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, c. 112-109 BC. 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.
The works are considered important by some Christians because they believe them to confirm the historicity of Jesus and provide non-Christian validation of the Gospel accounts: a reference to a historical eclipse, attributed to Thallus, has been taken as a mention of the worldwide darkness described in the Synoptic gospels account of the death of Jesus, although an eclipse could not have taken place during Passover when this took place. Most modern scholars see the darkness as a literary creation rather than a historical event.
The fragments of Thallus
- 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)
- Castor and Thallus [recorded] Syrian events. (Africanus, in Eusebius, PE X.10)
- 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)
- 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. Thallos calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun in the third book of histories, without reason it seems to me. (Africanus, in Syncellus)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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).
- 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).
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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).
- From the three books of Thallus, in which he collects (events) briefly from the fall of Ilion to the 167th Olympiad.
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 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.
Thallus and Josephus
The name Thallus is too common to make a probable identification with any other known Thallus.
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
"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."
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. 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.
- Astronomy: The Solar System and Beyond by Michael A. Seeds, Dana Backman, 2009 ISBN 0-495-56203-3 page 34
- Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus outside the New Testament, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. pp 19–20 Google Link
- Africanus, in Syncellus
- Benjamin Garstad, "Theophilus of Antioch, Pseudo-Justin and Thallus' treatment of Moses" Studia Patristica XXXVI, 207 f.
- A. J. Levine, D. C. Allison & J. D. Crossan, The historical Jesus in context, Volume 12, Princeton University Press, 2006. p 405 Google Link
- Catherine M. Murphy, The Historical Jesus For Dummies, Publisher For Dummies, 2007. pp 75–76
- Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus outside the New Testament, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. pp 19–20
- Allison, Dale C. (2005). Studies in Matthew: Interpretation Past and Present. Baker Academic. ISBN 9780801027918.
- H. Petermann, col. 265; Karst, Eusebius Werke.
- "Julius Africanus - Extant Writings, Fragment XVIII".
- Voorst, Robert E. Van (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament : An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Eerdmans. pp. 20–23. ISBN 0802843689.
- Mosshammer, Alden E., The Chronicle of Eusebius and Greek Chronographic Tradition Bucknell University Press (Lewisburg, PA: 1979).
- 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.