Geological, Astronomical, and Historical Reasons for the Date of Jesus’ Crucifixion

Can we estimate the date of Jesus’ crucifixion? Yes, we can. The ancients have left us with multiple historical, geological, and astronomical reasons to support April 3 of 33.

Let’s begin with Jewish expectations.

10. In the 6th century B.C., the prophet Daniel predicted the fates of four kingdoms while he was exiled by the Babylonians. In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 and Daniel’s dream in Daniel 7, he prophesied the fall of Babylon and the rise of the Medo-Persian kingdom, the Greek kingdom, and the last (Roman) Empire from which the God of Heaven would set up an everlasting kingdom.

These passages, Daniel 7, and Zechariah 9:9 informed ancient Jews who were expecting Jesus when He arrived. According to the Sanhedrin 97a and 97b: “The school of Eliyahu taught: Six thousand years is the duration of the world. Two thousand of the six thousand years are characterized by chaos [Adam to Abraham]; two thousand years are characterized by Torah, from the era of the Patriarchs until the end of the Mishnaic period [Abraham to the Anno Domini era]; and two thousand years are the period of the coming of the Messiah.”

Though they didn’t accept Jesus, so they added this bit: “That is the course that history was to take, but due to our sins that time frame increased. The Messiah did not come after four thousand years passed, and furthermore, the years that elapsed since then, which were to have been the Messianic era, have elapsed.”

9. Malachi 3:1 prophesied as follows: “the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple.” This prophecy came during the 2nd Temple period and the 2nd Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.

8. Daniel 9 prophesied that the “Anointed One” would be cut off 70 sevens less 7 years after the call to restore and rebuild Jerusalem goes out. That call when out in 457 and 444 B.C., giving us a window of years between 27 and 40 A.D.

The Jews for Jesus link Daniel 9 to the following scriptural passages: (1) to finish transgression (c.f., Isaiah 59:20; (2) to make an end of sins (c.f., Isaiah 27:9; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Jeremiah 31:31-34); (3) to make reconciliation or atonement for iniquity; (4) to bring an everlasting righteousness (c.f., Isaiah 1:26; 11;2-5; 32:17; Jeremiah 23:5-6; 33:15-18); (5) to seal up vision and prophecy; and (6) to anoint a most holy place, the Jewish Temple (c.f., Ezekiel 40-48).

7. Babylonian astronomers followed the Star of Bethlehem, which was revealed at the birth of Jesus. Jesus’ birth occurred in Bethlehem, as prophesied by Micah (5:2) prior to King Herod’s death in 1 B.C. Early church fathers placed the timing of His birth around 2 or 3 B.C. Scholars have concluded a 1 B.C. date for Herod’s death based on Josephus’ writings, the timing of the Passover, and the number of events that Josephus described between a solar eclipse and the Passover. The 4 B.C. Schurer hypothesis has been refuted for the same reasons.

6. Jesus was around 30 when He began His ministry, according to Luke 3:23.

5. Jewish historian Josephus named Jesus and said Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and to die. The pagan Roman historian Tacitus stated that Christ suffered the “extreme penalty” during the reign of Tiberius (14 – 37 A.D.) at the hands of Pontius Pilate (26 – 37 A.D.).

Accordingly, we have a small window of time for Jesus’ crucifixion: 26 to 37 A.D.

4.  All four Gospels place the crucifixion on the Friday before nightfall during the Passover week. According to Colin Humphreys and W. Graeme Waddington (1985), some scholars believe the Synoptic Gospels place the slaughter of the lambs between 3 and 5 p.m. on 14 Nisan and the Passover meal/Last Supper on Thursday night at the start of 15 Nisan (Luke 22:15). According to Harold Hoehner (1977), the Synoptic authors used a Galilean Pharisaic calendar reckoning, which ran from sunrise to sunrise while John used the Judean/Sadducees calendar, which ran from sunset to sunset. Under John’s calendar reckoning, Jesus was being crucified during the time the Sadducees would have been sacrificing their Passover lambs on Friday afternoon (John 13:1).

During Pilate’s window of time, 14/15 Nisan fell on a Friday only twice: in 30 and 33 A.D. Thus, we’re down to two dating options. Let’s now turn to the external evidence in the sky and on the ground.    

3. Thallus (5 – 60 A.D.) wrote about events during Jesus’ crucifixion (which were recorded by Africanus): “On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness, Thallus, in his third book of History, calls as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. Humphreys and Waddington (1985) note the impossibility of an eclipse of the sun at that time of the year (and on the same day of a blood moon). They add that the Lukan manuscripts that mention an eclipse may have simply meant the sun wasn’t visible. They propose the presence of a dust storm in the hours surrounding Jesus crucifixion, which may have made the sun much less visible.

According to the Report of Pilate, an apocryphal book, the “moon appeared like blood.” The prophet Joel foretold this sign, which Peter repeated in Acts 2:14-21. A blood moon is a lunar eclipse when the moon is in the earth’s shadow and appears blood red. According to Humphreys and Waddington (1985), twelve lunar eclipses occurred between 26 and 37 A.D. that were visible in Jerusalem, but only one appeared during Passover. This one occurred on Friday, April 3rd of 33 at the rising moon around 6:20 p.m. at the start of the Jewish Sabbath and day of the Passover.

2. The four gospels reported that Jesus was crucified around noon and died around 3 p.m. Matthew (27:45) reported that darkness came over all the land.

1. According to modern geologists, devastating earthquakes occurred in Jerusalem during Christ’s death (Mallet, 1853; Rigg, 1941). This occurred in a region that includes the Dead Sea fault, which is a plate boundary that separates the Arabian plate and the Sinai sub-plate (Garfunkel, 1981). This fault has been active since the Miocene (Kagan, Stein, Agnon, & Neuman, 2011) and the fault is still active today (De Liso & Fidani, 2014). The fault extends from the Red Sea in the south to the Taurus Mountains in the north.

Kagan and colleagues (2011) analyzed seismites in the Holocene Dead Sea basin by constructing two age-depth chronological models based on atmospheric radiocarbon ages of short-lived organic debris with a Bayesian model. Seismites are sedimentary beds and structures, which are deformed by seismic shaking. The scholars analyzed seismites in different areas of the basin, finding that several synchronous seismites appeared in all sections during particular years, including 33 AD (+/- 2 sigma; 95% confidence interval). Other years in which earthquakes occurred as evidenced by seismites are (AD unless otherwise noted): 1927, 1293, 1202/1212, 749, 551, 419, 33, 31 BC, and mid-century B.C.

After analyzing laminated sedimentary cores recovered at the shores of the Dead Sea, Migowski, Agnon, Bookman, Negendank, and Stein (2004) also confirmed an earthquake in 33 AD with a magnitude of 5.5. They documented earthquakes around 33 AD in 31 BC and 76 AD. The scholars analyzed seismites using radiocarbon dating.

Ben-Menahem (2014) conducted a literature review of empirical studies over 4,000 years of seismicity along the Dead Sea Rift. The scholar referenced the aforementioned studies along with one by Enzel, Kadan, and Eyal (2000) before concluding that earthquakes occurred in Masada in 31 BC, Jerusalem in 33 A.D., and near Nablus in 64 A.D.

In summary, the literature on seismicity along the Dead Sea basin supports the assertion that an earthquake occurred either in or very close to the year 33 A.D.

When we put all of this astronomical, geological, and historical information together, placing Jesus’ crucifixion date at April 3, 33 seems reasonable.

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Ben-Menahem, A. (2014) Geophysical studies of the crustal structure along the southern Dead Sea fault. In Garfunkel, Z., Ben-Menahem, Z., and Kagan, E. (2014). Dead Sea Transform Fault System: Reviews. Springer.

De Liso, G. & Fidani,C. (2014). Electrical charges associated with sky darkening and the Turin shroud. International Journal of Development Research, 4(12): 2790-2797.

Enzel, Y., Kadan, G., & Eyal, Y. (2000). Holocene earthquakes inferred from a fan delta sequence in the Dead Sea graben. Quat Res., 53: 34-48.

Garfunkel, Z. 1981. Internal structure of the Dead Sea leaky transform (rift) in relation to plate kinematics, Tectonophysics, 80, 81–108.

Hoehner, H.W. (1977). Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ. Zondervan: Grand Rapids

Humphreys, C.J. and Waddington, W.G. 1985. The Date of the Crucifixion, JASA, 37, 2-10.

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