One of the most interesting details given by the Gospels is the image of darkness. In Mark 15:33 we read; 'When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour." The cause of this darkness has been the cause for much debate among scholars and scientists. Early theories proposed that the darkness was a solar eclipse. But secular and Vatican astronomers have discredited this theory on the basis that a total eclipse, which would cause such darkness, would not last the length of time mentioned in the Gospel.
However, historians seem to have found evidence of such a darkness. For example. In a report from Pontius Pilate to Caesar Augustus we read;
Now when he was crucified, there was darkness over all the world, and the sun was obscured for half a day, and the stars appeared, but no luster was seen in them; and the moon lost its brightness, as though tinged with blood; and the world of the departed was swallowed up; so that the very sanctuary of the temple, as they call it, did not appear to the Jews themselves as their fall, but they perceived a chasm in the earth, and the rolling successive thunders.
Likewise, in another report from Pontius Pilate to Tiberius, he writes;
Now when he was crucified darkness came over all the world; the sun was altogether hidden, and the sky appeared dark while it was yet day, so that the stars were seen, though still they had their luster obscured, wherefore, I suppose your excellency is not unaware that in all the world they lighted their lamps from the sixth hour until evening. And the moon, which was like blood, did not shine all night long, although it was at the full, and the stars and Orion made lamentation over the Jews because of the transgression committed by them.
The Greek historian, Rufinus (c 345-395), seems to confirm that some anomalous event happened. He writes; “Search your writings and you shall find that in Pilates time, when Christ suffered, the sun was suddenly withdrawn and darkness followed”.
Meteorologically, there may be a natural explanation. According to Meteorologist Michele Powers (NWS), this could have been a “low-precipitation thunderstorm. There are two types that could apply here;
1) Low-Precipitation Supercells; Low-precipitation supercells can occur if the upper-level storm-relative winds are ≥60 knots. This is due to the strong winds in the upper levels of the storm that can evacuate the mass flux of precipitation far away from the updraft. Thus, very little precipitation is left to fall out of the base of the storm.
2) Classic Supercells; Classic supercells often occur in an environment where the upper-level storm-relative winds are between 40-60 knots. These types of supercells can be coined as the “Goldie Locks” of supercells such that there is not too much precipitation that falls out of the downdraft to obscure the mesoscale features involved with the storm.
While modern science can explain the phenomenon, the ancient people of the Bible saw these atmospheric events very differently. They saw clouds collecting, thunder roaring, and lightning flashing as a Theophany, a manifestation of the presence of God. They saw the cloud decks forming to protect the people from seeing God. Also, according to scholars, the dark clouds were seen as a convulsion of nature in reaction to its creator. Therefore, this detail was not a superfluous meteorological note. Biblical scholars have taught for centuries that there are no empty details in the Gospels, all details, no matter how minute they seem to be, are important to the Theology of each Gospel.
What were the evangelists trying to say? Throughout the Bible, darkness is often a harbinger of God’s judgement. Judgement will come in God’s time. Now, we see that the Father has not forgotten His Son. The Father is moving toward His Son when the mission is accomplished. At this moment, the Father accepts the “spirit”, or soul, of the Son. Therefore, the Gospels were trying to depict a reunion between the Father and Son. One might see it as the joining of the Old and New Testaments. With this union made, the theological stage is set for the Resurrection.