Three Days of Darkness After Christ’s Crucifixion
Most of my life I have considered and wondered about the specifics of this strange and unique phenomenon described in the Book of Mormon. I had accepted that it was just something that could not be understood in a practical sense, more like a “parting of the Red Sea” type phenomenon.
Traditionally scholars have attributed this phenomenon strictly to volcanic activity.
Recently, I discovered fantastic information that completely changed my perception!
Background & Prophecies
600-592 BC – Valley of Lemuel, Arabia
“Valley of Lemuel” by Joseph Brickey
About 75 miles directly south of the ancient, Jordanian port city of Aqaba, on the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba, there is a small, remote valley named Wadi Tayyib Al Ism. The valley is surrounded by high granite cliff walls and hosts a small, continually running river. This is the likely candidate for the Valley of Lemuel and the River of Laman, so named by their father, Lehi. It was in the Valley of Lemuel that Lehi’s family spent several months after their initial departure from Jerusalem around 600 BC. The high cliff walls, running water, and shady palm trees provided a cool sanctuary for Lehi’s family. Lehi and Sariah sent their boys back to Jerusalem twice while they waited in this valley. After they last returned, the valley hosted a 5 couple wedding for Laman, Lemuel, Sam, Nephi, and Zoram, to the five daughters of Ishmael. It was there also that Lehi found the Liahona and both Lehi and Nephi received the amazing visionary dreams of the tree of life.
“Nephi’s Vision of the Virgin Mary” by Judith A. Mehr
Nephi’s vision was accompanied by an angelic “guide” that explained and interpreted the dream in real-time. After the angel-guide interpreted the tree of life, Nephi was then guided through a vision of the birth, life, crucifixion, and resurrection of the Savior, followed by his appearance and ministry to Nephi’s posterity in the new Promised Land that his family would occupy.
Nephi’s angelic guide showed him the epic destruction that would precede the appearance of the Savior in the Promised Land.
1 Nephi 12:1, 4-6
1 And it came to pass that the angel said unto me: Look, and behold thy seed, and also the seed of thy brethren. And I looked and beheld the land of promise; and I beheld multitudes of people, yea, even as it were in number as many as the sand of the sea.
4 And it came to pass that I saw a mist of darkness on the face of the land of promise; and I saw lightnings, and I heard thunderings, and earthquakes, and all manner of tumultuous noises; and I saw the earth and the rocks, that they rent; and I saw mountains tumbling into pieces; and I saw the plains of the earth, that they were broken up; and I saw many cities that they were sunk; and I saw many that they were burned with fire; and I saw many that did tumble to the earth, because of the quaking thereof.
5 And it came to pass after I saw these things, I saw the vapor of darkness, that it passed from off the face of the earth; and behold, I saw multitudes who had not fallen because of the great and terrible judgments of the Lord.
6 And I saw the heavens open, and the Lamb of God descending out of heaven; and he came down and showed himself unto them.
6 BC – Zarahemla, Land of Promise
Samuel the Lamanite prophesied from atop the city wall of Zarahemla.
20 But behold, as I said unto you concerning another sign, a sign of his death, behold, in that day that he shall suffer death the sun shall be darkened and refuse to give his light unto you; and also the moon and the stars; and there shall be no light upon the face of this land, even from the time that he shall suffer death, for the space of three days, to the time that he shall rise again from the dead.
21 Yea, at the time that he shall yield up the ghost there shall be thunderings and lightnings for the space of many hours, and the earth shall shake and tremble; and the rocks which are upon the face of this earth, which are both above the earth and beneath, which ye know at this time are solid, or the more part of it is one solid mass, shall be broken up;
22 Yea, they shall be rent in twain, and shall ever after be found in seams and in cracks, and in broken fragments upon the face of the whole earth, yea, both above the earth and beneath.
23 And behold, there shall be great tempests, and there shall be many mountains laid low, like unto a valley, and there shall be many places which are now called valleys which shall become mountains, whose height is great.
24 And many highways shall be broken up, and many cities shall become desolate.
25 And many graves shall be opened, and shall yield up many of their dead; and many saints shall appear unto many.
26 And behold, thus hath the angel spoken unto me; for he said unto me that there should be thunderings and lightnings for the space of many hours.
27 And he said unto me that while the thunder and the lightning lasted, and the tempest, that these things should be, and that darkness should cover the face of the whole earth for the space of three days.
28 And the angel said unto me that many shall see greater things than these, to the intent that they might believe that these signs and these wonders should come to pass upon all the face of this land, to the intent that there should be no cause for unbelief among the children of men—
A Small Pre-Event
“Nephi and Lehi” by Briana Shawcroft
About 30 BC
Helaman’s two sons, Nephi and Lehi were imprisoned in the Land of Nephi. While in the prison, events took place that were similar to what would take place 64 years later before the coming of Christ.
27 And behold, when they had said these words, the earth shook exceedingly, and the walls of the prison did shake as if they were about to tumble to the earth; but behold, they did not fall. And behold, they that were in the prison were Lamanites and Nephites who were dissenters.
28 And it came to pass that they were overshadowed with a cloud of darkness, and an awful solemn fear came upon them.
The specifics of this event foreshadow the events before the coming of the Christ, specifically the earthquakes followed by a cloud of darkness. The wording is slightly different, but the meaning of the words vapor, mist, and cloud are very similar.
I had never looked at this story as the same type of event as described during the crucifixion of Christ, but the circumstances are very similar.
The Main Event
Tempests, earthquakes, fires, whirlwinds, and physical upheavals attest the crucifixion of Christ—Many people are destroyed—Darkness covers the land for three days—Those who remain bemoan their fate.
3 Nephi 8:3, 5-23
3 And the people began to look with great earnestness for the sign which had been given by the prophet Samuel, the Lamanite, yea, for the time that there should be darkness for the space of three days over the face of the land.
5 And it came to pass in the thirty and fourth year, in the first month, on the fourth day of the month, there arose a great storm, such an one as never had been known in all the land.
6 And there was also a great and terrible tempest; and there was terrible thunder, insomuch that it did shake the whole earth as if it was about to divide asunder.
7 And there were exceedingly sharp lightnings, such as never had been known in all the land.
8 And the city of Zarahemla did take fire.
9 And the city of Moroni did sink into the depths of the sea, and the inhabitants thereof were drowned.
10 And the earth was carried up upon the city of Moronihah, that in the place of the city there became a great mountain.
11 And there was a great and terrible destruction in the land southward.
12 But behold, there was a more great and terrible destruction in the land northward; for behold, the whole face of the land was changed, because of the tempest and the whirlwinds, and the thunderings and the lightnings, and the exceedingly great quaking of the whole earth;
13 And the highways were broken up, and the level roads were spoiled, and many smooth places became rough.
14 And many great and notable cities were sunk, and many were burned, and many were shaken till the buildings thereof had fallen to the earth, and the inhabitants thereof were slain, and the places were left desolate.
15 And there were some cities which remained; but the damage thereof was exceedingly great, and there were many in them who were slain.
16 And there were some who were carried away in the whirlwind; and whither they went no man knoweth, save they know that they were carried away.
17 And thus the face of the whole earth became deformed, because of the tempests, and the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the quaking of the earth.
18 And behold, the rocks were rent in twain; they were broken up upon the face of the whole earth, insomuch that they were found in broken fragments, and in seams and in cracks, upon all the face of the land.
19 And it came to pass that when the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the storm, and the tempest, and the quakings of the earth did cease—for behold, they did last for about the space of three hours; and it was said by some that the time was greater; nevertheless, all these great and terrible things were done in about the space of three hours—and then behold, there was darkness upon the face of the land.
20 And it came to pass that there was thick darkness upon all the face of the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof who had not fallen could feel the vapor of darkness;
21 And there could be no light, because of the darkness, neither candles, neither torches; neither could there be fire kindled with their fine and exceedingly dry wood, so that there could not be any light at all;
22 And there was not any light seen, neither fire, nor glimmer, neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, for so great were the mists of darkness which were upon the face of the land.
23 And it came to pass that it did last for the space of three days that there was no light seen; and there was great mourning and howling and weeping among all the people continually; yea, great were the groanings of the people, because of the darkness and the great destruction which had come upon them.
Scene capture from Scriptures Legacy on lds.org – watch entire video
Twice Mormon stated very specifically,
“the face of the whole earth became deformed, because of the tempests, and the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the quaking of the earth”
The main changes in the land came because of the tornados, the lightning and the earthquakes.
Cities were burned, cities were sunk, cities were shaken.
Finally, after all the earthquakes and destruction there was darkness that lasted for 3 days. The darkness was very uniquely referred to as a “vapor” or “mist”, so thick that there could be no light of any kind! Mormon tells us that there could be no light “because of the darkness”, which means that the darkness itself prevented the creation of light by using candles, torches, or fire of ANY kind. The darkness also was so thick that it blocked the sun, moon, and stars.
The Traditional Event – The Volcano
Traditionally the destructive events in the Americas, corresponding with Christ’s crucifixion, have been associated with volcanic activity. Since there are NO volcanoes located in the eastern half of the US and there ARE several volcanoes located in Central America, in order to accept this tradition, events of the Book of Mormon could ONLY have taken place in Central America.
Eruption of the Cordón Caulle Volcano in central Chile in 2011, via Reuters
In the 1960s, Hugh Nibley compared these Book of Mormon accounts to descriptions of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Since that time, several other scholars, including many professional geologists, have examined these accounts and widely agreed that the three-day darkness and other destructive forces described in the Book of Mormon accounts involve a volcanic eruption.
The main reason for this is the three-day period of darkness. Geologists who have studied the 3 Nephi 8 account generally agree that nothing except volcanic ash and dust clouds could account for the three days of darkness, as it is described. Not only the darkness, but the excessive lightning, thundering, tempest, and many other features can all be explained by volcanic activity.
In the most recent and thorough analysis by a professional geologist, Jerry Grover, Jr. concluded, “In order to account for the destruction described in 3rd Nephi, it is clear that a volcano and a regional earthquake are indicated.” Earthquakes are known to trigger volcanic eruptions, especially when a volcano is located on or near a fault-line.
Summary: The three days of darkness is consistent with a period of intense volcanism. This explanation of the darkness has been particularly popular among those who advocate a limited geographical model of the Book of Mormon. Most LGT models place Book of Mormon lands in central America; this area is well-known for active seismic activity.
The Book of Mormon 3 Nephi 8:5-25 provides a detailed description consistent with a massive volcanic and seismic eruption. Such details are precise for both ancient and modern accounts, though they would have been unknown to Joseph Smith.
Remarkably, one of the models most favored by LDS scholars (Sorenson’s Mesoamerican model) has candidate eruptions which are largely restricted to the proper time period.
JOURNAL OF BOOK OF MORMON STUDIES (SPRING 1993)
However, explicit mention is made in 3 Nephi 8:21 of the impossibility of lighting their candles or torches or their exceedingly dry wood. The emphasis on the existence of dry wood after the destructive events seems to rule out the flooding of rivers, since it would have followed heavy rains, a fact which seems incompatible with the emphasis on dry wood.
Thus, it seems quite clear that this period of devastation included no rain. But without rain, whence all that lightning and thunder? The answer may be provided in the sketch above of the eruption of the Sakura-jima Volcano in Japan. It can be seen that fine volcanic ash is also very effective in generating lightning. If volcanic eruptions lasted several hours, as described in 3 Nephi, the enormous amount of ash discharged would have blanketed a large region and would have produced intense local darkness.
The Challenger Event – New Madrid, MO
The information I discovered was about an earthquake in southeast Missouri, near the small town of New Madrid in the winter of 1811-1812.
The events very closely paralleled the destruction described by Mormon.
At 2:15 a.m. on December 16, 1811, residents of the frontier town of New Madrid, in what is now Missouri, were jolted from their beds by a violent earthquake. The ground heaved and pitched, hurling furniture, snapping trees and destroying barns and homesteads. The shaking rang church bells in Charleston, South Carolina, and toppled chimneys as far as Cincinnati, Ohio.
The New Madrid earthquakes were the biggest earthquakes in American history. They occurred in the central Mississippi Valley, but were felt as far away as New York City, Boston, Montreal, and Washington D.C. President James Madison and his wife Dolly felt them in the White House. Church bells rang in Boston. From December 16, 1811 through March of 1812 there were over 2,000 earthquakes in the central Midwest, and between 6,000-10,000 earthquakes in the Bootheel of Missouri where New Madrid is located near the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
In the known history of the world, no other earthquakes have lasted so long or produced so much evidence of damage as the New Madrid earthquakes. Three of the earthquakes are on the list of America’s top earthquakes: the first one on December 16, 1811, a magnitude of 8.1 on the Richter scale; the second on January 23, 1812, at 7.8; and the third on February 7, 1812, at as much as 8.8 magnitude.
Eliza Bryan in New Madrid, Territory of Missouri, wrote the following eyewitness account in March 1812.
On the 16th of December, 1811, about two o’clock, a.m., we were visited by a violent shock of an earthquake, accompanied by a very awful noise resembling loud but distant thunder, but more hoarse and vibrating, which was followed in a few minutes by the complete saturation of the atmosphere, with sulphurious vapor, causing total darkness. The screams of the affrighted inhabitants running to and fro, not knowing where to go, or what to do—the cries of the fowls and beasts of every species—the cracking of trees falling, and the roaring of the Mississippi— the current of which was retrograde for a few minutes, owing as is supposed, to an irruption in its bed— formed a scene truly horrible.
Centered near present-day Blytheville, Arkansas, the quakes affected the entire Mississippi and Ohio river valleys, but were felt most strongly near the town of New Madrid about 200 miles south of St. Louis. For miles around, chimneys tumbled, houses cracked, and the ground moaned and roared. The shocks continued about every ten minutes for the rest of the night. Lightning flashed and crackled across the ground, and black vapors obscured any visibility from the night sky.
Shortly after the initial New Madrid earthquakes a dark mist or vapor that smelled of sulphur and often caused total darkness was reported by many. In several cases the sulphurous vapor or mist was so thick that lanterns and fires could not be lit. This dark mist as it was described made people nauseous and caused excessive coughing.
The New Madrid Claims.
Senator Linn in a letter to the Senate committee on commerce wrote of the earthquake:
“The earth rocked to and fro, vast chasms opened, from whence issued columns of water, sand and coal, accompanied by hissing sounds, caused, perhaps, by the escape of pent-up steam, while ever and anon flashes of electricity gleamed through the troubled clouds of night, rendering the darkness doubly horrible. The day that succeeded this night of terror brought no solace in its dawn. Shock followed shock, a dense black cloud of vapor overshadowed the land, through which no struggling ray of sunlight found its way to cheer the desponding heart of man. Hills had disappeared, and lakes were found in their stead. One of these lakes formed on this occasion is sixty or seventy miles in length, and from three to twenty in breadth.”
According to the United States Geological Survey, Reelfoot Lake was formed in northwestern Tennessee when the region subsided during the 1811–12 New Madrid earthquakes, which were centered around New Madrid, Missouri. The earthquakes resulted in several major changes in the landforms over a widespread area, with shocks being felt as far away as Quebec, Canada.
Tornado (Whirlwind) Alley
Location and Time of Occurrence
90% of all tornadoes in the world occur in the United States.
The Face of the Whole Earth – Joplin, MO, 2011
This was just one tornado. Image a simultaneous tornado event throughout the entire Midwest.
Darkness so thick that there could be no flame?
Normal air contains about 21% oxygen.
Most fires require at least 16% oxygen content to burn.
When oxygen concentrations drop from 19.5 to 16%, and you engage in physical activity, your cells fail to receive the oxygen needed to function correctly.
Mental functions become impaired and respiration intermittent at oxygen concentrations that drop from 14 to 10%; at these levels with any amount of physical activity, the body becomes exhausted.
Humans won’t survive with levels at 6% or lower.
The sulphurous gases, belched up from river basin by the earthquakes, lowered the oxygen content below the 16% needed to light a candle, torch, or even an open fire, yet still above the around 12 to 14% needed for diminished breathing with limited activity.
While it is possible that the destruction and the three days of darkness described in the Book of Mormon were caused by volcanic activity, there is another, more plausible explanation.
The destruction and vapor of darkness surrounding the New Madrid earthquakes more closely matches the Book of Mormon events AND those events took place in the eastern US, NOT in Central America!