Three Days of Darkness

Three Days of Darkness

By John Tvednes

 Samuel the Lamanite prophesied that there would be great destruction at the time of Christ's crucifixion, and that there would be three days of darkness. Everything that is described in the early chapters of 3 Nephi, particularly chapter 8, regarding the destruction that is described there, can be explained in terms of a volcanic explosion. Most of us are used to seeing pictures of the volcanoes, like the ones in Hawaii, where lava spouts out. That is not the kind of volcano we are talking about. This is an explosive volcano, where the pressure builds up beneath, then the whole mountain just blows up. Mount St. Helens was one of those, and it was very small compared to other similar volcanoes. Still, in daytime, it was pitch black in Yakima, Washington, when people were gathering up the dust and ashes. Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines is also of this type, as are several volcanoes in the Caribbean.  

Here are some of the things that happen with an explosive volcano: first of all there is a strong wind-blast that comes from it. The Mount St. Helens explosion, which, as I mentioned, was not one of the big ones, actually devastated something like 200 million trees-just knocked them over flat. Things up to 40 miles away were flattened by the shock wave that came from the mountain. There were also the pyroclastic clouds, that is to say clouds of burning fire that look like fire mingled with smoke that rolled down the hillsides with rapid speed, sometimes up to 200 mph. They just burn and destroy everything in their path. (During the eruption of one of the Caribbean volcanoes, a pyroclastic flow wiped out a whole town.)

Other things that are produced by these volcanoes when they explode are tornados and firestorms. Firestorms can occur under other circumstances as well. Following an earthquake in Japan many houses took fire because they cook on open coal stoves. During the shaking, these coals were knocked off and ignited the wooden frame houses with the paper walls between rooms, typical of Japanese houses until very recent times. People were gathered by the tens of thousands in a large park in Tokyo, which happened to be the worst place to go. Although there was no fire at that location then, the firestorm swept into the area and all these people died instantaneously.

 Hurricanes, as well as volcanoes, can spawn tornados, so there may be several tornados on the outskirts of a hurricane. Tornados can carry houses, vehicles, animals, and people away, as described in the Book of Mormon. These explosive volcanoes also send ash clouds high into the stratosphere, which is what causes the darkening to take place, and daylight can become pitch black. There have been several examples in historic times of this darkness lasting for three days, which is as long as it lasted in the Book of Mormon account.

 Lightning is also mentioned in the Book of Mormon along with these great catastrophes. Lightning does occur in the clouds that are formed, both in the high stratosphere from the explosive elements going up, and in the pyroclastic displays. There were some men on a hillside about 30 miles away from Mount St. Helens when it exploded. They saw the cloud heading right toward them, with lightning flashing all throughout the cloud. Most of these explosive volcanoes do produce lightning. In 1964, the volcanic island of Surtsey burst from beneath the waters of the Atlantic Ocean near Iceland, taking three and a half years before the eruption ended. Lightning was observed in the clouds that were being shot up into the air.

 Earthquakes often accompany the destructive forces of these explosive volcanoes, and if near the ocean can cause tsunamis. These are shock waves sent through the water at rates up to 200 mph across vast expanses of ocean, especially in the Pacific, which is quite wide. Hilo, Hawaii, gets hit by them from time to time when there are coastal earthquakes in the Americas. 

 Incidentally, the biggest earthquake in U.S. history did not take place in Yellowstone or in Alaska, where we had some huge earthquakes back in the 1960's. It occurred in 1811 in Missouri. (I hope the next one occurs before any of us are asked to go back there.) It was accompanied by storms that resembled tornados, the sky was filled with black clouds and fierce lightning (this is from eye-witness accounts), swamps were drained and swampy areas became dry; and large tracts of land rose or fell. For a time, sections of the Mississippi River actually flowed upstream. The epicenter was at New Madrid, right on the Mississippi River in southeast Missouri. There were two temporary waterfalls actually created on the river during this time. Of the nearly 2000 tremors that struck the area during the next few months, the strongest flattened hundreds of square miles of forests, altered the course of the Mississippi, turned thousands of acres of prairie into swamp, submerged whole islands, produced massive landslides, and destroyed the town of New Madrid by lowering the ground beneath it by 15 feet. Finally, the most powerful earthquake of the series occurred February 7, 1812, and was felt over one-half million square miles-nearly half of the continental United States. It caused church bells to ring in Charlotte, North Carolina and in Boston, Massachusetts, so that was a really strong earthquake. It was not, however, associated with a volcano.

 One of the largest volcanic eruptions in modern times was in 1815. The island of Tambura, which is a volcanic island in Indonesia, literally blew its top. Shock waves were sent around the world and were felt in various places. Water levels temporarily rose in Scotland by four inches. The sound of the eruption was also heard 1600 miles away in the Indian Ocean. This volcano poured ash into the stratosphere, and, by way of wind currents, over most of the northern hemisphere, even though the volcano was in the southern hemisphere. It produced a year of winter in many places. In parts of New England, there was frost or snow every day of the year, even in summer. This was the time when the Smiths were living in Vermont, and they had crop failures three years in a row. People in the eastern U.S. called it the year without a summer, because there was really no summer that year. This is why the family of Joseph Smith moved to New York, because they had lost so much during the three years in Vermont.

 In 1883, the volcanic island of Krakatoa, also in Indonesia, blew up. There were 10,000 people in one town 50 miles away that simply vanished when a huge tsunami raced across the strait, hit the village, and washed all the people and their buildings inland for quite some distance.  Many of the villages on the coast of nearby islands were also hit and affected., leading to the death of some 30,000 people. This was very much like what happened in the Book of Mormon. 

This last example is in late April to early May 1902, when a volcano, Mt. Pelée on the West Indian island of Martinique, began rumbling and spewing hot ash. On 2 May, the mountain shot up a dense, black cloud with brilliant lightning. For several days, ash fell like snow on the nearby port city of St. Pierre. On 5 May, a mass of boiling mud rushed down to the sea carrying 50-ton boulders. Two days later, La Soufriére, a volcano on the nearby island St. Vincent, erupted and sent a steam cloud 30,000 feet into the air. Hot falling ash destroyed vegetation over a third of the island. A 50-foot mass of boiling mud formed in a dry river and flowed down hill. On May 7, the same day as the previous eruption, a black cloud, full of vivid lightning arose from Mt. Pelée. At 7:52 the next morning, the side of the volcano burst open and a huge ball of fire from super-heated steam, gases and ash rushed down the mountainside at an estimated 100 mph (this was actually filmed at the time from a boat in the harbor). As the fireball came down it engulfed the port city of St. Pierre, instantaneously carbonizing many objects and killing all but two of the inhabitants.  One of them was grateful that he was locked in the dungeon of the local jail, while the other was a dog. All other living creatures were wiped out. This huge, hot mass of gases that came down, when it hit the town in burnt up all the oxygen, so that even if someone had survived the burning, it would be difficult to survive not having the necessary oxygen. As soon as the cloud passed over the city, suddenly air rushed in to fill up the vacuum caused by the sudden lack of oxygen, and created some fierce winds that knocked over some of the structures in the town.


Tvedtnes, John A.