The Cosmic Cathedral

Understanding God in the Word and the World


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Caesar is Dead: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 15

Apocaylpse of the Cross

Essay Posts

Having looked at both the Old Testament texts (here, here, and here), and Jewish Pseudepigraphical texts the writer of Matthew is possibly drawing upon for his framing of the crucifixion narrative, it would be irresponsible to fail to make mention of the use of darkness within the contemporary Roman literature of the day. The use of darkness with Roman histories serves a variety of functions in relation to the death or demise of great men within the Roman empire. Due to the overlapping imagery at work in this motif of darkness it is worth taking the time to examine it in more detail here before moving forward in our analysis.

Intertext 3 Roman History

Roman Texts

Craig Keener,[1] Allison,[2] Davies and Allison,[3] and Luz[4] each provide extensive lists to Roman texts in their discussion of the darkness at the cross. These texts are worth noting for their use of the darkening of the sun or moon, primarily described as eclipse, as either a bad omen or in context to the death of great men. Referencing Caius Gallus’ advanced warning to his troops that an eclipse “happened in the course of nature” lest they perceive it as a bad omen,[5] Keener notes while the ancients understood eclipses to be caused by the passing of the moon in front of the sun,[6] many still considered them an ill sign.[7] In other texts, as in the record of the death of Carneades (ca. 213-129 BCE), an eclipse could indicate nature’s mourning,[8] or simply the activities of the gods.[9]

Eclipses upon the death of great men is a common theme throughout Roman literature, being mentioned in regard to the death of Romulus, Pelopidas (364 BCE), Julius Caesar (44 BCE), and Augustus (14 CE). Upon the ἀφανισμός (aphanismos, disappearance) of Romulus Plutarch states:

suddenly strange and unaccountable disorders with incredible changes filled the air; the light of the sun failed, and night came down upon them, not with peace and quiet, but with awful peals of thunder and furious blasts driving rain from every quarter.[10]

though Luz argues that this instance is not applicable to the Gospels and the context is quite different.[11] Before the death of Pelopidas both Diodorus Siculus and Plutarch cite an eclipse as a bad omen of his expedition.[12]

In reference to the murder of Julius Caesar and the following Octavian war Pliny records:

Eclipses of the sun also take place which are portentous and unusually long, such as occurred when Cæsar the Dictator was slain, and in the war against Antony, the sun remained dim for almost a whole year.[13]

Similar events are recorded by Virgil, Plutarch, and even Josephus.[14] Intriguingly, Davies and Allison mention the dimming of the sun following Julius Caesar’s death is confirmed by Chinese writers recording around the same time in the Han dynasty.[15] About Caesar Augustus’ death it is similarly recorded in Dio Cassius:

…not a few omens had appeared, and these by no means difficult of interpretation, all pointing to this fate for him. Thus, the sun suffered a total eclipse and most of the sky seemed to be on fire.[16]

Despite these similarities, no clear connection can be made between the use of darkness within Roman literature and that at the cross. Both the lack of specific linguistic overlaps make a direct connection tedious to support. The traditions stand in close enough proximity to warrant mention, though it cannot be seen as the primary influence the evangelist draws upon.

As later Rabbinic texts make clear, darkness accompanying the death of a rabbi was at least plausible within Judaism,[17] making it unlikely that Matthew went outside the confines of Judaism for symbolism to understand the death of Jesus. The strength of the symbolic, textual, and linguistic relationship between Matthew’s gospel and both the Old Testament passages and Pseudepigraphical texts mentioned in previously provide a clearer parallel to Matthew’s imagery without the additional complexities of moving outside of Jewish sources to Roman ones. Strong enough sources for the imagery of darkness exist within first century Judaism as to make moving outside of the Jewish tradition without a sufficiently stronger impetus unnecessary.


[1] Keener, Matthew. 685.

[2] Allison Jr., End. 28-29.

[3] Davies and Allison Jr., Matthew XIX-XXVIII. 621-623.

[4] Luz and others, Matthew. 543.

[5] Livy 44.37.5-7

[6] Diog. Laërt. Lives 7.1.145-146; 10.96; Pliny N.H. 2.7; Dio Cassius 60.26.1-5

[7] Plut. Aemilius Paulus 17.5 (as a cause for sacrifice); Arrian Alex. 3.7.6; 3.15.7; Herodotus 7.37; Diod. Sic. 20.5.5 “an eclipse of the sun that utter darkness set in and the stars were seen everywhere; wherefore Agathocles’ men, believing that the prodigy portended misfortune for them, fell into even greater anxiety about the future” (of military defeat). Keener, Matthew. 685.

[8] “At the time he died the moon is said to have been eclipsed, and one might well say… thereby gave token of her sympathy.” Diog. Laërt. Lives 4.64

[9] Plut. Tim. 28.2; Ibid. 685.

[10] Plut. Rom. 27; cf. Ovid, Fasti 2.492-495; Cicero, Rep. 2.10; 6.22; Livy 1.16

[11] Luz and others, Matthew. 543.

[12] Diodorus Siculus, 15.80; Plutarch Pelop. 31 =295

[13] Pliny, N.H. 2.30.97

[14] Virgil, Geog. 1.466-67; Plut. Caesar 69.3-4; Jos. Ant. 14.309

[15] Davies and Allison Jr., Matthew XIX-XXVIII. 623.

[16] Dio Cassius 56.29.3

[17] b. Sukk. 29a where the death of the Ab Beth din was accompanied by darkness since he was not properly mourned; Allison Jr., End. 28; cf. b. Mo’ed Kat. 32a; Davies and Allison Jr., Matthew XIX-XXVIII. 622.


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Pseudepigraphical Darkness: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 14

Apocaylpse of the Cross

Essay Posts

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.

Intertext 2 Jewish Apocalyptic

Pseudepigraphic Allusions

Pseudepigraphic texts frequently feature darkness in relation to divine judgment,[1] 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.[2]

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.[3]

and the passage in 4 Ezra:

and the sun shall suddenly shine forth at night,
and the moon during the day.[4]

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.[5] 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.”[6] 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”[7] 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.[8] Only moderately related, darkness also accompanies the ascent of Enoch to the highest heavens in 2 Enoch 67.[9]

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.


[1] Keener, Matthew. 685.

[2] Sib. Or. 4.56-58 OTP

[3] T. Mos. 10.4-5

[4] 4 Ezra 5.4-5

[5] Allison Jr., End. 29.

[6] Liv. Pro. Hab. 14

[7] T. Adam 3.6

[8] Ibid. 28.

[9] Ibid. 28.


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Darkness in the Old Testament: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 13

Apocaylpse of the Cross

Essay Posts

In my previous two post, I discussed the Old Testament allusions present within Matthew’s crucifixion narrative as it relates to the darkness at the cross. I have looked at the Exodus account and Amos 9:1 as the primary Old Testament passages being alluded to in Matthew’s crucifixion narrative. I concluded that due to its linguistic and textual parallels, Amos 9:1 is the most convincing Old Testament allusion for the Gospel writer to be drawing upon. Having examined those texts it is still important to look at those other Old Testament passages that many have given shape to the imagery of darkness in Jewish apocalyptic thought.

Intertext 1 Old Testament

There is a wide spectrum of secondary Old Testament texts which give further context to the darkness at the cross. I will here only look at those which are most pertinent or which will not receive treatment elsewhere, since a variety of these will be looked at within the context of innertextual parallels and they lack a linguistic relation as strong as Amos 8:9-10.

Deuteronomy 28.29, “you shall be groping about at μεσημβρίας (mesēmbrias, midday) as a blind person would grope in τῷ σκότει (tō̧ skotei, the darkness),” is significant as it may stand behind the Amos passage, as well as being in the context of Deuteronomic curses.[1] Less credible is the connection to the LXX of Zech 14.6-7, even though Zech 14.5 forms the basis of 27.51-3.[2] Similar prophetic texts of darkness in the context of judgment include Jer 13.16, 15.9, where “the sun set for her while it was yet midday;” Zeph 1:15, “a day of darkness and gloom;” Amos 5.18, 20, where the Day of YHWH is “darkness, not light;” and, as will be looked at in a different context, Joel 2.2, 10; 4.15 (LXX); and Isa 13.9-16.[3]

Requiring only brief mention is the reference in Davies and Allison to Genesis 1.2, “σκότος (skotos, darkness) was over the abyss,” and the connection they make between creation and eschatology,[4] a theme which will be noted again briefly in the discussion of pseudepigraphic texts. While this theme is not pertinent to this study here, it is significant to note that Judaism saw the eschatological deliverance in terms of a new beginning or new creation, and as such the allusion to creation in an eschatological context would not be out of place.[5]

Having looked at the Old Testament sources Matthew’s author may have been drawing upon, I will now be able to turn to those texts that made up the world of second temple Judaism, Jewish Apocalyptic Literature, and see how their use of darkness functions and makes up the world in which Matthew was writing.


[1] Stuart, Hosea. 385.

[2] Davies and Allison Jr., Matthew XIX-XXVIII. 622.

[3] Allison Jr., End. 28.

[4] Davies and Allison Jr., Matthew XIX-XXVIII. 621.

[5] W. D. Davies and Dale C Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew Vol. 1, Introduction and Commentary on Matthew I-VII (Edinburgh: Clark, 1988). 153.


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The Day of Darkness: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 12

Apocaylpse of the Cross

Essay Posts

In my last post I laid out the context within which I would begin to look at the Old Testament allusions within Matthew’s crucifixion narrative. Then I  looked at the relationship between the use of darkness in the book of Exodus and the death of Jesus. While I agreed the Exodus text provides some background for the judgment language of the darkness and adds to the over all Old Testament context of the crucifixion narrative I argued there was enough ambiguity within the allusion that the Exodus account most likely is not the primary allusion standing behind Matthew’s meaning of the darkness. In this post then I will look at another Old Testament text, found in Amos, upon which Matthew may be more heavily drawing.

Intertext 1 Old Testament

Allusion to Amos 8:9-10

Most scholars comment upon Amos 8.9-10’s relation to Matt 27.45 due to linguistic and thematic similarities. Moo cites the particular significance of Amos 8:9 as an indication of the darkness’ meaning related to the eschatological Day of YHWH.[1] Brown similarly cites the significance of this reference for understanding the verse through the lens of “Day of YHWH” imagery regarding judgment and punishment.[2]

And it will come to pass on that day, says the Lord,
and ὁ ἥλιος (ho heœlios, the sun) will go down at μεσημβρίας (meseœmbrias, noon),
And τὸ φῶς (to phoœs, the light) συσκοτάσει (syskotasei, will become dark) ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς (epi teœs geœs, upon the earth) in the daytime.
And I will turn your τὰς ἑορτὰς (tas heortas, feasts) into mourning
and all your songs into lamentation.
And I will bring sackcloth on every loin
and baldness on every head.
And I will make him like the mourning for a ἀγαπητοῦ (agapeœtou, loved one)
and those with him like a day of suffering.[3]

136.The_Prophet_AmosThe main linguistic parallels are Amos’ συσκοτάσει (syskotasei, will become dark) to Matthew’s σκότος (skotos, darkness) and the use of ἐπὶ…γῆν (epi… geœn, over… land). The verbal overlap is only moderate. The connection is weakened by the inexact noun/verb correspondence and though συσκοτάζω (syskotazoœ, to darken) is relatively rare, being used only 11 times in the Septuagint, σκότος (skotos, darkness) is much more common, appearing 31 times in the New Testament.[4]

This allusion gains greater strength by the larger context of the passage. Though not a linguistic tie, both Amos’ μεσημβρίας (meseœmbrias, noon) and Matthew’s ἕκτης ὥρας (hekteœs hoœras, the sixth hour) refer to the same time of the day.[5] Similarly Amos refers to the turning of their τὰς ἑορτὰς (tas heortas, feasts) into mourning, and the crucifixion account is also during a festival (ἑορτἠ, heortê; cf. Matt 26.5; 27.15).[6] Moo mentions the parallel of Amos’ “mourning for an only son” which could very well have been seen as a reference to Jesus.[7]  Matthew has already used the word ἀγαπητοῦ (agapeœtou, beloved) previously to refer to Jesus in both occasions of the voice from heaven (Matt 3.17; 17.5), as well as within his quotation of Isaiah 42 (Matt 12:18).[8]

O’Brien goes on to identify the further connection between Mark and the Hebrew of Amos, noting that Mark’s σκότος ἐγένετο ἐφ᾿ ὅλην τὴν γῆν (skotos egeneto eph’ holeœn teœn geœn, darkness over the whole land) is a faithful literal translation of the Hebrew וְהַחֳשַׁכְתִּ֥י לָאָ֭דֶץ (wᵉhaḥᵃšaḵtı̂ lāʾāreṣ, darken the earth).[9] Given this, as Matthew does not deviate except to change ὅλην` (holeœn, the whole) to πᾶσαν (pasan, all), the connection to the Hebrew text remains. In Hebrew the contextual parallel to feasts (֝חַגֵּיכֶם ḥaggêḵem) remains, as does the reference to the only son with יָחִ֔יר (yāḥı̂ḏ, only son), which is always translated ἀγαπητός (agapētos, beloved) in the LXX.[10] These linguistic and contextual parallels make a strong case for Amos 8.9-10 being the intended allusion behind Matthew’s text.[11]

Accepting this, how this allusion casts light on the meaning of the darkness can now be seen. Amos 8:9-10 is in the context of the Day of YHWH, a technical term for the transition between the present age and the age to come, the messianic age.[12]  The passage begins with the linguistic marker בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא (bayyôm hahûʾ, on that day), referencing a time in the indefinite, yet certain, future, setting the verse within the context of eschatological activity.[13] Amos 8:2 states “The end has come upon my people Israel,” setting the context as judgment, with 8:8-10 featuring the darkness, earthquake, and divine punishment characteristic of eschatological tribulation and the inauguration of the new age.[14]

Amos 9.1 features the destruction of the temple and the taking of the dead out of Sheol, both events at least alluded to by the crucifixion passage’s tearing of the temple veil (Matt 27.51), and resurrection of the righteous dead (Matt 27.52-3).[15] The allusion to Amos 8.9-10 is supported both linguistically and contextually and gives significant support to the hypothesis of eschatological tribulation being in view for the evangelist’s portrayal of the darkness of the crucifixion, adding to Matthew’s narrative the broader context of eschatological judgment and the Day of YHWH motif which was so prevalent within apocalypticism of the day.


[1] Moo, The Old. 343-344.

[2] Brown, Death. 1035.

[3] Amos 8.9-10

[4] O’ Brien, Scripture. 110.

[5] Ibid. 111.

[6] Ibid. 111.

[7] Moo, The Old. 343.

[8] O’ Brien, Scripture. 111.

[9] Ibid. 111.

[10] Ibid. 111.

[11] Gos. Pet. 5.15 seems to have picked up on this allusion, using both “midday” and “sun.” Davies and Allison Jr., Matthew XIX-XXVIII. 622.

[12] Allison Jr., End. 29.

[13] Douglas K Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987). 385.

[14] Allison Jr., End. 29.

[15] Moo, The Old. 343.


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Under the Darkness of Exodus: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 11

Apocaylpse of the Cross

Essay PostsIntertextual Allusions

As I laid out in my previous post, in the upcoming posts I will begin by looking at the viable intertextual allusions and references, that is references to texts outside of Matthew’s gospel. I will first examine the Old Testament texts standing behind Matthew and then moving to consider some of the secondary pseudepigraphic and Roman texts, which cast light on the meaning of the darkness.

Old Testament Allusions

Intertext 1 Old Testament

In examining allusions to darkness in the Old Testament scriptures, it is important to note how the earliest records of Jesus crucifixion present the death of Jesus being, as it were, “in accordance with the scriptures.”[1] The first questions that pops into most readers minds, either with a feeling of anticipatory excitement or reserve incredulity, is, “Which verses?” But Paul, the earliest to write on this tradition, does not cite which particular Old Testament passages gave meaning to Jesus’ death.[2] While lacking a cut and dry chapter and verse reference, the accounts of Jesus’ death still bear signs that very quickly within the formation of the passion account the Old Testament scriptures were being employed to demonstrate Jesus’ death in relation to the Jewish scriptures and to fill the crucifixion with the theological meaning the first Christians found there.[3]

While examining the Old Testament texts alluded to by the darkness it is important to remember this stands within a broad tradition of seeing the death of Jesus in accordance with the Old Testament scriptures, as well as to bear in mind these references fit within a larger framework of several forms of allusion, most notably to the Isaianic Servant Songs, Zechariah 9-14, the Lament Psalms, and sacrificial imagery,[4] all of which are at work in the crucifixion narrative.

Allusion to Exodus 10:22

Moses The Ten Commandments

The first Old Testament allusion I will explore is that to the darkness in the Exodus account. I have already touched on this use of darkness in brief in my post on the extend/historicity of the darkness. Here than I will look more closely at the viability of this allusion caring a heavier exegetical weight for how the darkness of Matthew should be interpreted.

Then the Lord said to Moyses, “Stretch out the hand towards heaven, and let there be darkness over the land of Egypt, palpable darkness.” So Moyses stretched out the hand toward heaven, and there was darkness (ἐγένετο σκότος, egeneto skotos), gloom, hurricane, on all the land (ἐπὶ πᾶσαν γῆν, epi pasan geœn) of Egypt for three days. And no one saw his brother, and no one rose up from his bed for three days. But for all the sons of Israel there was light in all places where they were dwelling.[5]

Matthew’s texts bears two similarities to the Exodus reading: first the use of “there ἐγένετο σκότος (egeneto skotos, was darkness)” and second the phrase “ἐπὶ πᾶσαν γῆν (epi pasan geœn, on all the land)” asncompared to Matthew’s “σκότος ἐγένετο (skotos egeneto, darkness came)”  and his “ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν (epi pasan teœn geœn, over all the land).” Arguably more significant, as I discussed previously, is Matthew’s change to ἐπὶ πᾶσαν (epi pasan, over all) from Mark’s ἐφ᾿ ὅλην (eph’ holeœn, over the whole). This gives Matthew’s text a greater similarity to the Septuagint reading of Exodus than Mark’s text.[6] Donald Senior sees this change as possibly inspired by the existing similarity of the Markan text to Ex. 10.22 suggesting to the evangelist behind Matthew to further edit toward that text by including a standard LXX phrase, ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν (epi pasan teœn geœn, over all the land).[7] Kelli O’Brien, on the other hand, does not see this change as a move toward the Exodus text, and, given its lack of reference elsewhere in the New Testament, does not find it a defensible allusion.[8]

The viability of the allusion to the plague of darkness in Exodus finds its strength in sharing a similar Passover context with the crucifixion.[9] Connection has been made between the exodus of Israel and the crucifixion as Jesus’ exodus, though Moo challenges the close connection between the darkness and the exodus, stating they are not synonymous and the darkness at the cross serves a different purpose than the sign of darkness over Egypt.[10] While Senior argues the possible allusion to the Exodus text calls to mind the activity of YHWH and is an indication of the “tension and judgment that the death scene certainly includes,” he is quick to add this does not mitigate against a more eschatological reading.[11]

Given the ambiguity inherent to the text:

(a) it is unclear how closely the darkness of the Exodus account is associated with Passover

(b) there is disagreement about whether Matthew is editing toward the text of Exodus

the Exodus citation is most likely not the primary referent of Matthew’s meaning. While it adds to the overarching judgment imagery and the inclusion of the standard ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν (epi pasan teœn geœn, over all the land) phraseology elevates the Old Testament imagery of the text,[12] it is best not to lean too heavily on this passage for understanding of the darkness at the cross.


[1] 1 Cor 15.3; Mark 9:12; 14.49; Matt 26.54, 56

[2] J. Marcus, “The Old Testament and the Death of Jesus: The Role of Scripture in the Gospel Passion Narratives,” in The Death of Jesus in Early Christianity, ed. John T Carroll and Joel B Green (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995). 205-206.

[3] Ibid. 206.

[4] Moo, The Old.

[5] Ex. 10.21-23 NETS; Gk. LXX

[6] Brown, Death. 1036.

[7] Senior, The Passion. 293.

[8] Kelli S O’ Brien, The Use of Scripture in the Markan Passion Narrative (London: T & T Clark, 2010). 282.

[9] Brown, Death. 1035.

[10] Moo, The Old. 343.

[11] Senior, The Passion. 294.

[12] Brown, Death. 1036.


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Possibilities in the Darkness: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 10

Apocaylpse of the CrossEssay Posts

In my last two posts I looked at the text in Matthew’s crucifixion narrative where account of the darkness accompanying Jesus’ death is found. As I have stated previously, these three posts serve as a transition from the introductory material about the apocalyptic framework which was contemporary to the time the gospel’s writing to a more detailed look at the intertextual and innertextual allusions which the darkness evokes. These three post have looked at the exegetical perplexities and historical issues of the text itself; its relation to its Markan source, the extent of the darkness, and finally, here, the various interpretations of the darkness which scholar have proposed.

As stated previously, the darkness has been variously interpreted, each position having greater or lesser degree of validity. Having discussed in the pervious two posts the significant textual issues Matthew’s account of the darkness presents for us, I will here overview the possible interpretations that have been suggested. It is important to note that not all of these interpretations are mutually exclusive.

Douglas Moo summarizes what he sees as eight distinct interpretations that have been proposed for the darkness:

(a) portents accompanying the death of extraordinary men,

(b) a generic apocalyptic sign,

(c) the activity of Satan or demons,

(d) the beginning of a new era of salvation history,

(e) God’s intervention,

(f) God’s wrath,

(j) the Day of YHWH containing themes of both divine judgment and redemption

(k) an allusion to the chaotic darkness at creation.[1]

For my purposes it is enough to mention the diversity of opinion without examining the arguments for each. Rather, I will highlight those interpretations relating particularly to textual allusions.

W. D. Davies and Dale Allison Jr. mention the possibility, to be examined more closely in subsequent posts, of the use of the darkness to cause Jesus’ death to resemble the death of other great men, most notably Julius Caesar in 44 BCE, whose death many sources recorded as occasioned by an eclipse.[2] Outside the scope of this series, though still worth noting, is Nolland’s suggestion that the darkness is a signal of Satan’s activity or points to the moment of evil’s triumph.[3] What is most significant for my series are the various Old Testament usages of darkness, of which Amos 8.9-10 and Exodus 10.21-23[4] are primarily offered as the strongest sources of textual allusion. In the coming posts I will take a close look at these texts and how they inform a reading of the darkness.


[1] Douglas J Moo, The Old Testament in the Gospel Passion Narratives (Sheffield, England: Almond Press, 1983). 342-343.

[2] Davies and Allison Jr., Matthew XIX-XXVIII. 622-623.

[3] Nolland, Matthew. 1205.

[4] Donald Senior, The Passion Narrative According to Matthew: A Redactional Study (Louvain: Leuven University Press, 1982). 293-294. Brown, Death. 1037. Luz and others, Matthew. 544. Davies and Allison Jr., Matthew XIX-XXVIII. 622. Moo, The Old. 343. Robert Horton Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1982). 572. Keener, Matthew. 685. France, Matthew. 1075.


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How Dark?: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 9

Apocaylpse of the CrossEssay Posts

In my post from last week, I began to look at the text of Matthew’s crucifixion narrative as the first step in beginning to look at the allusions and imagery that lies behind Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ death. In my post last week I began to look at they ways in which Matthew’s text differs from the text of Mark upon which is was based. I noted grammatical changes that were implicated because of specific choices Matthew in his presentation of the text. In this post I will take a closer look at the specific presentation of the darkness within the historic context of Jesus’ death. Specifically we will look at the extent of the darkness and whether it was meant to be understood as a global darkness or only a regional one.

Three crosses Rembrandt In my post from last week, I began to look at the text of Matthew’s crucifixion narrative as the first step in beginning to look at the allusions and imagery that lies behind Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ death. In my post last week I began to look at they ways in which Matthew’s text differs from the text of Mark upon which is was based. I noted grammatical changes that were implicated because of specific choices Matthew in his presentation of the text. In this post I will take a closer look at the specific presentation of the darkness within the historic context of Jesus’ death. Specifically we will look at the extent of the darkness and whether it was meant to be understood as a global darkness or only a regional one. Since γῆν (geœn, land) can mean either a region (in this case Judea) or the earth, there is some debate over the extent of the darkness Matthew the evangelist intended. Donald Hagner, referencing the citation in Gos. Pet. 5.15, argues ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν (epi pasan teœn geœn, over all the land) most likely means “the land of Judea” instead of referencing the whole earth.  Agreeing, John Nolland states the regional interpretation of γῆν (geœn, land) as “Judea” better fits with the centrality of Jerusalem within the Passion Narrative and what he sees as the verse’s rather rudimentary eschatological language.   Conversely, Raymond Brown and Ulrich Luz argue for an interpretation of "all the earth."  Even Hagner posits regardless of the phrase’s actual referent, this may be closer to the evangelist's intended meaning.  Brown argues while the regional interpretation is favored for its historical plausibility; this should not overly sway the interpretation, as the evangelist's meaning is primarily theological. Brown notes the common LXX phrase "over all the γῆν (geœn, land)” and argues Matthew's usage strengthens the Old Testament context of the verse.  Luz, likewise, cites the cosmic nature of the darkness, to be discussed in my upcoming post, in favor of a global interpretation.    Regardless of the historical nature of the darkness, the evangelist’s meaning supersedes history and instead focuses of the theological meaning which lies behind his presentation of the darkness. Matthew is not so much interested in specifically detailing the historical extent of the darkness but rather in assigning theological meaning to this darkness. Given the linguistic parallels with the Old Testament it is probable that regardless of the historical extent of the darkness, the evangelist is meaning to evoke in the minds of his hearers a universal and global darkness of theological significance. As such, more important for my purposes is the theological meaning rather than the historical.  While the darkness at the cross may only have occurred in the region of Judea, the ambiguity of Matthew's language occasions for examining the theological meaning of the text, likely intending to extend the darkness to a global scale. It is this theological mean to which we will turn in the next post in this series as we examine the possible theological interpretations which have been proposed for the darkness at the cross.

Since the greek word γῆν (geœn, land) in Matthew’s “darkness came ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν (epi pasan teœn geœnover all the land)…” can mean either a region (in this case Judea) or the earth, there is some debate over the extent of the darkness Matthew the evangelist intended. Donald Hagner, referencing the citation in Gos. Pet. 5.15, argues ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν (epi pasan teœn geœn, over all the land) most likely means “the land of Judea” instead of referencing the whole earth.[1] Agreeing, John Nolland states the regional interpretation of γῆν (geœn, land) as “Judea” better fits with the centrality of Jerusalem within the Passion Narrative and what he sees as the verse’s rather rudimentary eschatological language.[2]

Conversely, Raymond Brown and Ulrich Luz argue for an interpretation of “all the earth.”[3] Even Hagner posits that regardless of the phrase’s actual referent, this may be closer to the evangelist’s intended meaning.[4] Brown argues while the regional interpretation is favored for its historical plausibility this should not overly sway the interpretation, as the evangelist’s meaning is primarily theological. Brown notes the common LXX phrase “over all the γῆν (geœn, land)” and argues Matthew’s usage strengthens the Old Testament context of the verse.[5] Luz, likewise, cites the cosmic nature of the darkness, to be discussed in my upcoming post, in favor of a global interpretation.[6]

Regardless of the historical nature of the darkness, the evangelist’s meaning supersedes history and instead focuses of the theological meaning which lies behind his presentation of the darkness. Matthew is not so much interested in specifically detailing the historical extent of the darkness but rather in assigning theological meaning to this darkness. Given the linguistic parallels with the Old Testament, which will become significant as we move forward, it is probable that regardless of the historical extent of the darkness, the evangelist is attempting to evoke in the minds of his hearers a universal and global darkness of theological significance.

As such, more important for my purposes is the theological meaning rather than the historical.[7] While the darkness at the cross may only have occurred in the region of Judea, the ambiguity of Matthew’s language occasions for examining the theological meaning of the text, likely intending to extend the darkness to a global scale. It is this theological mean  which we will outline in the next post in this series as we examine the possible theological interpretations which have been proposed for the darkness at the cross.


[1] Donald A Hagner, Matthew 14-28, Word Biblical Commentary 33b (Dallas: Word Books, 1995). 845.

[2] Nolland, Matthew. 1205.

[3] Raymond Edward Brown, The Death of the Messiah : From Gethsemane to the Grave: A Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels (Garden City: Doubleday, 1994). 1036. Luz and others, Matthew. 543.

[4] Hagner, Matthew 14-28. 845.

[5] Brown, Death. 1036.

[6] Luz and others, Matthew. 543.

[7] I will not give full discussion to the prospect of eclipse. France dismisses it out of hand, as the Passover occurred at a full moon (Richard Thomas France, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2007). 1075). Likewise, Keener notes it is improbable a three hour eclipse was unrecorded by all Mediterranean antiquity, and just as impractical for Christians to be unchallenged in fabricating one (Craig S Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1999). 685). Davies and Allison discuss the possibilities of ‘dark days’ and the moving of a remembered eclipse to coincide with Jesus’ death (Davies and Allison Jr., Matthew XIX-XXVIII. 623).

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