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§ 293. Phenomena accompanying the Death of Christ: the Earthquake the Darkness; the Rending of the Temple-veil.

The wise men from the East were led to the Redeemer by the remarkable phenomena which attended his birth; and similar wonders accompanied his death. As the unity of the world as a whole [the world of nature and of spirit], is seen in natural signs accompanying epoch—making events in history, so we need not marvel to find the greatest event of history—shown as such by its fruits in the spiritual renovation of mankind even to those who cannot comprehend its internal import—attended by similar manifestations. At the moment of Christ’s death there was an earthquake; and at the same time, and perhaps from the same cause, a darkness spread over the sky, producing effects like those of an eclipse of the sun.790790   Julius Africanus, the first Christian author of a world-historical work, says that the heathen historian Thallus described this darkness as an ἔκλειψις τοῦ ἡλίου. Africanus rightly contradicts this, since no eclipse could possibly have taken place at the time, and infers justly, that the darkness could only have occurred as a real miracle. (See the fragment in Georg. Syncell. Chronograph., ed. Niebuhr, Dindorf, i., 610.) The Fathers of the first century refer frequently to a statement made by Phlegon, the author of a “Chronicle,” under Hadrian. Eusebius quotes his words, Chron., under the fourth year of 202d Olymp.; “ἔκλειψις ἡλίου μεγίστη τῶν ἐγνωσμένων πρότερον, καὶ νὺξ ὥρᾳ ἕκτῃ τῆς ἡμέρας ἐγένετο, ὥστε καὶ ἀστέρας ἐν οὐρανῷ φανῆναι.” A great earthquake in Bithynia had destroyed most part of Nicoea (1. c., p. 614.) The veil of the Holy of Holies in the Temple was rent asunder,791791   By καταπέτασμα, Matt., xxvii., 51, it is most natural to understand the curtain before the “Holy of Holies,” for this was distinctively so called; the veil before the Sanctuary was called κάλυμμα (Philo, de Vit. Mos., iii., § 5); or ναός must mean the Sanctuary in the stricter sense, which does not accord with the usage of Matthew. The latter view destroys the peculiar import of the occurrence.
   It has been questioned whether the fact of the rending of the veil is well supported. It is true, it is not so well sustained as the other phenomena, not being mentioned by Luke and John; but there is no decisive ground for doubting its credibility. It is true that the account may have originated from the occurrence of some fact of the kind, which assumed this particular form in the narrative, from the idea, subsequently received, that access to the “Holiest” was opened by Christ. Those who presuppose this would call it a mythical element, blended with the historical. We use the term “mythical” purposely, having no superstitious fear of the word when we wish to make use of the idea. Although we assert that Christianity is, in its essense, not a mythical, but a historical religion, founded upon a chain of real historical facts; and although we make a broad distinction between myths and symbolical representations of facts; still we do not assert it to be impossible that, after religious intuition had received a new direction from the extraordinary facts of Christianity, certain mythical elements, attaching themselves to the facts, could have crept into the Christian tradition. The mythical must predominate, in order to make a narrative apocryphal.

   But to admit this possibility, even in individual cases like the one before us, is not to admit its reality. Although it is true that none but a few priests could possibly have witnessed the rending of the veil of “the Holy of Holies,” it was by no means impossible that it could be generally known afterward; since, among other reasons, many priests afterward became Christians. Nor is the argumentum e silentio at all decisive in this case. The authors of the New Testament had so rich a treasure of proofs at command that they did not need to run to every individual fact which they might have used. They drew from full sources (as the Apostolical epistles show), and could afford to pass by many available things. In the Evang. ad Hebraeos, it is related that a beam over the Temple-door broke in two (superliminare templi infinitae magnitudinis fractum esse atqui divisum. See Hieron. in Matt., xxvii., 51; tom. vii., pt. 1, p. 336, ed. Vallars); which might have been caused by the earthquake. Cf., also, the statement cited from the Gemara (in Hug’s Dissertation above mentioned), that the folding—doors of the Temple, though locked, suddenly burst open about 40 years before the destruction of Jerusalem. All these accounts hint at some fact lying at the bottom of them.
signifying that the Holy 422of Holies in heaven is opened to all men through the finished work of Christ; the wall of partition between the Divine and the Human broken down; and a spiritual worship substituted for an outward and sensible one.


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