“Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1841 ("Primitive Hymns," publ. by Benjamin Lloyd)
Keywords: religious Jesus Bible death ordeal request
Found in: US(SE)


"Dark was the night and cold was the ground On which the Lord was laid; The sweat like drops of blood run down; In agony he prayed." Jesus asks to be released from his burden, but submits to God's will; listeners are advised to learn from him


The request that God remove the cup from Jesus is found in all four Gospels (Matt. 26:42, Mark 14:26, Luke 22:42, cf. John 12:27). The main source, however, is probably Luke, because only Luke includes the bloody sweat.

At least, the King James translation does.

The reference is to Luke 22:43-44 -- verses which, however, are likely not part of Luke's original Greek; of the earliest seven Greek witnesses, six -- those known as P75 Aleph(1) A B T W -- omit, as do some later witnesses of great weight.Also, Jesus's prayer before his arrest is said to have taken place in a garden in John 18:1, but Gethsemane is not called a garden in the other three gospels -- and in John, Jesus had prayed for release from his fate rather earlier.

Incidentally, although Jesus was arrested at night, there is no reason to think the night was unusually dark (it was Passover time, after all, and Passover is a full moon festival); we have reports of darkness as Jesus died, but not at the time of his arrest, and there are no reports of bad weather at the time (not that that inherently means anything, of course). It reportedly was chilly, though, since Peter would warm his hands during the night (Mark 14:67, John 18:18). - RBW

The song appears in the Baptist Standard Hymnal (but not the New National Baptist Hymnal) as "Dark Was the Night" with arrangers' names listed, but no author. The song passed into folk tradition, and the title seems to have caught the imagination as well; the phrase appears in Mississippi John Hurt's recording of "Frankie and Albert" (!) and it's also used as the title of an extraordinary recording of slide guitar and wordless moaning by Blind Willie Johnson. - PJS

Cross references



  1. BrownIII 526, "Dark Was the Night" (3 texts, though the "C" text, which is rather short, might be another song)
  2. Roud #11819
  3. BI, Br3526