of the sun alluded to in Am 8:9; Mic 3:6; Zec 14:6; Joe 2:10. Eclipses were regarded as tokens of God's anger (Joe 3:15; Job 9:7). The darkness at the crucifixion has been ascribed to an eclipse (Mt 27:45); but on the other hand it is argued that the great intensity of darkness caused by an eclipse never lasts for more than six minutes, and this darkness lasted for three hours. Moreover, at the time of the Passover the moon was full, and therefore there could not be an eclipse of the sun, which is caused by an interposition of the moon between the sun and the earth.
ECLIPSE. The word eclipse, ????????, signifies failure, namely, of light. An eclipse of the sun is caused by the intervention of the moon, at new, or in conjunction with the sun, intercepting his light from the earth, either totally or partially. An eclipse of the moon is caused by the intervention of the earth, intercepting the sun's light from the moon, when full, or in opposition to the sun, either totally or partially. The reason why the sun is not eclipsed every new moon, nor the moon at every full, is owing to the inclination of the moon's orbit to the plane of the ecliptic, or earth's orbit, is an angle of about five degrees and a half: in consequence of which, the moon is generally too much elevated above the plane of the ecliptic, or too much depressed below it, for her disk to touch the earth's shadow at full, or for her shadow, or her penumbra, to touch the earth's disk at new. An eclipse, therefore, of either luminary can only take place when they are within their proper limits, or distances, from the nodes or intersections of both orbits. And because the limits of solar eclipses are wider than those of lunar, in general there will be more eclipses of the sun than of the moon. In any year, the number of eclipses of both luminaries cannot be less than two, and these will both be of the sun, nor more than seven: the usual number is four; and it is very rare to have more than six. But though solar eclipses happen oftener, lunar are more frequently observed in any particular place. For an eclipse of the moon is visible to the inhabitants of half the globe at the same instant; whereas, an eclipse of the sun is visible only within that part of the earth's surface, traversed by the moon's total shadow, and by her penumbra, or partial shadow. But her total shadow, when she is nearest to the earth, cannot cover a space of more than a hundred and fifty-eight geographical miles in diameter, nor at her mean distance more than seventy-nine, and at her greatest distance may not touch the earth at all. In the two former cases, the sun will be eclipsed in the places covered by the shadow totally, or by the penumbra partially: in the last it may be annular, but not total. Without the reach of the shadow, and within the limits of the penumbra, which cannot cover more than four thousand five hundred and fifty-two miles of the earth's surface, there will be a partial eclipse of the sun, and without these limits no eclipse at all. Hence lunar eclipses are more frequently noticed by historians than solar; and Diogenes Laertius may be credited when he relates, that, during the period in which the Egyptians had observed eight hundred and thirty-two eclipses of the moon, they had only observed three hundred and seventy-three of the sun. In the midst of a total lunar eclipse, the moon's disk is frequently visible, and of a deep red or copperish colour. This, in the poetic language of sacred prophecy, is expressed by "the moon's being turned into blood," Joe 2:31. This remarkable phenomenon is caused by the sun's lateral rays in their passage through the dense atmosphere of the earth, being inflected into the shadow by refraction, and falling pretty copiously upon the moon's disk, are reflected from thence to the eye of the spectator. If the earth had no atmosphere, the moon's disk would then be as black as in a solar eclipse. A total eclipse of the moon may occasion a privation of her light for an hour and a half, during her total immersion in the shadow; whereas, a total eclipse of the sun can never last in any particular place above four minutes, when the moon is nearest to the earth, and her shadow thickest. Hence it appears, that the darkness which "overspread the whole land of Judea," at the time of our Lord's crucifixion, was preternatural, "from the sixth until the ninth hour," or from noon till three in the afternoon, in its duration, and also in its time, about full moon, when the moon could not possibly eclipse the sun. It was accompanied by an earthquake, which altogether struck the spectators, and among them the centurion and Roman guard, with great fear, and a conviction, that Jesus was the Son of God, Mt 27:51-54.
Eclipses, says Dr. Hales, are justly reckoned among the surest and most unerring characters of chronology; for they can be calculated with great exactness backward as well as forward; and there is such a variety of distinct circumstances of the time when, and the place where, they were seen; of the duration, or beginning, middle, or end of every eclipse, and of the quantity, or number of digits eclipsed; that there is no danger of confounding any two eclipses together, when the circumstances attending each are noticed with any tolerable degree of precision. Thus, to an eclipse of the moon incidentally noticed by the great Jewish chronologer, Josephus, shortly before the death of Herod the Great, we owe the determination of the true year of our Saviour's nativity. During Herod's last illness, and not many days before his death, there happened an eclipse of the moon on the very night that he burned alive Matthias, and the ringleaders of a sedition, in which the golden eagle, which he had consecrated and set up over the gate of the temple, was pulled down and broken to pieces by these zealots. This eclipse happened, by calculation, March 13, U.C. 750, B.C. 4. But it is certain from Scripture, that Christ was born during Herod's reign; and from the visit of the magi to Jerusalem "from the east," ??? ????????, from the Parthian empire, to inquire for the true "born King of the Jews," whose star they had seen "at its rising," ?? ?? ???????, and also from the age of the infants massacred at Bethlehem, "from two years old and under," Mt 2:1-16. It is no less certain, that Jesus could not have been born later than B.C. 5, which is the year assigned to the nativity by Chrysostom, Petavius and Prideaux.