrative and gives a contextual lens through which to understand the use of darkness within the Gospel. The Old Testament stands as the primary source outside of the Gospel from which the Evangelist drew, most notably Exodus and Amos. Yet there is a gulf of time and interpretive distance that lies between the writer of Matthew and the Old Testament texts from which he drew. It is important then to examine those texts which served as closer contemporaries to Matthew’s gospel — texts from the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and from Roman histories.
In this post I am going to focus on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, a loose collection of Jewish texts written between roughly 200 B.C.E. and 200 C.E.. While these texts span a wide range of subjects, genres, and theologies, they help us to understand the way in which the Old Testament functioned in the thought-world of Second Temple Judaism. It is important to see how the same imagery which is used in Matthew was used within the broader Jewish writings of the time. In examining these texts we will see how they draw on the Old Testament text while shaping its imagery in unique ways. Important to this investigation is noting the way in which the Pseudepigraphal texts develop the Old Testament imagery in ways similar to that of Matthew’s Gospel. These texts will give us important insight into seeing the hermeneutical possibilities of Matthew’s darkness.
Pseudepigraphic texts frequently feature darkness in relation to divine judgment, as in the case of the Sibylline Oracles where:
There will be dark night in the mid-hour of day;
the stars and the circles of the moon will disappear from heaven;
The earth, shaken by the turmoil of a great earthquake.
Even more commonly, darkness occurs within the context of eschatological judgment. Since there is a wide range of texts, I will only survey some of the most common ones, acknowledging that they all draw from a similar pool of Old Testament imagery which was widely in use during this period. Most notable is T. Moses:
and the earth will tremble, even to its ends shall it be shaken…
The sun will not give light
And in darkness the horns of the moon will flee.
Yea, the will be broken in pieces.
and the passage in 4 Ezra:
and the sun shall suddenly shine forth at night,
and the moon during the day.
Similar expressions can be found in Sib. Orc. III, 801-802; V, 344-50; T. Levi 4.1; 2 Bar. 10.12; 18.2; 46.2; 77.14; 2 En. 34.3. In all these instances darkness and cosmic upheaval accompanies a time of distress and tribulation within an eschatological context.
In somewhat different usage, Davies and Allison mention both Liv. Pro. Hab. 14 and 4 Ezra 7:50 in reference to a connection between the darkness at the creation paralleling the darkness of close of the eschaton. As stated previously, some connection existed between the darkness of the end of the age and that of creation, as seen here in Liv. Pro. Hab. “they will illuminate those who are being pursued by the serpent in the darkness as from the beginning.” and 4 Ezra where at the end:
…the world shall be turned back to primeval silence for seven days, as it was at the beginnings; so that no one shall be left
Also worth comment is Allison’s mention that “the sun and moon were darkened, and there was thick darkness for seven days” upon the death of Adam recorded in T. Adam, a 4th or 6th century CE text of Christian redaction. Interestingly though, the tradition appears also within Adam and Eve, an earlier text of the first century CE which is free from Christian influence. Only moderately related, darkness also accompanies the ascent of Enoch to the highest heavens in 2 Enoch 67.
These mentions of darkness serve to illuminate the wide usage of cosmic upheaval, in particular darkening of the sun and moon, within texts at the time of Matthew’s composition. This pervasive use of darkness throughout eschatological texts, many featuring the type of eschatological tribulation previously discussed, strengthens the eschatological context for the darkness at the cross. While there is no dependence of Matthew’s Gospel on these texts, it shows that the darkness, in an eschatological sense, was a common theme within the writings of this period.