Darkness (properly חשֶׁך, cho'shek; σκότος), the absence of light; the state of chaos as represented by the sacred writer in Ge 1:2. SEE CREATION.
The plague of darkness in Egypt (Ex 10:21) was one so thick and intense as to seem almost palpable. The "palpable obscure" of Milton appears to express the idea in a forcible manner. The Tamul translation gives "darkness which causeth to feel," or so dark that a man is obliged to feel his way, and until he shall have so felt he cannot proceed. Some expositors are disposed to contend for the literal palpableness of this darkness by supposing that the agency employed was a wind, densely filling the air with particles of dust and sand. Such winds are not unknown in the Eastern deserts, and they are always very appalling and destructive in their effects. Others think that a dense fog was spread over the land; but a darkness consisting of thick clammy fogs and exhalations, so condensed as to be perceived by the organs of touch, might have extinguished animal life in a few hours. Whether the darkness was exhibited in these or any other forms, the miracle must have struck the Egyptians with astonishment and horror, as the sun was one of their principal deities, and was supposed to be the source of life and the soul of the world, and with the moon to rule all things. SEE PLAGUES OF EGYPT.
In the Gospels of Matthew (Mt 27:45) and Luke (Lu 23:44) we read that, while Jesus, hung upon the cross, "from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour." Most of the ancient commentators believed that this darkness extended to the whole world. But their arguments are now seldom regarded as satisfactory, and their proofs even less so. Of the latter the strongest is the mention of an eclipse of the sun, which is referred to this time by Phlegon Trallianus, and, after him, by Thallus (ap. Africanum). But even an eclipse of the sun could not be visible to the whole world, and neither of these writers names the place of the eclipse. Some think it was Rome; but it is impossible that an eclipse could have happened from the sixth to the ninth hour both at Rome and Jerusalem. It is, therefore, highly probable that the statement of Phlegon, which in the course of time has come to be quoted as independent authority, was taken from the relation of the Christians or from the Scriptures. That the darkness could not have proceeded from an eclipse of the sun is further placed beyond all doubt by the fact that, it being then the time of the Passover, the moon was at the full. This darkness may therefore be ascribed to an extraordinary and preternatural obscuration of the solar light, which might precede and accompany the earthquake that took place on the same occasion; for it has been noticed that often before an earthquake such a mist arises from sulphureous vapors as to occasion a darkness almost nocturnal (see the, authors cited in Kuinoil ad Matt. 24:29, and compare Joe 3:3; Re 6:12 sq.). SEE EARTHQUAKE. Such a darkness might extend over Judaea, or that division of Palestine in which Jerusalem stood, to which the best authorities agree that here, as in some other places, it is necessary to limit the phrase πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν, rendered "all the land." In the "Acts of Pilate" (q.v.), which have been' quoted by Justin Martyr and Tertullian, we find the following document, in which this preternatural darkness is referred to. SEE ECLIPSE.
"Pilate to Tiberius, etc.
"I have at length been forced to consent to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, to prevent a tumult among the Jews, though it was very much against my will. For the world never saw, and probably never will see, a man of such extraordinarypiety and uprightness. But the high-priests and Sanhedrim fulfilled in it the oracles of their prophets and of our sibyls. While he hung on the cross, a horrid darkness, which covered the earth, seemed to threaten its final end. His followers, who profess to have seen him rise from the dead and ascend into heaven, and acknowledge him for their God, do still subsist, and, by their excellent lives, show themselves the worthy disciples of so extraordinary a master. I did all I could to save him from the malice of the Jews, but the fear of a total insurrection made me sacrifice him to the peace and interest of your empire," etc.
The "thick darkness" in which God is said to have been (Ex 20:21), was doubtless the "thick cloud upon the mount" mentioned Ex 19:16; and the "thick darkness" in which "the Lord said that he would dwell" (1Ki 8:12), has reference to the cloud upon the mercy-seat, in which he promised to "appear" to Aaron, and which seems to have been rather a cloud of glory and light than of darkness. SEE CLOUD. When it is said (Ps 97:2) "' clouds and darkness are round about him," the reference is apparently to the inscrutability of the divine nature and working. The darkness which is frequently (Isa 13:9-10; Joe 2:31; Joe 3:15; Mt 24:29, etc.) connected with the coming of the Lord has reference to the judgments attendant on his advent.
Darkness is often used symbolically in the Scriptures as opposed to light, which is the symbol of joy and safety, to express misery and adversity (Job 18:6; Ps 107; Ps 10; Ps 143:3; Isa 8:22; Isa 9:1; Isa 59:9-10; Eze 30:18; Eze 32:7-8; Eze 34:12); hence also captivity (Isa 47:5; La 3:6). 'He . . that maketh the morning darkness,' in Am 4:13, is supposed to be an allusion to the dense black clouds and mists attending earthquakes. 'The day of darkness' in Joe 2:2, alludes to the obscurity occasioned by the flight of locusts in compact masses. SEE LOCUST. In Eze 8:12, darkness is described as the accompaniment of idolatrous rites. Darkness of the sun, moon, and stars is used figuratively to denote a general darkness or deficiency in the government or body politic (Isa 13:10; Eze 32:7; Joe 2:10-31). In Eph 5:11, the expression 'works of darkness' is applied to the heathen mysteries on account of the impure actions which the initiated performed in them. 'Outer darkness' in Mt 8:12, and elsewhere, refers to the darkness outside, in the streets or open country, as contrasted with the blaze of cheerful light in the house, especially when a convivial party is held in the night time. And it may be observed that the streets in the East are utterly dark after nightfall, there being no shops with lighted windows, nor even public or private lamps to impart to them the light and cheerfulness to which we are accustomed. This gives the more force to the contrast of the 'outer darkness' with the inner light. Darkness is used to represent the state of the dead (Job 10:21; Job 17:13). It is also employed as the proper and significant emblem of ignorance (Isa 9:2; Isa 60:2; Mt 6:23; Joh 3:9; 2Co 4:1-6)."