Monday, April 8, 2024

The Eclipse (?) at Jesus’ Crucifixion

With the 8 April 2024 eclipse in view, I am happy to extract and summarize a portion of my dissertation, Psalm 22 (LXX 21) and the Crucifixion of Jesus.

According to Matthew and Mark, the sky darkened for three hours when Jesus was crucified. Luke reports the darkness, but he specifically states, using the correct astronomical term, that it was due to an eclipse. Luke 23.45 states: τοῦ ἡλίου ἐκλιπόντος = tou hēliou eklipontos = while the sun eclipsed.

Luke’s reference to the eclipse was not a natural nor a fortuitous addition to the Passion narrative. Jewish[1] and pagan opponents of Christianity recognized that the phrase τοῦ ἡλίου ἐκλιπόντος introduces an absurd and difficult problem.  Origen summarizes their argument:

Eclipses always take place at a fixed time when sun and moon come together, when the moon running under intercepts the rays of the sun, and by its intervention cuts off its light. But in the time when Christ suffered it is clear that the sun and the moon did not meet together, since it was the time of the Passover, which is regularly held when the moon is at the full and shines all the night. How then could there be an eclipse of the sun when the moon was full and had the fullness of the sun?[2]

Not only is the conjunction of sun and moon impossible at this time, there also is the difficulty that Luke has just stated that the darkness lasted for three hours, but an eclipse is only a momentary occurrence. Julius Africanus appears to have been the first to respond to this difficulty. He acknowledges that a true eclipse is impossible, but says, “Let the cosmic portent be supposed to be an eclipse of the sun from the illusion of the sight.”[3] Origen in his commentary on Matthew, §134, takes greater pains to resolve the problem. He observes that some believers claimed that this impossibility was a necessity for it to be truly recognized as a miracle associated with Jesus’ crucifixion. Origen realizes, however, that such a wonder ought to be recorded in some history but is not. His solution is to suggest that this phrase should be rejected altogether as an unwise substitution by a scribe or, more likely in his opinion, as a malicious alteration by an enemy seeking to discredit the Gospel. He prefers instead the reading he finds in the majority of copies: καὶ ἐσκοτίσθη ὁ ἥλιος.[4]

Origen’s student, Dionysius of Alexandria, also realized that an eclipse was impossible, but for him, this only goes to show how miraculous and unique the event was.[5]  Tertullian hedges on the issue.[6]  Chrysostom, however, emphasizes that it was not an eclipse——lest anyone think that it was simply some naturally occurring event——but learns from this incident that it was a sign of God’s wrath at the Jews.[7]

Why has Luke inserted this problematic detail right at the point where he omits the cry of dereliction from Psalm 22 (LXX 21).2 from Mark 15.34?

ελωι ελωι λεμα σαβαχθανι; ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον· ὁ θεός μου ὁ θεός μου, εἰς τί ἐγκατέλιπές με; = elōi elōi lema sabachthani? ho estin methermēneuomenon; ho theos mou ho theos mou, eis ti egkatelipes me?

I explain in detail in my dissertation, but the short version of it is that Luke reads Mark’s ελωι (or Matthew ηλι) and from it gets to ηλιος. I.e., ελωι > ηλιο-ς (or ηλι > ηλι-ος). There is further evidence that Luke was not the first to connect the Hebrew word for God in the psalm (אֵלִי = ʾēlı̂; Matthew’s Ἠλὶ = ēli) with the Greek word for the sun (ἥλιος = ēlios) which coheres with the numerous pagan solar deities.

Next, rather than Mark’s ἐγκατέλιπές = egkatelipes = “you abandoned,” Luke extracts the shared root from ἐγκατέλιπές (ἐγκατα-λείπω) and gets to ἐκλιπόντος (ἐκ-λείπω).

My conclusion: It was more reasonable for Luke to report the astronomical impossibilty that the sun eclipsed (τοῦ ἡλίου ἐκλιπόντος) than to think that God abandoned the Son (ὁ θεός μου ὁ θεός μου, εἰς τί ἐγκατέλιπές με).


[1]  Cf. Acts of Pilate 11.2 where the Jews respond to Pilate’s question about what had happened by saying that it was an ordinary eclipse.  Pilate responds incredulously by noting what time of the lunar month it was.

[2]  Origen, Commentary on Matthew §134, transl. by Harold Smith in Ante-Nicene Exegesis of the Gospels, 68-69.

[3] Fragment 1 (= Chronikon 5.50) in Routh (ed. 2.297), transl. by Smith, ibid. 67-68. Julius Africanus wrote ca. 221 CE.

[4] This reading is also preserved in the Old Latin and Vulgate (obscuratus est sol) and the Peshitta (ושמשא חשך). Cf. the critical apparatus to Luke 23:45 I provide on Table 3. Also cf. the Gospel of Nicodemus (Acts of Pilate) 11.1 which states: “And it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the land until the ninth hour, for the sun was darkened. (... Sole autem obscurante ecce.) Cf. R. M. Grández, “Las tinieblas en la muerte de Jesús. Historia de la exégesis de Lc 23,44-45a (Mt 27,45; Mc 15,33),” EstBib 47 (1989), 177-223.

[5] Cited in Smith, ibid., 73-73.

[6] Cf. his Apology 11: At the time of Jesus’ death, “in the same hour the light of day was withdrawn, when the sun at the very time was in his meridian blaze.  [The allusion is to Amos 8:9.]  Those who were not aware that this had been predicted about Christ, no doubt thought it an eclipse.”

[7] Homily 88: “... That darkness was a token of [God’s] anger at their [the Jews] crime.  For that it was not an eclipse, but both wrath and indignation, is not hence alone manifest, but also by the time, for it continued three hours, but an eclipse takes place in one moment of time...”

Thursday, January 18, 2024

The First Computer-Generated Greek New Testament

Alan Bunning from the Center for New Testament Restoration has an article in TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism 28 (2023): 111–126 on "The First Computer-Generated Greek New Testament." (available to read online HERE)

Abstract: A plausible Greek New Testament text can be automatically generated by a computer program using statistical analysis and algorithms that weigh the earliest manuscript data in a manner simulating a reasoned-eclecticism approach. This method offers several substantial advantages by providing a consistently weighed text that is openly transparent, without any theological bias, and scientifically reproducible, and the results are very similar to our best modern critical tests. This initial accomplishment could have a number of future implications for the field of textual criticism regarding advances in the use of statistics and algorithms for further refinements in the production of critical texts.

The project was started by hand in 2012, but by 2020, the first computer-generated Greek New Testament was created, the Bunning Heuristic Prototype Greek New Testament. (BHP) That text was deprecated, and with further developments, in 2022 it became the Statistical Restoration Greek New Testament (SR). All the earliest manuscript evidence is fed directly to a computer program as raw data, and the most probable text is generated based on statistical analysis and algorithms." SR is now available as an open-licensed (CC) text available for download HERE.

Monday, December 18, 2023

1602 Bishops' Bible with King James Bible Translators' Notes Digitized

Screen capture of digitized 1602 Bishops' Bible
The single remaining copy of the 1602 Bishops' Bible with notes from the King James Bible translators has been digitized. THIS ARTICLE at Text & Canon Institute provides background and gives some interesting examples of the kinds of notes that were made. It shows a good awareness of differences in the available textual witnesses. HERE is the link directly to the digitized version at the Bodleian Library. It is worth checking out some of the prefatory material which includes a lectionary, genealogy charts, and more.

HT: Christianity Today

Friday, December 15, 2023

Using AI to Translate the Bible into Rare Languages

Image created by DALL-E 3
Interesting article from Religion News Service on using AI to translate the Bible into rare languages, a process that usually is very time-consuming or otherwise totally neglected.

Out of the 7,100 languages that exist, the Bible has been translated into more than 700, making it the most-translated book in the world. Yet, those remaining languages — many of them extremely rare — have vexed Bible translators for decades. Two scientists are looking to new advancements in artificial intelligence to help close the gap.

They recently launched the "Greek Room."

The Greek Room includes three main tools: spell-checking, world alignment that ensures consistency in translation, and Wildebeest, used to detect improper characters in a script. 

Their work is supported by Wycliffe, part of the Every Tribe, Every Nation project.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Mark 1.1-8 RCL Advent 1B Translation, Commentary, Performance

I've been working on a new translation and commentary on Mark which is 'tuned' to the performing (biblical storytelling) of the text. Attached here is the Mark 1.1-8 text for this Sunday, Advent 1B of the RCL. It includes my introduction to the text which does not tell what the text is about. Rather, it puts it into context and prepares the hearers to understand it better. There are also some suggestions for the performance of the text. Let me know if / how this is helpful. 

Now is a good time to sign up for BiblePlaces newsletter!

Todd Bolen's BiblePlaces website has so many great resources. Due to a list manager change, subscribers need to re-enroll for the monthly newsletter. It is worth getting! And anyone who (re-)enrolls now, they will also get two free PowerPoints of Herodium and of Philippi. These are great resources that will give you a good idea of the kind of benefits you can get from the Photo Companions (PowerPoints organized and labelled by book, chapter, and verse) and Pictorial Libraries (organized by sites and topics). You will see that there are thousands of quality photos, maps, and illustrations. Everything is well-labeled with explanations and pointers to biblical passages. You can get further insight into the quality of the work by checking out the resources shared under Chapters (i.e., chapters of the Bible) and Sites

Definitely a site worth checking out and bookmarking! Register for the newsletter and get the free PowerPoints HERE.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

BibleMate and ChatGPT Update

In May 2023, I did a comparison of BibleMate and ChatGPT (now ChatGPT 3.5) in terms of how they responded to a couple of Bible related questions. (HERE is original post.) Since AI is by nature an evolving technology that keeps learning, I decided to revisit them with the same questions now (11/23/2023) as I posed six months ago.

I am getting rather different answers. (Of course one can get different answers simply by refreshing the request in ChatGPT. BibleMate does not offer that option, and it appears that its answers have become somewhat fixed.) 

As to the question: Was Jonah swallowed by a whale?
BibleMate in May answered:

Yes, according to the Bible, Jonah was swallowed by a great fish, not specifically identified as a whale, in the book of Jonah. The book of Jonah is a narrative about a prophet named Jonah who was called by God to go to the city of Nineveh to preach repentance to its people. However, Jonah disobeyed God and tried to flee by boarding a ship going in the opposite direction.

As a result, God sent a great storm that threatened to sink the ship. The sailors on the ship realized that Jonah was the cause of the storm and threw him overboard. It was then that Jonah was swallowed by the great fish. After three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, Jonah repented and prayed to God, and the fish vomited him onto dry land.

While some people may view this story as a metaphor or allegory, others believe it to be a literal historical event. Regardless of one's interpretation, the story of Jonah teaches important lessons about obedience to God and the power of repentance and forgiveness."

BibleMate now answers:

Yes, according to the biblical account in the book of Jonah, Jonah was swallowed by a great fish, commonly referred to as a whale. In Jonah 1:17, it says, "Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights." This miraculous event serves as a sign of God's power and mercy, as Jonah was eventually vomited out by the fish and given a second chance to fulfill his mission. The story of Jonah is often interpreted as a lesson about obedience and repentance.

 ChatGPT in May answered:

The story of Jonah being swallowed by a whale or a great fish is found in the biblical Book of Jonah. According to the account, Jonah was a prophet who was commanded by God to go to the city of Nineveh and deliver a message of repentance. Instead of obeying, Jonah attempted to flee from God's command by boarding a ship bound for Tarshish.

During the journey, a great storm arose, and the sailors realized that Jonah was the cause of their misfortune. Jonah instructed them to throw him overboard, believing that this would calm the storm. As he was cast into the sea, the text says that "the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights" (Jonah 1:17).

The Book of Jonah does not specify the exact creature that swallowed Jonah, using the Hebrew word "dag gadol," which generally refers to a large sea creature. The term "whale" is commonly used in translations, but the text itself does not provide specific details.

The story of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish is often interpreted symbolically or as a miraculous event. It emphasizes the themes of obedience, repentance, and God's mercy. Some consider it to be a parable or an allegorical tale rather than a historical account, while others view it as a literal event.

As with many biblical narratives, the interpretation of Jonah's story varies among different individuals and religious traditions. Ultimately, whether one believes the account to be a historical event or a symbolic story is a matter of personal faith and interpretation.

ChaptGPT 3.5 now answers:

The story of Jonah being swallowed by a whale is a biblical narrative found in the Book of Jonah in the Old Testament. According to the account, Jonah was a prophet who tried to escape God's command to go to the city of Nineveh and deliver a message of repentance. As he tried to flee by sea, a great storm arose, and the sailors on the ship eventually cast lots to determine that Jonah was the cause of the storm. Jonah instructed them to throw him into the sea, and a great fish, traditionally described as a "whale," swallowed him.

The relevant biblical passage is found in the Book of Jonah, specifically Jonah 1:17 (New International Version):

"Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights."

The story goes on to describe how Jonah prayed to God from the belly of the fish, and after three days and nights, the fish vomited him onto dry land. Jonah then went to Nineveh and delivered the message as God had commanded.

Whether the events in the story are to be understood as literal historical events or as a symbolic or allegorical tale is a matter of interpretation. Some people interpret the story as a miraculous event that actually happened, while others see it as a literary device with a moral or theological message. It is important to note that interpretations of biblical stories can vary among different religious traditions and denominations.

As you can see, BibleMate has shortened the answer and removed the possibility of an allegorical or metaphorical reading. ChatGPT's response again provides more context, but it has simplified the response somewhat. 

Regarding the question of "What does the Gospel of John say about the 'Jews'?", I got new answers from both, but I would say they are similar to the May responses and a bit better. Interestingly, BibleMate concluded with this statement:

If you have any specific passages or questions in mind regarding the references to "the Jews" in the Gospel of John, feel free to mention them, and I'll be glad to provide more insight and biblical citations.


As is the nature of AI, things are evolving. I'm wondering if there were 'conservative' responses to BibleMate's earlier answer about Jonah and the whale that have caused it to become more 'conservative.' The comparison also shows how good AI can be AND how you still need to confirm whether AI responses are any good at all. We still need to wonder about how AI is scouring the web to come up with its answers and how that all infringes on copyright matters. The evolving nature also shows how easy it can be to plagiarize from these AI engines without getting caught.