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Signs in the sun and the moon, the stars and the sky; unexpected light and darkness – Part two: table and footnotes

Signs in the sun and the moon, the stars and the sky; unexpected light and darkness – Part two: table and footnotes

This blog post discusses several New Testament and other early Christian texts which describe signs in sun, moon, stars and sky (‘heavens’ in their terms) and unnatural changes in light and darkness. Part one offered an overview of the fragments referred to. In part two, I take a closer look at the ‘signs’ in these fragments and identify key elements for each of three categories: accompanying phenomena, messianic indicators, and political/chronological indicators. Footnotes provide additional information. This is then followed by a general discussion of the subject in part three.







Signs in sun, moon, stars and sky; light and darkness

Accompanying phenomena and information

Messianic indicators

Political and chronological indicators

Mk 15: 33, 38

Darkness at noon over the whole region (1)

Veil of the temple torn in two

A and B accompany the death of Jesus the messiah

Lk 23: 44-45

Darkness at noon over the whole region;
the sun’s light failing

Veil of the temple torn in two

A and B accompany the death of Jesus the messiah

Mt 27: 45, 51-52

Darkness at noon over the whole region

Veil of the temple torn in two;
earthquake; rocks splitting ; memorials opened; bodies of those fallen asleep raised (2)

A and B accompany the death of Jesus the messiah

Mark 13

Sun darkened; moon doesn’t give its light; stars falling from heaven (3); powers in the heavens shaken; arrival of the Son of man in a cloud

Arrival of the Son of man: start of the messianic era

After the catastrophe

Luke 21

Signs in sun and moon and stars; powers of heaven shaken; arrival of the Son of man in a cloud

Great distress and fear

Arrival of the Son of man: start of the messianic era

Matthew 24

Sun darkened; moon doesn’t give its light; stars falling from heaven; powers of heaven shaken; sign of the Son of man in the sky; arrival of the Son of man in a cloud

All the tribes of Israel mourning (4)

Arrival of the Son of man: start of the messianic era

Immediately after the catastrophe (5)

Revelation 6: 12-15

Sun becomes black as sackcloth; full moon becomes like blood; stars fall from the sky; sky vanishes like a scroll that is rolled up

Great earthquake; mountains and islands moved; everyonehiding in hide-outs and among the rocks of the mountains (6)

Didache XVI: 6

The sign spread out in the sky (7)

The sound of the trumpet (8); the resurrection of the dead

Arrival of the Son of man

Gospel of Peter 35-36

Great light during the night (9); heavens opened

Great noise in the sky (10)

A en B accompany the resurrection of Jesus the messiah

The night in which the Lord’s day was dawning (11)

Sibylline Oracles 3: 796-808

Cloud of dust from the sky upon the earth (12); light of the sun eclipsed in the middle of the sky; rays of the moon appear and return to the earth

Swords in starry heaven; sign from the rocks; battle of horse and foot in the clouds (13); wild beasts (14)

End of all things;
end of the war; worship of the great king (15)

Sibylline Oracles 8: 202-208

Sun shines at night (16) ; stars leave the vault of heaven

Storms that makes the earth (Palestine) desolate; resurrection of the dead (17)

Phenomena accompany-ing the start of the golden messianic era (18)

This year represents the turn of an era; Palestine destroyed

Sibylline Oracles 8: 305-306

Dark monstrous night for three hours at midday

Veil of the Temple rent

4 Ezra 5:1-5

Sun shining at night (16); moonshine during the day; stars shall fall

Jews seized by great terror; lawlessness (19); peoples are troubled

Blood drips from wood; the stone (20) utters its   voice; third day (21)

Ruling nation in chaos and desolate (22); unexpected continuation of Roman rule

Ascension of Isaiah 4:4-6

Sun shining at night (16); moonshine at the sixth hour (23)

Opponent of the messiah (the beloved)

The ruler who looks like the emperor; surrounded by his generals; supreme power (24)


1. I translate γῆ as ‘region’ instead of ‘earth’ or ‘land’. This translation is supported by a clear message in the Gospel of Peter 15: But is was midday, and darkness held fast all Judea.

2. See part 7 of the Didache series on this blog (‘An intermezzo on the relation between Didache XVI and Matthew 27:51-53’), in which I argue that all these accompanying phenomena are related to the final stage of the war against the Romans.

3. The disappearance of the stars from the firmament during that night is mentioned by different authors in different wording: ‘stars falling (from heaven)’, ‘the sky vanishing like a scroll that is rolled up’, ‘the stars leaving the vault of heaven’.
When you consider the firmament to be a huge dome, the disappearance of the stars can be imagined as this dome opens. When it is imagined as a huge canvas or scroll, the stars disappear as the scroll is rolled up. Or if the stars have been fixed to the vault of heaven, their disappearance means they have fallen from that vault. Two fire-related phenomena could have caused this disappearance. The firestorm of Jerusalem caused such light pollution that the stars were not visible anymore. In a later stage of the fire a huge cloud of smoke and dust formed above the region, also hiding the stars.

4. Because of the loss of their Temple and their capital.

5. Matthew is even more specific than Mark. The catastrophe is the fall of Jerusalem, with ‘immediately after’ to be understood as ‘the immediate effect of the catastrophe being…’. I mention only the chronological indicator in these ‘signs in sun and moon’ verses. There are many more chronological indicators in the Synoptic Apocalypse, as the war of the Jews against the Romans is the dominant subject of these writings.

6. The use of underground hide-outs is mentioned here and also in Matthew 27:52: starving Jerusalem inhabitants hid in memorials and underground passages, and they appeared again after the fall of the city.

7. Explicit mention that the sign is spreading. It refers to the mushroom form of the smoke cloud over Jerusalem and its surroundings.

8. The salpinx announcing the final victory of the Romans.

9. Jerusalem and its surroundings were lit up by the burning city. This phenomenon is described as the sun shining during the night in Ascension of Isaiah 4:5.

10. The great noise occurs only once but it fits perfectly, as it describes the roar of the firestorm consuming Jerusalem. It corresponds with Josephus’s mention of the ‘deafening din’ at the burning of the Temple (War V:274).

11. The ‘day of the Lord’, not in the sense of a Sabbath, but as the pivotal moment of the beginning of the messianic era. As the ‘day of the Lord’ can only be connected with the end of the war (which they thought to win, of course), it is a sure chronological marker. See the discussion in part 3.

12. The cloud of dust is an interesting and elucidating addition. In a firestorm ashes, dust and smoke are pushed into the air. The mist of Sibylline Oracles 3:806 can also indicate this.
Josephus mentions a similar cloud of smoke and dust in an earlier stage of the siege (War V:471): At first there arose a dense cloud of smoke and dust as the flames were smothered by the debris, but as the mass of timber was burnt away, a vivid flame burst forth.

13. Cf. Josephus War VI:288 for the sword and VI:298 for the battle. The imagery is identical to Josephus’s description of the portents of the fall of Jerusalem.

14. Wild beasts: the Greek θηρίον is also used for wicked persons with a ‘bestial’ nature. Roman soldiers belong to this category. In War VI:404 Josephus describes the man-hunt being carried out by the Roman soldiers at the fall of Jerusalem: They poured into the alleys, sword in hand, massacring indiscriminately all whom they met.

15. This is a very detached description of the subjugation by Vespasian. The enormous disappointment and humiliation of the Jews are more overtly worded in the last verse of the 4 Ezra fragment.

16. ‘Fire gained the mastery in the night’, says Josephus in War VI:407.

17. Resurrection of the dead like in Matthew 27:52 and Didache XVI:6.

18. Cf. Mt 11:5; Lk 4:18-19; Lk 7:22; 4Q521.

19. The label of ‘lawlessness’ seems to have been reserved especially for Titus. Cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and Didache XVI:4.

20. Lapis in the Latin version; λἰθος is the Greek equivalent.

21. I see these verses as messianic. The blood on the wood is a coded description of Jesus’ crucifixion. This is confirmed explicitly in the Epistle of Barnabas XII:1: Similarly, again, he describes the cross in another prophet, who says, “And when shall all these things come to an end? says the Lord. When the tree shall fall and rise, and when blood shall flow from the tree.” Here again you have a reference to the cross, and to him who should be crucified.
In my opinion, the stone using its voice again is a veiled description of Jesus’ resurrection/survival. In one instance in the New Testament (1 Peter 2:4) Jesus is also called λἰθος: Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious. (I believe it would be better to translate λἰθος as gem here.) Jesus using his voice again when leaving his hide-out is also described in 4 Baruch, chapter 9:14: And after three days, his soul came into his body and he lifted up his voice in the midst of (them) all and said, ‘Glorify God, all (of you) glorify God.’
Furthermore, the fact that the references to wood and stone in the text are positioned between those to sun and moon and that of falling stars indicate a close connection between Jesus’ execution and survival and the ultimate days of the war.

22. Referring to the great fire of Rome in 64 CE and/or the chaos of the civil war after Nero’s death (68/69 CE).

23. The same time of day as in the Passion narrative of the synoptic gospels and in the Gospel of Peter 15.

24. It is Titus, the ruler who resembles the emperor, who gives the command for the destruction of Jerusalem, with a firestorm during the night and a huge cloud of smoke that dims the light in the middle of the day to the intensity of a moonlit night. There is also a clear reference to the imperial cult in one of the following verses of Ascension of Isaiah (chapter 4:12).