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Thallus (historian)

Thallus was a chronologer/historian who seems to have flourished in the period from the middle of the 1st century to the late 2nd century CE. He is occasionally mentioned as a chronographer and historian in the works of early Christian writers.

Thallus is sometimes cited for details on Syrian and Assyrian history and is identified by Eusebius of Caesarea in his Chronicle as the author of a brief compendium covering the years from the fall of Troy (1184 BCE) to the 167th Olympiad (109 BCE).

Thallus is first mentioned around 180 CE by Theophilus Bishop of Antioch in his Ad Autolycum ('To Autolycus') 3.29:
Thallus makes mention of Belus, the king of the Assyrians, and Cronus the Titan; and says that Belus, with the Titans, made war against Zeus and his compeers, who are called gods. He says, moreover, that Gygus was smitten, and fled to Tartessus. At that time Gygus ruled over that country, which then was called Acte, but now is named Attica. And whence the other countries and cities derived their names, we think it unnecessary to recount, especially to you who are acquainted with history.
Ho gygos 'that Gygus' is likely an error for Ogygos, referring to the Ogygus associated by chronographers with Attica. See Kings of Athens.

The name Thallus is too common to make a probable identification with any other known Thallus. The identication sometimes made with a certain Thallus of Samaria who is mentioned in some editions of Josephus' Antiquities (18.167) fails because that name only appears in those editions because of an idiosyncratic emendation of the text by John Hudson in 1720. The text as it stands reads ALLOS not THALLOS as emended by Hudson. See the external link below to Jacoby and Müller.

The 9th century Christian chronologer George Syncellus cites Julius Africanus as writing in reference to the darkness mentioned in the synoptic gospels as occurring at the death of Jesus:
Thallus calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun in the third book of his Histories, without reason it seems to me.
Africanus then goes on to point out that an eclipse cannot occur at Passover when the moon is full and therefore diametically opposite the sun.

But no other author who mentions Thallus before Syncellus makes any mention of Thallus' supposed reference to the darkness. One would expect Christians to make a great deal of such a reference on the part of a well-known chronographer and historian if it supported Christian belief. Africanus may here be in error or Thallus may have only put forth the idea that the darkness that Christians claimed occurred at the death of Jesus was a normal eclipse of the sun, perhaps referring to the eclipse of the sun that occurred in 29 CE.

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Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45