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. He wrote a three-volume history of the Mediterranean world from before the Trojan War to the 167th Olympiad, 112–108 BC, or perhaps to the 217th Olympiad, AD 89-93. Most of his work, like the vast majority of ancient literature, has been lost, although some of his writings were quoted by Sextus Julius Africanus in his History of the World.[2][3][4] It is not known when he lived and wrote, but his work is quoted by Theophilus of Antioch, who died around AD 185 and most scholars date his writings around 50 AD.[2]

The works are considered important by some Christians as confirming the historicity of Jesus and providing non-Christian validation of the Gospel accounts: a reference by Thallus to an eclipse has been taken since antiquity as referring to the darkness described in the Synoptic gospels at the death of Jesus, although it was has been argued that an eclipse could not have taken place during Passover, when the crucifixion happened.[5][6][2] A common view in modern liberal scholarship is that the Crucifixion darkness is a literary creation rather than a historical event.[7][8][9]

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 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. Sextus Julius Africanus writes, concerning the passion of Christ, "Concerning each of his deeds and his cures, both of bodies and souls, and the secrets of his knowledge, and his Resurrection from the dead, this has been explained with complete adequacy by his disciples and the apostles before us. A most terrible darkness fell over all the world, the rocks were torn apart by an earthquake, and many places both in Judaea and the rest of the world were thrown down. In the third book of his Histories, Thallos dismisses this darkness as a solar eclipse. In my opinion, this is nonsense. ..."
  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 of Antioch, 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, Apologeticus 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. (Cohortatio ad Graecos 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).

Time and subjects of work[edit]

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

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.

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" (AD 89-93), a change of one character in Armenian.[10]

Thallus and Josephus[edit]

Josephus may have referred to Thallus in Antiquities of the Jews 18.6.4:[11][2]

Now there was one Thallus, [another Samaritan] a freed-man of Caesar, of whom he borrowed a million of drachmae, and thence repaid Antonia the debt he owed her; and by sending the overplus in paying his court to Caius, became a person of great authority with him.

The identification depends on two assumptions: since all Josephan manuscripts have "another Samaritan" (αλλος Σαμαρενς) after Thallus in the section and since Josephus does not refer to a previous Samaritan in this context, it must be corruption in the text where the Samaritan being named missing just a θ to make "Thallos". Most recent editors of Josephus accept this reading except one. The second assumption is that the Thallos being named is the same one Eusebius and Africanus were referring to considering that such a name was likely rare at the time.[2]

Others believe that the name Thallos was common at the time so the reference is not clear.[12] A minority have disagreed with the mainstream view above and have suggested that the text is not corrupted and may have read "Now there was another, namely a Samaritan by race (birth), a freedman of Caesar." and not have had a person named Thallos.[13]

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:[14]

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 the third book of his 'History', calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.

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.[2]

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.[15] Some have argued that 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, AD 89-93.[16]


  1. ^ Astronomy: The Solar System and Beyond by Michael A. Seeds, Dana Backman, 2009 ISBN 0-495-56203-3 page 34
  2. ^ a b c d e f Van Voorst, Robert E. (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament : An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. pp. 20–23. ISBN 0802843689.
  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. ^ Allison, Dale C. (2005). Studies in Matthew: Interpretation Past and Present. Baker Academic. p. 186. ISBN 9780801027918.
  8. ^ Caird, George Bradford (1980). The language and imagery of the Bible. Westminster Press. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-664-21378-7.
  9. ^ Fitzmyer, Joseph A. (1985). The Gospel According to Luke, X-XXIV. The Anchor Bible Reference Library. Doubleday. p. 1513. ISBN 978-0-300-13981-5.
  10. ^ a b H. Petermann, col. 265; Karst, Eusebius Werke.
  11. ^ Josephus, Flavius (1895). "Antiquities of the Jews 18.6.4". Persius Digital Library. Tufts University.
  12. ^ Carrier, Richard (2011–2012). "Thallus and the Darkness at Christ's Death" (PDF). The Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism. 8: 185–191.CS1 maint: date format (link)
  13. ^ Rigg, Horace A. (April 1941). "Thallus: The Samaritan?". Harvard Theological Review. 34 (2): 111–119. doi:10.1017/S0017816000031461.
  14. ^ "Julius Africanus - Extant Writings, Fragment XVIII".
  15. ^
  16. ^ Mosshammer, Alden E., The Chronicle of Eusebius and Greek Chronographic Tradition Bucknell University Press (Lewisburg, PA: 1979).

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