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the great phenomena of nature which his curiosity and care could get together, and Pliny, in particular, has devoted an entire chapter to eclipses of an extraordinary nature, yet does not mention this at the Passion : the defection of light which followed Cæsar's murder, was not to be compared with what the gospel relates of the preternatural darkness at the Passion, and yet most of the writers of that age have recorded the former event, whilst all are silent as to the latter-Therefore it did not huppen.
This I believe is a fair state of the argument, and if there be any merit in the discovery, it certainly rests with the moderns; for neither Celsus, Porphyry, nor his disciple Jamblichus, have struck upon it, though the first-mentioned wrote against Christianity in the time of Adrian, who succeeded to the empire eighty years after Christ's passion; as for Seneca, he died about thirty years, and elder Pliny three-and-forty years after Christ.
The fathers of the church, it seems, are divided in opinion as to the darkness at Christ's passion being general to the whole earth, or local only to Judea. As the decision of this point does not affect the general question, the abettors of the argument are willing to admit with Origen, Beza, and others, that the prodigy should be understood as local to that part of the world, to which his other miracles were confined, and to whose conviction, if it really happened, it is natural to suppose it should be specially addressed.
Allowing this, these reasoners contend that it must of necessity have been reported to Rome, and that report must have been known to Seneca and elder Pliny, and, being known, must have been recorded by one or both. These positions merit examination.
The first point to be taken for granted is, that the miracle of the three hours' darkness upon
passion of Christ must necessarily have been reported to Rome: this report was either to come in the state dispatches of the Procurator Pilate to the court of Tiberius, or from private communications: of the probability of the first case the reader must judge for himself from circumstances : it is merely matter of speculation: it involves a doubt at least, whether the procurator would not see reasons personal, as well as political, against reporting to the court an event, which at best tended to his own crimination, and which, if he had delivered it for truth, might have alarmed the jealousy, or roused the resentment of his sovereign. The idea entertained by the Jews of deliverance from the Roman yoke by their expected Messias, was too general to have escaped the knowledge of their watchful tyrants, and it does not seem likely any Roman governor of that province would be forward to report any miracle, or miracles, that had reference to a person, who having set up a new religion, declared himself that very Messias, which the Jewish prophecies foretold should appear to extirpate the Gentile idolatry: if this be a reason for the Roman procurator in Judea to be silent on the subject, it is no less so for the people of Rome to reject the reports of the Christians themselves, if they ventured any; and as for the unbelieving Jews, it is not to be expected they would contribute to spread the evidences of Christ's divinity.
The next point to be taken for granted in the argument under examination is, that this report, if actually made, must have been known to the philosopher Seneca, and the naturalist Pliny; and I think it may fairly be allowed, that an event of this sort could not well fail of coming to the knowledge of Seneca, and even of Pliny (though he died fortythree years after the time), if the government in
Tiberius's reign had been made acquainted with it by authority, and had taken no measures for suppressing it, or any accounts published at the time respecting it; for after all, it must be observed that this event not being found in Pliny's Natural History, nor in Seneca's Enquiries, does not by any means decide the question against any accounts being published, but leaves it still open to conjecture (and with some reason), that such accounts might have been suppressed by the heathen emperors.
But waving any farther discussion of this point, we will pass to the third and last position: in which it is presumed, that if this preternatural eclipse at Christ's passion was known to Seneca and Pliny, one or both must have recorded it in their works.
This I think is begging a question very hardly to be granted; for these writers must have stated the event, either as a thing credible, or doubtful, or incredible; they must either have grounded it upon authority, or reported it upon hearsay; they must have admitted it with its date and circumstances at the very crisis when it happened, and in that case what would have been the consequence of such a publication? The Christian would naturally have made the application to the passion of Christ, and how dangerous was it for a heathen to admit a fact open to such an interpretation? A Roman philosopher, giving a serious history of extraordinary and prodigious events, would make his court but ill to a heathen persecuting emperor, by admitting this into the account, unless it was to confute it: now this does not appear to have been in contemplation with Seneca or Pliny in any part of their writings ; each of these authors tells us what he credits and wishes to be credited, not what he disbelieves and wishes to confute : the defection of light at the time
of Cæsar's death was the creed of the court; the historians, naturalists, and even the poets, celebrated that phenomenon, and it did not lose in their relations; but in the case of the darkness at Christ's death, a believer in Him and his miracles draws a stronger argument for his belief from the silence of Seneca and
Pliny, than any caviller can urge against it from the same circumstance: if we admit they knew it, and yet did not record it, are we not better founded in supposing they were silent, because they could not controvert the fact, than our opponents are in saying it did not pass, because they do not mention it? It is too much to require of witnesses, that they should depose to a fact which is to convince them selves : I must therefore appeal to the candid reader whether a philosopher writing in the court of Nero, who had charged the Christians with the burning of Rome, and was devising terrible and unheard-of modes of torturing them upon this charge, who had beheaded Paul and crucified Peter for preaching Christ and the redemption of mankind earned by his Passion; whether a heathen philosopher, I say, writing at this very time an account of extraordinary, but what he delivers as true, events in nature, would venture in putting into his account a miracle, tending to confirm the divine nature and mission of that person, whose immediate followers were then suffering under the most determined persecution ? No heathen writer in his senses would have ventured to give such an account. Peter and Paul declared for the miracle, and were martyred for their doctrine ; the gospel account declared for the miracle, and no one Roman writer controverted the assertion; this was the time for Seneca, for Pliny, and other heathen writers, to cry out against the glaring fiction, 'Do the Christians
say there was a general darkness when their master expired? We appeal to the fact against
them; it reached not us at Rome; the light of that day was like the light of other days: Do they say it was partial to Judea only? Be it so.
We meet them on their own ground; we appeal to the Procurator Pilate, to the noble Romans resident in Judea, to the soldiers, to the very centurion who attended his execution, to witness against this impudent attack upon men's senses. Let them pretend that he healed the sick, cured the lame, turned water into wine, or performed a thousand other juggling tricks, but darkness over a whole province can be confuted by the testimony of a whole province, and to this we appeal.' Was this said? Was this appeal made? Strange perversion of reason to turn that into an argument against a thing, which seems conclusive for it! at least no negative can come nearer to conclusion, than contemporary silence in a case so open to confutation, had it not been true.
• But Seneca and elder Pliny did not see the gospel.'—Let it
pass; let us grant all that the argument supposes; why are we told of no confutation of this miracle by any heathen writer contemporary with, or posterior to, the gospel account of the Passion? The assertion of a preternatural event, so generally notorious, must have been open to proof. Would Celsus have overlooked it? Would not Lucian have taken it up? Should not we hear of its having been urged by Porphyry, who was so voluminous a controversialist? Should not we meet it in Julian or Philostratus ? Should we hear nothing that could lead us to believe it was controverted by Jamblichus, or Hierocles in his books entitled Philalethes? If the silence of the heathen writers is to be appealed to for the purpose of impeaching Christ's miracles, let the appeal be made; whilst we confine ourselves to the defence of those miracles only, which are recorded in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles,