Thallus (historian)

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A solar eclipse. It takes about an hour for the moon to cover the sun, with total coverage lasting a few minutes. Solar eclipses are impossible at Passover.[1]

Thallus (Greek: Θαλλός), was an early historian who wrote in Koine Greek. Some scholars believe that his work can be interpreted as the earliest reference to Crucifixion darkness supporting the historical Jesus in the Gospels, and argue that it was written about 20 years after the Crucifixion. He wrote a three-volume history of the Mediterranean world from before the Trojan War to the 167th Olympiad, c. 112-109 BC. Most of his work, like the vast majority of ancient literature, perished, but not before parts of his writings were repeated by Sextus Julius Africanus in his History of the World.[2][3][4]

The works are considered important by some Christian scholars because they believe them to help confirm the historicity of Jesus and provide non-Christian validation of the Gospel accounts. Some people believe that Thallus refers to the darkness, reported in the Synoptic gospels as falling over the world at the time of Jesus' death, explaining it as an eclipse. However, an eclipse is an impossible explanation of the darkness as only a lunar eclipse can occur at Passover, and lunar eclipses are not visible at mid day (the 6th hour as reported in the gospels) due to the moon being directly opposite the sun, and therefore below the horizon. An eclipse can therefore not be used to explain the event for the story spoken of in the Gospel of Mark as some people claim[5][6] [7]

Richard Carrier states the following "It is commonly claimed that a chronologer named Thallus, writing shortly after 52CE, mentioned the crucifixion of Jesus and the noontime darkness surrounding it (which reportedly eclipsed the whole world for three hours), and attempted to explain it as an ordinary solar eclipse. But this is not a credible interpretation of the evidence. A stronger case can be made that we actually have a direct quotation of what Thallus said, and it does not mention Jesus.[8] It is critically important to remember however, that Thallus was merely trying to provide a natural explanation of an event which was commonly known during his lifetime, and that he was not disputing whether the lasting darkness occurred.[9] Therefore, Thallus' lack of mentioning of Christ's name or the crucifixion event is irrelevant; his attempt at providing a natural explanation for the mid-day darkness qualifies as non-Christian confirmation of the event's real historical occurrence.

The fragments of Thallus[edit]

  1. There are fragments from the 3 books of Thallus, in which he made a summary in abbreviated fashion from the sack of Troy to the 167th Olympiad [i.e. 109 BC] (Eusebius, Chronicle, I. K125.2)
  2. Castor[disambiguation needed] and Thallus [recorded] Syrian events. (Africanus, in Eusebius, PE X.10)
  3. The archives of the most ancient races—the Egyptians, Chaldaeans, and Phoenicians—need to be opened, and their citizens must be called upon, through whom knowledge must be provided—a certain Manetho the Egyptian and Berosus the Chaldaean, but also Jerome the Phoenician king of Tyre; and their followers, too: Ptolemy the Mendesian and Menander the Ephesian and Demetrius the Phalerean and king Juba and Apion and Thallus and the one who either proves or refutes these men, Josephus the Jew. (Tertullian, Apologeticum 19)
  4. On the whole world there pressed a fearful darkness, and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. Thallus calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun in the third book of histories, without reason it seems to me. (Africanus, in Syncellus)
  5. For Thallus also remembers Belus the ruler of Assyria and Cronos the Titan, asserting that Belus waged war along with the Titans against Zeus and the select gods who were with him, stating at this point: 'and defeated, Ogygus fled to Tartessus. While at that time that region was famous as Akte, now it is called Attica, which Ogygus then took over.' (Theophilus, Ad Autolycum 3.29)
  6. For according to the history of Thallus, we find that Belus was born 322 years prior to the Trojan War. (Lactantius, Divine Institutions I.23)
  7. And so ... neither Diodorus the Greek nor Thallus, neither Cassius Severus nor Cornelius Nepos, nor any commentator on such ancient matters, prints that Saturn was anything but a man. (Tertullian, Apologeticum 10).
  8. Therefore not only all poets, but even all historians and all writers on ancient matters, who have published for posterity his deeds done in Italy, agree he was a man: in Greek, Diodorus and Thallus, and in Latin, Nepos and Cassius and Varro. (Lactantius Div. Int. I.13).
  9. All writers of Greek and Roman antiquities tell us that Saturn, the first of his kind, was a man: Nepos knows this, and Cassius in history, as well as Thallus and Diodorus, say this. (Minucius Felix 21)
  10. Regarding the events before the Olympiads, consider how the Attic chronologers reckon: from the time of Ogygus, during whose tenure the first great flood occurred in Attica, while Phoroneus was ruling the Argives, as Acusilaus records, up to the time of the first year of the first Olympiad, the point after which the Greeks consider time to be reckoned more accurately, 1020 years passed, which agrees with those mentioned earlier and with those who were listed in order. For the writers on Athenian history, Hellanicus and Philochorus (who wrote Atthis) and writers on Syrian affairs, Castor and Thallus, and writers on world affairs, Diodorus (who wrote the Library) and Alexander Polyhistor, and some of our contemporaries record these events even more accurately than all the Attic historians. (Africanus, in Eusebius PE X.10)
  11. So know this: of all those among us [the Jews] happen to be more ancient than many: [for instance] ... Moses ... as is clear to us in the histories of the Greeks. ... For in the times of Ogygus and Inachus ... they record Moses ... so does Polemon in his first book of history of the Greeks, and Apion ... and Ptolemaeus the Mendesian, who wrote a history of Egypt, all these men agree. And the writers on Athenian history, Hellanicus and Philochorus (who wrote Atthis), Castor and Thallus and Alexander Polyhistor, and also those most wise of men, Philo and Josephus ... [all these men] mention Moses, as they do the very old and ancient origin of the Jews. (Justin, Cohortatio 9)
  12. 41 Assyrian kings ruled the kingdom of the Arabs, who also ruled from the [?] year of the world to the [?] year of the world, enduring all of [?] years from the first of them, Belus, until the 41st king, Macoscolerus, the son of Sardanapallus, as most noted historians agree, including Polybius, Diodorus, Cephalion, Castor, Thallus and others. (Syncellus)
  13. After the 70th year of the captivity, Cyrus was king of the Persians in the first year of the 55th Olympiad, as we find in the Library of Diodorus and the Histories of Thallus and Castor, and also in the works of Polybius and Phlegon, but also in those of others who concern themselves with Olympiads: they are all in agreement about the date. (Africanus, in Eusebius PE X.10)
  14. Those most wise men, Thallus, Castor [259 F 11], and Polybius [254 F 4]...and among others, Herodotus...and the wise Theophilus, all recorded the chronology of the reign of Croesus. (John Malalas VI).


Thallus is sometimes cited for details on Syrian and Assyrian history. Eusebius of Caesarea in a list of sources mentions his work:

From the three books of Thallus, in which he collects (events) briefly from the fall of Ilion to the 167th Olympiad.[10]

However the text is preserved in an Armenian translation where many of the numerals are corrupt. The fall of Troy is 1184 BC, but the editors, Petermann and Karst, highlight that the end-date of the 167th Olympiad (109 BC) is contradicted by George Syncellus, who quotes Julius Africanus, and suggest that the end-date should read "217th Olympiad", a change of one character in Armenian.

Thallus is first mentioned around AD 180 by Theophilus Bishop of Antioch in his Ad Autolycum ('To Autolycus') 3.29:

Thallus makes mention of Belus, the King of the Assyrians, and Cronus the Titan; and says that Belus, with the Titans, made war against Zeus and his compeers, who are called gods. He says, moreover, that Gygus was smitten, and fled to Tartessus. At that time Gygus ruled over that country, which was then called Acte, but is now named Attica. And whence the other countries and cities derived their names, we think it unnecessary to recount, especially to you who are acquainted with history.

Ho gygos 'that Gygus' is probably an error for Ogygos, referring to the Ogygus associated by chronographers with Attica. See Kings of Athens.

Thallus and Josephus[edit]

The name Thallus is too common to make a probable identification with any other known Thallus.[citation needed]

The identification sometimes made with a certain Thallus of Samaria who is mentioned in some editions of Josephus' Antiquities (18.167) fails because that name only appears in those editions because of an idiosyncratic alteration of the text by John Hudson in 1720. Until Hudson's time all texts had ALLOS (meaning "another") not THALLOS. See the external link below to Jacoby and Müller.

Early Christian use of Thallus[edit]

The 9th-century Christian chronologer George Syncellus cites Sextus Julius Africanus as writing in reference to the darkness mentioned in the synoptic gospels as occurring at the death of Jesus:

Thallus calls this darkness an eclipse of the Sun in the third book of his Histories.

Africanus then goes on to point out that an eclipse cannot occur at Passover when the moon is full and therefore diametrically opposite the Sun.

Responding to this skeptical writers state the following; "In the ninth century a Byzantine writer named George Syncellus quoted a third-century Christian historian named Sextus Julius Africanus, who quoted an unknown writer named Thallus on the darkness at the crucifixion: 'Thallus in the third book of his history calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun, but in my opinion he is wrong.' All of the works of Africanus are lost, so there is no way to confirm the quote or to examine its context. We have no idea who Thallus was, or when he wrote.

Eusebius (fourth century) mentions a history of Thallus in three books that according to an Armenian translation of Eusebius ranged from the sack of Troy to the 167th Olympiad.[11] There is no historical evidence of an eclipse during the time Jesus was supposedly crucified. The reason Africanus doubted the eclipse is because Easter happens near the full moon and a solar eclipse would have been impossible at that time, as was well-known. Compounding the matter is the Armenian translation of Eusebius has many corrupt numerals and so many apologists claim that 167th Olympiad (or 109 BCE) should really be 217th Olympiad.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Astronomy: The Solar System and Beyond by Michael A. Seeds, Dana Backman, 2009 ISBN 0-495-56203-3 page 34
  2. ^ Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus outside the New Testament, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. pp 19–20 Google Link
  3. ^ Africanus, in Syncellus
  4. ^ Benjamin Garstad, "Theophilus of Antioch, Pseudo-Justin and Thallus' treatment of Moses" Studia Patristica XXXVI, 207 f.
  5. ^ A. J. Levine, D. C. Allison & J. D. Crossan, The historical Jesus in context, Volume 12, Princeton University Press, 2006. p 405 Google Link
  6. ^ Catherine M. Murphy, The Historical Jesus For Dummies, Publisher For Dummies, 2007. pp 75–76
  7. ^ Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus outside the New Testament, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. pp 19–20
  8. ^ Carrier, Richard (2011–2012). "Thallus and the Darkness at Christ's Death". Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism. Retrieved 14 August 2013. 
  9. ^ "Search the Scriptures" audio lecture delivered by. Pres. Dr. Eugenia Constantinou (professor at Dan Diego State University) April 19th, 2008. Available for free listening online at:
  10. ^ H. Petermann, col. 265; Karst, Eusebius Werke.
  11. ^

External links[edit]

  • English translation of texts included in the full commentary at Richard Carrier: "Jacoby and Müller on 'Thallus' (1999)", an English translation from sections of F. Jacoby's Fragmente der griechischen Historiker (Fragments of the Greek Historians, 1923–) and corresponding section in Carolus Müller's Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum.