I am not sure what to make of this. It is certainly interesting -- although it will not silence every critic or answer every question. Someone emailed me the link before Easter but I never got to it. Better late than never. The author is some blogger called The Catholic Knight. Take it or leave it but it is very interesting. I have posted the info here without further comment:
In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad (i.e., AD 33) there was 'the greatest eclipse of the sun' and that 'it became night in the sixth hour of the day [i.e., noon] so that stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea.'
- Phlegon, 137 AD
Phlegon identifies the year and the exact time of day. In addition, he writes of an earthquake accompanying the darkness, which is specifically recorded in Matthew's Gospel.
Now when he was crucified darkness came over all the world; the sun was altogether hidden, and the sky appeared dark while it was yet day, so that the stars were seen, though still they had their luster obscured, wherefore, I suppose your excellency is not unaware that in all the world they lighted their lamps from the sixth hour until evening. And the moon, which was like blood, did not shine all night long, although it was at the full, and the stars and Orion made lamentation over the Jews because of the transgression committed by them.
- Pontius Pilate, 33 AD
We may never know what caused the solar eclipse-like event that lasted three hours, but we can speculate. Assuming that God uses natural events in unexpected ways to accomplish most of his miracles, then using what we know about natural phenomena, we can make a good guess. Eclipses are caused when the shadow of something is cast on the earth. Under normal circumstances, its the shadow of the moon cast upon the earth, as the moon passes between the earth and the sun, blotting out the sun's light for a few minutes. So based on what we know causes eclipses, we can speculate that something fairly large passed between the earth and the sun on the date and time in question, and we know that it could not have been the moon. Also the duration of the event (3 hours) would seem to indicate that the trajectory of the object was such that it kept the shadow on relatively the same place (the Mediterranean world) for about three hours. One possibility would be a very large asteroid (or even planetoid) on a near collision course with the earth. If the trajectory were so that the large celestial object (several dozen miles in diameter at least) were coming directly from the angle of the sun, passing by the earth at an incredibly close range, it might create a shadow large enough to eclipse the sun wherever it was cast on the earth's surface. Furthermore, such a near miss with such a large object would certainly capture the object in the earth's gravitational well, causing the object to be flung around the earth at a totally different trajectory then when it came in. If the object were to have it's own gravitational pull, and something that size probably would, then it might have caused disturbances on the earth as it passed by in the form of natural disasters, such as earthquakes for example. Granted this is all just speculation, but I am unaware of any other natural occurrence that could cause an eclipse-like event lasting three hours, coupled with earthquakes, like the one described by so many sources from antiquity. I should like to see more study into this possibility done by people more well versed in astronomy and astrophysics than myself.