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Phlegon [1]

( Φλέγων ), surnamed TRALLIANUS, from Tralles, a city of Lydia, where he was born, flourished in the reign of the emperor Hadrian. Nothing is known of the events of his life, and the date of his death is uncertain; however, as one of his chronological works, which is no longer extant, carried the history down to 01. 229.2=A.D. 141 (Suidas), he probably lived to the middle of the 2d century A.D. Phlegon's name is familiar among the moderns because, though a heathen, he bore witness to the accomplishment of Christian prophecies (Origen, Contra Cels. lib. 3, § 14, page 69, ed. Spencer, Cantab. 1677; but see Lardner's Credibility, part 2, Heathen Testimonies, chapter 12, who concludes that "upon the whole this citation is of no great moment"). There is also in Phlegon's writings a passage which may be reckoned still more material, as it is supposed to relate to the miraculous darkness which prevailed at the time of Christ's crucifixion. In St. Jerome's Latin version of the Chronicle of Eusebius (page 155, ed. Pont., Burdig. 1604), the passage occurs as follows, "And so writes Phlegon, an excellent compiler of the Olympiads, in his thirteenth book, saying, 'In the fourth year of the two hundred and second Olympiad there was a great and extraordinary eclipse of the sun, distinguished among all that had happened before. At the sixth hour the day was turned into dark night, so that the stars in the heavens were seen, and there was an earthquake in Bithvnia which overthrew many houses in the city of Nice" (comp. Origen, Contra Cels. lib. 2, § 33, page 80; § 59, page 96; and other authorities quoted by Lardner). This passage was the origin of a controversy in England in the early part of the last century between Mr. Whiston, Dr. Sykes, Mr. Chapman. and others, a long and complete account of which may be found in the English translation of Bayle's Dictionnaire Historique, s.v., and in Chauffepid's "Supplement" to it. The immediate cause of the controversy was the omission of the passage in the eighth edition of Dr. S. Clarke's Boyle Lectures, published soon after his death in 1732, although it had been inserted in the first edition, which came out in 1706. This was done at the persuasion of Dr. Sykes, who had suggested to Clarke that an undue stress had been laid upon the passage. Whiston, who informs us of this affair, expresses great displeasure against Sykes, and calls "the suggestion groundless." Upon this Sykes published A Dissertation on the Eclipse mentioned by Phlegon, or an Inquiry whether that Eclipse had any Relation to the Darkness which happened at our Saviour's Passion (1732, 8vo). Sykes concludes it to be most probable that Phlegon had in view a natural eclipse, which happened November 24, in the first year of the two hundred and second Olympiad, and not in the fourth year of the Olympiad in which Christ was crucified. Many pieces were written against Sykes, who replied to some of them, but it may well be considered as a controversy still unsettled. The principal objections against the authority of the passage in question are thus briefly summed up by Dr. Adam Clarke (Comment. on  Matthew 27:45);

1. All the authors who quote Phlegon differ, and often very materially, in what they say was found in him.

2. He says nothing of "Judaea;" what he says is that in such an Olympiad (some say the one hundred and second, others the two hundred and second) there was "an eclipse in Bithynia," and "an earthquake at Nice."

3. He does not say that the earthquake happened at the time of the eclipse.

4. He does not intimate that this "darkness" was "extraordinary," or that the eclipse happened at the "full of the moon," or that it lasted "three hours;" all of which circurmstances could not have been omitted by him if he had known them.

5. He speaks merely of an ordinary though perhaps total eclipse of the sun, and cannot mean the darkness mentioned by the evangelists. And,

6, he speaks of an eclipse that happened in some year of the one hundred and second or two hundred and second Olympiad, and therefore, upon the whole, little stress can be laid on what he says as applying to this event. Some fragments of his works are all that remain, the longest belongs to a treatise, Περὶ Θαυμασίων , De Mirabilibus. It is a curious work, divided into thirty-five chapters (some of which are very short), and containing (as might be expected from the title) a great many absurd fables. The same may be said of a shorter fragment of four chapters, Περι Μακροβίων , De Longaevis. The third fragment that remains is a chapter, Περι Τῶν Ο᾿Λυμπίων , De Olympiis, which is supposed by Salmasius (Ad Spartian. page 43) to be the preface to a lost work, De Olympionicis. These fragments were first published in 1568 (Basil. 8vo, Greek and Latin). by Xylander, together with Antoiini Liberalis, Transform. Conger., Apollonii Hist. Mirab.; Antigoni Carystii Hist. Mirab., and M. Antoninus, De Vita Sua. An improved edition, with notes by Meursius, appeared in 1620 (Lugd. Bat. 4to, Greek and Latin), which is reprinted by Gronoviius in his Thesaur. Antiquit. Graec. 8:2690 sq., and 2727, and 9:1289 sq.; and also inserted among the works of Meursius, 7:77 sq. The best edition is by Westermann, in his Scriptores Rerum Mirabilium Graeci (Bruns. 1839). See, besides the references already given, Engl. Cyclop. s.v., Genesis Biog. Dict. s.v., Smith, Dict. of Gr. and Rom. Biog. and Mythol. s.v.