Archaeologists have provided evidence that would pin the date of the Crucifixion of Jesus on Friday, April 3, in the year 33 AD. Published in International Geology Review, the study focused on seismic activity in the vicinity of the Dead Sea, just thirteen miles from Jerusalem. Coincidently, the Gospel of Matthew mentions in its 27th chapter describes an earthquake that occurred following the execution of Jesus by the Roman imperial government: “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open.”
Geologist Jefferson Williams of Supersonic Geophysical, along with Markus Schwab and Achim Brauer of the German Research Center for Geosciences, studied three cores drilled from a beach of the Dead Sea adjacent to the Ein Gedi Spa. Upon examining annual layers of deposition in the sediments that settle in the Dead Sea, known as varves, the scientists could show that at least two major seismic events were evidenced in the core sample.
One was a region-wide earthquake that occured in 31 B.C., another seismic event that happened sometime between the years 26 and 36 A.D. According to Williams, the latter event occurred during “the years when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea and when the earthquake of the Gospel of Matthew is historically constrained.” While the year of the event described in Gospels and underscored by scientific testing, the actual year was in question. Williams said, "The day and date of the crucifixion (Good Friday) are known with a fair degree of precision."
Summarizing a paper published in Nature by Colin Humphreys and Graeme Waddington, Williams noted that all four gospels of Christian scripture, and Tacitus in Annals (XV, 44), coincide in that the Crucifixion of Jesus took place while Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea from A.D. 26 to 36:
- All four Christian gospels say the crucifixion occurred on a Friday.
- All four gospels agree say Jesus died a few hours before the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath at nightfall on a Friday.
- The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, known as the Synoptic Gospels, concur that Jesus died before nightfall on the 14th day of Nisan, right before the start of the Passover meal.
The Gospel of John’s differs from the Synoptic Gospels in indicating that Jesus died before nightfall on the 15th day of Nisan.
When data about the Jewish calendar and astronomical calculations are factored in, a handful of possible dates result, with Friday, April 3, 33, being the best match, according to the researchers.
Williams and his team acknowledge that the seismic activity associated with the Crucifixion could refer to “an earthquake that occurred sometime before or after the crucifixion and was in effect ‘borrowed’ by the author of the Gospel of Matthew”, and a localized tremor occurring between 26 and 36 A.D. that was strong enough to deform the Ein Gedi sediments of Ein Gedi but not energetic enough to produce a still extant and extra-biblical historical record. “If the last possibility is true, this would mean that the report of an earthquake in the Gospel of Matthew is a type of allegory,” they write.
Seeking to explain another natural occurrence recorded in the Christian scriptures, Williams is seeking to find the cause for the darkness that accompanied the Crucifixion and the earthquake. Three of the four gospels report that darkness fell on 1st century Palestine from noon to 3 p.m. after the Crucifixion. Such darkness could have been caused by a duststorm, William believes. Currently, he is seeking dust storm deposits in the Dead Sea sediments that were laid down in the area of Jerusalem during the early 1st century.