Question: How is it possible that there were three days of darkness in the New World and not in the Old World?


Question: How is it possible that there were three days of darkness in the New World and not in the Old World?

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #188: How Was There A Night Without Darkness? (Video)

When the Book of Mormon says “the whole Earth” it does not actually mean the entire planet, but rather every place within the local people’s experience

Some argue that the "three days" of "darkness upon the face of the land" in the New World following Christ's death is implausible. There are also a number of references to the destruction in the New World that accompanied Christ's death to "the whole Earth." However, When the Book of Mormon says “the whole Earth” it does not actually mean the entire planet, but rather every place within the local people’s experience.

Note that in the gospel of Luke is says that Caesar taxed "all the world" (Luke 2:1). But he clearly could not have taxed anyone outside the Roman Empire, which, large as it was, was not "all the world." It certainly did not include India or China, or much of anywhere else east of Judea, nor most Arabia to the south and the vast majority of the African continent--let alone the Americas, obviously, which they did not even know. Likewise, when Jesus commanded the apostles to preach the gospel throughout "all the world" (Mark 16:15) there no evidence they went beyond the Roman Empire either.

The phrases "all the world" and "the whole earth" in the scriptures and other ancient sources generally lack the global perspective we have today, and are in fact hyperbolic, referring to a more limited region

The three days of darkness are consistent with a massive volcanic and seismic eruption

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.

The LGT model for the Book of Mormon situates Book of Mormon lands in the Caribbean tectonic plate, and intersection of multiple tectonic plates and consequently of much volcanism and seismic activity.

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 intersection of the Cocos and Caribbean plates results in multiple volcanoes (shown in red dots on this USGS map) through central America.

One author suggested:

  • The basic cause of the destruction was a tremendous seismic upheaval.
  • Numerous destructive mechanisms were involved, but rain was not one of them.
  • The accompanying period of darkness was caused by an immense local cloud of volcanic ash.
  • The unprecedented lightning was due to electrical discharges within the ash cloud.
  • The intense thunder was due both to the lightning and to the rumbling of the earth due to seismic movements.
  • The vapor of darkness (1 Nephi 12:5; 19:11) and the mist of darkness (3 Nephi 8:20) were volcanic ash and dust stirred up by the quaking of the ground.[1]
An example of volcanic lightning from a 1995 eruption in Indonesia—such a phenomenon matches the 3 Nephi description of severe lightning following Christ's crucifixion.

A concentration of dense volcanic gases (carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide) at ground level is sufficient to prevent igniting of the kindling and to cause suffocation

The inability to ignite the exceedingly dry wood is interesting in view of the fact that a few people are also described as dying from suffocation during the period of destruction which preceded the period of darkness (3 Nephi 10:13). This suggests that in some regions the concentration of dense volcanic gases (carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide) at ground level was sufficient to prevent igniting of the kindling and to cause suffocation. The uncle of Pliny died of suffocation as a consequence of a volcanic eruption.

Volcanic eruptions could have accompanied the violent earthquake described in 3 Nephi

James Baer notes that volcanic eruptions could have accompanied the violent earthquake described in 3 Nephi. He notes that these would have made the atmosphere dark with dust and cinders and would have released carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and sulfurous gases, which would have been suffocating and could have made fire kindling impossible.

The "mist of darkness" and "vapor of darkness" is consistent with the falling of volcanic ash

Another mechanism, however, seems an equally likely explanation of the inability to ignite the dry tinder. If one assumes that sparks from flint were the common method of starting fires, then the heavy ash fall could have been effective in preventing ignition. This heavy ash fall also offers a likely explanation for the terms mist of darkness and vapor of darkness used in 1 Nephi 12:4–5.[2]

There is evidence dating volcanic eruptions in Mesoamerica to the proper timeframe

Given the wide variety of geographic models proposed for the Book of Mormon, there is obviously not evidence of volcanism in all areas, especially at the proper (i.e., at around AD 30, at Christ's death). (If the volcanic hypothesis for the three days' darkness is true, this provides one data point which can exclude many models, including a hemispheric or exclusively North American model.)

However, Sorenson's Mesoamerican model has been noted to have some interesting features in this regard: volcanoes do exist in the proper area, and these volcanoes have been shown by modern dating to have erupted only during two periods during the past 8600 years (3% of the time):

  • 1230–1190 BC [too early]
  • 30 BC – AD 170 [matches the circa AD 30 eruption at Christ's death]

Thus, Sorenson's model could have been easily disproven by these data, but was not.[3]

Furthermore, ice core data is consistent with a major volcanic event at the time of Christ's death, within the margin of error provided by the dating measurements, though it is not at present possible to determine the location of these eruptions.[4]

Notes

  1. Russell H. Ball, "An Hypothesis concerning the Three Days of Darkness among the Nephites," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993): 107–123. wiki
  2. Russell H. Ball, "An Hypothesis concerning the Three Days of Darkness among the Nephites," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993): 107–123. wiki (italics in original); citing James Baer, "The Third Nephi Disaster: A Geological View," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 no. 1 (Spring 1986), 129–132.
  3. "Book of Mormon Geophysics," mormonmatters.org (28 August 2010) off-site
  4. Benjamin R. Jordan, "Volcanic Destruction in the Book of Mormon: Possible Evidence from Ice Cores," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12/1 (2003): 78–87. off-site wiki